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The 'Dismissal': When the Queen Sacked Australian Prime Minister Whitlam

Before their respective deaths in 2003 and 2008, the Citizens Electoral Council had collaborated closely with Treasurer Jim Cairns and Labour Minister Clyde Cameron of ousted Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's government, thus coming to know from the inside the story of how Whitlam was axed. On seemingly the opposite side of the political spectrum, the CEC also collaborated closely with former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who had succeeded Whitlam, for several years preceding his death in March 2015.

These senior figures, whether "conservative" or "labor", reflected the nation-building aspirations of the "post-war settlement". Whitlam and his government were the last gasp of "Old Labor" in Australia, which had always been locked in a mortal struggle with the Crown- and City of London-centred "Money Power", as long-time Labor MP Frank Anstey, mentor of PM John Curtin, described it in his 1921 book, The Money Power: "London is, so far, the web centre of international finance. In London are assembled the actual chiefs or the representatives of the great financial houses of the world." To Anstey, this Money Power was something more than "capitalism"; it was "the financial oligarchy".

From his own experience as Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer (later prime minister) beginning in 1852, William Gladstone explained the ruling principle long earlier: "The hinge of the whole situation was this: the government itself was not to be a substantive power in matters of finance, but was to leave the Money Power supreme and unquestioned." Their great accomplishments notwithstanding, post-World War II British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and his Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Dalton likewise expressed their belief that it was impossible to defeat the Money Power. Dalton, who had even managed to nationalise the Bank of England, wrote in his memoirs, "The forces against me, in the City and elsewhere, were very powerful and determined … I felt I could not count on a good chance of victory. I was not well armed. So I retreated." (Cited in Ann Pettifor, The Coming First World Debt Crisis, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.)

On 11 November 2015, 40 years to the day after "the dismissal", as Whitlam's ouster is known, and on the eve of a tour of Australia by Prince Charles, the CEC issued a Media Release titled "40th Anniversary of 'the Dismissal': Prince Charles Helped His Mum Sack Whitlam". The events in Australia four decades ago illustrate the ability and willingness of the Crown to run roughshod over democracy, when it suits the interests of the Money Power.

CEC Media Release, 11 November 2015

For his multiple crimes against humanity, and against this nation in particular, Charles should be run out of Australia, not feted. One among these crimes is his role in the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975. He knows what he did, and knows that many other people do as well, especially after the revelations in Jenny Hocking's latest book, The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975. It is typical of Charles's arrogant, sadistic nature that he has chosen to tour Australia precisely now, on the 40th anniversary of that action, which profoundly changed our nation for the worse.

Most Australians childishly believe that since "the Crown is above politics" and the Queen is a benign, powerless figurehead, Governor-General and former MI6 agent Sir John Kerr must have dismissed Whitlam on his own initiative, without the Queen's knowledge, and that he did so over "Supply" (bills to fund the government). The fact that the Opposition of the day had for weeks blocked passage of the Government's Supply bills, the legend goes, forced him to act. Thus in his "Statement of Reasons" for the dismissal, Kerr wrote: "Because of the principles of responsible government a Prime Minister who cannot obtain supply, including money for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election or resign. If he refuses to do this I have the authority and indeed the duty under the Constitution to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister."

Already 15 years ago, the CEC demonstrated that only someone self-blinded could believe that the issue were "Supply", or that such a notorious Crown toady as Kerr had acted without the Queen's knowledge and approval. In 2012 Monash University historian Professor Jenny Hocking used Kerr's personal archives, which she accessed upon the expiry of a decades-long embargo, to show in her book Gough Whitlam, His Time that Kerr had not merely "informed" the Queen ahead of his action, but had coordinated the whole operation with her. Kerr, Hocking wrote, "had already conferred with the palace on the possibility of the future dismissal of the prime minister", and had acted to ensure that Whitlam, should he learn of this, would be prevented from exercising his own constitutional power to remove Kerr first.

Hocking has amplified this account in her new book, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Whitlam's sacking. The Guardian's Gabrielle Chan summarised some of its key arguments in a 26 October column:

  • Kerr wrote "regular and extended" letters to the Queen and her private secretary Sir Martin Charteris during the period before the dismissal.
  • Kerr was assured that every one of his letters was read by Charteris and the Queen, "and she herself told me that if I found the need to write to her direct to feel entirely at liberty to do so".
  • One week before the dismissal, Charteris informed the Governor-General of the Queen's intentions, if Whitlam moved against Kerr: "Charteris told him that should this 'contingency' occur, the Queen would 'try to delay things' for as long as possible", so that Kerr could sack Whitlam.

In fact, the coup had been long in the making. Nine months before the dismissal and eight months before the constitutional crisis over "Supply", Kerr had established a secret "brains trust" of legal minds to concoct the "legal" preparations to oust Whitlam. Hocking reveals that High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason played a key role in it, but the real leader was Chief Justice of the High Court and member of the Privy Council Sir Garfield Barwick, with Mason acting mainly as a conduit between Barwick and Kerr. Barwick was an intimate of the Royal Family and the first president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, founded by Prince Philip. Their fellow High Court Justice and Privy Counsellor Sir Ninian Stephen, who lied that "I knew nothing until the news broke publicly", was also involved.

Weeks before the supply issue emerged, Kerr in September 1975 briefed Prince Charles during a visit to Papua New Guinea, confiding his concern that Whitlam might get wind of his intention and ask the Queen to sack Kerr, before Kerr could sack him. According to Kerr's notes uncovered by Hocking, Charles's attitude was the Australian Constitution be damned, telling Kerr that he thought the Queen should not have to accept Whitlam's advice. It was after Charles reported back to the Palace that Charteris wrote the above-mentioned 7 October letter, essentially to assure Kerr that the Queen had no intention of taking Whitlam's advice, but would disguise her disregard of Australian constitutional process behind delaying tactics.

The Governor-General's Evidence

The Guardian reported that Buckingham Palace refuses to release these letters between Kerr and the palace, including the Queen and Prince Charles. The Queen herself ordered them embargoed for 50 years, until 2027, stipulating that even then their release will require the consent of both the then-Sovereign, most likely Charles, and Australia's then-governor-general. However, with those involved determined to maintain that Kerr acted alone, it is unlikely they will ever be released. The Guardian continued, "As late as 2011, the Queen's assistant private secretary at the time of the dismissal, Sir William Heseltine [an Australian—ed.] said categorically, 'the Governor-General gave no clue to any of us at the palace what was in his mind'."

But, as summarised by Hocking, "Kerr's journal, and his direct quotations in it from his correspondence with the Queen and with Charteris, show that the palace was kept informed of his consideration of the dismissal of the Whitlam government months before there was even any 'political crisis' [blocking Supply] to report". In The Australian of 11 October 2012, Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston quoted Kerr's journal entry noting that he had regularly spoken with the Queen by telephone, not just via correspondence: "Kerr writes in the journal of his 'regular and thorough reporting to the Queen' throughout the constitutional crisis. 'Conversations with the Queen and with Sir Martin Charteris, her private secretary, as well as questions raised by me in the correspondence itself left me with the comfortable assurance that what I was writing, and the way I was going about the task, were welcomed in the Palace,' Kerr writes." Indeed, Kerr, as insecure as he was, would never have established his judicial "brains trust" without approval from the highest levels.

Following his sacking, Whitlam called Buckingham Palace to ask if the Queen had known of Kerr's intentions ahead of time. When Charteris averred that "The Queen knew nothing about" her viceroy's plan, Whitlam swallowed the lie, hook, line and sinker, and pathetically recorded in his autobiography, "It is a fact that the Queen's representative in Australia had kept the Queen in the same total ignorance of his actions as he had the Prime Minister of Australia." And though Whitlam also described Kerr as a grovelling toady who would sell his soul for Royal honours, he refused to draw the conclusion that Kerr was in cahoots with the Crown, even as he drily observed that following his sacking the Crown showered Kerr with so many gongs that he "had become in a single annus mirabilis the Rt Hon. Sir John Kerr, AK, GCMG, GCVO, K St J."

Kerr bragged in his own book, Matters of Judgment, that shortly after Whitlam's dismissal the Queen inducted Kerr into her Privy Council, among other honours: "In Canberra I was sworn in as a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council at a meeting presided over by the Queen at Yarralumla. During an audience on board the [Royal Yacht] Britannia in Fremantle harbour Her Majesty invested me as a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. (I had previously, in 1975 when the Queen established the Order of Australia of which she is Sovereign, became the first Chancellor and a Companion of the Order and later, when the rank of knighthood was introduced, the first Knight of the Order of Australia. In 1976 Her Majesty had promoted me to the rank of Knight Grand Cross in the Order of St Michael and St George. Throughout my governor-generalship I was Prior in Australia and a Knight in the Order of St John of Jerusalem)".

The Queen also rewarded Kerr's private secretary and co-conspirator, Sir David Smith, who publicly read the proclamation dismissing Whitlam, anointing him a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order—the third-highest honour in the British Empire. It is granted by the Queen herself, without any government recommendation, in "recognition of personal service to the reigning Sovereign".

The Real Reason for the Coup: 'Buying Back the Farm'

Whatever his flaws, Gough Whitlam was a patriot. His Minister for Minerals and Energy Rex Connor and Treasurer Dr Jim Cairns put it this way: that he intended to "buy back the farm", to wrest control of Australia's raw materials wealth from the transnational minerals cartel led by Rio Tinto (in which the Queen was the largest private shareholder) and utilise it to develop the nation for the common good, in the classic "old Labor" tradition. "We have an objective of full Australian ownership in development projects involving uranium", Whitlam had announced in 1973. "We also regard this as a desirable objective in oil, natural gas and black coal". Whitlam's program threatened the basis of British imperial power—the City of London's control of global finance and global raw materials. Were he allowed to succeed, others would surely follow suit, and the Empire's house of cards come tumbling down. His removal ended that threat. Whitlam, the first Labor leader in 23 years when he was elected in 1972, was the last true Labor PM. By the time the ALP returned to power in 1983, its leaders had sold their own and the party's soul to the Thatcherite dogma of austerity, privatisation and free trade, which both the ALP and its supposed opposition, the Liberal/National party coalition, have lauded ever since as the "bipartisan consensus on economic reform". That agenda's similarity to Thatcher's was no accident, because it was designed by the same Mont Pelerin Society and Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), set up by the Crown and the City of London, that produced Thatcher in the first place. Former IEA boss Lord Harris of High Cross bragged in a phone call to a CEC researcher in 1996, "We weren't Thatcherites, she was an IEA-ite". The MPS/IEA think tanks have run Australia's economic policy since the advent of the Hawke/Keating Labor governments in 1983.

Now the longest-reigning head of the British oligarchical power structure which sits above any supposed democratic institutions, Queen Elizabeth is no guarantor of the rights of her subjects, as royal sycophants fantasise. Rather, her untrammelled powers ensure that a popularly elected government can never touch the network of wealthy families, private banks, corporate boardrooms, elite schools, permanent civil servants and secretive security agencies—"the Establishment"—who wield real power in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and every other state where the Queen is monarch.

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