Jenny Hocking on what the ‘palace letters’ would possibly let us know, in the end, about The Dismissal

Jenny Hocking on what the ‘palace letters’ would possibly let us know, in the end, about The Dismissal


40-five years once they have been written, loads of in the past secret letters between the queen and the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, with regards to the dismissal of the Whitlam govt in 1975 will probably be launched in complete by way of the Nationwide Archives of Australia this morning.

Containing 211 letters and 1,200 pages in general, the “palace letters” would be the biggest addition to the historical past of the dismissal of the Whitlam govt for the reason that revelation of Sir Anthony Mason’s position just about a decade in the past.




Learn extra:
Jenny Hocking: why my combat for get entry to to the ‘Palace letters’ must subject to all Australians


The letters had been held within the Nationwide Archives, locked away as “non-public” information underneath the embargo of the queen. This is, till the Top Court docket’s emphatic 6:1 choice in June this 12 months that they’re Commonwealth information and to be made to be had for public get entry to.

The have an effect on of this ordinary choice is being keenly felt in Buckingham Palace and with some trepidation, for the reason that letters will probably be launched in opposition to the desires of the queen, because the Top Court docket judgments shed light on.

The queen’s personal secretary argued strongly in opposition to their unencumber when the case started within the Federal Court docket, as did the governor-general’s reliable secretary, even claiming in letters incorporated in a submission from the reliable secretary, Mark Fraser, that their persisted secrecy was once crucial “to keep the constitutional place of the Monarch and the Monarchy”.

Jenny Hocking has led the lengthy courtroom combat to have the palace letters launched.
James Ross/AAP

In rejecting this presumption of royal secrecy, the Top Court docket has enforced a measure of transparency and responsibility over a monarch and a monarchy as soon as observed as untouchable. The importance of the verdict and its ramifications is super, starting with the discharge of the letters themselves.

In anticipation in their historical public unencumber, let’s check out the palace letters – what we find out about them, what to appear out for, and what they may let us know. Those main points are drawn from the courtroom complaints and from paperwork in Kerr’s archives.

What is going to be within the palace letters?

At the start, there are 211 letters. It is a merely staggering quantity, on a scale I had by no means imagined, since earlier governors-general had reported to the queen at maximum simplest quarterly. They come with telegrams in addition to letters.

Kerr’s letters come with plenty of massive attachments, operating to a number of hundred pages, similar to newspaper clippings, articles and folks’s letters to him. Since those attachments “corroborat[e] the guidelines communicated by way of the Governor-Normal” to the queen, they’ll be similarly important for revealing how Kerr depicted the polarised occasions of 1975 to the queen, and on what foundation.

The letters duvet the whole lot of Kerr’s duration in administrative center, July 1974 to December 1977. Their quantity grew markedly from August 1975, as Kerr higher his slightly obsessive “reporting” at the high minister, Gough Whitlam, to the palace.

Sir John Kerr.
Museum of Australian Democracy

Every now and then, Kerr wrote a number of letters in one day. In consequence, there are rather fewer letters from the queen to Kerr in answer.

There are 116 “contemporaneously made copies” of Kerr’s letters and telegrams to the queen, maximum of them thru her personal secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, some handwritten and a few typed, and despatched both by way of Kerr or the reliable secretary, David Smith. Charteris confident Kerr the queen learn each and every one among them. A few of Kerr’s letters are addressed immediately to the queen.

There are 95 unique letters and telegrams from the queen to Kerr, they all thru Charteris. This nexus in the course of the personal secretary is completely in line with their position because the reliable channel of conversation with the monarch – Charteris writes for, and as, the queen. That is a very powerful reality to remember as we assess the letters.

On the subject of that nexus, a essential element rising from the courtroom case is that the queen’s letters, despatched thru Charteris, “put across the ideas of The Queen to the Governor-Normal”. There may also be no strolling again from the reality the letters from the queen specific her ideas and her perspectives.

That is extraordinarily vital in working out the consequences of the letters, in particular since some have attempted to distance the queen from her letters to Kerr at the foundation that her personal secretary wrote them, even suggesting this constitutes a royal type of “believable deniability”. Any try to assemble a “get out of prison unfastened” card for the queen over the content material of her personal letters is totally unsustainable.

Political and constitutional implications

Sir John Kerr’s letter pushing aside Gough Whitlam.
Nationwide Archives of Australia

Most of the letters will probably be extremely delicate politically since we all know from the Federal Court docket submissions they “cope with subjects with regards to the reliable tasks and tasks of the Governor-Normal”. The precise nature of the ones discussions will probably be one of the most intriguing questions to reply to when the letters are opened.

Did the ones subjects come with choices and techniques with regards to Kerr’s selections, which the governor-general must had been discussing with the high minister? Did they come with a dialogue of Kerr’s fear for his personal place as governor-general, his worry that Whitlam would possibly recall him – which is a choice for the high minister by myself to make and by which the queen can play no section as opposed to to behave on that recommendation? And did they come with a attention of the putative energy of the governor-general to disregard the federal government, which retained its majority within the Area of Representatives and its self belief always, with out caution?




Learn extra:
Top Court docket ruling on ‘Palace letters’ case paves means to be informed extra about The Dismissal – and our Charter


Scattered references to the palace letters in Kerr’s papers shed additional gentle on what we will be able to anticipate finding. Probably the most important of those is his connection with “Charteris’ recommendation to me on dismissal”. Kerr writes of getting “the additional benefit” of “the illuminating observations […] despatched to me by way of Sir Martin Charteris”, indicating the numerous position the letters performed in his deliberations about pushing aside the federal government and his eventual choice to take action.

Extracts from one of the most palace letters explicitly check with the chance of Whitlam’s dismissal. In September 1975, Kerr writes:

if I have been on the peak of the disaster opposite to his recommendation to come to a decision to terminate his fee […]

and, on November 6 1975:

he [Whitlam] stated that the one means by which an election for the home may happen can be if I brushed aside him.

The ones specific letters, along with the ones written round key dates – the blockading of provide within the Senate, Govt Council conferences, Whitlam’s choice to name the half-Senate election, amongst others – will probably be a point of interest for inspecting the letters.

The palace letters will shed extra gentle at the momentous occasions that ended in The Dismissal on November 11 1975.
Nationwide Archives of Australia

The essential and defining context to evaluate the palace letters is that whilst Kerr and the queen have been discussing those necessarily political problems in regards to the “occasions of the day” and the “reliable tasks and tasks” of the governor-general, Kerr remained “silent” on those problems to the high minister.

Worse, the queen neatly knew that. Whether or not there was once any reaction from the queen about Kerr’s errant conception of his position as governor-general, his refusal to talk to or take the recommendation of the high minister, will probably be of serious pastime.

Regardless of the palace letters would possibly expose, crucial factor is that now we can realize it. With that wisdom, the overall historical past of the dismissal of the Whitlam govt can in the end learn.



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