Secret letters reveal Queen was not warned of Australian PM's sacking

AFP

14th July, 2020 10:41:26 printer

Secret letters reveal Queen was not warned of Australian PM's sacking

Queen Elizabeth II was not warned about the 1975 dismissal of Australia's prime minister by her representative in country, letters kept secret for decades and released Tuesday revealed.

The British monarch's representative in Australia, governor-general John Kerr, sparked a constitutional crisis when he fired Gough Whitlam, the popular leader of the centre-left Labor party, without warning.

In May the High Court ruled more than 200 letters between the queen's private secretary and Kerr -- including many addressing the controversial affair -- should be made public.

Although the correspondence show the queen was not told immediately prior to Whitlam's sacking, they confirm that Kerr had exchanged letters with the palace for months about his powers to oust the prime minister.

Suspicion the palace played a direct role in Whitlam's ouster has long been cited by Australian Republicans arguing the country should break with the monarchy.

The National Archives of Australia released the 1,200 pages known as the "Palace Letters" on Tuesday after a four-year court battle to keep them hidden that reportedly cost Aus$2 million ($1.4 million).

Historians are now combing through the documents to see if the British government tried to influence events in its former colony and what role the queen, Prince Charles and top royal advisers may have played.

One key extract shows Kerr informed the queen he had fired Whitlam shortly after taking the action on November 11, 1975.

"I should say I decided to take the step I took without informing the Palace in advance because, under the Constitution, the responsibility is mine, and I was of the opinion it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is of course my duty to tell her immediately," he wrote.

The decision capped a protracted political stalemate after the opposition-controlled Senate refused to pass the government's budget, severely weakening Whitlam's position.

The letters confirm the palace knew Kerr had been considering the options available to him under his Constitutional "reserve powers", which included dismissing Australia's leader, an action no other governor-general has taken before or since.

Kerr appointed opposition Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as interim prime minister, sparking chaos in Canberra and protests on the steps of parliament.

Fraser went on to win a landslide election victory later that year.

Australia became independent in 1901, but the queen is still head of state. A referendum on becoming a republic failed in 1999.


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