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Research Guides


Gough Whitlam: Guide to Archives of Australia's Prime Ministers


Chapter 8: The Dismissal

On 11 November 1975 the Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister in his place.

Whitlam's reflection on these events can be found in his book The Truth of the Matter (1979), his detailed rejoinder to Sir John Kerr's Matters for Judgment: An Autobiography (1978).

The identities of the key protagonists in the Dismissal and their actions have been the subject of intense public and historical interest and extensive archival research, yet some significant holdings remain largely unexplored. With the publication of the second volume of her biography of Whitlam, Gough Whitlam: his time, Professor Jenny Hocking revealed significant new material from the private papers of Sir John Kerr in relation to the Dismissal, which had been lodged in the National Archives in 2005. In particular, the Governor-General's record of his 'rolling conversation' with the then High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason detailed the secret meetings and conversations between the Governor-General and the High Court justice in the months leading up to the Dismissal that had remained hidden for 37 years. It has been described as a find of historic significance.

The National Archives also holds records relating to the House of Representatives and the Senate sessions on the afternoon of 11 November 1975 following the dismissal of the Whitlam government. At 3pm the House of Representatives passed a motion of no confidence – a 'want of confidence' motion – against the government of Malcolm Fraser and called on the Member for Werriwa, Gough Whitlam, to again form government.

The National Archives fact sheet on the Dismissal details official records created by the Governor-General, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Attorney-General's Department and Treasury, as well as the personal records of Sir John Kerr, Sir Clarence Harders (Secretary, Attorney-General's Department) and Gough Whitlam.

Additional records are held at the Whitlam Institute, including the original letter of dismissal, which the Institute has described as 'one of the top 10 important documents in the country'.

The Senate's refusal to vote on Supply

National Archives of Australia

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH OCCASIONAL 'G' INFIX, 1903–
Canberra
Series: A463
Quantity: 966 metres
Recorded by: 1956– Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (CA 1401)
House of Representatives want of confidence and censure motions against the government and individual ministers as at 16 October 1975 A463, 1975/4000
Failure of Supply – government employees – reaction to delay of appropriation Bills A463, 1975/4276
Fraser Ministry – caretaker and administrative arrangements, 11 November – 13 December 1975 A463, 1975/4375
Addresses to the Governor-General, 1975 A463, 1975/4400
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH OCCASIONAL 'C' SUFFIX, 1913–
Canberra
This series comprises the classified files relating to general and policy matters handled by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The subject matter varies as widely as that of counterpart unclassified files CRS A463, Correspondence files, annual single number series.
Series: A1209
Quantity: 1.2 kilometres
Recorded by: 1957– Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (CA 1401)
Powers of the Senate in relation to Supply and constitutional conventions – policy papers, 1975 A1209, 1975/1910
The role of the Governor-General in the passage of Supply Bills, 1975–76 A1209, 1975/1912
Double dissolution of parliament, 11 November 1975

This is a nationally significant item, comprising a file of more than 400 pages. Parts of the file have been displayed in various exhibitions: folio 106 – letter to Whitlam from Governor-General Sir John Kerr – was on display in the National Archives of Australia exhibition Memory of a Nation (2008); folio 106 and folios 120–117 – Governor- General Sir John Kerr's statement of events – were on display in the ACT Schools Constitutional Convention 2009; and folio 106, folio 196 – letter from the Speaker of the House about the Dismissal, and folios 120–117 – were on display in the ACT Schools Constitutional Convention 2010.

A1209, 1975/2448
Specific complaints to the Governor-General regarding the caretaker government – cases, 1975 A1209, 1975/2964
Possible rejection of appropriation bills by the Senate – papers
These are departmental advices on legal questions regarding the possibility of Senate rejection of the appropriation Bills.
A1209, 1978/106 Parts 1–4
Overseas loan raising activities – Mr Fraser's statement on the Loans Affair, 23 October 1975
Overseas loan raising activities – Mr Fraser's statement on the Loans Affair, 23 October 1975 A1209, 1975/2488 These are Fraser's statement on the government's loan raising attempts and associated documents (John Menadue, 'Notice of motion written by Whitlam 11 November 1975, double dissolution of parliament 11 November 1975' and 'Note for file: The dismissal of Mr Whitlam and appointment of Mr Fraser, as Prime Minister, double dissolution of parliament 11 November 1975).
A1209, 1975/2488
ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1901–
Canberra
2.2 kilometres
Series: A432
Recorded by: 1929– Attorney-General's Department, Central Office (CA 5)
Sydney

This is the Attorney-General's Department's main file series. In the portion that covers the period of the Whitlam government, the series includes material related to various issues, including the historic 1974 Joint Sitting of parliament, the Loans Affair, the ASIO raid, and the Dismissal.

Further records from this large series are highlighted in Chapter 7: Prime Minister, 1972–75.

Quantity: 291 metres
Rejection of Budget – consequences – part 1, 1947–75 A432, A1975/6378 Part 1
Rejection of Budget – consequences – part 2, 1971–75 A432, A1975/6378 Part 2
Sir Colin Hannah – revocation of dormant commission, 1974–75 A432, A1975/7356
Governor-General and prime minister – whether the Governor-General has the power to dismiss a prime minister, 1975 A432, A1975/7778
Dismissal of prime minister by Governor-General, 1967–78 A432, A1975/7853 Part 1
Dismissal of prime minister by Governor-General, 1967–75 A432, A1975/7853 Part 2
Proposal for bank finance to pay public servants and suppliers, 1975 A432, A1975/7866 Part 1
Proposal for bank finance to pay public servants and suppliers, 1974–79 A432, A1975/7866 Part 2
Double dissolution 1975, 1975–76 A432, GCD1975/7906
Supply pending Appropriation Act 1975–76, 1975 A432, PC1975/7958
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1901–78
Canberra
509 metres
Series: A571
Recorded by: 1901–76 Department of the Treasury [I], Central Office (CA 11)
Sydney

This is the main correspondence file series of the former Department of the Treasury.

The series also contains material relating to the Loans Affair; see Chapter 7: Prime Minister,1972–75

Quantity: 22 metres
Caretaker government – guidance and background, 1974–75 A571, 1975/6607
Deferral of Supply 1975 – scheme to facilitate access to finance for employees of, and suppliers to, the Australian Government, 1974–75 A571, 1975/9083 Parts 1–8

John Kerr's war files

The National Archives of Australia holds a file of correspondence relating to Lieutenant-Colonel John Kerr's activities during World War II as Deputy Director of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. However, the majority of the records listed relate to his time as Governor-General. Some of these files are listed as Governor-General (departmental records) and some as Sir John Kerr (personal records).

National Archives of Australia

REGISTER OF DEMIOFFICIAL LETTERS, 1945
Canberra
This is a register of demiofficial letters between Lieutenant-Colonel John Kerr, as Deputy Director of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, and the Director. The letters are classified and cover a variety of subjects, including staffing of the directorate, military government for Japan, relations with the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit, civil affairs for Hong Kong, and British participation in Asian conflicts.
Series: M4508
Quantity: 1 metre
Recorded by: 1945 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Register of demiofficial letters, 6 April – 3 August 1945 M
Colonel JR Kerr: Top Secret Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs correspondence with Alf Conlon, 1945, Far East, military government for Japan.
M4508, 1

Sir John Kerr Governor-General

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1968–77
Canberra

This series comprises correspondence (letters, telegrams and cards) addressed to His Excellency Sir John Kerr as Governor-General of Australia. It covers the period 1975 to 1977 and is in two distinct alphabetical sequences.

Correspondence in the first sequence mainly relates to the dismissal of the Whitlam government in November 1975 (items 1–21). Much of it was received in the Governor-General's Office following publicity in July 1976 about the number of supportive letters Kerr had received since the Dismissal. Public criticism even at this time remained strident and included numerous calls for Kerr's resignation and, in a few cases, the return of World War II service medals by their recipients in protest.

In contrast, the second sequence of files consists of letters and telegrams of support addressed to Sir John Kerr following the announcement of his resignation from office on 14 July 1977 (items 22–42). The resignation took effect on 8 December 1977, a month after the last letter in the series was received in the Governor-General's Office. The series also includes a small number of news cuttings and publications.

The records were transferred to archival custody and a single number system of control imposed on them in November 1997. In April 2005, the series was rearranged and the items re-numbered to correct the chronological sequence of the two parts.

Series: A10926
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1975–77 Governor-General (CA 1)
Letters of criticism addressed to the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, 1975–77 A10926, 1–21
Letters to His Excellency Sir John Kerr on the announcement of his resignation as Governor-General, 1975–77 A10926, 22–41
Sir John Kerr – messages of congratulations regarding retirement as Governor-General, 1977 A10926, 42
RESEARCH MATERIAL FOR MATTERS FOR JUDGMENT AND THE TRIUMPH OF THE CONSTITUTION, 1940-84
Canberra

This is research material accumulated by Sir John Kerr for his book Matters for Judgment and manuscript The Triumph of the Constitution. The research papers relate to the Australian and Canadian constitutions and governments. They comprise monographs, journal articles, newspaper articles and miscellaneous publications.


Series: M4518
Quantity: 2.7 metres
Recorded by: 1977–91 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Australian Constitution – role of the Governor-General – journal articles 1975–88
These are journal articles about Whitlam's dismissal and extracts from books about the Kerrs collected by Sir John Kerr as research.
M4518, 12
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of newspaper articles, 1975
These are photocopies of newspaper articles about the Dismissal, compiled as part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M4518, 9 Part 1
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of newspaper articles, 1975
These are photocopies of newspaper articles relating to the constitutional crisis, compiled as part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M4518, 9 Part 2
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of official documents, journal articles, parliamentary papers and newspaper clippings, 1975
These are photocopies of books, articles, reports on the constitutional crisis, the double dissolution election (1974) and on a case in Ontario, Canada, involving constitutional law (1943), forming part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M4518, 10 Part 1
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of official documents, journal articles, parliamentary papers and newspaper clippings, 1975
These documents relate to the Dismissal. They include copies of official documents from 11 November 1975; copies of newspaper articles about Sir Garfield Barwick's Press Club address; draft opinion by Enderby and Byers; and so on, forming part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M4518, 10 Part 2
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of official documents, journal articles, parliamentary papers and newspaper clippings, 1975
These are newspaper articles, Gallup Poll results, transcripts of television and radio reports, extracts from books on governors-general, articles about parliament in Canada, reports on Kerr's resignation as Governor-General, forming part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M5418, 10 Part 4
Australian Constitution – constitutional crisis – photocopies of official documents, journal articles, parliamentary papers and newspaper clippings, 1975
These are copies of various commentary articles relating to the constitutional crisis, forming part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M5418, 10 Part 5
Overseas loan raising activities – statutory declarations tabled in the Senate, 1975
These are copies of statutory declarations by Allan James Crawford and Tirath Khemlani, tabled in the Senate on 4 November 1975, copied as part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M5418, 58 Part 1
Overseas loan raising activities – annexures to statutory declaration of Tirath Hassaram Khemlani tabled in the Senate, 1975
This is a copy of an annexure to Khemlani's statutory declaration, copied as part of Sir John Kerr's research.
M5418, 58 Part 2–8
PRESS NOTICES FOR VICE-REGAL NEWS, 1974–77
Canberra
This is a series of press notices for inclusion in Vice-Regal News, which was issued Monday to Saturday and recorded significant activities of the Governor-General. It also recorded details of guests received at Government House.
Series: M4512
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1974–77 Governor-General (CA 1)
Press notices, 1974–75
In the afternoon, His Excellency received Mr Rupert Murdoch at Admiralty House, Sydney. 26 August 1975 (for press, Vice-Regal News, 27 August 1975)
M4512, 1
Press notices, 1975–76
28 October for insertion 29 October: Dr JL Farrands 10 November 1975: Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia
M5412, 2
PAPERS RELATING TO JOHN KERR'S APPOINTMENT AS LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR OF NEW SOUTH WALES, APPOINTMENT AND RESIGNATION AS GOVERNOR-GENERAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES, 1936–77
Canberra
This series includes records documenting Sir John Kerr's appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of NSW in 1973 and as Governor-General in 1974: congratulatory correspondence; papers relating to appointments, including arrangements for ceremonial occasions and regal audiences; press clippings; estimates of Government House expenditure; and speeches and proclamations. The series also includes press clippings relating to Sir John Kerr's resignation as Governor-General in 1977 and biographical notes.
Series: M4535
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1972–77 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Papers on appointment as Governor-General – correspondence, 1973–74 M4535, 2 Part 1
PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE OF SIR JOHN KEER WHEN GOVERNOR–GENERAL AND LATER, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1972–91
Canberra

This series contains records of Sir John Kerr's Australian and international personal correspondence during his term as Governor-General. Included are official letters of thanks; copies of press releases describing his resignation as Governor-General and the appointment of Sir Zelman Cowen; papers relating to the Governor-Generalship of Papua New Guinea; and correspondence referring to the political situation in 1977. Also included in the series are Justice Committee deliberations; conference papers; correspondence regarding seminars; memos; invitations and regrets; travel arrangements; and information about media matters.

The item names that follow refer to segments of the correspondence series which are arranged alphabetically by surname.

Series: M4541
Quantity: 1 metre
Recorded by: 1972–91 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Bunting, Sir John, 1975–76
Correspondence between Bunting and Kerr, 13 August 1975 – 27 May 1976.
M4541, 3
Gee, Mr Justice Ken – Gurner, Major-General Colin M, CBE, ED, QHP, Surgeon-General, 1976–77
Correspondence between Kerr and Gee, 26 February 1976 – 5 December 1977. In a letter to Kerr, Gee urged him not to resign: 'Don't let the yahoos rattle you' and 'Other friends, who are not in a position to write, share these sentiments'. Kerr replied to Gee on 3 August 1976: 'When you say that other friends who are not in a position to write share these sentiments I think I understand what you mean'.
M4541, 14
Mason, The Hon. Mr Justice, 1975
Correspondence between then High Court Justice Mason and Kerr, 10 April – 19 May 1975, which describes the formation of a secret group in the Australian National University (ANU) law school to advise on the Governor-General's powers, set up at Kerr's request. It also describes what Kerr termed a 'rolling conversation' between himself and Sir Anthony Mason from early October to the end of November 1975. Kerr left records of these conversations with Mason in the National Archives in order that Mason's 'role' would eventually be known. Without this, Kerr wrote, 'his part in my thinking in October – November 1975 will not be known to history'.
M4541, 27
Barwick, Sir Garfield, 1974–77
Correspondence between Barwick and Kerr, 24 June 1974 – 21 November 1977.
M4541, 2
Hope, The Hon. Mr Justice RM, 1975
Correspondence between Kerr and Hope, 15 July 1975.
M4541, 19
Court, The Hon. Sir Charles, OBE, MLA, 1975–77
Correspondence between Kerr and Court, 26 November 1975 – 22 July 1977. In 1975, Court invited Kerr to visit mining developments. Kerr accepted in early 1976.
M4541, 6
Hasluck, Sir Paul, 1974–76
Correspondence between Kerr and Hasluck, 1974–76; includes discussion of a handover and farewell event for Hasluck.
M4541, 17
Fraser, The Rt Hon. Malcolm, MP, 1973
Correspondence between Kerr and Fraser, 21 January – 3 November 1977. Kerr's letters to Fraser are about taking leave and accepting the Order of Malta.
M4541, 12
Menzies, The Rt Hon. Sir Robert, KT, CH, QC, 1976
Correspondence between Kerr and Menzies, 21–28 April 1976.
M4541, 33
O'Byrne, Senator The Hon. Justin, AO – Owens, ES (Stan), OBE, FCA, 1974–78
This file includes correspondence between Daniel O'Connell and Kerr, 16 September 1974 – 11 January 1978. O'Connell from All Soul's College Oxford wrote about the 'harassment to which you are subjected'. He said: 'No doubt this is to force a capitulation. I see in this the gravest threat yet to the principles which brought us together first in 1950.'
M4541, 68
PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS OF 1975, 1975–76
Canberra
This series comprises letters and cards of support addressed to Sir John Kerr following his dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975.
Series: M4522
Quantity: 0.1 metres
Recorded by: 1975–76 Governor-General (CA 1)
Constitutional crisis – personal correspondence received, 17 June – 13 July 1976 M4522, 2
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL PAPERS RELATING TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS OF 1975, 1975–91
Canberra

Documents in this series were packaged together in an envelope marked 'Private and Confidential'. Included are notes by Sir John Kerr relating to the constitutional crisis of 1975; several are handwritten with typescript copies attached. A personal journal for 1980 is also included. Much of this material appears to have been used by Sir John Kerr as source material for his book, Matters for Judgment, and his manuscript, The Triumph of the Constitution.

Series: M4523
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1974–91 Governor-General (CA 1)
Notes by Sir John Kerr on discussions with Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, 16 November 1975 – 13 September 1976

These notes relate to discussions with both Whitlam and Fraser in the weeks before the Dismissal. From his notes it is clear that Kerr was aware of Fraser's concern:

about Mr Whitlam springing a half-Senate election upon him and although he hoped he could win it there was a risk that he might not.
M4523, 1 Part 3
Sir John Kerr's notes on Gough Whitlam's letter of 26 December to the Queen, 1975 M4523, 1 Part 4
Extracts from letters dated 20 September 1975, 17 October 1975, 20 October 1975, 6 November 1975, 11 November 1975 and 20 November 1975 M4523, 1 Part 7
The Ellicott memorandum – or press statement [original plus typescript copy], 21 October 1975 M4523, 1 Part 12
Conversation with Sir Anthony Mason during October – November 1975, 1981
These records detail the Governor-General's 'rolling conversation' with High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason in the lead-up to the Dismissal. Kerr was careful to record his version of Mason's role, noting Mason's insistence that his role not be made public. Kerr wrote of Mason that: 'As he will be in the shades of history when this is read, his role should be known'. According to these records, Kerr initiated a 'running conversation' with Mason to discuss 'probable future events and discretionary alternatives open to me'. The records indicate that as early as 17 October 1975, when Supply had been blocked for just two days, Kerr was already certain that he would act against the government. Kerr had decided on a policy of 'silence' in his discussions with Whitlam, that he would not advise and warn the Prime Minister and that he would not accept the Prime Minister's advice to call a half-Senate election.
M4523, 1 Part 14
Journal – maintained by Sir John Kerr, 1980

This journal, written by the former Governor-General during his so-called 'exile' in England, shows his continued preoccupation with the events surrounding the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and the role of the key identities.

Writing from England, where he refused to accept that he was in 'exile', Kerr railed against the 'Labor boycott', the 'yahoos' and the 'pro-Whitlam ideologues' who prevented his quiet return home.

The journal includes comments on 'my allegedly obsessional fear of my own dismissal'. And it indicates that there was a steady flow of conservative Australian and British politicians who visited Kerr during his time in London, including Sir Garfield Barwick, Jim Killen, Phil Lynch and Peter Nixon, with whom he had extended lunches.

M4523, 1 Part 17
NOTES AND PAPERS ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS OF 1975 AND THE POLITICAL EVENTS THAT FOLLOWED, 1974–85
Canberra

The documents in this series were packaged together in an envelope marked 'the contents of a light brown case'. Handwritten and typescript notes by Sir John Kerr on the constitutional crisis of 1975 and the events that followed are included together with official documents, correspondence and relevant journal and newspaper articles. Post–1975 subjects include Kerr's resignation from the position of Governor-General of Australia. Much of the material appears to have been used by Sir John Kerr as research for his book, Matters for Judgment, and his manuscript The Triumph of the Constitution.

There are 53 items in this series, numbered 1 to 36; item 1 is broken into 18 parts (1 part 1 through to 1 part 18). A selection of these items is highlighted below.

Series: M4524
Recorded by: 1974–85 Governor-General (CA 1)
Papers on protest groups and demonstrations, 1976
These are security notes from Head of Security Allan Fleming on various student, republican and left wing groups.
M4524, 1 Part 3
Resignation correspondence, 1977 M4524, 1 Part 5
Letter from Sir Martin Charteris, 9 January 1976 M4524, 1 Part 6
Place card of Edward Heath at the Australian Society Dinner with a note to Sir John Kerr on the back, 27 January 1976
On the back of this place card, former British Conservative Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath scribbled a note to Kerr: 'You are now revealed as being in the hands of the Establishment'.
M4524, 1 Part 7
Miscellaneous drafts following 11 November 1975, including a statement by His Excellency and draft of a letter to Mr Whitlam, 1975 M4524, 1 Part 10
Professor James McAuley correspondence, 1976
These are miscellaneous draft letters written in the weeks following 11 November 1975.
M4524, 1 Part 11
Typescript notes with annotations relating to a possible statement to the nation by the Governor-General, 1978

Written in the week after 11 November 1975, this is a defence of Kerr's actions. It makes no reference to Whitlam's decision to call a half-Senate election:

Once it was clear to me, and Mr Whitlam had certainly made it clear to me, that he intended to try and govern without Appropriations, that he intended to rely on the fact that he had a majority in the House of Representatives, and would resort to other means, that is to other than Appropriations approved by law, by Parliament, to carry on his administration it was clear to me that I could not stand by and countenance a subversion of the Constitution and I therefore terminated his commission. That Mr Whitlam had the support of the majority in the House of Representatives was never in doubt and so I did not need to be reminded of this by Mr Speaker when he called to inform me of the resolution passed by the House.
M4524, 2
Table indicating the occasions on which Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam met with the Governor-General during the period 7 October – 17 November 1975 M4524, 3
Notes on the 1975 Supply crisis, 1978 M4524, 4
Notes on an aspect of the constitutional position of the Governor-General [handwritten and typescript copy], 1978

This is Kerr's response to Country Party leader Doug Anthony's speech of 16 October 1975, in which Anthony claimed Whitlam had misled Kerr in relation to the 1974 double dissolution and the Loans Affair, a charge that the Governor-General dismissed as 'totally incorrect'. It includes general reflections on the legal position of the Governor-General in relation to direction from the Prime Minister. The National Archives of Australia records indicate the notes were written in 1978, but in paragraph 11, Kerr stated he had written the notes 'because I am now in the middle of a very considerable, though not yet constitutional, crisis'. Paragraph 11 also referred to correspondence with the Queen:

I have thought it desirable, having regard to Mr Anthony's speech, to record my experience to date on legal issues as being relevant to Vice-Regal decisions, but, not as yet, except in my letters to The Queen, to record embryonic thinking about the Supply crisis.
M4524, 5
Notes on the conspiracy and deceit theory put out by Mr Whitlam and Senator McClelland during the election [handwritten], 1978 M4524, 6
Don Aitkin's article – National Times, 12 July 1976 [handwritten notes and photocopy of the newspaper article], 1978 M4524, 7
Memo by the Governor-General to Clyde Cameron and Jim Cairns on the subject of the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, 1975 M4524, 9
Draft letter from the Governor-General to the Prime Minister terminating his commission, 1975

Kerr abandoned this 14-page draft letter of dismissal for a much more concise one. This lengthy draft provides an indication of the concerns that led to, and the justification by the Governor-General for the decision he reached. It refers extensively to the Executive Council meeting of 13 December 1974 (relating to the details of the search for loans and the authority to raise loans, which was at issue in the Loans Affair) and what Kerr had to 'suffer' in commentary about his signing the Executive Council minute. In the draft letter, Kerr claimed that:

The Leader of the Opposition has assured me that he is in a position to secure passage of the Appropriation Bills and that, upon the granting of Supply, it would be his intention to recommend the dissolution of the House of Representatives.
M4524, 10
Summary by the Governor-General of the Joint Sitting of Parliament of 1974, 1975 M4524, 11
Notes made by Governor-General Kerr to justify his 11 November letter to Whitlam, 1975 M4524, 13
Notes made by Governor-General Kerr on introduction to his book, n.d.

Although he claimed in the preface to his book Matters for Judgment: an autobiography that it was important the public know 'the facts of my role', Kerr acknowledged in these private notes that: 'Such happenings as are public and relevant I will mention but beyond that I shall not go'. For instance, Kerr did not disclose the nature of his letters with the Palace, his correspondence with the Queen's private secretary Sir Martin Charteris, or the identity and role of Justice Mason in his deliberations.

M4524, 14
First draft of roles played by Senator James McClelland and Mr Ellicott in the constitutional crisis, written in the Barossa Valley by Governor-General Kerr, October 1976 M4524, 16
Letter from RG Withers to the Prime Minister re proposal to commission a suitable work dealing with the legal issues attached to the 1975 constitutional crisis, 25 May 1976 M4524, 21
Papers relevant to the month before the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government on 11 November 1975, 19 August – 11 November 1975 M4524, 26
The Governor-General's reservations about fully relying on the 'Opinion of the Law Officers', 1975 M4524, 29
Correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Governor-General on the Governor-General's resignation, 1977 M4524, 31
Assessment of position up to the Queen's visit and relevant conversations, enclosed in an envelope marked 'Conversations with the Prime Minister and others about security, future planning and related matters during April 1976' and signed by John R Kerr, 20 April 1976 M4524, 34
Archival notes relating to a letter from Paul Cullen dated 10 April 1978, 1978–81 M4524, 35
PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE OF SIR JOHN KERR, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, ARCHDALE-YEEND, 1973-91
Canberra

This series comprises Kerr's personal correspondence dating from 1976 through to the time of his death, with a few miscellaneous folios dated after his death. There are two incidences of material pertaining to the period before 1976. The first is a copy of a letter written in 1947 to Eddie Ward; the second is correspondence with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales dating from 1973. Included in the series is correspondence with royalty, academics, friends and relatives.

Series: M4526
Quantity: 1.1 metres
Recorded by: 1973–91 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Atwill, Sir John, 1979–89
2 December 1980 correspondence from Kerr to former federal President of the Liberal Party Sir John Atwill refers to a 1976 lunch with Sir Martin Charteris.
M4526, 3
Barwick, The Rt Hon. Sir Garfield, 1976–85

In this letter to Kerr in July 1976, Barwick put two propositions stemming from the Dismissal: that the Crown should be more involved in Australian affairs, and that the Governor-General should (without a referendum or legislation being passed) write into his commission of an elected government a proviso that the commission was dependent on the provision of Supply. The second proposal would effectively make government contingent not only on having a majority in the House of Representatives but also on control of the Senate.

M4526, 4 Part 1
Ellicott, The Hon. RC, 1979–90 M4526, 15
Mason, The Hon. Sir Anthony KBE, QC, 1978–90
This collection includes a letter from the Hon. Sir Anthony Mason to Sir John Kerr, 25 October 1978, in which he asked to see a draft of Kerr's autobiography before it was published.
M4526, 31
Smith, Sir David, 1979–91

This includes correspondence about the 20 September 1978 edition of the newpolitical journal, The Laurie Oakes Report. It documents a conversation betweenPaul Kelly and David Smith in which Smith said if Kerr 'plays fast and loose with thetruth', he would write his own account to ensure the historical record was accurate.A handwritten note from Smith to Kerr indicates that Kelly told Government Housethat, 'this report grossly distorts the conversation that took place'. See also PeterHartcher, 'David Smith's inside story' in The Sydney Morning Herald's 'Spectrum',1 September 1990.

M4526, 49
Southey, Sir Robert, 1978–82

A letter from Kerr to former Liberal Party President Sir Robert Southey dated15 June 1978 records Kerr's lunch with Southey in June 1978 at Southey's invitation, at the Cavalry and Guards Club. Southey wrote to Kerr on 5 June 1978, saying he was 'proud of your courage and eternally grateful to you for saving us from tyranny'.

M4526, 50
KERR - PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE WITH STATE GOVENORS, 1974–77
Canberra
This series comprises personal correspondence between Sir John Kerr and state governors. Topics include offers of accommodation to Sir John and Lady Kerr on state visits, invitations to state functions and general information exchanges.
Series: M4529
Quantity: 0.1 metres
Recorded by: 1974–77 Governor-General (CA 1)
SIR JOHN KERR'S COPIES OF ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS RECORDED FOR THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA, 1974–76
Canberra
This series contains Sir John Kerr's copies of interviews for the National Library of Australia, as part of the Library's ongoing commitment to recording and collecting oral history interviews with Australians of national standing. The series includes reel-to-reel recordings and typed transcripts of interviews made in November 1974 and September 1976. Some include Kerr's annotations.
Series: M4537
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1974–76 The Rt Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr AK, GCMG, GCVO, KStJ, QC (CP 266)
Tape transcripts – September 1976 interview – incorporating amendments [made by Sir John Kerr, tapes 4–7], 1976

This transcript incorporates Kerr's amendments:

  • O'Shea imprisoned 'until he purged his contempt' (Tape 5/2:296)
  • 'I was a person who had some influence with the Industrial Groups' (Tape 7/1:374)
  • with the Split the Labor Party 'had been given into the hands of its left wing' (Tape 7/1:381).
M4537, 4
PATRONAGE BOOKS [REGISTER AND INDEX OF CORRESONDENCES], 1976
Canberra
This series comprises leather bound volumes, either green or blue in colour, with 'Patronage Book' stamped on the front in gold lettering. There is usually a separate patronage book for each Governor-General and some books contain entries relating to the Administrator at the time. The volumes record the many requests for patronage addressed to the Governor-General by organisations, societies and associations.
Series: A7460
Recorded by: 1976– Governor-General (CA 1)
Patronage Book – His Excellency the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, 1974–77 A7460, PB 10
ADDRESSES GIVEN BY HIS EXCELLENCY SIR JOHN KERR, INCLUDING INDEX, 1974-77
Canberra

This series consists of typescript addresses, speeches and lectures given by His Excellency Sir John Kerr in his capacity as Governor-General (1974–77). The addresses were delivered at various functions including official openings; dinners and luncheons; seminars, conventions and conferences; defence service graduation ceremonies; agricultural shows; and school and scouting functions. The series also includes Kerr's Australia Day broadcasts; his Robert Garran Memorial oration (November 1974); address to the Indian Law Institute (February 1975); address upon receiving the World Lawyer Award (Manila, August 1977); and Vancouver Memorial Lecture (Western Australia, October 1977).

The addresses are titled according to the occasion and are in chronological order. Some of them carry annotations by Kerr; others have a note attached indicating that the address was not used or not delivered exactly as written. Copies of many of the addresses were subsequently distributed on request, this being recorded on a sheet of paper attached to the address concerned.

Series: M3511
Quantity: 0.4 metres
Recorded by: 1974–77 Governor-General (CA 1)
Index of addresses given by His Excellency the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, 1974–77
Kerr made frequent speeches as Governor-General.
M3511, 1–95
The Robert Garran Memorial Lecture, delivered by His Excellency the Governor-General the Hon. Sir John Kerr, 11 November 1974
Kerr's lecture was titled 'The ethics of public office'.
M3511, 13
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, at the graduation parade of the No. 24 Course RAAF Academy, Point Cook, 11 December 1974 M3511, 17
Closing address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, to No. 28 RAAF Staff Course, Fairbairn, 12 December 1974 M3511, 18
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, to the Indian Law Institute, 28 February 1975
This address provides an important exposition of Kerr's view of the role and powers of Governor-General. He saw the role as one with some independence and acting 'as the Australian Head of State' on behalf of the Queen, and referred to 'my constitutional relationship with the Queen'.
M3511, 28
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, at the opening of the 29th International Organisation of Motor Trades and Repairs Congress, Melbourne, 8 November 1975 M3511, 67
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, at the graduation parade of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra, 9 December 1975 M3511, 68
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, at the opening of the 60th National Congress of the Returned Services League of Australia at the national headquarters, Canberra, 27 October 1975 M3511, 66
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, on the occasion of the Cardinal's dinner at the Wentworth Hotel, Sydney, 21 August 1975 M3511, 49
Address by His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, at the annual speech night at the King's School Parramatta, 9 December 1975
Four days out from the election, on 9 December 1975, Kerr referred to his view of the state of the economy: 'I do not think it would be entering into an area of political controversy, and I certainly have no desire to do so, to say that these are times of economic difficulty'. Later, he spoke of his own 'temporary difficulties'.
M3511, 70
His Excellency the Hon. Sir John Kerr, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia delivers the inaugural annual oration of the Australian Association of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta at the Wentworth Hotel, Sydney, 9 November 1976 M3511, 95
PRESS CLIPPINGS AND COPIES OF ARTICLES RELATING TO THE DISMISSAL OF THE PRIME MINISTER, GOUGH WHITLAM, IN NOVEMBER 1975
Canberra
This series is divided into 14 items, the first of which is a list of press clippings, alphabetical by publication order.
Series: A11473
Quantity: 0.1 metres
Recorded by: 1975–77 Governor-General (CA 1)
PERSONAL PAPERS CREATED AND MAINTAINED BY SIR CLARENCE HARDERS, 1951–97
Canberra
This series contains material relevant to the Loans Affair (see Chapter 6: Leader of the Opposition, 1967–72) and the Dismissal. The legal opinion prepared by Sir Alec Shand QC for the Liberal Party (M4081, 1/27) appears here as well as in Chapter 6.
Series: M4081
Quantity: 5.7 metres
Recorded by: 1965–80 Attorney-General's Department, Central Office – Deputy Secretary/Secretary's Office (CA 5); 1965–97 Sir Clarence Waldemar Harders OBE (CP 686); 1979–80 Department of Foreign Affairs, Central Office – Legal Adviser (CA 1382)
Loans Affair – legal opinion – Liberal Party briefs regarding legality of Executive Council approval of overseas loan raising, 1975
This legal opinion regarding the deferral of Supply, was prepared for the Liberal Party by Alec Shand QC. It proposed that the loan raising authorised by the Executive Council on 13 December 1974 constituted a legal conspiracy and considers whether the Governor-General could be included in the allegation of conspiracy.
M4081, 1/27
Loans Affair – meetings – proposals to include overseas loan raising on Loans Council agenda, 1975 M4081, 1/28
Loans Affair – meetings – interdepartmental discussions regarding Khemlani negotiations, 1974–75 M4081, 1/29
The Dismissal – advice – power of House of Representatives to revoke or nullify a money bill, 1975
This departmental paper considers 'whether the House of Representatives can revoke or otherwise nullify the passing of a money Bill in order to prevent it becoming law', 2 October 1975. This was an ingenious proposal by Sir Clarence Harders to amend appropriation Bills so that ultimate control of such Bills remained with the House of Representatives and therefore with government. This would have meant that 'the deferral by the Senate would have been circumvented'. Whitlam advocated strongly for this proposal in the party room but it was not agreed to.
M4081, 2/1
The Dismissal – advice – recommendation that the Prime Minister tender formal advice to the Governor-General, 1975 M4081, 2/4
The Dismissal – advice – power of House of Representatives to revoke or nullify a money bill, 1975 M4081, 2/1
The Dismissal – advice – compelling the states to act regarding issuing of writs for a half-Senate election, 1975 M4081, 2/2
The Dismissal – advice – opinion of Solicitor-General and Attorney-General regarding exercise of the Governor-General's powers in constitutional crisis, 1975 M4081, 2/6
The Dismissal – double dissolution of parliament – tabling of documents, 1975–77 M4081, 2/11 Parts 1–2
The Dismissal – Governor-General – position where the Senate rejects Supply, 1975 M4081, 2/16
The Dismissal – Governor-General – discussions with Secretary of Attorney-General's Department (CW Harders), 1975 M4081, 2/17
The Dismissal – reference material – Governor-General (appointment, instructions, role and advice), 1972–75 M4081, 2/20
The Dismissal – reference material – speeches by Sir John Kerr, 1974–75 M4081, 2/21
RECORDS FROM THE SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET'S OFFICE FILING SYSTEM, 1952–86
Canberra
Records in this series were maintained as part of Sir Geoffrey Yeend's office filing system as Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Series: M4799
Quantity: 2.4 metres
Recorded by: 1952–86 Sir Geoffrey John Yeend AC (CP 982); Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (CA 1401)
Correspondence with Sir John Bunting, 1975–76 M4799, 10/9

Whitlam Institute

Original letter of dismissal from Governor-General Sir John Kerr to the Prime Minister, the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam, 11 November 1975
This is the original letter given to Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, terminating his commission as Prime Minister and dismissing his government from office.

First Fraser government

At 1.10 pm on 11 November 1975, Kerr revoked Whitlam's commission and appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser as prime minister. Cabinet Office records document the two Cabinet meetings held between 11 November and the December 1975 election. As noted in the section on East Timor (Chapter 6: Leader of the Opposition, 1967–72), Cabinet discussed East Timor, as well as relations with North Korea. Also on the agenda were the mounting complaints to the Governor-General regarding actions of this first Fraser government in breach of 'caretaker' provisions.

National Archives of Australia

FIRST FRASER MINISTRY – FOLDER OF CABINET DECISIIONS, 1975
Canberra
These records show that following the Dismissal, 100 public servants wrote to the Governor-General complaining about the actions of the 'caretaker' government and asking for clarification of the notional caretaker guidelines.
Series: A13050
Quantity: 0.1 metres
Recorded by: 1975 Cabinet Office (CA 1472)
Cabinet Minute – complaints to the Governor-General regarding the caretaker government – without submission,1975
Cabinet Minute, 19 November 1975. Decision No. 28 Without Submission.
A13050, 28
Cabinet Minute – specific complaints to the Governor-General regarding the caretaker government – without submission, 1975
Cabinet Minute, 19 November 1975. Decision No. 29 Without Submission.
A13050, 29

1975 election

Within hours of his dismissal, from the steps of Parliament House, Whitlam had called on his supporters to 'maintain your rage and your enthusiasm'. Despite huge rallies in support of Whitlam during the election campaign, the Labor Party suffered a devastating loss with a swing of 7.4 per cent against it at the 13 December 1975 double dissolution election. Malcolm Fraser and the Coalition achieved the largest ever majority in the House of Representatives. Whitlam remained Leader of the ALP until the party's defeat in the 1977 election. After nearly 26 years in parliament, Gough Whitlam resigned from the seat of Werriwa on 31 July 1978 and as Leader of the ALP. He was replaced as leader by Bill Hayden.

Leader of the Opposition, 1976–77

The records of Whitlam's final period as Leader of the Opposition include letters and telegrams of support, which are held at the National Archives and the Whitlam Institute. These relate to the Dismissal, the 1976 and 1977 ALP leadership elections, and Whitlam's decision to step down as leader.

Also included is a major address at the National Press Club given by Sir Garfield Barwick in June 1976, where he faced extensive and at times heated questioning about the Dismissal.

National Archives of Australia

FOLDERS OF TELEGRAMS RECEIVED AFTER DISMISSAL OF LABOR GOVERNMENT, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1975
Sydney
The series comprises telegrams received by Whitlam from members of the public and ALP branches after the dismissal of the Labor government on 11 November 1975.
Series: M510
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1975 The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)
FOLDERS OF TELEGRAMS AND LETTER OF SUPPORT RELATING TO THE ALP LEADERSHIP ELECTION IN MARCH 1976
Sydney
The series comprises telegrams and letters of support received by Whitlam from ALP branches and members of the public in the period leading up to his re-election as Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party in March 1976, following the 1975 federal election defeat. Copies of replies are included.
Series: M511
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1976 The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)
FOLDERS OF TELEGRAMS AND LETTERS OF SUPPORT RECEIVED BY WHITLAM PRIOR TO THE 1977 ALP LEADERSHIP ELECTION, 1977
Sydney
The series comprises folders of telegrams and letters of support received by Whitlam from ALP branches and members of the public before the ALP leadership election in July 1977. Copies of replies are included. The records were in loose arrangement by state/territory of origin.
Series: M512
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1977 The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)
FOLDERS OF COPIES OF OUTWARD CORRESPONDENCE CREATED BY WHITLAM AS LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, 1975–77
Sydney
The series consists of arch folder files containing photocopies of outward correspondence. Some copies of inward correspondence are included. The correspondence deals mainly with parliamentary and electoral matters.
Series: M1734
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1975–77 The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)
Letter by Prime Minister EG Whitlam to Martin Charteris, Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II, 26 December 1975 M1734, 1
TELEGRAMS AND MESSAGES OF SUPPORT SENT TO WHITLAM FOLLOWING HIS DECISION TO STEP DOWN AS LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, 1977–78
Sydney
This series comprises folders of letters, cards and telegrams of support received by Whitlam when he stepped down as Leader of the Opposition. The letters were from members of the public, trade union representatives and ALP associates. Most of the correspondence was answered with a 'telegram of thanks'.
Series: M840
Quantity: 0.5 metres
Recorded by: 1977–78 The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)

Researchers should also note that in addition to material on the Loans Affair, the files of Peter Lawler listed below contain records relating to the Iraqi breakfast Affair the following year. Following the dismissal of the Whitlam government, the ALP faced the 1975 election with little money to fund its third election campaign in as many years. The suggestion by Victorian ALP former State Secretary Bill Hartley that a donation of $500,000 could be sourced from the Middle East through the Iraqi Ba'ath Socialist Party became a major media scandal in February 1976. The ensuing furore was enormously damaging and almost cost Whitlam the leadership, which he retained until after the 1977 election loss.

National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia's collection of oral history interviews includes several that discuss the Dismissal, in particular those recorded with Garfield Barwick, Neville Bonner, Cleaver Bunton, Jim Cope, Magnus Cormack, Frank Crean, Kep Enderby, Patrick Field, John Gorton, Clarrie Harders, Justice Robert Marsden Hope, Antony Lamb, Billy Snedden and Ken Wriedt. These interviews are listed in detail in Chapter 7: Prime Minister, 1972–75. Other relevant oral history interviews in the National Library's collection are also listed in Chapter 5: 'Whose party is this?' Gough Whitlam and ALP politics.

The National Library holds a sound recording of an address to the National Press Club by Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick in June 1976; it was the first address he gave following the Dismissal.

GARFIELD BARWICK ADDRESS AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, 10 JUNE 1976
Giving the first address at the new National Press Club building in Canberra, Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, spoke about the High Court: its structure and history; the nature of reforms to appeals and judiciary legislation; types of cases presented; and the Whitlam government's dismissal. Barwick faced intense questioning about his assertion that Sir John Kerr had the 'constitutional authority and duty' to act as he did. Asked by journalists to specify which section of the Constitution laid out such a duty, he replied, 'None'.
Series: TRC 4042

Whitlam Institute

LETTERS TO THE HON. GOUGH WHITLAM QC, MP AFTER THE DISMISSAL IN NOVEMBER 1975

This collection comprises letters to Whitlam after his government's dismissal from office. Correspondents include authors Gore Vidal, Patrick White and Xavier Herbert, artist Sir Daryl Lindsay, Prime Ministers Manley (Jamaica) and Bhutto (Pakistan), UK Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, Marshall Green (US State Department), William Harrop (US Ambassador, Guinea), Rod Carnegie, Sir John (Jack) Bunting, Ron Walker, Fin Crisp (ANU), General Sir John Wilton and others, including many members of the public.

These letters may be viewed online.


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