WordPress Daily Prompt — Cur
In response to the WordPress Daily Prompt “Cur”, I thought I would share with you a significant moment in Australian political history. It was the day the official representative of the Queen (of England and also of Australia), the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, fired the duly elected Australian government.
The dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government on 11 November 1975 became known as the 1975 Australian Constitutional Crisis, or the “Dismissal”. The events leading up to the Dismissal have been revealed slowly over time, and like many historical events, is subject to a wide variety of opinion. The short story is that the Labor Government did not have a majority in the Senate and its budget appropriation bills were blocked by the Opposition, meaning that there was no money for the business of government. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was unable to resolve this situation to the Governor-General’s satisfaction (meanwhile the Liberal Party of Australia through its parliamentary leader, Malcolm Fraser, was cultivating that dissatisfaction). Hence, the Governor-General sent his official secretary to (old) Parliament House to issue a proclamation dismissing the Government. This proclamation was delivered on the steps of Parliament House with much drama. In response, Gough Whitlam gave a stirring, unscripted speech condemning the Governor-General and the leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, the latter of whom he labeled Kerr’s cur. Here is what he said:
Ladies and gentleman , well may we say God Save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General.
The proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s official secretary was countersigned ‘Malcolm Fraser’ who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur…”
Gough Whitlam was renowned as a reforming Prime Minister, but some of his ministers were a bit dodgy, and this turned out to be the Labor Party’s undoing at the consequent election. In the end, the Liberal Party of Australia won that election in a landslide.
The 1975 Constitutional Crisis has had a powerful and long-lasting impact on Australian politics. It was the reason I studied politics at university a decade later. Every time I hear that speech, I get shivers down my spine. If you have five minutes, I urge you to watch a short summary of the events, which includes the speech. What I find interesting about this clip is Gough Whitlam’s insistence that the Governor-General must accept his advice and his alone. The Governor-General did not consult with the Prime Minister.
And still the debate goes on – see Anne Twomey writing for The Conversation, and Christopher Pollard in an opinion piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. More recently, following the successful four-year legal battle by Professor Jenny Hockings, the High Court of Australia ordered the National Archives to release the correspondence (the Palace Letters) between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace. Professor Hockings’ book, The Palace Letters: The Queen, the Governor-General, and the Plot to Dismiss Gough Whitlam, published in October 2020 can be found here.
Updated 10 November 2020