Part of the Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture series
The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr in 1975 remains one of the most contentious episodes in Australian politics. The history of the dismissal is no less contentious and has never been settled. In the decades since, long-held secrets have unraveled and dramatic archival revelations have transformed our knowledge and understanding of the dismissal. The role of High Court justice Sir Anthony Mason as Kerr’s confidante and guide, and Kerr’s secret communications with Prince Charles and the Queen’s private secretary, remained hidden from us for nearly 40 years until revealed in 2012 in Jenny Hocking’s biography of Gough Whitlam.
Now Jenny Hocking is pursuing the release of the ‘Palace letters’, correspondence between Kerr and the Queen, her private secretary and Prince Charles regarding the dismissal, through a Federal Court action against the National Archives of Australia. The Palace letters are embargoed on the instruction of the Queen until at least 2027, and potentially indefinitely. Speculation that the Palace was at least aware of, and at worst involved in, the dismissal has only intensified with the refusal to release the Queen’s correspondence with the Governor-General at such a significant time in our history.
Kerr always claimed that in dismissing Whitlam he acted in order ‘to protect the Queen’. In the 2017 Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture, Professor Jenny Hocking asks: Why would the Queen need protecting from an Australian political issue? What are the implications of this for our national autonomy as a constitutional monarchy? What did the Palace know about the dismissal? And why is the Queen refusing to lift her embargo on the Palace letters? Here for the first time, Jenny Hocking will discuss the latest revelations from the archives and will reveal the final piece in the secret history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government – the Palace connection.