Australian constitutional crisis of 1975
The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis (sometimes called "the Dismissal") has been described as the greatest political crisis and constitutional crisis
Constitutional crisis
A constitutional crisis is a situation that the legal system's constitution or other basic principles of operation appear unable to resolve; it often results in a breakdown in the orderly operation of government...

 in Australia's history
History of Australia
The History of Australia refers to the history of the area and people of Commonwealth of Australia and its preceding Indigenous and colonial societies. Aboriginal Australians are believed to have first arrived on the Australian mainland by boat from the Indonesian archipelago between 40,000 to...

. It culminated on 11 November 1975 with the removal of the Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Australia
The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia is the highest minister of the Crown, leader of the Cabinet and Head of Her Majesty's Australian Government, holding office on commission from the Governor-General of Australia. The office of Prime Minister is, in practice, the most powerful...

, Gough Whitlam
Gough Whitlam
Edward Gough Whitlam, AC, QC , known as Gough Whitlam , served as the 21st Prime Minister of Australia. Whitlam led the Australian Labor Party to power at the 1972 election and retained government at the 1974 election, before being dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr at the climax of the...

 of the Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party. It has been the governing party of the Commonwealth of Australia since the 2007 federal election. Julia Gillard is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia...

 (ALP), by Governor-General
Governor-General of Australia
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia is the representative in Australia at federal/national level of the Australian monarch . He or she exercises the supreme executive power of the Commonwealth...

 Sir John Kerr. Kerr then appointed the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser
Malcolm Fraser
John Malcolm Fraser AC, CH, GCL, PC is a former Australian Liberal Party politician who was the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia. He came to power in the 1975 election following the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government, in which he played a key role...

 as caretaker
Caretaker government
Caretaker government is a type of government that rules temporarily. A caretaker government is often set up following a war until stable democratic rule can be restored, or installed, in which case it is often referred to as a provisional government...

 Prime Minister.

Whitlam's Labor government had been elected in 1972 with a small majority in the House of Representatives
Australian House of Representatives
The House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the Parliament of Australia; it is the lower house; the upper house is the Senate. Members of Parliament serve for terms of approximately three years....

, but with the Opposition controlling the Senate
Australian Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Senators are popularly elected under a system of proportional representation. Senators are elected for a term that is usually six years; after a double dissolution, however,...

. Another election in 1974 resulted in little change to the status quo. While the Whitlam Government introduced many new policies and programs, it was also rocked by scandals and political miscalculations. In October 1975, the Opposition used its control of the Senate to defer passage of appropriation bill
Appropriation bill
An appropriation bill or running bill is a legislative motion which authorizes the government to spend money. It is a bill that sets money aside for specific spending...

s, or supply
Loss of Supply
Loss of supply occurs where a government in a parliamentary democracy using the Westminster System or a system derived from it is denied a supply of treasury or exchequer funds, by whichever house or houses of parliament or head of state is constitutionally entitled to grant and deny supply. A...

, which finance governmental operations and which had been passed by the House of Representatives. The Opposition stated that they would continue to do so unless Whitlam called an election for the House of Representatives and urged Kerr to dismiss Whitlam unless he agreed to their demand. Whitlam believed that Kerr would not dismiss him, and Kerr did nothing to disabuse Whitlam.

On 11 November 1975, Whitlam intended to call a half-Senate election in an attempt to break the deadlock. When he went to seek Kerr's approval of the election, Kerr instead dismissed him as Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter installed Fraser in his place. Acting quickly before all ALP parliamentarians became aware of the change of government, Fraser and his allies were able to secure passage of the appropriation bills, and Kerr dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution
Double dissolution
A double dissolution is a procedure permitted under the Australian Constitution to resolve deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate....

 election. Fraser and his government were returned with a massive majority.

The events of the Dismissal led to only minor constitutional change. The Senate retains its power to block supply, and the Governor-General the power to dismiss the Government. However, those powers have not been exercised again. Kerr was widely criticised by ALP supporters for his actions, resigned early as Governor-General, and lived much of his remaining life abroad. Though Kerr, who died in 1991, continues to be reviled in some quarters, Whitlam and Fraser later reconciled.


As established by the Constitution
Constitution of Australia
The Constitution of Australia is the supreme law under which the Australian Commonwealth Government operates. It consists of several documents. The most important is the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia...

, the Parliament of Australia
Parliament of Australia
The Parliament of Australia, also known as the Commonwealth Parliament or Federal Parliament, is the legislative branch of the government of Australia. It is bicameral, largely modelled in the Westminster tradition, but with some influences from the United States Congress...

 is composed of two houses, the House of Representatives
Australian House of Representatives
The House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the Parliament of Australia; it is the lower house; the upper house is the Senate. Members of Parliament serve for terms of approximately three years....

 and the Senate
Australian Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Senators are popularly elected under a system of proportional representation. Senators are elected for a term that is usually six years; after a double dissolution, however,...

, together with the Queen of Australia. The Queen is represented through the Governor-General
Governor-General of Australia
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia is the representative in Australia at federal/national level of the Australian monarch . He or she exercises the supreme executive power of the Commonwealth...

, who has executive powers granted in the Constitution, as well as rarely exercised reserve powers. The reserve powers are that legal authority remaining in the Crown after most of its historic power was transferred to Parliament or to officials. The Governor-General ordinarily acts only upon the advice of his government, but can act independently and against the advice of his advisers in exercising the reserve powers. The Governor-General is removable by the Queen on the advice of her Prime Minister. As Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser, who would play a large part in the crisis, put it, "The Queen has tenure, and she couldn't be sacked. But a Governor-General holds office at pleasure, and if he ceases to please then he can be removed by a Prime Minister."

As in most Westminster system
Westminster System
The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

 parliaments, Australia's government is formed by the party enjoying the confidence of the lower House of Parliament, the House of Representatives. However, Australia's Parliament also has a powerful upper house, the Senate, which must pass any legislation initiated by the House of Representatives if it is to become law. The composition of the Senate, in which each state has an equal number of senators regardless of that state's population, was originally designed to attract the Australian colonies into one Federation. The Constitution forbids the Senate to originate or amend a money bill
Money bill
In the Westminster system , a money bill or supply bill is a bill that solely concerns taxation or government spending , as opposed to changes in public law.- Conventions :...

, but places no limitation on the Senate's ability to defeat one. In 1970, Whitlam, as Leader of the Opposition, had stated of a budget bill, "Let me make it clear at the outset that our opposition to this Budget is no mere formality. We intend to press our opposition by all available means on all related measures in both Houses. If the motion is defeated, we will vote against the Bills here and in the Senate. Our purpose is to destroy this Budget and destroy the Government which has sponsored it."

Prior to the 1975 crisis, the Governor-General's power to dismiss a Prime Minister against his will under Section 64 of the Constitution had never been exercised. Twice since Federation, conflicts between state premiers
Premiers of the Australian states
The Premiers of the Australian states are the de facto heads of the executive governments in the six states of the Commonwealth of Australia. They perform the same function at the state level as the Prime Minister of Australia performs at the national level. The territory equivalents to the...

 and state governors
Governors of the Australian states
The Governors of the Australian states are the representatives of the Queen of Australia in each of that country's six states. The Governors perform the same constitutional and ceremonial functions at the state level as does the Governor-General of Australia at the national level...

, who perform similar functions to the Prime Minister and Governor-General at the state level, had resulted in the departure of one or the other. In 1916, New South Wales Premier
Premiers of New South Wales
The Premier of New South Wales is the head of government in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The Government of New South Wales follows the Westminster system, with a Parliament of New South Wales acting as the legislature...

 William Holman
William Holman
William Arthur Holman was an Australian Labor Party Premier of New South Wales, Australia, who split with the party on the conscription issue in 1916 during World War I, and immediately became Premier of a conservative Nationalist Party Government.-Early life:Holman was born in St Pancras, London,...

 was expelled from the Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party. It has been the governing party of the Commonwealth of Australia since the 2007 federal election. Julia Gillard is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia...

 for supporting conscription. He managed to hold on to power with the aid of opposition parties, and consulted the governor, Sir Gerald Strickland
Gerald Strickland, 1st Baron Strickland
Gerald Strickland, 1st Baron Strickland, 6th Count of Catena, GCMG was a Maltese and British politician and peer, who served as Prime Minister of Malta, Governor of the Leeward Islands, Governor of Tasmania, Governor of Western Australia and Governor of New South Wales.-Early...

, proposing to pass legislation to extend the term of the lower house of the state legislature
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
The Legislative Assembly, or lower house, is one of the two chambers of the Parliament of New South Wales, an Australian state. The other chamber is the Legislative Council. Both the Assembly and Council sit at Parliament House in the state capital, Sydney...

 by a year. When Strickland objected, stating that such a course was unfair to Labor, Holman had him replaced. In 1932 the New South Wales Labor Premier, Jack Lang
Jack Lang (Australian politician)
John Thomas Lang , usually referred to as J.T. Lang during his career, and familiarly known as "Jack" and nicknamed "The Big Fella" was an Australian politician who was Premier of New South Wales for two terms...

, refused to pay moneys owing to the Federal government, which froze the state's bank accounts, causing Lang to order that payments to the state government be only in cash. The governor, Sir Philip Game
Philip Game
Air Vice-Marshal Sir Philip Woolcott Game GCB, GCVO, GBE, KCMG, DSO was a British Royal Air Force commander, who later served as Governor of New South Wales and Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis...

, wrote to Lang, warning him that ministers were breaking the law, and warning that if they continued, he would have to obtain ministers who could carry on government within legal bounds. Lang replied that he would not resign, and Game dismissed his government
Lang Dismissal Crisis
The 1932 dismissal of Premier Jack Lang by New South Wales Governor Philip Game was the first real constitutional crisis in Australia. Lang remains the only Australian Premier to be removed from office by his Governor, using the Reserve Powers of the Crown....

 and commissioned the Leader of the Opposition, Bertram Stevens, to form a caretaker government pending new elections, in which Labor was defeated.

Among the powers granted to the Governor-General is the power to dissolve both houses of Parliament under Section 57 of the Constitution, in the event that the House of Representatives twice passes a bill at least three months apart and the Senate will not agree to pass the bill. In both instances where those circumstances arose prior to the Whitlam Government, in 1914 and 1951, the Governor-General dissolved Parliament for a "double dissolution
Double dissolution
A double dissolution is a procedure permitted under the Australian Constitution to resolve deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate....

" election on the advice of the Prime Minister.


Gough Whitlam's Labor government was elected in 1972
Australian federal election, 1972
Federal elections were held in Australia on 2 December 1972. All 125 seats in the House of Representatives were up for election. The Liberal Party of Australia had been in power since 1949, under Prime Minister of Australia William McMahon since March 1971 with coalition partner the Country Party...

 after 23 years of rule by a coalition
Coalition (Australia)
The Coalition in Australian politics refers to a group of centre-right parties that has existed in the form of a coalition agreement since 1922...

 formed by the Liberal
Liberal Party of Australia
The Liberal Party of Australia is an Australian political party.Founded a year after the 1943 federal election to replace the United Australia Party, the centre-right Liberal Party typically competes with the centre-left Australian Labor Party for political office...

 and Country
National Party of Australia
The National Party of Australia is an Australian political party.Traditionally representing graziers, farmers and rural voters generally, it began as the The Country Party, but adopted the name The National Country Party in 1975, changed to The National Party of Australia in 1982. The party is...

 parties. The ALP Government enjoyed a nine-seat majority in the House of Representatives, but did not control the Senate. In accordance with pre-election promises, it instituted a large number of policy changes, and offered much legislation. The Opposition, which still controlled the Senate, allowed some Government bills to pass the Senate, and blocked others.

In April 1974, faced with attempts by the Opposition to obstruct supply (that is, appropriation bills) in the Senate, Whitlam obtained the concurrence of the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck
Paul Hasluck
Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck KG GCMG GCVO KStJ was an Australian historian, poet, public servant and politician, and the 17th Governor-General of Australia.-Early life:...

, to a double dissolution. Labor was returned at the election on 18 May
Australian federal election, 1974
Federal elections were held in Australia on 18 May 1974. All 127 seats in the House of Representatives, and all 60 seats in the Senate were up for election, due to a double dissolution...

 with a reduced House majority of five seats. The Coalition and Labor each had 29 Senate seats, with the balance of power held by two independents.

Hasluck had been Governor-General since 1969, and his term was shortly due to expire. Whitlam wanted him to remain a further two years, but Hasluck declined, citing his wife
Alexandra Hasluck
Dame Alexandra Hasluck, AD, alternatively named Lady Hasluck , was an author and social historian in Western Australia...

's refusal to remain at Yarralumla
Government House, Canberra
Government House, Canberra, commonly known as Yarralumla, is the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia. It is located in the suburb of Yarralumla, in the City of Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory....

 longer than the originally agreed five years. Whitlam offered the post to businessman Ken Myer
Ken Myer
Kenneth Baillieu Myer AC DSC was an American-born Australian patron of the arts, humanities and sciences; diplomat; administrator; businessman; and philanthropist...

, who turned it down. Whitlam then turned to Sir John Kerr, the Chief Justice of New South Wales. Kerr was reluctant to give up the Chief Justiceship, in which he intended to remain another ten years, for the Governor-General's post, which traditionally lasted five years. At Kerr's request, Whitlam informally agreed that if both men were still in office in five years, Kerr would be reappointed. Whitlam also secured legislation to address Kerr's financial concerns about the position, including authorising a pension for the Governor-General or his widow. The Leader of the Opposition, Billy Snedden
Billy Snedden
Sir Billy Mackie Snedden, KCMG, QC was an Australian politician representing the Liberal Party. He was Leader of the Opposition at the 1974 federal election, failing to defeat the Labor incumbent Gough Whitlam.-Early life:...

, was enthusiastic about the appointment and also agreed to reappoint Kerr in five years, were he Prime Minister at the time. Kerr then agreed to take the post, was duly appointed by the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II, and was sworn in on 11 July 1974, Whitlam's 58th birthday.

Six of the bills that had been the subject of the double dissolution were introduced to the Parliament a third time and, as expected, were again rejected by the Senate. Section 57 of the Constitution of Australia provides that, after a double dissolution election, if bills that had been rejected twice by the Senate in the previous parliament were again passed by the House and rejected by the Senate, they could then be put to a joint sitting
Joint meetings of the Australian Parliament
This article is about Joint meetings of the Australian Parliament.Australia has a bicameral federal parliament, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives...

 of both houses. On 30 July, Whitlam gained Kerr's agreement for a joint sitting, which was set for 6–7 August 1974. The joint sitting, the only one in Australia's history under Section 57, passed all six bills, including the enabling legislation for Medibank.

Controversy and vacancies

In December 1974, Whitlam was anxious to find new sources of money to finance his development plans. After a meeting at the Prime Minister's residence, The Lodge, Whitlam and three of his ministers (Deputy Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister of Australia
The Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia is the second-most senior officer in the Government of Australia. The Deputy Prime Ministership has been a ministerial portfolio since 1968, and the Deputy Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime...

 and Treasurer
Treasurer of Australia
The Treasurer of Australia is the minister in the Government of Australia responsible for government expenditure and revenue raising. He is the head of the Department of the Treasury. The Treasurer plays a key role in the economic policy of the government...

 Jim Cairns
Jim Cairns
James Ford "J. F." Cairns , Australian politician, was prominent in the Labor movement through the 1960s and 1970s, and was briefly Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government...

, Attorney-General
Attorney-General of Australia
The Attorney-General of Australia is the first law officer of the Crown, chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia and a minister of the Crown. The Attorney-General is usually a member of the Federal Cabinet, but there is no constitutional requirement that this be the case since the...

 Senator Lionel Murphy
Lionel Murphy
Lionel Keith Murphy, QC was an Australian politician and jurist who served as Attorney-General in the government of Gough Whitlam and as a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1975 until his death.- Personal life :...

, and Minister for Minerals and Energy Rex Connor
Rex Connor
Reginald Francis Xavier "Rex" Connor , Australian politician, was a minister in the Whitlam government and promoted government investment to support national development...

) signed a letter of authority for Connor to borrow up to US$4 billion. This letter was described by author and journalist Alan Reid
Alan Reid (journalist)
Alan Douglas Reid , nicknamed the Red Fox, was an Australian political journalist, who worked in the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery from 1937 to 1985...

 as "the death warrant of the Whitlam ALP government".

Connor and other ministers had made contact with a hitherto-obscure Pakistani financier, Tirath Khemlani
Loans Affair
The Loans Affair, also called the Khemlani Affair, is the name given to the political scandal involving the Whitlam Government of Australia in 1975, in which it was accused of attempting to borrow money illegally from Middle Eastern countries by bypassing standard procedure as dictated by the...

, as early as November 1974. Khemlani was said to have contacts in the newly enriched Arab oil nations. None of the efforts to secure a loan, whether through Khemlani or by other routes, bore fruit, but as information about the "Loans Affair
Loans Affair
The Loans Affair, also called the Khemlani Affair, is the name given to the political scandal involving the Whitlam Government of Australia in 1975, in which it was accused of attempting to borrow money illegally from Middle Eastern countries by bypassing standard procedure as dictated by the...

" trickled out, the government lost support.

In February 1975, Whitlam decided to appoint Senator Murphy a justice of the High Court of Australia
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy and the final court of appeal in Australia. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, has the power of judicial review over laws passed by the Parliament of Australia and the parliaments of the States, and...

, even though Murphy's Senate seat would not be up for election if a half-Senate election were held. Under proportional representation, Labor could win three of the five New South Wales seats, but if Murphy's seat was also contested, it was most unlikely to win four out of six. Thus, appointing Murphy would almost certainly cost the ALP a Senate seat at the next half-Senate election. Whitlam appointed Murphy anyway. By convention, senators appointed by the state legislature to fill casual vacancies were from the same political party as the former senator. The New South Wales premier, Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis (Australian politician)
Thomas Lancelot Lewis AO is a former New South Wales politician, Premier of New South Wales and Minister of the Crown in the cabinets of Sir Robert Askin and Sir Eric Willis. He was made the Premier of New South Wales following Askin's retirement from politics and held it until he was replaced by...

 felt that this convention only applied to vacancies caused by deaths or ill-health, and arranged for the legislature to elect Cleaver Bunton
Cleaver Bunton
Cleaver Ernest Bunton AO OBE was a long serving Mayor of Albury, New South Wales, Australia, who came to national prominence in 1975 when he was controversially appointed to the Senate.-Early life:...

, former mayor of Albury
Albury, New South Wales
Albury is a major regional city in New South Wales, Australia, located on the Hume Highway on the northern side of the Murray River. It is located wholly within the boundaries of the City of Albury Local Government Area...

 and an independent.

By March 1975, many Liberal parliamentarians felt that Snedden was doing an inadequate job as Leader of the Opposition, and that Whitlam was dominating him in the House of Representatives. Malcolm Fraser
Malcolm Fraser
John Malcolm Fraser AC, CH, GCL, PC is a former Australian Liberal Party politician who was the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia. He came to power in the 1975 election following the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government, in which he played a key role...

 challenged Snedden for the leadership, and defeated him on 21 March. At a press conference after winning the leadership, Fraser stated:

The question of supply—let me deal with it this way. I generally believe if a government is elected to power in the lower House and has the numbers and can maintain the numbers in the lower House, it is entitled to expect that it will govern for the three-year term unless quite extraordinary events intervene ... Having said that ... if we do make up our minds at some stage that the Government is so reprehensible that an Opposition must use whatever power is available to it, then I'd want to find a situation in which ... Mr. Whitlam woke up one morning finding the decision had been made and finding that he had been caught with his pants well and truly down.

Whitlam's original Deputy Prime Minister, Lance Barnard
Lance Barnard
Lance Herbert Barnard AO , Australian politician, was Deputy Prime Minister of Australia for most of the Labor government of Gough Whitlam....

, had been challenged and defeated for his post by Cairns in late 1974. Whitlam then offered Barnard a diplomatic post; in early 1975 Barnard agreed to this. If the appointment went through, Barnard's resignation from the House of Representatives would trigger a by-election
Bass by-election, 1975
A by-election was held for the Australian House of Representatives seat of Bass on 28 June 1975. This was triggered by the resignation of Labor Party MP Lance Barnard.The by-election was won by Liberal Party candidate Kevin Newman.-Results:...

 in his Tasmanian electorate of Bass
Division of Bass
The Division of Bass is an Australian Electoral Division in Tasmania. The division was created in 1903 and is named for the explorer George Bass. It has always been based on the city of Launceston and surrounding rural areas, and its boundaries have changed very little in the century since its...

. Party officials felt given the party's weakened state, Barnard should remain in Parliament, and be given no preferment if he resigned. ALP president and future Prime Minister Bob Hawke
Bob Hawke
Robert James Lee "Bob" Hawke AC GCL was the 23rd Prime Minister of Australia from March 1983 to December 1991 and therefore longest serving Australian Labor Party Prime Minister....

 described the decision to appoint Barnard as "an act of lunacy". Barnard had been losing support over the last several elections, and a swing of 4% against Labor would be enough to defeat it. The Liberals had a candidate who had been nursing the electorate; Labor had no candidate selected and a bitter preselection in the offing. Barnard resigned, and was appointed ambassador to Sweden. The election on 28 June proved a disaster for Labor, losing the seat with a swing against it of 17%.

The next week, Whitlam fired Cairns for misleading Parliament regarding the Loans Affair amid innuendo about his relationship with his Principal Private Secretary, Junie Morosi
Junie Morosi
Junie Morosi is an Australian businesswoman, who became a public figure in the 1970s through her relationship with Dr Jim Cairns, Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam Labor government...

. He was replaced as deputy by Frank Crean
Frank Crean
Frank Crean was a senior minister in the Australian Labor Party government of Gough Whitlam from 1972 to 1975, and was Deputy Prime Minister for the last six months of the government's term....

. At the time of Cairns' dismissal, one Senate seat was vacant, following the death on 30 June of Queensland ALP Senator Bertie Milliner
Bertie Milliner
Bertie Milliner was an Australian trade unionist, politician and Senator, representing the Australian Labor Party . He would have been a minor figure in Australia’s political history but for the events that followed his sudden death...

. The state Labor party nominated Mal Colston
Mal Colston
Malcolm Arthur "Mal" Colston , Australian politician, was a Senator in the Parliament of Australia representing the state of Queensland between 1975 and 1999...

, who was the highest unelected candidate on the party's Queensland list in 1974. This resulted in deadlock in Queensland; the unicameral Queensland legislature twice voted against Colston, and the party refused to submit any alternative candidates. Queensland Country Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen
Joh Bjelke-Petersen
Sir Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen, KCMG , was an Australian politician. He was the longest-serving and longest-lived Premier of Queensland, holding office from 1968 to 1987, a period that saw considerable economic development in the state...

  had evidence that Colston, a schoolteacher by trade, had set a school afire during a labor dispute, though the police had refused to prosecute. After the legislature voted Colston down a second time, Bjelke-Petersen instructed his majority in the legislature to elect a low-level union official, Albert Field
Albert Field
Albert Patrick Field was an Australian who was a French polisher plucked from obscurity to become a Senator in 1975. The circumstances of his appointment were instrumental in precipitating the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.Queensland ALP Senator Bertie Milliner died suddenly on 30 June 1975...

, who had contacted his office and expressed a willingness to serve. In interviews, Field made it clear he would not support Whitlam. Field was expelled from the ALP for standing against Colston, and Labor senators boycotted his swearing-in. Whitlam argued that because of the vacancies being filled as they were, the Senate was "corrupted" and "tainted", with the Opposition enjoying a majority they did not win at the ballot box. Field's eligibility to serve was challenged in the High Court. With the Queensland senator on leave throughout the remainder of the crisis, the Coalition had an effective majority of 30–29 in the Senate.

Deferral of supply

On 10 October, the High Court ruled that the act passed at the joint sitting that gave the Australian Capital Territory
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory, often abbreviated ACT, is the capital territory of the Commonwealth of Australia and is the smallest self-governing internal territory...

 (ACT) and the Northern Territory
Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is a federal territory of Australia, occupying much of the centre of the mainland continent, as well as the central northern regions...

 two senators each was valid. A half-Senate election needed to be held by June 1976; most senators-elect would take their seats on 1 July but the territorial senators, and those filling Field's and Bunton's seats would take their places at once. The ruling meant that it was possible for the ALP to gain a temporary majority in the Senate, at least until 1 July 1976. To do so, the ALP would have to win Field's and Bunton's seats, and one seat in each territory, and have the second ACT seat fall to either a Labor candidate or an independent, former Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton
John Gorton
Sir John Grey Gorton, GCMG, AC, CH , Australian politician, was the 19th Prime Minister of Australia.-Early life:...

, now estranged from his party. If this happened, Labor would have an effective 33–31 margin, be able to pass supply if that was still an issue, and also could pass electoral redistribution laws (which had been passed by the House, though twice defeated by the Senate) which would give it an advantage at the next election.

The journalist and author Alan Reid described the position of the Government and Opposition as the crisis became acute in mid-October:
While it was possibly an overstatement to describe the 1975 position as a choice between evils, neither of the two major political groupings reached the 15 October 1975 crunch position with completely clean hands. Fraser and the Liberal-CP senators ... lacked the numbers to defer the Budget until the arrival in the Senate of Albert Patrick Field, whose arrival was not due to any decision by the Australian voters but to a decision by one of the rulers, the Whitlam-hating Bjelke-Petersen ... Whitlam for his part had decided even before the Budget was deferred to embark upon the bold, Cromwellian project of changing the Australian Constitution, not through the vote of the mass electorate ... but through prodigious personal exertions backed by the support of his parliamentary followers.

In the wake of the High Court ruling, and with the appropriation bills due to be considered by the Senate on 16 October, Fraser was undecided whether to block supply. His biographer, Philip Ayres, contends that had there been no further government scandals, he would not have done so. Khemlani, however, had alleged that (contrary to government statements) Connor had never revoked his authority to obtain loans and had been in regular contact with him even into mid-1975. On Monday 13 October, the Melbourne Herald
The Herald (Melbourne)
The Herald was a broadsheet newspaper published in Melbourne, Australia from 1840 to 1990.The Port Phillip Herald was first published as a semi-weekly newspaper on 3 January 1840 from a weatherboard shack in Collins Street. It was the fourth newspaper to start in Melbourne.The paper took its name...

 printed documents in support of Khemlani's allegations, and on the following day, Connor resigned. Fraser determined to block supply, convened a shadow cabinet
Shadow Cabinet
The Shadow Cabinet is a senior group of opposition spokespeople in the Westminster system of government who together under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition form an alternative cabinet to the government's, whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the government...

 meeting and received the unanimous support of the Coalition frontbench. At a press conference, Fraser cited the poor state of the economy and the continuing scandals as reasons for his decision. Without the passage of fresh appropriations, supply would be exhausted on 30 November.

The Governor of Queensland, Sir Colin Hannah
Colin Hannah
Air Marshal Sir Colin Thomas Hannah KCMG, KCVO, KBE, CB was a senior commander in the Royal Australian Air Force and a Governor of Queensland. Born in Western Australia, he was a member of the Militia before joining the RAAF in 1935. After graduating as a pilot, Hannah served in Nos. 22 and...

, gave a speech denigrating the Whitlam Government on 15 October, in violation of the convention that state governors remain neutral. Hannah held a dormant commission
Dormant commission
A dormant commission is a commission which lies dormant or sleeping until it is triggered by a particular event. The concept appears in the constitutional affairs of Commonwealth realm nations....

 as Administrator of the Commonwealth
Administrator (Australia)
The title Administrator of the Government has several uses in Australia.-Administrator of the Commonwealth:At the Commonwealth level, Section 4 of the Australian Constitution provides that:...

 to act as Governor-General in the event of Kerr's death, resignation, or absence from Australia. Whitlam immediately contacted Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

 to arrange for Hannah's dormant commission to be revoked, a process which took ten days to complete. Although Whitlam later alleged that he never contemplated dismissing Kerr during the crisis, on 16 October, while speaking with Kerr and visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, he told Kerr that if the crisis continued, "It could be a question of whether I get to the Queen first for your recall, or whether you get in first with my dismissal." Kerr saw the statement as a threat; Whitlam later stated the comment was "flippant" and designed to turn the conversation to another subject.

On 16 and 17 October, the Senate, with the unanimous support of the Coalition majority, deferred the appropriation bills. The Coalition took the position that Kerr could dismiss Whitlam if the Government could not secure supply. Whitlam's former solicitor-general Robert Ellicott, now a Liberal member of the House, issued a legal opinion on 16 October stating that the Governor-General had the power to dismiss Whitlam, and should do so forthwith if Whitlam could not state how he would obtain supply. Ellicott indicated that Whitlam was treating Kerr as if he had no discretion but to follow prime ministerial advice, when in fact the Governor-General could and should dismiss a ministry unable to secure supply. Ellicott stated that Kerr

... should ask the Prime Minister if the Government is prepared to advise him to dissolve the House of Representatives and the Senate or the House of Representatives alone as a means of assuring that the disagreement between the two Houses is resolved. If the Prime Minister refuses to do either, it is then open to the Governor-General to dismiss his present Ministers and seek others who are prepared to give him the only proper advice open. This he should proceed to do.

Consultations and negotiations

Kerr rang Whitlam on Sunday 19 October, asking permission to consult with the Chief Justice of the High Court
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy and the final court of appeal in Australia. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, has the power of judicial review over laws passed by the Parliament of Australia and the parliaments of the States, and...

, Sir Garfield Barwick
Garfield Barwick
Sir Garfield Edward John Barwick, was the Attorney-General of Australia , Minister for External Affairs and the seventh and longest serving Chief Justice of Australia...

, concerning the crisis. Whitlam advised Kerr not to do so, noting that no Governor-General had consulted with a Chief Justice under similar circumstances since 1914, when Australia was at a much earlier stage of her constitutional development. On 21 October, Kerr phoned Whitlam regarding the Ellicott opinion, and asked, "It's all bullshit, isn't it?" Whitlam agreed with Kerr's view. Kerr then requested that the Government provide him with a written legal opinion rebutting Ellicott's views. Kerr would receive no written advice from the Government until 6 November. Journalist and author Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly (journalist)
Paul John Kelly is an Australian political journalist and historian from Sydney. He has worked in a variety of roles, principally for The Australian newspaper, and is currently its Editor-at-large. He has written several books on political events since the 1970s including on the Australian...

, who wrote two books on the crisis, paints this delay as a major mistake by Whitlam, given Kerr's judicial background. Kerr also asked on 21 October for Whitlam's permission to interview Fraser, which the Prime Minister readily granted, and the two men met that night. Fraser told Kerr that the Opposition were determined to block supply. Fraser indicated that the Opposition's decision to defer the appropriation bills, rather than defeating them, was a tactical decision, since then the bills would remain in the control of the Senate and could be passed at any time. He stated that the Coalition agreed with the Ellicott opinion, and proposed to continue deferring supply while it awaited events. The media were not told of the substance of the conversation, and instead reported that Kerr had reprimanded Fraser for blocking supply, causing the Governor-General's office to issue a denial.

Throughout the crisis, Kerr did not tell Whitlam of his increasing concerns, nor did he suggest that he might dismiss Whitlam. He believed nothing he said would influence Whitlam, and feared that if Whitlam perceived him as a possible opponent, the Prime Minister would procure his dismissal from the Queen. Accordingly, though Kerr dealt with Whitlam in an affable manner, he did not confide his thinking to the Prime Minister. Labor Senator Tony Mulvihill
Tony Mulvihill
James Anthony "Tony" Mulvihill was an Australian politician. Born in Sydney, he was educated at Catholic schools before becoming a railways employee. He was an official with the Australian Railways Union and then served as Assistant Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party from 1957 to 1965...

 later related that "Whitlam would come back to each caucus meeting and say, 'I saw His Excellency ... No worry. He's got to do it his way.' ... at no time did he hint that the Governor-General was frowning."

There was intense public interest and concern at the stalemate, and Fraser and his Liberals acted to shore up support. Liberal frontbenchers worked to build support in state organisations. The former longtime Premier of South Australia
Premiers of South Australia
Before the 1890s when there was no formal party system in South Australia, MPs tended to have historical liberal or conservative beliefs. The liberals dominated government from 1893 to 1905 with Labor support, with the conservatives mostly in opposition. Labor took government with the support of...

 Sir Thomas Playford
Thomas Playford IV
Sir Thomas Playford, GCMG was a South Australian politician. He served continuously as Premier of South Australia from 5 November 1938 to 10 March 1965, the longest term of any elected government leader in the history of Australia. His tenure as premier was marked by a period of population and...

 was speaking out against the blocking of supply, causing South Australia Senator Don Jessop
Don Jessop
Donald Scott "Don" Jessop was an Australian politician. Born in Adelaide, he was educated at state schools and then the University of Adelaide, after which he became an optometrist at Port Augusta. He was a councillor with Port Augusta City...

 to waver in his support for the tactic. Fraser was able to coordinate a wave of communications from party members which served to neutralise both men. Fraser sought the support of the retired longtime Liberal Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies
Robert Menzies
Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, , Australian politician, was the 12th and longest-serving Prime Minister of Australia....

, and went to see Menzies in person, taking with him a 1947 statement by Menzies supporting the blocking of supply in the upper house
Victorian Legislative Council
The Victorian Legislative Council, is the upper of the two houses of the Parliament of Victoria, Australia; the lower house being the Legislative Assembly. Both houses sit in Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne. The Legislative Council serves as a house of review, in a similar fashion to...

 of the Victorian Parliament
Parliament of Victoria
The Parliament of Victoria is the bicameral legislature of the Australian state of Victoria. It follows a Westminster-derived parliamentary system and consists of The Queen, represented by the Governor of Victoria; the Legislative Council ; and the Legislative Assembly...

. He did not have to use the paper; Menzies stated that he found the tactic distasteful, but in this case necessary. The former Prime Minister issued a statement in support of Fraser's tactics.

Kerr invited Whitlam and Minister for Labour
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations (Australia)
The Australian Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations is currently the Hon Senator Chris Evans.The Minister administers this portfolio, through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations....

 Senator Jim McClelland to lunch on 30 October, immediately preceding an Executive Council
Federal Executive Council
The Federal Executive Council is the formal body holding executive authority under the Constitution of Australia. It is equivalent to the other Executive Councils in other Commonwealth Realms such as the Executive Council of New Zealand and is equivalent to the Privy councils in Canada and the...

 meeting. At that meal, Kerr proposed a possible compromise. If the Opposition were to allow supply to pass, Whitlam would not advise a half-Senate election until May or June 1976, and the Senate would not convene until 1 July, thus obviating the threat of a possible temporary Labor majority. Whitlam, who was determined to destroy both the Senate's right to block supply and Fraser's leadership, refused any compromise.


Fraser chaired a summit of leaders of the Coalition parties on 2 November. The resulting communiqué urged the Coalition senators to continue deferring supply. It also threatened, should Kerr grant Whitlam a half-Senate election, that the Coalition state premiers would advise their governors not to issue writs, thus blocking the election from taking place in the four states with non-Labor premiers. After the meeting, Fraser proposed a compromise: that the Opposition would concede supply if Whitlam agreed to hold a House of Representatives election at the same time as the half-Senate election. Whitlam rejected the idea.

On 22 October, Whitlam had asked the Attorney-General
Attorney-General of Australia
The Attorney-General of Australia is the first law officer of the Crown, chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia and a minister of the Crown. The Attorney-General is usually a member of the Federal Cabinet, but there is no constitutional requirement that this be the case since the...

, Kep Enderby
Kep Enderby
Keppel Earl "Kep" Enderby QC is a former Australian politician and retired judge. Enderby was a member of the House of Representatives, representing the Australian Labor Party between 1970 and 1975, and became a senior cabinet minister in the Gough Whitlam government...

, to have a paper drafted rebutting the Ellicott opinion for presentation to Kerr. Enderby delegated this task to the Solicitor-General, Maurice Byers, and other officials. On 6 November, Enderby was to see Kerr to give him a legal opinion regarding the Government's alternative plans in case supply ran out (vouchers were to be issued instead of cheques, to be redeemed from banks after the crisis ended), and decided to present Kerr with the rebuttal to Ellicott. When Enderby reviewed the document, he found that, while it argued for the Government's position, it recognised both that the Senate had the constitutional right to block supply, and that the reserve powers were still extant—matters with which Enderby did not agree. He presented Kerr with the rebuttal, but crossed out Byers' signature on it and told Kerr of his disagreement. Enderby told Kerr that the Byers rebuttal was "background" for formal written advice, to be presented by Whitlam. Later that day, Kerr met with Fraser again. The Opposition leader told him that if Kerr did not dismiss Whitlam, the Opposition planned to criticise him in Parliament for failing to carry out his duty.

Kerr concluded on 6 November that neither Government nor Opposition would yield, and that supply would run out. The Governor-General decided that as Whitlam could not secure supply, and would not resign or advise an election for the House of Representatives, he would have to sack him. As Kerr feared that Whitlam might advise the Queen to dismiss him, he considered it important that Whitlam be given no hint of the impending action. Kerr later stated that were Whitlam to seek his dismissal, it would involve the Queen in politics. Seeking confirmation of his decision, he contacted the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick
Garfield Barwick
Sir Garfield Edward John Barwick, was the Attorney-General of Australia , Minister for External Affairs and the seventh and longest serving Chief Justice of Australia...

, met with him and asked for his views of a dismissal of Whitlam. Barwick furnished him with written advice containing his view that a Governor-General could and should dismiss a Prime Minister who was unable to obtain supply.

On 9 November, Fraser contacted Whitlam and invited him to negotiations with the Coalition aimed at settling the dispute. Whitlam agreed, and a meeting was set for 9 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday 11 November, at Parliament House. That Tuesday was also the deadline for an election to be called if it were to be held before Christmas. Both Government and Opposition leaders were in Melbourne on the night of 10 November for the Lord Mayor's banquet. To ensure the Opposition leaders could reach Canberra in time for the meeting, Whitlam brought them back in his VIP aircraft, which arrived in Canberra at midnight.

Meeting at Yarralumla

At 9.00 a.m. on 11 November, Whitlam, together with Deputy Prime Minister Crean and Leader of the House
Leader of the House (Australia)
The office of Leader of the House in the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Australia exists in order for the management of government business, involving such matters as the following:* the order in which Government issues are to be dealt with...

 Fred Daly met with the Liberal and Country party leaders. No compromise could be reached. Whitlam informed the Coalition leaders that he would be advising Kerr to hold a half-Senate election on 13 December, and he would not be seeking interim supply for the period before the election. Thinking it unlikely that Kerr would grant the election without supply, Fraser warned Whitlam that the Governor-General might make up his own mind about the matter. Whitlam was dismissive and after the meeting broke, telephoned Kerr to tell him that he needed an appointment to advise him to hold a half-Senate election. Both men were busy in the morning, Kerr with Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth...

 commemorations, and Whitlam with a caucus meeting and a censure motion in the House which the Opposition had submitted. The two discussed a meeting for 1.00 p.m., though Kerr's office later called Whitlam's and confirmed the time as 12.45. Word of this change did not reach the Prime Minister. Whitlam announced the request for a half-Senate election to his caucus, which approved it.

After hearing from Whitlam, Kerr called Fraser. According to Fraser, Kerr asked him whether, if he were commissioned Prime Minister, he could secure supply, would immediately thereafter advise a double-dissolution election, and would refrain from new policies and investigations of the Whitlam Government pending the election. Fraser states that he agreed. Kerr denied the exchange took place, though both men agree those questions were asked later in the day before Kerr commissioned Fraser as Prime Minister. According to Kerr, Fraser was supposed to come to Yarralumla at 1.00 p.m.

Whitlam was delayed in leaving Parliament House, while Fraser left a bit early, with the result that Fraser arrived at Yarralumla first. He was taken into an anteroom, and his car was moved. Whitlam maintains that the purpose in moving Fraser's car was to ensure that the Prime Minister was not tipped off by seeing it, stating "Had I known Mr. Fraser was already there, I would not have set foot in Yarralumla." Kelly doubts Whitlam would have recognised Fraser's car, which was an ordinary Ford LTD from the car pool. According to Fraser biographer Philip Ayres, "a white car pulled up at the front would signify nothing in particular—it would simply be in the way".

Whitlam arrived just before one o'clock, and was taken to Kerr's office by an aide. He brought with him the formal letter advising a half-Senate election, and after the two men were seated, attempted to give it to Kerr. In their accounts of their meeting, both men agree that Kerr then told Whitlam that his commission as Prime Minister was withdrawn under Section 64 of the Constitution, and handed him a letter and statement of reasons. Kerr later wrote that at this point, Whitlam got to his feet, looked at the office's phones, and stated, "I must get in touch with the Palace at once." Whitlam, however disputes this, and states that he asked Kerr if he had consulted the Palace, to which Kerr replied that he did not need to, and that he had the advice of Barwick. Both accounts agree that Kerr then stated that they would both have to live with this, to which Whitlam replied, "You certainly will." The dismissal concluded with Kerr wishing Whitlam luck in the election, and offering his hand, which the former Prime Minister took.

After Whitlam left, Kerr called in Fraser, informed him of the dismissal, and asked if he would form a caretaker government, to which Fraser agreed. Fraser later stated that his overwhelming sensation at the news was relief. Fraser left to return to Parliament House, where he conferred with Coalition leaders, while Kerr joined the luncheon party which had been waiting for him, apologising to his guests and offering the excuse that he had been busy dismissing the Government.

Parliamentary strategy

Whitlam returned to the Prime Minister's residence, The Lodge, where he had lunch. As his aides arrived, he informed them of his sacking. Whitlam drafted a resolution for the House, expressing confidence in his Government. No ALP Senate leaders were at The Lodge, nor did Whitlam and his party contact any when they drove back to Parliament House, confining their strategy to the House of Representatives.

Prior to Whitlam's dismissal, the Labor leadership decided to introduce a motion that the Senate pass the appropriation bills. With ALP senators unaware of Whitlam's sacking, that plan went ahead. Senator Doug McClelland, manager of the ALP Government's business in the Senate, informed Coalition Senate leader Reg Withers
Reg Withers
Reginald Greive 'Reg' Withers is a former long-serving member of the Australian Senate, a former government minister, and former Lord Mayor of Perth....

 of Labor's intent at about 1.30. Withers then attended a leadership meeting and learned of Fraser's appointment; he assured the new Prime Minister he could secure supply. When the Senate convened, the ALP Senate leader, Ken Wriedt
Ken Wriedt
Kenneth Shaw "Ken" Wriedt was an Australian politician and minister in the Whitlam government.Wriedt was born in Melbourne, of Danish ancestry. His early life included time spent as a seaman...

, made the motion. Even as Wriedt did so, he was told that the government had been sacked, which he initially refused to believe. Authoritative word did not reach Wriedt until 2.15 pm, by which time it was too late to withdraw the motion. At 2.24 pm, the appropriation bills passed the Senate.

In the House, desultory debate on Fraser's censure motion ended with it being amended by the ALP majority into a condemnation of Fraser and passed. By 2.34 pm, when Fraser rose and announced that he had been commissioned as Prime Minister, word of the dismissal had spread through the House. Fraser announced his intent to advise a double dissolution, and moved that the House adjourn. His motion was defeated. Fraser's new government suffered repeated defeats in the House, which passed a motion of no confidence in him, and asked the Speaker, Gordon Scholes
Gordon Scholes
Gordon Glen Denton Scholes AO is a former Australian politician and Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.Scholes was born in Melbourne, the son of Thomas Glen Denton Scholes and his wife Mary Louisa O'Brien. He was the Victorian Amateur Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1949...

, to urge the Governor-General to recommission Whitlam. Scholes was initially told that an appointment might not be possible that day, but after stating that he would reconvene the House and tell them of the refusal, was given an appointment with Kerr for 4.45 p.m.


With the appropriation bills approved by both Houses, they were sent over to Yarralumla where Kerr gave them Royal Assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

. With supply assured, he then received Fraser, who advised him that 21 bills (including the electoral redistribution bills) which had been introduced since the last election fulfilled the double dissolution provisions of Section 57. Fraser asked that both Houses be dissolved for an election on 13 December. Kerr signed the proclamation dissolving Parliament, and sent his Official Secretary
Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia
The Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia and his staff provide governors-general with the necessary support to enable them to carry out their constitutional, statutory, ceremonial and public duties. The position of Official Secretary was established in 1901, although only...

, David Smith
David Smith (Australian public servant)
Sir David Iser Smith, KCVO, AO, is a retired Australian public servant. He was the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia between 1973 and 1990, serving Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen and Bill Hayden.-Biography:David Smith was born in 1933,...

, to proclaim the dissolution from the front steps of Parliament House.

At 4.45, Kerr received Scholes, and informed him of the dissolution. Kerr wrote that "nothing else of relevance" took place between the two men, but by Scholes's account, he accused Kerr of bad faith for making an appointment to receive the Speaker, and then not waiting to hear from him before dissolving Parliament. Whitlam later stated that it would have been wiser for Scholes to take the appropriation bills with him, rather than having them sent ahead.

Even as Scholes and Kerr spoke, Smith reached Parliament House. The dismissal was by now publicly known, and an angry crowd of ALP supporters had gathered, filling the steps and spilling over both into the roadway and into Parliament House itself. Many of the demonstrators were ALP staffers; others were from the Australian National University
Australian National University
The Australian National University is a teaching and research university located in the Australian capital, Canberra.As of 2009, the ANU employs 3,945 administrative staff who teach approximately 10,000 undergraduates, and 7,500 postgraduate students...

. Smith was forced to enter Parliament House through a side door and make his way to the steps from the inside. He read the proclamation, though the boos of the crowd drowned him out. He concluded with the traditional "God save the Queen". Former Prime Minister Whitlam, who had been standing behind Smith, then addressed the crowd:

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. They won't silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks ... Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.


The news that Whitlam had been dismissed spread across Australia during the afternoon, triggering immediate protest demonstrations. On 12 November, Scholes wrote to the Queen, asking her to restore Whitlam as Prime Minister. The reply from the Queen's Private Secretary
Private Secretary to the Sovereign
The Private Secretary to the Sovereign is the senior operational member of the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, as distinct from the Great Officers of the Household. The Private Secretary is the principal channel of communication with Her Majesty's Government and the...

, Sir Martin Charteris, dated 17 November 1975, stated:

As we understand the situation here, the Australian Constitution firmly places the prerogative powers of the Crown in the hands of the Governor-General as the representative of the Queen of Australia. The only person competent to commission an Australian Prime Minister is the Governor-General, and The Queen has no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with the Constitution. Her Majesty, as Queen of Australia, is watching events in Canberra with close interest and attention, but it would not be proper for her to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act.

On 12 November 1975, the First Fraser Ministry
First Fraser Ministry
The First Fraser Ministry was the fifty-first Australian Commonwealth ministry, and held office from 11 November 1975 to 22 December 1975.Liberal Party of Australia–National Country Party Coalition...

 was sworn in by Kerr. By some accounts, Kerr sought reassurance at that meeting that the Coalition senators would not have given in before supply ran out, "The Senate would never have caved in, would it?" According to those accounts, Senator Margaret Guilfoyle
Margaret Guilfoyle
Dame Margaret Georgina Constance Guilfoyle, AC, DBE was a British-born Australian Senator for the state of Victoria from 1971 to 1987. She was the second woman to receive a federal ministerial portfolio, after Dame Enid Lyons...

 laughed and said to a colleague, "That's all he knows." Guilfoyle later stated that if she did make such a remark, it was not meant to imply that the Coalition senators would have broken. However, Kelly lists four Coalition senators who stated, in subsequent years, that they would have crossed the floor and voted for the appropriation bills.

Labor believed it had a chance of winning the elections, and that the dismissal would be an electoral asset for them. However, some Labor strategists believed the party was heading for a disaster, with few economic accomplishments to point to and an electorate whose emotions would have cooled before polling day. Nonetheless, Whitlam, who began campaigning almost immediately after the dismissal, was met with huge crowds wherever he went; 30,000 people overspilled the Sydney Domain
The Domain, Sydney
The Domain is 34 hectares of open space in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It is located on the eastern edge of the Sydney central business district, near Woolloomooloo. The Domain adjoins the Royal Botanic Gardens and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, a division of the New South...

 for the official campaign launch on 24 November. That evening, Whitlam made a major speech at Festival Hall
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Festival Hall is a concert and sporting venue, located at 300 Dudley Street, West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It is one of Melbourne's larger concert venues and has hosted a variety of local and international acts over many years....

 in Melbourne before 7,500 people and a national TV audience, calling 11 November "Fraser's day of shame—a day that will live in infamy".

Polls were released at the end of the first week of campaigning, and showed a nine point swing against Labor. Whitlam's campaign did not believe it at first, but additional polling made it clear: the electorate was turning against the ALP. The Coalition attacked Labor for the economic conditions, and released television commercials "The Three Dark Years" showing images from the Whitlam government scandals. The ALP campaign, which had concentrated on the issue of Whitlam's dismissal, did not begin to address the economy until its final days. By that time Fraser, confident of victory, was content to sit back, avoid specifics and make no mistakes. There was little violence in the campaign, but three letter bombs were placed in the post; one wounded two people in Bjelke-Petersen's office, while the other two, addressed to Kerr and Fraser, were intercepted and defused.

During the campaign, the Kerrs purchased a Sydney apartment, as Sir John was prepared to resign in the event that the ALP triumphed. In the 13 December election
Australian federal election, 1975
Federal elections were held in Australia on 13 December 1975. All 127 seats in the House of Representatives, and all 64 seats in the Senate were up for election following a double dissolution of both Houses....

, the Coalition won a record victory, with 91 seats in the House of Representatives to the ALP's 36 and a 35–27 majority in the expanded Senate.


In his survey of the events of the crisis, November 1975, Kelly places blame on Fraser for initiating the crisis and on Whitlam for using the crisis to try to break Fraser and the Senate. However, he places the most blame on Kerr, for failing to be candid with Whitlam. According to Kelly,

[Kerr] should have unflinchingly and courageously met his responsibility to the Crown and to the Constitution. He should have spoken frankly with his Prime Minister from the start. He should have warned wherever and whenever appropriate. He should have realised that, whatever his fears, there was no justification for any other behavior.

The dismissal has been considered the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australia's history. In 1977, the Fraser Government proposed four constitutional amendments via referendum
Australian referendum, 1977
The 1977 Australian Referendum was held on 21 May 1977. It contained four referendum questions and one non-binding plebiscite.Referendums:* Simultaneous Elections * Senate Casual Vacancies ...

, three of which passed—the last time since that the Australian Constitution has been amended. One of the amendments
Australian referendum, 1977 (Senate Casual Vacancies)
The referendum of 21 May 1977 approved an amendment to the Australian constitution concerning the filling of casual vacancies in the Senate. Technically it was a vote on the Constitution Alteration 1977 which, after being approved in the referendum, became law on 29 July of the same year.Prior to...

 requires that a senator appointed to fill a casual vacancy be from the same party as the former senator. The Senate retains the power to block supply; the Governor-General retains the power to remove the Prime Minister. Since 1975, however, those powers have not been exercised.

In the wake of the dismissal, the ALP turned its anger on Kerr. Demonstrations marked his appearances, while the remaining ALP lawmakers boycotted his opening of the new Parliament. Whitlam, now Leader of the Opposition, refused all invitations to events at Yarralumla, which the Kerrs continued to extend until his refusal of an invitation during the Queen's 1977 visit caused them to feel that no further efforts need be made. Whitlam never spoke with Kerr again. Even ALP lawmakers who had been friends of Kerr broke off their relationships, feeling Kerr had betrayed the party and had ambushed Whitlam. Lady Anne Kerr
Anne Kerr, Lady Kerr
Anne Kerr, Lady Kerr was the second wife of Sir John Kerr, Governor-General of Australia 1974-77. They were married during his term of office, six months after his first wife had died.-Biography:...

 stated that she and her husband confronted a "new irrational scene swarming with instant enemies".

Whitlam resigned as ALP leader after the party suffered its second successive electoral defeat in 1977
Australian federal election, 1977
Federal elections were held in Australia on 10 December 1977. All 124 seats in the House of Representatives, and 34 of the 64 seats in the Senate, were up for election....

. Fraser served over seven years as Prime Minister, and left the Liberal leadership after the Coalition was defeated in the March 1983 election
Australian federal election, 1983
Federal elections were held in Australia on 5 March 1983. All 125 seats in the House of Representatives, and all 64 seats in the Senate, were up for election, following a double dissolution...


Whitlam repeatedly castigated Kerr for his role in the dismissal. When Kerr announced his resignation as Governor-General on 14 July 1977, Whitlam commented, "How fitting that the last of the Bourbons should bow out on Bastille Day." In 1991, Whitlam stated that no future Governor-General was likely to act as Kerr did lest he also become the subject of "contempt and isolation". In 2005, Whitlam called Kerr "a contemptible person". Country Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony
Doug Anthony
John Douglas Anthony, AC, CH , is a former Australian politician. He was leader of the National Party from 1971 to 1984, and Deputy Prime Minister from 1971 to 1972 and again from 1975 to 1983.-Early life:...

 said, "I can't forgive Gough for crucifying him." Sir Garfield Barwick was not spared Whitlam's invective; the former Prime Minister described him as "evil".
However, Whitlam and Fraser put aside their differences; Whitlam wrote in 1997 that Fraser "did not set out to deceive me". The two campaigned together in support of the 1999 referendum
Australian republic referendum, 1999
The Australian republic referendum held on 6 November 1999 was a two-question referendum to amend the Constitution of Australia. The first question asked whether Australia should become a republic with a President appointed by Parliament following a bi-partisan appointment model which had...

 that would have made Australia a republic. According to Whitlam speechwriter Graham Freudenberg
Graham Freudenberg
Norman Graham Freudenberg AM is an Australian author and political speechwriter who worked in the Australian Labor Party for over forty years, beginning when he was appointed Arthur Calwell's press secretary in June 1961....

, "the residual rage over the conduct of the Queen's representative found a constructive outlet in the movement for the Australian Republic".

After Kerr resigned as Governor-General, he still sought a government position, reasoning that it had been his intent to remain for ten years as Governor-General. However, Fraser's attempt to appoint Kerr as ambassador to UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 (a position later held by Whitlam) provoked such public outcry that the nomination was withdrawn. The Kerrs spent the next several years living in Europe, and when he died in Australia in 1991, his death was not announced until after he was buried.

During the crisis, Whitlam had alleged that Country Party Leader Anthony had close links to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 (CIA). Subsequently, it was alleged that Kerr acted on behalf of the United States government in procuring Whitlam's dismissal. The most common allegation is that the CIA influenced Kerr's decision to dismiss Whitlam. In 1966 Kerr had joined the Association for Cultural Freedom
Association for Cultural Freedom
The Congress for Cultural Freedom was an anti-communist advocacy group founded in 1950. In 1967, it was revealed that the United States Central Intelligence Agency was instrumental in the establishment and funding of the group , and it was subsequently renamed the...

, a conservative group that was later revealed to have received CIA funding. Christopher Boyce, who was convicted for spying for the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 while an employee for a CIA contractor, claimed that the CIA wanted Whitlam removed from office because he threatened to close US military bases in Australia, including Pine Gap
Pine Gap
Pine Gap is the commonly used name for a satellite tracking station at, some south-west of the town of Alice Springs in the centre of Australia which is operated by both Australia and the United States. The facility has become a key part of the local economy.It consists of a large computer complex...

. Boyce said that Sir John Kerr was described by the CIA as "our man Kerr". Whitlam has written that Kerr did not need any encouragement from the CIA. However, he has also written that in 1977, United States Deputy Secretary of State
United States Deputy Secretary of State
The Deputy Secretary of State of the United States is the chief assistant to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State resigns or dies, the Deputy Secretary of State becomes Acting Secretary of State until the President nominates and the Senate confirms a replacement. The position was...

 Warren Christopher
Warren Christopher
Warren Minor Christopher was an American lawyer, diplomat and politician. During Bill Clinton's first term as President, Christopher served as the 63rd Secretary of State. He also served as Deputy Attorney General in the Lyndon Johnson administration, and as Deputy Secretary of State in the Jimmy...

 made a special trip to Sydney to meet with him and told him, on behalf of US President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

, of his willingness to work with whatever government Australians elected, and that the US would never again interfere with Australia's democratic processes.

Freudenberg summed up Kerr's fate after the dismissal:

The beneficiaries of the Dismissal scarcely bothered to defend Kerr and in the end abandoned him. In the personal sense, Sir John Kerr himself became the real victim of the Dismissal, and history has accorded a brutal if poignant truth to Whitlam's declaration on the steps of Parliament House on 11 November 1975: "Well may we say 'God Save the Queen' — because nothing will save the Governor-General."

See also

  • Denmark’s Easter Crisis of 1920
    Easter Crisis of 1920
    The Easter Crisis of 1920 was a constitutional crisis and a significant event in the development of constitutional monarchy in Denmark. It began with the dismissal of the elected government by the reigning monarch, King Christian X, a reserve power which was granted to him by the Danish constitution...

  • King–Byng Affair, a similar Canadian constitutional crisis in 1926
  • 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute
    2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute
    The 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute was a political dispute during the 40th Canadian Parliament. It was triggered by the expressed intention of the opposition parties to defeat the Conservative minority government on a motion of non-confidence six weeks after the federal election on...

External links

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