The source of the left intelligentsia’s favourite conspiracy appears to have crossed the Atlantic, from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to Buckingham Palace in London.
On Monday, Fairfax Media’s Adam Gartrell declared in a tweet: “Further evidence of the Queen’s involvement in the 1975 dismissal uncovered”. The reference was to an “exclusive” Sydney Morning Herald report by Stephanie Peatling concerning the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on November 11, 1975, by governor-general Sir John Kerr.
The Herald ran the story on the front page of its print edition under the heading “British officials flew in to meet Kerr in run-up to Whitlam’s sacking”. Online, the presentation was even more dramatic: “‘Volcanic’: Evidence of Queen’s involvement in the 1975 dismissal uncovered”.
Talk about a beat-up. The story was based on the fact Monash University academic and Whitlam biographer Jenny Hocking has discovered that visiting British diplomat Sir Michael Palliser met Kerr not long before the dismissal. That’s all.
In 1975, Palliser was the newly appointed permanent under-secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. It’s hardly surprising a FCO dignitary would meet the governor-general while on an official visit.
With the assistance of the Australian Research Council, Hocking has become the left’s house biographer, with studies of one-time Communist Party writer Frank Hardy, Labor politician and High Court judge Lionel Murphy and a two-volume Whitlam biography. Two years ago, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the events of November 1975, the taxpayer-funded author turned her attention to the dismissal. In The Dismissal Dossier, Hocking claimed, for the first time, that the Queen and her advisers were involved in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.
The latest edition of this book reveals the Palliser-Kerr meeting on October 16, 1975. In fact, opposition leader Malcolm Fraser had moved to block supply on October 15, 1975, which happened to be the day Palliser arrived in Australia. In other words, Palliser began his visit to Australia before the constitutional crisis started. Not much of a conspiracy there.
Moreover, as Hocking concedes, the FCO files contain no record of the Kerr-Palliser meeting: “There is no report on it and no correspondence about it.”
All the author has found with respect to this matter is “a draft itinerary”.
Yet, on the basis of a meeting of which there is no record, Hocking told Sky News presenter Ashleigh Gillon on Monday that “there’s increasingly no doubt” that the British played a key role in the dismissal. In other words, a meeting between a British diplomat and a governor-general, at which no one knows what was said, is now being used to “prove” the involvement of not only the British government, but also the Queen, in Australian politics four decades ago.
I am a member of the Australian Republican Movement, albeit unfinancial. On Monday, ARM national director Michael Cooney emailed me about the “incredible news” revealed by Hocking. He stated that the revelation advanced the republican cause.
The following morning, ARM chairman Peter FitzSimons was banging the same drum in his Herald column. He began by referring to the debate about whether Lee Harvey Oswald had been the sole assassin of US president John F. Kennedy in 1963.
FitzSimons went on to allege: “Kerr did not act alone; Hocking’s analysis reveals unelected British officials, and very likely the Queen herself, were aware that Australia’s democratically elected leader was likely going to be dismissed well before Whitlam himself.”
Hocking maintains the material she has discovered in the FCO is “volcanic”. The truth is that her main discovery does not even have the status of hearsay evidence since there is no record of any kind about what occurred at the Kerr-Palliser meeting.
The constitutional crisis of 1975 began when an arrogant opposition leader blocked the supply of funds to the government, and an arrogant prime minister decided he would govern without supply. When neither Fraser nor Whitlam would back down, Kerr dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser as a caretaker prime minister pending an election. That’s all.
Hocking asserts that if Kerr had allowed Whitlam to hold a half-Senate election, this would have resolved the crisis. This is a myth since supply was running out and the outcome of any such election could not be anticipated.
As someone who spoke to Kerr in the 1980s, it was clear to me he had wanted to keep the palace out of Australia’s constitutional crisis. There is no reason the Queen or her advisers would have wished to get involved.
Hocking came up with some new material in the first edition of The Dismissal Dossier but nothing of any moment. For example, I revealed as long ago as 1994 that High Court judge Sir Anthony Mason advised Kerr over the dismissal. Hocking merely provided new material.
Also, it’s unlikely there will be any revelations if Hocking is successful in her Federal Court case to have the National Archives of Australia release immediately what are termed the Kerr papers covering correspondence between the governor-general and the Queen in 1974 and 1975.
Neither the British government nor the palace is a party to these proceedings, which turn on whether the Kerr papers are personal or the property of the commonwealth.
The left has had a half-century obsession with the dismissal of their hero Whitlam. At least this focus on the palace is a relief from the conspiracy that it was the CIA’s work. In 2015, left-wing commentator Guy Rundle wrote at (tedious) length about this in the Crikey newsletter. He, too, cited meetings of which there are no records.
But, at least, on that occasion, the Herald did not run a conspiracy theory on its front page.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute. His Media Watch Dog blog can be found at theaustralian.com.au.