|Title:||Letter from the Speaker of the House on the Dismissal|
|Content creator:||Gordon Scholes|
|Record creator:||Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet|
This document is a high-priority letter for Her Majesty the Queen sent from Gordon Scholes, the Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, to the Australian High Commission in London. It expresses concern about the actions of Governor-General Sir John Kerr in the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the appointment of Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister on 11 November 1975. It requests that the Queen reinstate Whitlam to the office of prime minister since he retained the support of the House of Representatives.
This letter was written the day after one of the most notorious events in Australian political history in which Governor-General Sir John Kerr (1914–91) dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1916–2014), whose government held a majority in the House of Representatives. It was the first time that the governor-general's reserve powers had been used to dismiss a prime minister and remains to this day a controversial act.
Discretionary reserve powers enable the Governor-General of Australia to act against or without the advice of the prime minister. These powers are not written into the Constitution and their scope is open to interpretation. They have been used to refuse to dissolve federal parliament although a prime minister had requested it (in 1904, 1905 and 1909), to dismiss a prime minister (in 1975) and to appoint Malcolm Fraser (1930–2015) as caretaker prime minister (in 1975).
The stern language and accusatory tone used by Gordon Scholes (1931–) in this letter – unusual for an address to the Queen – combined with the detailed timeline of events, give greater weight to Scholes' concerns over the legitimacy of Kerr's actions. As speaker of the House of Representatives, Scholes questions both the validity and the integrity of the Governor-General's use of his discretionary powers and his fear that the parliamentary system had been compromised by Kerr's refusal to see him.
Kerr withdrew Whitlam's commission as prime minister to break a constitutional impasse caused by the blocking of Supply (money or appropriation bills) in the Senate by the opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser. In Australia it is a political convention that a government without access to Supply must either resign or call an election but, following convention, the Senate had not previously refused to pass Supply. When Prime Minister Whitlam refused to resign a political crisis emerged.
While Scholes' views gained support among some sections of the community and furious debate raged on the timing and ethics of the events, his letter apparently had little influence on the Queen. The official response on her behalf to Scholes' letter was to distance herself from Governor-General Sir John Kerr's actions, stating that there was no place for her involvement in an Australian political conflict.
The Australian Constitution does not specify whether the prime minister must call an election if the Senate refuses to pass Supply. However, section 57 allows for both houses of parliament – the Senate and the House of Representatives – to be dissolved at the same time. After dismissing Whitlam, the Governor-General received an undertaking from Malcolm Fraser that he would recommend a double-dissolution election. The election was held in December and resulted in a massive win for Fraser's Coalition (Liberal Party and National Country Party) government.
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