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On the Kerr letters

Re the Kerr Letters, in response to a friend who said former G-G John Kerr’s principle failure was in not informing the Queen of having sacked Australian PM Whitlam, my reply: There is absolutely nothing in parliamentary convention, much less the Constitution, which even remotely suggest the G-G can or should canvass advice from the Queen (or the Queen’s UK representative) of any of the G-Gs thinking, much less ‘inform’ the Queen/rep.

That Charteris ‘pointed out options’ was of itself far in excess of the constitutional status of the Queen (or UK representative) in Australia. Indeed, had Charteris acted appropriately in relation to Australia’s Constitution and convention, he should have informed Kerr that Kerr’s flurry of correspondence on critical political matters was inappropriate. However, as royalists too often do, both Charteris and Kerr over-assumed royal/vice-regal prerogative.

Should Charteris have found it appropriate to canvass options with Kerr, he should have premised any comments by saying that, by way of convention, Kerr would have been obliged to have discussed with the PM (Whitlam) his consideration of calling a double dissolution as a means of breaking the deadlock. Even here, there is certainly no clear guidance in the Constitution that the G-G should call a double dissolution without consulting with the PM and ‘acting on the advice’ of the PM.

I’d add that there were no Constitutional grounds for dismissing a PM who still retained the confidence of the House of Reps, and that if Kerr felt it necessary to act then should have done so by calling a half Senate election, which is where the problem lay and which is what Whitlam was on his way to request (which according to the Constitution Kerr would have been obliged to give him) when Kerr sacked him.

Of course, this does not take into account that the Opposition only got the Senate numbers (by two) to block supply by the NSW and Qld governments refusing to follow convention and appointing non-ALP members to casual Senate vacancies. Again, if the G-G was to follow both convention and the Constitution, he should have noted the breach of convention and thereby refused to swear them in as members of the Senate, in effect compelling the state governments to resume convention.

In all of this, Kerr repeatedly defaulted to an anti-government position and not only did so but consulted with the Queen(‘s representative) on options throughout the process.

Is it any wonder why Australians who lived through that time and who cared about the status of our government vis-a-vis the Crown were so angry?

As for democracy, it was the signal failure of Australia to have a complete democracy, i.e. one without a royal representative, that led to this disaster. At least UK monarchs have enough of a sense of history to remember that royalty that over-reaches may be liable to lose their heads.

So, yes, to ensure any future head of state’s action adequately reflects the (representative) will of the Australian people, Australia should have an Australian head of state, which would necessitate becoming a republic. Hopefully it would be one that more clearly defined and limited the head of state’s capacity to act independently, and to remove the possibility of foreign advice re ‘option’. Assuming the head of state powers were substantially curtailed, there would be no reason why the head of state should not be popularly elected.