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The secret role the Royal Family played in the dismissal of Gougth Whitlam

A newly released private letter reveals that Prince Charles, the future king, endorsed the controversial dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. 

‘Please don’t lose heart,’ Charles wrote in a handwritten letter to Sir John Kerr, then the governor-general, less than a year after the parliament was dissolved. 

The royal family had previously been silent on whether they supported Kerr’s shock action to remove Whitlam in what became known as the Constitutional Crisis. 

The 1976 letter from Prince Charles to Sir John Kerr (pictured)

The 1976 letter from Prince Charles to Sir John Kerr (pictured)

The 1976 letter from Prince Charles to Sir John Kerr (pictured)

The 1976 letter from Prince Charles to Sir John Kerr (pictured)

The 1976 letter from Prince Charles to Sir John Kerr (pictured) shows that the Prince of Wales supported the removal of Whitlam 

Whitlam (pictured) outside Parliament House after being removed as Prime Minister in 1975

Whitlam (pictured) outside Parliament House after being removed as Prime Minister in 1975

Whitlam (pictured) outside Parliament House after being removed as Prime Minister in 1975 

‘What you did last year was right and the courageous thing to do – and most Australians seemed to endorse your decision when it came to the point,’ Charles wrote. 

Sir John had been heavily criticised for the move in Australia but the new letter reveals Charles encouraged him not to resign or become ‘dejected’ by the outcry. 

‘I can imagine that you must have come in for all sorts of misinformed criticism and prejudice since I saw you in January and I wanted you to know that I, at any rate, appreciate what you do and admire enormously the way you have performed (and continue to perform) your many and varied duties,’ Charles wrote. 

The Queen has always adhered to a policy of non-interference in Australian politics and had not commented on removal of Whitlam – whose government had been inundated with scandals and economic woes. 

Charles’s letter is the first confirmation of support for Kerr’s decision.  

The letters reveal Charles and the Palace had no knowledge of Sir John’s plan to dismiss the Whitlam government beforehand – in fact they show he hid his plan from the Queen and her representatives. 

Prince Charles (pictured) endorsed the sacking of Whitlam by the Governor-General letters  reveal

Prince Charles (pictured) endorsed the sacking of Whitlam by the Governor-General letters  reveal

Prince Charles (pictured) endorsed the sacking of Whitlam by the Governor-General letters  reveal 

Sir John Kerr (pictured) was the Governor-General who sacked Whitlam and later documented his decision-making in letters to Buckingham Palace

Sir John Kerr (pictured) was the Governor-General who sacked Whitlam and later documented his decision-making in letters to Buckingham Palace

Sir John Kerr (pictured) was the Governor-General who sacked Whitlam and later documented his decision-making in letters to Buckingham Palace 

THE PLAYERS IN THE DISMISSAL 

Sir John Kerr: Governor-General of Australia, acting as the representative of the Queen in Australia.

His job was almost entirely ceremonial  but the position holds never-used reserve powers for constitutional crises.

Sir Martin Charteris: Private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II who exchanged more than 200 letters with Sir John, many in the leadup and aftermath of the dismissal.

Gough Whitlam: Reformist Prime Minister of Australia who through not controlling the Senate, Australia’s upper house of Parliament, couldn’t get the budget passed.

This meant the public service and government programs couldn’t be paid or operate, leaving him vulnerable.

Malcolm Fraser: Leader of the opposition Coalition who blocked the budget to force Mr Whitlam to call an early election he believed he could win.

He was elected in a landslide after Sir John dismissed Mr Whitlam and called a snap election. 

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The letter has been revealed in a new book titled  ‘The Truth of The Palace Letters: Ambush, Deceit and Dismissal in 1975’ published by University of Melbourne press. 

The book also reveals another 11-page letter in which Sir John tells Charles he would be willing to stand aside as Governor-General should Charles want to step into the role. 

The crises was sparked following a stalemate in national Parliament. 

Whitlam’s government had control of the Lower House but the balance of power was held by the Opposition in the Senate. 

Appropriation bills to secure funds for the government were routinely blocked by the Senate leaving the government effectively powerless to access Treasury funds.  

Using his powers as Governor-General, Kerr dissolved parliament and instituted opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister. 

Sir John in a letter on November 20 explained that he didn’t warn Mr Whitlam in advance because he was concerned the PM would try to sack him first.

‘As you know from earlier letters, on occasions, sometimes jocularly, sometimes less so, but on all occasions with what I considered to be underlying seriousness, he (Mr Whitlam) said that the crisis could end in a race to the Palace,’ he wrote to Sir Martin, the Queens private secretary. 

Fraser and his allies acted quickly to secure the appropriation bills before Whitlam’s Labor Party government could react and funds were restored. 

In the double-dissolution election the following month, Fraser’s government won in a massive majority. 

Whitlam is the only Australian Prime Minister in history to be removed from office in this way. He was later appointed ambassador to UNESCO and continued his diplomatic work for decades. 

In the last letter sent to Sir John before the dismissal, on November 4, Sir Martin makes it clear The Queen is staying out of her former colony's mess

In the last letter sent to Sir John before the dismissal, on November 4, Sir Martin makes it clear The Queen is staying out of her former colony's mess

In the last letter sent to Sir John before the dismissal, on November 4, Sir Martin makes it clear The Queen is staying out of her former colony’s mess

Margaret Whitlam (left) meeting Queen Elizabeth II (right) at the opening of the Opera House in Sydney on October 20, 1973 with Gough Whitlam (centre)

Margaret Whitlam (left) meeting Queen Elizabeth II (right) at the opening of the Opera House in Sydney on October 20, 1973 with Gough Whitlam (centre)

Margaret Whitlam (left) meeting Queen Elizabeth II (right) at the opening of the Opera House in Sydney on October 20, 1973 with Gough Whitlam (centre) 

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