A traveller should understand the ruling class of the country they’re visiting. In Australia, that means understanding how in late 1975, the duly elected Prime Minister of Australia was sacked. The Dismissal Dossier by Jenny Hocking breaks down this historic event.

As part of the monarchy, Australia’s Governor General acts on behalf of the Queen of England. Usually only trotted out to open fetes, racing carnivals and parliament, the Governor General of the mid-70s (a former judge, John Kerr) shook things up after deciding to settle a national crisis by firing Edward Gough Whitlam.

This came after the Opposition at the time had made government unworkable. So a new Prime Minister was installed, but the parliament passed a no-confidence motion in the new caretaker government. This led representatives of the Labor Party going to the Governor General with a request to allow another government be formed, one that would have a majority.

John Kerr didn’t answer the door. Instead, he and his staff turned their backs on democracy. In the Dismissal Dossier, Jenny Hocking succinctly but forensically explains how this was possible. 

Turns out the Governor General had struck a deal with the Opposition enabling him to remain in office, installing Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister, and shutting down an awkward enquiry into Kerr’s role in a dodgy government loans affair. 

Kerr’s deal with Fraser wasn’t the stuff of mature democracies, but something you might expect of a golf club committee after an investment in a new fairway sprinkler had gone sour.

Hocking takes us on a brief but riveting 88-page journey into the black heart of Australian politics and culture. John Kerr consulted Buckingham Palace, the Opposition leader and two serving high court judges before making his decision to dismiss Whitlam. Most Australians know none of this. It remains a country where the population talks about a ‘fair go’ yet when tested it submits to a ruling class that’s always done pretty much as it pleases and continues to do so. – Mark Swivel


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