February 23

Extraordinary claim: why did Malcolm Fraser wait so long?

In an extraordinary revelation which if true damages the reputation of the late Governor-General Sir John Kerr, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser claims the Governor-General had telephoned  him on the morning of 11 November 1975 before the then Prime Minister EG Whitlam saw the Governor-General to seek an early half Senate election.  Sir John Kerr had always denied there was any prior contact that morning.

The question must be, why has Mr. Fraser waited until now to claim this.

…determined not to involve The Queen….


The states were unlikely to offer their necessary co-operation in holding an early half Senate election and in any event the new senators would not take office for eight months.

The Governor–General could not see this as a solution to the Senate’s withholding of  of supply to the government. Accordingly, he dismissed Mr. Whitlam on the ancient principle that no government may rule without supply being granted by Parliament.

Shortly afterwards, the Governor-General commissioned the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister pending an election on 10 December.

In his recently published memoirs, Malcolm Fraser claims  the telephone call was made after a meeting between Prime Minister Whitlam and Mr. Fraser which had failed to resolve the political crisis resulting from the opposition holding the supply bills in the Senate pending the calling of an early election.

This claim is made in a new book by Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons, “Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs”.  Extracts are being published in The Australian and other News Limited newspapers. (These extracts are not accessible on the internet.)

To repeat, the  question must be asked why Mr. Fraser waited so long after the death of Sir John Kerr to make such a damaging claim. 

….Fraser claims tip off…

Malcolm Fraser claims he was telephoned by the Governor-General at 9.55 am, about one hour before  Mr. Whitlam was dismissed. He says he kept a signed note of the conversation, and that his principal private secretary, Dale Budd, remembers seeing this on Fraser’s desk later on November 11.”  Mr. Budd’s recollection is of course no evidence about the time of the conversation, which is crucial. The following question must necessarily be asked. Knowing this revelation, if true,  would damage Sir John Kerr’s reputation, why has Malcolm Fraser waited so long to reveal this?

Mr. Fraser says that denying the conversation was a sign of weakness on the part of Sir John. “There are many signs of weakness in his character,” he says, softening the blow by adding “ and that is probably true of most of us.”

He continued:” It was an error of judgement and it was a weakness not to explain it how I’ve explained it.”  Mr. Fraser does concede that Sir John Kerr thought the worst thing he could do in the eyes of history would be to involve The Queen in a constitutional crisis.


…no crisis under a republic, claims Fraser….

In the 1999 referendum, Malcolm Fraser made the extraordinary claim that had Australia been a republic, the 1975 political crisis would not have occurred. (Once a supporter of ACM, he even appeared with Gough Whitlam in a 1999 republican TV advertisement for a Yes vote. It is  likely that appearing together they increased the No vote.)   



This is true, but not in a way which would have pleased Mr. Fraser.  Under the republic Mr Fraser and Mr. Whitlam so energetically campaigned for in 1999, Mr. Whitlam would have been able to dismiss the President before he acted against the Prime Minister, or have claimed he had done so.

The reason is that the republican constitution which Malcolm Fraser inexplicably campaigned for would have allowed  a prime minister to dismiss a president without notice, without reason and without any right to an appeal or effective review .

This was an appallingly dangerous provision, one  unknown in any other republic. No one claiming to be interested in sound constitutional government and the need for checks and balances on political power could have supported it, but many did.

…but why did he wait to say this?

Malcolm Fraser says that in the conversation, Sir John asked him for confirmation of certain conditions if he were to be made Prime Minister. These were that he would immediately advise a double dissolution of both Houses of Parliament, run a caretaker administration, obtain supply straightaway, and  guarantee not to pursue Gough Whitlam or the Labor ministers over the attempts to obtain foreign loans irregularly.

The question remains. Why did Malcolm Fraser wait so long to reveal this, and why did he reveal it at a time when the person most damaged would not be in a position to reply?

In the extract published, Mr. Fraser does not explain this.


[This comment was published in The Punch, 23 February, 2010]


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