When the former President of the Indonesian Republic, General Suharto, heard of the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, he asked our Ambassador why Mr. Whitlam just didn’t arrest the Governor-General.

It was the obvious thing to do-for a dictator, or indeed, a potential dictator. We have just learned that Paul Keating wanted to do precisely that in 1975.

On the ABC programme Lateline, ABC on, 9 November, 2005, we were shown Mr. Keating launching Mr. Whitlam’s book on the dismissal.  Mr Keating says: “And I said to Daley that we should put Kerr immediately under house arrest.” The crowd laughed at what they assumed was Mr. Keating’s attempt at humour. But he wasn’t joking, and insists: “No, I meant it, I meant it.” There was more laughter, but somewhat muted as the audience realised to their surprise that he was serious. And then he said: “And had I been
Prime Minister, I certainly would have.”

 This almost unbelievable story created headlines across the country – for example, in The Age of 19 November, 2005: “Kerr- a bunyip potentate who should have been arrested: Keating”.

As I wrote on the Crikey website,the rather obvious the fact that Mr Whitlam was no longer Prime Minister and could not order anything – apart from a steak for lunch-seems to elude
Mr Keating.

Under our law, including the proposed anti-terrorism law, a prime minister has no power to detain anyone- as Billy Hughes once found when an egg was thrown at him and the police refused to arrest the miscreant.

(I of course exclude citizen arrests which could hardly apply to 1975)

An order, say, to the Army, to place their Commander- in-Chief under house take into custody would have been ignored, Mr Keating even leaving himself open to a criminal charge and worse public ridicule. We are entitled to assume it would have been different under his republic!

Mr Keating’s stance is all the more curious when his own assessment of the Whitlam government is less than complimentary: “The cabinet had no overarching philosophy, certainly no economic one, and the meetings, of course, were mayhem.”

Until next time,

David Flint