Blame the vice-regal wife, said the eye-catching headline in The Sydney Morning Herald (2 January, 2010).
It was a report by Bob Wurth that Lady Hasluck’s disdain for vice-regal life changed the course of Australian political history. He reports that had she consented to her husband Sir Paul Hasluck continuing as Governor-General beyond 1974, as he and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam wished – and he was keen to do so – “the Whitlam government would not have been sacked in 1975. The acrimony that stained Australian politics for at least the next decade would most likely have been avoided.”
This is revealed in an interview made 25 years ago and now released by the National Library. Mr Wurth has listened to the tape and provides the following extracts:
· If he had remained as governor-general ''only for two years'', Sir Paul said, ''probably the history of Australian politics would be quite different from what it is''.
· He said he would have taken the advice only of the then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, ''the vice-regal adviser'', in how to resolve the Senate impasse. The 1975 blocking of supply was ''a political situation to be solved by political management'.
'. In 1985, eight years before his death, Sir Paul, who was a Liberal minister from 1951 to 1969, said ''you don't oppose to the point where you bring down governments''.
.· "I think the common sense of government is that a house of review, a second chamber, has the function of delaying, ensuring that there is review and reconsideration of measures, but it doesn't have the function of completely blocking anything."
· He said it once was the convention that the Senate should not use its power in respect of money bills unreasonably or in an obstructive manner, but this had changed.
· "And I still [think] that that situation when the Senate did refuse supply [in 1975] was still pre-eminently a political situation, to be solved by political management within Parliament, not by proposing amendments to the constitution."
· In 1985 Hasluck maintained that it was irresponsible behaviour for any opposition with a ''chance'' majority in the Senate – with half the senators elected at a previous election under different circumstances – to obstruct the working of government.
Sir Paul was absolutely right in that the 1975 crisis was a political crisis. The best hope was that it would be resolved politically. But neither political leader seemed to be in the mood for compromise.
Sir Paul’s observations about the wisdom and propriety of delaying supply is a criticism of Malcolm Fraser, who adopted that tactic. But at some stage a government denied supply cannot constitutionally govern. Mr. Whitlam had attempted to govern by borrowing funds which were not forthcoming.
On 11 November he attended on the Governor-General to advise a half Senate election. But even if the State Governors had joined in calling that the new State senators could not have taken their seats until 1 July 1976. A half Senate election would have resolved nothing.
Sir John formed the view that only a general election could resolve the problem of a government soon to run out of funds.
It may well be that another Governor-General would not have acted on 11 November. Had he not, the Opposition might have collapsed. But it might have stood its ground – who knows?
It is clear that the Governor-General not only had the power to act, it was constitutionally correct for him to act in the way that he did. In this regard he had the written advice of the Chief Justice , Sir Garfield Barwick. And as Sir David Smith points out in his book, Head of State, when in opposition Mr. Whitlam had made 170 attempts to withhold supply. And as he said on the last occasion, this was not a “mere formality.” His purpose was to “destroy” the government, to bring it down. In 1975, the boot was well and truly on the other foot.
…meanwhile in Sweden….
Incidentally the same issue of the Herald contains the following letter from Thomas Mautner, from Griffith in the Australian Capital Territory who writes:
“You refer to Sweden and "the home of the president, Fredrik Reinfeldt" (''Nazi icon stolen to fund fascist attacks'', January 1). Did Sweden become a republic at midnight? Sweden has been a monarchy since it emerged in the Middle Ages. Surely you ought to have reported such a historic change – if it had occurred.”
The report in the Herald – I can only find it online and dated 2 January – came from The Guardian. This said ” Separately, the Swedish security service Sapo, confirmed it was investigating an alleged neo-Nazi plot to blow up the Riksdagen, the parliament building in Stockholm, as well as the foreign ministry and the home of the president, Fredrik Reinfeldt. The aim of the plot, according to Sapo, was to create as much disruption as possible ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections. It would not confirm or deny reports of a possible connection between the plot and the Auschwitz sign theft.”
Of course they were referring to the Prime Minister, who may well be President of some governing or executive council. We should not be too worried by terms used in a constitutional monarchy, or indeed, a crowned republic.