May 3

The dismissal: the final word

I was delighted to read in The Spectator (29/4) a report by Peter Coleman on John Paul’s book on the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government for attempting to rule without a grant of supply, which is in breach of the constitution.  

If ever I want to know something about Australian or British political history and can’t track it down without spending days in the library, a call to John Paul will usually provide the answer. The universities should be lining up to ask him to lecture to their students.

His work on matters relating to the Constitution, the Crown and the debate about a politicians’ republic have been formidable.


Peter Coleman’s comment follows:

 Back in the 1980s, the late H.W. Arndt, ANU economist and Quadrant editor, prepared a book on the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. He opposed the Whitlam legend and supported Sir John Kerr.

The proposed book was a collection of papers, mainly by pro-Kerr scholars, lawyers, former public servants and journalists. Arndt edited the collection in his usual meticulous way and offered it to various mainstream publishers. But they were all lefties and would not touch it. The book was never published.

Only two books have ever been published supporting Sir John Kerr. (The publishers in both cases were small, independent shows.) One is Sir John Did His Duty (Serendip Publications, 1983) by Sir Garfield Barwick, the former chief justice, and the other is Head of State (Macleay Press, 2006) by Sir David Smith, the former official secretary to five governors-general, including Kerr. Is this shortage of books at last about to change?

I understand from John Paul, the political scientist formerly of the University of New South Wales, that he is nearing the end of his huge book 1975 and All That: The Whitlam Government’s Dismissal and Other Matters Reconsidered.

It is huge — more than 200,000 words — because Paul has found from experience that Kerr’s critics will never be persuaded by reasoned argument, no matter how thoroughly documented or footnoted, unless and until their noses are rubbed in the evidence.

So he quotes extensively from his sources rather than simply citing them. He wants his pro-Kerr case to be ‘unanswerable’.

1975 and All That has taken about 10 years to write. Growing out of an essay Paul published in the Monash University Law Review in 1999, it has become a history of Australia from the constitutional conventions of the 1890s (and the debates about the powers of the senate) through to the referendum on a republic.

 It also deconstructs the key conspiracies in the Labor party’s narrative, including the Brisbane Line (a sort of rehearsal for the Petrov affair) and attorney-general Murphy’s raid on ASIO, and the greatest plot of them all: the dismissal.

There are chapters on ‘Dr Evatt’s Self-Immolation’, ‘Labor’s Petrovian Obsession’ and ‘Gough Whitlam’s Self-Deluding Capacity for Selective Recollection’.

 One question remains: who will publish it?   




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