Kerr sacks Whitlam, dissolves Parliament

The Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, yesterday sacked the Prime Minister, Mr. Whitlam, and dissolved Parliament.

Sir John appointed the former Opposition Leader, Mr. Fraser, as Prime Minister.

He commissioned him to form an interim Government until elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate are held probably on December 13 or 20.

Mr. Fraser would not confirm the date late yesterday.

Sir John’s unprecedented actions were taken without any warning to the Labor Government or Mr. Whitlam.

Late last night, Mr. Whitlam met the ACTU and A.L.P. president, Mr. Hawke, the Federal A.L.P. secretary, Mr. David Combe, and other leading Labor men at John Curtin House, to begin planning Labor’s campaign.

Mr. Fraser dined with some colleagues.

He is expected to have about 12 L-NCP frontbenchers sworn in as an interim Ministry, and later announce December 13 as polling day.

Mr. Whitlam was stunned by Sir John’s actions.

Gough Whitlam on the steps of the Parliament house after his dismissal in 1975.Credit:The Age Archives

At a Caucus meeting earlier yesterday, he told Labor MPs that he proposed to call a half-Senate election for December 13.

He said that Sir John was “favorably disposed” to this course when he spoke with him by telephone just before the meeting.

Later in a Press Conference, Mr. Whitlam said Sir John had never discussed the possibility of unilaterally sacking the Government and calling for a double dissolution.

Asked if Sir John gave him the impression that he believed a general election was the proper course, Mr. Whitlam said:

‘Kerr’s cur’

“On the contrary, he gave me the other impression. He knew I had, and was likely to continue to have, the majority in the House of Representatives. And he also knew that the Opposition didn’t have a majority in the Senate.”

Speaking before a wildly cheering crowd at the steps of Parliament, Mr. Whitlam described Mr. Fraser as “Kerr’s cur” for accepting the commission.

Earlier, tourists in Parliament’s Kings Hall cheering Mr. Whitlam and jeered Mr. Fraser and NCP leader Mr. Anthony.

Sir John also refused to take notice of a successful no-confidence motion against the interim Fraser Government, carried in the House of Representatives before it was dissolved.

Sir John Kerr in 1977.

Sir John Kerr in 1977.Credit:The Age Archives

His secretary, Mr. David Smith, made an appointment for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Scholes, to deliver the no-confidence resolution to Sir John at 4:45 p.m.

But at precisely this time parliamentary officials made the announcement proroguing the Parliament.

This action also is unprecedented. Australia has never had a Government which did fall as a result of being defeated on a no-confidence motion in the House.

At a Press conference, Mr. Fraser said Sir John had commissioned him to form a Government “to permit the deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament to be resolved.”

“It will be my sole purpose as head of the Government, to restore responsible management to the nation’s affairs and to ensure that Australia has the general election to which it is constitutionally entitled and which has so far been denied it,” Mr. Fraser said.

“Until the judgment of the Australian people has been registered at this election, my Government will make no appointments or dismissals, nor initiate any of our policies.

“The Liberal and Country Parties took the action we did after three years of grossly incompetent and damaging economic mismanagement, and after the second man who had acted as Prime Minister had been dismissed for deceiving the Parliament.

“The Australian people will have their say. The choice is theirs at the ballot box.”

Mr. Fraser denied that he had any foreknowledge of Sir John Kerr’s intentions.

Malcolm Fraser leaves Parliament House as the new Prime Minister.

Malcolm Fraser leaves Parliament House as the new Prime Minister.Credit:The Age Archives

He also refused to say whether he would bring down a new Budget if he won the election. He refused to comment on the maintenance of wage indexation – regarded as a critical element for economic recovery.

In his Press conference, Mr. Whitlam said: “Clearly the great issue, almost the sole issue of this campaign, will be whether the Government which the people elect with a majority in the House of Representatives will be allowed to govern from now on.

“The whole system is under challenge. Up until the very last division it was plain my government had a majority in the House of Representatives where we have always believed government were meant to be made and unmade.”

Mr. Whitlam said he did not know if Mr. Fraser had “made a deal” with Sir John Kerr – “at least I am making no allegations.”


Malcolm Fraser launches the Liberal Party election campaign in 1975

Malcolm Fraser launches the Liberal Party election campaign in 1975Credit:National Archives of Ausralia

He pointed out that Supply had not run out when he spoke to Sir John Kerr at 1 p.m. yesterday.

“And as we all know the Senate passed the Budget Supply Bills at about a quarter past two this afternoon. And when Mr. Fraser read portions of Sir John’s views to the House of Representatives, those views were no longer well-based because by that time Supply had been passes,” he said.

Asked how he felt about being a Prime Minister sacked by the Crown, Mr. Whitlam laughed and said: “I’m the first for 200 years – since George the Third sacked Lord North.”

Mr. Whitlam said that in the future no other Prime Minister would have his commission withdrawn.

“I believe that we will win the election. The third time will prove it. My government will be elected for the third time and in those circumstances I do not believe that the Opposition would venture to be as obstructive again,” he said.

“It is quite clear that the public has been alienated by what Mr. Snedden did in April last year, and the public has again been alienated by what Mr. Fraser has done.”

Mr. Whitlam said he was “quite satisfied the Crown did not have the right to do what the Governor-General did on this occasion.”

He also condemned the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, for giving advice to Sir John Kerr. He said the High Court had ruled against giving “advisory opinions”

Mr. Whitlam said he could not understand Sir John ignoring the House of Representatives motion of no confidence in the Fraser Government.


“I cannot understand how the Governor-General took this action,” he said.

“Somewhere before three o’clock this afternoon, the House passed a motion declaring it had no confidence in Mr. Fraser as Prime Minister and requested the Speaker advise the Governor-General immediately to call me to be the head of the Australian Government.

“This was carried 64-54.

“The Speaker then sought an audience. It was granted for quarter to five. At a quarter to five the Governor-General’s official secretary announced from the steps of Parliament House that both house had been dissolved.”

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