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Private communications between Buckingham Palace and former Governor-General Sir John Kerr have been publicly revealed for the first time. Image: National Archives of Australia

by Sean Van Der Wielen 
Chief Writer/Editor

The Queen was not aware that Governor-General Sir John Kerr was planning to dismiss Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister, newly revealed documents show.

In one of more than 200 letters released this morning by the National Archive of Australia, Sir Kerr told the Queen’s private secretary Sir Martin Charteris that his decision to not give prior notice was designed to protect the monarchy.

“I was of the opinion that it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is, of course, my duty to tell her immediately,” he wrote in a letter dated 11th November 1975, the date of the dismissal.

In the same letter, Sir Kerr informed Sir Charteris of Gough Whitlam’s reaction to his dismissal.

“He said “I shall get in touch with the Palace immediately”,” Sir Kerr wrote.

“To this I replied that this would be useless as he was no longer at that time Prime Minister.

“I had already signed the document terminating his commission”.

Sir Charteris replied by saying that the Governor-General had acted with dignity in his decision.

“I believe that in NOT informing The Queen what you intended to do before doing it, you acted not only with perfect constitutional propriety but also with considerable admiration for Her Majesty’s position,” he responded.

The letter also revealed that Gough Whitlam had personally called Buckingham Palace in the hours following the dismissal.

“[Mr Whitlam] said that now Supply had been passed he should be re-commissioned as Prime Minister so that he could choose his own time to call an election,” Sir Charteris wrote.

The correspondence reveals that the Queen’s private secretary was happy with Sir Kerr’s decision.

“There have been some [staff at the Palace] who have questioned what you have done but I have as yet found no one who has been able to tell me what you ought to have done instead to resolve the crisis: and this is something which I think your critics have an obligation to do”.

The letters are part of the so-called “Palace Papers” collection, which details the communications between the Queen and Australia’s Governor-General between 1974 and 1977.

The papers were originally classified as private communications, which required them to remain confidential until at least 2027. However, a successful high court challenge by historian Professor Jenny Hocking earlier this year saw the papers reclassified as “commonwealth records”, allowing them to be published.

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