GOUGH WHITLAM'S CURIOUS DEFENCE OF RICHARD BUTLER
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Friday, 02 April 2004

We have just sent the following letter to the national newspaper, The Australian: Sir, When you pointed out (editorial 2/4) that Mr Richard Butler had refused to become a patron of St. John's Ambulance because this involved an order of chivalry, Mr Gough Whitlam defended his former secretary on the grounds that Malcom Fraser had once said the order was not officially recognised. However, it is customary for governors and governorgenerals to become patrons and to preside over ceremonies where the work of the many volunteers in this fine organisation is recognised. To refuse this role was an error of judgement on the Governor's part, but not as serious as the real subject of your editorial, the transgression which forced the Premier, Mr Paul Lennon, to take the extraordinary but entirely proper course of publicly reminding the Governor about the conventions which surround this high office. Mr Whitlam's intervention reminded me of last year's Bastille Day ceremony in Sydney, where the Consul - General conferred a knighthood on an Australian citizen. At the conclusion, I turned to Mr Whitlam and said, with a straight face, 'Mr Whitlam, you are the reason why Australians have to go to a foreign republic to get a knighthood.' He threw back his head laughing and said 'Yes, I have five or six of those myself!'