The Dismissal, The Head of State and the Definitive Book
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Friday, 11 November 2005

The central element of Remembrance Day ceremonies is the one minute silence.

According to the official website, Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, first proposed a period of silence for national remembrance in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919.

The suggestion came to the attention of King George V. After testing the practicality of five minutes silence - a trial was held with five Grenadier Guardsmen standing to attention for the silence - the King issued a proclamation on 7 November 1919 which called for a two-minute silence. His proclamation requested that "all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead".

At 11am on 11 November 1919, Australians, for the first time, paused and stood in silent tribute to the men and women of the Australian Imperial Force who died on battlefields in the Middle East, Gallipoli and Europe.

In 1997 the Governor-General issued a Proclamation urging all Australians to observe the one minute silence on Remembrance Day. It is still appropriate for two minutes silence to be observed.

The day is also the anniversary of the decision by Sir John Kerr, 30 years ago to the day, to remove the commission to Mr Gough Whitlam to be Prime Minsiter because Parliament had no granted the government supply, and Mr Whitlam was openly planning to breach the Constitution by governing without a proper approriation of funds.


When the former President of the Indonesian Republic, General Suharto, heard of the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, he asked our Ambassador why Mr. Whitlam just didn’t arrest the Governor-General.

It was the obvious thing to do-for a dictator, or indeed, a potential dictator. We have just learned that Paul Keating wanted to do precisely that in 1975.

On the ABC programme Lateline, ABC on, 9 November, 2005, we were shown Mr. Keating launching Mr. Whitlam’s book on the dismissal. : Mr Keating says: “And I said to Daley that we should put Kerr immediately under house arrest.” The crowd laughed at what they assumed was Mr. Keating’s attempt at humour. But he wasn’t joking, and insists: “No, I meant it, I meant it.” There was more laughing, somewhat muted as the audience realised to their surprise that he was serious. And then he said: “And had I been Prime Minister, I certainly would have” This almost unbelievable story created headlines across the country - for example, in The Age of 19 November, 2005:

Kerr- a bunyip potentate who should have been arrested: Keating

As I wrote on the Crikey website,the rather obvious the fact that Mr Whitlam was no longer Prime Minister and could not order anything - apart from a steak for lunch-seems to elude Mr Keating.

Under our law, including the proposed anti-terrorism law, a prime minister has no power to detain anyone- as Billy Hughes once found when an egg was thrown at him and the police refused to arrest the miscreant.

(I of course exclude citizen arrests which could hardly apply to 1975)

An order, say, to the Army, to place their Commander- in- Chief under house take into custody would have been ignored, Mr Keating even leaving himself open to a criminal charge and worse public ridicule. We are entitled to assume it would have been different under his republic!

Mr Keating’s stance is all the more curious when his own assessment of the Whitlam government is less than complimentary: ”The cabinet had no overarching philosophy, certainly no economic one, and the meetings, of course, were mayhem.”


Late Line also reported the launch of Sir David Smith’s handsome new book, HEAD OF STATE by Bill Hayden, the Whitlam government's treasurer at the time of the dismissal, who later served as Governor-General with Sir David as his official secretary.

Lateline lamented that its cameras were barred from the launch in Sydney –it was at a dinner organized by Quadrant, which describes itself, I believe justifiably, as Australia’s leading intellectual magazine (

Mr Hayden told those at the launch: "A governor-general cannot sit on his hands, meekly servile to his prime minister's directions when the process of good governance and order of the affairs of the people of the nation is seized up, or about to be, and no resolution of the crisis is available."

As reported by Lateline, Sir David stands by Sir John Kerr’s decision. He said Mr Whitlam's party had only itself to blame.

” Well, I can't answer for Mr Whitlam's attitude, but it was the Labor party policy for 170 occasions in the previous 25 years, to try to do to coalition governments exactly what was done to the Labor government. They established the precedent; Mr Fraser simply followed the pattern that had been established. “

This is a theme Sir David develops in his book. He points out that on August 25, 1970; the Labor Opposition launched its 170th attempt since 1950.

On that occasion, Mr Whitlam told the House of Representatives: "Let me make it clear at the outset that our opposition to this budget is no mere formality. We intend to press our opposition by all available means on all related measures in both houses. If the motion is defeated, we will vote against the bills here and in the Senate. Our purpose is to destroy this budget and to destroy the government which has sponsored it."

Sir David, in exquisite detail, sets out the very clear overwhelming evidence that Mr Whitlam and Senator Murphy were wedded to the accepted indubitable constitutional doctrine that a government cannot govern without supply and must resign.

But later, on 24 November 24, 1975, Mr. Whitlam opened his campaign for the 13 December election,” his theme was that the removal of his government from office was the end of parliamentary democracy as we knew it because an elected government in full command of a majority in the House of Representatives had been brought down by the Senate's attack on its budget” In HEAD OF STATE , Sir David delivers the coup de grace to those who argue that 11 November, 1975 is reason to change our constitutional system.


In his book HEAD OF STATE Sir David Smith argues convincingly that our founding fathers made the Governor-General our constitutional Head of State. Sir David recounts his personal role, both in public and behind the scenes, in the events of 11 November, 1975.

He argues that the action of Sir John Kerr put an end to any claims that Australia’s sovereignty, independence and national identity were centred on London.

HEAD OF STATE is a dramatic scholarly, superbly researched intervention in the debate about whether Australia should keep the constitutional system it has known since self government and under which she federated, or become some vague, and as yet undefined, republic.

HEAD OF STATE prove to be essential reading for anyone interested in the way in which Australia is governed.

Those with plans for constitutional change would be well advised to read HEAD OF STATE before they go to the people.

HEAD OF STATE is published by Macleay Press, Sydney, and may be purchased from ACM at the special price of $47.50, including handling and postage.

To order a copy • phone the ACM office 02 -92512500 • fax your order to 02-925 9833, or • write to ACM Bookshop, Box 9841,GPO, Sydney, 2001


The Hon. Chris Pearce, MHR has proposed Sir John Kerr be declared a national treasure.

“When Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government he was correctly exercising the constitutional power of his office, just as the Senate was doing when it deferred passage of the budget ... We should acknowledge the debt the nation owes Kerr, for giving the people of Australia the opportunity to pass judgment on that dangerous and incompetent regime. Which they did, in the form of a landslide victory to the Coalition ... So let's remember November 11, 1975; indeed, let us never, ever forget November 11, 1975.

And let us acknowledge the heroic role John Kerr played in those events by making him a national treasure.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr Whitlam does not agree.

While he is very close to Malcolm Fraser on most issues today, when it comes to Sir John Kerr, he did what he has been doing for the last thirty years - maintained his rage.

On the ABC programme, AM, he did precisely that:

TONY EASTLEY: Sir John Kerr was hounded by the media and by Labor supporters after the dismissal…

GOUGH WHITLAM: And by Liberal supporters.

TONY EASTLEY: And by some Liberal supporters. He became a liability. Did he deserve that?

GOUGH WHITLAM: Certainly. He was a contemptible person. Let's not beat about the bush.

TONY EASTLEY: You hired him.

GOUGH WHITLAM: I nominated him to the Queen, yes, and the nomination was very well received, on all sides. …… TONY EASTLEY: Towards the end of the book you said you wanted to work towards an Australian republic. Do you think its coming?

GOUGH WHITLAM: I think the republic will come on the demise of the present monarch.

TONY EASTLEY: You would need a reformist government to introduce the necessary legislation to make Australia a republic. Many people think that the next Labor government might be the government to do that.


Mr Eastley, you need more than legislation to do that, fortunately. And what makes you think that a republic means reform, that is improvement?

The republican movement pretends it doesn't know what sort of republic it is selling:everyone knows it is the Latham model.

As for Mr Whitlam, he still will not admit the fact that, as Sir David Smith explains, 1975 was a political crisis, not a constitutional crisis.

The intransigence of two politicians had brought the nation to the precipice; it was our constitution, in particular the reserve powers of the Crown, and Sir John Kerr’s sangfroid and courage, that saved it.

The solution the constitution provided was simple, efficacious and above all democratic - let the people decide. And that is what the republicans want the Australian people to abandon!

Until next time,

David Flint