Extraordinary And Reprehensible
Written by John Paul   
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Image[In this seventh instalment of his essay on the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government, John Paul examines the filling of the  Senate seats made vacant by the appointment of NSW Senator Murphy to the high Court and the death of Queensland Senator Bert Millner] 

The Opposition parties under Fraser’s leadership were not at first as single-minded in their determination to drive the Whitlam Government from office as some assert. 

When Mr Bill Hayden as Treasurer presented his Budget to the House of Representatives Fraser as Opposition leader declared that the parties he led were prepared to allow it to pass through the Senate. 

He acknowledged that in normal circumstances a Government should have a reasonable expectation of an unbroken term of three years the maximum the Constitution permitted. 

This he was prepared to concede unless the Government itself were beset with “extraordinary and reprehensible” circumstances. 

An event which concentrated the Opposition parties on the need to block Supply was the High Court’s controversial and narrow decision (4-3) in the Territories Senators Case to uphold legislation providing for two Senators to represent each of the Commonwealth Territories.[1] 

This decision was handed down on 10th October
six days before the Appropriation Bills were due to be introduced into the Senate. 

In any election for half the Senate called in late 1975 or early 1976, the newly elected Territories Senators would take their places immediately and not in July 1976 as would the Senators elected from the States. 

The Opposition parties were fearful that this would provide the Whitlam Government with a temporary Senate majority which would facilitate the passage of a redistribution already twice rejected by the Senate. 


[1]               Western Australia v. The Commonwealth, (1975) 134 CLR 201.