Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Palace fetters
An elected Australian government could still be dismissed by the Queen

Image of prime minister Gough Whitlam addressing reporters outside Parliament after his dismissal by governor-general John Kerr on November 11, 1975.

Prime minister Gough Whitlam addresses reporters outside Parliament after his dismissal by governor-general John Kerr on November 11, 1975. (Photo by Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Like US Attorney General William Barr trying to put a pro-Trump spin on the Mueller Report, National Archives of Australia director-general David Fricker did some front-running of his own ahead of today’s release of the Palace Letters. The Queen was not told in advance that then governor-general Sir John Kerr intended to dismiss Gough Whitlam in 1975, the first headlines read, because Kerr thought it was “better for Her Majesty not to know”. The Queen, who is supposed to remain neutral, is now off the hook for meddling in Australia’s democracy by sacking an elected government, right? Wrong. Forget the attempted spin by Fricker, who has fought Monash University historian Jenny Hocking all the way to the High Court to stop the release of the 45-year-old letters. The Palace Letters should have been released in full at the very moment the court ruled they were public records, not private correspondence. Instead we’ve had to wait 45 days for no reason whatsoever, and now, on the day of release, Hocking is snubbed by Fricker, with preference given to selected media organisations to attend a briefing this morning. Further interpretation of the letters’ contents will no doubt unfold, but Professor Hocking writes this afternoon that they show the Queen, through her private secretary Martin Charteris, was advising Kerr on the powers of the Senate “and, critically, the existence and potential use of the contentious and contested reserve powers to dismiss the government”.    

Hocking concludes that the Queen “breached the central tenet of a constitutional monarchy, that the Monarch is politically neutral and must play no role in political matters. The damage this has done to the Queen, to Kerr, and the monarchy is incalculable.” As the Palace Letters are digested, they will surely stir Republican sentiment, which has been largely dormant since the failed referendum campaign in 1999, spearheaded by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was then chair of the Australian Republican Movement. Turnbull’s stated position ever since has been that the most opportune time for the next referendum would be at the end of the Queen’s reign – which makes little sense – but his own memoir A Bigger Picture shows why the Palace Letters are not merely a matter of historical interest. During the botched 2018 coup attempt led by Peter Dutton, which installed Scott Morrison as Liberal leader and PM, Turnbull writes that he “came very close to uncertain territory as to the respective responsibilities of myself as prime minister and Sir Peter Cosgrove as governor-general”. 

At a Sydney press conference, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “a blight on our character as a nation that a democratically elected government was dismissed”, adding that “the actions of the governor-general on 11th of November to dismiss a government, to put himself above the Australian people, is one that reinforces the need for us to have an Australian head of state”. Recent polling released by the Australian Republican Movement showed 62 per cent of Australians supported the appointment of an Australian head of state. The Opposition has shelved its pre-election policy to have a non-binding plebiscite in the first term of a Labor government, and has made an Indigenous voice to parliament and constitutional recognition its top priority. Matt Thistlethwaite, shadow assistant minister for the republic, welcoming the interest in the issue spurred by the Palace Letters, but chose his words carefully today, saying that at some point after the COVID crisis, “Australia must begin a mature and serious discussion about our future constitutional arrangements with a view to having a serious discussion about amending our constitution to finally appoint an Australian as our head of state”. 

The Palace Letters prove that, in a craven attempt to sack-or-be-sacked, Kerr conspired with the head of a foreign power to dismiss the pioneering, democratically elected Labor government led by Gough Whitlam. Until Australians ensure that our head of state is one of us, it could happen again. 

“We are now in a situation where when you go out … you have to write down on a piece of paper, with your pen, your phone number. Like, congratulations, government. We’re now in a situation where we’ve rediscovered pen and paper as our best tracing app.”

Shadow government services minister Bill Shorten lambasts the federal government’s COVIDSafe app, which has failed to contribute to contact-tracing efforts.

“Look, I think it’s not a question of what kind of uniform you wear. I think the issue is either people providing security or other services are well trained in managing hygiene and infection control. That’s the issue I’m focused on.”

Former health department secretary Jane Halton, who is heading up a national review of hotel quarantine arrangements for COVID-19, also sits on the board of Crown Resorts, which owns hotels used for quarantine and which reportedly employs the security firm at the centre of an outbreak in Victoria.

The man inside (part two)
The sentencing of Ramzi Aouad to life without parole came at a tense moment in racialised policing. There are now people asking if the evidence was fair – and if the politics around “Middle Eastern crime” played a part. This is part two of a two-part episode.


The length, in pages, of a ruling on class actions by Federal Court judge Michael Lee. Menzies Research Centre chief of staff James Mathias admitted he had not read the judgement, which he is accused of misquoting in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into class actions and litigation funding.

“It is essential that JobSeeker never returns to the poverty levels of the old NewStart allowance … Australian unions support JobSeeker remaining at the current rate inclusive of the coronavirus supplement which allows unemployed workers to be financially secure while they look for work. It would be a catastrophic mistake for the Morrison government to cut the rate while we have 13 workers unemployed for every available job, and record levels of youth unemployment and underutilisation.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions joins the Australian Council of Social Service in a day of action in support of permanently raising the rate of JobSeeker.

The list

“There’s a case to be made that Michel Piccoli – who died on May 12, at the age of 94 – was not only the face of postwar European cinema, but also the most successful screen actor of the 20th century. Consider the evidence: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963). Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967). La grande bouffe (Marco Ferreri, 1973). Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980). La belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991). Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012). To boast four or five such works in one’s filmography is to have had an enviable career. Piccoli had these and 20 more.”

“When I first saw David Gulpilil on screen in the 1970s, soon after I arrived in Australia, something about his presence was familiar to me, as though I’d seen him a long time ago … Thinking about Gulpilil’s on-screen roles now, in the context of a visionary and multipronged global movement against institutional racism, there is for me a new sense of urgency to examining how he reveals the unconscious of our culture, how he takes us into dark places and times through his films.”

“Julian Acheampong is visiting his girlfriend when the news alert comes through on his phone. ‘I saw that my building number was part of the buildings being forced to hard lockdown,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know what that meant.’ Acheampong, who lives with his mother, calls her to liaise about what supplies they will need for the next five days. Across town, in Carlton, community organiser Idil Ali starts getting text messages and calls. She and others begin posting information online, gleaned from conversations with those in the affected towers.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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