Still maintaining the rage
September 2, 2012 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Thirty-seven years after the dramatic events of the Dismissal, in which the Governer-General sacked the Prime Minister of Australia, replacing him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser, new revelations have come to light showing that Sir John Kerr made inquiries into the potential dismissal of the Whitlam Government months before it happened on November 11, 1970. Kerr's papers also unmask High Court justice Anthony Mason's role in the saga. Mason extensively and secretly counselled Kerr during the crisis, canvassed the use of the reserve powers to dismiss Whitlam and drafted a letter of dismissal for Kerr to use. The revelations are made in a new book on the life of dumped PM Gough Whitlam.
posted by Mezentian (48 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Left out link to what I was inspired by in the first place:
Malcolm Fraser joined Sunday Extra to offer his personal perspective.

There's no transcript (only audio), but Fraser is at his combative "best" here.
posted by Mezentian at 9:36 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a special place in hell reserved for Fraser. He's trying to work his way out of it by his decade and a half of not having his head placed firmly up his ass and acting like a born again lefty but with any luck he'll spend the rest of eternity as someone working minimum wage with a chronic health condition in the current American healthcare system he would have had Australia emulate.

I will always have nothing but the absolute contempt for him and the brown shitstain he left on Australian politics that we just can't get rid of. Rot in hell you democracy hating, scum sucking bastard.
posted by Talez at 10:16 PM on September 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's an interesting topic but goodness me that audio was tedious. It's like listening to a retired bank manager expounding on his stamp collection.

*No offence intended to actual financial sector employees or philatelists.
posted by evil_esto at 10:56 PM on September 2, 2012


Tell it, Talez.
My wife was with her mother in Pitt street when she was a little girl (1979ish) and they saw Kerr crossing the street. Mother whispered to child "we should push him into the traffic."
Let's just say they are pretty dyed in the wool Labor.
posted by bystander at 11:09 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"ass" talez? When did donkeys get involved in Aus politics?
posted by wilful at 11:15 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"ass" talez? When did donkeys get involved in Aus politics?

In this context that would be John "Wayne" Kerr.
posted by Talez at 11:18 PM on September 2, 2012


Fraser is and was scum, but if I had been in Kerr's shoes I'd have done the same. Whitlam had no respect for the office of Prime Minister and he really had to go. The Khemlani loans affair was bad enough, but he learned so little from it that six months later he tried to get $2,000,000 from Saddam Hussein (!) to fund his re-election!
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:30 PM on September 2, 2012


Hold on. What? Whitlam fired Connor on the spot once the full evidence came to light in the Loans Affair

As for the Iraqi cash affair. Are you seriously telling me that a sitting prime minster using ASIO as a de facto personal intelligence force and then giving that intelligence to a media magnate to destroy the opposition politically isn't the bigger issue here? Going after the Iraqis for cash is fucking stupid and Whitlam paid for that dearly but what Fraser did was borderline high treason and ill-befitting of someone who is supposed to hold Australia's highest office.
posted by Talez at 11:48 PM on September 2, 2012


I think the best answer to charges of "treason" or "coups" is the simple fact that in December 1975 a full (and fair) election was held, with very clear results.
posted by wilful at 12:06 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


What would have happened had Whitlam found out and sacked Kerr before he had a chance to dismiss him? Were there any major policy platforms he was planning to introduce and wasn't able to?

(Or would the intransigent Senate have blocked anything Whitlam was planning to do in 1976 anyway?)
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:19 AM on September 3, 2012


The Khemlani loans affair was bad enough, but he learned so little from it that six months later he tried to get $2,000,000 from Saddam Hussein (!) to fund his re-election!

I certainly don't count myself as someone maintaining the rage - it was a very unique situation with unique personalities that would certainly never crop again and it's worth remembering that whatever his legacy Whitlam's govt was deeply, deeply unpopular at the time - but that is a shitty, shitty argument for why he should have been dismissed.

Good god, man, don't you remember Howard's first term, where 7 ministers were forced to resign?

If you think a govt should be dismissed from one minister, then you must have thought howard was the devil incarnate and voted against him every election after his first.

Additionally - and this is not to defend Hussein, or Whitlam (heh) - but attitudes towards him and knowledge of his govt was very different in 1975, and even for quite some time after.
posted by smoke at 12:24 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Or would the intransigent Senate have blocked anything Whitlam was planning to do in 1976 anyway?)

They would have blocked anything and everything. I'm far from an expert, but sometimes I wonder what Whitlamite die-hards imagined what would have happened had he run to term - even had he run to term with supply. I see the same wild optimism around our current Gillard govt from die hard Labor supporters - shame the cause is so much shittier this time round.
posted by smoke at 12:26 AM on September 3, 2012


I think the best answer to charges of "treason" or "coups" is the simple fact that in December 1975 a full (and fair) election was held, with very clear results.

That's kind of circular reasoning. Fraser used Murdoch to sabotage the campaign and people decided the lesser of two evils. It doesn't change the fact that a sitting prime minister leaked ASIO's intelligence for his own personal gain.
posted by Talez at 12:30 AM on September 3, 2012


I see the same wild optimism around our current Gillard govt from die hard Labor supporters - shame the cause is so much shittier this time round.

I think Gillard's strategy is "weather the storm until Tony fucks up and mentions WorkChoices again then call a snap election and run on that".

Makes me wonder how many seats the Greens are going to start pulling in the lower house. Especially if Labor ends up preferencing them above the Liberals.
posted by Talez at 12:32 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Especially if Labor ends up preferencing them above the Liberals.

Labor keeps making noises that they won't, which will probably end up leading to some more Family First or DLP fun. Labor love digging their own grave, it seems.
posted by Jimbob at 12:35 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think Gillard's strategy is "weather the storm until Tony fucks up and mentions WorkChoices again then call a snap election and run on that".

Is this not what you're arguing Whitlam would have and should have done, essentially? And that people would see the light and vote differently? I'm very grateful for medicare, my modest HECS fees that would have been much higher if not for Whiltam etc, but like Wilful, I'm deeply deeply skeptical about what people think would have happened. Fraser should have divested himself of the apocalyptic thinking and just waited his turn - which would have arrived at the next election anyway.

Makes me wonder how many seats the Greens are going to start pulling in the lower house.

Maybe 3? If they're incredibly lucky. And I say that as a Greens voter. It doesn't pay to go around thinking everyone in the country is the same (ie like you). If anything, the Greens - and Labor - are going to lose rather a lot of seats, the stupid bastards (Labor, not the Greens. Greens have actually stayed true to their constiuencies).
posted by smoke at 12:36 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


What would have happened had Whitlam found out and sacked Kerr before he had a chance to dismiss him?

Whitlam's plan was to call an early Senate half-election and take advantage of the early-sitting of the senators of the ACT and NT to temporarily gain a majority in the Senate (because although he was likely to lose Senators overall in the half-election, he would gain Senators in the ACT and NT), and then use that majority to pass electoral distribution laws, so that Labor would have an advantage in the 1976 House election (these laws had already passed the House, but had been blocked by the Senate).

So, no one comes out of this looking particularly angelic.
posted by kithrater at 12:38 AM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is this not what you're arguing Whitlam would have and should have done, essentially? And that people would see the light and vote differently? I'm very grateful for medicare, my modest HECS fees that would have been much higher if not for Whiltam etc, but like Wilful, I'm deeply deeply skeptical about what people think would have happened. Fraser should have divested himself of the apocalyptic thinking and just waited his turn - which would have arrived at the next election anyway.

Not necessarily. If the election turned out to be a referendum on Medibank instead of a referendum on Fraser being a dickhead it might have turned out differently. I don't know if it's necessarily what Whitlam should have done. I don't even think it's what Jules should do either but she appears to be just sitting there fingers crossed waiting for Tony to put his foot in it.

Maybe 3? If they're incredibly lucky. And I say that as a Greens voter. It doesn't pay to go around thinking everyone in the country is the same (ie like you). If anything, the Greens - and Labor - are going to lose rather a lot of seats, the stupid bastards (Labor, not the Greens. Greens have actually stayed true to their constiuencies).

I'm only really posturing because Greens are polling incredibly well in the primary vote in some areas. Disillusion with Labor might push these votes over the line leftward (fat chance I know but one can always dream). My personal speculation is that there may be a few of the three way races like we saw in Melbourne where Liberals couldn't get the close to absolute majority they needed to absolute majority. If Labor gives them preferences they won't have to outpoll the Liberal candidate they'll just have to outpoll Labor. Grayndler and Sydney? Fremantle maybe? Who knows but it'll be interesting to watch. Sadly next election will be the first one I won't be voting in.
posted by Talez at 1:04 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whitlam fired Connor on the spot once the full evidence came to light in the Loans Affair

Wait, what? He only fired Connor after it was revealed that Connor had continued to perform the task he had been set by Whitlam himself some months before. The original plan was extraordinary enough - raising money from Arab dictators in order to avoid having to obtain Supply from Parliament - but I find it hard to believe that Connor was really working behind Whitlam's back when he continued to liaise with Khemlani after the substance of the Loans Affair was revealed.

And note the similarlity of the reprise when the Labor Party found itself short of cash. "I know! Let's go back to the Arab dictators and get them to fund the party of the Workers. There's nothing at all dodgy about making the future government of Australia beholden to some foreign plutocrats!"

The most generous explanagtion I can find is that having been out of power for so long they thought they were trying to rort a waterfront union election, not compromise the government of Godzone Country.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:04 AM on September 3, 2012


I see the same wild optimism around our current Gillard govt from die hard Labor supporters

Although Whitlam actually had a plan to recover - he was dismissed right as he was advising Kerr to call the Senate half-election!

A quick google search for counter-factuals doesn't reveal anything that takes in to account the effect of the House electoral distribution changes in the next House election. It did, however, turn up some creative fantasy: a counter-factual where Whitlam refuses to stand down and is killed in a brawl on the steps of Parliament House, and a counter-factual where Whitlam and the rest of the ALP Parliamentarians barricade themselves in Parliament House while Queensland is reduced to anarchy and South Australian succeedes.

attitudes towards [Saddam] and knowledge of his govt was very different in 1975, and even for quite some time after.

... and even for quite some more time after (yes, yes, not the same thing, but the reliance of multiple Australian politicians on Saddam for some extra cash is a curious thing).
posted by kithrater at 1:05 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whitlam and the rest of the ALP Parliamentarians barricade themselves in Parliament House while Queensland is reduced to anarchy

Reduced? Christ, in the Joh years a little bit of anarchy would have been a clear step up. ;)
posted by smoke at 1:11 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, what? He only fired Connor after it was revealed that Connor had continued to perform the task he had been set by Whitlam himself some months before. The original plan was extraordinary enough - raising money from Arab dictators in order to avoid having to obtain Supply from Parliament - but I find it hard to believe that Connor was really working behind Whitlam's back when he continued to liaise with Khemlani after the substance of the Loans Affair was revealed.

The US investment banks requested they stop all other attempts to secure finance. The financing was secured at that point. There would have been absolutely nothing to gain by Whitlam by telling Connor to keep liaising with Khemlani contrary to what the US financiers had instructed. The risk of losing a $4b loan would be far more likely to keep Whitlam in line making it far more likely that Connor was acting on his own accord IMHO.
posted by Talez at 1:19 AM on September 3, 2012


six months later he tried to get $2,000,000 from Saddam Hussein

Ahem. You need to read the article:
Mr Fischer told Mr Combe that an Iraqi donation of $US500,000 (about $2 million in today's dollars) would be forthcoming.

I think attempting to make an end-run around an obstructionist Senate made perfect sense.

Whitlam did a lot of good things, and was doing good work. Just imagine what state the economy would be in now if Rex Conner's national resources company had gotten off the ground.

Imagine a crazy world where the Australian people owned 20-odd percent of every major coal, iron ore or LNG project in Australia? Imagine the profits going into Treasury.

(Oh, I know, Keating or Howard would probably have privatised it... idiots).
posted by Mezentian at 1:47 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


raising money from Arab dictators in order to avoid having to obtain Supply from Parliament

That's not how Supply works. All monies received by the Government go to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. You then need Supply, or an appropriation, to spend money fron the CRF ( this is the modern interpretation of sections 81 and 83. I don't know if they did it differently back then).

Where the Whitlam Government tripped up was that they appeared to be attempting to bypass the Loans Council, which at the time was required to authorise any and all State and Federal borrowing. However, even if such a loan was raised, it wouldn't be able to be automatically spent - you still have to deal with section 83 of the Constitution.

Whether the Whitlam Government would have also attempted to spend the borrowed monies without Parliamentary approval, which would have been a serious breach of the Constitution, is unknown - they never got that far. I don't think they would have been quite so radical.
posted by kithrater at 2:07 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kithrater, I haven't spend a lot of time studying this, but my recollection certainly was that Whitlam had a way of doing an end-run around the Supply issue. Here's an possibly-relevant question and response from Question Time, 23 April 1975 (via the National Archives of Australia, bar code 8352144, page 112/259):
Mr ELLICOTT - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has the Government already expended or negotiated to expend large sums of money under the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Act? Do these moneys include amounts proposed to be borrowed from overseas by the Minister for Minerals and Energy? Is judgment on the validity of this Act currently reserved before the High Court? Has the Prime Minister heard, recalling a previous occasion, that the odds among learned counsel are in favour of the Act being declared invalid? Will the Prime Minister undertake to the House that no further amounts will be expended or contracted for expenditure until the validity of the Act is determined?

Mr WHITLAM - The answers to the questions, seriatyim, are: Yes, no, yes, yes, no.
I direct your attention to section 33 of that Act, which among other things establishes a body corporate with the power to do anything it pretty well pleases. Section 33 speaks to the authority's borrowing powers and its ability to be guaranteed by the Commonwealth:
s. 33
(1) The Authority may, with the approval of the Treasurer-
(a) borrow moneys from an approved bank, the Australian Industrial Development Corporation or another lender for the purpose of the performance of its functions under this Act; and

(b) give security over any of its assets for the purpose of a borrowing referred to in paragraph (a).
(2) The Treasurer may, out of moneys appropriated by the Parliament for the purposes of this Act, make advances to the Authority of such amounts and on such terms as the Treasurer determines.

(3) The Authority shall not borrow otherwise than in accordance with this section.

(4) The Treasurer may, on behalf of Australia, guarantee the payment of amounts borrowed in accordance with sub-section (1) and the payment of interest on amounts so borrowed.
This looks to me very much like a way of borrowing money for petroleum and minerals development without the approval of Parliament - it would be the Petroleum and Minerals Authority which borrowed it, not the government, and any financial guarantees aren't actually expenditure. Apparently the High Court didn't like these arguments, because it was struck down.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:18 AM on September 3, 2012


it would be the Petroleum and Minerals Authority which borrowed it, not the government, and any financial guarantees aren't actually expenditure

Supply is not expenditure. Supply is drawing money from the CRF. If the Petroleum and Minerals Authority defaulted on a loan, the Government would still need an appropriation passed by Parliament before it could hand over money to make good on its guarantee. This is because s33(2) is not itself a valid appropriation: it only gives the Treasurer the power to provide those monies to the Petroleum and Minerals Authority which have already been appropriated by Parliament.

This looks to me very much like a way of borrowing money for petroleum and minerals development without the approval of Parliament

It is actually a fairly common feature in enabling legislation of statutory bodies: many have the power to borrow money subject to approval from a Minister. As far as approval of the Parliament goes, Parliament approved it when they agreed to the section of legislation that contains the borrowing powers.

However, the Government is usually loathe to let statutory authorities borrow money from outside sources, because they will almost always get poorer terms than the Government can, which negatively impacts the budget bottom line.

Apparently the High Court didn't like these arguments, because it was struck down.

The Petroleum and Minerals Authority Act was struck down because it failed to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Joint Sitting of Parliament that passed it.
posted by kithrater at 5:11 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


months before it happened on November 11, 1970

Which was, in turn, five years before it happened on November 11, 1975.
posted by rory at 5:33 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is my shame face.
Good pick-up.
posted by Mezentian at 5:52 AM on September 3, 2012


Maybe it's just my imperfect sense or perception of history's arc here, but hasn't the balance of opinion always favoured the view that Kerr was an out-and-out fuckwad and Whitlam was the valorous political martyr? I have had some level of admiration for parts of Fraser's post-political life, despite his being a silverspooned lord of condescension and a political blight when he was PM. The Mason thing's interesting, I suppose, as another dotpoint in the history, but I reckon we're far enough away in time that it won't shift the needle of opinion very far. I think allegiances on the dismissal question are set in concrete from one's political coming of age, no matter which end of the spectrum one (tends to) inhabit(s). I don't like thinking about it a lot actually. It's kind of embarrassing and a blot in the rearview mirror that can't be removed. It's as much a matter of national shame as it was political high drama. To me, anyways.
posted by peacay at 6:08 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


What would have happened had Whitlam found out and sacked Kerr before he had a chance to dismiss him?

Not possible. The Prime Minister can't fire the Governor General.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2012


Not directly, but he can advise the Queen to do so, and it is conventional for the Queen to follow the advice of a Prime Minister.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2012


Maybe it's just my imperfect sense or perception of history's arc here, but hasn't the balance of opinion always favoured the view that Kerr was an out-and-out fuckwad and Whitlam was the valorous political martyr?

The balance of opinion among the chattering classes, yes. Australians at the time couldn't get Whitlam out fast enough and I think they had a very good perception of what a dangerously manipulative narcissist he was.

Nobody has had much respect for Kerr, which I think is a shame, because he was in an invidious position. If Whitlam had had time to advise the Queen to sack Kerr (and I am sure he would have) it would have been a serious constitutional crisis because it is accepted that the Queen acts on the advice of her ministers. Kerr couldn't be frank with Whitlam at the very point when he most needed frankness. This is a grave problem with Australia's constitution and one which has never been remedied.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kithrater wrote: Supply is not expenditure. Supply is drawing money from the CRF. If the Petroleum and Minerals Authority defaulted on a loan, the Government would still need an appropriation passed by Parliament before it could hand over money to make good on its guarantee.

It is inconceivable that Australia would not be obliged to make good on a loan guaranteed by its treasurer under the terms of an Act of Parliament. If this transaction had gone ahead it would have effectively been the Commonwealth's own borrowings - and indeed, much of the controversy surrounding the loan was about Whitlam's evasion of the Loans Council under the pretence that this was a "short term" transaction, or mere discussions of negotiations for a possibly contemplated transaction that might occur at some point.

This was for two billion dollars, at a time when two billion dollars was a lot of money; an amount (according to Treasury at the time) far greater than any raised in the region; to be guaranteed by the Commonwealth and hence secured by Australia's good name; and it would be effectively placed in the government's slush fund for unspecified development projects.

Whitlam was lucky to merely lose his office: three hundred years earlier he'd have lost his head.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:49 PM on September 3, 2012


The balance of opinion among the chattering classes, yes. Australians at the time couldn't get Whitlam out fast enough and I think they had a very good perception of what a dangerously manipulative narcissist he was.

I was an Australian at the time. I thought the dismissal was horrendously unfair. I also thought, and still think, that Whitlam is a conviction politician and a genuine Australian hero.

If you will agree to stop referring of me as a member of the "chattering classes", I will agree to stop thinking of you as a reactionary News-addled nong.
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I resent the News-addled bit. I come by my prejudices honestly.

I don't think Whitlam lacked conviction. What I do see in him is an impatience that led him to treat political conventions as if they were rules in a game that had been stacked against him and his party. This was evident from the day he was sworn in when, rather than leave McMahon's government in caretaker mode until portfolios would be handed out, he and Lance Barnard divided all 27 ministries between themselves. He didn't seem to appreciate that conventions arose for good reasons, amongst which was the desire to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Even if his grandiose development plans could have been funded by Rex Connor's overseas affairs (and Treasury documents from the time are in full Yes Minister mode as they politely avoid calling him a fool) they would inevitably have been largely wasted because the projects would have been directed by layabouts, lairs, and people with the IQ of Rex Connor.

Anyway, I didn't mean anything by the chattering classes comment, and I apologise. If we ever meet up I'll buy you a latte.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:26 PM on September 3, 2012


What I do see in him is an impatience that led him to treat political conventions as if they were rules in a game that had been stacked against him and his party.

After that many years of continuous Tory rule, are you suggesting that somehow they were not?
posted by flabdablet at 11:43 PM on September 3, 2012


--Australians at the time couldn't get Whitlam out fast enough--

I think you misinterpret a mixed message and feeling from the populace. At the same time as wanting to kick out the government the people also felt that he'd been wronged and that he was overall a great leader. And not just among reporters. These 2 situations - defeat at the polls and belief Whitlam was essentially martyred - are/were not mutually exclusive.
posted by peacay at 2:48 AM on September 4, 2012


What I do see in him is an impatience that led him to treat political conventions as if they were rules in a game that had been stacked against him and his party

Yes, this was the real "danger" of Whitlam: a willingness to ignore convention and act according to the rules as written. The Australian political landscape isn't set up for that kind of behaviour, which is why it resulted in a deadlocked Senate, a Government General afraid to talk frankly with his Prime Minister, and the eventual dismissal.

It is inconceivable that Australia would not be obliged to make good on a loan guaranteed by its treasurer under the terms of an Act of Parliament.

If there's no appropriation, the money cannot legally leave the CRF. The Government may have an obligation to pay, but if it has a hostile Senate, it doesn't have the ability to pay. This is the risk you take when dealing with sovereign democratic entities.

If this transaction had gone ahead it would have effectively been the Commonwealth's own borrowings - and indeed, much of the controversy surrounding the loan was about Whitlam's evasion of the Loans Council under the pretence that this was a "short term" transaction, or mere discussions of negotiations for a possibly contemplated transaction that might occur at some point.

The loan wasn't being sought on behalf of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, though. It was being sought on behalf of the Government. These are two seperate issues you appear to be conflating. If you look over the Hansard for the special session of the House called to answer questions about the Loans Affair (15 meg pdf, sorry), there is no mention by anyone, Government or Opposition, of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority. Furthermore, the draft loan documents table explicitly refer to borrowing by the Government.
posted by kithrater at 4:31 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, this was the real "danger" of Whitlam: a willingness to ignore convention and act according to the rules as written.

Not all rules are "written"; in fact most rules aren't. There was nothing in the written rules to prevent him sending a representative to meet shonks claiming to represent Le Bank Gigantique de Monte Carlo, but it was an extraordinary act that ended in his government's humiliation.

If there's no appropriation, the money cannot legally leave the CRF. The Government may have an obligation to pay, but if it has a hostile Senate, it doesn't have the ability to pay. This is the risk you take when dealing with sovereign democratic entities.

Yes ... but in the real world a government that renounces its debts has a hard time raising funds elsewhere. Are you seriously defending Whitlam on the basis that he was planning to borrow money without authority, and then claim that it wasn't his fault he couldn't pay it back?

The loan wasn't being sought on behalf of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, though. It was being sought on behalf of the Government. These are two seperate issues you appear to be conflating.

Whitlam's fallback position (after the rigmarole had been exposed) was that he wasn't evading the loans council at all, he was just having preliminary discussions, so there was no need to invoke the P&MA at all. None the less, the Opposition was pretty sure that's what the money was going to and Whitlam himself tersely described the intended use of the money as "Energy." There's no proof that he had intended to route it via the P&MA but that's characteristic of the whole sorry mess. What was he planning? What entity was going to carry it out? How would the loan be made, given the opposition in the Loans Council? And, most importantly, most significantly, the whole thing was nonsense. Whitlam, via Rex Connor, was being sold a nearly-gold genuine Roleks by a man in a pub.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:42 AM on September 4, 2012


Are you seriously defending Whitlam on the basis that he was planning to borrow money without authority, and then claim that it wasn't his fault he couldn't pay it back?

I'm not defending anything. I'm explaining how the appropriation framework operates. You appear to be confusing the borrowing of money with the making good of a loan guarantee. The Government does not need Supply to borrow money. The Government does need Supply to take money from the CRF, such as to make good on a loan guarantee.

Furthermore, the notion that soverign democratic entities will not make good on its obligations is neither outlandish or novel: it known as sovereign risk. Noting the risks of lending money to governments is not the same as saying a governments is right to not meet its obligations.

There's no proof that he had intended to route it via the P&MA but that's characteristic of the whole sorry mess.

Yes. Not only is there no proof, but this theory was not raised in any way, shape or form by the Opposition on their dedicated day of inquiry in to the loans affair. In the list of 44 questions Fraser put to the Government about the loans affair, the PMA is not mentioned. Trawling through the Hansard, it appears the Opposition accepted Whitlam's answer in Question Time on 23 April: that the overseas loans being sought by the Energy Minister were not to do with the PMA. Indeed, Fraser starts asking if the borrowing is to do with a uranium enrichment plant.
posted by kithrater at 7:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're in a mood for complaining about riding roughshod over convention, let's not ignore the Coalition's deferral of Supply in the Senate.

Convention says that a Government is entitled to govern for as long as it can command a majority in the House of Representatives, but the idea that such an entitlement ought also to apply to people born without the requisite oral silverware simply because they had been democratically elected - twice! - was clearly intolerable to the squattocracy.

Let's not have any weasel words about how deferring the passage of Supply bills, as opposed to rejecting them outright, doesn't technically amount to the most blatant breach of convention in Australian parliamentary history.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Convention says that a Government is entitled to govern for as long as it can command a majority in the House of Representatives

This not quite correct. The convention is that the confidence of the House is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a government to continue to govern. If a government loses the confidence of the House, it is convention that the government offer its resignation to the Governor General and/or an election of the House is called.

Let's not have any weasel words about how deferring the passage of Supply bills, as opposed to rejecting them outright, doesn't technically amount to the most blatant breach of convention in Australian parliamentary history.

This is actually an argument against Whitlam's actions, and for Kerr's. The convention holds that if Supply is rejected, by either house, the govenment resigns and/or an election is called. Whitlam refused to resign on the basis that Supply had not been rejected but only deferred. Kerr rejected this argument, and so dismissed Whitlam.
posted by kithrater at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2012


The convention holds that if Supply is rejected, by either house, the govenment resigns and/or an election is called.

How many times has that happened?
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 PM on September 4, 2012


The only two cases of an Upper house rejecting/deferring Supply I know of are:
1) 1975; and
2) the 1909 People's Budget, which was rejected by the UK House of Lords.

According to that Wiki article, the House of Lords rejected another Supply bill some two centuries earlier, but I don't know anything more about that.
posted by kithrater at 8:32 PM on September 4, 2012


These 2 situations - defeat at the polls and belief Whitlam was essentially martyred - are/were not mutually exclusive.
This has always perplexed me, being a toddler at the time.
People voted a labor government in (admittedly without a senate majority), they did some stuff that was a bit ham fisted, had a constitutional crisis, but then were smashed at the next poll.
If you asked me to write the script I would assume the dismissal would have garnered sympathy and votes.
And while I'm at it, why is a bit of back door soliciting of loans from Arabs a hanging offence? Am I missing some racism angle that would have viewed this as terribly shady in the 70s? I appreciate it demonstrated poor judgement, but a 30+ seat smashing?
posted by bystander at 3:49 AM on September 5, 2012


There's a synopsis of the actual events here. Basically, the government was approached by a conman and it acted foolishly in pursuing the purported funds in a secretive way. They also came very close to acting illegally in their attempts to avoid the (conservative-dominated) Loans Council, but I really think the reason they lost office was because the whole affair made them look like idiots. As you say, the Dismissal probably won them sympathy votes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 AM on September 5, 2012


but a 30+ seat smashing?

If I recall correctly (and I was only 13, so it might be a little hazy) the press, especially the Murdoch press, hammered the Government absolutely mercilessly even though it was the actions of the Fraser-led Opposition that had brought the whole mess on.

I was young and idealistic at the time. Fraser being rewarded for his egregious political bastardry by actually getting elected was the first time I had ever seen chickens rushing to the support of Colonel Sanders, and the first step on my long trudge toward becoming the cynical old curmudgeon you see before you today.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2012


I was 22. Same age as Christopher John Boyce.
Boyce claims that he began getting misrouted cables from the Central Intelligence Agency discussing the CIA's desire to depose the government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australia. Boyce claimed the CIA wanted Whitlam removed from office because he wanted to close U.S. military bases in Australia, including the vital Pine Gap secure communications facility, and withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam. Whitlam had also begun making diplomatic overtures to China, as President Richard Nixon had previously done. For these reasons some claim that U.S. government pressure was a major factor in the dismissal of Whitlam as prime minister by the governor general, Sir John Kerr, who according to Boyce was referred to as our man Kerr by CIA officers.
A very young Ray Martin interviewed Boyce for 60 Minutes in 1982; and the matter was raised in a Lower House grievance debate, 1986.

No idea. It's sadly credible.
posted by de at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2012


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