Explain the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

February 16, 2017 History

Explain the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, commonly called The Dismissal, refers to the events that culminated with the removal of Australias then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, by Governor-General Sir John Kerr and appointing the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister. It has been described as the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australias history.
The crisis began in the upper house of the Federal Parliament, the Senate, where the opposition Liberal-National Country Party coalition had a majority. Using a series of recent scandals as justification, the Senate announced it would defer any voting on the annual supply bills that appropriated funds for government expenditure until the Prime Minister called an election for the House of Representatives. The Whitlam Labor government dismissed such calls as being incompatible with the Westminster tradition of lower house supremacy. Simultaneously, the government pressured Liberal Senators to support the bills, while also exploring alternative means to fund government expenditure. The impasse extended into weeks, with the threat of the government failing to meet its financial obligations being ever present.
May 18, 1974 — had been plagued by several financial scandals. In this context, two Liberal State Premiers, when faced with casual vacancies for those states in the Federal Senate, replaced, in one case a retiring Labor Senator, and in the other, a deceased Labor Senator with Senators who opposed the federal government. These actions are generally regarded as going against a strong convention under which retiring Senators are replaced with those of the party of the retiring Senators choosing.
Quoting financial mismanagement as a pretext, these Senators helped to vote against the passage of the governments budget through the Upper House (a refusal of the Senate to pass the budget is known as blocking supply), under the assumption that the government was obliged to resign and call an election. While in most constitutional democracies, the power to block supply is reserved for the popularly elected lower house only, Australias British-drafted constitution, which dates from 1901 and so pre-dates Britains Parliament Act, 1911, which enshrined this principle of the supremacy of the lower house in the British constitution, allows both houses to withdraw supply. Whether a constitution allows either houses in a parliament, or only the lower house, to withdraw supply, the results of having it withdrawn are in theory the same: a prime minister in a parliamentary democracy is expected to either:
??? Resign, allowing someone else to form a government and get supply;
??? Request a parliamentary dissolution; or
??? Get both Houses to agree on a budget within 48 hours (24 if possible).
At around 1 pm on 11 November 1975, Kerr, in accordance with Section 64 of the Constitution, revoked Whitlams commission and installed Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, with instructions to make no policy changes, no appointments, no dismissals and call an immediate federal election. At 2.45 pm Fraser announced to the House of Representatives that he had been appointed caretaker Prime Minister and the terms of his appointment. This came as a surprise too many Labor members, since Whitlam, in the confusion, had not told them what had occurred. Whitlam moved a motion that this House expresses its want of confidence in the Prime Minister and requests Mr. Speaker forthwith to advise His Excellency the Governor-General to call on me to form a government. This vote of confidence in Whitlam was passed on party lines. News of this vote was delivered personally to Kerr by the Speaker of the House Gordon Scholes, but Kerr refused to see him until after his Official Secretary David Smith had read the notice of double dissolution at Parliament House at 4.45 pm.
On hearing the proclamation dissolving Parliament, which ended with the traditional God Save the Queen, Whitlam delivered an impromptu address to the crowd that had gathered in front of the steps of Parliament House. During the speech he labeled Fraser as “Kerrs cur” and told the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say God Save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General.”
In the lead-up to the resulting election, Whitlam called upon his supporters to “maintain your rage”. With co-instigators David Combe and Bill Hartley, he also called on Iraq for a $US500,000 gift to help fund Labors election campaign. Fortunately for his reputation, the funds failed to materialize. Whitlam ran a bitter and passionate campaign but, despite this, the ALP suffered a 7.4% swing against them and Whitlam was to remain as Opposition Leader until his second defeat in the 1977 election.


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