November 11, 1975, one of the most controversial days in Australia's history. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam looks on as the Governor-General's official secretary David Smith reads out Sir John Kerr's announcement that he has dismissed Whitlam's ALP government. PHOTO: National Archives of Australia
November 11, 1975, one of the most controversial days in Australia's history. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam looks on as the Governor-General's official secretary David Smith reads out Sir John Kerr's announcement that he has dismissed Whitlam's ALP government. PHOTO: National Archives of Australia National Archives of Australia

Whitlam victim of shady back-room deals, says biographer

THE Dismissal Dossier author Jenny Hocking interviewed Whitlam at length before his illness took hold.

Those long afternoons, coupled with countless hours of background research and interviews with his peers, eventually translated into a two-volume biography.

Professor Hocking's latest effort relied upon secret documents shedding light on the political machinery that led to Whitlam's dismissal 40 years ago.

"I spent the best part of 10 years working on that," she said.

"It wasn't an authorised biography, but I was able to interview Gough Whitlam at some length early on.

"He became increasingly unwell as I kept working on the book.

"But I still called in to visit him when I was in Sydney, and I got to know him fairly well."

READ MORE: Whitlam's demise: end of innocence for Australia's democracy

Prof Hocking said Whitlam's impact on Australian society reached from giving 18 year olds the vote to recognising what has now become our most important trading partner, China.

"It is easy to forget what impact that government had, because we have very quickly come to just accept a lot of the things they did," Ms Hocking said.

"The Racial Discrimination Act was fundamentally important for the success of the Mabo case, and doing away with the British honours system - some might say that was 40 years ahead of its time.

"And he introduced the Australian national anthem.

"Even Medicare created enormous upheaval at the time.

"But every upheaval that greeted them passed away.

"Fraser's government accepted almost every one of the policy developments of the Whitlam government and did not change them.

"His legacy becomes more apparent as time goes on."

Prof Hocking added the country's recent run of prime ministerial crises was nothing new.

"At the end of the Menzies era, we had five prime ministers in a very rapid space of time," she said.

"It was an unsettled period - and that was in the lead-up to Whitlam being elected."

Much of the backroom dealings that led to the Whitlam dismissal have been shrouded in mystery for four decades.

But Prof Hocking said revelations from former governor-general John Kerr's private papers had revealed on the truth.

West Australian Liberal senator Reg Withers also left posthumous records of communication between Kerr and Malcolm Fraser in an unpublished interview carried out about 20 years after the dismissal, and embargoed until after Withers' death.

He said Fraser and Kerr had been secretly communicating via telephone and had already planned the dismissal at least a week before Whitlam got the axe.

Withers claimed Kerr's mind was made up before Whitlam called for a half-senate election in the hope of securing an upper house majority.

Kerr intervened and sacked Whitlam before the necessary documents could be handed over.

"The political crisis would have been no longer," Prof Hocking said.

"The governor-general takes the advice of the government, and ought to abide by it.

"When I approached writing this book, I wanted to point out the key aspects of the dismissal that, at times, have been deleted from history.

"There was a huge amount of material that disclosed some key elements of the dismissal.

"So much was hidden from us.

"It has taken an unusually long time to take the politics out of it - to let it become a part of history, rather than politics

"I believe the dismissal was just unnecessary. That's the great tragedy of it."

-APN NEWSDESK


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