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Prince Charles, Kerr & the dismissal of Gough

John Kerr was looking for  friendship and support wherever he could. Prince Charles allowed himself to be drawn into the collaboration to bring down an Australian government

Prince Charles in 1976
King Charles III (then Prince Charles) in 1976

| Pearls Irritations

SYDNEY - In the heat of early spring 1975 in the New Guinea highlands, Australian Governor General Sir John Kerr sidled up to Prince Charles and suggested a quiet chat.

The topic? The possible dismissal of the Australian prime minister.

Prince Charles has some form in intervening in Australian public affairs.

Professor Jenny Hocking, in her recent book ‘The Dismissal Dossier’ reveals some disturbing features of his earlier relationship with John Kerr in the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975.

Both John Kerr and Prince Charles were obviously worried about their future job prospects.

In her book, Jenny Hocking writes:

“Kerr had spoken to Prince Charles personally on more than one occasion, as early as August 1975 canvassing the dismissal of Whitlam. …

“(In his own papers) Kerr recounts Prince Charles’ solicitous response to the Governor General’s concern for his own possible recall by Whitlam, should Whitlam hear that Kerr was even contemplating this:

‘….but surely Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled at the very time should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government’.”

What a meddler!

Jenny Hocking writes further that both the Prince and Kerr were both guests of prime minister Gough Whitlam at the Papua New Guinea Independence Day celebrations:

“Kerr’s prime concern in confiding this exceptional matter of state to the Prince was, as ever, his own job security.…

“In Kerr’s own mind he and Prince Charles went way back – to at least the previous year when Kerr had been blessed with a startlingly frank discussion about the Prince’s endless wait to ascend to the throne.

“His royal ennui, a sort of privileged loose end that the Governor General had been only too willing to help tie up.…

“John Kerr also discussed with Prince Charles the suggestion that he might one day come to Australia as Governor General.”

Gough Whitlam knew nothing about this secret discussion concerning his own dismissal but John Kerr did suggest to him that he thought it would be a good idea if the Commonwealth Government purchased a large rural holding with appropriate homestead, servants, upkeep and furnishings, to encourage the Prince of Wales to make more regular and longer trips to Australia.

The poor fellow did not have enough to do to keep himself occupied.

Gough Whitlam rejected the suggestion.

Prince Charles seemed only too pleased to let John Kerr ingratiate himself.

The reason was clear;John Kerr was looking for  friendship and support wherever he could. Prince Charles allowed himself to be drawn into the collaboration to bring down an Australian government.

This odd pair was both worried about their own future employment prospects.

Prince Charles was recently in this country at our expense for several days, but no journalist bothered to ask him about his role in the dismissal 40 years ago in 1975.

We still doff our cap to our betters in London.


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Chris Overland

While I have the greatest respect for John Menadue and find myself in furious agreement with him on many topics, I think that he is drawing a very long bow indeed in this article.

I think that Prince Charles' reported comments, if you believe Kerr's self-serving account of the conversation, reflects a man desperately trying to think on his feet when Kerr broached what Charles must have known was a topic that would cause some consternation in the Palace.

Personally, I would place very little weight upon Kerr's report given what we know about his nature. My guess is that the Australian media reached the same view, hence the lack of interest in pursuing it subsequently.

At best, Prince Charles was a very minor player in the dismissal. My surmise would be that he may have reported Kerr's comments to the Palace and left it to the Queen's advisers to deal with it.

The fact that the Palace's dealing with Kerr at least implicitly appeared to endorse his thinking about dismissing the Whitlam government is now well understood and that is a matter that should concern Australians much more.

That said, I think that it is vanishingly improbable that any Governor General would now or in the future even contemplate such an action.

As we have seen of late, the larger problem may be that a Governor General might feel compelled to take advice from the government that had the effect of under mining well established parliamentary conventions.

This is certainly what happened in the case of former Prime Minister Morrison's bizarre and sinister recommendations that he be appointed as Minister for various senior portfolios without telling either the incumbent Ministers or the parliament, much less the public.

Diane Bohlen

Let's become a republic.

William Dunlop

The capless cap doffing by Rote!

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