The 11th November 1975

On that memorable day in Australia's history Sir John Kerr exercised his power as Governor General, representing The Queen in Australia, to dismiss the elected Government of the day and instate the opposition to serve as 'caretaker Government' until a new election could be held. Following his dismissal as leader of the Government Edward Gough Whitlam made a speech on the steps of (the old) Parliament House to the gathered crowd in which he said "Well may you say 'God Save The Queen' but nothing will save the Governor General".

Maintain Your Rage

In the course of that speech, and later, in the months that followed and up to the election that was held in early 1976, Whitlam exhorted Australians to "Maintain Your Rage". And certainly, "enraged" they should have been to think that one individual, representing The Queen or not, should presume to summarily dismiss the Democratically elected Government of the nation.

It was all the more outrageous given that not only had Whitlam been elected in December 1972 with an historic majority but also, in 1974, after less than 18 months in office and forced to the polls by a hostile and obstructive Senate in a dissolution of both houses of Parliament, Whitlam and his Government had received the blessing of a mid-term affirmation of the nation's Democratic choice and was returned to office. Maintain your rage indeed, but it would seem that some 'forgot' for the nation gave tacit assent to the Governor General's action by electing Malcolm Fraser's caretaker Government to office in 1976.

A Critical Factor

After Whitlam's dismissal there was an "eerie silence", as if the nation were at once shocked and pensive, deciding what was the popular course of action. Bob Hawke addressed the nation in a live television broadcast in his capacity as President of The Australian Council of Trade Unions. It might have been expected that the ACTU President, with the unanymous support of the leaders of the nation's trade unions, would announce that the nation, apart from emergency and critical services, would henceforth be on strike until such time as the Governor General's re-instatement of our duly elected Government. Far from delivering the expected announcement, this man appeared in subdued attire with slumped shoulders and made a sombre appeal to the nation to "remain calm".

At least we were spared the risk of having the Governor General as "Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces" calling out the army to put down an uprising. No 'Tiennanmin Square Massacres' for Australia. Far better that the nation should cower in awe of the distant voice of Royal Majesty. The spirit of Eureka Stockade, it would seem, is part of the kind of 'feel-good fantasy' we indulged at the 2000 Olympics.

Our Greatest Loss

The events of those years divided the nation and opinions became entrenched at opposite ends of the left-right political spectrum and a nation divided is easily undermined by external forces. As a fledgeling nation we sacrificed a great deal of our capacity for self determination relenquishing control of our resources, our economy, our media and our capacity to focus our political and Government processes on the best interests of the nation. With them we lost the capacity to maintain and assert our own national identity and values. These were the values for which we had sacrificed thousands of our best men in the wars of other imperial powers; the Boer war, World Wars I and II, the Korean War and in Vietnam.

Our greatest loss however, was the quality of our Democracy. In the course of those events we gave encouragement and affirmation to all those processes relentlessly at work to undermine the moral legitemacy of our Democracy and surley, every one of them was exampled in the course of those years. None of them new of course, they have always been there, but it is a matter of degree. Today, media is king; public debate is a managed charade of media beatups, propaganda and contrived polls as political parties of all persuasions conform to the media line full knowing that 'selective reporting' controls the public opinion and thereby the media's power is absolute. The inherent instability of a feverish triannual democratic choice at the mercy of pork barelling, plastic pre-election promises, deception and subterfuge, lobbying and party donations and an economy manipulated by a global ideological bias has reduced Democracy to a stick-on label for our sham. It is our greatest loss because it is the key to our future and the most difficult to recover.

An American Perspective

American writer William Blum discusses briefly the events of 1975 in his book Rogue State first published in 2000 by Common Courage Press in the United States. Blum abandoned his career aspitations with the American State Department and resigned in 1967 because of what his country's Government was doing in Vietnam. He has this to say on page 145 in the chapter on "Interventions":
Australia 1972-75

The CIA channeled millions of dollars to the Labor Party's opposition, but failed to block Labor's election. When the party took power in December 1972, it immediately rankled Washington by calling home Australian Military personnel from Vietnam and denouncing US bombing of Hanoi, among other actions against the war. The Government also displayed a less than customary reverence for the intelligence and national security games so near and dear to the heart of the CIA. Edward Gough Whitlam, the new prime minister, was slowly but surely sealing his fate. Through complex supra-legal maneuvering, the US, the British and the Australian opposition were eventually able to induce Governor General John Kerr - who had a long history of involvement with CIA fronts - to "legally" dismiss Whitlam in 1975.

An Australian Perspective

John Pilger is an Australian journalist. In his book A Secret Country he discusses the events of 'The Whitlam Era' in some detail. It's mandatory reading for anyone remotely interested in their country's politics.