Who knifed Whitlam, how and why? Waiting for the Queen's papers

The death of former PM Gough Whitlam in 2014 triggered several crucial revelations about “the Dismissal”, and a few weeks from now another piece of missing evidence may be released. The High Court is about to rule on a request by historian Jenny Hocking (presented to the Court by Gough’s son Nicholas QC) that the National Archives should release correspondence between the Governor-General and the Queen from 42 years ago.

Let’s recap what was going on back then: Labor had won two elections under Whitlam’s leadership -- in 1972 and 1974 – driven by public appreciation for his dramatic reforms in health, education, immigration, indigenous rights, and welfare programs, after 23 years of conservative rule.

By 1975, a global oil squeeze was gutting our economy and the mainstream media, led by Rupert Murdoch, were in outrage-overdrive over “scandals” inside Whitlam’s government. The Laborites were waging two huge battles: (1) Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor was trying to borrow billions of petro-dollars from Arab countries to buy back Australia’s mining industry -- and (2) Whitlam had revealed that a facility near Alice Springs that picks up electronic signals from satellites was actually run by the CIA, and that top Liberal-Country Party leaders, the White House and the CIA were all keeping this secret.

The American satellite communications sucker-upper, near Alice Springs, that Gough Whitlam outed in 1975.

The American satellite communications sucker-upper, near Alice Springs, that Gough Whitlam outed in 1975.


In November 1975, Coalition senators blocked funds (“supply”) from the government so Whitlam asked GG John Kerr to sign off on a half-Senate election so he might regain Labor’s Senate majority – stolen the previous year by anti-Labor state governments.

Sir John, however, chose instead to plot with Australian High Court justices Sir Garfield Barwick (a former Liberal minister) and Sir Anthony Mason -- and with Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser -- to sack the PM and his entire government.

Kerr had also corresponded with the Queen’s secretary and assistant secretary (that makes five ‘Sirs’ so far) about his options. The Queen’s secretary Martin Charteris told Kerr that “the Queen [has] to act on the advice of her prime minister”, but what else he or the Queen said is still locked up in our National Archives.

One more Sir intervened in the days before the coup: Sir Arthur Tange, head of the Department of Defence, delivered Kerr a memorandum from the CIA chief of East Asia Ted Shackley, stating that the CIA would excommunicate Australia’s intelligence agencies unless they could stop Whitlam from “blowing the lid off” the CIA’s Pine Gap spy station. Whitlam told Tange he would indeed be revealing those facts to Parliament the next day, the 11th of November. Tange said this was “ the greatest risk to our nation’s security that there has ever been.” The deadline for Australia to renew the US lease on Pine Gap was just four weeks away.

So when Whitlam handed Kerr the documents calling an election for half the Senate, Kerr handed Whitlam his letter dismissing the PM and his Labor government. Outside Parliament House, Whitlam famously urged Australians to "maintain your rage", but rage was all he had left. There was now no parliament in which to blow the lid off the CIA’s Pine Gap base or to pull the plug on the Pine Gap agreement; his party was exhausted, its best minds wasted.

On December 13, 1975, Malcolm Fraser and his conservative coalition were elected, and Labor retreated for what was to be seven and a half years of regrouping.

So, who done it?

While the “Queens’ papers” may or may not be released next month, we already know this: Whitlam was brought down in a pincer movement by the scrum of Sirs eager to play kingmakers, and the CIA cowboys hell-bent to keep the world safe for Yankee imperialism.

In 1977, new American President Jimmy Carter sent an envoy to apologize to the deposed Whitlam for US interference in Whitlam's prime ministership. Whitlam refused to say that this referred to his dismissal, but soon after Gough died Richard Butler, who was at the apology meeting, told journalist Max Suich that: "It seemed to me quite obvious then and it still does today that groups in the Nixon administration … had a role in the dismissal ... eavesdropping, colluding with the actors and people like Kerr ... encouraging them."

Asio’s official historian John Blaxland recently said that in 1975 leading US officials told Asio that the “ALP government is essential to Soviet planning for this area and [the CIA’s] activities in Australia would be tempered by this consideration”. Whitlam demanded a royal commission on US intelligence operations in Australia, in the Sydney Sun in May 1977. When he was asked about how America treated Allende when he tried to reclaim his country’s natural resources, Gough quipped, “Yes, I got off lightly!”

We know that the Queen’s men participated in Kerr’s coup: Prof Hocking is crowd-funding her demand for more to be revealed, so you can contribute if so moved. When will we finally get the guts to cut the cord to the Palace? And nix our slavish obedience to the nutbars in the White House.

P. FrazerComment