Jenny Hocking

The Truth of the Palace Letters by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston & The Palace Letters by Jenny Hocking

by
January–February 2021, no. 428

In April 2011, the landmark High Court victory of four elderly Kenyans revealed a dark episode in British colonial history. Between 1952 and 1960, barbaric practices, including forced removal and torture, were widely employed against ‘Mau Mau’ rebels, real or imagined. Upon the granting of independence in 1963, thousands of files documenting such atrocities were ‘retained’ by the British authorities, eventually coming to rest in the vast, secret Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives at Hanslope Park. Now a small portion of that archive was opened to scrutiny, and a tiny ray of light shone on one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

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I read with interest Professor Jenny Hocking’s article ‘At Her Majesty’s Pleasure: Sir John Kerr and the royal dismissal secrets’ regarding the release of the ‘Palace letters’, the correspondence between Governor-General Sir John Kerr and Queen Elizabeth, covering the period of the dismissal of the Whitlam government (ABR, April 2020).

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In 1975 the governor general, John Kerr, removed a democratically elected Labor government, amid great intrigue and subterfuge. The dismissal of the Whitlam government remains one of the blights on our democracy – perhaps the most controversial event in Australian political history. And yet the full record of what happened in the weeksand months leading up to the dismissal is still unavailable to Australian citizens because of the intransigence of Queen Elizabeth and the expensive lengths to which the National Archives of Australia have gone to suppress access to John Kerr’s correspondence with Buckingham Palace.

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The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975 was one of the most tumultuous and controversial episodes in Australian political history. The government had been elected on 2 December 1972 and returned at the May 1974 double dissolution, with Whitlam becoming the first Labor leader to achieve successive electoral victories.

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Paul Keating claims that he wanted to arrest John Kerr. There were perhaps two points at which Kerr might justly have been taken into custody. There was the critical moment just after he handed Gough Whitlam the letter sacking him. Margaret Whitlam wondered why her husband had not simply slapped Kerr across the face ...

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In his powerful eulogy for Gough Whitlam at the Sydney Town Hall in November 2014, Noel Pearson described the former prime minister – this ‘old man’ – as one of those rare people who, though he never suffered discrimination, understood the importance of protection from its malice. Pearson speculated on the apparent paradox ...

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Edward Gough Whitlam bestrode the Australian political stage like a colossus for over a generation: first as federal Opposition leader, then as prime minister, and finally as martyr. A legend in his own lifetime, this last role threatens to turn him into myth. More books have been written on aspects of his short and turbulent government than on any other in Australian history. There are already three biographies: a competent quickie by journalist Laurie Oakes in 1976; an eloquent political biography by his speechwriter Graham Freudenberg in 1977; and a psychobiography by the political scientist James Walter in 1980, which depicts Whitlam in terms of a particular personality type – the grandiose narcissist.

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Lionel Murphy was a prominent and colourful figure in the ALP renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s, and a significant legal intellectual. The extraordinary saga of his final years, when he was hounded by political foes and the press, created a farrago of misunderstanding and innuendo that clouded his reputation. Jenny Hocking has set out to recover Murphy’s public life and to correct the record. Curiously, her emphasis on philosophy and consistency works against the interest of this story: the larrikin edge and the complexity of the man are smoothed away.

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