November 11, 1975, one of the most controversial days in Australia's history. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam addresses the crowd after being dismissed in what was labelled a constitutional crisis. Photo: National Archives of Australia.
November 11, 1975, one of the most controversial days in Australia's history. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam addresses the crowd after being dismissed in what was labelled a constitutional crisis. Photo: National Archives of Australia. National Archives of Australia

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

KERR SACKS PM

That was the unforgettable headline marking the Whitlam Government's end and, perhaps, the end of innocence for Australia's democracy.

On Tuesday November 11, 1975, Sir John Kerr's official secretary, David Smith walked to the front steps of what was then Parliament House in Canberra.

There, he read aloud a proclamation from Governor-General Kerr dismissing Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from the nation's highest political office and installing Malcolm Fraser in his place.

Whitlam had appointed Kerr just a year earlier.

"The proclamation was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history, from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur," Whitlam said.

"They won't silence the outside of parliament house, even if the inside has been silenced for the next few weeks."

Governor-General Sir John Kerr. PHOTO: National Archives of Australia
Governor-General Sir John Kerr. PHOTO: National Archives of Australia National Archives of Australia

READ MORE: Whitlam victim of shady back-room deals, says biographer

The constitutional crisis had followed months of political instability in Whitlam's government, most starkly illustrated by the Khemlani Loans Affair, in which senior ministers sought a $4 billion loan from an unknown Middle Eastern financier without informing the Treasury or the Loans Council.

A series of media revelations about the loan that didn't eventuate and the sacking of Treasurer Jim Cairns dominated the final months of Whitlam's government.

The Fraser-led Opposition capitalised on the scandal, extracting what would be the greatest political penalty ever for a sitting government - the Queen's representative dismissing a sitting Prime Minister.

Despite Whitlam's successes in achieving several planks of his ambitious program, two key things undermined his agenda - financial woes in government and an Opposition Senate majority.

But it was the failings of his key senior colleagues and their involvement with a finance middleman, Tirath Khemlani, who offered $4 billion from an unknown financier that would be the undoing of Whitlam's government.

After months of reports and little hard evidence, Khemlani flew to Australia in October 1975, bringing with him telexes and signed affidavits.

His trip confirmed that Mining Minister Rex Connor had continued trying to organise the loan months after the authority to take out the loan was revoked.

Connor resigned from Cabinet and the scandal provided Fraser - then Opposition Leader for little more than six months - with the "reprehensible circumstances" he needed to block Supply in the Senate.

Fraser threatened to use his Senate majority to block Supply, if Whitlam did not bring on an early election.

Whitlam refused.

Just three weeks later, the Labor giant stood next to Mr Smith on the steps of Parliament House, the crowd chanting around them: "We want Gough". 

 

THE DISMISSAL KEY DATES:

1974:

May 18: Whitlam wins double dissolution election, gaining second term

November: Mining Minister Rex Connor meets Tirath Khemlani

December: Whitlam government's Federal Executive Council approves Connor's bid to raise US$4 billion

1975:

January: FEC revokes Connor's $4 billion authority, replaces with authority to seek $2 billion loan

March: Malcolm Fraser elected Liberal Party leader

May: FEC revokes Connor's authorisation to seek the loan

June: Media reports reveal depth of Loans Affair

July 9: Whitlam calls special parliamentary sitting on Loans Affair

October 13: Tirath Khemlani releases telexes, affidavits on Loans Affair

November 11: Sir John Kerr dismisses PM Whitlam

December 13: Fraser leads Liberal-National Coalition to election victory


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