‘”For the sake of the Monarchy”: How the Palace letters have recast the history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government’

2020 Dymphna Clark Lecture with Prof Jenny Hocking

Wednesday 18 November at 6.00pm, by Zoom

Dymphna Clark (1916–2000) was a noted linguist, language teacher, translator, scholar, environmentalist and campaigner for Indigenous rights. Manning Clark House Inc was founded by her in 1997 to ensure that the kind of cultural and intellectual activities that had occurred in the house during her and Manning’s lives would continue into the future. To honour her memory the Dymphna Clark Lecture has been held annually or biennially since the inaugural oration in 2002; this will be the 16th in the series.

Janusz Molinski Photography

In May 2020, in a decision that reverberated all the way to Buckingham Palace, the High Court of Australia overturned the Queen’s embargo over her secret ‘Palace letters’ with the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, relating to Kerr’s 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government. This landmark decision ended decades of Royal secrecy over the letters, paving the way for their release in July 2020, against the wishes of both Government House and Buckingham Palace.

The case against the National Archives of Australia was taken by Professor Jenny Hocking, with a legal team all working on a pro bono basis. The National Archives spent close to two million dollars contesting the case, raising significant questions about its role in fighting efforts to secure public access to such important historic records.

The Palace letters have dramatically recast the history of the dismissal, revealing the Palace to have engaged with Kerr on intensely political matters, including the possible dismissal of the government against the advice of the law officers and the Prime Minister. Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has observed that, ‘Kerr made it very clear to Charteris [the Queen’s private secretary] that he was contemplating dismissing Whitlam and Charteris did absolutely nothing to discourage him. In fact some of his correspondence can be read as encouraging him to do so’. For a constitutional monarch who must remain ‘politically neutral’, this engagement with a governor-general considering the dismissal of the elected government, secret from the Prime Minister, was an unconscionable breach of both constitutional monarchy and Australian autonomy.

Speaker:  Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking Professor Hocking’s latest book The Palace Letters: The Queen, the governor-general, and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam tells the story of her remarkable four-year legal battle to secure the release of the historic Palace letters, what the letters reveal, and their impact on the history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The Palace Letters was published by Scribe Publications in November 2020.

Professor Hocking’s latest book The Palace Letters: The Queen, the governor-general, and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam tells the story of her remarkable four-year legal battle to secure the release of the historic Palace letters, what the letters reveal, and their impact on the history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The Palace Letters was published by Scribe Publications in November 2020.

All tickets $10.00

A special ticket-plus-book price for Canberra-based MCH members $38.05,

for Canberra-based non-MCH members $42.00

Booking: https://www.trybooking.com/BMEEM 

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