Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 7, 2019

The Dismissal Dossier, by Jenny Hocking

For me, one of the remarkable aspects of reading The Dismissal Dossier, Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975 is that the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 seems to generate so little interest.  The book isn’t written for people like me who lived through the hours of November 11th with increasing shock and dismay, it’s written for people who weren’t paying attention at the time, or have come to adulthood in the ensuing years.  I can’t comprehend why people don’t realise how much it matters for our democracy…

I’m not going to revisit the historical events of the day, because Wikipedia provides a readily available account and because the timeline of events is actually secondary to what matters.  My father was one of those outraged by the Palace’s role in these events, and he wrote to the Queen and in due course received the usual mealy-mouthed denial that the Queen had any responsibility for it.  What matters is that this denial and all the others are shameless lies, and Jenny Hocking lays the deception bare in the first chapter ‘What did the Palace Know?’  The Palace knew what was going to happen beforehand, had provided advice beforehand, and went on to shower Kerr with honours after the event.  So much for the oft-quoted assertion that the Queen is always neutral in matters of domestic politics.  She wasn’t neutral then — and she isn’t neutral now because she is still refusing to release archival material that is obviously detrimental to the fantasy of Palace neutrality.

[Jenny Hocking took the case to the High Court to force the Palace to release the papers, and failed.  You can read the judgement here, but the nuts and bolts of it is that the correspondence is not the property of the Commonwealth and therefore there is no authority to release them under the Archives Act.  The Palace can embargo their release indefinitely…]

I was glued to the radio on November 11th 1975, and I remember the short-lived moment of relief when Whitlam returned to the House of Representatives after Kerr had dismissed him and the House carried a motion of No Confidence in Kerr’s stooge Malcolm Fraser.  I thought that everything would be resolved then… the Senate had passed Supply and it’s the House of Reps that forms government in democracies like ours.  But in the chapter ‘Sir John Kerr’s  Second Dismissal’ Hocking makes it explicit: from this moment on, this moment that I remember so vividly, Whitlam should have been restored to office.

The single most important resolution the House of Representatives can ever make, the resolution by which governments are made and unmade, is a motion of confidence in the House of Representatives.  It is the defining feature of the Westminster system and the sine qua non of democratic government.  The continuation of Fraser in office, despite the no-confidence motion against him, profoundly challenged the very essence of parliamentary democracy and its established political processes.  The repudiation of this foundational role of the House of Representatives in the formation of government was nothing less than a repudiation of parliamentary democracy itself.  (p.84)

And Fraser, who should have resigned there and then, let ambition override integrity, went on to rule for seven years, and had not a word to say about it in his memoirs.

The only way to ensure that this can never happen again is to have a republic, and to those who say, ‘ok, but not till the present Queen dies because she’s done a good job’, my response is, read this book. 

Yes, I am angry…

You can also download Hocking’s essay ‘The Dismissal of the Whitlam Government: From the Shadows of History’ from the online National Library of Australia Magazine – December 2015

See also Janine’s review of The Dismissal Dossier and John Menadue’s at his blog.

Author: Jenny Hocking
Title: The Dismissal Dossier, Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975
Publisher: Melbourne University Press, updated edition, 2017, first published 2015, 183 pages (including 22 pages of notes)
ISBN: 9780522873009
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: The Dismissal Dossier: The Palace Connection: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975 $16.78


  1. So glad I was out of the country when it happened for I would have been certifiable and still feel enraged. The Queen is not neutral and have no time for the mealy mouthed view of still far too many Australians. During the referendum on Scotland’s independence she also interfered along with the BBC which helped maintain the status quo. The ignorance of the population on this major event in our history is appalling. Will there be a day of reckoning I wonder. It’s not looking like any day soon given the state of our political culture. If only there were more of Jenny Hocking’s but the voices of resistance are struggling I guess to find a forum given the disgraceful situation of ownership of the media.


    • What really depresses me is the way young people are besotted with the celebrity royals and the ABC gives them more air time than they warrant, as if they were the royals own personal PR machine!


  2. Well, I was 6 years old when this happened so only have a vague memory that something important had happened. Have watched documentaries about it in the past. I find Brits/Irish people are ALWAYS intrigued by it, hence I had to educate myself about it. I will add this book to the wishlist / check my library.

    As for the royals, I think Australia is more obsessed with them than the Brits. I blame The Crown for the recent upsurge in interest. What a PR coup that series is!


    • LOL In times gone by, Republicans could have asked for equal time…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Something seriously wrong in this country. It’s a constant challenge not to despair.


    • Well, I keep hearing on the one hand that young people are active and on the other that they are disillusioned with politics, and take no interest in it (or unionism). I don’t see any signs of activism myself apart from Greta Thunberg and Hong Kong, and they’re elsewhere, not here. I certainly don’t see any signs of changes in voting behaviour or consumer behaviour in shopping centres.
      But maybe there is stuff happening and I’m just not aware of it.


  4. Good on you Lisa. I’m glad you still MAINTAIN THE RAGE. Fraser was as mealy mouthed as the Queen and it still annoys me that just because he wasn’t as far right as Abbott and Dutton he was quite well regarded in his latter years. Australians still won’t accept that without a proper constitution, let alone a republic, politicians and the big businesses who pay them and the security establishment who report to no-one can do what they bloody well like.


    • It’s quite scary actually. On Insiders today they were talking about the way the media is being intimidated by the raids…


  5. I woke up, on the 11th of November 1975, after working a night-shift at Canberra Hospital, to learn the government had been dismissed. I couldn’t believe it. And this book is well worth reading.


    • Yes, I remember that feeling of complete disbelief too. I thought, because I grew up in a democracy that this kind of thing only happened in places like South America, which was forever having coups of one sort or another back then.
      I also couldn’t imagine that the electorate would stand for it, until I took my son to playgroup a few days later. There was a woman there, with whom I used to chat, and she floored me when she said that if the GG had sacked the PM, well, he must have done something wrong…


      • And then there was an election. I was gobsmacked by the result, an eerily similar feeling earlier this year as well. Sigh.


  6. […] The Dismissal Dossier, by Jenny Hocking […]


  7. […] The Dismissal Dossier, by Jenny Hocking […]


  8. […] The Dismissal Dossier, by Jenny Hocking […]


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