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


Responses

  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.

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    • 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!

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  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!

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

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

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    • 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.

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  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.

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

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  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.

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    • 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…

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

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

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

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

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  9. Thank you for this sustaining review Lisa Hill.

    Working backwards through my own decisions and choices I always seem to arrive at The Dismissal as one of the pivotal points of my life. I turned twenty-one in ’75 and was delivered the most bitter introduction to the world of adults imaginable. I followed events closely and joined the Communist Party because, around where I lived, it at least was actively responding to the outrage with outrage, producing a daily newspaper for a period in order to address critical issues, engaging meetings, talking to unions, encouraging rebellion against the narrow minded, municipal legalisms of those who supported Kerr and Fraser.

    Well, the kids in Santiago had it far, far worse but we got a taste of the same medicine here too. Look out those among us who set out to determine their own destiny – money, corruption and power will simply give you the rough end of the pineapple as a message about what is acceptable and what not.

    I trod a radical path thereafter, forever wary and distrustful of all who claimed to be in authority; I actively sought to expose hypocrisy and lies wherever I went and wherever they were to be found and there was then and is now no shortage of untruth in this nation founded on a lie. Did I say ‘mistrustful’? Pardon me, I should have said ‘cynically sneering and mocking of those in authority’.

    All praise to the fortitude of Jenny Hocking, the Palace Papers are available to Australian eyes at last. Those who cried then that the rebels were mere conspiracy theorists can eat their words, thanks very much, the conspiracy is now fully exposed.

    Fulsome praise as well to Philip Adams who recently tweeted words to the effect that if the Queen didn’t know about the sacking in advance then there is no connection between lung cancer and smoking tobacco.

    How I came to this site is by way of a search regarding David Malouf and The Dismissal. I cannot understand why his great Australian novel, ‘The Great World’, which comes to a conclusion somewhere in the mid 1970’s, makes no mention of it. Nothing. There’s a great Australian sized silence in this novel on that subject that I cannot grasp (especially, I think, given that Malouf was appointed to the Australia Council in its early history; but I may be wrong about this and current Australia Council web pages don’t appear to include its own institutional history).

    [The intricacies of this calculus are that in ‘The Great World’ one of the central characters – Vic – is described as twenty years old at the Fall of Singapore (1942) making his d.o.b in 1922; in Chapter 13 he is described at an older age as between fifty and fifty-three which puts the year in the chapter as between 1972-1975. But there is no mention made at all of the Whitlam Labor government, despite Vic being a successful businessman, a digger who made good even at the expense of relations with his son who is depicted, in an appalling intergenerational slander set in Kings Cross, as a deranged junkie. Or the novel ends in 1975, with those tumultuous events, but we are given … nothing. It is like it never happened; or was Malouf then too rocked by the episode to even attempt to incorporate it, this monstrous betrayal; was it just too much even for him? Any clues or hints or comments on this mystery would be appreciated? I mean, Patrick White never took a backward step in his attitude to the establishment that nurtured him and from which he descended, so what happened to Malouf?]

    Lisa, I know what happened to all those people who looked to us as if they were sleep walking through the period; they studied hard and got their PhD’s in appropriate areas before going to work for companies like Rio Tinto where they provided a gloss of civilization and decency to genocidal corporate greed.

    Like they always knew they would.

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    • Hello Anthony, and thank you for sharing that snippet from Philip Adams!
      It is strange indeed that we in Australia have so many writers churning out so many books and yet (with honorable exceptions) so few of them pay attention to the issues of the day, much less the issues of the past. If I could write, I would write about the sense of devastation that I felt, that lingered with me for years and years. I lost my first ever vote that day. In 1972 I was too young to vote Whitlam in, but I voted in the 1974 double dissolution and my vote should have given me three years at least of good government. And I still wonder what more might have been achieved if that government had been allowed to run its course.
      I am a great supporter of OzLit, but I do sometimes feel a bit short-changed when I read EuroLit which is so attentive to contemporary life and the lessons learned in the recent C20th past.

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  10. Well, you can write and you are doing that right here on this site!

    Devastation is exactly the word. I know we are not alone in having felt that way at the time. Sometimes I wonder whether my reaction was extreme in so far as it turned me pretty much into a permanent militant (!); but it turns out that very many others responded the same way – in the arts community a lot of people folded their tents to re-emerge over time. We took a kicking … but I console myself in the knowledge that the establishment reactionaries have been unsuccessfully trying to claw back the changes that occurred in that brief period; it has taken them the last thee decades and they still haven’t succeeded so we have effectively been setting their agenda all this time.

    I’m looking forward to more considered comments from historians as they trawl though the new mail. People like Jenny Hocking are, I think, are one of the reasons why the current government seems to be highly averse to the study of the arts and humanities at tertiary institutions.

    It’s a great site here and I’m delighted to have bumped into it by my usual circuitous route.

    Nice to meetcha.

    Anthony

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    • *chuckle* Anthony, you know full well that I meant if I could write a *novel*!
      But seriously, if someone could write a novel that conveyed the sense of betrayal we felt, a betrayal about the whole system and our fellow Australians and how they voted in 1975, I think it would show how much democracy matters. Our societies depend on trust and on confidence in our institutions, and I think (hope) that if politicians and the press really understood that the standards of integrity they apply have long lasting effects, they might think twice.
      We can see in the pandemic that the Victorian Opposition and the press have really undermined the effort here… they’re happy to blame social media stupidity but it’s the distrust they have spawned that has caused deaths.

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  11. I agree entirely about who is to blame in the MSM about encouraging quite literally unhealthy behaviour among Victorians (and other Australians); I notice that the MFW’s have had a bit of a rant about that just today. Entirely justified rage at the irresponsible and hazardous attitudes of some media operators; there should be some sort of charge available to bring against them.

    As an aside, I like the MFW’s a lot – they have reinvigorated sweary language in quite novel ways!

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    • Oh dear, I’m out of touch again, I’ve been here at my computer most of the day… who are the MFWs?

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      • Uh-oh. It can be quite difficult to not have your entire consciousness swallowed up by current politics so I respect your not knowing; the Buddha suggested guarding sense and mind and politics can be seriously polluting these days.

        However, now that it has come up: MFW stands for Mad F*cking Witches which is a group of very annoyed, sweary feminists and women’s lib (old school) types who formed when Dutton referred to a woman, maybe a journo or a protestor (?) in such terms and was overheard doing so; they’re the ones who organised complaints to 2GB advertisers that effectively halved advertising revenue to the station from Alan Jones’ show precipitating his recent departure. Now the squalid little creep appears on Fox teevee but apparently no-one watches it. I draw the line at that point as well.

        They’re a big presence and currently taking aim at Murdoch in general.

        Their language, if you can imagine it, is Chaucerian – on steroids; very rich, highly creative and very, very funny; think ‘shitgibbon’ and you’ll get the idea; it gets much worse. They run a blog, they’re on facebook or you can find them on twitter. Worth it, in my view, for the laughs and the political effectiveness of outrage; social media it seems can be effective.

        I think a fan of Zola like you might enjoy them.

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        • I do love Zola, but I am not into angry social media and outrage. It takes too much time away from reading…

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