‘Palace letters’ from Australian constitutional crisis to be released

'Palace letters' from Australian constitutional crisis to be released

Gough Whitlam
Credit: ACF, CC BY-SA 4.0

Correspondence between Queen Elizabeth II and her representative in Australia during his controversial dismissal of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 can be released to the public, judges have ruled.

Three years after his Labor Party’s narrow election victory, Mr Whitlam was removed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, exercising his powers on behalf of the Queen under Australia’s constitutional monarchy.

Sir John retired three years later, in 1978, and deposited a collection of 211 letters between him, the Queen, and her personal secretary in the National Archives of Australia, with a letter indicating that they should remain “closed” for 60 years from his date of retirement.

After his death in 1991, the National Archives received a letter from the Official Secretary of the Governor-General indicating that the period had been reduced to 50 years with the Queen’s agreement.

Professor Jenny Hocking, an academic historian and writer with particular interest in the period of Australian constitutional and political history when Sir John was Governor-General, requested access to the letters in 2016 under a law releasing state records after 31 years.

After a years-long court battle, funded with nearly $60,000 AUD (nearly £33,000) raised through crowdfunding, the High Court of Australia ruled last week by a 6-1 majority that the letters can be released to the public.

In a 111-page judgment, the court rejected the argument advanced by the National Archives that the letters constituted Sir John’s personal property rather than Commonwealth records.

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