The lady with her back to the camera, beside the Imperial standard typewriter, is Elizabeth II, Her Majesty the Queen of England - AND Australia! The photo was taken in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia - a country over which she still rules- in the middle of March 1963, when the Queen spoke to children on outback cattle stations through the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s radio network. Much has changed in Australia since then, and right now the English Queen is a bit on the nose in this country. Many Australians are again questioning the need for any influence on this country, however insignificant, from Buckingham Palace in London, or indeed from Government House, her Governor-General’s official residence in Canberra. Australia remains a “constitutional monarchy” and Elizabeth is the Queen of Australia and its head of state, a situation with which Australians are increasingly uneasy.
The groundswell of support for Australia to become a republic gained a surge this week with the online release of correspondence (“The Palace Letters”) between Mrs Glücksburg (as she’d be called if she was one of us) and her then representative in Australia, the alcohol-fuelled Governor-General Sir John Kerr. The 211 mostly typewritten letters (more than 1200 pages) surround the November 11, 1975, dismissal by Kerr of the then democratically elected Labor Party Prime Minister of Australia, the late, great Gough Whitlam. Kerr used his position as the Queen’s man to override the people’s vote and install conservative leader Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister – Fraser was to be labelled “Kerr’s cur” by Whitlam.
The letters are held by the National Archives in Canberra and until a High Court of Australia challenge in late May were deemed to be private correspondence. However, the High Court found that they were the property of the Commonwealth of Australia and therefore their contents could be revealed to the Australian public. This was the result of a four-year campaign waged by resolute historian Professor Jenny Hocking, who argued that “The Dismissal” was a constitutional crisis and such a vitally important event in Australian political history Australians were entitled to know what was in them, especially what role the Queen played in the drama. As it turns out, Kerr didn’t tell Elizabeth what he was about to do, although he did discuss his options with the Queen’s Private Secretary Martin Charteris.
Australia’s Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the correspondence should prompt a renewed discussion about an Australian republic and that Whitlam’s dismissal by the representative of the British Monarch was a “blight on our character as a nation”. “The actions of the Governor-General on the 11th of November to dismiss a government, to put himself above the Australian people, is one that reinforces the need for us to have an Australian head of state, is one that reinforces the need for Australia to stand on our own two feet,” he said. Former Conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “The Governor-General was reporting to her [the Queen] almost like a local manager reporting to head office and seeking advice as to his options. Of course he made the final decision himself, but he was getting a lot of advice on the way through. Until our head of state is an Australian citizen, with a loyalty only to this country, then our Constitution will not be fully achieved, in terms of giving Australia the independence and the dignity that our great nation deserves.”