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The Governor General & The '1975 Crisis'

The '1975 Crisis'

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The 1975 Australian Constitutional Crisis: Explained

A short animated video which details the 1975 Dismissal of Gough Whitlam and eventually culminated to a Constitutional Crisis.

What was the Crisis?

The Crisis was essentially the chaos which emerged preceding and shortly after the dismissal of the democratically elected Prime Minister. Gough Whitlam. Due to an inability of the PM to pass the Budget through the Senate, the Governor General Kerr used his discretion and replaced the PM with the Opposition Leader who had voiced that he would be able to pass it through both houses. The Crisis revolved around concerns of the powers an un-elected individual, the Governor General, who had almost autocratic like powers in a democratic nation. 

What were the effects?

Conventions can be easily broken or ignored:

  • A motion of no confidence which was passed in house by the Whitlam government against the caretaker Fraser government, was unable to succeed as the Speaker of the House of Reps was never able to deliver message to G.G.

  • Further, the Westminster convention of whichever party gains a majority in HoR forms executive govt was ignored by GG as he dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser (Opp Leader) as caretaker PM of government.

Led to the 1977 Referendum (Casual Senate Vacancies): 

  • The Crisis eventuated to a referendum which made it law that state legislatures must select someone from the same party to fill vacancies, which was not the case in 1975. 

Wide disapproval of the GG:

  • The crisis showed an overreach of the Governor General in the Australian Political system as something like this had never occurred previously/

Arguements For Kerr's Decision:
  • If a government cannot obtain supply, it must resign and call for an election. Even though Whitlam was unable to achieve supply, he still continued on with governing not asking for a general election.

  • The GG has reserve powers which entitle them to dismiss ministers (Sec64) to protect the country and the constitution. The CWC also empowers them to call for a general election on their accord.

  • Labor's landslide defeat in the election confirmed the Australian people approved of the G.G's decisions in appointing Fraser. As a result of this defeat, Whitlam accepted the decision and did not challenge the actions of the GG in the HC.

Arguements Against Kerr's Decision:
  • A democratically elected government should be able to govern and serve its terms, an aspect which was denied since the Whitlam government still had 2-3 weeks of money which would have allowed him to govern.

  • The Whitlam Govt, after the 1974 election, held a clear majority and should not have denied Supply by the Senate, as it went against the conventions and traditions of the Senate in passing Supply.

  • The Governor General should have advised the PM first that he risked being dismissed if he refused to call an election. Rather than this, the GG set a meeting with Fraser (Opp Leader) to make a deal with him stating that he would become next PM if he guaranteed passage of Supply.

Issues Raised by the Crisis:
  • What are the legislative powers of the Senate with regard to money bills?

  • How are vacancies in the Senate to be filled?

  • What is the authority of the Governor-General to dismiss the government of the day, and under what circumstances should that authority be exercised?

  • When should the Governor-General dissolve Parliament and compel new House and Senate elections?