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Transcript 40066

Launch of the book The Dismissal by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 11/11/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 40066

Location: Canberra

Thank you very much indeed. One thing you learn very quickly in this parliament is to respect the forensic skills of Paul Kelly.  I'm here today to celebrate another monumental effort of unrelenting, tenacious research by Paul and his colleague Troy Bramston in bringing to us this anniversary edition of The Dismissal.

Now, the rawness of the emotions may long have subsided since those stormy days in November 1975. But for Australians old enough to remember 40 years back, it's quite a few of us here, this book provides a chance to explore fresh insights into the forces driving the key protagonists, as a parliamentary deadlock evolved into a full blown constitutional crisis, Ultimately leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.

As we get up close and personal to this epic power play between Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and John Kerr, the eyes and ears of Kelly appear to be everywhere. They still are.

We eaves drop on a fateful phone call between the Governor-General and the Opposition Leader at 9:55 on the morning of November 11. We're taken to a dressing room at Buckingham Palace, as Britain wakes to the news an Australian government is being dismissed by Her Majesty's representative. We hear of a candid conference between Paul Hasluck and Lord Charteris, aboard the Royal yacht Britannia during the Queen's Silver Jubilee visit in 1977.

There are hundreds more of these vignettes and this book sets out, in extraordinary depth, the chronology of events and the critical conversations. It brings to life an extensive trail of documents, including letters, notes, records of phone calls and personal recollections.

Now Australians as always will make their own judgments about 1975 and hindsight, of course, offers 20/20 vision. Although at least for our own part, my views on Sir John’s conduct have remained consistent since I wrote about it, the Dismissal, at the time as a very young journalist.

For what it's worth, I believed then, and I still do, that Sir John should have given Whitlam notice of his intentions. His justification that if he had, which he gave to me some years later when I met with him, and he's obviously written himself, that if he had done so he feared that Whitlam would sack him first, I don't think is an adequate justification for that failure of notice.

Nonetheless, it's 40 years away, it's history, and everyone’s entitled to a view. This book allows to us revisit those days of tumult, to look anew at the chronology and to refresh our understanding.

For those familiar with the territory it's a chance for reflection and reappraisal.

I see Sir David here, who was right at the centre, Sir David Smith, right at the centre of these events. No doubt, with many secrets untold. There could be another edition!

Some will have their opinions confirmed – he’s shaking his head - some may be persuaded to reconsider in the light of new knowledge.

For those who come fresh to the arguments and that may now extend to two generations of Australians, the past may well seem like a different country.

But there is one enduring message of confidence arising from those days of uncertainty and that, [inaudible] – Australia's political institutions are able to recover and reset remarkably quickly and resiliently.

Consider it this way - for all of the passion and anger about John Kerr's intervention, the next Labor leader after Gough Whitlam was appointed Governor-General by the next Labor PM, after Gough Whitlam. Only ten years after the Whitlam retirement, Prime Minister Bob Hawke offered his former leader Bill Hayden the appointment as Australia's 21st Governor-General. Bill Hayden served for seven years in that role and both would attend John Kerr's funeral in 1991.

What should always be remembered and respected is that Australia survived this incendiary political crisis without civil unrest, much less violence. The basic fabric of national unity, the support for parliament and the law, remain strong.

Ultimately, in 1975 the electorate, the people, had the opportunity to declare their verdict and they did so most emphatically in the best way we have for deciding such matters, through a free vote.

Now, would they have decided differently if they'd known then what we know now? I'm not convinced of the usefulness of playing fantasy politics or, you know, retro history of retro historical analysis, but I'd say this - I think there's a second lesson that comes out of those events of 1975 - ultimately the Australian people voted on the question of economic management. That's what they voted on. They didn't vote on the question of the vice regal crisis or the constitutional crisis, they voted to tip out the Whitlam Government because they felt they were mismanaging Australia's economy.

Bill Clinton might have put his finger on it himself with that great slogan, it's the economy stupid. Was then and it still is.

Now, Paul Kelly's first publication, The Unmaking of Gough, back in 1976 was a tour de force of long form political journalism with many imitators, many emulators, or attempted emulators, since.

It took us behind the curtain of a Shakespearean epic, thrilling, meticulous in its detail, was a master piece. It seemed as complete as any account of the events could be. And yet now, 40 years later, Paul, along with Troy, has painstakingly revisited the documents, re-examined the transcripts of his interviews, tested long standing propositions against emerging facts to produce an even more comprehensive study of November 11, 1975.

I congratulate Paul and Troy on this publication; this is yet another stellar contribution to a better understanding of our nation's history.

Thank you.

Transcript 40066