November 11, 1975, is a date etched into Australian political history.
The tenure of Australia’s 21st prime minister, Labor’s Gough Whitlam, which began on December 5, 1972, was brought to an aprupt end by Governor-General Sir John Kerr
Known ever since as ‘The Dismissal’, it marks the first and only instance in which an elected prime minister would be dismissed by the Queen’s representative, with the leader of the opposition party installed as caretaker prime minister instead.
The dramatic act came about as a result of a constitutional crisis which saw the Senate refuse to authorise government spending bills (otherwise known as blocking “supply”), unless Mr Whitlam agreed to call a general election.
The impasse meant that the Commonwealth would eventually run out of money to pay for essentials including pensions, services, and public servants.
Seeking to break the deadlock, Mr Whitlam visited Sir Kerr at Yarralumla at around 1pm on November 11 to request approval to hold a half-Senate election.
Instead, he was dismissed, with Sir Kerr choosing to commission Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister.
“Sir John’s unprecedented actions were taken without any warning to the Labor Government or Mr. Whitlam,” The Age reported at the time.
“Mr. Whitlam was stunned by Sir John’s actions,” the report said.
“Later in a press conference, Mr. Whitlam said Sir John had never discussed the possibility of unilaterally sacking the Government and calling for a double dissolution.
‘Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’…’
By late afternoon on November 11, a crowd of ALP supporters had gathered outside parliament house.
Once the dismissal had been formally announced, Mr Whitlam stepped forward to address the crowd, delivering what would become one of the most famous speeches in Australian history.
“Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General!,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
“The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur.”
Mr Whitlam urged his supporters to “maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day”.
The election took place on December 13, 1975, but it was not a success for Mr Whitlam’s Labor party.
The Coalition of Mr Fraser’s Liberal Party of Australia and Doug Anthony’s National Country Party won government with the largest winning margin in history while Labor suffered a 30-seat swing against it.