John C. Mitcham
Last Tuesday, the National Archives of Australia finally released the classified “Palace Letters” between the British Monarchy and Governor General Sir John Kerr. The highly anticipated correspondence shed new light on the famous 1975 Constitutional Crisis in Australia, when Kerr employed the reserve powers of the Crown to dismiss Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government. This was a pivotal moment in Commonwealth relations, sparking a diplomatic backlash from Canberra and fueling the movement for an Australian republic.
The constitutional evolution of Australia’s place within the Commonwealth stems from a historic and obsessive desire to protect national autonomy from British overreach. Indeed, the dusty annals of the old Colonial Office is replete with similar instances of British Cabinet ministers or Governors General interfering in the purely domestic affairs of the self-governing Dominions.
However, this trend could be a two-way street.
Nearly sixty years before the Whitlam dismissal, an Australian Labor leader helped to bring down a British Government. At the height of the First World War, Australian Prime Minister William Morris Hughes visited the United Kingdom for high-level consultations. The enigmatic Hughes quickly became a celebrity, rubbing elbows with the royal family and being feted by the press as the savior of the nation. Before long, he became a bit player in the famous palace intrigue against Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. Continue reading “The ‘Palace Papers’ and Australian Meddling in British Politics”