10 OCTOBER 2020

The U3A Port Phillip Webinar ‘The Palace Letters and the dismissal of the Whitlam Government – why are they important today?’, presented by Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking and facilitated by Emeritus Professor James Walter, was our signature event in the 2020 City of Port Phillip Seniors Festival Reimagined. U3APP is grateful for the Council’s support.

In 2016 Professor Hocking initiated legal action in the Federal Court against the National Archives of Australia, seeking the release of the secret ‘Palace Letters’ between the Queen and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, regarding the 1975 Whitlam dismissal, which were embargoed by the Queen, potentially indefinitely.

In a land-mark decision in May 2020, the High Court of Australia ruled that the ‘Palace Letters’ are official ‘Commonwealth records’, overturning the Queen’s long-standing embargo over them and paving the way for their public release.

The High Court decision ended decades of Royal secrecy over a key aspect of the dismissal – just what the Queen knew before Kerr dismissed, without warning, the elected Whitlam Government. The Letters were released on 14 July to immense media and public interest and extensive commentary, and shed new light on the events surrounding The Dismissal.  The Letters, according to Professor Hocking, reveal the complicity of the Palace via the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris in the dismissal of an elected Australian Government by the Queen’s representative, Sir John Kerr in 1975. The Dismissal, she maintains, has ramifications for Australians 45 years later.

Professor Hocking’s quest was a superb lesson in tenacity and adherence to documents.

Over 160 participated in the webinar and in the words of one audience member the presentation “was a ripper”-  in the words of another, “What a coup for U3APP to have her as a presenter; I’ve enjoyed all our Saturday presentations, but this was just beyond brilliant!”

Professor Hocking’s book The Palace Letters; the Queen, the governor-general and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam, with a foreword by Malcolm Turnbull, was published by Scribe Publications in October 2020.

The recording of this webinar is available HERE

Report by Pam Caven

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