For weeks Whitlam had been defending the independence and authority of the House of Representatives against the Senate’s attempts to force it to an election. On 16 October, the Opposition-controlled Senate had voted to delay passage of the Budget bills until an election was called. If the bills were not passed, the government would run out of money. This deadlock could not continue.
By 11 November, Whitlam believed his only option was to bring forward a half-Senate election in the hope of securing a majority in the upper house. The necessary documents were prepared, and Whitlam arranged to meet the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, during the parliament’s lunch recess. The Prime Minister believed that the Governor-General was bound to accept his advice. But Kerr had other ideas.
The Governor-General had been considering how he might use the powers granted to him under the Constitution to end the crippling deadlock. Legal advice from the Chief Justice of the High Court helped him decide his course. He had to act. If the Prime Minister remained unwilling to call a general election, he felt he had no choice but to dismiss him.
Shortly after 1.00pm Whitlam entered the Governor-General’s study. Before he had a chance to hand over the documents relating to the half-Senate election, Kerr informed him that his commission had been withdrawn. He was sacked. ‘We shall all have to live with this’, Kerr remarked as Whitlam was leaving. ‘You certainly will’, he replied.
Soon afterwards, Fraser was sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister. He assured the Governor-General that he would move immediately to arrange the passage of the Budget bills, and would then seek an election for both houses of parliament. The deadlock was broken, but the battle had just begun.
How an ordinary Australian family reacted to this historical action is outlined in my book
An Australian Story
This book is available from AMAZON in both Kindle and paperback editions