The Opinion piece ( The Courier 22 July ) written by Canberra-based UNSW Associate Professor David Lee has prompted me to send you another perspective - this from someone who lives in Ballarat and spoke to Kerr soon after the dismissal.
The so-called Palace Letters released recently by the National Archives were not really a bombshell.
In January 1975 I spent several weeks travelling with Sir John Kerr on an official visit to Nepal (for the King's coronation), India (as a guest of Mrs Ghandi), Pakistan (as President Bhutto's guest), Afghanistan (as a guest of the Russian puppet President Daoud) and Iran (at the invitation of the Shah). My role was as the Advisor from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
By 11 November I was working as a diplomat behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin. In December 1975, I returned to Australia on a short visit and at Kerr's invitation spent about two hours with him at Yarralumla. We had built up a good rapport on our travels abroad if only because we spent many hours each day discussing what he should expect at formal meetings with his hosts as well as debriefing afterwards. Naturally, we also had conversations on a wide range of other topics as we got to know each other.
From those conversations emerged two clear points of view. First, Kerr told me he had not given up his role as the Chief Justice of New South Wales to be merely a puppet. Secondly, he did not like being asked to sign Acts of Parliament to bring them into law based on self-serving briefs from Ministers or their departments. He did not want to be part of a process which might end up with him signing bad policy into law.
Kerr had approached Prime Minister Whitlam and asked for a new position to be created at Government House to advise him on policy matters. He envisaged splitting the job of Official Secretary into two. One to handle administrative matters, the other policy. Before our travels ended Kerr asked if I would fill the new role when it was created. Whitlam approved the position not long before 11 November but I had already committed to the posting in East Berlin.
I was thus not surprised to receive the invitation to Yarralumla a month after the dramatic events of November 1975. From what Kerr told me that day I formed the opinion that his background as a Judge was crucial to his taking the action that he did. Unlike Vice-regal appointees with military backgrounds for example, who are trained to do what they are told, a judge is trained to make a decision however difficult it might be to weigh up the evidence. His discussions with Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason, and correspondence with Sir Martin Charteris working in a senior role at Buckingham Palace, were part of his process of assembling the evidence as he contemplated what decision he might take.
Kerr emphasised to me how strongly he believed it would have been inappropriate to involve the Queen in his decision. I mentioned this to Jenny Hocking a few years ago. I am not the only source of this fact.
In an opinion piece published on 15 July, Jenny Hocking states that Kerr drew the Queen into his planning by discussing strategies "with the Queen through her private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris". Is there a longer bow?
Sir Martin Charteris was an experienced courtier, very well aware that he had a duty not to discuss with the Queen the subject of his correspondence with Kerr. His job was to protect the Sovereign and that is the only way to have done so. The tenor of his comments to Kerr amplifies this point. We should not be surprised to see two servants of the Crown sharing their thoughts. Although both men were physically separated on other sides of the world, they were working in effect in the same office with a duty they both had to protect, not just Queen Elizabeth, but the institution of the monarchy. Republicans may not like that institution but they cannot hope to change it by criticising those working within its bounds.
Kerr always knew he had the Constitutional Power to do what he did. Seeking confirmation from Barwick, Mason and Charteris - not the Queen - does not make a bombshell. From what Kerr told me, I believe that Barwick was more helpful to him than Mason. The proposition that Kerr had an obligation to keep all people he communicated with in the loop is strange to say the least!
Gathering evidence did not mean Kerr always intended to dismiss Whitlam. Kerr told me one important factor in his decision was Whitlam's plan to ignore the importance of the Senate. He firmly believed in the checks and balances of a States house. So much so, he asked me when he was living in London to co-author a book on the role of the Upper Houses in the Westminster system.
The Hocking proposition that the Queen played a critical role in Kerr's eventual decision to dismiss the Whitlam government was without evidence. Clearly Kerr found little new in his contacts with Charteris and so to create the "promised bombshell" argument is far-fetched. It is stretching this even further by bending evidence to say that the Queen breached a central tenet of a constitutional monarchy. This is beyond the realms of understanding how a constitutional monarchy works.
Roger Pescott, former Australian Diplomat and Minister in the Kennett Government