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Palace letters: release of Queen's correspondence on Australian PM Gough Whitlam's 1975 dismissal – live

After a four-year legal battle by the historian Jenny Hocking, the National Archives of Australia releases letters. Follow updates

A really critical part of the correspondence shows that governor-general Sir John Kerr believed he may be recalled by the Queen at the request of the prime minister Gough Whitlam. We’ve known evidence of this fear for some time. But it is laid out more comprehensively in the correspondence.

Kerr was clearly keen not to put the Queen in a position where he was trying to dismiss Whitlam while Whitlam was trying to dismiss him. On November 20 1975, after the dismissal, Kerr wrote:

As you know from earlier letters, on occasions, sometimes jocularly, sometimes less so, but on all occasions with what I considered to be underlying seriousness, he [Mr Whitlam] said that the crisis could end in a race to the Palace.

I could act, if necessary, directly myself under the Constitution. I am sure that he would have known this and the talk about a race to the Palace really constituted another threat.

In a letter sent to Martin Charteris on 3 July, Sir John Kerr enclosed a clipping from the Canberra Times that raising the possibility of his dismissing Gough Whitlam.

The Times editorial said:

The governor general has certain clear powers to check an elected government. He normally acts on the advice of his ministers but there are occasions when he need not seek or accept that advice. He could, for good and sufficient reasons, revoke the commissions of a prime minister or other ministers.

The good government of Australia, especially at a time of grave economic disruption, is the only thing that counts and the most extreme steps to ensure this must be taken if there is no other way.

I enclose a copy of a leader in today’s Canberra Times, a responsible, high quality paper. I do this because of what it says about the governor general’s powers and possible duty.

I have no intention of course of acting in the way suggested. There is ample room for the democratic processes still to unfold. So far the Canberra Times is the only paper, to my knowledge, to raise this point. The editorial may be of general interest as background.

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