Queen's letters to Australian representative as PM was sacked could be released

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent
The Queen with Sir John Kerr, who was her Governor-General in Australia. (Getty Images)

Letters sent by the Queen to her representative in Australia before the country’s dismissed its prime minister will be made public after a court ruling.

The Australian High Court has overturned a decision which stopped the letters, written in the 1970s, being released from the National Archives.

Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who was the Queen’s representative in Australia, dismissed prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 and replaced him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser.

It was one of the most controversial political sagas in the nation’s history.

The letters, deemed “personal and confidential correspondence”, entered the National Archives of Australia and were going to remain private until 2027.

The private secretary of the Governor-General and Monarch at that time could limit the release, according to court papers.

However, Professor Jennifer Hocking made the case for the release of the letters, saying they are “Commonwealth records”.

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Gough Whitlam was dismissed when he was prime minister after refusing to resign. (Getty Images).

That would mean they should have been released in 2006, as publication should have happened 31 years after they were created.

The Federal Court accepted the Archives’ argument the letters were “private and personal” to Sir John, the recipient.

The decision was upheld by an appeals court but has now been overturned by the High Court, meaning the archives will have to reconsider the request to release them.

The 1975 event has become known as The Dismissal and happened after Labour prime minister Whitlam failed to pass a budget.

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Whitlam refused to resign or call an election, leading to his sacking by the Governor-General.

After he was fired, Whitlam stood on the steps of Parliament in Canberra and said: “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’ – because nothing will save the governor-general.”

Sir John cut his five-year term short as Governor-General, ending in 1977 and eventually moving to London.

The decision in the Australian court comes five years after the UK’s highest court ruled letters sent from Prince Charles to government ministers should be published.

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The letters, known as the Black Spider memos, were released after a long-running freedom of information campaign by Guardian newspaper journalist Rob Evans.

They were published with some redactions, which protected personal data of people other than Charles.