Sir John Robert Kerr

Sir John Robert Kerr (1914-91) was a judge (1966-72) of the Commonwealth Industrial Court and Chief Justice (1972-74) of the NSW Supreme Court before becoming Governor General of Australia (1974-77). He justified his controversial decision to dismiss the Whitlam government and dissolve federal parliament in 1975 on the grounds that this action would preserve the Constitution and prevent chaos. Courtesy Australian Dictionary of Biography


11 November 1975

The Dismissal

In the greatest constitutional crisis in Australia’s history, the opposition parties in the Senate block supply for 27 days in an attempt to force Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to call an election for the House of Representatives. He refuses, and the resulting crisis becomes a bitter contest for political power. Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, accepts the opposition argument and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, acts on his advice by dismissing the Prime Minister. He commissions Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister on the assurance that Fraser will call a general election. He grants Fraser a double dissolution of both Houses, and Fraser’s Liberal–National Party Coalition wins a landslide victory at the general election held in December. This issue remains contentious in Australia. The question remains as to whether the exercise of the Governor-General’s reserve powers under the Constitution are compatible with Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy.


‘Did my Xmas chopping early this year’ Alan Charles [Sir John Kerr after dismissing the Whitlam government]