Was the Governor General right to argue that he had the constitutional authority
to dismiss the Whitlam Government or was Whitlam correct in arguing that the
principle of responsible government should prevail?
On the 11th November 1975, the Australian Governor General, Sir John Kerr,
dismissed the federal Government of Gough Whitlam and commissioned
Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. The dismissal and the
events leading to it clearly demonstrated the friction between constitutional
authority and responsible government. In a spiral of events, responsible
government and the overall concept of democracy was blatantly ignored, and
technicalities within the constitution abused, leading to the dismissal of a
democratically elected Prime Minister. While the Governor General's decision
was constitutionally allowed, it was certainly not the responsible or democratic
Despite their victory in the double-dissolution election of 1974, the Labor Party
found themselves once again without a majority in the Senate, deadlocked with
the Liberal/National coalition at 29 seats each, with 2 going to the
independents.1 They received a further blow with the death of one Labor
Senator and the resignation of an other. In this particular situation, according to
the Constitution, under Section 15, such vacancies were to be filled by the state
from which the former senator came from by a nomination from a joint sitting in
the House of Parliament. However in the principal of responsible government
and democracy, unwritten convention had developed that the casual vacancy
should be filled by a member of the same political party, in this way maintaining
the representation of the previous election. Both the New South Wales and
Queensland governments broke with this convention and the two vacancies
were not filled by the Labor Party's nominees. Even at this early point the tension
between writt…

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