By Allan Douglas
The vast prerogative powers of the Queen are portrayed as purely nominal, a relic of days gone by, when monarchs had real power. Naturally, the oligarchy prefers to “arrange things,” such that the Crown does not have to swing its mailed fist. But, when there is no alternative, the fist will come down. Such was the case when the Queen sacked Australia’s popularly elected Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in 1975.
First elected in 1972, Whitlam and his key associates, such as Minerals and Energy Minister R.F.X. “Rex” Connor, developed sweeping plans to industrialize Australia’s nearly barren continent. Central to this, was Whitlam’s plan to “buy back the farm”–to buy out the raw materials cartels such as RTZ and Anglo-American, which were looting Australia’s mineral riches, without creating any development in return. Whitlam looked to sources of finance outside the usual New York and London markets, to accomplish this. Through the British-dominated press, a series of scandals were cooked up about his efforts. Finally, under cover of a nominal deadlock in Parliament–one in the process of being solved–the Queen’s personal representative in Australia, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, sacked Whitlam. Australians were astounded, and tens of thousands poured into the streets to protest. But the deed was done.
Kerr had worked with high levels of British intelligence during World War II; more importantly, he was obsessed with the feudal “honors” bestowed by the monarchy, such as his position as a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Before Kerr sacked Whitlam, he consulted with his superior in that order, Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (founded by Prince Philip in 1963), and a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. Barwick gave the green light, and Kerr dumped Whitlam.
Shortly after the dismissal, Sir John was rewarded by the Queen herself: As he records in his autobiography, “In Canberra I was sworn in as a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council at a meeting presided over by the Queen.” She also dubbed him a member of the Royal Victorian Order (RVO)–not bad for a country boy from Australia, since this honor ranks below only two others: the Order of the Garter, the oldest order of chivalry in the world, and the Order of the Thistle. All three are bestowed only at the discretion of the Queen herself, without the recommendations of any of her governments, as is normally the case.–Allen Douglas