Historian Jenny Hocking was fighting for the release of the so-called Palace Letters, which are 45-year-old correspondence between the Queen, her private secretary and the Governor-General of Australia in the period leading up to the Dismissal. The Dismissal is a famous moment of political upheaval in Australia, when the Governor-General Sir John Kerr ‒ who was the Queen‘s representative in Australia ‒ dismissed the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 after he failed to get his budget passed. Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser was then installed as caretaker Prime Minister.
Debate has raged ever since as to whether Sir John had the right to make this decision and to what extent the Queen and the royal household were involved.
The specifics around what happened in the lead-up to the Dismissal have been murky at best, because certain materials were not made public.
For example, letters between the Queen, her private secretary Sir Martin Chateris and Sir John Kerr were deemed personal letters and, despite being kept in archives in Canberra, were not available for the public to read.
That was until Ms Hocking decided to take on the system and for the last four years has been fighting to have the letters released.
Queen Elizabeth II’s letters have been released
The Dismissal of Gough Whitlam was considered a constitutional crisis
Finally, in July this year, a court judgement ruled that the letters should be released, against the Queen’s wishes.
Ms Hocking told Express.co.uk that this was the first time any of the Commonwealth nations have been successful in specifically overturned the “convention of royal secrecy” and the first time the letters of a reigning monarch have been released against their wishes.
This has therefore set an incredible precedent, as it could mean that other documents may be able to be accessed in this manner.
Ms Hocking explained that it was made very clear in the court case that the Queen did not want these letters released.
Queen Elizabeth II and Sir John Kerr
She said: “Until this case, it has been an accepted reflex reaction to request for documents that no, there is this convention of royal secrecy ‒ you will see them when and if the monarch says you can see them.
“This is a first in any of the Commonwealth nations in specifically overturning that so-called convention of royal secrecy and it is very, very important for that reason.
“Of course, it is important because we’ve gained access to these letters and never before has the correspondence of a reigning monarch been released against her wishes.
“And it was against her wishes, that was made very clear to the court and the High Court judgement made that very clear in fact as well, but they made the wonderful statement that Australian statute law must prevail.
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Historian Jenny Hocking
“Well, you know, it’s 2020 and we have to be told that Australian statute law prevails over the wishes of the monarch.
“Well I happen to think that’s a very good thing.”
She added that she thought the notion that the Queen could prevent important historical documents from being released was “shocking” and “intolerable”.
Ms Hocking, who is on the National Committee of the Australian Republic Movement, explained that many people who supported her crowdfunding campaign that funded the legal case shared her concern about this.
She said: “The thought that there was a piece of our history that we couldn’t view because the Queen didn’t want us to, I think, drove many people’s concerns about the fact that we couldn’t see these letters.”
She added that she was “thrilled” that the court ruled in her favour, calling it a “marvellous outcome”.
In terms of the letters themselves, Ms Hocking rejected Buckingham Palace’s claim that they vindicate the Queen the royal household.
A Palace spokesperson said after the release of the letters that they showed “neither Her Majesty nor the Royal Household had any part to play in Kerr’s decision to dismiss Whitlam.”
Ms Hocking told Express.co.uk: “Now, that’s clearly not correct. There is no way you can read these letters and imagine that the letters themselves did not play a part in the decision that he then made.
“That is not to say that there was any direction, any active role in that sense, but there was definitely an engagement with Kerr on the matters he was considering as he moved to make that decision, and that should never have happened.
“If, as the Palace claim, all these matters are solely for the Governor-General to determine, they should never have entered into that political space with him and they did on the most extreme matters, including his acknowledgement to [the Queen’s private secretary] Sir Martin Charteris that he might not accept the advice of the Australian law officers.
“These are shocking breaches of not just Australian protocol, but the protocol of a constitutional monarchy, and in my view they could not be more significant.”
‘The Palace Letters: The Queen, the Governor-General, and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam’ by Jenny Hocking will be released on December 10. It is available here.
Published at Fri, 16 Oct 2020 13:57:00 +0000