The Queen’s denial on the Palace Papers beggars belief

by | Jul 21, 2020 | Government

It is simply implausible that the Queen did not know that John Kerr was planning to sack Gough Whitlam, writes John Menadue. She may not have known the detail of the coup in progress, but she knew the substance.

The National Archives of Australia (NAA) doggedly refused to cooperate in the release of the Palace Papers. Monash University’s Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking and supporters fought for four years and had to go as far as the High Court to force the hand of the NAA.

Photo of Jenny Hocking

Jenny Hocking

Even on the day of the release of the Palace Papers, the NAA continued to obstruct and mislead. It tried to spin the contents of the letters to a tame and favoured media group, the Murdoch Media. As The Monthly put it:

“The NAA put its own interpretation of the documents to selected journalists before Hocking was able to see even one of them. As a result, the first headlines obediently relayed the Archives message; the Queen ‘had no role’ in sacking Whitlam, and ‘was not told in advance’.”

Jenny Hocking had to wait for access even though she was the only applicant subject to the High Court Order.

JENNY HOCKING. ‘A tawdry distortion of history: How the Palace airbrushed Sir John Kerr’s Memoirs’

Charteris was Queen’s alter ego

There are many reasons to reject the Queen’s cover-up and the cover-up done on her behalf. Importantly the Queen is formally responsible for what her staff do in her name. Martin Charteris, her private secretary, was her alter ego.

Photo of Lord Chartertis

Lord Charteris (image via

  • If the Queen had nothing to hide, why was she and her courtiers so determined we should not read the Palace Papers?
  • Martin Charteris was employed by the Queen; he was not an independent agent. She cannot imply he was running a rogue operation in the Palace.
  • The Queen and Charteris had a very long and close relationship. They trusted each other. His obituary in The Independent on December 27, 1999, told us that Charteris “was by some distance, the Queen’s favourite private secretary”. He was private secretary to Princess Elizabeth 1950-52, assistant private secretary to Queen Elizabeth 1952-72 and private secretary and Keeper of Her Majesty’s Archives 1972-77, and Lord in Waiting to the Queen 1978-99. As a loyal member of the British upper class, he went on to become Provost of Eton from 1978 to 1991 — an appointment made exclusively by the Queen.
  • For his service and loyalty to the Queen he became Sir Martin Charteris, later Lord Charteris of Amisfield and then Baron Charteris of Amisfield. The Queen rewarded Charteris every step of the way for his loyal service.
  • Charteris shared an upper-class background with the Queen. Educated at Eton, he went on to Sandhurst and then to Army Intelligence before joining the Palace. With that sort of background, it is not surprising that in the Palace Letters he refers to the Australian Labor Party as the “Radical Party”.

“it is not surprising that in the Palace Letters

he refers to the Australian Labor Party as

the “Radical Party”

Wily public servant asserted British superiority…

Jenny Hocking has informed us of the numerous ways the Palace was informed and involved in John Kerr’s thinking and plans. These discussions commenced in a heart-to-heart discussion between Prince Charles and Kerr in New Guinea at the end of 1974. Kerr went out of his way to keep all the royal apparatchiks, including even Lord Mountbatten, informed of his thinking.

Photo of Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald

As Tim McDonald, the senior DFAT official in London at the time of the Dismissal, pointed out in Pearls & Irritations: “It is clear, however, that Charteris, an experienced, wily and polished public servant, who exuded the air of effortless superiority, which is the hallmark of the British aristocracy, knew immediately that he was dealing with a naïve, vain and insecure personality who could be manipulated to British advantage.”

And that is what Charteris did for the Queen: assert British superiority over dependant Australians.

… and gave clear advice and direction

But Charteris did not just keep up with the avalanche of correspondence from John Kerr – the role of a private secretary – he went out of his way to give him clear advice and direction.

On September 24, 1975, as set out in the Palace Papers, Charteris pointed Kerr to the work of Canadian Senator Eugene Forsey on the Reserve Powers. Charteris quoted Forsey: “If supply is refused, that always makes it constitutionally proper to grant a dissolution.” On November 4, 1975, Charteris told Kerr clearly that that power to dismiss a government did exist. Charteris was giving the obsequious Kerr clear counselling on what he could do.

So while the Queen may not have known the hour or the time Kerr would strike, she knew what was happening. If she didn’t know, she was not doing her duty. No one could seriously accuse her of that.

After the Dismissal, the Queen gave Kerr a right royal welcome and reception in London. She then bestowed on him the honour of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) — ‘kindly call me god’. A strange way for the Queen to show her displeasure at an act done in her name.

It is nonsense to say the Queen was not involved. She and her favourite courtier carry joint responsibility for the sacking of a government that had a clear majority in the Australian House of Representatives. A foreign power intervened in our political processes.

Photo of former gpvernor-general Sir John Kerr in front of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth It

Former governor-general Sir John Kerr. (Photo: AAP Image/Supplied by National Archives of Australia)

Corruption of public institutions

I was brought up to believe that my “betters” – churchmen, monarchs, governors general and High Court judges – could be trusted. I don’t believe that any more.

But at least I thought I could believe that institutions such as the NAA could be trusted. But even the NAA now plays a political game on behalf of powerful interests. David Fricker, the Director General of the NAA, was deputy Director General of ASIO from 2007 to 2012 when he joined the NAA.

When will we face head on this corruption of our public institutions?

Republished with permission from Pearls and Irritations


John Kerr, Martin Charteris and the Palace Letters.


John Laurence Menadue AO is an Australian businessman and public commentator, and formerly a senior public servant and diplomat. He is the founding chair and board member of the Centre for Policy Development.

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