The Dismissal of the Whitlam Government

Assessment tasks

  1. Using the material in this section and drawing on other sources (see 'Additional resources'), work with a partner to construct a dialogue between two observers of the events of 1975. One observer supports the right of the Whitlam Government to serve a full term; the other supports the actions of Sir John Kerr. In the dialogue, both speakers must be able to justify their positions with reference to specific events in the crisis and also the Australian political system, and its practices and conventions.
  2. 'No matter how bad the government, the Governor-General had no right to dismiss a democratically elected Prime Minister.' Write an essay examining this statement in the light of the events of 1975.
  3. The only other occasion in Australian history when an elected leader has been dismissed by an appointed governor was the removal of Jack Lang as Premier of NSW by Sir Phillip Game on 13 May 1932 (Australia's Democracy pp 144–5 and pp 151–4). The circumstances differed, but there were also elements in common with the Whitlam dismissal. Compare these two incidents, noting especially any areas of similarity and difference, the reasons for the two events and the ways in which they happened.
  4. Give a brief account of the role of each of the following in either the development or 'resolution' of the crisis: Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Sir John Kerr, Sir Garfield Barwick. Choose one of these key figures and research his political background and how the events of 1975 had an impact on his subsequent public life.

Additional resources

Further reading

  • Kelly, Paul 1995, November 1975: The Inside Story of Australia's Greatest Political Crisis, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  • Kerr, John 1978, Matters for Judgement: An Autobiography, Macmillan, Melbourne.
  • Oakes, L 1976, Crash Through or Crash: The Unmaking of a Prime Minister, Primary Education Publishing, Melbourne.
  • Tudball, L (ed) 1991, Australian Perspectives, chapter 4, Jacaranda, Melbourne.
  • Whitlam, G 1985, The Truth of the Matter, Penguin, Melbourne.


Introduction | What was 'The Dismissal'? | How did the crisis develop? | How was the crisis resolved? | Assessment tasks and Additional resources