Reading the dismissal

Lecture this week on the dismissal of 1975. In preparation for which reread Whitlam’s The Truth of the Matter and for the first time Kerr’s Matters for Judgement and Lee & Winterton’s Australian Constitutional Landmarks. There is some interesting material in Kerr, such as his unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Anglophobic Eddie Ward that British writers could advise on a socialist colony policy (on the later topic see Morgan’s Labour In Power). His doubts about the applicability of the Westminster sysytem to PNG given the weakness of parties are interesting, would PNG be better off with an elected executive President? (the monarchists never mention it as a sucess story). However like the writings of Mark Latham or John A. Lee Kerr’s autobiography mostly suggests he was entirely unsuited to his position. It is very much a work of the 1970s and it reflects conservative anxieties about unrestrained government, again and again the spectre of unicameralism raises its head. Kerr saw the Senate’s power to block supply as a salutary constraint on governments. As in the 1930s with Lang fears of a radical government acting undemocratically (for which there is no evidence) are relied on to justify undemocratic actions. Kerr’s reading of Evatt is entirely unconvincing. From the viewpoint of the present it is striking how these concerns about unrestrained government became a theme of the legal left apparent in the implied constitutional rights decisions of the Mason court (when did the right lose interest in Bills of Rights?). Popular monarchism calls up images of the Governor-General as a kind of constitutional holy ghost intervening against governments.

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