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The Dismissal - TV Mini series DVD - Australian Constitutional Crisis

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The Dismissal - TV Mini series DVD - Australian Constitutional Crisis

The Dismissal - TV Mini series DVD - Australian Constitutional Crisis

The Dismissal - TV Mini - Series on DVD (Brand New and in stock)

Region 4 DVD (Australia) - 2 Discs - 270 minutes

The constituional crisis that eminated from the sacking of the Australian prime Minister Gough Whitlam on Nov 11, 1975 still reverberates to this day. The 1983 mini-series from Kennedy Miller brings to life every extra-ordinary detail and still rates as one of the most watched television in Australia.

The Dismissal features one of the best Australian casts ever assembled including Max Phipps, John Mellion, John Stanton, Ruth Cracknell, Bill Hunter, John Hargraves, Nancy Hayes, Ed Devereaux, Robyn Nevin and many more.

About the Dismissal


The crisis of 1975 might not have occurred had the Senate as elected in 1974 maintained its member status. The crisis was precipitated by the Senate delaying the Whitlam government's money (Supply) bill. Although one of the two independents, Michael Townley, joined the Liberal Party, the other, Steele Hall, was opposed to blocking supply, and this would have been sufficient to prevent such a course being followed. The change in the composition of the Senate which made the constitutional crisis of 1975 possible was brought about by two appointments to fill casual vacancies in the Senate, which under Section 15 of the Australian Constitution are made by the State Parliaments 'if sitting'; or otherwise by the State Governor 'with the advice of Executive Council'. Since the introduction of proportional representation for Senate elections in 1949, there was a convention that Senators who died or resigned should be replaced by a Senator of their own party, and until 1975 state governments had adhered to this convention. The practice in Queensland, however, which was established in 1952 by Labor Premier Gair when a Liberal senator died, was for the opposition to provide a list of three names and for the Premier to be able to select one of them.


In February 1975 the Premier of New South Wales, Tom Lewis, broke with convention by appointing an independent Senator, Cleaver Bunton, to replace the Attorney-General, Senator Lionel Murphy, who had been appointed to the High Court of Australia. This appointment made no difference to the political situation, because it turned out that Bunton was opposed to blocking supply, but it provided a precedent for the Queensland National Party Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, when a Queensland ALP Senator, Bert Milliner, died on 30 June. As permitted by Section 15 of the Australian Constitution, Bjelke-Petersen refused to appoint the ALP's chosen replacement, Dr Mal Colston, and asked Labor for three alternative nominations, as Gair had requested of them in 1952. Bjelke-Petersen said he had concerns over Colston's integrity, but Labor maintained that his real intention was to appoint a Senator who would support the blocking of supply and thus help bring down the Whitlam government.

When Labor insisted on nominating Colston, Bjelke-Petersen nominated Albert Field, president of the Federated Furnishing Trades Union and an ALP member of thirty-eight years standing. Bjelke-Petersen maintained that he was therefore not breaking convention. Under ALP rules, however, Field ceased to be an ALP member as soon as he accepted nomination against an endorsed Labor candidate. Field said that he was opposed to Whitlam's behaviour in office and that he had approached Bjelke-Petersen asking to be nominated to the vacancy. Labor maintained that in these circumstances Field was in effect an anti-Labor Senator and that Bjelke-Petersen had broken the convention. (Colston later entered the parliament in 1975 and retired - as an Independent - in 1999)

Field was granted leave from the Senate when High Court writs were filed challenging his eligibility to sit, on the grounds that he was in Crown employment at the time of his appointment. (Field had been employed by the Queensland Education Department, and although he had resigned the day before he was appointed, he was required by the Education Act to give three weeks' notice). But the change to the composition of the Senate was in any case decisive, because with Milliner's vote gone, the Opposition could pass Senate motions 30 votes to 29. Rather than blocking supply, they moved to delay consideration of the budget. This delay would have resulted in essential public services ceasing to function due to lack of money; that is to say Whitlam attempted to govern without supply and no government had ever attempted such a course of action (Weller & Smith, The Rise and Fall of Whitlam Labor - full citation below). Fraser warned that the bill would not be passed unless Whitlam called an early election. Whitlam was determined to face the Opposition down, and proposed to borrow money from the banks to keep the government running. He was confident that some of the more moderate Liberal Senators would back down when the situation worsened as appropriations ran out during November and December. The Governor-General Sir John Kerr was also concerned about the legality of Whitlam's proposals for borrowing money, and to govern without Supply, although the Solicitor-General and Attorney-General had scrutinised them for legality.

Kerr contacted the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the former Liberal Attorney-General Sir Garfield Barwick, who gave Kerr private advice in a letter on 10 November which stated in part:

* "...the Senate may not originate nor amend a money Bill ... the Senate has constitutional power to refuse to pass a money Bill: it has power to refuse Supply to the government of the day ... a Prime Minister who cannot ensure Supply to the Crown, including funds for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election ... or resign." Barwick also added that the Governor General ... 'has constitutional authority to withdraw his commission as Prime Minister." (Barwick's advice to Kerr on 10 November 1975, in Hall & Ironmonger, The Makers and Breakers - full citation below)

Kerr was also advised, by New South Wales Governor Sir Roden Cutler that he must warn Whitlam of the possibility of his dismissal.

On 11 November 1975, Kerr in accordance with Section 64 exercised his power and revoked Whitlam's commission and installed Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, with instructions to make no policy changes, no appointments, no dismissals and call an immediate federal election (Weller & Smith, 'The rise and fall of Whitlam Labor'). In a double irony, the Labor Senators were not advised of Whitlam's dismissal and at 2.15 pm the Supply Bills were brought on and immediately passed, thus giving Fraser the essential money bills to continue the business of government. At 2.45 pm Fraser announced he was caretaker Prime Minister, had the Supply Bills passed and was advising a double dissolution election. (Weller & Smith, 'The rise and fall of Whitlam Labor')

On hearing the proclamation dissolving Parliament, which ended with the traditional 'God Save the Queen', Whitlam delivered an impromptu address to the crowd that had gathered in front of the steps of Parliament House. During the speech he labelled Fraser as "Kerr's cur" and told the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General."

In the House of Representatives, following Kerr's actions under Section 64, Whitlam moved a motion 'that this House expresses its want of confidence in the Prime Minister and requests Mr Speaker forthwith to advise His Excellency the Governor-General to call on me to form a government'. This vote of confidence in Whitlam was passed on party lines. News of this vote was delivered personally to Kerr by the Speaker of the House Gordon Scholes, but Kerr refused to see the Speaker until after his Official Secretary had read the notice of double dissolution at Parliament House at 4.45 pm. (Weller & Smith, Ibid.) Many unions mobilised and prepared to strike but the President of the ACTU Bob Hawke called for unions not to be provoked. Although there were a number of public protests against Fraser during the campaign, the media (especially the Murdoch press, which had supported the ALP in 1972) had long since lost confidence in Whitlam, reporting a string of ministerial failures. This had a major influence on public opinion, signalled some months previously in the Bass by-election and the election resulted in a landslide win to the Coalition. During its three years in power, the Whitlam government was responsible for a long list of legislative reforms, some of which still stand today. It replaced Australia's adversarial divorce laws with a new, no-fault system; introduced the Trade Practices Act; slashed tariff barriers; ended conscription; introduced a universal national health insurance scheme Medibank, now known as Medicare; gave independence to Papua New Guinea; made all university education free to its recipients; introduced needs-based federal funding for private schools; established the long-awaited "third tier" in Australian radio by legislating for the establishment of community-based FM radio (commercial FM radio would be established under his successor Fraser); and established diplomatic and trade relations with the People's Republic of China.

However, Whitlam's critics point to substantial failings in his administration. The economy declined, with adverse balance-of-payments problems, high unemployment and (by Australian standards) very high inflation and bank interest rates. External factors contributed to this, in particular the 1973 oil crisis and resulting higher world oil prices, and falling prices for Australian farm produce. But the Whitlam government's own economic policies�such as its controversial 1973 decision to reduce tariffs across the board by 25%�were also held partly responsible.

On social matters his reputation has been tarnished by his complicity in refusing to act against the pro-separatist movement on Bougainville on 1 September 1975, just two weeks before PNG independence on 16 September 1975; allowing Indonesia to invade Portuguese Timor on 7 December 1975 and later annex the territory (although the invasion of Dili occurred the month after his dismissal, the "covert" military campaign across the Indonesian border had begun in October). Whitlam also refused to allow South Vietnamese refugees into the country following the fall of Saigon in 1975, concerned that they would have anti-communist sympathies hostile to the Australian Labor Party.

The autocratic Whitlam's "crash through or crash" style made many political enemies, and the various scandals afflicting the government cost it electoral support and momentum. His 'crash through or crash' style was also his Achilles heel surrounding the lead-up to the dismissal (J. Walter, The Leader see full citation below). Some Australians regarded his dismissal by the Governor-General as an outrage, but the Australian electorate voted to replace the Whitlam government by a record margin, and the Labor Party would not be a serious candidate for government again until Whitlam was replaced as leader.

The Whitlam government was also greatly damaged by several highly-publicised scandals, most notably the disastrous "Loans Affair" masterminded by Rex Connor, the series of controversies over the questionable conduct of Treasurer and deputy party leader Jim Cairns, and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. However, Whitlam's book The Truth Of The Matter recounts legal steps essayed in the attempt to obtain or bypass parliamentary supply.

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