The “Whitlam Dismissal,” also known as the Australian Constitutional Crisis of 1975, was a political upheaval that took place in Australia in the 1970s. Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and appointment of opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as acting Prime Minister on November 11, 1975, served as the catalyst for it. The Whitlam administration and the opposition, as well as the administration and the Governor-General, had been at odds for a while before the crisis.
After 23 years of conservative rule, the Whitlam government, led by the Australian Labor Party (ALP), came to office in 1974, marking the beginning of the crisis. The Whitlam administration introduced a number of significant policy changes, including the elimination of the White Australia policy and the introduction of universal healthcare and a national legal aid programme.
The National Party, led by Doug Anthony, and the conservative Liberal Party, led by Malcolm Fraser, both posed a serious challenge to the Whitlam administration. The administration practically came to a stop as a result of the opposition parties’ use of their majority in the Senate to oppose the government’s budget and legislation.
When the Whitlam administration said a half-senate election would be held to end the Senate’s impasse in October 1975, the crisis reached a head. The administration was unable to secure the required monies due to Fraser and Anthony’s refusal to sanction the funding for the election. Whitlam was removed as prime minister on November 11, 1975, by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who had the authority to do so. Fraser was then appointed as acting prime minister.
There were several protests and significant resentment among the Australian populace as a result of Whitlam’s ouster and Fraser’s appointment. Kerr was accused of overstepping his constitutional limitations and working in the opposition parties’ best interests by the ALP and Whitlam supporters. The crisis also changed how Australians view the Governor-office; General’s many now want someone who is more apolitical and neutral to fill the role.
A federal election in 1975 that saw a resounding victory for the Liberal party under Malcolm Fraser put an end to the constitutional crisis in Australia. Whitlam continued to be a very polarizing and contentious character in Australian politics, and the crisis led to a reevaluation of the Governor-position General’s and the dynamic between the executive and legislative parts of government.