1975 Australian constitutional crisis

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The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis (sometimes called "the Dismissal") has been described as the greatest political crisis and constitutional crisis in Australia's history. It culminated on 11 November 1975, with the removal of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), by Governor-General Sir John Kerr. Kerr then appointed the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister.

Whitlam's Labor government had been elected in 1972 with a small majority in the House of Representatives, but with the Opposition controlling the Senate. Another election in 1974 resulted in little change to the status quo. While the Whitlam Government introduced many new policies and programs, it was also rocked by scandals and political miscalculations. In October 1975, the Opposition used its control of the Senate to block appropriation bills, or supply, which finance governmental operations and which had been passed by the House of Representatives. The Opposition stated that they would continue to do so unless Whitlam called an election for the House of Representatives and urged Kerr to dismiss Whitlam unless he agreed to their demand. Whitlam believed that Kerr would not dismiss him, and Kerr did nothing to disabuse Whitlam.

On 11 November 1975, Whitlam intended to call a half-Senate election in an attempt to break the deadlock. When he went to seek Kerr's approval of the election, Kerr instead dismissed him as Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter installed Fraser in his place. Acting quickly before all ALP parliamentarians became aware of the change of government, Fraser and his allies were able to secure passage of the appropriation bills, and Kerr dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution election. Fraser and his government were returned with a massive majority.

The events of the dismissal led to only minor constitutional change. The Senate retains its power to block supply, and the Governor-General the power to dismiss the Government. However, those powers have not been exercised again. Kerr was widely criticised by ALP supporters for his actions, resigned early as Governor-General, and lived much of his remaining life abroad. Though Kerr, who died in 1991, continues to be reviled in some quarters, Whitlam and Fraser later reconciled.


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