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Sydney Ideas marks 40th anniversary of Whitlam dismissal

9 November 2015
Three leading scholars discuss the infamous dismissal in 1975 of Australia's Prime Minister.

The University of Sydney will mark the 40th anniversary of the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by Governor General Sir John Kerr with a free public event bringing together three leading scholars to lend their constitutional, legal and historical research expertise on the sacking. 

A photo of former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam

The dismissal looms large in Australia’s political psyche. This Sydney Ideas panel discussion will reflect on its impact on the nation and consider how events leading up to it may have transpired differently.

One of the great criticisms of the 1975 dismissal was Kerr’s failure to warn Whitlam, based on a fear this would result in a ‘race to the palace’ scenario. Professor Anne Twomey from Sydney Law School will discuss how events may have played out if Whitlam had asked the Queen to sack Kerr. She will draw on instances when other Prime Ministers or Premiers have called on the Queen to dismiss the Governor-General including Pakistan, Ceylon, Tuvalu and Nigeria.

Associate Professor James Curran from the University’s Department of History will examine Whitlam’s strong desire to rid the Anglo-Australian relationship of what he called its ‘colonial relics’ and ‘constitutional anachronisms’, a dialogue still very much part of contemporary Australian politics. Associate Professor Curran will discuss these changes within the broader context of Whitlam’s efforts to redefine the national self-image and Australia’s relations with the world.

One of the great criticisms of the 1975 dismissal was Kerr’s failure to warn Whitlam, based on a fear this would result in a ‘race to the palace’ scenario.
Professor Anne Twomey, Sydney Law School

Dr Harshan Kumarasingham from the University of London and Ludwig Maximilians University and a visiting fellow at the University of Sydney, will examine the monarchy and Britain’s perspective and involvement in Whitlam’s dismissal. He will reflect on the suggestion of a senior British civil servant regarding Britain’s “quasi-colonial” constitutional relationship with Australia at both Commonwealth and State levels in the late 1960s to “let sleeping anomalies lie”. This comment would have key implications for the 1975 crisis.

The Dismissal: 40 Years Later will be hosted by ABC Radio National broadcaster Andrew West, an alumni-elected fellow of the University’s Senate. 

Event details

What: The Dismissal: 40 Years Later

Where: Law School Foyer, Sydney Law School, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney

When: Wednesday 11 November, 6-7.30pm

Cost: Free, but online registration is required

Contact: Sydney Ideas, sydney.ideas@sydney.edu.au

Jocelyn Prasad

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