Gough Whitlam, the only Prime Minister of Australia ever to be sacked by the Governor General (John Kerr).

Even old Gough (as he is now known, at age 93) respected and contributed to Australia's beer culture, as observed by The Sunday Telegraph in 1974:

The Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, yesterday... went behind the bar of the Emerald Star Hotel -- and personally pulled 65 free beers. Mrs Whitlam looked on slackjawed at the sight of the Prime Minister fondling a beer gun as if he had just been given it for his birthday.  Mothers with children in tow came in off the street to goggle and ship-girls stood wide-eyed in disbelief at Mr Whitlam dexterously dispensing a glowing benevolence. Not many Prime Ministers could do that, said Mrs Rene Dern, boss of the bar, nodding admiringly at the tight white heads on the beers Mr Whitlam was pulling. 'Joe Bjelke-Petersen wouldn't do it', yelled a delighted customer.

Of course, not only was Gough an avid admirer of the amber fluid, the old bastard also spoke Australian fluently despite the fact he occupied the most powerful position in the land (well, second to the Governor General, as it turned out). And no, he wouldn't take offense at me calling him a bastard (well at least that's what he told the ACT Branch of the ALP in 1974):

I don't mind the Liberals, and still less do I mind the Country Party calling me a bastard. In some circumstances, I'm only doing my job if they do. But I hope you won't publicly call me a bastard as some bastards in the Caucus have.

And for the American observers out there, you might already be wondering how a PM could speak like that and still be accepted by the public.  Well, try to imagine for a moment what would happen if one of your presidents had pulled out this beauty (1974):

The man is a paranoiac, he's a fanatic, and he's a bigot.   What makes it all the more nauseating is, of course, that Bjelke-Peterson is such a Bible-bashing bastard.

Funny how an American President probably couldn't survive that, and yet Bill 'Cigar'' Clinton can blatantly lie to the American people, be deceptive under oath and come out more popular for it.  Interesting culture that one. Anyway, what probably makes it worse is that he was referring to Queensland's   longest standing premier, Sir Joe Bjelke-Peterson.   As it turns out, old Gough didn't like Sir Joe very much at all (1974):

Mr Bjelke-Peterson is an ostentatiously religious man who has taken a vow of poverty for Queensland. He insults the intelligence of the Queensland people by his obsession with issues that are at best trivial and at worst figments of his own fevered imagination. He raves about centralism.  He rants about State rights. He seethes about Socialism.  He is maudlin about the Monarchy.  He is preoccupied with the Privy Council.... He's the dumbest Premier of them all.

Incidentally, the 'dumbest Premier of them all' remained in power till 1987. Perhaps Gough could have taken a few tips on how to keep the job.

The Dismissal

Speaking of such things, what really gets old Gough seething is the fact he is the only the only Prime Minister of Australia ever to be sacked by the Governor General.  To understand what happened, and why it is a matter of continuing debate, we first need a quick run down on Australia's political and constitutional structure. 

First, whether we love it or hate it, Australia is a monarchy.   Queen Elizabeth of England, is the Queen of Australia.  And our whole legal and governmental systems revolve around this.  In fact, on paper, the Queen runs the whole show Down Under: she enacts our legislation, she administers justice through the courts, and she is the head of our executive. She manages to theoretically do all of this despite the fact she can probably count the number of times she has been to Australia on one hand.  And she has other countries to run as well.

Of course, in reality, as the monarchists like to point out, it doesn't work that way.  For starters, she exercises her considerable functions in Australia through her representatives. These people are appointed by the Queen, from her European castles, to run all of the affairs in Australia.  That is, federally the Governor General wears the Queen hat, whereas in each of the States the Governors do the job.  

Historically, they did just that. The principal authority in each of the Australian colonies was exercised by the Governors of each colony - they had very wide legislative and executive powers. And up until 1986, the UK Government had actual control over the appointment of these Governors. 1986! And they made use of this as well - even as late as 1976 the UK Government refused to advise the Queen to re-appoint the Governor of Queensland because of political reasons.  Fortunately, post '86 it is the role of the Premier of each State to advise the Queen in the appointment or dismissal of a State Governor.  Thank God for that.

The role of the Commonwealth Governor General came about with the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia thanks to a UK statute in 1900. And since this statue was essentially drafted by Australians experienced in Colonial politics and government, it comes as no shock that the Commonwealth executive structure based on the Colonial model.  And so we have a Governor-General appointed by the Queen, in which the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested by the constitution. However, unlike the State Governors, who were agents of the UK Government till 1986, the Poms acknowledged in 1926 that the Governor-General of each of their former colonies 'is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's government in Great Britain or of any department of that Government'.  And so, from fairly early on the peace, the Commonwealth Governor General has been in reality appointed on the advice of our federal ministers.  

So what powers does this ministerially appointed Governor General have? Well, my friend, that is the A$64,000 question.  Lawyers can argue till they are blue in the face, but at the end of the day everyone has their own barrow to push and will find arguments supporting their view. What is certain is that the executive power held by the Queen's representatives in Australia is in reality controlled by responsible ministers (ie responsible to parliament).  The ministers are in fact the leaders of the dominant political party (currently nationally the Liberal/National party).  And the Governor General does what he or she is told to do by the ministers.  Why is it like this? Basically, the dominant party in power controls the money (taxes etc), and hence the Crowns access to the money. If the Crown wants money (and it needs money to run a country), then in effect it must do what its told by the controllers of that money.   It is convention.  It works. No worries.

Or at least there wouldn't be if that were the end of the matter. However on occasion Governor Generals have taken it upon themselves to exercise powers off their own bat. That is, they have acted other than on ministerial advice - they have ceased having a ceremonial role only.  These mystical, undefined powers are known as reserve powers. And some Australians find this disturbing.

They find it particularly disturbing when the Governor General sacks the government when the government has the support of the lower house.  In 1932, the Governor of New South Wales sacked the Lang government because, in his opinion, the government was not strictly complying with the law.  Judge, jury and executioner?  One wonders why we even bother having a legal system, really. Why not just let the governor decide?

Well, the fun returned in 1975. Whitlam was having trouble getting Appropriation, or Supply Bills passed in the upper house. That is, in plain english, supply was blocked and the government was in danger of not having money to run the country. Not a pleasant situation.  The Governor General of the time, John Kerr, then promptly dismissed both houses of parliament. Or to put it another way, the Queen's representative sacked the Australian Government because he didn't like the politics of the time. Good stuff. 

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Of course there was a bit of an uproar (which can still be heard 20 years on), about such an action.  Gough, as you would imagine, wasn't a happy man as he stood outside of parliament house to announce the dismissal:

Well may we say 'God Save the Queen'; because nothing with save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard was counter-signed 'Malcom Fraser' - who will go down in history as 'Kerr's Cur'.

Gough has since stressed that it is vital to acknowledge that "the Senate did not reject the budget, it simply refused to vote it up or vote it down, or vote upon it at all".   He rejects the so-called Barwick doctrine (Whitlam, Abiding Interests, 1997):

The Barwick doctrine, his theory of the Constitution, boils down to the proposition that to be legitimate an Australian Government must have a majority in both Houses of Parliament, the Senate as well as and as much as the House of Representatives..... According to the Barwick doctrine... Australian government was born illegitimate [as governments rarely hold a majority in both houses of parliament].

Barwick, of course, was the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and a known conservative and a former Minister of the Liberal/Country party.   As part of the exercise of his reserve powers, probably to ultimately add some authority to his authoritarian action, Kerr secretly approached Barwick prior to sacking the Labor government. One wonders why the Chief Justice even gave the advice when the matter could have come before his very court. 

Of course Kerr spent the rest of his days justifying his actions and Australia is moving towards becoming a republic.

Take a break from drinking like the author of this article did - Read why and how in his book Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers