A hidden correspondence. A political betrayal. A constitutional crisis. The Palace Letters is the groundbreaking result of one historian’s fight to expose secret letters between the Queen and the then Australian governor-general, Sir John Kerr, during the dismissal of prime minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s.
Whitlam was a progressive prime minister whose reforms proved divisive after two decades of conservative leadership in Australia. When he could not get a budget approved, it sparked a political deadlock that culminated in his unexpected and deeply controversial dismissal by Kerr.
More than 200 letters between Kerr and the Queen from the period exist in the archive, and historians have long believed that they could reveal the extent to which Buckingham Palace knew about or approved of the dismissal. But until now they have remained hidden in the National Archives of Australia, protected from public scrutiny through their designation as ‘personal’.
In the face of this, Professor Jenny Hocking embarked on a 10-year campaign and a four-year legal battle to force the Archives to release the letters. In 2015, she secured a stellar pro bono team that took her case all the way to the High Court of Australia. On 29 May 2020, the court ruled in her favour, requiring the correspondence to be released.
Now, Professor Hocking is able to reveal the previously hidden trove of letters. And, drawing on never-before-published material from Kerr’s archives and submissions to the court, Hocking traces the collusion and deception behind the dismissal, and charts the role of High Court judges, the Queen’s private secretary, and the leader of the opposition, Malcolm Fraser, in Kerr’s actions, and any prior involvement of the Queen and Prince Charles in Kerr’s planning.