Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 15 July 2020

1975 Australia coup: correspondence with queen released

Palace letters show the monarchy is a weapon for capitalism

The crown is an institution the establishment can use against democratic rights to defend capitalism

The crown is an institution the establishment can use against democratic rights to defend capitalism   (Click to enlarge)

Alison Hill, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

In November 1975, the queen's representative in Australia, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, dismissed the elected Labor prime minister.

He replaced Gough Whitlam with the leader of the right-wing Liberal Party, Malcolm Fraser. Documents just released from the National Archives of Australia reveal how closely the monarchy was involved in the discussions leading up to this coup.

It took a four-year campaign by historian Jenny Hocking, and a decision by the Australian High Court, to get the documents released.

And their contents are a warning to all who think of the monarchy just as a useful tourist attraction or a national soap opera.

Gough Whitlam was Australian prime minister from December 1972 to November 1975. He was originally on the right of the Labor Party, but was pushed to the left by the tumultuous events of the 1960s.

In Australia and throughout the world, workers went into struggle and won reforms, on the basis of the favourable economic conditions of capitalism's post-war boom.

Against this background, the Australian Labor Party was swept to power in 1972 after 23 years of Liberal Party rule.


Whitlam's initial aims were to rationalise some aspects of the economy and improve the welfare state.

At that stage, these aims were not seen as a threat to the established capitalist order. Right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch even supported Labor in the election.

Whitlam set about making significant reforms, under pressure from the working class and associated social movements.

Free higher education was introduced, with a massive increase in university students. Healthcare spending was increased to provide a universal system.

Legislation was passed introducing equal pay rights for women, and the first Aboriginal land rights were granted.

Australian troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and a swathe of social reforms introduced.

But as the post-war boom petered out, crisis loomed. The international oil crisis plunged the global economy into a downward spiral.

World commodity prices fell - a particular problem for Australia, whose economy relies on raw material exports. Profits fell, and inflation and unemployment rose.

Big business was desperately trying to protect its interests. Bosses were worried that the strike wave that erupted throughout 1974 could continue to grow.

They demanded public spending cuts from the Labor government, and got them. But that was not enough. On the pretext of a failed attempt to borrow from the Middle East, the Liberals blocked the budget in the Senate - the upper house in the Australian parliament - causing a constitutional crisis. That was when the governor-general intervened and removed Whitlam.

Australian Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam in front of a portrait of Governor-General John Kerr, who dismissed him, 1981, photo by Peter van der Veer

Australian Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam in front of a portrait of Governor-General John Kerr, who dismissed him, 1981, photo by Peter van der Veer   (Click to enlarge)

Workers walked out on strike in protest. 400,000 took to the streets in Melbourne and held a huge rally.

The capitalist class was worried that the situation would get even more out of control. Fortunately for them, they could rely on the Labor and trade union leaders, who refused to do anything to organise this mass movement against the coup.

As a result, the movement receded. Over the following decades, a lot of the Whitlam reforms were scaled back to suit the demands of big business in the face of a crisis-ridden world economy.

There are important lessons to learn from the Whitlam government and these events. One is that reforms are only won through working-class struggle - and they must be backed up.

The struggle must be continued around a programme of defending those reforms by taking control of the major levers of the economy and running them under democratic working-class control.

Any government anywhere in the world which seeks to put workers' interests first must understand this.

The Socialist Party warned Jeremy Corbyn of this. In the event, the right wing of Britain's Labour Party intervened to protect big business before there was even a chance of forming a pro-reform Labour government.

State machine

The other major lesson is about the role of the monarchy. It is a component of the state machine, holding special constitutional powers in reserve, which the capitalist establishment can use to supersede even the limited democracy of parliamentary elections.

The letters reveal a careful discussion with the queen - about the constitutional powers of the governor-general to carry out this right-wing coup, and the fear of how far Whitlam would go, even worrying that he would sack the governor-general!

The crown is a weapon of the ruling class which is usually kept relatively sheathed. But the queen gives royal assent to all legislation. MPs and the armed forces do not swear allegiance to parliament; they swear it to the queen. Tory prime ministers have recently used the 'royal prerogative' to act without parliament's approval, and even suspended a dissenting parliament using the queen's power of 'prorogation'.

The monarchy is a powerful ideological and legal tool for capitalism. It can be used quickly, as these events show, to prop up the profit system against workers' struggle. As such, abolition of the monarchy must form part of a broader programme for socialist change.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 15 July 2020:

Socialist Party news and analysis

Workers and young people need planning for jobs, not handouts for bosses

Lockdown Leicester: trade unionists and parents fight for safety

Sexist dismissal of women's health: NHS needs democratic control

Palace letters show the monarchy is a weapon for capitalism

Defend free TV licences for pensioners!

Water shortage warning: nationalise now!

Hillingdon Hospital corona outbreak: workforce not to blame

No going back

A socialist programme for schools

Workplace news and analysis

A fighting programme for Unite

PCS executive majority cancels union democracy

'Hands off our pensions!' demand angry Nissan workers

Tower Hamlets council workers strike back

Ratcliffe rats on Bridgend workers

Socialist history

How capitalist restoration led to war and 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans

Black Lives Matter

How the FBI and Chicago police murdered a Black Panther

Will boosting the 'black pound' improve black workers' lives?

BLM protests - another injustice exposed

Readers' opinion

Books that inspired me: The Mother

TV: Ross Kemp - Living with Forced Out Families

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Jobs, homes, services and a future for all!

Socialism 2020 - ideas to change the world

Nottingham trans rights protest: Our demands are the same as everyone's

Why I joined the Socialist Party

Donations help us campaign and fight for socialism

Selling the Socialist in Swansea


Home   |   The Socialist 15 July 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleSwansea Socialist Party: The monarchy and House of Lords - not just harmless relics

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleThailand: Youth rising against hated junta

triangleCardiff East Socialist Party: The monarchy - not just a harmless relic

triangleCaerphilly Socialist Party: The monarchy - can God save the Queen?


triangleBritain's waterways choked with a 'chemical cocktail'

triangleNews in brief

triangleWhy are things the way they are?

triangleBullying weighing room culture at the races


triangleEast London Socialist Party: Stop gentrification - Save Queen's Market

trianglePrince Andrew outrage exposes establishment

triangleTories out - general election now


trianglePost-Brexit trade deals: Workers' mobilisation needed to stop corporate extortion

triangleThe Socialist Inbox


triangleOaks Park School: valiant strike exposed state of schools

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Former MP colleague of Jeremy Corbyn to stand in Birmingham Erdington by-election


The Socialist

We need a workers' alternative to big business Tories and Labour



News in brief



Lords reject parts of anti-protest bill



Social care providers put profit before residents' needs - nationalise care now



Cost of living crisis



Tories hand cash to private health profiteers



Want to fight austerity?



Tory vaccine sacking threat set to deepen NHS staffing crisis



Tories on the ropes - Build a workers' alternative



No trust in Tories to keep us safe



Employers use vaccine excuse to attack sick pay



News in brief


Welfare state

Mutual aid, the welfare state and the fight for a new mass workers' party


Socialist Party

Pamphlet: What the Socialist Party stands for

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

January 2022