Prince Charles backed controversial sacking of Australian prime minister, letter reveals

Victoria Ward
·3-min read
Prince Charles is welcomed to Canberra by Sir John Kerr in 1977 - AP
Prince Charles is welcomed to Canberra by Sir John Kerr in 1977 - AP

The Prince of Wales backed the governor-general of Australia over the controversial sacking of the country’s prime minister in 1975, newly released letters have revealed.

Four months after Gough Whitlam's government was dismissed, plunging Australia into a constitutional crisis, the 27-year-old Prince wrote to express sympathy for Sir John Kerr, the Queen’s representative. 

“Please don’t lose heart,” he wrote in March 1976. “What you did last year was right and the courageous thing to do - and most Australians seemed to endorse your decision when it came to the point.”

The letter represents the first known statement of support for the move by a member of the Royal Family and was  branded an "embarrassment" to the Queen and a breach of royal protocol by The Australian newspaper, which noted that the monarch had never interfered in the country's politics. 

Whitlam's government had been rocked by scandals and by a worsening economic crisis between 1973 and 1975.

His dismissal, after he failed to pass a budget and refused to resign or call an election, threw a spotlight on the Queen's constitutional powers and has remained a divisive topic.

Gough Whitlam addresses reporters in Canberra after his dismissal - HULTON ARCHIVE
Gough Whitlam addresses reporters in Canberra after his dismissal - HULTON ARCHIVE

Papers released earlier this year confirmed that the Queen took no part in the sacking and was only informed about it days after the event, although it was later claimed “she thought it could have been handled better.”

In a letter addressed to Sir Martin Charteris, the Queen's private secretary, on the day he dismissed the government, Sir John admitted he had taken a unilateral action to remove Whitlam.

He said that he had done so "without informing the palace in advance because, under the constitution, the responsibility is mine, and I was of the opinion it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is my duty to tell her immediately".

The correspondence between Sir John and the palace was kept confidential for almost 45 years and was only released by the Australian national archives after a costly, four-year legal battle.

The handwritten letter from Prince Charles was reported in The Australian and is revealed in a book published next month, The Truth of The Palace Letters: Ambush, Deceit and Dismissal in 1975 by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston.

The prince said: "I wanted to write and say how much I sympathize [sic] with you."

Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Bendigo, Australia, in 1983 - Tim Graham
Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Bendigo, Australia, in 1983 - Tim Graham

He urged Sir John not to worry about the "demonstrations and stupidities" or to become "depressed or dejected."

He wrote: "I imagine that you must have come in for all sorts of misinformed criticism and prejudice,” adding that every time he went to a university there was a “demonstration or ‘scene’ of one sort or another."

The letters also revealed that the prince was seriously considered as a future governor-general of Australia and was keen to buy a home in New South Wales, before eventually being told it might be a “bad step.”

A palace source last night suggested that the letter was simply a means of "maintaining good relations with a governor-general who was still in post", rather than an endorsement of his actions.

The source said there was no indication that the Prince was forewarned about the move.