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Australia's High Court says Queen's letters around ‘British-American coup’ of 1975 can be published

AUSTRALIA’S High Court has authorised the publication of letters between Queen Elizabeth II and the late Australian governor-general John Kerr.

The 211 letters could expose the suspected role of the British monarch, who also reigns in Australia, in the dismissal of the latter’s elected prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, described by journalist John Pilger as a “British-American coup that ended Australian independence.”

The High Court’s 6-1 majority decision in historian Jenny Hocking’s appeal overturned lower-court rulings that the letters were personal and could never be made public.

Ms Hocking, who said she hopes to read the letters at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra when the country eases its Covid-19 lockdown, said the claims that the letters were personal were “an insult to all our intelligence ... they’re not talking about the racing and corgis.”

But archives director David Frucker said staff would begin to assess whether the letters contain information that should be withheld. This could take over four months.

The correspondence has been in the archives’ possession since 1978 and would ordinarily be subject to the 30-year-rule, but Buckingham Palace and Australia’s Government House agreed that those covering three years including Mr Whitlam’s dismissal should stay secret longer, till 2027.

The Labor Party PM was elected in 1972 and again in 1974. His government had pursued a radical reforming agenda, implementing free health care and free university education, establishing legal aid, ending conscription and abolishing the death penalty for federal crimes. 

But its agenda faced obstruction in the Senate by the Liberal Party, which had an upper-house majority, and caused what former CIA officer Victor Marchetti called “apoplexy in the White House” by challenging the CIA’s presence in Australia, attacking the Vietnam war and nuclear testing and trying to chart a foreign policy independent of Washington.

Marchetti said the US response was to “set in motion ... a kind of Chile” (coup). 

British intelligence agency MI6 was later accused by a minister in Whitlam’s government of bugging cabinet meetings and passing details to the US.

In 1975 Kerr, the Queen’s representative in Australia and a man with close links to the CIA, dismissed him and appointed opposition leader Malcolm Fraser in his place, sparking a constitutional crisis.

A senior CIA agent later stated that Kerr “did what he was told to do” in the case.

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