On 11 November 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr during the Australian constitutional crisis and Malcolm Fraser was appointed the twenty-second Prime Minister of Australia.
The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, also known simply as the Dismissal, culminated on 11 November 1975 with the dismissal from office of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who then commissioned the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, as caretaker Prime Minister. It has been described as the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australian history.
Whitlam’s Labor government had been elected in 1972 with a small majority in the House of Representatives, but with the balance of power in the Senate held by the Democratic Labor Party, who usually supported the Liberal-Country Opposition.
The 1974 election resulted in little change. While the Whitlam Government introduced many new policies and programmes, it was also rocked by scandals and political miscalculations.
In October 1975, the Opposition used its control of the Senate to defer passage of appropriation bills needed to finance government expenditure, which had already been passed by the House of Representatives.
The Opposition stated that they would continue to block supply unless Whitlam called an election for the House of Representatives, and urged Kerr to dismiss Whitlam unless he agreed to their demand. Whitlam believed that Kerr would not dismiss him, and Kerr did nothing to make him believe that he might be dismissed.
On 11 November 1975, Whitlam intended to call a half-Senate election in an attempt to break the deadlock. When he went to seek Kerr’s approval for the election, Kerr instead dismissed him as Prime Minister and shortly thereafter installed Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister.
Acting quickly before all ALP parliamentarians became aware of the change of government, Fraser and his allies were able to secure passage of the appropriation bills, and Kerr dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution election. Fraser and his government were elected with a massive majority in the election held the following month.
The events of the Dismissal led to only minor constitutional change. The Senate retained its power to block supply, and the Governor-General the power to dismiss government ministers. However, these powers have not since been used to force a government from office.
Kerr was widely criticised by Labor supporters for his actions, resigned early as Governor-General, and lived much of his remaining life abroad.