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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2666

Mr WILSON (Sturt) -Today is 11 November. I want to bring to the attention of the House the importance that divisions should not be created within the Australian community by criticisms of the Governor-General which, in the words of Francis West 'rest upon strained law and bad history prompted by political anger'. The recorded history of the events of 11 November 1975 should not be merely a distillation of rumour or a fable agreed upon, but should contain an accurate record of the events as they occurred and a proper interpretation of the law. Twelve months ago Prime Minister Whitlam was dismissed by the GovernorGeneral. This dismissal was both proper and legal. The Senate had refused to grant supply. Notwithstanding his inability to obtain parliamentary approval of the Supply Bill, Prime Minister Whitlam made it clear to the GovernorGeneral firstly, that he would never resign; secondly, that he would never advise an election of the House of Representatives or a double dissolution; and, thirdly, that the only way such an election could be held was by his dismissal by the Governor-General.

The issue of this challenge was surely an acknowledgement by Prime Minister Whitlam of the Governor-General's powers under sections 62 and 64 of the Constitution to dismiss Ministers, including Prime Ministers, whose appointment to office is during the Governor-General's pleasure. Despite this acknowledgement, attempts are still being made to suggest that the Governor-General had no power to determine the Prime Minister's commission, either on the ground that his power is not greater than that of the Queen or that it is limited to acting in all matters on the advice of the Prime Minister. There are, in my view, no grounds for arguing that the powers exercised by the Governor-General could not be exercised by the Queen in her capacity as Queen of Australia, even if their exercise by her in the United Kingdom is, according to Colin Howard, unthinkable. Therefore it is not possible to sustain the view that the GovernorGeneral acted contrary to the intention that his powers should not exceed those of the Queen herself.

The second false argument peddled by spokesmen of the Labor Party is based on an assumption that the Governor-General should not act as an automaton in response only to the advice of the Prime Minister. If this were so the Prime Minister, once appointed, could, even if acting in blatant disregard of the Constitution, only to be removed from Office if he advised the withdrawal of his own commission. If this were so a government fearful of the judgment of the people could refuse to advise that an election be held and remain in office longer than the maximum period for which the House of Representatives is elected. But it must be noted that whereas the Constitution confers some powers on the Governor-General in Council it clearly gives others to the Governor-General alone. Under section 5 he has the power from time to time as he thinks fit to dissolve the House of Representatives. Section 28 enables him to dissolve it sooner than the 3 years for which, from its first meeting, it shall no longer continue and he may dissolve it along with the Senate in circumstances authorised in section 57 following a disagreement between the Houses. One would have thought that it was beyond dispute that though he will in the exercise of these powers generally act on the advice of Ministers he need not necessarily do so.

The writings of Dr Evatt on this subject are entirely based on the assumption that there are reserve powers which impose on the GovernorGeneral the duty of the independent exercise of discretion. Dr Evatt recognises that:

So far as Australia is concerned, a long course of practice tends to negative the proposition that the Governor-General . . . is a mere automation in the hands of the Ministers who have lost, or who are about to lose, the support of Parliament.

I ask honourable members to note that he referred to the loss of the support of Parliament, not merely the loss of the support of the House of Representatives. The Governor-General's prerogative powers, powers which are essential to the preservation of Australian democracy, are the safety valve that ensures that in times of crisis it is the people exercising the ultimate right in democracy who have a say in determining the future of their government.

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