The final missing piece in the puzzle of the most controversial episode in Australia’s political history may be about to be revealed.
Having been locked in a lengthy legal battle with the National Archives, Professor Jenny Hocking’s case to release the ‘Palace letters' has made it all the way to The High Court.
Withheld from the public at the behest of the Queen, these secret letters are between Her Majesty and the Governor-General Sir John Kerr at the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam government in November 1975.
A political historian, Professor Hocking is seeking to shed light on what Buckingham Palace knew in the lead-up to the dismissal.
She said it was "quite extraordinary" that the letters had "remained hidden from us for 44 years" and it was "terrific that we now have an opportunity to test that again".
"There's no doubt that Buckingham Palace is following this very, very closely," the Monash University Professor said. "Obviously we think we've got a very strong case."
To date, the National Archives of Australia has refused to release the correspondence on the basis the letters are "personal" rather than Commonwealth records.
Classifying the documents as personal means they are embargoed until at least 2027, whereas Commonwealth records would be subject to a statutory regime for release after 30 years.
Prof Hocking's barrister, Bret Walker, SC, told the High Court on Friday it was "absurd" to suggest the letters were not the property of the Commonwealth given they were written by Sir John in his official capacity as governor-general.
Philip Benwell, National Chair of Australian Monarchist League, wrote it was all much ado about nothing:
Why is so much time and expense being taken to have a stickybeak at correspondence between the Governor-General and the Queen of 44 years ago? Is it to make money from writing a book or it is an attempt to infer that the Queen interferes in our system of governance and thus try to bolster support for a republic?”.
…the situation was resolved by a general election of the Australian electorate resulting in an overwhelming rejection of the Whitlam government. That is democracy in action. Fiddling around trying to get access to confidential papers of over forty years ago even to the extent of taking High Court action to publicise them does no one any good.
Prof Hocking disagrees, firm in her belief it’s not right that “we can't have access to key documents in our history."
Time will tell what the High Court decides. For now, the professor is grateful to have had her case make it this far, calling it "a great step forward for our history".