The Dismissal (1983) (mini)

 

 

 

Director:  George Miller, Phillip Noyce. 

Starring:   Max Phipps (Gough Whitlam),  John Stanton (Malcolm Fraser),  Steward Faichney (Billy Snedden),  John Hargreaves (Dr. Jim Cairns),  Bill Hunter (Rex Conner),  John Meillon (Sir John Kerr).  Peter Sumner (Bill Hayden). 

first Labor Prime Minister in 23 years who made many liberal changes (dismissed by the Governor-General in 1975)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

 

Part I.

1972.  The War in Vietnam.  Richard Nixon is in the White House.  In Israel there is trouble at the Golan Heights.  It is also the Age of Rebellion world-wide.  This film will note some things that nearly tore Australia apart.  For many Australians, bitterness is not far away. 

December 2, 1972.  For the first time in twenty-three years the Labor Party wins.  Its leader, Edward Gough Whitlam, becomes the prime minister. 

There are some 70,000 anti-war protesters in Melbourne.  For the first time an Australian government champions racial equality. 

There are, however, quite a few problems.  Inflation almost doubles in the first year.  The opposition, led by Billy Mackie Snedden, threatened to use their majority in the senate to block the flow of money to the government.  Whitlam calls for new elections.  The result is 29 senators each for both the Labor and the Liberal parties with two other senators from other parties.  In the House the victor is the Labor Party.  Whitlam is the first Labor prime minister ever re-elected to office. 

July 1974.  John Robert Kerr is made the representative of the British crown in Australia. 

October 1974.  Mr. Tirath Khemlani, a dark source, becomes an influential in the government sphere.

The Country Party and the Liberal Party combine forces .  Snedden complains of the high number of labor strikes in Australia and high inflation. 

early November 1974.  Rex Conner of the treasury wants to raise a lot of money in order to accomplish some great goals for Australia.  Khemlani tells him that he can raise $500 million Australian dollars.  One year later the Labor government would be dismissed from office.

November 1974.  Canberra.  Khemlani talks to Conner.  Conner wants to build an eighty-four mile gas pipeline for $400 million dollars.  He says that the Labor Party has a mandate from the people to reform Australia.  Conner later says that instead of $400 million dollars he wants $4,000 million dollars.

Dr. Jim Cairns's office in the Treasury.  Forty-one year old Malaysian beauty Junie Morosi from Al Grasby's office meets Dr. Cairns.  She later becomes known as Supergirl and she will help give rise to what would become known as the Morosi Affair. 

Tony Staley and a group of Liberal Party members disenchanted with Snedden want to back wealthy grazier Malcolm Fraser to be the head of the party.  The dissenters believe that Whitlam is eating Snedden alive. 

November 15, 1974.  Snedden speech.  Tony Staley contacts Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, the longest sitting prime minister in Australia and a big shot in the Liberal Party.  He tells Menzies that he is going to push for a change of party leadership in favor of Malcolm Fraser.  Staley gets Menzies's backing. 

November 27, 1974.  A vote in the Liberal Party results in 36 for Snedden and 26 for Fraser; an obvious defeat for Staley.  But for Fraser, the leadership challenge has just begun. 

December 1974.  Dr. Cairns makes it known that Junie Morosi will be his principal assistant.  This starts an immediate turning of the wheels of the rumor-gossip-innuendo mill.  People start investigating the woman's past. 

December 2, 1974.  Cairns's secretary Maxine is upset about Junie Morosi.  She tells her boss that his choice to hire her is not a wise political decision. 

The news about Junie Morosi helps the conservatives in Australia. 

December 5, 1974.  Junie says she should resign to stop the rumor mill. 

December 6, 1974.  Junie quits. 

December 15, 1974.  Sir John Kerr signs the loan papers sponsored by Conner. 

Christmas Eve, 1974.  Cyclone Tracy hits Australia; the worst natural disaster with 65 dead and 41,000 homeless.  This proves to be Jim Cairns's finest hour as he is everywhere in the devastated areas offering help and sympathy.  Probably feeling strong, Cairns rehires Junie Morosi.  Within six months his career will be in tatters. 

1975.  George Harris, a Melbourne businessman, starts to enquire about loans while visiting Europe with Cairns's permission.  The consequences of what became known as the Loan Affair are tragic for Cairns.   

March 5, 1975.  With Cairn, Sir Frederick Wheeler, secretary of the Treasury, questions Harriss's qualifications to negotiate any type of loan for the government.  This is going beyond the usual channels and Wheeler does not like it.  But Cairns stubbornly insists that in these days of rebellion, non-orthodox channels are being used everywhere. 

February 1, 1975.  The resort town of Terrigel, New South Wales, plays host to the Labor Party.  Cairns and Morosi give a joint interview with a tabloid journalist.  Cairns's press secretary tries to stop the interview with out any luck.  The two foolish people make their remarks very nuanced, but when the report comes out in the papers, the talk is of Cairns expressing his love for his female employee.  Cairns fires his press secretary for his complaints and I-told-you-so attitude. 

Mr. Khemlani has still not found any money.  To a rational man it would appear that Khemlani is either terribly incompetent or a conman. 

The knowledge of the George Harris loan search becomes public knowledge.  Leaks begin to occur and the press vigorously pursues the story.  The Liberals run with the scandal.  Cairns says that he made no offer of a commission to Mr. Harris. 

Snedden asks Malcolm Fraser for a statement squashing speculation of a new leadership challenge in the Liberal Party.  Opinion polls indicate that the Liberal supporters seem to want another leadership vote. 

March 1975.  A leadership vote results in 27 votes for Snedden and 37 votes for Malcolm Fraser.  Fraser is the new leader.  To the press Fraser says that it may be necessary to take any steps needed to replace the Labor government. 

Conner's search for a major loan causes a major economic scandal. 

May 20.  Meeting of the Labor executive council.  The decision is made to pursue US money.  Conner's efforts are revoked. 

May 23.  Three days after losing his right to negotiate for loans, Conner contacts Khemlani.  Conner keeps his continued loan efforts absolutely secret. 

The prime minister is mad at Cairns and asks him to resign as treasurer.  The letter by Cairns offering Harris a 2.5% percent commission is revealed by Harris himself.  Cairns denies the charge.  But later the prime minister is given a March 7 letter from Cairns to Harris offering 2.5% percent commission.  The prime minister terminates Cairns's commission.  Cairns is now dismissed from all offices in the Labor government. 

Unemployment and recession are major problems for Labor.  Then the government suffers a disastrous defeat in a local election.  The government is for Malcolm Fraser's taking. 

Part II..

Cairns, the darling of the political left, is out of government.  But the Loans Affair scandal still continues.  Conner still waits for word from Khemlani.  The third year in office for Labor is one of embattled government, chaos and crisis.

The prime minister decides to gamble.  He says he will call a one-day special sitting in Parliament.  This will avoid the call for a royal commission to study the problem  -- a move that would keep the scandal in the papers for months on end.  Whitlam will confront the conservatives and demand that they either put up or shut up -- that they either make their accusations of impropriety and criminality or cease pushing the loan scandals.   

July 7, 1975.  Fraser accepts the special sitting.  Both sides work hard to present their best case before Parliament.  Whitlam learns that Conner will still not cooperate with them.  The man will just not give them all the documents pertaining to his activities and the loan affair.  Conner stonewalls.  This is such a big thing to Hayden, the replacement for Cairns, that he refuses to speak in the house.  Conner lies to Whitlam saying that he has now given him all the relevant documents. 

The big showdown in Parliament begins.  The prime minister speaks saying that no accusations of impropriety have been made by the conservatives.  Fraser speaks next.  He has a long series of embarrassing questions for the Labor government.  He says that Conner is as bad as Cairns and that a judicial inquiry is needed.  Conner then speaks.  He says that still no charges have been made against Labor. 

The new deputy prime minister is Frank Crean who replaces Cairns.  Governor-general Kerr tells Crean that the whole loans thing was very ill-conceived.  Hayden works hard coming up with a new budget.  Inflation runs at 17% percent.  He asks for cuts of $2.5 billion dollars.  Conner does not like Hayden, but he stands alone in his opposition.

August 19, 1975.  Hayden makes the budget presentation.  The budget proposal is well-received by the press and the people.  Hayden is able to break Fraser's stride.  The men most important in the coming political struggle are Fraser, Dough Anthony of the Country Party and Reg Withers in the house.  The conservative plan is now to block the budget and deny the necessary funds for the Labor government. 

A conservative state premier breaks an old custom of appointing to an office vacated by the leaving or death of the office holder a person of the same party.  A liberal is replaced by a conservative. 

Journalist Patrick Game is able to track down Khemlani.  This was no easy task, but Game kept running after the Pakistani man until he finally got his man.  Actually, Khemlani called for Game to meet with him.  Khemlani then claims that he still has Conner's authority to raise loans.  The scandal-exhausted Conner becomes sick and has to go into the hospital. 

Fraser claims that Conner acted without authority and the incident reopens the Loans Affair.  Whitlam demands all the documents from Conner and Conner provides all of them except for the most incriminating one.  And once again Whitlam is caught off-base.  The gullible man concludes that Khemlani must be lying.  At a hospital press conference, Conner denies Khemlani's charges and says that it is all a political ploy by the conservatives.  He accuses the opposition of creating manufactured allegations.

During the loans crisis, Khemlani returns to Australia.  There Game is finally able to get some hard documents proving that Conner lied.  Khemlani finally produces the May 23 telex in which, three days after Conner was denied the right to proceed with his loan efforts, Conner writes to and gives Khemlani permission to continue his loan efforts.  Conner is now thoroughly discredited.  Whitlam gets Conner to resign. 

Fraser says that Whitlam failed to control his ministers.  The conservatives now decide to keep deferring the budget, which will force an election.  But Whitlam responds by saying "We will not surrender."  Labor will continue governing even without the necessary funds.  Whitlam refuses to call elections.  It appears that the parties in Australia have reached a political stalemate. 

Part III. 

The Governor-general Sir John Robert Kerr would bring the stalemate to an end.  In doing so he would serve as witness, jury and judge.  He was a former member of the Labor Party and, some say was a "traitor to his origins".  Kerr will change forever the face of democracy in Australia. 

Whitlam tells Kerr that he can only act under the advice of himself, the prime minister.  But the conservatives maintain that the governor-general has the right to dismiss the prime minister.  Whitlam had great faith in Kerr  -- a faith that would prove to be a great mistake.  Fraser believes the the Liberals can starve Whitlam out.  He observes that Kerr has always went by the book and would decide in the favor of the conservatives. 

October 17, 1975.  Violence breaks out.  Kerr wants to confer with the Supreme Justice, but the prime minister tells him not to consult the head of the court.  Kerr now keeps his own counsel.  Kerr wants a copy of conservative lawyer Ellicott's opinion of the stalemate matter. 

Whitlam tells his staff that the public is behind Labor.  Kerr asks Whitlam to have someone on his staff draw up an assessment of Ellicott's arguments.  The strategy of the Laborites is to force the Liberals to vote to either accept or reject the budget, rather than just to defer it.  They will also ask the banks for monetary advances with which to keep the government going. 

Kerr considers trying to seek a compromise between the Labor and Liberal parties.  He asks Whitlam if it is alright for him to speak with Malcolm Fraser.  Whitlam says o.k., but the governor-general cannot follow any of Fraser's advice.  Demands on the Liberals to pass the budget increases.  There is enormous strain on Fraser who has 18-19 hour work days. 

Meeting with Kerr, Fraser tells him that the problem is that the current crisis is a constitutional one and that Kerr should make the final decision.  Fraser decides that the Liberals have to prosecute their case to Kerr.  Meanwhile, labor is doing well.  Big crowds come out in support of Labor.  There is a surge of support for the Labor Party as measured by the opinion polls.  (Fraser doesn't believe the polls, but there has been a public backlash against the Liberal party.) 

Kerr suggests a compromise to Whitlam and Fraser.  If Labor promises not to have a half-Senate election in order to gain a temporary majority in the Senate, then the Liberals will pass the budget.  But the compromise does not appeal to either Whitlam or Fraser and the stalemate remains in place. 

Failing at a compromise, the governor-general decides to replace the Labor government with a caretaker Liberal government with the major elections to take place in December of 1975.  Kerr tells Whitlam first followed by Fraser.  Fraser tells his people:  "I'm Prime Minister."  Whitlam tells his people:  "The bastard sacked us."  Labor party supporters are extremely angry at the news.  Whitlam refers to Fraser as "Kerr's cur."  There is violence in the streets.

Malcolm Fraser wins the biggest majority in Australian political history.

In March of 1983, Fraser is defeated.

In 1977 Whitlam resigns from the leadership of the Labor party and from Parliament. 

Bill Hayden becomes the new leader of the Labor party.  He lasts for only three years.

In mid 1977 Conner resigns from politics and dies several years later.

In 1980 Khemlani is arrested in the United States for trafficking in stolen securities and is sentenced to prison for three years, but is immediately pardoned.  His whereabouts are unknown. 

In December of 1977 Kerr retires from his vice-regal office.  He lives in self-imposed exile in Surrey, England. 

A precedent now exists for a man, elected by no one, to dismiss a government elected by the Australian people.   

 

The mini-series is much too long and detailed, so I can't say it was good.  There is so much detail that it would best suit a student of political science and Australia.  Because there is so much detail, the story drags in a great many places.  My wife refused to continue watching about 30 to 40 minutes into the series.  The acting is o.k. (although Prime Minister Whitlam has a funny sounding voice in the movie).  It's the too long script that is the problem.  The movie seemed to take a foreboding tone that would please more politically liberal viewers.  It seems to blame Kerr for deciding the issue (even though Whitlam seems a bit incompetent).  I am a definite political liberal, but given the political stalemate between Labor and the conservative Liberals in Australia, Kerr almost had to come to the decision he made.  Labor supporters were furious, but because Kerr said that Malcolm Fraser could only be prime minister over a temporary care-taker government for a short while until elections decided the issue, it does not seem such a terrible decision that Kerr made.  It was an ad-hoc decision to solve the crisis.  And I suppose if Australia ends up in a similar situation of political stalemate, the governor-general might again have to decide the issue temporarily until elections are held.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1966-1967  --   reign of Prime Minister Harold Holt.

1967-1968  --  reign of Prime Minister John McEwen.

1968-1971  --  reign of Prime Minister John Gorton.

1971-1972  --  reign of Prime Minister William McMahon. 

1972-1975  --  reign of Prime Minister Whitlam.

Gough Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia.  

He led the Labor Party to electoral victory after a period of 23 years of conservative government in Australia.  He accomplished a lot of reforms.  (You can find them listed at Wikipedia..)

In 1975 he became the only Prime Minster of Australia to be dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.  It was replaced by the Liberal 'caretaker government' with Malcolm Fraser as the 'caretaker' Prime Minister.

1975-1983  --  reign of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

1983-1991  --- reign of Prime Minister Robert Hawke.

1991-1996  --  reign of Prime Minister Paul Keating. 

1996-          -- reign of Prime Minister John Howard. 

 

 

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