1970-1979 | Australia | Instigating coups



Gough Whitlam speaking ( NAA via Wikimedia ) and Sir John Kerr ( NAA via Wikimedia )

[ 11 November 1975 ]

On 11 November 1975, Australia’s democratically elected prime minister, Gough Whitlam, felt deeply anxious when he received a summons from Governor-General Sir John Kerr, a man so deep in the CIA’s pocket that officials referred to him as ‘our man Kerr’.1 Whitlam was a moderate within the Australian Labour Party. Although he sometimes went along with American and British foreign policy objectives, such as support for the murderous regime of Suharto in Indonesia, at other times, such as over U.S. aggression against Vietnam, he demonstrated what Washington and London considered a dangerous degree of independence.

Despite his apprehensions, Whitlam was aghast when Sir John promptly advised Whitlam that his government was being dismissed, invoking archaic vice-regal ‘reserve powers’ and confessing to the outgoing prime minister that what he was doing was something they would both have to live with, to which Whitlam retorted, ‘Well, you will.’2 The previous day the Governor-General had himself been summoned to Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate, equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency, to be informed that, according to the C.I.A., Whitlam was now considered a ‘security threat’.3

Kerr was a member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom which was heavily funded by the CIA, and the agency also lavished money on Kerr’s own travel and other expenses. Washington also prepared the ground carefully by appointing its ‘coup master,’ Marshal Green, who had overseen the 1965 Suharto coup, as Ambassador to Canberra.4 Meanwhile MI6 also played a vital role by bugging Whitlam’s cabinet meetings and intercepting and decoding messages from Australia’s Foreign Office and relaying that information to the C.I.A..

Even Prince Charles was involved in confidential correspondence with Kerr over what the British monarchy might be able to do to forestall a Whitlam counter-coup should the prime minister decide to dismiss the Governor-General.  Charles demonstrated his clear personal sympathies, virtually a royal green light to the planned coup, reportedly commenting ‘But surely, Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled at the very time should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government.’  There was also a prolonged correspondence between Sir Martin Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary and Kerr, but all requests for the Palace to disclose the relevant records have been refused.5


  1. John Pilger, ‘The British-American coup that ended Australian independence,’ The Guardian 24 October 2014 accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/23/gough-whitlam-1975-coup-ended-australian-independence
  2. Ibid and Paul Kelly, November 1975, Allen and Unwin, 1995, pp. 275-279.
  3. John Pilger, op. cit.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Gabrielle Chan, ‘Prince Charles knew of idea to dismiss Whitlam before 1975 crisis, book claims,’ The Guardian 26 October 2025 accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/26/prince-charles-knew-of-idea-to-dismiss-whitlam-before-1975-crisis-book-claims

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