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Constitutional crisis

Closer Look – The Australian Constitution [PDF 1.39Mb, 9 pages]

Mr Whitlam speaks on the steps of Old Parliament House, Canberra, after his dismissal

Australian Information Service, National Library of Australia, an 24355082

On 11 November 1975 the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker Prime Minister. This occurred because a number of events resulted in the refusal by the Senate to pass the government's budget bills in October 1975.

Following the dismissal, a double dissolution election was held on 13 December 1975, at which the Whitlam Government was defeated.

This is commonly referred to as the 1975 Constitutional Crisis and it is one of the most significant domestic political events in Australia's history. For the first time, an unelected vice-regal representative, the Governor-General, had removed from office a prime minister who had a majority in the House of Representatives.

Strengths/weaknesses of Australia's Constitution

Strengths

  • Major principles and constitutional provisions are fixed and can not be changed by the government without the consent of the Australian people in a referendum.
  • The Commonwealth does not have all the power and can not make more power for itself.
  • Non-political judges are able to interpret and administer the Constitution to ensure that its provisions are followed.

Weaknesses

  • It is hard to change and therefore may be less responsive to changing circumstances.
  • The final say about the Constitution resides with non-elected judges rather than democratically accountable politicians.