Australian court rules queen's letters can be made public

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court ruled on Friday to make public letters between Queen Elizabeth II and her representative that would reveal what knowledge she had, if any, of the dismissal of an Australian government in 1975.

The High Court's majority decision in historian Jenny Hocking’s appeal overturned lower court rulings that more than 200 letters between the monarch of Britain and Australia and Governor-General Sir John Kerr before he dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s government were personal and might never be made public.

The only-ever dismissal of an elected Australian government on the authority of a British monarch created a crisis that spurred many to call for Australia to sever its constitutional ties with Britain and create a republic with an Australian president.

Kerr dismissed Whitlam’s government and replaced him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as prime minister to resolve a month-old deadlock in Parliament. Fraser’s coalition won an election weeks later.

The National Archives of Australia had held the correspondence, known as the Palace Letters, since 1978. As state records they should have been made public 31 years after they were created.

Under an agreement struck between Buckingham Palace and Government House, the governor-general’s official residence, months before Kerr resigned in 1978, the letters covering three tumultuous years of Australian politics were to remain secret until 2027. The private secretaries of both the sovereign and the governor-general in 2027 still could veto their release indefinitely under that agreement.

A Federal Court judge accepted the archives’ argument that the letters were personal and confidential.

An appeals court upheld that ruling in a 2-1 decision.

The archives’ lawyers argued the records were created with the “strong conception” that their character was private, and they were received by the archives under those conditions.

The convention across British Commonwealth nations is that communications between the queen and her representatives are personal, private and not accessible by the executive government, they argued.

The archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Hocking, a Monash University academic and Whitlam biographer, was to hold a news conference later on Friday in Melbourne.

Buckingham Palace and Government House have previously declined The Associated Press’ requests for comment on the case.

Hocking has been fighting to access the letters since 2016.

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