Australian Prime Ministers-Sir John Kerr

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Sir John Kerr

Sir John Kerr was an eminent lawyer. He was the 13th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the 18th Governor-General. He is best known for being the controversial figure at the centre of the dismissal of the Labor government of Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975, an event which sparked the most significant constitutional crisis in Australian history. On that day Kerr dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam and appointed Malcolm Fraser to form a caretaker government, pending elections. The dismissal was the most dramatic event in the history of Australian federal politics. For the first time since Federation, the unelected representative of the Queen had removed a government which commanded a majority in the House of Representatives. The Dismissal, as it is known, remains a highly controversial event in Australian political history. Kerr was born in 1914 in Balmain, a then working-class suburb of Sydney, where his father was a boiler-maker. After studying at Fort Street High School he graduated in law from the University of Sydney and became a barrister in 1938. At Fort Street, Kerr met Dr H V Evatt, later to become a High Court judge. As a prominent lawyer, Kerr was known for representing trade union clients and had strong ties to the Australian Labor Party. At one stage, in the 1950s, he even intended to stand for parliament as a Labor candidate. In the 1960s Kerr was promoted to other judicial positions (as well as working for a government intelligence agency), and in this period his political leanings became more conservative. He became close with Sir Garfield Barwick, the Liberal Attorney-General who had become the Chief Justice of the High Court in 1964. Kerr was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales in 1972, and when Sir Paul Hasluck retired as Governor-General in July of 1974, Prime Minister Whitlam recommended to the Queen that Kerr take up the position. It has been said that Whitlam seemed to have faith in Kerr's...
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