The Khmer Rouge were a Communist movement allied to the Viet Cong. When the United States military pulled out of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, they left a power vacuum that their opponents were quick to exploit. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, championed a particularly oppressive form of dictatorship that called for a return to medieval technology and an abandonment of urbanisation.
With the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. All the citizens of Cambodia were forced to leave the cities, to practice subsistence agriculture in the rural areas. The regime was infamous for its cruelty and brutality, to say nothing of its near genocidal policies. It is estimated that in the four years of their reign, as many as two million people were killed, either in concentration camps, summary executions or simple starvation. In fact, during the years of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields – more than 20,000 separate mass graves were created in these years.
On November 11, 1975, then Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the ALP government of Gough Whitlam and installed Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser (of the Liberal Party) as a caretaker Prime Minister until a double dissolution election could be held.
The precipitate cause was the inability of the ALP government to pass Supply (Budget) bills in the face of a hostile Senate. However, Whitlam, unaware of Kerr’s decision when they arranged to meet that morning, had planned to call a half-Senate election, which would likely have solved that particular problem. Kerr, however, had already made his decision. While, under the Australian Constitution, he had the legal power to take this action, he was widely seen as lacking the moral authority.
The double dissolution election was held on December 13, 1975, and delivered a massive victory to Fraser, allowing him to govern in earnest. (Under the terms of his caretakership, he had not been permitted to introduce any legislation other than passing Supply bills and calling the election.) Ironically, December 13 is also when Whitlam’s planned half-Senate election would have taken place.