December 10, 1992 — Paul Keating makes the “Redfern” speech

Written either by Don Watson (Keating’s cheif speechwriter) or Keating himself – the two disagree on this point – there is no doubting that the Redfern Speech of 1992 was one of the most significant events of Paul Keating’s term as Prime Minister of Australia. In it, Keating as head of state of Australia, for the first time acknowledged the responsibility of European invaders for the injustices committed – both in the past and ongoign – against the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.

It fell a ways short of being an apology – that would come later – but it was a stunning statement of responsibility for a nation that has usually preferred (as the speech itself pointed out) to blame the native victims of these injustices for causing them.

Links to the text of the speech, plus sound and video recordings of it, can be found here.

November 11, 1975 — The Whitlam government is dismissed by the Governor-General

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.