From the Archives, 1976: Boos, jeers and a boycott for Sir John Kerr

From the Archives, 1976: Boos, jeers and a boycott for Sir John Kerr

First published in The Age on February 18, 1976

Booing, boycott greet Sir John

CANBERRA — The Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, yesterday opened Parliament amid booing, jeering and a boycott by Labor MPs.

About 1500 demonstrators booed Sir John and Lady Kerr when they arrived at Parliament House.

Protestors outside Parliament House as Sir John and Lady Kerr arriveCredit:The Age Archives

A smaller but still hostile crowd booed and jeered them when they left two hours later.

It was one of the most bitter Parliamentary openings in Australia.

Sir John pledged the Fraser Government to hold inflation and solve unemployment.

His hands trembled as he read his speech which is written for him by the Government.

Sir John’s role in the sacking of the Whitlam Government was the subject of constant sniping in the House of Representatives and the Senate after members were sworn-in during the morning.

In the House of Representatives debate before the election of Mr. Bill Snedden as Speaker, Labor members led by the Opposition Leader Mr Whitlam, frequently referred to Sir John’s decision last year – and the need of the Speaker to protect the rights of the House of Representatives.

Government members responded strongly and the deputy leader of the Country Party, the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, successfully moved the gag.

Sir John Kerr opening Australia’s 30th ParliamentCredit:The Age Archives

Labor members boycotted Sir John’s opening speech in the Senate Chamber.

Eased

The bitter atmosphere was eased briefly when Senator Harradine (Ind., Tas) took the seat at the centre table normally occupied by the Opposition Senate Leader, now Senator Wriedt.

Senator Harradine said he acted to represent “the Opposition forces”.

Sir John said: “Following the decision of the Australian people in the elections last December for both Houses of Parliament, my Government believes that the Australian people have given it a strong directive to bring under control the highest unemployment in 40 years and the worst inflation in the nation’s history.

“My Government’s immediate objective is to bring inflation under control so that there again be jobs for all who want work.

“The Government’s long-term objective is to prevent the growth of centralised bureaucratic domination in Australia and the increasing dependence of individuals on the State.″⁣

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First published in The Age on February 18, 1976

The pomp proceeds as mob howls hate

The bared knuckle house is in session

CANBERRA — At 4.49 pm yesterday Sir John Kerr paused on the red carpet inside the door of Parliament House, braced himself visibly with a squaring of the shoulders and a mental clamp on his features, took his top hat from an attendant and stepped outside.

Ahead of him was a howling and clamoring crowd of some 200, perhaps one-quarter clapping and the rest booing, waving placards and shouting insults.

Behind him was an address to Parliament boycotted by Labor MPs and senators, hand-shaking with Liberal-National Country Party and independent MPs in the parliamentary library and polite conversation in the same company at a garden party in the rose garden.

Sir John advanced to inspect the guard of honor and the band. As the insults rained about him, he walked slowly, carefully and tensely, pausing now and then to exchange a word with a soldier, carefully lifting his hat to salutes and flag.

Behind him, still on the steps, Lady Kerr kept a fixed smile ahead as the taunts hit at her too. “Quickest divorce in history,” “What’s a Lady Kerr? A three-day wonder,” “You’ll need the soldiers, we’ll have to rule by the gun one day” mixed with the usual “We want Gough” and “C-U-R spells Kerr.”

Sir John seemed to slow his inspection as though to show the insults were having no effect. But there was a whiteness to his knuckles as the game was played on.

He returned to the steps and repeatedly waved both arms at the crowd. For every clap there were a dozen jeers once more. Finally, he ushered Lady Kerr into the Rolls-Royce, waved a hand as much at the flies liberated from his black tail-coat, perhaps, as much as at the crowd, and was driven away.

The ceremonial of the opening of Australia’s 30th Parliament was done.

It had been an odd day of intermittent farce and sadness. But it began brightly enough in brilliant sunshine and humidity sticky enough to have the workmen clammy by mid-morning as the last preparations were done.

The red carpet laid on the front steps and up into King’s Hall was new for the occasion. One workman vowed it had been ordered by the previous Liberal Government, the order had been cancelled by Labor and finally the carpet was obtained by the Fraser Government in a mood of rare extravagance.

More typical of the change of times, perhaps, were the large army tents, serving as marquees for the tea party to be held in the rose garden. Such things are noticed in Canberra and the defence chiefs were awarded 10 points on the influence-jousting scale for shrewd merchandising.

Labor parliamentarians having decided at the last minute, amid the last banging of hammers and icing of cakes, to boycott all activities of the Governor-General, had time for a chat and familiarisation with their new positions on the Opposition benches when the Government members trooped off to the Senate to watch Sir Garfield Barwick swear in the Senators.

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