Sir John Kerr, the governor general of Australia who fired Labour Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, resigned today.
The conservative who replaced Whitlam, Prime Minister Malcom Fraser, annouced Kerr's resignation and said that the firing of the Labor government was an important consideration in the governor general's decision to step down.
[Fraser said the action had cut Kerrr's effectiveness and brought a shadow on the royal post. Associated Press reported.]
Kerr was replaced by a law professor, Sir Zelman Cowen, who served for nearly two years in the late 1960s as professor or criminology at the University of Chicago.
The resignation of Kerr marks the end of a turbulent ear and appears to remove the governorship from the maintstream of politics here. It remains a position of political potential, however.
Kerr, 63, arranged his own resignation but Fraser clearly was relieved that Kerr did not remain in power until general elections, due by the end of next year.
Fraser said that the events of 1975 had "left feelings which might be resolved more quickly if he now makes way for a successor." Fraser added, however, that Kerr's actions in 1975 had been the only way his duties allowed him to act.
That action on Nov. 11, 1975, transformed Australian politics and put Fraser and his coalition of conservative parties into power after three years of Whitlam's Socialist rule.
Whitlam was outraged then and still is. He decribed Fraser that day as "Kerr Cur" and has maintained since that Kerr used powers under the Australian constitution that had not been used in any nation connected with Britain since George III - who fired a British prime minister in the 19th Century.
Whitlam also says that he accepted Kerr's decision peacefully because any resistance by him could have caused violence. Kerr acted after the conservatives, with a majority in the upper house of Parliament, had twice rejected Whitlam's crucial budget bill.
Cowen, 57, is now the vice chancellor of the University of Queensland and is one of the few top lawyers who have publicly supported Fraser's acceptance of the prime ministership following Whitlam's ouster.
Today's appointment surprised Australians. In a nation where less than 2 per cent of the population is Jewish. Cowen becomes only the second Jewish governor general since Australia became independent in 1901.
The other was sir Isaac Isaacs, a former judge, who presided over Australia in the early 1930s.
The governor general is the formal head of state and under the constitution has, at least theoretical, enormous powers.
He not only can fire a government despite the fact that it was elected by a majority, he can also veto legislation. No governor general has exercised that power, however.
Kerr was an old friend and a Labor Party colleague of Whitlam, who appointed him as governor general in 1974. Yet Whitlam, himself a lawyer, was powerless to stop his old friend from firing him 18 months later. Kerr did it on the ground that the Whitlam government could not solve the problem of financing the government.
The new governor general is not a close friend of Prime Minister Fraser. But Cowen is regarded as a conservative with strong links to the United States and an affection for Fraser's contention that Australia should maintain its alliance with Washington as a cornerstone of foreign policy.
For the past year, Fraser had been looking for ways to persuade Kerr to step down well before the next election and to put in his place somebody who would not revive memories of the extraordinary way to conservatives won power.
Initial reaction was that Fraser had achieved his objective. Only time will tell whether Cowen, an ambitious man, will treat his new post as that of a figurehead or as Kerr did, that of an active and powerful part of Australian politics.