July 14 (UPI) -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II did not know about the removal of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s, according to classified documents released Tuesday that shed light on a mystery that's lasted for nearly five decades.
Whitlam's 1975 dismissal occurred amid perhaps Australia's greatest-ever constitutional crisis, and some had long believed his removal was ordered by the queen herself.
Tuesday's release included letters between then-Governor General John Kerr and Buckingham Palace after a long court battle in which the effort to keep them private failed. The letters show that Kerr purposely kept Queen Elizabeth II out of the loop amid the growing constitutional crisis that saw Whitlam's minority Labor government struggling to pass legislation amid intense opposition.
Whitlam's removal outraged many Australians and strained relations with Britain, leading to accusations that the queen had a direct hand in sacking the prime minister.
"I decided to take the step I took without informing [Buckingham] Palace in advance," Kerr, who died in 1991, wrote in one of the letters, "because under the Constitution the responsibility is mine and I was of the opinion that it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is, of course, my duty to tell her immediately."
Kerr's decision roiled Australians at the time but was ultimately determined to be lawful.
The documents released Tuesday, part of a trove of 211 letters between Kerr and Buckingham Palace, confirmed that the governor general acted entirely on his own in dismissing the 21st prime minister of Australia.
The letters did show that Queen Elizabeth II had knowledge that Kerr was considering multiple options, including dismissing Whitlam and dissolving Parliament.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the letters show Australia needs a national debate about the head of state.
"It is, I think, a blight on our character as a nation that a democratically-elected government was dismissed," he said. "The actions of the governor-general on Nov. 11,  to dismiss a government to put himself above the Australian people, is one that reinforces the need for us to have an Australian head of state, reinforces the need for us to stand on our own two feet."