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This Day Tonight – The Last Program (1978)


This last TDT program captures a unique interview with the former Governor-General Sir John Kerr, appointed by Prime Minister EG Whitlam in 1972. Kerr had dismissed the Whitlam Labor government in 1975 and had not spoken to the media about the event since those turbulent times.

Curator’s notes

This interview took place in London, with the ABC’s current affairs correspondent, Paul Murphy. The interview was then sent back to Australia by satellite in time for the very last broadcast ever of This Day Tonight on 5 December 1978. The motivation for the interview was the book that Sir John Kerr was about to release dealing with his version of the events of the dismissal, called Matters For Judgement (1978, Macmillan).

This Day Tonight was the very first nightly current affairs program to follow the evening news on the television networks. From its earliest years, the program was presented by Bill Peach who could remain unperturbed through all the crises of a live-to-air program.

Paul Murphy, Sir John Kerr’s interviewer for this last This Day Tonight, was one of Australia’s best loved and most incisive television journalists. Nevertheless, despite Paul Murphy’s well-researched questions, the former Governor-General is giving nothing away. He’s polite and bland. Whenever Paul Murphy asks him a pertinent question, we’re told to read all about it in the forthcoming book! However, it is fascinating to hear the man who dismissed an elected Australian Federal Government in 1975 say that he would do it again. It’s interesting to note that, despite this, Kerr didn’t choose to retire in Australia, preferring to live out his few remaining years in the United Kingdom.

Former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s book about the same events was published a year later. The Truth of the Matter (Penguin, 1979) was republished in 2005 by Melbourne University Press.