The dismissal of John Thomas Lang as Premier of New South Wales by Governor Sir Philip Game on 13 May 1932 was a significant event in New South Wales politics. It emphasised the role that the governor can play in state politics.
The States Constitution defines the legislature as the monarch, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. The Governor is the monarch's representative. It defines the role and power of the Governor as:
Under the New South Wales Constitution the Governor has considerable reserve powers. These powers can only be exercised within the constitutional framework.
In 1932, a State Governor:
The Dismissal of Premier Lang highlights the central place of the New South Wales Constitution as a framework for government. At the time, most people believed the government advised the Governor, and the ultimate power was with the people at the ballot box. The tensions surrounding the dismissal arose because of the confusion surrounding role and power of the three branches of government in relation to the Governor, as defined by the Constitution.
From the formation of the Lang ministry in November 1930 Governor Game was forced into confrontation with Lang.
Lang wasnt surprised when he was dismissed as the possibility of a dismissal had been canvassed for over a year in the newspapers. Lang was charged with having acted contrary to the law.
The Events of 1932
Lang was 53 when he became Premier of New South Wales on November 4, 1930. He was elected on a platform of reform. His reform platform included:
alarmed the Nationalists in that his program of radical changes seemed
inappropriate in the middle of the Great
Depression. They believed it was a time to maintain and support
orthodox politics. Lang appealed to trade unionists and others who regarded
the depression as the collapse of capitalism.
Whilst awaiting a decision, Lang persuaded cabinet to issue an important circular to NSW public servants. The circular dated April 12, 1932, directed them to:
On the afternoon that the High Court brought down its decision that the Commonwealth could lawfully impound NSW funds, Game requested Lang to establish the legality of the circular. He specifically wanted to know about the apparent defiance by Lang of the Commonwealth law. Game also sought advice from the Dominions Office as to what action would be most appropriate. Game mentioned the pressure to dismiss Lang and his reluctance to do this.
Later in April, the Commonwealth took steps to authorise it to collect NSW taxes.
On May 5, the Commonwealth issued Proclamation No. 42 of 1932 ordering NSW public servants to deal with moneys received by them in the manner directed by the federal Treasurer. At this time, the NSW Government was in default to the Commonwealth Government for over 2 million pounds.
On May 10, the Lang government issued another circular in order, so the government stated, that the public servants might be paid.
The new circular defended the New South Wales Governments decision to keep revenues out of the Commonwealth Governments hands on the ground that, because slavery had been abolished in the British Empire, public servants should not be forced to work without pay. This would be their fate, the circular implied, if the Commonwealth seized all NSW funds, for either they would be working for the State which had no money to pay them, or for the Commonwealth which had or thought it had, no obligation to pay them.
When Game saw this circular, he thought it illegal and wrote to Lang at once. He said that the circular was obviously contrary to Proclamation No.42 issued by the Commonwealth Government and asked for proof by 11 a.m. the next day that the circular was lawful; otherwise he would require that it be withdrawn. The third alternative he hinted at was that Lang should resign or be dismissed as Game did not wish to be a part of an illegal act.
declined to resign. Game then dismissed him. He called upon the Leader
of the Opposition, Bertram Sydney Barnsdale Stevens, to form a government.
Games constitutional grounds for dismissing Lang was that Game believed
on good, though not official legal advice, that the circular
of May 10 was illegal and that Lang was breaking Commonwealth law. This
was never tested in the courts.