Monday, 20 October 2014


“Whitlam was the most paradoxical of all Prime Ministers in the last half of the 20th century. A man of superb intellect, knowledge, and literacy, he yet had little ability when it came to economics ... Whitlam rivalled Menzies in his passion for the House of Representatives and ability to use it as his stage, and yet his parliamentary skills were rhetorical and not tactical. He could devise a strategy and then often botch the tactics in trying to implement that strategy ... Above all he was a man of grand vision with serious blind spots.” WallaceBrown

We woke up to the news of the death of Gough Whitlam, this morning… The Hon. (Edward) Gough Whitlam AC, QC was the 21st Australian Prime Minister, and was in office from 5 December 1972 to 11 November 1975.

He was born in Melbourne on 11 July 1916, he attended primary schools in Sydney, secondary schools in Canberra and the University of Sydney (BA, LLB). He was a Flight-Lieutenant navigator in the Pacific War. He was admitted to the New South Wales bar in 1947. In 1942 he married Margaret Dovey, the daughter of the late Justice Dovey of the NSW Supreme Court. The Whitlams had three sons and one daughter.

Whitlam was first elected to Parliament in 1952, representing Werriwa in the House of Representatives. He became Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in 1960, and in 1967, after the retirement of Arthur Calwell, he was elected Leader and became the Leader of the Opposition. After narrowly losing the 1969 election, Whitlam led Labor to victory at the 1972 election after 23 years of continuous Liberal-Country Coalition Government.

Whitlam’s government embarked on the extensive program of reform, which he had enunciated as Leader of the Opposition. Amongst other reforms, it took over financial responsibility for tertiary education and abolished fees, the Schools Commission was established, welfare payments were introduced for single-parent families and homeless persons, the death penalty was abolished for Federal crimes and the voting age was reduced to eighteen years. In 1975 the Government successfully repelled five challenges by the non-Labor State Governments in the High Court. The New South Wales and Queensland governments, however, changed the composition of the Senate by making non-Labor appointments to fill two Labor vacancies.

In October the Senate thrice postponed a vote on the Budget. On 11 November the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Whitlam Government. Whitlam’s account of these controversial events is given in “The Truth of the Matter” (1979, 2nd edition 1983 and 3rd edition 2005) and in “Abiding Interests” (1997).

Whitlam stepped down after losing again at the 1977 election, retiring from Parliament in 1978. Upon the election of the Hawke Government in 1983, he was appointed as the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, and remained active in public life well into his nineties. His last years were spent in a Sydney retirement home and he died on 21 October 2014. The circumstances of his dismissal as Prime Minister, and the legacy of his government, remain a large part of Australian political discourse.

Vale, Gough!

1 comment:

  1. The three years of Labour rule under Whitlam were the finest years of my entire life, and the Dismissal was the most undemocratic, evil political act in this country's history since Federation. Even if Kerr's Cur rots in hell for the rest of eternity, my generation will always feel betrayed.