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  Whitlam, Gough
NameGough Whitlam
, New South Wales , Australia
Born July 11, 1916
DiedOctober 21, 2014 (98 years)
ContributorKarma Policeman
Last ModifedKarma Policeman
Jul 11, 2015 11:44am
Tags Moderate-to-Liberal - Socialist - Government Reform - Health Care Reform - Internationalist - Pro Free Trade - Pro-Labor - Married - Union Member -
InfoEdward Gough Whitlam, AC, QC (born 11 July 1916), known as Gough Whitlam (/gɒf/, pronounced "Goff"), Australian politician and 21st Prime Minister of Australia. In the 1972 elections he led the Labor Party into government after a period of 23 years of conservative government in Australia. He was dismissed in 1975 for being unable to get Supply Bills through the Australian Senate, thus becoming the only Australian Prime Minister to be dismissed by the Governor-General. Although his government spent a relatively short time in office, many of the policies and institutions set up under it are still evident today, such as Medicare. Both his 'presidential' style of politics and his dramatic dismissal and subsequent 1975 election loss still arouse intense passion and debate and influenced many to believe in an Australian republic.

Gough Whitlam was born in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne. His father, Fred Whitlam, was a federal public servant who served as Commonwealth Crown Solicitor. Whitlam senior's involvement in human rights issues was a powerful influence on his son. Whitlam was educated at Sydney's Knox Grammar School and at Canberra Grammar School, where he became friends with Francis James. Whitlam then studied law at the University of Sydney. During the Second World War he served as a navigator in the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 13 Squadron, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He completed his studies after the war and was admitted to the New South Wales bar in 1947.

In 1942 Whitlam married Margaret Dovey, daughter of Judge Bill Dovey, and had three sons and a daughter. Margaret Whitlam is known for having a sardonic wit equal to that of her husband and is a published author as well as a former champion swimmer. One of their sons, Nicholas Whitlam, became a prominent banker and a controversial figure in his own right. Another, Tony Whitlam, was briefly a federal MP and was appointed as a judge in 1993 to the Federal Court of Australia, and later in 1994 a judge of the ACT Supreme Court. A third son, Stephen Whitlam (b. 1950), is a former diplomat.[1] Daughter Catherine Dovey (b. 1954) formerly served on the New South Wales Parole Board.[2]

Early political career

Whitlam's impetus to become involved in politics was the Chifley government's post-war referendum to gain increased powers for the federal government. He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1945 and in 1950 was a Labor candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly: a contest he was later grateful to have lost. When Hubert Lazzarini, the sitting member for the safe Federal electorate of Werriwa, died in 1952, Whitlam was elected to the House of Representatives at the by-election on 29 November 1952.[3]

Noted since his schooldays for his erudition, eloquence and incisive wit, Whitlam soon became one of the ALP's star performers. Widely acknowledged as one of the best political speakers and parliamentary debaters of his time, he was also one of the few in the ALP who could hold his own against Robert Menzies on the floor of the House.

After the electoral success of the Curtin and Chifley years, the 1950s were a grim and divisive time for Labor. The Liberal-Country Party coalition government of Robert Menzies gained power in the election of 1949 and governed for a record 23 years. Chifley died in June 1951. His replacement, Dr H.V. Evatt, lacked Chifley's conciliatory skills.

Whitlam admired Evatt greatly, and was a loyal supporter of his leadership, through a period dominated by the Labor split of 1955, which resulted in the Catholic right wing of the party breaking off to form the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). In 1960, having lost three elections, Evatt resigned, to be replaced by Arthur Calwell, with Whitlam winning the election for deputy over veteran Labor MP Eddie Ward. Calwell came within a handful of votes of winning the 1961 election, but progressively lost ground from that time onward.

The ALP, having been founded as a party to represent the working classes, still regarded its parliamentary representatives as servants of the party as a whole, and required them to comply with official party policy. This led to the celebrated Faceless Men picture of 1963, which showed Calwell and Whitlam waiting outside a Canberra hotel for the decision of an ALP Federal Conference. Prime Minister Menzies used it to great advantage in the November 1963 election campaign, drawing attention to "the famous outside body, thirty-six 'faceless men' whose qualifications are unknown, who have no electoral responsibility."

Whitlam was quick to respond, and spent years struggling for party reform—at one stage, dubbing his opponents "the 12 witless men"—and eventually succeeded in having the secretive Labor Party National Conference turned into an open public forum, with state representatives elected in proportion to their membership, and with both state and federal parliamentary leaders being automatic members.

Through the 1960s, Whitlam's relationship with Calwell and the right wing of the party remained uneasy. Whitlam opposed several key Labor policies, including nationalisation of industry, refusal of state aid to religious schools, and Calwell's continued support for the White Australia Policy. His stances brought him into direct conflict with the ALP leadership on several occasions and he was almost expelled from the party in 1966 because of his vocal support for government aid to private schools, which the ALP opposed.

In January 1966, Menzies finally retired after a record term in office. His successor as Liberal Party leader, Harold Holt, led the coalition to a landslide election victory in November on a pro-American, pro-Vietnam War policy. This crushing defeat prompted Calwell to step down in early 1967. Gough Whitlam then became Leader of the Opposition, narrowly defeating his rival, Jim Cairns.

Opposition leader

Whitlam swiftly made his mark on the ALP, bringing his campaign for internal reform to fruition, and overhauling or discarding a series of Labor policies that had been enshrined for decades. The White Australia policy was dropped, Labor no longer opposed state aid, and the air of grim working-class puritanism that attended the Labor Party of the 1950s gave way to one that was younger, more optimistic, more socially liberal, more intellectual, and decidedly middle-class.

One of the first Australian politicians to realise and fully exploit the power of television as a political tool, Whitlam proved himself a formidable campaigner, winning two by-elections and then a 17-seat swing in the 1969 election, falling only four seats short of a majority. After Holt's disappearance in December 1967, the Liberal Party began to succumb to internal dissent. They first elected John Gorton as leader, then dumped him in favour of William McMahon. Whitlam quickly established an ascendancy, particularly over McMahon, said to be well past his political prime and lacked the on-screen charisma that Whitlam so obviously possessed.

Outside parliament, Whitlam concentrated on party reform and new policy development. He advocated the abolition of conscription and Australian withdrawal from the Vietnam War, and in 1971 visited the People's Republic of China (PRC), promising to establish diplomatic relations—much to the chagrin of McMahon, who attacked Whitlam for this policy, only to discover that President Richard Nixon was also working toward recognising the PRC. On 2 December 1972, Whitlam led the ALP to its first electoral victory since 1946.

Prime Minister

Custom dictated that Whitlam should have waited until the process of vote counting was complete, and then call a Caucus meeting to elect his Ministers ready to be sworn in by the Governor-General. Meanwhile, the outgoing Prime Minister would remain in office as a caretaker.[4] However, unwilling to wait, Whitlam had himself and Deputy Leader Lance Barnard sworn in as a two-man government as soon as the overall result was beyond doubt; they held all the portfolios between them (see First Whitlam Ministry). Whitlam later said: "The Caucus I joined in 1952 had as many Boer War veterans as men who had seen active service in World War II, three from each. The Ministry appointed on 5 December 1972 was composed entirely of ex-servicemen: Lance Barnard and me."

Although Labor had a comfortable working majority in the House, Whitlam faced a hostile Senate, making it impossible for him to pass legislation without the support of at least one of the other parties – Liberal, Country, or DLP. (Senate elections at the time were not synchronised with House of Representatives elections: at the time Whitlam took office, half the Senate had been elected two years previously, the other half five years earlier.)

After 23 years of continuous conservative rule, the bureaucracy was unhelpful, and the conservative state governments were intractably opposed to reform. Nevertheless, Whitlam embarked on a massive legislative reform program. In the space of a little less than three years, the Whitlam Government established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China;[5] assumed responsibility for tertiary education from the states and abolished tertiary fees;[6] cut tariffs across the board by 25% and abolished the Tariff Board;[7] established the Schools Commission to distribute federal funds to assist non-government schools on a needs basis; introduced a supporting benefit for single-parent families; abolished the death penalty for federal crimes. It also reduced the voting age to 18 years; abolished the last vestiges of the White Australia Policy; introduced language programs for non-English speaking Australians; mandated equal opportunities for women in Federal Government employment; appointed women to judicial and administrative positions; abolished conscription; set up the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee; amalgamated the five separate defence departments; instituted direct federal grants to local governments, and established the Order of Australia (Australia's own honours system), as well as improved access to justice for Indigenous Australians; introduced the policy of Self-determination for Indigenous Australians; advocated land rights for Indigenous Australians; increased funding for Indigenous Australian's welfare; introduced the Multiculturalism policy for all new migrants; established Legal Aid, and increased funding for the arts.

The Senate resolutely opposed six key bills and twice rejected them. These were designed to:

* Institute a universal, free health insurance system to be known as Medibank (this occurred later under the Labor Hawke government, split in to Medibank Private and the publicly accessible Medicare).
* Provide citizens of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory with Senate representation for the first time (this occurred at this election anyway)[1].
* Regulate the size of House of Representatives electorates to ensure one vote one value (this also occurred later, as of the 1984 federal election which also introduced Group ticket voting in the Senate).
* Institute government overseeing of exploitation of minerals and oil.

The repeated rejection of these bills provided a constitutional trigger for a double dissolution (a simultaneous election for all members in both houses), but Whitlam did not decide to call such an election until May 1974. Instead he expected to hold an election for half the Senate. To improve his chances of winning control of the Senate, Whitlam offered the former DLP Leader, Senator Vince Gair, the post of Ambassador to Ireland, thus creating an extra Senate vacancy in Queensland which Whitlam hoped Labor could win. This manoeuvre backfired, however, when the appointment became public before Gair had resigned from the Senate, and the Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, advised the Governor of Queensland to issue the writs for the Queensland Senate election before Gair's resignation could be obtained.

This "Gair affair" so outraged opponents of the Whitlam government that the Opposition Leader Billy Snedden threatened to block supply in the Senate, although he took no actual steps to do so. Whitlam, however, believing Snedden was unpopular with the electorate, immediately went to the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, and obtained a double dissolution of both Houses for 18 May. Whitlam went to the polls asking for a mandate to "finish the job", and the ALP campaigned on the slogan "Give Gough a Go". At the election the Whitlam government was re-elected, though with a reduced majority. The DLP lost all its seats, but Labor failed to win a majority in the Senate. The balance of power in the Senate was now held by two independent Senators. In the short term, this led to the historic joint sitting of both houses, at which the six bills were passed. In the longer term, it contained the seeds of Whitlam's downfall.

In its second term, the Whitlam Government continued with its legislative reform program, but became embroiled in a series of controversies, including attempts to borrow large amounts of money from Middle Eastern governments (the "Loans Affair"). Whitlam was forced to dismiss Treasurer Jim Cairns and another senior minister, Rex Connor, for misleading Parliament.

Emboldened by these events, a weak economy, and a massive swing to them in a mid-1975 by-election for the Tasmanian seat of Bass, the Liberal-Country Opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser, argued that the Government's behaviour in breaching constitutional conventions required that it in turn attempt to breach one of the most fundamental, that the Senate would block Supply (that is, cut off supply of Treasury funds).

East Timor

In September 2000 the Department of Foreign Affairs released previously secret files that showed that the Whitlam Labor government actively encouraged the Suharto regime in Indonesia to invade East Timor in 1975, [2] a policy that led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 Timorese people.[3]

Two months after the Portuguese military began to withdraw from East Timor, Whitlam, through his private secretary Peter Wilenski suggested to the Suharto regime that it launch undercover operations to ensure East Timor's incorporation into Indonesia. [4]

Whitlam met Suharto in central Java in September 1974 and described East Timor as, "too small to be independent". An Indonesian general is quoted as saying that the September 1974 meeting, "crystallised Suharto's thinking on the matter". [5]

The Indonesian invasion of East Timor resulted in the murder of the Balibo Five, five Australian journalists Whitlam criticised as "foolhardy", and "the source of a long running media vendetta against Indonesia. [6]

The dismissal

Main article: Australian constitutional crisis of 1975

Gough Whitlam speaking on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra, following his dismissal.
Gough Whitlam speaking on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra, following his dismissal.

The crisis of 1975 might not have occurred had the Senate as elected in 1974 maintained its member status. The crisis was precipitated by the Senate delaying the Whitlam government's money (Supply) bill. Although one of the two independents joined the Liberal Party, the other, Steele Hall, was opposed to blocking supply, and this would have been sufficient to prevent such a course being followed. The change in the composition of the Senate which made the constitutional crisis of 1975 possible was brought about by two appointments to fill vacancies in the Senate, which under Section 15 of the Australian Constitution are made by the State Parliaments 'if sitting'; or by the State Governor 'with the advice of Executive Council'. Since the introduction of proportional representation for Senate elections in 1949, there was an unwritten informal convention that Senators who died or resigned should be replaced by a Senator of their own party, and until 1975 state governments had adhered to this convention. The actual convention, however, which was established in 1952 by Labor Premier Gair in Queensland when a Liberal senator died, was for the opposition to provide a list of three names and for the Premier to be able to select one of them.

In February 1975 the Premier of New South Wales, Tom Lewis, broke the unwritten convention by appointing an independent Senator, Cleaver Bunton, to replace the Attorney-General, Senator Lionel Murphy, who had been appointed to the High Court of Australia. This appointment made no difference to the political situation, because it turned out that Bunton was opposed to blocking supply, but it provided a precedent for the Queensland National Party Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, when a Queensland ALP Senator, Bert Milliner, died on 30 June. As permitted by Section 15 of the Australian Constitution, Bjelke-Petersen refused to appoint the ALP's chosen replacement, Dr Mal Colston, and asked Labor for three alternative nominations, as Gair had requested of them in 1952. Bjelke-Petersen said he had concerns over Colston's integrity, but Labor maintained that his real intention was to appoint a Senator who would support the blocking of supply and thus help bring down the Whitlam government.

When Labor insisted on nominating Colston, Bjelke-Petersen nominated Albert Field, president of the Federated Furnishing Trades Union and an ALP member of thirty-eight years standing. Bjelke-Petersen maintained that he was therefore not breaking the convention. Under ALP rules, however, Field ceased to be an ALP member as soon as he accepted nomination against an endorsed Labor candidate. Field said that he was opposed to Whitlam's behaviour in office and that he had approached Bjelke-Petersen asking to be nominated to the vacancy. Labor maintained that in these circumstances Field was in effect an anti-Labor Senator and that Bjelke-Petersen had broken the convention. (Colston later entered the parliament in 1975 and resigned - as an Independent - under ignominious circumstances in 1999)

Field was granted leave from the Senate when High Court writs were filed challenging his eligibility to sit, on the grounds that he was in Crown employment at the time of his appointment. (Field had been employed by the Queensland Education Department, and although he had resigned the day before he was appointed, he was required by the Education Act to give three weeks' notice). But the change to the composition of the Senate was in any case decisive, because with Milliner's vote gone, the Opposition could pass Senate motions 30 votes to 29. Rather than blocking supply, they moved to delay consideration of the budget. This delay would have resulted in essential public services ceasing to function due to lack of money; that is to say Whitlam attempted to govern without supply and no government had ever attempted such a course of action (Weller & Smith, The Rise and Fall of Whitlam Labor - full citation below). Fraser warned that the bill would not be passed unless Whitlam called an early election. Whitlam was determined to face the Opposition down, and proposed to borrow money from the banks to keep the government running. He was confident that some of the more moderate Liberal Senators would back down when the situation worsened as appropriations ran out during November and December.

It is interesting to note that as soon as three weeks had expired from the date of his resignation, Field could have been returned to the Senate in a few minutes if his vote had been needed. Bjelke-Petersen could have prorogued the Queensland Parliament, Field could have then resigned his Senate seat (ending all question of his eligibility), and then the Queensland Governor would have appointed Field to hold the place under Section 15 of the Constitution until the Parliament resumed.

Governor-General Sir John Kerr was also concerned about the legality of Whitlam's proposals for borrowing money, and to govern without Supply although the Solicitor-General and Attorney-General had carefully scurtinised them for legality.[8]

Kerr contacted the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the former Liberal Attorney-General Sir Garfield Barwick, who gave Kerr private advice in a letter on 10 November which stated in part...

"...the Senate may not originate nor amend a money Bill... the Senate has constitutional power to refuse to pass a money Bill: it has power to refuse Supply to the government of the day...a Prime Minister who cannot ensure Supply to the Crown, including funds for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election...or resign." Barwick also added that the Governor General...'has constitutional authority to withdraw his commission as Prime Minister." (Barwick's advice to Kerr on 10 Nov 1975, in Hall & Ironmonger, The Makers and Breakers - full citation below)

Kerr was also advised, by New South Wales Governor Sir Roden Cutler that he must warn Whitlam of the possibility of his dismissal.

So on 11 November 1975, Kerr in accordance with Section 64 exercised his power and revoked Whitlam's commission and installed Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, with instructions to make no policy changes, no appointments, no dismissals and call an immediate federal election (Weller & Smith, 'The rise and fall of Whitlam Labor'). In a double irony, the Labor Senators were not advised of Whitlam's dismissal and at 2.15pm the Supply Bills were brought on and immediately passed, thus giving the caretaker, Fraser, the essential money bills to continue the business of government. At 2.45pm Fraser announced he was caretaker Prime Minister, had the Supply Bills passed and was going for a double dissolution. (Weller & Smith, 'The rise and fall of Whitlam Labor')

On hearing the proclamation dissolving Parliament, which ended with the traditional 'God Save the Queen', Whitlam delivered his famous impromptu address to the crowd that had gathered in front of the steps of Parliament House. During the speech he famously labelled Fraser as "Kerr's cur" and told the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General."[9]

In the House of Representatives, following Kerr's actions under Section 64, Whitlam moved a motion 'that this House expresses its want of confidence in the Prime Minister and requests Mr Speaker forthwith to advise His Excellency the Governor-General to call on me to form a government'. This vote of confidence in Whitlam was passed on party lines. This vote of confidence in Whitlam was delivered personally to Kerr by the Speaker of the House Gordon Scholes, but Kerr refused to see the Speaker until after his Official Secretary had read the notice of double dissolution at Parliament House at 4.45pm. (Weller & Smith, Ibid.)

Many unions mobilised and prepared to strike but Trade Union President Bob Hawke called for unions not to be provoked. Although there were a number of public protests against Fraser during the campaign, the media (especially the Murdoch press, which had supported the ALP in 1972) had long since lost confidence in Whitlam, reporting a string of ministerial failures. This had a major influence on public opinion, signalled some months previously in the Bass by-election and the election resulted in a landslide win to the Coalition.


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Importance? 10.00000 Average


  12/10/1977 AUS Prime Minister Lost 30.65% (-38.71%)
  05/30/1977 ALP Parliamentary Leader Won 51.61% (+3.23%)
  12/13/1975 AUS Prime Minister Lost 28.35% (-43.31%)
  05/18/1974 AUS Prime Minister Won 51.97% (+3.94%)
  12/02/1972 AUS Prime Minister Won 53.60% (+7.20%)
  10/25/1969 AUS Prime Minister Lost 47.20% (-5.60%)
(1999) Title 1: Constitutional Alteration (Republic) - Nov 06, 1999 N For