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Gough 1916-2014

Written By: - Date published: 11:49 am, October 21st, 2014 - 46 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, history, International, leadership, Left, social democracy, vision - Tags:

I remember Aussie in Gough’s time as PM, when I visited on holiday.  It was a time when people were looking forward to a more inclusive, caring, and egalitarian society: a time of hope.

Gough Whitlam

That was all ended with his controversial sacking by the governor general.  Many in Austrialia saw this as a US-CIA-backed coup.

The Guardian obituary today:

Gough Whitlam, who was prime minister for just three years but became a defining political figure of modern Australia, has died aged 98.


The election of his government on 2 December 1972, with the famous “It’s time” election campaign, ended 23 years of conservative rule and its dismissal by the governor general Sir John Kerr on 11 December 1975 remains one of the most controversial events in Australian political history.

But in just three years the Whitlam government instituted sweeping changes that transformed Australian society as the baby boomer generation came of age.

In a rapid program of reform it called “the program”, the Whitlam government created Australia’s national health insurance scheme, Medibank; abolished university fees; introduced state aid to independent schools and needs-based school funding; returned traditional lands in the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people; drafted (although did not enact) the first commonwealth lands right act; established diplomatic relations with China, withdrew the remaining Australian troops from Vietnam; introduced no-fault divorce laws; passed the Racial Discrimination Act; blocked moves to allow oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef; introduced environmental protection legislation; and removed God Save the Queen as the national anthem.

Now that is truly aspirational!

This image accompanies Julia Gillard’s article today in The Guardian: “Julia Gillard on Gough Whitlam: a giant of his era, he will live on in our nation

Gough Whitlam Its Time


Well, it is of its time.

An inspirational Labor leader.

46 comments on “Gough 1916-2014”

  1. adam 1

    He sure was, Probably the last of, and the greatest.

  2. Te Reo Putake 2

    A good website history of the Whitlam era here: http://whitlamdismissal.com/

    And a nice song about him from a band named after him:

  3. Not a PS Shark Sashimi 3

    He spoke at a business conference I attended in Cairns in 1994 or 95. He was past his prime I’d guess.

    My memories are that he spoke and spoke: he liked the sound of his own voice.

    The bit that really jarred with me was that he spent a huge amount of time explaining why Australians were NOT racist toward Aborigines. it was really odd.

    • Murray Rawshark 3.1

      He was also dead against letting Vietnamese refugees into Australia, on the basis that they’d be conservative and vote Liberal. It was Malcolm Fraser who let them in, and also enacted a few of Whitlam’s proposals. I saw a tv program about the two of them a couple of years back. It rammed home to me how different politics was 40 years ago, when the Liberals were close to Labor. These days, Labor are close to the Liberals.

  4. Chooky 4

    +100% Great post Karol …thanks!

    He truly was a “giant of his era”…a great Australian …and a revolutionary and visionary Labour Leader !

    ( and I too was in Australia when he was Prime Minister ….and even saw him in Canberra flash past in the back of his black limousine)

  5. Ad 5

    So. Political counterfactual of the day:

    In terms of changing Australia for the better, was it better to burn out (like Whitlam), than to fade away (as most others do)?

  6. Tracey 6

    add in rupert murdochs directive to his editors to politically kill whitlam. sound familiar?

  7. SHG 7

    Whitlam’s achievements and his aspirations for Australia will live long after his failings are forgotten.


  8. “..it was a time when people were looking forward to a more inclusive, caring, and egalitarian society: a time of hope..”

    a bit like that brief period when cunliffe ran labour..?

    • Tracey 8.1

      nothing like that…

      • phillip ure 8.1.1

        i dunno about you..but when he was at the stage when he was walking the streets of new lynn whistling ‘the internationale’..

        ..and talking about taking labour back to its’ roots..

        ..i thought he was promising something like that..

        ..if not that..what..?

        • Tracey

          this is a thread about whitlams legacy. those were words from cunliffe, whitlam had actions to show for his words

          In a rapid program of reform it called “the program”, the Whitlam government created Australia’s national health insurance scheme, Medibank; abolished university fees; introduced state aid to independent schools and needs-based school funding; returned traditional lands in the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people; drafted (although did not enact) the first commonwealth lands right act; established diplomatic relations with China, withdrew the remaining Australian troops from Vietnam; introduced no-fault divorce laws; passed the Racial Discrimination Act; blocked moves to allow oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef; introduced environmental protection legislation; and removed God Save the Queen as the national anthem.

          • phillip ure

            and a special hair-splitting award for you..

            ..i clearly wasn’t talking about his record..he has none..

            ..i was noting an air of expectation i had noted..

            ..nothing more..nothing less..

            ..(an ‘air of expectation’ that has now vanished..like a puff of smoke..)

            ..and would you like me to get you a ladder..?

            ..so you can get down from yr high-horse..?

            ..you do seem to have climbed up there all by yrslf..

            ..and for no good reason..eh..?

            • phillip ure

              ‘cos..y’see..i was there in those ‘heady’ whitlam yrs..

              ..blatting around in a monaro..and taking lots of psychedelics..

              ..sometimes both at the same time..

              ..(it was the 70’s..eh..?..almost de rigeur at the time..and unlike most..i cd still drive even when twisted on acid..so i was usually the designated-driver..but not as you know the modern incarnation of that beast..)

              ..and funny story..!..we used to have all nite acid/dope-parties..

              ..in a house right next door to the home of the then minister of customs…

              ..i’m not quite sure how we managed to get away with that..

              • Tracey

                you do surprise me…

                you were a great driver on acid.

                what a guy…

                how quickly the thread becomes about you rather than a,man who stood up, fronted up, changed his world and made life better for others…

                sorry for distracting you from raving about you.

                • sheesh..!..have a (vegan) kit-kat/go and smoke a joint..!..eh..?

                  ..do something..!


                  ..you must be more fun than a barrel of monkeys..in person..

                  ..and did law-school leach out yr s.o.h..?

                  ..i just made an observation comparing the moods of the times..(both of which i lived thru….u r the one who made the case out of it..eh..?

                  ..(see what i did with the ‘case’ law-reference there..?..)

                  ..and i don’t think i was alone in having that hope/anticipation re cunliffe..

                  ..that he was (finally!) going to break labour out of its’ neo-lib ideological-straightjacket..

                  ..many in labour..esp those new members..i am sure felt the same way..

                  ..but now..?..yeah..nah..eh..?

                  • Chooky

                    lol..you should have been a lawyer pu…to get away with so much bullshit

                    • nah..tracey is the pettifogger here…

                    • Tracey

                      he has a fixation with my qualification…

                      second only to his fixation with his own views

                      RIP gough whitlam, a man of the people

                    • Chooky

                      @ Tracey …he is probably jealous…and Gough Whitlam was a lawyer …but a special sort

                    • but on a serious note..

                      ..it was a great time to be in yr twenties..

                      ..surrounded by boundless optimism that we were heading for a better world..it was a ‘given’..

                      ..so different than how it is now for people in their twenties..

                      ..ruled by a generation that doesn’t seem to care about their future..

                      ..and is doing nothing about the real/impending threats to their future..

                      ..and are just hell-bent on making the situation even worse..

                      ..and that is beyond kinda sad..

                    • Chooky

                      @ pu…yes well said ..it was a time of hope and a time of hidden menace

                      now we are not quite so hopeful…but the menace is no longer so hidden either

  9. fambo 9

    Reminds of Norm Kirk, George McGovern in the US, President Allende in Chile – funnily enough it didn’t end well for any of them.

    • Chooky 9.1

      yes although these others were Left politicians of this time ..i think Whitlam was out on his own for flair and wit and sheer Australian audacity

      …the others were worthy and noble and brave …but Whitlam was brilliant!…and of course he attracted the ire of the CIA.

      (..and the GG was used against him ( i dont think Queenie had anything to do with it!)

      • Murray Rawshark 9.1.1

        I’d take Big Norm ahead of Whitlam. He stopped a racist rugby tour and sent a frigate to Mururoa. I think he went out on a limb more than Whitlam. He was also a better speaker.

        Allende was also incredibly brave. At the end he died with a submachine gun in his hands, defending La Casa da la Moneda against Pinochet’s thugs.

        Whitlam was probably the last “leftish” Labor PM, which gives him his place in history. Subsequent Labor PMs have been timid wee things, more intent on keeping Murdoch happy than anything else.

        • Colonial Rawshark

          And out of those, only Tony Blair has done particularly well (for himself). Although Helen Clark is really proving the true, uh, statesperson in her UN role. While Blair private jets around making millions in corporate consulting fees.

          • Murray Rawshark

            I was thinking Labor only, but adding Labour to the mix doesn’t change much.

    • Anne 10.1

      Haven’t had time to read the links but I vividly remember the crisis in the mid 1970s.

      That the CIA was implicated is beyond question. You have to remember it happened during the height of the Cold War years. Paranoia was rife among the western nations and “progressive” governments everywhere were held in the deepest of suspicion. The western establishments saw Reds under the beds, in the closets and behind every curtain – especially darkened curtains. They were stark raving mad, but so was the other side.

      From memory there was a theory that Governor General Kerr was blackmailed into assisting the plotters and (effectively) forced to sack Gough Whitlam. If there is any truth to it, then one has to wonder what they were blackmailing him about. I bet there was a woman (or 2 or 3) in there somewhere. There usually is. 🙂

    • les 10.2

      fascinating links…all conspiracy theories of course.

  10. greywarshark 11

    There was an opposition and press attack on Jim Cairns Deputy PM to Gough Whitlam’s government at this time. It had hints of sex and a beautiful ‘exotic’ woman given preferential treatment, this in an era where women hadn’t quite got out of the kitchen and off the bed in Australian men’s eyes.

    Then her husband might have been seeking a business advantage so there could have been, might have been, fraud. The press spun and it stayed alive in the news for ages.
    This was another tool to be used to bash the Whitlam government.

    • the 10 min video-summary of whitlam in that link is particularly tidy..

      ..and should be required-viewing for all the labour party leadership candidates..

      ..to show them what a labour leader is/does..

  11. Shona 13

    The reforms of the Whitlam Labor government made a huge difference to the quality of healthcare I received for free thanks to medibank ,when I resided across the ditch. Working conditions were excellent over there in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He reformed the Labor party and made several seats in Victoria Labor seats for the first time. Australia was still in shock after the coup by the Liberals when i went over there to live.
    Fraser his successor,seems like a left wing reformer now compared to our present day NZ Labour leaders.
    Whitlam made Australia a much better country for workers to live in.
    He was brilliant!

    • and fraser now is particularly ‘left’/challenging of the current paradigm…

      ..he has turned into a sort of ‘good guy’..


  12. tc 14

    From one ex labour mp and midnight oils frontman…..Gough was tough till he hit the rough, uncle sam and john (kerr) were quite enough.

    Rip gough, true believer, reformer, a truly great ozzie bloke.

  13. Ad 15

    You could also argue that Whitlam’s political mismanagement and policy overreach burnt Labor from retiring for many, many terms at Federal level.

    Surely the Hawke model proved superior in its duration, and thorough acceptance of Labor across all levels of government.

  14. Scott Chris 16

    Whitlam personifies Australia. Australia has an amazing history.

    Good innings mate.

  15. joe90 17

    It will always be time.

    robcorr @_robcorr

    I’ve read a few people remarking that Whitlam permanently changed Australia – but Abbott is working hard to make it temporary.
    7:20 PM – 21 Oct 2014

    I’m about to spam you with a list of Whitlam’s great achievements and the Abbott government’s response to them.
    7:20 PM – 21 Oct 2014


  16. Neil 18

    Big Gough was a real intellect, a man with big ideas.Unfortunately as a leader he was quite deficient. Like so many left wing progressives his cabinet was full of unionists,teachers and social misfits. People like Jim Cairns,Rex Connor and others. About the only sane person in his cabinet was ex-GG Bill Hayden. They had no idea of the value of money- free this free that courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.
    At one stage early in Labour’s term they had a cabinet of only two Whitlam and Lance Barnard.
    One thing Whitlam’s government could do was turning on the spending spigot. When oil prices spiralled out of control increasing inflationary pressures Whitlam surged ahead spending even more,
    What really finished Whitlam was after Cyclone Tracy in Darwin 1974 when Whitlam flew home from the ruins of Athens to Darwin stayed for three hours and flew back to more intellectually stimulating studies in Greece. He left the dirty work in Darwin to Jim Cairns.;
    However he did open Australia up to new ideas something the Liberals and Menzies had never done.
    I was in Australia when he was in power and the dinkum Aussie didn’t rate Gough very highly- both Gough and Margaret didn’t suffer ordinary folks easily.

    • Murray Rawshark 18.1

      The dinkum Aussies being the ones who hate union “thugs”, think Australian is a language, education is dangerous, and Howard was the greatest PM ever. Yeah, they wouldn’t have liked Gough at all. He was in fact renowned for his ability to relate to anyone with respect. I think you’re looking at this through a bright blue lens.

  17. greywarshark 19

    @ neil
    Thats quite a hatchet job on Gough. Sounds very much in the RW tradition and like a thumbnail sketch of your personally jaundiced opinion, as if you were one of the types of more ordinary folks that he didn’t warm to. As thumbnails go, I think it was a bit dirty.

    Like so many left wing progressives his cabinet was full of unionists,teachers and social misfits.
    They had no idea of the value of money- free this free that courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.
    When oil prices spiralled out of control increasing inflationary pressures Whitlam surged ahead spending even more,
    both Gough and Margaret didn’t suffer ordinary folks easily.

    • Neil 19.1

      Don’t agree. Whitlam failed as a leader,as a purveyor of socoal change he would get a pass.
      Hardly think LW are pure and virtuous when discussing rw politicians.
      Of course left wing bloggers never spread dirt do they !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • greywarshark 19.1.1

        You misunderstand me, which I think is probably general in your reading of any form of analysis. I thought your opinions lacked rationality, were more emotional opinion. I made the comment that your thumbnail sketch was dirty as a pun, not that there was political dirt. But the nuance went over your head.

  18. Maisie 20

    Pilger’s article in the Asia Times is well worth a look for an analysis of the CIA interference and role in his dismissal.

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  • Supporting stranded seasonal workers to keep working with more flexible options
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  • Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020
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