1 June 2013 - GOUGH WHITLAM - Former Australian Labor Prime Minister


- Former Australian Labor Prime Minister -

G'day guys

Today I welcome and feature one of Australia's more colourful and controversial Prime Ministers - E G Whitlam.

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. 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 and 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. They had three sons and one daughter.

Whitlam's government embarked on an 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.

Gough Whitlam at the United Nations, November 1974. Under Whitlam’s lead, participation in international agreements transformed Australian law and politics.

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).

Established within the University of Western Sydney in 2000, the Whitlam Institute strives to commemorate the life and work of the Hon E.G. Whitlam AC QC and pursue the causes he championed through the Whitlam Institute Program ­- a program of public policy research, public engagement and education. The Institute bridges the historical legacy of Gough Whitlam's years in public life and the contemporary relevance of the Whitlam Program to public discourse and policy. Please visit the Whitlam Institute Program page for more information about the work the Whitlam Institute is doing.

 The public lives of Gough Whitlam and his wife, Margaret, extend over half a century. After serving in the Royal Australian Air Force, Whitlam joined the Australian Labor Party in 1945. He became the Member for Werriwa in Sydney’s south in 1952, retaining the seat in 11 more federal elections over the next 25 years.

 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Margaret Whitlam in the gardens of The Lodge, September 1973.

Whitlam led the reform of the Labor Party platform during the long years in Opposition. As Prime Minister he immediately set about implementing a reform program that included strengthening Australia’s status by making Queen Elizabeth II Queen of Australia. His government drew on international agreements to develop programs on human rights, the environment and conservation.

Margaret Whitlam played an important role as a political and prime ministerial wife. An outspoken public speaker, broadcaster and columnist, she accompanied Gough Whitlam on his countless overseas travels. As a qualified social worker, she was particularly interested in social conditions. Their public lives continued after they left The Lodge in 1975. Sadly, Mrs Whitlam died in March 2012.
Gough Whitlam was Leader of the Opposition for two years after the dismissal of his government in 1975, and he remained in parliament until 1978. Among his subsequent official roles were his three years as Australian Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. He also chaired the Australia–China Council and the Council of the National Gallery of Australia and held various visiting professorships and committee memberships.

Gough Whitlam talking with Smila Underwood at Wattie Creek, 1980. Five years earlier, Whitlam took part in a symbolic ceremony to mark the return of Gurindji land to traditional owners.

Gough Whitlam remained Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition until 1977. On 22 December 1977 he stood down as party leader after Labor’s defeat in the federal election that month and was succeeded by Bill Hayden. Whitlam resigned from his parliamentary seat on 31 July 1978 and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia the same year.

He became the first national visiting fellow at the Australian National University in 1978, and subsequently held visiting professorships at Harvard University in the United States in 1979 and at Australian universities. During his parliamentary career he had served many times on constitutional inquiries, including the joint parliamentary committee on constitutional review in 1956–59 and the federal–state Constitutional Convention in 1973–77. In 1985 he was appointed to Australia’s Constitutional Commission.

In 1983 the Hawke government appointed Whitlam as Australian Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Whitlam’s brief was to gain Australia’s transfer from the western European group to the Asia and Pacific group, and he maintained support for UNESCO against moves by conservative British and US governments.

Former prime ministers Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and Paul Keating, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, Parliament House, Canberra, February 2008.

At UNESCO Whitlam also served on the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues and the World Heritage Committee. After the High Court dismissed challenges to the external affairs power in Koowarta’s case in 1982 and in the Tasmanian Dams case in 1983, the constitutional door was open to implementing international agreements in Australian law. Whitlam remained a determined campaigner for Australia’s adherence to United Nations human rights, environment and heritage instruments. The World Conservation Union made him a Member of Honour in 1988. In 1989 he chaired the General Assembly of the World Heritage Convention.
From 1986 to 1991 Whitlam was chair of the Australia–China Council, and from 1987 to 1990 he was chair of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia.

In 1993 Whitlam founded the Hanoi Architectural Heritage Foundation and was a member of the Australian Olympic Committee delegation to Africa, a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens and an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 1994 he received the Redmond Barry Award from the Australian Library and Information Association. Gough and Margaret Whitlam were also members of the 1995 Sydney bid team that wooed and won support for the Olympic Games to be held in Sydney in 2000.

Whitlam published several books and articles, including his own account of the 1975 dismissal, The Truth of the Matter in 1979, The Whitlam Government 1972–1975 in 1985, and Abiding Interests in 1997. He remained in great demand as a lecturer on political and constitutional issues, including the move for Australia to become a republic.

Since 2000 Gough Whitlam has been involved in the development of the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney, assisting with the transfer of materials about a public life that has spanned more than half a century. As well as providing a research centre, the Whitlam Institute promotes public policy research, public engagement and education.

Among historic documents donated to the Whitlam Institute is a pamphlet from the 1952 election, when Whitlam first entered parliament, and his 1983 Commission of Appointment as Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, signed by Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen.

At the Australian Labor Party national conference in April 2007, Gough and Margaret Whitlam were made national life members of the party they had both belonged to for over 60 years.

Gough and Margaret Whitlam remained active and sought-after speakers at national events. Both were in parliament for the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, with former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Clancy's comment: Gough Whitlam will go down in history as one of Australia's most memorable Prime Ministers. After years in opposition, he maybe tried to change too many things too quickly. However, many of the things he and his government did achieve will always be remembered. His opposition to our involvement in the Vietnam War inspired the biggest anti-war marches in the world. Interestingly, three Australian Labor Prime Ministers  played a large part in righting some wrongs inflicted upon our indigenous brothers and sisters since 1788 when the white man arrived on these shores: Gough Whitlam, Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating. And, good for them for so doing.

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Copyright Horst Faas (c)

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