People Power and Politics in the Post-War Period Prime Ministers and Policies
Gough Whitlam (1916 - ) • Born 11 July 1916 at Kew, Victoria • B.A. LLB, (Syd.). • Barrister • Queen’s Counsel since 1962
Military Service • Whitlam enlisted in R.A.A.F General Duties Branch 1941. • Discharged 1945 with rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Parliamentary Service • Elected to the House of Representatives for Werriwa, New South Wales, at by-election on 29 November 1952, following the death of H.P. Lazzarini. • Deputy Leader of Opposition from March 7, 1960 to February 8, 1967. • Leader of Opposition from February 8, 1967 to December 5, 1972. • Prime Minister from December 5, 1972 to November 11, 1975. • Leader of Opposition from January 27, 1976 to December 22, 1977.
The Menzies Era • Australia had been governed since 1949 by the Liberal/Country Party coalition. Led by Robert Menzies, the coalition won seven consecutive elections (1951, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961 & 1963). Menzies became the longest-serving Prime Minister in Australia’s federal history and retired in January 1966. • The Vietnam War was by then becoming the dominant issue of the decade. Menzies had taken Australia into the war in 1965. Following his retirement, the United States President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, visited Australia and was confronted by rowdy protests wherever he went. Now led by Harold Holt, the coalition had a landslide victory at the elections that year.
The Menzies Era • The 1966 election saw the end of the leadership of the ALP’s (Labor Party) Arthur Callwell. In February 1967, Edward Gough Whitlam, who has served as Deputy Leader since 1961, became Leader of the Opposition. • But the focus was on the coalition government which had started a steady decline. Amidst leadership speculation, Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared at Cheviot Beach in Portsea in 1967 and was succeeded by John Gorton.
John Gorton - the larrikin PM • Gorton’s accession to the prime ministership was marked by acrimony (hostility). The Country Party Leader, John McEwen, vetoed (prohibited) the election of William McMahon, threatening the walk out of the coalition and thus bring down the government if the Liberals elected his longtime economic policy opponent. • Amidst this turmoil, John Gorton moved from Senate to take Holt’s vacant seat of Higgins and the nation’s top political office. • In 1969, Gorton was returned to office in the general elections, but lost 17 seats to the Australian Labor Party opposition led by Whitlam.
John Gorton - the larrikin PM • Whitlam had established himself as a formidable campaigner, winning a number of by-elections and taking a stand for internal reform of the ALP. The 1969 election resulted in the ALP winning a majority of the two-party-preferred vote, but failing to win enough seats. • Gorton’s leadership was challenged after the election by Paul Hasluck, later to be appointed Governor-General, and others.
John Gorton - the larrikin PM • Gorton’s demise came in 1971, when the Defence Minister, Malcolm Fraser, resigned from Cabinet, claiming that Gorton had a “maniac determination to get his own way” and alleging disloyalty in Gorton’s treatment of Fraser. A challenge to Gorton’s leadership was mounted resulting in a tied vote. Gorton used his own casting vote to give leadership to William McMahon. • Gorton was subsequently elected deputy leader of the party, but was sacked by McMahon a few months later, following the publication of a series of newspaper articles by Gorton, entitled “I did it my way”.
Gough Whitlam: The Party,The Policies • In this climate of political decay, Whitlam had embarked on a three-year program to reform his Party, develop new policies, and persuade the People that it was time for a change in government. • The Vietnam continued to divide Australians. Protests over conscription were widespread. In 1970, Dr. Jim Cairns led a massive Moratorium march again the war in the streets of Melbourne.
Gough Whitlam: The Party, The Policies • Whitlam visited China in 1971, promising to establish diplomatic relations if elected to government. The attacks on Whitlam by the coalition were severely blunted during the visit by the announcement that US President Richard Nixon was working towards his own rapprochement with China. • Throughout 1972, Whitlam’s accession to the prime ministership seemed increasingly inevitable, although the eventual marking of victory was comparatively narrow, the major gains having been made in 1969.
Gough Whitlam: The Party, The Policies • In the elections of December 2, 1972, against the onslaught of the ALP’s “It’s Time” campaign, McMahon’s Government lost office to Whitlam, the first change in Federal Government on Australia for 23 years. • In a whirlwind of activity, Whitlam was appointed Prime Minister on December 5, governing on tandem with his deputy, Lance Barnard until December 19.
The Whitlam Government • In 1967 Whitlam became the leader of the Australian Labor Party, in 1972, after 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government, Whitlam led the ALP to victory with the election slogan ‘It’s Time’, and became Prime Minister. • The now famous ‘It’s Time’ slogan prompted the idea that it was time for change and reform. The Whitlam Government did make significant changes. One of the first things it did was to withdraw Australian troops form the war in Vietnam.
Reforms • Reforms were made, among others, in the areas of education health care, Aboriginal land rights, women’s rights and family law. The voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 and the death penalty for federal crimes was abolished.
Reforms • An important reform in education was the abolition of university fees, which allowed many young people, and, importantly women, an opportunity to obtain a university degree and broaden their career choices. By introducing Medibank, the Whitlam Government also ensured that all Australians would have free access to health care. In 1972, the Whitlam Government took the important foreign policy step of establishing diplomatic relations with the government of the People’s Republic of China.
After the Dismissal • Gough Whitlam remained in parliament as Leader of the Opposition for two years and retired from political life in 1978. After his retirement he accepted academic positions at the Australian National University and at Harvard University in the United States, and was Australia’s Ambassador to UNESCO in the 1980s. He has also received several honors, including honorary degrees, for his public work. Through the Whitlam Institute he continues to maintain an involvement in current political and social debates, and, as a former leader of the Labor Party, his views are often sought on the progress of the party.
Scandals • Whitlam’s dismissal as Prime Minister is one of the most controversial events in Australian political history. Following government financial scandals, the Opposition led by Malcolm Fraser, used its Senate majority to defer passing the Budget. As a result the Whitlam Government did not have sufficient funds to run the nation. On November 11, 1975 the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister until an election was held on December 13, 1975. The election resulted in the defeat of the Whitlam Government.