It's time...
October 20, 2014 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Gough Whitlam, the progressive Labor prime minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, has died aged 98.

Whitlam came to power in 1972, as the Labor Party overturned 23 years of conservative government by a landslide in a campaign whose slogan was "It's Time". Over the next three years, Whitlam would preside over a tide of changes, from the withdrawal of Australian conscripts from the Vietnam War to the creation of a state-funded health insurance system and free university education and the enaction of environmental protection legislation, no-fault divorces and the Racial Discrimination Act. Whitlam won a decreased majority in 1974, but, after failing to pass the budget, was dismissed by the Governor-General and replaced by the conservative Malcolm Fraser in 1975.
posted by acb (77 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Oh no. I've been waiting for this. He was a great man and will be sadly missed.
posted by goo at 2:48 PM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Days of wine and roses.
posted by goo at 2:50 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't forget Land Rights.


posted by Jimbob at 3:03 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by turbid dahlia at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by pompomtom at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by retrograde at 3:08 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Soulfather at 3:09 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Cheese Monster at 3:10 PM on October 20, 2014

A towering figure. Figuratively, too.
posted by hawthorne at 3:10 PM on October 20, 2014

Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General!


You were one of the best PMs Australia has ever had. You took our values of mateship and egalitarianism and moved them forward in a practical way unequaled by any PM since. If it wasn't for you we'd be fighting for our own watered down ACA right now.
posted by Talez at 3:15 PM on October 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

The great man, whose legacy survives in a thousand things we take for granted. We should all make a hamburger in Whitlam's honour today.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:40 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seems an apropos soundtrack for this thread; Gough, by The Whitlams.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:36 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by raena at 4:36 PM on October 20, 2014

His central role in the invasion and occupation of East Timor should be noted, given that it did result in genocide.
posted by williampratt at 4:48 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the things I'm looking forward to in the 20's is the the declassification of CIA documents pertaining to Boyce's claims that the CIA was behind Whitlam's dismissal.
posted by fivebells at 4:53 PM on October 20, 2014

Goodbye Gough. I came of age in your time and my first vote helped to bring in your government.

My mum sat behind you in a train once, long before, when you were a young QC. She said you chewed your nails. Years later in 1975, she and I were running a paper shop. Each day, as the newspapers on our counter shouted the shameful course of the Dismissal, we chewed ours.

My rage still burns. For what we were robbed of then, for what the Labor party has become today. Sorry Gough, but they no longer represent me, my class or my aspirations for my country. These days, with a heavy heart and but a small glimmer of hope, I vote Green.
posted by valetta at 4:57 PM on October 20, 2014 [16 favorites]

These days, with a heavy heart and but a small glimmer of hope, I vote Green.

You and every other person after Meg Lees sold The Democrats up the fucking river.
posted by Talez at 5:01 PM on October 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

... after Meg Lees sold The Democrats up the fucking river

posted by valetta at 5:07 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by rory at 5:13 PM on October 20, 2014

The contrast of then and now, brought swiftly into focus this morning. I feel more lonely in the world without Gough.
posted by a non e mouse at 5:32 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

*Universal health care through Medibank (now Medicare)
*Free university education
*Indigenous land rights
*Racial Discrimination Act
*End to conscription
*Abolition of death penalty
*Diplomatic recognition of China
*Family Law Act
*Legal Aid
*World's first no-fault divorce procedures
*Welfare payments for mothers and homeless
*Reform of Australian Labor Party
*Launched construction of National Gallery
*Bought Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles for $1.3m
*Australian Film Commission
*Australia Council

posted by Wolof at 6:00 PM on October 20, 2014 [17 favorites]

posted by une_heure_pleine at 6:07 PM on October 20, 2014

*entry on wikipedia for use of the C-bomb pun

I was not around in the Gough years, but I did do a stint as a research assistant on a documentary series about him. My job was to get personal stories from 'everyday' people. I was inundated with phone calls of the 'access to education changed my life and changed my family's life' or 'he was like a demigod in my migrant community' type. He seemed to leave an impression on everyone who ever met him, he was a giant of a man and not just in size. His ego was enormous but his dictatorship was benevolent. I can't believe what he achieved in his short time in office. I fear there will never be leaders like that again.

posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:11 PM on October 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

He was encouraging and kind to me as a child. And the only politician that rang with condolences when my mother died. I'll miss him like a grandfather.

And my heart broke a little when I realised that the last prime minister Gough ever knew for Australia was Tony Abbott.

Australia is now widowed.

posted by taff at 6:34 PM on October 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

I wasn't living here when Whitlam was making his visionary changes. But his legacy is part of why Australia seemed like the proverbial lucky country, even though when I moved here 20 years ago, it was already being eroded. I wish we had leaders like him now, we're in sore need of them.

posted by Athanassiel at 7:09 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of my ex-bosses worked for him. She was extraordinarily inspired by him and has gone on to do lots of good things in the world because of him and the opportunities that were afforded her and others by the Gough era.
posted by andraste at 7:39 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by drnick at 7:46 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Jubey at 8:07 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Ahab at 8:38 PM on October 20, 2014

Gillard on Whitlam's legacy
posted by une_heure_pleine at 8:41 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by threecheesetrees at 8:52 PM on October 20, 2014


SMH obit; the SMH (a small-c conservative paper) noted that Whitlam chose who'd write it. The paradox of Whitlam is that his short and controversial time in office set in place things that define modern Australia, even though it remains a small-c conservative nation. That's quite a legacy.
posted by holgate at 9:08 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

He was pretty great with snappy one liners, too.
"When Sir Winton Turnbull (a Victorian MHR) was raving and ranting on the adjournment and shouted 'I am a Country member', I interjected 'I remember'.

He could not understand why, for the first time in all the years he had been speaking in the House, there was instant and loud applause from both sides."

May 24, 2000: Whitlam at Sydney Town Hall debating the subject 'Politicians Have Lost Their Sense Of Humour'
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:43 PM on October 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

posted by No-sword at 10:00 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by misterbee at 10:42 PM on October 20, 2014

. for Gough.
. for the Australia he helped to make, as it's steadily dismantled by his successors.
posted by twirlypen at 10:51 PM on October 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

posted by misfish at 11:19 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Coaticass at 11:50 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by geek anachronism at 11:52 PM on October 20, 2014

posted by Defying Gravity at 12:01 AM on October 21, 2014

posted by wingless_angel at 12:33 AM on October 21, 2014

posted by matrixgeek at 12:56 AM on October 21, 2014

I was born in 74. I take everything he built for granted. Less so, lately, as tiny-minded fuckers with bottomless pockets try to knock it down by sidling up to it and giving it a kick then protesting loudly about their innocence when it shakes or a bit falls off (the same tiny-minded fuckers who grew fat on their privilege plus his free tertiary education).

posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:14 AM on October 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

posted by gingerest at 1:41 AM on October 21, 2014

posted by robcorr at 2:25 AM on October 21, 2014

It will always be time.
posted by robcorr at 2:31 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A pal on the phone just now, we'd been discussing tactics in the campaign against coal seam gas fracking in our area: "All day I've been thinking - What would Gough do?"
posted by valetta at 2:33 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by d4zzlebird at 2:38 AM on October 21, 2014

I was born in 1968, and Gough Whitlam has shaped my life more than any other politician I can think of. His government's investment in higher education meant my father got a pay rise and our family could afford to buy the house I grew up in from the age of five. The introduction of equal pay for women meant that Mum's wages were on a par with Dad's throughout my teenage years, which was tremendously important for our family finances and for the message it sent to her two sons. I was one of the last to benefit from a free higher education as an undergraduate, during the 15-year window of opportunity his government opened in 1974. Because of Whitlam, I was able to vote in my state election in 1986 and the federal election in 1987, three years earlier than I otherwise could have, and was able to vote for senators when I later lived in the ACT. I grew up singing "Advance Australia Fair" at school, not "God Save the Queen".

As an undergraduate I studied political science (almost by accident, because history clashed with my other subjects), and learned more about his government, barely a decade after its dismissal. I became a republican then, and voted for a republic in 1999, thanks to Gough. The fascinating story of his government was one of the things that kept me doing pol sci right through to my honours year and beyond, leading eventually to a career. Here's a cartoon of mine from 1987, comparing him with then-PM Bob Hawke and then-Treasurer Paul Keating (though I'd be kinder to Keating today, my second-favourite Australian prime minister).

In 1988 I was lucky enough to be editing our student mag when Gough was in town, speaking on the 1988 constitutional referendums at my uni, and thanks to one of my pol sci lecturers got to interview him. I'll never forget his imposing presence (I'm a tall guy, 1.91m/6'3", but Gough was taller), his steely gaze and his opening words, that there would be no discussion of the events of 1975 during our interview. No, sir. (I can't say I blame him. How many times would he have been over that ground by then? And who'd want to do it all again with some student?) Still one of the most memorable moments of my student years.

If anyone deserved to live to ninety-eight, it was Gough. To think that his time in government was from the ages of 56 to 59: so much for becoming more conservative as you get older.

Thank you, Edward Gough Whitlam, wherever you are now. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by rory at 3:36 AM on October 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

posted by greenhornet at 3:53 AM on October 21, 2014

posted by jet_manifesto at 3:59 AM on October 21, 2014

Through the miracles of the internet the SMH online threw up a photo on it's front page. A photo of Gough at a rally in 1975. A photo that neither I nor my entire family had ever seen before. Before tonight.
A photo of Gough and both of my grandmothers in their ridiculous rain bonnets.

One small twinkle in a gloomy day.
posted by taff at 4:09 AM on October 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

posted by smoke at 4:47 AM on October 21, 2014

If we fall, others are rising... .

Vale, Gough. If Rudd or Gillard had shown half your courage, they might have been one term governments, but by christ Australia could do with a term like that. Your adversaries have been trying to kill the idea of anything outside a neo liberal framework; but it will live on by your example.
posted by smoke at 4:53 AM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel dirty mentioning this, but always looking for the angle, that rag The Age ran an article on the right's view of Whitlam. Arch turd Alan Jones railed against Gough introducing welfare payments and Medibank. That got me thinking, I was chronically unemployed in the early 90s during the recession we had to have. If it wasn't for the dole I'd be fucked. I cannot think of any way I could have paid rent or bought food. I would have been on the streets.

I was under thirty at the time - now people under thirty are living with the prospect of having no benefits for six months - just as the economy may be about to tank. The difference between the vision and warm intelligence that that Labor government showed compared to the witless troglodytes in power now are stark. Compare that great long list posted above of really beneficial changes with stop the boats, end the waste and axe the tax.

Oh, and it's OK to be a bigot you know.

It's fucking maddening.
posted by mattoxic at 4:58 AM on October 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

One small twinkle in a gloomy day.

Aw taff, what a nice surprise for you and your family. Wrote you some doggerel in honour :

Speakers Corner, Sydney Domain
Grandmas of taff
A little bit naff
In bonnets to keep out the rain
Rallied for Gough
When the going got rough
In that year of political pain
posted by valetta at 5:31 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

It will always be time.
posted by robcorr

I'd forgotten that Whitlam ratified the World Heritage Convention. That detail hadn't appeared on the lists of his achievements I've read so far today. So he put in place what ultimately saved the Franklin River as well.
posted by rory at 6:07 AM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Vale Mr Whitlam, comrade.
The most honest and influential public figure I've known in my lifetime. We are all better off for his having passed through.

posted by peacay at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2014


Very sad day indeed. What a legacy, the very fabric of modern Australia, but true to our roots of mateship and looking after each other.

What a shame to see it dismantled by the current short-sighted government.

I met him once in 1995, in Western Sydney at an election watching night. Afterwards, he gave me and my then girlfriend a lift to the nearby train station, but we stopped at McDonalds on the way for a bite. It was pretty amusing to be in line at McDonalds, chatting with this exceptionally tall ex-Prime Minister. He was genuinely curious about us and asked many great questions. I wish I could remember the details of this conversation better.

He clearly regarded us as equals. He has the best record of egalitarianism of any Prime Minister. What a great human being.

Thanks, Gough.
posted by ephemerae at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

posted by Mister Bijou at 8:10 AM on October 21, 2014

Bad day today.

I started the car to drive to work and there's fucking Christopher fucking Pyne on the parliamentary broadcast channel:
...ironing and I was watching Adventure Island, and my mother started crying. I thought: ' I wonder why my mother's crying?' I have to let you in on a secret: she was not crying out of sadness when she heard the Whitlam government had been dismissed. She was crying out of joy.
And sure, that's the tail end of an otherwise reasonable speech. But he just had to get that stabby little barb in, because he's fucking Christopher fucking Pyne. And because I live under a rock and don't have television and didn't buy this morning's paper, that's how I found out that Gough had died.

I was 13 years old when the Whitlam Government was dismissed, and I heard about that on the radio after walking home from school. I remember being completely distraught and running back down the road to tell other kids still walking home up the hill what had happened, because even at 13 years old I knew that the arbitrary sacking of an elected Government was something utterly not supposed to happen in a democratic country.

It's a bloody shame that nobody born since 1975 has had the chance that I had, to experience those few precious years of living with an Australian Government driven more by a thirst for equity and justice than the simple retention of power.
posted by flabdablet at 11:23 AM on October 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

If there is any room for optimism in an Australia run by self-styled "adults" that no longer has Gough in it to point and laugh at them, it's because our parliament still contains people like Scott Ludlam who demonstrate an ability to think.
posted by flabdablet at 11:35 AM on October 21, 2014

Whitlam's government died as it began, in a farcical grab for power at the expense of convention and good sense.

The electoral returns were not yet completed when Whitlam appointed the first (and only) duumvirate in Australian history: in defiance of convention and good government he made himself Treasurer, Attorney-General, Minister for Foreign Affairs, for Education and Science, for Trade and Industry, for Customs and Excise, for External Territories, for Public Works, for Housing, for Shipping and Transport, for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. His deputy, Lance Barnard, was assigned the remaining portfolios. You might think that the division shows at least some some sense of proportion: not a bit of it. Whitlam needed two Cabinet members in order to form a quorum (with the addition of the Governor-General) in the Federal Executive Council.

Whitlam's naked desire for power at the expense of propriety never left him. We all know about the Khemlani loans affair, the farcical search for funding among Middle-Eastern spivs and conmen. We often forget about its sequel, which saw the ALP begging Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party for electoral funds. We know the details today because of Wikileaks; Whitlam lied about them for nearly forty years.

Whatever you may think about Fraser's tactic of blocking Supply, Whitlam's response was far worse: an attempt to evade the fundamental Constitutional principle that the government cannot raise money without the consent of Parliament. That principle stands between us and autocracy; our ancestors fought and died for it. His strategy was effectively the one used by Charles I; anyone who thinks of Whitlam as an anti-monarchist might do well to reflect on the similarities. Whitlam was an unreliable, bombastic autocrat and his government is only remembered fondly by fools and people too young to remember it. It was massively unpopular at the time, and it died a wretched and well-deserved death.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:53 PM on October 21, 2014

The two-week-long duumvirate, "a farcical grab for power at the expense of convention and good sense"? In a country with 3-year federal terms, a government elected on December the 5th on a wave of goodwill was supposed to sit around and twiddle its thumbs until the silly season was out of the way?

It was massively unpopular at the time

So unpopular that it won the 1974 election the first time the opposition blocked supply. Yes, it ran out of steam after that - fighting two national elections in the space of two years would do that to you.

his government is only remembered fondly by fools and people too young to remember it

Rather than waste my time with this, I'm off to email the elderly fools in my family who have been mourning the man today. Enjoy your gloating while the Anti-Gough steadily dismantles the last vestiges of Australian egalitarianism.
posted by rory at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

his government is only remembered fondly by fools and people too young to remember it.

There's always that one bloke who pipes up with 'God save our gracious queen' instead of 'Australians all let us rejoice', right?
posted by holgate at 4:04 PM on October 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Fraser was returned with the biggest majority in Australian history. As for people's fond memories, go ask the East Timorese what they think of Whitlam. It was no use asking Whitlam himself: he couldn't remember sending Australian journalists to their death as they covered Indonesia's invasion.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on October 21, 2014

Joe, you must have been reading the Australian during this time. And '74 - '75 the Australian was weaving the familiar narrative of chaos.

Yes, Whitlam has been recognised as more of a visionary than a manager - but power hungry? Maybe intellectually arrogant, but certainly he had the intellect.

I find it interesting and often glossed over was that his final budget was passed without amendment by the new Frazer government. Indeed, all of Whitlams budgets were passed, and through a hostile senate. Unlike this mob of twits who in effect have quite a friendly senate.

I'm not glad he's dead, I thought that was a silly statement of yours.
posted by mattoxic at 5:20 PM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hope the stinging criticisms of me when I pass amount to no more than how I organised things for two weeks, who I unsuccessfully tried to borrow money from and an error in judgement that might have contributed to an overseas dictator shooting some innocents.
Such a level of vitriol for such a trivial list (I don't know enough about Timor to know whether Whitlam holds the culpability that the right affords him, but even if he does?).

That commentators on the right can for a moment suggest that the long list of achievements of the Whitlam government have been anything other than judged successes by history exposes an unhinged disconnect from reality.

Reflecting on Gough exposes the current crop of politicians for the feckless, corrupt popularists that they are. Small targets and opposition for political pandering - give me politics of conviction any day.
posted by bystander at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2014

I'm not glad that he's dead. I just think he was a dangerous PM. He had a lot of good ideas, but he was willing to cut too many corners in order to implement them. Executives never relinquish power willingly, and the precedents would have been used by future PMs. Just look at the way the current President of the USA is using precedents developed by his predecessors, some of which he actually campaigned against.

As for the budget, passing it was effectively an essential part of the deal. Fraser didn't have a majority in the Lower House, and it would have been hard to pass a new Appropriations Bill under the circumstances. It was extraordinarily lucky for Fraser that Labor introduced a motion approving the Appropriations Bill at around 1:30 PM, half an hour after Whitlam had actually been dismissed. It got passed, and Labor's (!) subsequent motion for the Appropriations Bill in the Senate was passed with the support of the Coalition. Fraser was now a PM who had secured supply, and the Governor General very properly accepted his advice to call a Double Dissolution.

It's tempting to wonder what would have happened if Whitlam hadn't gone back to the Lodge for lunch, or if they'd had mobile phones. Labor would have been able to respond to the news earlier and avoid passing the Appropriations Bill. They might even have been able to withdraw the 21 bills that qualified as triggers for the Double Dissolution. I don't know if it would have made any difference, but it would have delayed matters and potentially given the ALP more time to swing the electorate back to its side.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:11 PM on October 21, 2014

Let's turn the clock back to the early/mid-70s and the treatment of a few left-wing heads of government: Salvador Allende was overthrown and killed in 1973 because he was "willing to cut too many corners" in dealing with an opposition that was being funnelled shitloads of money by the CIA. Harold Wilson thought that MI5 was plotting against him, and we now know that at very least he was surveilled and a permanent file kept on his activities -- even as prime minister -- out of fear of Soviet infiltration or manipulation. Willy Brandt resigned in 1974 because one of his aides was a Stasi spy -- something the West German security services had suspected, but never bothered to mention.

Why should the deep state, the people invested in the continuity of the state, trust implicitly a centre-left head of government? After all, The Red Brigades were doing massively fucked-up stuff across Europe. The slope, she was slippery. The ouster of Whitlam fits that template. Certainly not a coup, but a demonstration of how centre-left governance often operated on a provisional basis and could have the plug yanked out of the socket at short notice, while centre-right parties could be granted leeway.
posted by holgate at 8:29 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

That commentators on the right can for a moment suggest that the long list of achievements of the Whitlam government have been anything other than judged successes by history exposes an unhinged disconnect from reality.

Quoted for truth.

I find it difficult to imagine living with a wordview as warped and fearful as that revealed by the writings of the likes of Bolt and our own JiA. I'm sure that's to some extent a reflection of the privilege of having been lucky enough to spend my formative years in a secure and loving home in a leafy eastern suburb of Melbourne, but there it is.

Certainly there are risks inherent in riding roughshod over convention. If the rise of Hitler taught us nothing else, it should have taught us that. But what the commentariat of the Right consistently fails to acknowledge is that taking such risks in the interests of implementing long overdue reforms in support of basic justice is better than taking them in the interests of retaining power for its own sake.

In the end, history judges leaders by the ongoing effects of their actions on the populations they led, not by the minutiae of the methods by which those effects were obtained. And the simple fact is that had the Whitlam Government not existed, Australia would be nowhere near as good a place to live as it has been for most of my life.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 PM on October 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Whitlam's government died as it began, in a farcical grab for power at the expense of convention and good sense.

How about this: get a pair of scissors, cut up your Medicare card, and never get another one. Make sure your relatives do the same.

When your sons - and your nephews, and your friends' sons - are 18 years old, force them to go fight in a random war in another country, whether they want to or not.

Then you'll be putting your money where your mouth is.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:21 PM on October 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just finished listening to the memorial service. It was great stuff, full of wit, grace and good sense.
posted by wilful at 6:24 PM on November 4, 2014

[T]he textbook case of reform trumping management.
A fine speech from Noel Pearson.
posted by hawthorne at 2:22 AM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

hawthorne, that eulogy by Noel Pearson deserves to be seen by a larger audience. How about a short post to the Blue?
posted by michswiss at 2:29 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was there. Just above Kerry O'Brien. It was extraordinary. Pearson is an orator and a poet.

I don't think I'll sleep tonight.

I miss Gough. I'll miss him every day for the rest of my life. But Noel will do for now. He was perfect.
posted by taff at 3:20 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

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