Gough Whitlam (1916-2014).
I recall the first time I laid eyes upon him. It was at a Labor rally at the suburban Greensborough Football oval in Victoria.
The “Its Time” slogan had indelibly entrenched itself on my political awareness. All that I thought decent about Labor and its reformist zeal was encapsulated in the words of this intellectually formidable man.
Having played both football and cricket on this oval its environs were familiar to me and we secured an excellent vantage point to view the proceedings. A social cricket match was in progress of which Bob Hawke was a participant and when I went into the club-rooms Bob was alone taking off his pads.
“G’day” he said in inimitable Hawke speak.
“Make any?” I replied.
“Yeah got a few mate”.
I visited the men’s room and when I came out he was gone. He had begun to speak when I returned to my wife. He spoke for an hour off the cuff, without notes, and with earnest enthusiasm.
As the sun was making its way to its place of rest everyone looked toward the park entry. The assembled comrades waited with anticipation. With his back to the sun standing in the back of a ute he rode toward the stage. I felt the awe of his presence. His charisma was something I had never, until that time, experienced in a man.
In contrast to Hawks raspy delivery Whitlam was all eloquence and style and he took me on a journey that had “It’s Time” engraved on every word he spoke.
It’s a journey that has lasted 52 years and adhered social justice, the collective common good and social reform on every fiber of my being.
Gough made it so that it would never go away. My hope in his passing is that the Labor Party might once again find those ideals that Gough with such clarity of vision, and force of personality, sought to execute and did.
To those who would be critical I say this. The best measure of a man is the legacy he leaves behind.
In his book “Crash through or Crash”, Laurie Oakes said this:
In his brief three years the Prime Minister produced profound and lasting changes – reforms which could not have been so broadly conceived and so firmly implemented by a lesser man. The Whitlam Government without doubt was the most creative and innovatory in the nation’s history. Under Whitlam, Australia’s foreign policy came of age. His Government made education its top priority and poured money into schools and colleges throughout the country. It created Medibank, set up community health centres, gave a new deal to pensioners, took an active role in urban improvement and development, provided funds directly to local government, and gave a healthy boost to sexual equality and aboriginal advancement. It promoted greater Australian ownership and control of resources, legislated against restrictive trade practices, introduced the most civilised and sensible divorce laws in the world, gave encouragement to the arts, and in its final budget implemented some fundamental reforms which made the income tax system considerably more equitable. Whitlam himself dominated both his party and the Parliament, and he commanded respect when he travelled overseas in a way no previous Australian Prime Minister had done.
1. ended Conscription,
2. withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam,
3. implemented Equal Pay for Women,
4. launched an Inquiry into Education and the Funding of Government and Non-government Schools on a Needs Basis,
5. established a separate ministry responsible for Aboriginal Affairs,
6. established the single Department of Defence,
7. withdrew support for apartheid–South Africa,
8. granted independence to Papua New Guinea,
9. abolished Tertiary Education Fees,
10. established the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme (TEAS),
11. increased pensions,
12. established Medibank,
13. established controls on Foreign Ownership of Australian resources,
14. passed the Family Law Act establishing No-Fault Divorce,
15. passed a series of laws banning Racial and Sexual Discrimination,
16. extended Maternity Leave and Benefits for Single Mothers,
17. introduced One-Vote-One-Value to democratize the electoral system,
18. implemented wide-ranging reforms of the ALP’s organization,
19. initiated Australia’s first Federal Legislation on Human Rights, the Environment and Heritage,
20. established the Legal Aid Office,
21. established the National Film and Television School,
22. launched construction of National Gallery of Australia,
23. established the Australian Development Assistance Agency,
24. reopened the Australian Embassy in Peking after 24 years,
25. established the Prices Justification Tribunal,
26. revalued the Australian Dollar,
27. cut tariffs across the board,
28. established the Trade Practices Commission,
29. established the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service,
30. established the Law Reform Commission,
31. established the Australian Film Commission,
32. established the Australia Council,
33. established the Australian Heritage Commission,
34. established the Consumer Affairs Commission,
35. established the Technical and Further Education Commission,
36. implemented a national employment and training program,
37. created Telecom and Australia Post to replace the Postmaster-General’s Department,
38. devised the Order of Australia Honors System to replace the British Honors system,
39. abolished appeals to the Privy Council,
40. changed the National Anthem to ‘Advance Australia Fair’,
41. instituted Aboriginal Land Rights, and
42. sewered most of Sydney.
RIP Gough Whitlam.