As I like pointing out from time to time – particularly after I’m dismissed as a typical Labor supporter by those who seek to dismiss any criticism of the current government by citing Labor’s record in government – I have never been a member of the Labor Party. Neither am I a member of The “that’s even more loony” Greens. What’s Labor’s record got to with what I’m saying about Abbott, I wonder, as I’m talking about the current government and to me, any argument about the past is like asking why you’re annoyed that I punched you when someone else kicked you yesterday.
If I’m rarely critical of the Labor Party, it’s not because I’m going to support them through thick and thin, it’s because, compared to the current mob, their sins are trivial. Sort of like comparing a drunk driver with a parking offence. (Although with a letter from George Brandis, driving over the legal limit is regarded as ok by the legal system.)
Now, the eulogies to Whitlam during the past week made me remember much of the criticism I’ve had of Labor in the past forty years.
While, Whitlam is remember as a Labor hero now, it’s worth remembering that the old guard of the Labor Party nearly nobbled him. He only survived the Deputy Leadership by one vote. He threatened the system and, like many who try to reform the Labor Party, he made enemies. And it was these enemies that made his government unworkable by its end. Perhaps, that’s why Whitlam was in such a hurry, He realised that there was no way of keeping Labor together for more than a handful of years.
To me, it wasn’t that Whitlam Government tried to borrow money from less conventional sources that was the worrying thing about his government by the end of 1975. It was the fact that so many ministers seemed to operating in their own little worlds. Rex Connor, for example, continued to deal with Khemlani after Whitlam told him not to.
The electable of the Whitlam Government in 1975 is an interesting topic of discussion. Notwithstanding the magnificent achievements of the previous three years, the overwhelming bias of the Murdoch Press, the actions of Kerr and the rights of a democratically elected government to see out its full term, there were some compelling reasons not to vote them back into office.
After all, they were an economic disaster, right? Well Stephen Koukoulas would disagree. Whitlam’s Fiscal Legacy. But he uses facts, facts do have a tendency to be biased against Liberal propaganda.
And I guess this is my biggest criticism of the Labor Party over the past forty years: For too long far too many have been prepared to sacrifice Whitlam to the myths of the time, to say that yes, he was economically irresponsible but we’ve learned our lesson. This has enabled the Liberals to build up the sort of nonsense that Andrew Bolt was peddling in his pathetic attempt to create controversy last week. Even allowing for the fact that Whitlam’s Government was hit with the sort of financial shocks that rocked the rest of the world and sent the US and others into the previously unknown “stagflation”, there is still the obvious fact that the Fraser /Howard team didn’t solve our inflation or our unemployment problems. When the Fraser/Howard partnership was voted out, the debt relative to GDP was higher than it had ever been. And Howard remains the only Treasurer to hit the 10% inflation, 10% unemployment double. (And if there’d been an official interest rate at the time, he’d have hit 10% with that also!)
Labor shouldn’t have waited till Whitlam’s death to defend him. And yes, I am aware that many of the rank and file did. But for too long, the Liberals have been allowed to say “the worst government since Whitlam” without protest from the Labor side of politics.
Gough achieved more in three years than Fraser achieved in seven. In fact, I have trouble thinking of anything enduring that Fraser introduced. The same for Holt and McMahon. Howard? Ah, yes. The GST. And the Private Health Insurance subsidy. Yep, Gough was a leader while Liberal PM’s have been managers.
It wasn’t easy for Mr Whitlam. To achieve, he fight many in his own party as well as the Coalition and the media. I keep thinking of a quote:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
George Bernard Shaw
Let’s hope that another unreasonable man soon emerges for Labor. God knows, the Liberals have enough of them. But unfortunately, while Whitlam wanted to take us into a new era, they’re content with taking us backwards.
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