Australian Labor Party

Australian Labor Party
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gough Whitlam dies at age 98

Gough Whitlam dies at age 98




Gough Whitlam dies at age 98




Prime
minister for just three years, he brought in sweeping changes that
transformed Australia and inspired a generation of progressive
politicians


• Gough Whitlam dies – live reaction







Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam instituted sweeping changes in a short space of time.
Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images



Gough Whitlam, who was prime minister for just three years but
became a defining political figure of modern Australia, has died aged
98.



Whitlam’s family said in a statement on Tuesday: “Our father, Gough Whitlam, has died this morning at the age of 98.”


“A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians.


“There will be a private cremation and a public memorial service.”


The election of his government on 2 December 1972, with the famous “It’s time” election campaign, ended 23 years of conservative rule and its dismissal by the governor general Sir John Kerr on 11 November 1975 remains one of the most controversial events in Australian political history.


But in just three years the Whitlam government instituted sweeping
changes that transformed Australian society as the baby boomer
generation came of age.



In a rapid program of reform it called “the program”, the Whitlam
government created Australia’s national health insurance scheme,
Medibank; abolished university fees; introduced state aid to independent
schools and needs-based school funding; returned traditional lands in
the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people; drafted (although did not enact) the first commonwealth lands right act;
established diplomatic relations with China, withdrew the remaining
Australian troops from Vietnam; introduced no-fault divorce laws; passed
the Racial Discrimination Act; blocked moves to allow oil drilling on
the Great Barrier Reef; introduced environmental protection legislation;
and removed God Save the Queen as the national anthem.



The former Rudd government minister Lindsay Tanner has written:
“Whitlam and his government changed the way we think about ourselves.
The curse of sleepy mediocrity and colonial dependency, so mercilessly
flayed in 1964 by Donald Horne in The Lucky Country, was cast aside.”



But the Whitlam government’s economic record is more controversial.
It came to power at the time of the first oil shock and failed to
contain wages inflation. In 1975 it was embroiled in what became known
as the “loans affair”
when the minister for minerals and energy, Rex Connor, sought to borrow
money for resource projects, outside normal treasurer processes, from
Arab financiers using a middleman called Tirath Khemlani. No money was
borrowed but the scandal deeply damaged the government.



Whitlam won a double dissolution election in 1974, with a reduced
majority. But from October to November 1975 the parliament was
deadlocked, with the opposition using its numbers in the Senate to
refuse to pass the budget. When Whitlam visited Kerr to call for a half
Senate election, Kerr instead withdrew his commission as prime minister
and replaced him with the Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser.



Whitlam lost the election to Fraser after the national upheaval of
the dismissal. He stood down as Labor leader and retired from politics
in 1978.



A towering figure at 1.94m, with a deep resonant voice and an
eloquent turn of phrase, Whitlam inspired a generation of progressive
politicians and was widely referred to by just his first name. His is
remembered for some of the most famous quotes in Australian politics,
including while standing on the steps of the old parliament house after
news of his dismissal. He said: “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’
because nothing will save the governor general.”



He was a graduate of Knox Grammar and Canberra Grammar and joined the
airforce after university, before studying law and being admitted to
the bar. He married Margaret Dovey in 1942; they had four children.



He won the western Sydney seat of Werriwa in 1952 and was elected leader of the Labor party in 1967, succeeding Arthur Calwell.


After leaving politics he worked as Australia’s ambassador to Unesco,
accepted several visiting professorships and, along with Margaret,
received life membership of the Labor party in 2007.



Margaret died in 2012. Whitlam, by then using a wheelchair, had moved
into an aged-care facility in 2010. He described her as “the love of my
life”.



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