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Gough Whitlam

Quick Facts

  • Prime Minister: 1972-1975 (Australian Labor Party)
  • Name: Edward Gough Whitlam
  • Born: Melbourne, 11  July 1916
  • Called the ‘Young Brolga’ when he first became a Member of Parliament
  • Famous quotation: Well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General.'
  • The only Australian Prime Minister to have been dismissed from office.

Biography

Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister from December 1972 to November 1975. His father was a lawyer and a member of the United Nations committee that developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Like his father, Whitlam became a lawyer.  He always had an interest in politics and joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1945. In 1953 Whitlam was elected to the House of Representatives for the seat of Werriwa.

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 promoted 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 from the war in Vietnam.

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. 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.

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 caretaker Prime Minister until an election was held on December 13, 1975. The election resulted in the defeat of the Whitlam Government.

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 honours, 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.

Media

Books

  • Oakes, Laurie 1973, Whitlam PM: A Biography, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Kelly, Paul 1976, The Unmaking of Gough, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  • Oakes, Laurie 1976, Crash Through or Crash: The Unmaking of a Prime Minister, Drummond, Melbourne.
  • Whitlam, EG 1976, The Wit of Whitlam, Outback Press, Melbourne.
  • Whitlam, EG 1979, The Truth of the Matter, Penguin Books, Melbourne.
  • Whitlam, EG 1983, The Whitlam Government, 1972–1975, Viking, Melbourne.
  • Whitlam, EG 1997, Abiding Interest, University of Queensland Press, Santa Lucia.

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