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“The Whitlam government is the textbook case of reform trumping management….” Australia Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (11 July 1916 – 21 October 2014)
Just before flying out to Australia last month, I read the obituary of former Australia Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (11 July 1916 – 21 October 2014) who served as Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975.
It is hard to find words to express the radical changes he brought about in Australia in the space of three short years. We can regard Whitlam as one of the greatest leaders of a democratic nation since the end of World War 2.
Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal Australian lawyer and land rights activist, gave an 18 minute eulogy to Gough Whitlam at his memorial. It is powerful and passionate speech and one of the finest eulogies in Australia’s history. The 18 minute speech and the full text is available through this link. Truly worth listening to…
Noel Pearson told his audience, including several past prime ministers and the current prime minister.
“The Whitlam government is the textbook case of reform trumping management.
In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform and into legislation and the machinery and programs of government. The country would change forever….
The devil-may-care attitude to management as opposed to reform is unlikely to be seen again by governments whose priorities are to retain power rather than reform.
The words of Pearson brought an enormous applause from many in the hall. Here is a list of the primary reforms of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam that Noel Pearson spelt out. In Alphabetical order:
Abolition of military conscription
Aboriginal land rights
Community health clinics
Cutting tariff protections
Fair electoral boundaries
Federal legal aid
Law reform commission
Lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years
Medibank for universal health care
Needs-based schools funding
No-fault divorce in the Family Law Ac,
Non-discriminatory immigration rules
Order of Australia for recognition of service of Australian citizens
Paid maternity leave for public servants
Racial Discrimination Act
Recognition of China
Student financial assistance for free university education
Trade Practices Act
Senate representation for the territories.
In 1975, Gough Whitlam and the Australian Senate had reached an impasse over appropriation bills, namely money for specific services. In a notorious affront to democracy, Sir John Kerr, Governor General of Australia, appointed by the Queen of England, dismissed the Whitlam government and appointed the leader of the opposition as caretaker Prime Minister. His dismissal of a democratically elected government triggered the biggest constitutional crisis in Australian history.
As Noel Pearson stated in his eulogy to Gough Whitlam who died aged 98.
I don’t know why someone with this old man’s upper middle class background could carry such a burning conviction that the barriers of class and race of the Australia of his upbringing and maturation should be torn down and replaced with the unapologetic principle of equality.
I can scarcely point to any white Australian political leader of his vintage and of generations following of whom it could be said without a shadow of doubt, he harboured not a bone of racial, ethnic or gender prejudice in his body.
THANK YOU, Gough Whitlam. Your legacy is secure.