Gough Whitlam

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Gough Whitlam : biography

11 July 1916 –

Governor-General Kerr was following the crisis closely. At a luncheon with Whitlam and several of his ministers on 30 October, Kerr suggested a compromise: if Fraser conceded supply, Whitlam would agree not to call the half-Senate election until May or June 1976, or alternatively would agree not to call the Senate into session until after 1 July. Whitlam rejected the idea, seeking to end the Senate’s right to deny supply. On 3 November, after a meeting with Kerr, Fraser proposed that if the government agreed to hold a House of Representatives election at the same time as the half-Senate election, the Coalition would concede supply. Whitlam rejected this offer, stating that he had no intention of advising a House election for at least a year.

With the crisis unresolved, Kerr decided to dismiss Whitlam as Prime Minister. Fearing that Whitlam would go to the Queen and have him removed, Kerr did not give Whitlam any hint of what was coming. He conferred (against Whitlam’s advice) with High Court Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick, who agreed that he had the power to dismiss Whitlam.

A meeting among the party leaders, including Whitlam and Fraser, to resolve the crisis on the morning of 11 November came to nothing. Kerr and Whitlam met at the governor-general’s office that afternoon at 1.00 pm. Unknown to Whitlam, Fraser was waiting in an ante-room; Whitlam later stated that he would not have set foot in the building if he had known Fraser was there. Whitlam, as he had told Kerr by phone earlier that day, came prepared to advise a half-Senate election, to be held on 13 December. Kerr instead told Whitlam that he had terminated his commission as Prime Minister, and handed him a letter to that effect. After the conversation, Whitlam returned to the Prime Minister’s residence, The Lodge, had lunch and conferred with his advisers. Immediately after his meeting with Whitlam, Kerr commissioned Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, on the assurance he could obtain supply and would then advise Kerr to dissolve both houses for election.

In the confusion, Whitlam and his advisers did not immediately tell any Senate members of the dismissal, with the result that when the Senate convened at 2.00 pm, the appropriation bills were rapidly passed, with the ALP senators assuming the Opposition had given in. The bills were soon sent to Kerr to receive Royal Assent. At 2.34 pm, ten minutes after supply had been secured, Fraser rose in the House and announced he was Prime Minister. He promptly suffered a series of defeats in the House, which instructed the Speaker, Gordon Scholes, to advise Kerr to reinstate Whitlam.

By the time Kerr received Scholes, Parliament had been dissolved by proclamation. Kerr’s Official Secretary, David Smith came to Parliament House to proclaim the dissolution from the front steps. A large, angry crowd had gathered, and Smith was nearly drowned out by their noise. He concluded with the traditional "God save the Queen". Former Prime Minister Whitlam, who had been standing behind Smith, then addressed the crowd:

Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur. They won’t silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks … Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.

Early and family life

Edward Gough Whitlam was born on 11 July 1916 in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne. He was the older of two children (he has a younger sister, Freda) born to Martha (née Maddocks) and Fred Whitlam. His father was a federal public servant who later served as Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, and Whitlam senior’s involvement in human rights issues was a powerful influence on his son. Since the boy’s maternal grandfather was also named Edward, from early childhood he was called by his middle name, Gough, which in turn had come from his paternal grandfather, who had been named after the British solder Field-Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough.