Gough Whitlam


Gough Whitlam : biography

11 July 1916 –

As the ALP began the 1975 race, it seemed that its supporters would maintain their rage. Early rallies saw huge crowds, with attendees handing Whitlam money to pay election expenses. The crowds greatly exceeded those in any of Whitlam’s earlier campaigns; in Sydney, 30,000 partisans gathered for an ALP rally in The Domain below a banner: "Shame Fraser Shame". Fraser’s appearances saw protests, and a letter bomb sent to Kerr was defused by authorities. Instead of making a policy speech to keynote his campaign, Whitlam made a speech attacking his opponents and calling 11 November "a day which will live in infamy".

Polls from the first week of campaigning showed a nine-point swing against Labor. Whitlam’s campaign team disbelieved the results at first, but additional polling returns were clear: the electorate had turned against the ALP. The Coalition attacked Labor for economic conditions, and released television commercials including "The Three Dark Years" showing images from Whitlam government scandals. The ALP campaign, which had concentrated on the issue of Whitlam’s dismissal, did not address the economy until its final days. By that time Fraser, confident of victory, was content to sit back, avoid specifics and make no mistakes. On election night, 13 December, the Coalition enjoyed the largest victory in Australian history, winning 91 seats to the ALP’s 36, and taking a 37–25 majority in the Senate in a 6.5 percent swing against Labor.

Whitlam stayed on as Opposition leader, surviving a leadership challenge. In early 1976, an additional controversy broke when it was reported that Whitlam had been involved in ALP attempts to raise $500,000 during the election from the pre-Saddam Hussein government of Iraq. "Luckily, for Whitlam and Labor, the deal, ultimately, went pear-shaped."Parkinson, Tony The Age, 15 November 2005 No money had actually been paid, and no charges were filed. The Whitlams were visiting China at the time of the Tangshan earthquake in July 1976, though they were staying in Tianjin, 90 miles away from the epicentre. The Age printed a cartoon by Peter Nicholson showing the Whitlams huddled together in bed with Margaret Whitlam saying, "Did the earth move for you too, dear?" This cartoon prompted a page full of outraged letters from Labor partisans and a telegram from Gough Whitlam, safe in Tokyo, requesting the original of the cartoon.

In early 1977 Whitlam faced a leadership challenge from Bill Hayden, the final treasurer in the Whitlam government in 1975, and won by a two-vote margin. Fraser called an election for 10 December, and though Labor gained slightly, the Coalition still enjoyed a majority of 48. According to Freudenberg, "The meaning and the message were unmistakable. It was the Australian people’s rejection of Edward Gough Whitlam." Whitlam’s son Tony, who had joined his father in the House of Representatives at the 1975 election, was defeated. Shortly after the election, Whitlam resigned as party leader and was succeeded by Hayden.

Ambassador and elder statesman

Whitlam was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in June 1978, and resigned from Parliament on 31 July of the same year. He took various academic positions, and when Labor was restored to power under Bob Hawke in 1983, Whitlam was appointed Ambassador to UNESCO, based in Paris. He served for three years in this post, defending UNESCO against allegations of corruption. In 1985, he was appointed to Australia’s Constitutional Commission.

Whitlam was appointed chairman of the National Gallery of Australia in 1987, after his son Nick (then managing director of the State Bank of New South Wales) turned it down. In 1995, Gough and Margaret Whitlam were part of the bid team which was successful in getting the International Olympic Committee to host the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Kerr died in 1991; he and Whitlam never reconciled. However, Whitlam and Fraser put aside their differences, campaigning together in support of the 1999 referendum which would have made Australia a republic. In March 2010, Fraser visited Whitlam at his Sydney office while on a book tour to promote his memoirs. Whitlam accepted an autographed copy of the book, and presented Fraser with a copy of his 1979 book about the dismissal, The Truth of the Matter.