Gough Whitlam


Gough Whitlam : biography

11 July 1916 –

In 2003, Mark Latham became the leader of the ALP. Although Latham was more conservative than Whitlam, the former Prime Minister gave Latham much support, according to one account "anointing him as his political heir". Latham, like Whitlam, represented Werriwa in the House of Representatives. Whitlam supported Latham when he opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, despite P.M. John Howard’s warning that Latham risked endangering an alliance with the United States. Labor lost the 2004 election and Latham resigned from the House of Representatives the following year.

Whitlam has been a supporter of fixed four-year terms for both houses of Parliament. In 2006, he accused the ALP of failing to press for this change. In April 2007, Gough and Margaret Whitlam were made life members of the Australian Labor Party. This was the first time anyone had been made a life member at the national level of the party organisation.

In 2007, Whitlam testified at an inquest into the death of Brian Peters, one of five Australia-based TV personnel killed in East Timor in October 1975. Whitlam indicated that he had warned Peters’ colleague, Greg Shackleton (who was also killed) that the Australian government could not protect them in East Timor, and that they should not go there. The former Prime Minister also alleged that Shackleton was "culpable" if Shackleton had not passed on Whitlam’s warning.

Whitlam joined three other former Prime Ministers in February 2008 in returning to Parliament to witness the Federal Government apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. On 21 January 2009, Whitlam achieved a greater age () than any other Prime Minister of Australia, surpassing the previous record holder Frank Forde. On the 60th anniversary of his marriage to Margaret Whitlam, Gough Whitlam called it "very satisfactory" and claimed a record for "matrimonial endurance". In 2010, it was reported that Gough Whitlam had moved into an aged care facility in Sydney’s inner east in 2007. Despite this, the former Prime Minister continued to go to his office three days a week. Margaret Whitlam remained in the couple’s nearby apartment. In early 2012 she suffered a fall there, leading to her death in hospital at age 92 on 17 March 2012, a month short of the Whitlams’ 70th wedding anniversary.

Military service

Soon after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Whitlam enlisted in the Sydney University Regiment, part of the Army Reserve. In late 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and with a year remaining in his legal studies, he volunteered for the Royal Australian Air Force. In 1942, while awaiting entry into the service, Whitlam met and married Margaret Elaine Dovey, who had swum for Australia in the 1938 British Empire Games and was the daughter of barrister and future New South Wales Supreme Court judge Bill Dovey.

Whitlam trained as a navigator and bomb aimer, before serving with No. 13 Squadron RAAF, based mainly on the Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory, flying Lockheed Ventura bombers. He reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. While in the service, he began his political activities, distributing literature for the Australian Labor Party during the 1943 federal election and urging the passage of the "Fourteen Powers" referendum of 1944, which would have expanded the powers of the federal government. Although the party was victorious, the referendum it advocated was defeated. In 1961, Whitlam said of the referendum defeat, "My hopes were dashed by the outcome and from that moment I determined to do all I could do to modernise the Australian Constitution." While still in uniform, Whitlam joined the ALP in Sydney in 1945. Whitlam completed his studies after the war, obtained his Bachelor of Laws, and was admitted to the federal and New South Wales bars in 1947.

Prime Minister, 1972–1975


Whitlam took office with a majority in the House of Representatives, but without control of the Senate (elected in 1967 and 1970). The Senate at that time consisted of ten members from each of the six states, elected by proportional representation. The ALP parliamentary caucus chose the ministers, but Whitlam was allowed to assign portfolios. A caucus meeting could not be held until after the final results came in on 15 December. In the meantime, McMahon would remain caretaker Prime Minister. Whitlam, however, was unwilling to wait that long. On 5 December, once Labor’s win was secure, Whitlam had the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck swear him in as Prime Minister and Labor’s deputy leader, Lance Barnard, as deputy Prime Minister. The two men held 27 portfolios during the two weeks before a full cabinet could be determined.