Gough Whitlam


Gough Whitlam : biography

11 July 1916 –

As the political situation deteriorated, Whitlam and his government continued to enact legislation: The Family Law Act 1975 provided for no-fault divorce while the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 caused Australia to ratify United Nations conventions against racial discrimination that Australia had signed under Holt, but which had never been ratified. In August 1975, Whitlam gave the Gurindji people of the Northern Territory title deeds to part of their traditional lands, beginning the process of Aboriginal land reform. The next month, Australia granted independence to Papua New Guinea.

Following the 1974 Carnation Revolution, Portugal began a process of decolonisation and began a withdrawal from Portuguese Timor (later East Timor). Australians had long taken an interest in the colony; the nation had sent troops to the region during World War II, and many East Timorese had fought the Japanese as guerrillas. In September 1974, Whitlam met with President Suharto in Indonesia and indicated that he would support Indonesia if it annexed East Timor. At the height of the Cold War, and in the context of the American retreat from Indo-China, he felt that incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia would enhance the stability of the region, and reduce the risk of the East Timorese FRETILIN movement, which many feared was communist, coming to power.

Whitlam had offered Barnard a diplomatic post; in early 1975 Barnard agreed to this, triggering a by-election in his Tasmanian electorate of Bass. The election on 28 June proved a disaster for Labor, which lost the seat with a swing against it of 17 percent. The next week, Whitlam fired Barnard’s successor as deputy Prime Minister, Cairns, who had misled Parliament regarding the Loans Affair amid controversy about his relationship with his office manager, Junie Morosi. At the time of Cairns’s dismissal, one Senate seat was vacant, following the death on 30 June of Queensland ALP Senator Bertie Milliner. The state Labor party nominated Mal Colston, resulting in a deadlock. The unicameral Queensland legislature twice voted against Colston, and the party refused to submit any alternative candidates. Bjelke-Petersen finally convinced the legislature to elect a low-level union official, Albert Field, who had contacted his office and expressed a willingness to serve. In interviews, Field made it clear he would not support Whitlam. Field was expelled from the ALP for standing against Colston, and Labor senators boycotted his swearing-in. Whitlam argued that, because of the manner of filling vacancies, the Senate was "corrupted" and "tainted", with the Opposition enjoying a majority they did not win at the ballot box.

Labor Party leader

Reforming the ALP

Gough Whitlam saw that the party had little chance of being elected unless it could expand its appeal from the traditional working-class base to include the suburban middle class. He sought to shift control of the ALP from union officials to the parliamentary party, and hoped that even rank-and-file party members could be given a voice in the conference. In 1968, controversy erupted within the party when the executive refused to seat new Tasmanian delegate Brian Harradine, a Whitlam supporter who was considered a right-wing extremist.Lawrence, Jeff at United Voice, 20 December 2012, citing The Sydney Morning Herald obituary of Ray Gietzelt: "Kingmaker fought for democratisation of unions". Whitlam resigned the leadership, demanding a vote of confidence from caucus. He defeated Cairns for the leadership in an unexpectedly close 38–32 vote. Despite the vote, the executive refused to seat Harradine.

With the ALP’s governing bodies unwilling to reform themselves, Whitlam worked to build support for change among ordinary party members. He was successful in reducing union influence in the party, though he was never able to give the rank and file a direct vote in selecting the executive. The Victoria branch of the party had long been a problem; its executive was far to the left of the rest of the ALP, and had little electoral success. Whitlam was able to reconstruct the Victoria party organisation against the will of its leaders, and the reconstituted state party proved essential to victory in the 1972 election.