Archives for November 2000

Constitutional Changes After 1975

This is the text of a speech by Gough Whitlam.

The speech was delivered to the Australian National University Law Faculty Dinner at the Lobby Restaurant, opposite Old Parliament House.

Whitlam deals with the political and constitutional nature of the 1975 crisis and proposes a series of constitutional, parliamentary and electoral reforms.

Five years ago I and many other participants and observers wrote books and articles and spoke in conferences and programs on the coup d’état of 11 November 1975. For the 25th anniversary I chose a forum and symposium under the auspices of the Law Faculty of the ANU.

The Faculty, however, chose this venue. There have probably been more post-mortems on the events of November 1975 held here at the Lobby than anywhere else in Australia, although wine and truth do not necessarily go together. Old hands tell me that lunch at the Lobby has never recaptured its former civility or capaciousness since luncheon was so suddenly curtailed on the eleventh of the eleventh. In any case, two decisions during my Government’s second term irrevocably altered the Lobby’s geographical and institutional status. For more than a decade, the proposed site for the new and permanent Parliament House wandered futilely between the lakeside, Capital Hill and Camp Hill; on 26 September 1974 the ALP member for Burke, Keith Johnson, successfully initiated a private member’s bill, The Parliament Bill, to build the new House on Capital Hill. On 29 September 1975 I unveiled a plaque to commemorate the start of construction of the building for the High Court of Australia. This plaque, on the insistence of Chief Justice Barwick, has been set flush with the floor in the court building. [Read more…]

Opening The Dismissal Exhibition: Speech By Gough Whitlam

This is the text of Gough Whitlam’s speech at the opening of The Dismissal exhibition at Old Parliament House.

Peter, fellow subjects –

I thank you and your excellent staff for inviting me to this exhibition. You are the pleasant face of conservatism and conservation in Australia. I could not say that if I had been invited by graven images in the Senate, such as Alston or Herron. Even in this King’s Hall I must say that Russell Crowe would look better than George V does in the uniform of a Roman emperor.

Thank you all for coming to this presentation of the end of the brief golden age for which Australians voted on 2 December 1972 and again on 18 May 1974. It was a golden age. As the better Fairfax writers have noted, it ended when the Australian dollar was worth one and a half US dollars. The Aussie dollar is now worth barely 50 US cents. We were given Moody’s top rating (Aaa) in 1974 and Standard and Poor’s top rating (AAA) in 1975.

I have only one quibble with my friend Malcolm Fraser’s presentation. The Senators would have cracked at the end of the week. Check the winning positions on the Coalition Senate ballot papers in May 1974 and December 1975. [Read more…]

Some Effects And Interpretations Of The Whitlam Dismissal

The Whitlam Dismissal took place 25 years ago today.

The Dismissal was the most traumatic and significant political event in the first one hundred years of the Australian federation, but constitutionally little was changed by it.

Despite the passage of time, the events of 1975 still reverberate through Australian politics.

Between 1972-75, Whitlam often referred to a “born-to-rule” mentality amongst the Liberals. He claimed that they could not accept defeat after having become so used to being in Government.

During this time, the Senate rejected over 30 major pieces of legislation and forced hundreds of amendments to other bills.

Because of the alteration of the numbers in the Senate, Whitlam argued that the Senate was “tainted” and did not reflect the feelings of the people as expressed in the 1974 election. When he was dismissed and Fraser appointed, Whitlam remarked that this was “the first time the burglar has been appointed caretaker.” [Read more…]

25th Anniversary Of The Dismissal

The dismissal of the Whitlam Government 25 years ago remains a defining event in Australian political history.

It's TimeIt is being remembered this weekend in Canberra with the opening of an exhibition in the Old Parliament House.

Gough Whitlam’s Labor government came to office on December 2, 1972 following 23 years of Liberal-Country Party coalition rule, 16 years of that with Robert Menzies as Prime Minister.

Elected with the famous slogan “It’s Time”, Whitlam led an activist, reforming government so eager to start implementing its policies that Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, ruled as a two-man government for two weeks.

A whirlwind of change followed: conscription was ended, troops withdrawn from Vietnam, China was recognised, the voting age lowered to 18, universal health insurance initiated, funding for education increased, university fees abolished, support for South Africa ended, no-fault divorce introduced, tariffs reduced, and much more.

A series of political crises known as the Loans Affair led to the decision of the opposition parties led by Liberal leader, Malcolm Fraser, to block passage of the government’s supply bills in the Senate on October 15, 1975.

The blocking of supply occurred following the actions of two State governments in filling vacancies in the Senate with non-Labor appointees, contrary to 75 years of political convention.

After a three week constitutional crisis, the Governor-General, acting without warning to his prime minister and chief adviser, dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser as “caretaker” prime minister. At the ensuing election, the ALP was decisively defeated. Fraser governed for 7 years, winning elections in 1977 and 1980, before losing to Labor’s Bob Hawke in 1983.

Brandis: Kerr “A Good And Decent Man Demonised”

On the 25th anniversary of The Dismissal, this is the text of a speech delivered by Queensland Liberal Party Senator George Brandis, as recorded by Hansard.

Senator George BrandisTomorrow we mark the 25th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975. No political event in our history, I dare say, created more controversy at the time. None was so dramatic. For some Australians, none caused more lasting bitterness. Certainly none gave rise to more myth making.

With the perspective of history, we can—and, in fairness to the protagonists, we should—judge those events dispassionately. We should sort the essential from the superficial; the facts from the myths; the law from the politics. When we do so, the events of 1975 amount to this: a historically important constitutional crisis created by a deadlock between the executive and the parliament was resolved by the popular will at a general election. That general election—the democratic resolution of the crisis—was forced by the then Governor-General after it had been refused by the Prime Minister. [Read more…]