The dismissal of the Whitlam Government 25 years ago remains a defining event in Australian political history.
It 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A whirlwind of change followed: conscription was ended, troops withdrawn from Vietnam, China was recognised, the voting age lowered to 18, universal health insurance initiated, funding for education increased, university fees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.