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.

The most memorable speech in this building was made on the steps on 11 November 1975. In the classic photo of the occasion you see Miss X’s uncle on my left. (In June 1970 he conned Murphy into asserting that the Senate had the power to reject or stall money bills. By the time of the Budget debates in 1971 and 1972 Caucus had brought Murphy into line. In neither House did we vote against Appropriation Bills.) In response to a message from Government House the dapper little man between us was spirited into the building by Miss X’s uncle from the kitchens. You should trace his route. A few years later the Queen sent him a message through her secretary Bill Heseltine, who had been Menzies’s private secretary, that she wanted no more Australian recommendations for knighthoods. Hawke, Hayden and Heseltine arranged for the little man to be pensioned off with a KCVO at Balmoral in 1990.

After looking at the back passage from the kitchens you should look at some of the other nooks and crannies in the building. Walk along the corridor to my old office. The peep-hole was installed for Jolly John’s staff not for Silly Billy’s or mine. In the last week I have enjoyed a preview of the post mortems which Fairfax hacks have been preparing on me. Beware of Fairfax writers who write books or edit magazines. Hamish McDonald alleges that I sacked the head of ASIS on 21 October 1975 in a tirade which could be heard outside: “You’re fired. And you can forget about your super too!”. Sure I sacked the head of ASIS. In 1973 I had had to tell him twice to put an end to the work his agents in our embassy in Chile were doing to undermine Allende on behalf of the CIA. Earlier his agents had worked with the same ambassador for the CIA to undermine Sihanouk in Cambodia. In 1975 he employed an agent in Dili without my authority. I sacked him in front of four other permanent heads. There were no corridors outside. McDonald also embroiders a story about 16 October 1975 by asserting that I took Willesee to dinner at Government House for Tun Razak. He had not taken the trouble to read the vice-regal notices in his own newspaper. Willesee was not at the dinner.

One Fairfax writer who constantly reads the vice-regal notices is Paddy McGuinness. He appeared in them more than any other guest in the early 1990s. He was the prize toady. Since he looks like a toad, he is never seen on TV.

My wife pinpoints the start of my political downfall to an incident at Government House where I was sitting next to Fancy Nancy, who had established her reputation as an interpreter for visiting French diplomats. I pointed out a mistake in the French menu. She never forgave me. Needless to say, the menu at Buckingham Palace last July was in impeccable French.

In the publication for the exhibition there should be at least two photos of Barwick. One would show his first appearance in the Senate. He opened a new Parliament in silk breeches and buckled shoes and a cocked hat. There were guffaws when he plonked his hat on the table. The other would show his last appearance on the Privy Council. He absented himself from working on a pile of High Court judgments for seven weeks in July and August 1975 to sit on a tax appeal from the New Zealand Court of Appeal. He wanted to get broader support for his theories on tax avoidance. With Barwick taxation always took priority over propriety.

There should be another photo of Kerr. I suggest a photo of his rehearsal for the 1977 Melbourne Cup at the 1976 Tamworth Show with Fancy Nancy fending off the bull that had sent him sprawling hatless in the mud. Unfortunately, there is no video of him groping one of my staff as she helped him down the stairs at Kirribilli House. He fell. As she helped him up she found he himself was wearing a corset.

There should be photos of Ellicott and Lynch, two other instigators of the coup whom Malcolm removed on 6 September and 19 November before the December 1977 elections. At the time one Liberal said to another, “Gosh, Phil looks crook”. The other responded, “Yes, and he is”. He and the next member for Flinders were exposed in the Landgate Royal Commission. Fraser removed Withers a year later after his exposure in the Royal Commission on a redistribution in Queensland.

While mocking the electoral fiasco in Florida we should not forget the admirable US practice of holding all Federal and State executive and legislative elections on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. Senators, Presidents, Governors and representatives have six, four and two year terms. They all can and often do put forward conflicting Budgets. After much wrangling one is finally passed and all see out their terms. Australians should work for simultaneous four-year terms for all Federal and State positions.

I shall be expanding on this and other reforms at the Lobby over the road as a guest of the ANU law faculty, the best constitutional law body in Australia. Many at the Lobby will remember the black tie dinner at the Lakeside for the 19th Legal Convention, attended by Kerr. Just before I spoke he threw up and had to be taken out to be sponged down and helped into his Rolls. It was like President Bush in Tokyo. There is a legend that I wore white tie and tails at a parliamentary reception. I never did. It was a fabrication by a journalist who was beaten by me for Deputy Leader and who moonlighted with gossip for Lang’s Century, which was edited by a psychopath on Evatt’s staff.

You will notice that I have said nothing about the current Prime Minister. I am sure that Kim Beazley will be a much better Prime Minister. But I will concede that John W. Howard speaks better than George W.Bush.

Thank you all. I’m off to the Lobby.

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