The Dismissal – 30th Anniversary

Thirty years after The Dismissal, it remained a subject of intense media scrutiny.

In the weeks leading up to November 11, 2005, the Australian media devoted considerable space to reminiscences and analyses. [Read more…]

Graham Kennedy, The King, Dies, 71

The man acknowledged as a comic genius by his peers, Graham Kennedy, has died, aged 71, in Bowral, NSW.

Graham Kennedy - The KingKennedy compered In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) on Channel 9. Later, he compered the Drive program on Melbourne’s 3LO, now known as 774, with Richard Combe.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Kennedy hosted a game show, Blankety Blanks, and a late-night news program.

Kennedy also had a keen interest in politics. In 1972, the Whitlam government had appointed a Minister for the Media, Senator Doug McClelland, father of the current ALP shadow minister for Defence and Homeland Security, Robert McClelland. In a rare expression of political opinion, Kennedy launched into McClelland on April 17, 1975, calling for McClelland to be sacked and the portfolio to be dropped. [Read more…]

Joint Sitting 30th Anniversary

This is the text of Gough Whitlam’s speech to the Whitlam Institute on the 30th Anniversary of the Joint Sitting.

The Joint Sitting took place in August 1974, following the double dissolution election of May 18, 1974. It is the only joint sitting ever held under Section 57 of the Constitution.

The Whitlam Institute is within the University of Western Sydney.

Gough Whitlam’s speech to the Whitlam Institute on the 30th Anniversary of the Joint Sitting.

At 88 years of age I enjoy being invited to 30th anniversaries of events during the terms of my first and second Governments, which were elected on 2 December 1972 and 18 May 1974. In December 2002, the 30th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam Government was celebrated, Labor’s first election win for 26 years. In December 2003 the 30-year restriction on the release of the 1973 Cabinet Papers was lifted. I intend to survive for the release of the 1974 and 1975 cabinet papers. Today we remember the 30th Anniversary of the first and only Joint Sitting of Australia’s federal Parliament and the accompanying exhibition arranged by the Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney. [Read more…]

Jim Cairns, Conscience Of Labor, Dies, 89

Dr. Jim Cairns, Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam Government, has died, aged 89, at his home in Melbourne.

Jim CairnsA former policeman, Cairns was a lecturer in Economics before entering Parliament as the Labor member for Yarra in 1955. He spent 17 years in Opposition before becoming a minister in the Whitlam Government in December 1972.

Cairns is best remembered for his opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1970 he organised and led a massive and peaceful Moratorium protest against the war.

He became Minister for Overseas Trade in the Whitlam Government’s first term. He replaced Lance Barnard as Deputy Prime Minister following the government’s re-election in 1974. His political influence rose further when he replaced Frank Crean, father of the current Labor leader, as Treasurer.

Cairns’ finest moment in government came with his handling of the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracey on Christmas Day 1974. [Read more…]

The Relevance Of The Whitlam Government Today

This is the text of the keynote speech given by Gough Whitlam at a conference held by the National Key Centre for Australian Studies and the Parliamentary Studies Unit, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Faculty of Arts, Monash University.

Keynote Address by the Hon E.G. Whitlam AC QC

Thirty Years Later: the Whitlam Government as Modernist Politics

Old Parliament House, Canberra


Throughout my public life, I have tried to apply an overarching principle and a unifying theme to all my work. It can be stated in two words: contemporary relevance. It was the fundamental test I applied, in particular, to the development of Labor policy in the years before 2 December 1972. There is a case to be argued that my Government faltered whenever we lost sight of the principle or allowed the rush of events to subsume it. However that may be, contemporary relevance is certainly the thread of my remarks today, albeit in the way described by Winston Churchill in the preface to his World Crisis: “a contribution to history strung upon a fairly strong thread of personal reminiscence.”

We meet under the auspices of the Faculty of Arts in Monash University and, more specifically, the National Key Centre for Australian Studies and the Parliamentary Studies Unit of the School of Political and Social Inquiry. The Conference title is Thirty Years Later – the Whitlam Government as Modernist Politics. The auspices, the title and the distinguished speakers listed to follow me over the next two days guarantee that this will be no exercise in mere nostalgia, however powerful the associations of this anniversary and this building may be for us all. [Read more…]

Whitlam Says Kerr Needed Frequent Drying Out

On the verge of celebrating the 30th anniversary of his election as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam has given an interview to the ALP Senate leader, John Faulkner, in which he says that he would never have appointed Sir John Kerr as Governor-General had he known of Kerr’s drinking problem.

Whitlam also defended his government’s economic record, pointing out that unemployment and interest rates were lower under his government than under Hawke’s or Keating’s.

The interview will be shown on SBS television.

This is the text of the article in The Australian newspaper:

Gough’s genius was economic, too

By Mike Steketee, National affairs editor

Never one to be modest about his achievements, Gough Whitlam’s latest boast is that he was a better economic manager than Labor successors Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

That will come as a surprise to many who remember economic policy was a disaster under the government Mr Whitlam led between 1972 and 1975.

But, says the 86-year-old – despite the readiness of Mr Hawke and Mr Keating to criticise him – unemployment, interest rates and the budget deficit were all lower in his time. [Read more…]

Casual Senate Vacancies And The Whitlam Government

The filling of casual Senate vacancies was crucial to the constitutional crisis of 1975.

Without the breaking of the convention surrounding casual vacancies, the blocking of Supply by the Senate would not have been possible.

The convention was straight-forward: In the event of a senator’s death or resignation, the Constitution requires that a replacement be appointed by the Parliament of the State represented by the senator. In practice, the convention was to appoint a replacement from the same party, so as to maintain the balance of numbers in the Senate.

Following the elections of 1974, the composition of the Senate was:

  • Liberal/Country Party: 30
  • Australian Labor Party: 29
  • Independent:1 (usually voted with the ALP)

On these figures, the Senate could not block the Budget, or other money bills, because the vote would be tied, and therefore defeated. [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.

Kevin Newman, Former Fraser Minister, Dies, 65

Kevin Newman, the man who won the Bass by-election in 1975, and a minister in the Fraser Liberal Government of the 1970s, has died, aged 65.

Newman was the husband of Senator Jocelyn Newman, the Minister for Family and Community Services.

He was first elected to the Tasmanian seat of Bass in June 1975, winning the previously safe Labor seat in a by-election following the retirement of Lance Barnard.

The huge swing to the Liberal Party, around 15%, is believed to have been influential in persuading the coalition parties to block the Whitlam Government’s budget a few months later, an action that led to the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.