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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.

He does not mention inflation, which was higher. Nor does he say that unemployment more than doubled under his watch, that interest rates shot up and that the budget went from surplus to deficit.

The economy under the Whitlam government was buffeted by a quadrupling in international oil prices, which brought rising inflation and unemployment.

But it was affected also by a wages explosion and a sudden 15 per cent spending jump in 1974-75 as the government tried to spend its way out of recession.

Mr Whitlam makes his comments in an interview with Senate Opposition leader John Faulkner, to be screened on SBS television to mark 50 years since he entered parliament.

Questioned about the comments of subsequent Labor leaders that future administrations would have to do much better as economic managers, Mr Whitlam responds: “Oh yes, they were very free with those sort of comments.

“But unemployment never became as great under my government as it did under the Hawke and Keating governments.

“Interest rates never became as great under my government as they did under the Keating government.

“And also, my government never left a deficit as large as finance minister Beazley in the Keating government.”

When Senator Faulkner referred to the strong economic credentials of the Hawke and Keating governments, Mr Whitlam responded: “In some respects they did have good credentials, but in others they did not.”

He had good words for Jim Cairns, his second treasurer, who presided over the 1974 spending surge that contradicted Treasury advice.

Mr Whitlam says a few of his ministers were “hopeless” and he had to move them “out of harm’s way” to different portfolios.

And he maintains the rage against John Kerr, who sacked him in 1975 after the Senate blocked the budget.

“It is my fault that I didn’t check on his background because if I had asked any of the judges on the NSW Supreme Court, of which he was the chief justice, or any of the senior counsel whom I knew, about him, they would have told me he had a drink problem.

“He never told me, but while he was governor-general under me, he twice went to the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney to be dried out.”

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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