Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A tribute to greatness and nobility of soul: Gough Whitlam

Today there was a public memorial service for one of the great men of Australian politics and history, Gough Whitlam. He was the leader of the Australian Labor party from 196? To 1977 and led the ALP to victory at the 1972 election. His gpovernment faced an obstructionist and hostile Senate, which proceeded to vote against and block major reforms. This led to a double dissolution of the Parliament, and the Labor government was re-elected. The Australian Constitution provides for a joint sitting of the Parliament so as to resolve legislative deadlocks. The joint sitting was held, and the legislation was duly enacted.

 I will pass over the events of the rest of that Parliament. Suffice it to say that the Opposition blocked Supply, and the Governor General, instead of allowing the crisis to be resolved politically, dismissed the Prime Minister and appointed the Leader of the Opposition as Prime Minister. The Labor Party was crushingly defeated, and also lost the following election in 1977.

Notwithstanding his failings, Whitlam was a great man, who achieved mightily for our country and polity. He reformed the Labor Party, which had suffered a bitter split. The Joint Sitting enacted universal health care. And it achieved reform of federal electoral law.

There had been a permitted variation in the number of electors enrolled in federal electorates, of plus or minus 20%. This was enacted shortly after federation, in order to maximise the political representation of rural areas, which permanently favoured the rural party, the Australian Country Party (later the National Party of Australia, as there could be 40%  fewer electors in rural electorates than in city electorates, making a mockery of the concept and ideal of One Vote, One Value. Thanks to Whitlam and the Labor Party, this malapportionment has become a thing of the past. This achievement and example enabled the subsequent reform of state electoral systems, suomething bitterly opposed by the conservative side of politics.

Later today I will watch the rebroadcast memorial service. It was held in Sydney's Town Hall. There was room, after the 'official' people present, for only 1000 members of the Public (aka ordinary people)  but a good 6000 had put their names forward, to no avail.

It is almost 40 years since the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, but its memory remains clear, compelling, scarifying, and dreadful for millions of the men and women of Austalia ( which is how Gough Whitlam addressed the people.) it is a wonderful thing that his life, his achievements and his history remain part of our treasured political memories. Vale Gough Whitlam, 


Elephant's Child said...

Vale indeed. So many of us owe a lot to him. A big man in every sense of the word.

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