Home > Oz Politics > Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam

October 23rd, 2014

More than any other Australian political leader, and arguably more than any other political figure, Gough Whitlam embodied social democracy in its ascendancy after World War II, its high water mark around 1970 and its defeat by what became known as neoliberalism in the wake of the crises of the 1970s.

Whitlam entered Parliament in 1952, having served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the War, and following a brief but distinguished legal career. Although Labor had already chosen a distinguished lawyer (HV Evatt) as leader, Whitlam’s middle-class professional background was unusual for Labor politicans

Whitlam marked a clear break with the older generation of Labor politicians in many otherrespects. He was largely indifferent to the party’s socialist objective (regarding the failure of the Chifley governments bank nationalisation referendum as having put the issue off the agenda) and actively hostile to the White Australia policy and protectionism, issues with which Labor had long been associated.

On the other hand, he was keen to expand the provision of public services like health and education, complete the welfare state for which previous Labor governments had laid the foundations, and make Australia a fully independent nation rather than being, in Robert Menzies words ‘British to the bootstraps’.

Coupled with this was a desire to expand Labor’s support base beyond the industrial working class and into the expanding middle class. The political necessity of this was undeniable, though it was nonetheless often denied. In 1945, the largest single occupational group in Australia (and an archetypal group of Labor supporters) were railwaymen (there were almost no women in the industry). By the 1970s, the largest occupational group, also becoming the archetypal group of Labor supporters. were schoolteachers.

Whitlam’s political career essentially coincided with the long boom after World War II, and his political outlook was shaped by that boom. The underlying assumption was that the tools of Keynesian fiscal policy and modern central banking were sufficient to stabilize the economy. Meanwhile technological innovation, largely driven by publicly funded research would continue to drive economic growth, while allowing for steadily increasing leisure time and greater individual freedom. The mixed economy would allow a substantial, though gradually declining, role for private business, but would not be dominated by the concerns of business.

The central institution of the postwar long boom, the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, was already on the verge of collapse by the time Whitlam took office in 1972. The proximate cause of its collapse was the inflationary surge that had begun in the late 1960s and reached its peak with the oil price shock of 1973.

So, Whitlam was living on borrowed time from the moment he took office. His ‘crash through or crash’ approach ensured that he achieved more in his first short term of office (eighteen months before being forced to an election by the Senate) than most governments did in a decade. The achievements continued in the government’s second term, but they were overshadowed by retreats and by a collapse into chaos, symbolized by the ‘Loans Affair’ an attempt to circumvent restrictions on foreign borrowing through the use of dodgy Middle Eastern intermediaries.

?The dramatic constitutional crisis of November 1975, and the electoral disaster that followed, have overshadowed the fact that, given the economic circumstances, the government was doomed regardless of its performance. The Kirk-Rowling Labour government in New Zealand, also elected in 1972 after a long period of opposition, experienced no particular scandals or avoidable chaos, but suffered a similarly crushing electoral defeat.

Despite his defeat, and repudiation by succeeding leaders of the ALP (and of course his conservative opponents), it is striking to observe how much of Whitlam’s legacy remains intact. Among the obvious examples (not all completed by his government, and some started before 1972, but all driven by him to a large extent)

* Aboriginal land rights
* Equal pay for women
* Multiculturalism
* Greatly increased Commonwealth spending on school education
* Medibank (now Medicare)
* The end of colonial ties to Britain
* Welfare benefits for single parents
* Extension of sewerage to Western Sydney
* Reduction of the voting age to 18
* No fault divorce

In all of this Whitlam is emblematic of the social democratic era of the mid-20th century. Despite the resurgence of financialised capitalism, which now saturates the thinking of all mainstream political parties, the achievements of social democracy remain central to our way of life, and politicians who attack those achievements risk disaster even now.

With the failure of the global financial system now evident to all, social democratic parties have found themselves largely unable to respond. We need a renewed movement for a fairer society and a more functional economy. We can only hope for a new Whitlam to lead that movement.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:
  1. I used to be and still am Not Trampis
    October 23rd, 2014 at 20:45 | #1


    I want to disagree on the expansion of the welfare state was one of his great aims.
    He was immensely influenced by Alf Rattigan and the Vernon Committee report.
    He wanted to expand education funding because it was so pitiful and he saw the future of Australia as a nation with a skilled workforce. Peter Karmel was instrumental here. If he had hung on we would have gotten a radical change in tax via the Asprey report. There is plenty more of his ‘program’. A lot of it was quite economically rational.

    No-fault divorce was a disaster like most things coming from Murphy!

  2. Lyn Gain
    October 23rd, 2014 at 20:54 | #2

    Don’t forget women’s issues other than equal pay and sole parent income security, John. He set up the first Ministry for Women, and oversaw the setting up of women’s refuges (and youth refuges too). His labour market programs are well worth a mention. In fact, there’s too much more to list, p.s. Not Trampis, why do you say no fault divorce was a disaster?

  3. Florence nee Fedup
    October 23rd, 2014 at 21:25 | #3

    No, No fault divorce was one of his greatest successes.

  4. boconnor
    October 23rd, 2014 at 21:40 | #4

    Well said JQ.

  5. zoot
    October 23rd, 2014 at 21:56 | #5

    @I used to be and still am Not Trampis
    As a beneficiary of no fault divorce I second the comments of Lyn Gain and Florence nee Fedup.
    Divorce is painful enough without having to prove (often spurious) fault.
    Fine summing up Prof Quiggin.

  6. October 23rd, 2014 at 22:08 | #6

    Thank you, Professor Quiggin. I find the above a helpful guide to Gough’s achievements that his successors and the mainstream media have tried to bury.

    However, as noted by Christopher Boyce in “The Falcon Lands” episode of SBS Dateline of 18 February, the subversion of Australian democracy by no means ended in 1975. It continued until the influence of all who shared Gough’s vision was marginalised within the Labor Party by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Bob Carr, Paul Keating and Peter Beattie.

    John Quiggin wrote:

    With the failure of the global financial system now evident to all, social democratic parties have found themselves largely unable to respond.

    I think that supposed social-democratic parties of the twenty-first century have shown that they are unwilling, rather than ‘unable’ to respond.

    John Quiggin continued:

    We need a renewed movement for a fairer society and a more functional economy. We can only hope for a new Whitlam to lead that movement.

    So, let’s try to bring that about. A good start would be the repudiation of leaders of the Labor Party, mentioned above, who have attempted to bury Labor’s traditional program and have, instead, embraced economic neoliberalism and privatisation.

  7. Lt. Fred
    October 23rd, 2014 at 22:53 | #7

    I note also that one of the modern ALP’s recent major successes – the NDIS reform – was substantially imagined by Whitlam over forty years ago (the Woodhouse Committee of Inquiry). Given another year he may well have done it. Instead, we got forty years of no action on national disability policy. This is a policy area that is regarded today as pretty forward-thinking reform. Yet Whitlam dreamt it up forty years ago!

  8. October 23rd, 2014 at 23:45 | #8

    Gough’s policies showed that he was well aware that the long boom was ending; he engaged with a project for energy self-sufficiency. Arguable, had he not been deposed, he might have made Australia independent, like so many other oil-producing countries of the era. (We no longer produce much oil at all, having used it all or exported it.) For more on this see “Another take on Whitlam, Population, Energy Resources, and the Khemlani loan scandal” at http://candobetter.net/node/4135 When I was engaged in a research thesis that I finished in 2002, I approached the history of the Whitlam government at an angle from which it had not previously been approached.

  9. October 23rd, 2014 at 23:47 | #9


    So what do we aim for? I don’t see much point in starting with the leadership of the ALP. We need to start with a vision of a world we want. Unless we have a vision, how can we sell it?

    In many ways we need to go back to Gough. He wanted equality of opportunity, hence the free education and healthcare. Where do we go?

    I look at life a bit like a game of footy on the school oval. The best game has everybody playing. But more and more we have too many people sitting on the side lines, not really wanted or needed. Out there on the oval, if the game doesn’t work for the majority of kids, then it breaks up. Kids start changing the rules until the game works again.

    But right now, to stretch an analogy, we have the kids who are getting all of the footy telling us that this is the only way that footy works.

    So we need someone to step up with a clear vision for remaking society so that it works for more people. Back in 1972, the conservative world was looking more and more ridiculous. Change seemed inevitable. But back in that era, there was a youth movement. They really wanted change. When I look at todays uni students, my main worry is that they are too trusting and may end up being sorely disappointed when they do all the right things and life doesn’t work out for them. We’ve already put home ownership out of reach of many.

  10. Julie Thomas
    October 24th, 2014 at 06:17 | #10

    There is an article by Fiona Davis over at The Conversation, one of a series on Gough’s legacy, in which she refers to the Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, and says that

    “Whitlam advocated for this inquiry for years before then-prime minister William McMahon finally agreed in August 1972.”

    She says that; “At the centre of the inquiry’s final recommendations was a guaranteed minimum income scheme…….. (that) would place “a minimum disposable income … as one of the rights of Australian citizenship”.

    And that, “Under this system…. there would be:

    … no longer any hierarchy of deserving and undeserving poor, categorised according to administratively awkward tests, with all those unfortunates at the very bottom of the hierarchy not entitled to any income at all.”

    This “report was presented to Whitlam in April 1975. In the face of economic decline and other political pressures, the minimum income proposal proved a progressive step too far even for Whitlam, at least in the short term.

    That November, Whitlam was dismissed.”

    And no-fault divorce was a wonderful thing for my parents. How stupid it seemed to me that before that change, they would have had to make up a reason for divorcing that accorded with the Conservative rules for how people ‘should’ behave and the idea that one person is the ‘fault’ or the problem, does not lead to a good outcome for the post-divorce relationship.

  11. October 24th, 2014 at 06:24 | #11

    @John Brookes
    I’m by no means an unthinking advocate for the Greens, and I’ve had bitter disagreements with members of the local Greens group (disagreements which some of them won’t let go, though I will, suggesting some degree of self righteousness and rigidity), but the Greens are the inheritors of the Whitlamite tradition if anyone is, I think.

    Which is probably the reason Albanese is so angry with them. He is stuck in a party that is never going to return to that tradition – on present trends – and they are, presumptuously but nevertheless probably correctly, claiming the tradition. I’ve written policy for the Greens in health, btw, and been involved in a lot of other policy development, so I have some idea of what I’m talking about.

    I’ve speculated previously on my own blog that there’s a lot of ideals that many Australians believe in (as Gough openly did) but they have been somehow convinced those ideals are unrealizable. That’s why I’ve lately been trying to start discussions about egalitarianism as a way of living, rather than just a dream.

  12. Paul Norton
    October 24th, 2014 at 07:56 | #12

    Let’s also note:

    – the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act;
    – the establishment of the Australian Heritage Commission;
    – the ratification of the World Heritage Convention;
    – the establishment of the Department of Urban and Regional Development;
    – the establishment of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

  13. jungney
    October 24th, 2014 at 09:48 | #13

    Lets not forget that he stopped Bjelke Peterson from allowing drilling for oil on the reef.

  14. Newtownian
    October 24th, 2014 at 10:00 | #14

    I agree with pretty much everything John except the last, albeit attractive, proposal.

    That the solution is a new Whitlam as seems to be implied.

    Though it wouldn’t hurt to have someone of his ilk around for rousing the crowd, a reincarnation if you like, this seems unlikely to provide the change needed in isolation.

    1. the obstacles to an equitable society can now be seen as in large part structural. It is the nature of capitalism soft, or neoliberal, to exploit people and the natural environment and Australia has always been to a large degree capitalist. Conversely the failure of dozens of government bureaucracy based states to inspire their population and avoid enriching a small elite seems pretty damning to this form of government (or alternatively their conversion to a semi-rigid bureaucratic elite based oligarchy as in the case of China and possibly Vietnam).

    Australian Universities of the past 40 years are not a bad model for the pitfalls of central government/administration based society and they indicate an increase in government intervention alone is not the way – you have nominally the best educated and innovative groups in the country but from where I sit when they had the chance they did not move to etopia from the old Medieval model but to a hierarchical Taylorist management format with barely a peep from the inhabitants.

    2. Separately it is arguably us who need to change our whole philosophy from a growth based one to a sustainability based one, possibly informed by a new demoGough, but not driven by one. Gough did not dream up Australian social democracy. Rather he applied various examples/models already trialed over the world which included contributions from Australia (SA women’s suffrage being a great example). But as yet we don’t have the needed alternative models beyond vague outline so there is arguably nothing for a new Gough to promote as yet.

    Maybe that isnt possible and Free Will is indeed a delusion. Nevertheless the empowerment at least of male workers in previous generations and subsequently women and downtrodden minority groups subsequently/under Gough shows what was possible. But first we would have to develop/evolve a series of new progressive mutually coherent alternative models of society to the neoliberal one.

    Or alternatively modify greatly the existing ones which were not resilient in the face of the 19070s shocks.

    Maybe this is what a new Gough would be – an extended enlightenment teacher rather than a facilitator.

    3. Arguably society is now far more complex and people and groups splintered than in the 1970s dreamtime. Thus the realization of the philosopher king is far more problematic than even in Gough’s time.

    Perhaps I am wrong and another Gough will rise. But I suspect he will be such a different beast comparisons between the two will not be possible.

  15. Ken_L
    October 24th, 2014 at 10:01 | #15

    I would add that Whitlam was anything but an unquestioning supporter of the American alliance. I don’t subscribe to the “CIA brought down Whitlam” narrative but the fact it has any plausibility is testimony to the tensions Whitlam and especially Cairns brought to the longstanding attitude of fawning subservience to Washington. If his government had been in office for another few years they would surely have forged a more mature and independent international role for Australia than their successors, and the country would have been better for it. It’s fascinating to hear that Malcolm Fraser has come to much the same conclusion – pity he didn’t feel that way when his views mattered.

  16. Newtownian
    October 24th, 2014 at 10:59 | #16

    Lyn Gain :
    Don’t forget women’s issues other than equal pay and sole parent income security, John. He set up the first Ministry for Women, and oversaw the setting up of women’s refuges (and youth refuges too). His labour market programs are well worth a mention. In fact, there’s too much more to list, p.s. Not Trampis, why do you say no fault divorce was a disaster?

    Fourthed (this sentiment already having been seconded and thirded)

    That people are still racked during relationship breakups is no bad reflection on no fault divorce. Its that our society hasn’t yet evolved social mechanisms to buffer the impact of the trauma/grieving arising from relationship destruction.

    Separately it had to go because it reflected the old tradition of male ownership of women enshrined in British property laws in earlier times.

    That couples find themselves in a financial and admin mess after relationship breakups is as much about how capitalism allocates resources not the wisdom of no fault divorce. Conversely stable extended families in their better examples illustrate the gains from sharing resources in a benign collective and hence the wisdom underpinning socialism as against the atomisation of people arising from neoliberalism which has us all currently in its vice.

    Beyond this one has to say that if this promotion of equity for half of the human race through addressing divorce and equal pay were Gough’s only achievement it would have been sufficient to show him as a Giant.

    But beyond that there is the wonderful list of achievements that JQ lists and the movements he invigorated.

    Thinking back on it all I am reminded of those of Anni Mirabilium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annus_mirabilis – when not one but several epoch changing events occur concurrently (the classic examples here are the great inventive years of Newton 1666 and Einstein 1904).

    I wonder if we should now view/celebrate 1973 as such as year?

  17. Lyn Gain
    October 24th, 2014 at 11:29 | #17

    “there’s a lot of ideals that many Australians believe in (as Gough openly did) but they have been somehow convinced those ideals are unrealizable.” I agree Val. This reminded me of a radio interview I listened to on Wednesday, ABC Conversations, with Eva Cox. It was so sad. At the end Fidler asked her what she said to all the young people these days who asked her what they could do to change things. She said she was pretty ‘stuffed’ about how to advise them. There was no political party, or even an organised group, she could recommend they join. And that they should not think that going on a demonstration or signing a petition was any use. All she could think of was that they should seek like-minded people and continue the discourse. It seems to me, from comments here, that we are all floundering about the way forward.

  18. October 24th, 2014 at 11:32 | #18

    Yes, ex-Trampis’ dislike of no fault divorce is puzzling. It implies that a person can’t leave a marriage just because they want to.

    Or maybe ex-T just hankers after the days when private eyes would burst from behind the door, flashing camera in hand, catching the moment of infidelity for the courts.

  19. October 24th, 2014 at 19:20 | #19

    @Lyn Gain
    I guess my point is Lyn, that the Greens – if they could get rid of the self righteousness – do offer something, so maybe that’s the way forward. I’ve been bitten twice in politics (in Labor and the Greens) and both times a lot of it’s been due to the lingering effects of patriarchy, but I think the Greens have the right ideas in theory, at least.

  20. October 25th, 2014 at 00:01 | #20

    John Brooks @ #9 wrote:


    So what do we aim for? I don’t see much point in starting with the leadership of the ALP. We need to start with a vision of a world we want. Unless we have a vision, how can we sell it?

    Apologies for being so slow to respond.

    If you look around the world in 2014, as well as military aggression, mass murder and tyranny, there is much in the world to give us hope, but only if you remember to believe almost nothing that you read about today’s geopolitical conflicts in the mainstream media.

    Whilst despots, fraudsters, gangsters and fascists run much of the world, much of the rest of the world is run by people who are every bit as humane and decent as Gough was.

    However, unlike Gough, they have shown themselves to be far more capable of standing up for themselves and their countries against the global forces of darkness. Of course, those same leaders are demonised by the mainstream media.

    Two striking examples are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the implication manufactured by msm ‘reports’, both have not only been elected in certifiably democratic elections, both enjoy domestic popularity which dwarfs that of any Western leader I can think of – Tony Abbott, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Stephen Harper, Angela Merkel, Kevin Rudd, John Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser, and even Gough in 1972 and 1974.

    Presidents al-Assad and Putin have also shown themselves to be far more willing to confront critical media scrutiny than any of today’s Western ‘leaders’. I have watched a number of interviews where both were able to demolish what has been peddled as ‘news’ to Western audiences. No doubt, Gough would have been able to do the same before a far less unbalanced international mass media than he had to face.

    Some good web sites are:

    globalresearch -dot- ca, voltairenet -dot- org, presstv -dot- com, landdestroyer -dot- blogspot -dot- com, rt -dot- com (as well as my own web site, candobetter -dot -net).

    By all means, continue to read the printed msm and watch and listen to the msm broadcast media, John Brookes, but I think, over time, you will see, when you are able to compare their narratives with those on the sites such as those listed above, that little truth is to be found there.

  21. October 25th, 2014 at 00:25 | #21

    John Brookes @ #9,

    As I wrote in my previous comment, which is now ‘awaiting moderation’, my apologies for taking so long to respond. I have also posted my comment to my own web site here. Please feel most welcome to respond further either there or here.

  22. October 25th, 2014 at 00:45 | #22

    Gough Whitlam’s Childhood Home in Kew Given an Interim Protection Order Against Demolition

    24 Oct 2014, by Julianne Bell of Protectors of Public Land

    Yesterday, Thursday 23 October, was another turbulent day in pre-election Melbourne as the fate of the childhood home of Gough Whitlam at 46 Rowland Street Kew hung in the balance. We were under the impression that the demolition of the house would continue so I dressed in black and went to the site about 1 pm with flowers to leave on the fence and so pay a suitable tribute to Gough Whitlam. (I called up lots of people as the Leader Newspaper said they would send a photographer.) Imagine my shock at seeing a media scrum in the street outside the wire fence with more cars arriving all the time. (Included at the end of this article are the NFIRB’s guidance notes on foreign investment in real estate.)

    Planning Minister Matthew Guy had just announced an “Interim Protection Order for the birthplace of Australia’s 21st Prime Minister, the late Gough Whitlam”. (Hence the media) An application will be referred to the Heritage Council with a request to include the place on the State Heritage Register. The Minister’s representative arrived and ceremoniously pinned the notice on the wire fence at the property. Channel 9, 10 and 2 were there plus the Age and the Leader newspapers . Thanks to Michael and Caroline Petit for representing community interests. A number of people turned up with a portrait of Gough Whitlam on the famous “It’s Time” poster!

  23. J-D
    October 25th, 2014 at 13:02 | #23


    It chances that the most recent issue of WIRE, Amnesty International’s global magazine, contains stories from both Syria and Russia.

    The story from Syria says this: ‘Thousands of suspected government opponents have been arrested in Syria since protests broke out in February 2011. Many are still missing. Their families live in painful limbo, unsure where their loved ones are or what has happened to them. Others who were released after months in secret detention told Amnesty that they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.’

    The story from Russia says this:
    “We decided to hold this symbolic protest to get people thinking about what freedom means to them,” explains Maria Sereda from Amnesty Russia.
    “In Soviet times, public protests were forbidden. Kitchens became the only places where people could talk freely without being afraid. It seems those times are back.
    “Russia’s new repressive laws make it nearly impossible to organize protests like this without risking heavy fines. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get permission. And even then you can expect interference from the police or aggressive pro-government protesters.
    “Almost all media are government controlled and the online space to say what you think is also shrinking drastically. But not everyone is aware that this is happening.
    “People’s responses to our alfresco breakfast varied greatly. Some stopped to take photos, asked questions or argued that they do have free speech in Russia. Others sat down for a cup of tea.
    “If nothing changes, pretty soon our kitchens will once again be the only places where we can talk freely about politics, religion, human rights and art,” Maria said.

  24. jungney
    October 25th, 2014 at 13:49 | #24

    Gough had to die before they realized that they’d have to conserve the building or look like philistines.

  25. October 25th, 2014 at 20:50 | #25

    News Corporation editors told by Rupert Murdoch to ‘kill Whitlam’ in 1975

    The Age article, Murdoch editors told to ‘kill Whitlam’ in 1975″ (27/6/14), excerpts of which appear below, confirms my own recollection of the Whitlam years, as an early teen. Back then, I had naively regarded Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper as progressive and on the side of justice and truth. As I recall, the Australian and Bruce Petty, whose cartoons it published at the time, had opposed the Vietnam War and had supported Gough Whitlam and the Labor Party in 1972 and 1974. So I read the Australian almost every day and believed what I read.

    Suddenly, some time after the 1974 mid-term election, the Australian’s editor ‘informed’ me and other readers that supporting the Whitlam government had all been a “terrible mistake” on their part. He apologised and promised to rectify the mistake. I was disheartened, but continued to read the Australian and trust its judgement.

    Day after day the tone against Whitlam and Labor grew louder, more high pitched and more hysterical.

  26. jungney
    October 25th, 2014 at 20:53 | #26

    That’s my memory as well. Memory counts.

  27. Charlene MacDonald
    October 25th, 2014 at 21:04 | #27

    Lets not forget that he stopped Bjelke Peterson from allowing drilling for oil on the reef.

    Lets not forget that Bjelke-Petersen stopped him from his attempt to cede the most northern indigenous Australians, and their ancestral lands underneath them, to a foreign power.

  28. October 25th, 2014 at 21:26 | #28

    J-D @ #23,

    Have you looked at any of the web-sites I included on my post?

    I suggest you look at Syria’s press conference the United Nations doesn’t want you to see (21/6/14).

    It includes an embedded 53 minute YouTube broadcast of a press conference at the United Nations by five foreigners who oversaw the Syrian Presidential elections of 3 July 2014 in which Bashar al-Assad won overwhelming majority of votes. If any of what you write about Syria is true, then surely those observers who praised the elections so mch would have been torn apart by the journalists present.

  29. jungney
    October 25th, 2014 at 21:28 | #29

    @Charlene MacDonald
    What are you talking about?

  30. Charlene MacDonald
    October 25th, 2014 at 23:04 | #30

    Jungney, I’m talking of Gough Whitlam’s attempt to give the very north of Qld, and the citizenship of the indigenous people who live there, to Papua New Guinea.
    This attempt by Whitlam to cede Australian territory, and Australians with it, was blocked only by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and the will of the indigenous people there to oppose Whitlam.

    If you are unaware of this event, your knowledge of both the Whitlam government, and of recent Indigenous history, could do with some much needed updating. Cheers!

  31. Julie Thomas
    October 26th, 2014 at 05:57 | #31

    @Charlene MacDonald

    Do you have any other accounts that would support this claim you make? You know like some published accounts of this attempt?

  32. J-D
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:14 | #32


    What I posted in my previous comment was not something I wrote myself, but a direct quote from an Amnesty International magazine posted to the Web. The story said nothing about the Syrian election, so anybody discussing the election is saying nothing about that story. Here’s part of another story posted online by Amnesty International, also saying nothing about elections:

    … Shappal Ibrahim, a peaceful activist with the Union of Young Kurds, was approached by a Syrian government official claiming to be a fellow supporter of the country’s “revolution” … After agreeing to meet the official on 22 September 2011, he was driven away and detained …

    He was held in secret for nearly two years, one of Syria’s many “disappeared” …

    Here, he tells his story of how he was treated in some of Syria’s many detention centres.

    ‘They beat us … at one of the Damascus branches of Air Force Intelligence. We were beaten for hours and then thrown into jail – 13 men in a 2×2 metre cell. We had to take turns to sit down.

    ‘One by one, the detainees were called and taken to the interrogation room. Their screams filled the corridors as they were tortured. People would come back wrapped in blankets stained with their blood.

    ‘They beat me with a cable and electrocuted me on my feet. …

    ‘There was very little water and food available and we were only allowed to sleep when the prison guards allowed us to.

    ‘We were then transferred to … three months later to Saydnaya Military Prison near Damascus.

    ‘Food was so inadequate we were always hungry and they gave us only a few clothes even though the temperature was extremely cold. They called me in for questioning many times and the torture was never-ending.

    ‘They would ask me to take off my clothes and then sprayed cold water on my body. Then the interrogator would walk on my body and hit me on my back and my feet.’

  33. J-D
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:18 | #33

    I’d never heard anything before about Whitlam, Bjelke-Petersen, and the Torres Strait, but a simple Web search quickly produces this result:


  34. Ikonoclast
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:18 | #34

    According to Wikipedia:

    “The Queensland premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen refused to consider any adjustment in Queensland’s border with Papua New Guinea, which, due to the state’s ownership of islands in the Torres Strait, came within half a kilometre (about one-third of a mile) of the Papuan mainland.”

    It would appear, on the face of it, to be an attempt by Whitlam to adjust a colonial border which was possibly unfair to Papua New Guinea and certainly impractical to administer due to the ease of access to these islands by local Papuans. The local reality is complex and while the Torres Srait Islanders retained the border they desired, this border remained unacceptable to some Papuans.

    “Nationalist (Papuan) politicians, both in the Western province and nationwide, understandably resented the proximity of the Queensland border and regarded it as an obsolete colonial border denying Papuans access to their share of the strait’s resources.”


  35. Ikonoclast
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:23 | #35

    The SMH article makes it clear that Joh’s position was not based on principle.

    “Sir Joh made several visits to the Torres Strait, championing the islands’ demand to remain Australian.

    It was in stark contrast to his staunch opposition to Aboriginal land rights.

    “All I’m saying is it’s got to be stopped this land rights business and continually giving away the national assets, and not only giving it away but giving the militant leaders in the area the right to veto mining and all the rest of it. “”

  36. John Quiggin
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:29 | #36

    This (Torres Strait) is the kind of discussion that should be taken to the sandpit. I’ve just opened a new one.

  37. Julie Thomas
    October 26th, 2014 at 07:53 | #37

    Joh was such a freedom fighter (not) and he was determined to provide the Aurukun blackfellas with the freedom to access alcohol, despite their own desire to retain their ‘dry’ status.

    There was a 4 corners episode “Return to Aurukun” that investigated the goings-on back then.

    From the resources available on the 4 Corners page:

    “Eighty-four year old Silas Wolmby is the only surviving Indigenous elder of those who spoke out in the 1978 program. He was one of the leaders for self rule and land rights (and a dry community)

    SILAS WOLMBY (Excerpt from Four Corners, 1978): We want the land back. We’re not asking government for thousands and thousands of dollars but we are asking them for our land, which is, which was taken long ago and we want that land back.

    MATTHEW CARNEY: The push for self rule in Aurukun was met with solid opposition in the form of the Queensland premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his minister for everything Russ Hinze.

    The government plan was to take control of the land from the mission and enforce their rule by establishing a local council to open up the area to mining.

    To justify the takeover, the Queensland government claimed a reign of terror had descended on Aurukun. On the ground, the Four Corners reporter Maryanne Smith found no evidence of this and put it to the minister.

    (Excerpt from Four Corners, 1978)
    MARYANNE SMITH: Many people at Aurukun maintain that there was never a reign of terror and that such claims in fact were simply an excuse for the state government to…

    RUSS HINZE, QLD MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOV’T, 1974-87: I wouldn’t think that the premier travelled that distance to make up stories. I think that he is regarded throughout Australia as being a gentleman that says what he thinks. He hasn’t got to travel up there to make up any statements.

    MARYANNE SMITH: But if there was a reign of terror, why was there no investigation?

    RUSS HINZE: But you keep coming back about if there was a reign of terror. I am saying to you that it’s not a very good place to live.

    (End of excerpt) and end of any discussion; the big fat controller Russ Hinze had laid down the white man law.

    “MARYANNE SMITH: John Adams, an ordained minister, is employed by the Uniting Church. He’s been there two and a half years and speaks one of the Aboriginal languages.

    He says “The long term objective of the Queensland government, well in my opinion the long term objective is to put Aboriginal people under the thumb of the dominant white society and what that really means is the destruction of Aboriginal culture.”

    “JOHN ADAMS: Oh, well remember a meeting with Russ Hinze and the community leaders in the old mission house meeting area where Russ Hinze said to all of us assembled there should be a canteen here at Aurukun, whites have the right to drink.

    MATTHEW CARNEY: Aurukun held out against a canteen for seven years. The vast majority always rejected the idea. But in 1985 some drinkers were elected to council and with no community consultation and after meetings with Carlton and United Breweries the decision was made to open one.”


  38. Julie Thomas
    October 26th, 2014 at 08:03 | #38

    osrry JQ I did not see your post before commenting. 🙁

  39. October 26th, 2014 at 15:42 | #39

    I can’t see Putin in a positive light. The enemy of my enemy is not, in this case, my friend.

    What has Putin done that makes you admire him?

  40. October 26th, 2014 at 23:29 | #40

    Thanks for your interest, John Brookes @ #39. I will respond in more detail shortly.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is admired by many around the world, including in Russia and Ukraine, for standing up to the bullying of the United States. As I have shown in the article linked to below, the united Staes is reponsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people since 1990 (and many millions since 1945). How many more deaths there would have been if it were not for President Vladimir Putin, we can only guess. Amongst his many admirers is on-line journalist Dr. Paul Craig Roberts who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under President Ronald Reagan.

    JD @ #32 wrote:

    What I posted in my previous comment was … a direct quote from an Amnesty International magazine posted to the Web.

    Have you forgotten that by peddling the Kuwaiti ‘incubator babies’ lie in 1990 Amnesty International national facilitated over two decades of war and sanctions against Iraq? This caused the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. One estimate had put the total death toll since 1990 as high as 3,300,000 including 750,000 children.

    I have put together some information at candobetter.net/AboutAmnestyInternational. Be sure to watch Canadian peace activist Barrie Zwicker demolish the 1990 ‘incubator babies’ lie used to justify that war. Please feel welcome to post further comments to that page or to here.

    JD wrote:

    The story said nothing about the Syrian election, so anybody discussing the election is saying nothing about that story.

    88.7% of the 74% eligible voters voted on 3 June 2014 for Bashar al-Assad – a far greater endorsement than that given to any of the Western ‘leaders’ hostile to the Syrian government.

    Can’t you see that if at the elections of 3 June 2014, the Syrian people gave President Bashar al-Assad a far greater endorsement than has been given to any of the ‘leaders’ of Western governments hostile to Syria that we should be even more skeptical of Amnesty’s claims that that government is brutally repressing its people?

    One reason for al-Assad’s popularity is the government programs, including free education, including tertiary education.

    Of course, this is what Gough also tried to do. However, Paul Keating, who pretends to bear the mantle of Gough’s legacy, started the privatisation of tertiary education with the introduction of HECS, the Higher Education ‘Contribution’ Scheme in 1989 (and not 1986, as I have been advised elsewhere on this blog). Let’s not forget that Keating and Hawke also sent our armed forces to participate in the illegal war against Iraq in 1991 and implemented the illegal sanctions that caused so many deaths that I referred to above. As a result of that and the subsequent war of 2003, 1.3 million Iraqis fled to Syria according to Wikipedia.

  41. October 27th, 2014 at 00:01 | #41

    My apologies, I accidentally included an internal link, instead of the full URL, above.

    It should have been: candobetter.net/about/AmnestyInternational

  42. October 27th, 2014 at 01:05 | #42

    Moving tribute to Gough Whitlam

    “Edward Gough Whitlam
    Thank you for bringing my brother home from Vietnam.
    Thank you for my university education.
    Thank you for my health care.
    Thank you for fostering the arts and giving me pride in my country.
    You are honoured in China for being the father of normalising relations with that nation.
    Born in this house, how sad and ironic that your birthplace is being torn down by an international investor.
    Rest in peace.”
    (Anonymous tribute placed on wall of Whitlam’s birthplace, with flowers).

    Last Thursday demolition of 46 Rowland Street Kew was stayed by Planning Minister Matthew Guy with an “Interim Protection Order for the birthplace of Australia’s 21st Prime Minister, the late Gough Whitlam”. Before the notice was posted, flowers were placed on the fence plus a tribute from an anonymous donor which speaks for many, reproduced above.

  43. Charlene MacDonald
    October 27th, 2014 at 14:39 | #43

    No, No fault divorce was one of his greatest successes.

    No fault divorce, without any option for includin fault, is nothing more than a way to opt out of a contract without fulfilling any obligations.
    Wonder how this would be received were it to be applied to any other transaction/merger?

  44. Rustbucket
    October 27th, 2014 at 16:25 | #44

    John if you are going to list the West-Sydney Sewerage as one of Gough’s achievements in the infrastructure field then as a Brisbane-ite you should have included the electrification of that city’s train service.

    The rail bridge connecting North Brisbane with South Brisbane & the extra line from the city to Northgate were also specific Whitlam promises that were implemented much to the benefit of its citizens.

  45. J-D
    October 27th, 2014 at 17:24 | #45

    @Charlene MacDonald

    You are wrong on both counts: marriage is not a contract; and divorce does not absolve people of obligations.

  46. Julie Thomas
    October 27th, 2014 at 17:44 | #46

    @Charlene MacDonald

    and Charlene how do you propose to measure the ‘fault’ that someone would apportion to each person or do you believe that determining who is at fault is a simple thing to do? Perhaps you have watched Judge Judy and imagine that this common sense justice could work in real life, with your type of person as the judy judge of course.

  47. John Quiggin
    October 27th, 2014 at 20:01 | #47

    Charlene, nothing further from you on this thread. Post in the sandpits if you must.

  48. J-D
    October 27th, 2014 at 20:15 | #48


    It occurs to me that discussion of the present government of Syria and discussion of the present government of Russia have only a tenuous connection to the original post and are better in the Sandpit.

  49. October 28th, 2014 at 01:20 | #49

    Debunking the myth of Gough Whitlam’s economic incompetence
    by Kenneth Davidson, 27 October 2014

    The conventional wisdom is that Gough Whitlam was a political giant whose vision was not matched by his ability to manage the economy. And further, that this justified John Kerr’s decision to sack his government, even though Whitlam retained the confidence of the Parliament’s lower house throughout the constitutional crisis brought on by the Senate refusal to pass supply.

    Worse, this mantra was accepted by the surviving ALP parliamentarians. It is enshrined in public opinion polls today. Although Labor maybe superior when it comes to education, health, climate change or urban development, the killer attribute “superior economic manager” usually remains with the Coalition.

    In fact, the Whitlam government can take some pride in its economic management. It came to office about the same time as the first oil crisis, the biggest global economic shock since World War II.

    Professor Quiggin: Please delete my previous post (@ #49). I didn’t mean to boldface the whole post. My apologies.

  50. October 29th, 2014 at 16:26 | #50

    Can’t believe you didn’t mention ending conscription!

  51. October 31st, 2014 at 10:38 | #51

    Whitlam’s mistake on November 11, 1975 was to go back to the lodge to have a nice streak for lunch. He didn’t tell his colleagues that that all been sacked.

    Firstly, he should have told that this President of the Senate to resign so that the Senate could not transact any business until a President was elected.

    In the interim, he should have ensured that the House of Representatives withdrew the supply bills from the Senate. This would have stopped Fraser from passing them in about five minutes in the Senate after lunch.

    In a book is subsequently wrote on the matter, called the truth of the matter, he mentioned that in the future all appropriation Bill should take effect on the day appointed by a resolution of the House of Representatives. That would ensure the supremacy of the House of Representatives in any suppy crisis.

  52. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 10:57 | #52

    @Jim Rose

    All true, and in any event Gordon Scholes, then speaker, might have declined to sign the bills anyway.

    That noted, Whitlam later said that he was worried about the army being called out, so his actions (or inaction as here) was probably guided by his sense of the turmoil such moves might create.

    Whitlam, despite his distress, was a loyal servant of the boss class, and probably imagined that the move could be refuted by entirely orthodox means, or that the public would back him in an election, given the bizarre circumstances in which he had been dismissed.

    Clearly, he made the classic mistake of thinking most people saw matters as he and his fan club (amongst which I was then counted) did. I also couldn’t believe at the time that most people would reward Fraser for doing what he did. The lesson was salutary. Large sections of the populace — large enough to swing elections — are open to manipulation if you control the press.

    That’s why a general strike — which many of us saw as important at the time — was an indispensible tool. Had we taken that course, I’m convinced that we’d have had a repeat of Clarrie O’Shea in 1970. Whitlam would have been restored to office, a new half-senate election and HoR election would have been held and Whitlam would have won. The whole course of the next 15 years would have been different and better.

  53. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 11:42 | #53

    @Fran Barlow

    Yes, the way Whitlam, Gore and Kerry all rolled over and gave up when they had elections or government immorally and illegally stolen from them makes me wonder. Why did they roll over so easily? What were they told behind closed doors about what would happen to them and their supporters if they did not roll over?

  54. November 1st, 2014 at 01:49 | #54

    J-D wrote:

    … discussion of the present government of Syria and discussion of the present government of Russia have only a tenuous connection to the original post …

    Gough’s attempt to introduce free tertiary education was rolled back by subsequent ‘Labor’ and Liberal governments to the point where a perverse debt collection industry based on buying and selling debts that students incur attending university has been established in Australia as has alo occurred in the UK and other places. Syria, in the midst of wars and a terrorist insurgency, is able to provide free tertiary education to all its citizens as I showed on October 26th, 2014 at 23:29. If Syria can do it, why can’t Australia, the US and the UK? Clearly this suggests that Gough was right to attempt to make University education free.

    The other obvious link is that Bashar is, like Gough was, the target of an attempted US ‘regime change’ Unlike Gough, Bashar has been more successful in stopping foreign powers meddling in his country’s domestic affairs.

  55. J-D
    November 1st, 2014 at 05:50 | #55


    If you want to pursue this discussion with me, you can do it in the Sandpit. I can find plenty more to post there, but I’m not going to do it here.

  56. J-D
    November 1st, 2014 at 05:57 | #56

    @Fran Barlow

    If Whitlam had called for a general strike, would unionists have responded? After all, if they wanted a general strike, they could have called one without Whitlam bringing up the subject.

    I’m not saying a general strike would have been a bad idea. I’m only saying that Whitlam wasn’t the sole person who failed to call for one. I didn’t call for a general strike either (admittedly I was only eleven at the time).

  57. Fran Barlow
    November 2nd, 2014 at 08:13 | #57


    What we see here is a kind of collective action problem. While many individuals may have impulses to do things, unless someone with standing goes first, people will look at each other and wonder what should be done.

    Back in primary school, it was the case at school dances that although people were keen to get up and dance, very few liked the risk of being the only person up there, with all eyes on them. I was far less bothered by such things — something of a theme for me as it turns out — so I’d always be amongst the first to get up and take the risk of looking foolish. Yet the dance floor would not fill until the peer leaders began to organise their besties to accompany them out. At some point the game changed. While few had wanted to be the first out, remaining behind when the cool kids were out there was neatly as bad. It made you look isolated in a different way.

    General strikes require organisation and support. Individuals can be picked off easily by the state, but if the mass go out state coercion becomes far more problematic. And as we know, while people are willing to make sacrifices (and striking is a big sacrifice, especially in the run up to Christmas) they need to be confident it will achieve something commensurate with their sacrifice and risk. Unless and until the big unions called for this, or Gough himself had done so, lending the action authority, few were going to run the risk. In a real way, the precursor to the split in the 1950s with the DLP was the coal strike of 1949.

    Matters had changed since then of course, and really, had the unions fought back hard and promptly — people said ‘they’ve denied our supply so we should deny theirs’ — I believe the working people would have won. Of course, the ALP was de facto if not de jure an instrument if boss class rule, and so being perceived as the creature of the workers was a terrifying concept, not merely to the party but its union backers as well.

  58. Ikonoclast
    November 2nd, 2014 at 09:03 | #58

    @Fran Barlow

    I pretty much agree with that analysis. It is clear that the ALP is and always has been an instrument of boss rule. However, with union and worker roots it has been, in the past, a proponent of an accommodation between workers and bosses. This accomodation, to put it crudely, has been that the workers have been allowed some share in the loot of capitalism, especially imperialist capitalism. Western workers got some of the loot because the Western capitalists and imperialists had plenty to spare as they were exploiting people abroad as well as at home. It was worth paying (bribing) Western workers to remain docile and even complicit in the broader imperialist system.

    Since, the spread of capitalism to S.E. Asia and now China, Asian workers can start competing with Western workers for jobs via the transfer of jobs and manufacturing industries to Asia. Western workers are slowly but surely losing their privileged position and their power as industrial power, strike power and so on. There is global pressure to push wages down. Real wages are now falling in most of the West.

    As the position of the workers weakens in the West and Australia we see the so-called “Labor” parties reveal more and more of their true nature as parties for boss rule not parties for workers.

  59. ZM
    November 2nd, 2014 at 09:31 | #59

    There is a petition to the ACTU for them to organise a General Strike against the budget.


    I think it is a problem that the Labor party and therefore tacitly all/most of the unions have really abandoned the idea of being a workers party, and became more of a nationalist party wanting Australia to be a high income/wealth country. Although this high income idea might seem to be in the interest of Australia’s workers – it is not in the interests of workers in other countries, so it takes away the principle of being for workers, and substitutes a nationalist principle instead.

    Really since the level of consumption is too high and causing environmental problems world wide, there needs to be a contraction of high income/wealth countries consumption , and very poor people need their consumption to go up – and it all needs to be within more sustainable levels maintaining the climate, biodiversity etc.

    It is a real shame the ALP did not go in that direction in the 1980s. It is very hard to see how they could say ‘Oh dear – we were wrong’ and have sustainable and fair policies going forwards. But then this leaves only the Greens advocating for sustainability – and they do not have very widespread support and with the LNP and the ALP both attacking them it is hard to see how they would increase their support now.

    I am not sure where the best hope lies… To come back to the topic, maybe there could be a figure like Whitlam that could move things sufficeintly in the right direction that the momentum would be there from then on.

  60. Ikonoclast
    November 2nd, 2014 at 10:00 | #60


    What will happen, indeed what is happening under late stage capitalism is a new trifurcation of classes. This is in my opinion.

    (1) There will be a tiny, rich corporate-capitalist oligarchic class. This class is already formed in the US and is forming in China and Russia. This is the top 1% or even the top 0.1%.

    (2) There will be a functionary class required to run the rump state to service the corporations, to run the corporations themselves and internal and external security. Management, adminstration, IT and security will require this functionary class. I don’t see this class as needing more than about 20% of the population.

    (3) 80% of the population will tend be pushed into a new underclass of working poor, unemployed, indigent, tranisent and refugees.

    I don’t see this developing situation as in any way sustainable or stable. Many things will give. Chaos is entirely predictable. The many specific local and regional forms of chaos are not predictable.

  61. Centrist
    November 6th, 2014 at 10:54 | #61

    “Whitlam, despite his distress, was a loyal servant of the boss class … ”

    The rantings of the paranoid Marxist Left are thankfully of no practical import in this country. The Australian working class has very sensibly given Marxists the bums’s rush.

    A General Strike would have reduced Labor to a rump that would have been unelectable for half a century.

    As can be discerned from Quiggin’s Zombie Economics, it was the idiotic greed of unions during the Whitlam years that gave us stagflation and the consequent ascendancy of neoliberalism.

  62. Fran Barlow
    November 6th, 2014 at 13:00 | #62


    A General Strike would have reduced Labor to a rump that would have been unelectable for half a century.

    This claim is as sound as the argument underpinning it.


Comments are closed.