E.G. Whitlam 1916-2014
Under Whitlam’s Thrall
The cloud of cant and hypocrisy surrounding Gough Whitlam’s passing hides the jagged massif from which Australia nearly toppled into bankruptcy, international opprobrium and civil disorder.
In late 1972 I was carried away with Whitlam's rhetoric and remained under his thrall until 1974 and the Cope Affair. I was a Viet Nam veteran struggling his way through university. As well as studying politics I was active in practical union politics being a shop steward at my workplace. That was until the Cope Affair. Some may well remember Whitlam's overweening arrogance in telling the Speaker [Jim Cope] to shut up and do what he was told. That was my epiphany about the left and it ended my short flirtation with leftist and union politics. I realised then that despite its own rhetoric, the left does not have a monopoly on social justice, political ethics and common decency.
It remains my strongly held view that the changes wrought by Whitlam's totally
inept and corrupt government did irreparable damage to this country.
Remember, if you can cut through the dreamtime fog about the Whitlam government, their jubilation at the fall of Saigon;
their dishonourable attitude towards the consequent boat people. Their excesses, the corruption, jobs for the boys and girls, the ruining of the economy, the Khemlani Affair, the lunacy of Connors and Murphy and the traitorous antics of the bastard Cairns
- I could go on for several pages.
After my flirtation with the left I moved to the Country Party and, as one of their organisers, was heavily involved in the ’75 election consequent to Whitlam’s dismissal. It was a great time to be in politics.
Everyone probably has their favourite Whitlam story. Mine is set in the Australian Embassy in Paris in 1983, a couple of weeks after Australia had won the America’s Cup. I was visiting France to do some research. Coming from the Northern Territory I was invited by the Embassy to a cocktail party in honour of a troupe of Aboriginal dancers from Arnhem Land. During the course of the evening I was chatting with one of the Ambassadorial Secretaries and his wife when I received a sharp blow in the back causing me to spill my drink down the front of the good lady and over my tie. I turned to my assailant who was non-other than the unlamented Gough, living yet again off the largesse of the government teat, as the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris.
“Oh” said he, “I thought you were someone else”. And he made to walk away.
I put out a firm restraining hand and suggested that an apology to the good lady would not be out of order and the least he could do was to refill my glass. He demurred. I insisted as every Territorian would, he apologised and returned with a drink. The incident did little to further my opinion of the man.
I am not sorry at his passing. But I am not about to dance on his grave. But I am sorry about the canonisation of an arrogant and incompetent man whose time came, rapidly went and has long gone – a prime minister who, in three disastrous years, nearly brought the country to the brink of total mayhem; and who was finally rejected by the people in overwhelming proportions. Nonetheless, I shall remember him as a man who served his country in war and in public office. I will accord him the proper respect as is required of a past Prime Minister.
After which I shall wait in eager anticipation for the demise of his nemesis, the wholly unpleasant and hyper-hypocrite, Malcolm Fraser, before I uncork the Krug 1928.