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Love or hate him, Gough changed your world
Anyone who suggests that Gough Whitlam understood economics needs their sanity questioned.
The fact is, Gough Whitlam made some monumental mistakes as prime minister of this country in the 1970s, some which took years to fix. He got a lot of things very wrong!
That said, Gough Whitlam was also the most significant prime minister of my lifetime, given the number and scale of reforms he introduced.
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There have been more economically literate prime ministers, such as Keating and Fraser; and there have been more politically savvy prime ministers, such as Hawke and Howard.
Many would argue that they were all more successful than Gough Whitlam.
But no prime minister has delivered more fundamental change than Edward Gough Whitlam, a point made most eloquently by indigenous leader Noel Pearson at Gough’s funeral. I urge you to watch his moving speech here.
The changes implemented by Gough endure to this day, in the form of:
- The Family Court of Australia and no-blame divorce;
- Extracting Australia from the Vietnam War;
- The recognition of China;
- Establishing Medibank and free healthcare;
- Equal pay for women enshrined in legislation;
- Establishing Telecom (Telstra) and Australia Post;
- Establishing needs-based funding for schools;
- Introducing free university education;
- Establishing the National Sewage Program;
- Establishing the National Assistance plan for local government;
- Reducing the voting age from 21 to 18;
- Replacing God Save the Queen with Advance Australia Fair;
- Making the Queen, the Queen of Australia;
- Replacing British honours with Australian honours;
- Establishing the National Gallery of Australia;
- Establishing the Australian Council of the Arts;
- Establishing the Australian Heritage Commission;
- Introducing FM radio into Australia;
- Setting up 2JJ radio and numerous cultural stations;
- Introducing the Racial Discrimination Act;
- Adopting the convention against all forms of racial prejudice;
- Re-establishing the Australian film industry with funding;
- Establishing the Department of Aboriginal Affairs;
- Giving Papua New Guinea independence;
- Taking hundreds of books, including many classics, off the banned list;
- Giving the Gurindji people title to their land;
- Gave the NT and ACT representation in the Australian Senate;
- 25 percent cut in tariffs – opening the economy up to the world;
- Abolished the death penalty in Australia;
- Established the Australian Law Reform Commission;
- Established the Australian Legal Office.
And this list goes on and on and on.
Edward Gough Whitlam was the father of modern Australia. He got so much wrong, but he got so much right – and he did it all with a big heart, an even gigger ego and a monumental sense of fairness.
He was described by Pearson in his speech as a man committed to equity -- and without a single discriminatory bone in his body.
A man as rich in flaws as the rest of us, Gough helped to shape our world. He was my hero!