Australian politics, society & culture

Wednesday, 22nd October 2014


Graham Freudenberg said yesterday that the occasion of Gough Whitlam's passing was not so much sad as memorable. After years of terribly divisive politics and awesome nastiness, Parliament yesterday convened to honour one of its greatest servants, and masters. For perhaps the first time since about 2009 a spirit of reflection, however temporary, now pervades the political nation. Even – the online iteration of the media organisation which has encouraged, perhaps more than any other, a meanness of outlook and a narrowing of the public conversation – paused to reflect on Whitlam's legacy and what the current Parliament is trying to do to it.

Whitlam's legacy is in an extraordinary modernisation of the Australian policy landscape, but that was only possible because of his earlier modernisation of the Labor Party. When Whitlam became deputy leader in 1960 under Arthur Calwell, the party was trapped in the era of Curtin and Chifley. It couldn't make inroads into the postwar culture, which was dominated by Britishness and the Cold War.

While today's Labor Party remains trapped in the legacy of Hawke and Keating, it can't respond to today's challenges. The Abbott government's budget is the latest salvo in a forty-year war on Australia's egalitarianism, but the evidence is in (through the work of Richard Wilkinson, Thomas Piketty and Amartya Sen): inequality, not slow GDP growth or minor budget deficits, is the greatest challenge facing developed economies and the world. To truly honour Gough Whitlam's legacy, Labor would do much worse than to make itself relevant again as a party of the reform needed now.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Remembering EG Whitlam

The Australian has a series on some of Gough Whitlam's more well-known reforms – tariff cuts, the Racial Discrimination Act, no-fault divorce, ending the death penalty – as well as the loans affair. Fairfax reflects on his government's foreign policy (especially on Vietnam, China and Timor) and its legacy in education, Medicareculture and land rights. The Drum lists some of the lesser-known reforms.

Tributes flow, from Malcolm FraserJohn FaulknerMichelle Grattan, Mungo MacCallum (also here), Graham Freudenberg, Eva CoxEvan Williams, Bill ShortenLenore Taylor, David Marr, Rodney Cavalier, Barrie CassidyTony Abbottsix former PMs and current HSC students.

Demolishing Whitlam's past

Heritage Victoria and the state government have rejected a heritage application over Gough Whitlam's childhood home, which means it could be demolished within days (Fairfax).

Monash University's David Holmes looks at the radical credentials of Tony Abbott, whose political career began at Sydney University with a determination to undo the Whitlam legacy (Conversation).

And Frank Bongiorno reminds us that the true antecedents of Whitlam's reformist zeal were not in the heady days of the late Sixties, but instead in the "much gentler breezes of the 1950s" (Inside Story).

Reviewing climate leadership

Australia now ranks last out of 60 countries on political leadership in response to climate change, according to the 2014 Global Green Economy Index (Fairfax).

Meanwhile, the Climate Change Authority will proceed with its own review into the Renewable Energy Target, just months after the government's Warburton review (ABC).

Crimes against humanity

Continuing his quest to deny permanent settlement to boat-borne asylum seekers, Scott Morrison has personally intervened to issue rare certificates to remove particular applicants' appeal rights (Guardian).

Meanwhile Andrew Wilkie has asked the ICC to investigate Tony Abbott and his Cabinet colleagues for crimes against humanity (News).

Journalists in the line of fire

The AFP has dropped its five-year investigation into the Balibo Five, and international law professor Ben Saul has demanded an explanation (Guardian). Meanwhile a date has been set for journalist Peter Greste's appeal in Egypt (ABC). 

Freelance journalist Dan Moss looks at some implications of the government's proposed national security laws in Crikey.