Gough Whitlam has died, but he will never be forgotten.
One of the giants of Australian politics – arguably, the giant – he was celebrated and scorned in equal measures. His most memorable moment by far was being dismissed as Prime Minister by the Queen’s representative in Australia, Sir John Kerr, on November 11, 1975.
Political journalist Paul Kelly claimed the “shadow of the dismissal has obscured the sins of his government”. Former veteran press gallery journalist Wallace Brown called him “a man of grand vision with serious blind spots”.
But Whitlam was also, in every sense, a modern politician who was desperate to drag Australia into the 20th Century at any cost. He was also an incredibly charismatic orator.
Here is just a short selection of his memorable, revealing, and importantly – for an Australian politician – downright funny quotes.
“My hopes were dashed by the outcome and from that moment I determined to do all I could do to modernise the Australian Constitution.”
– Almost 30 years before he became Prime Minister, Whitlam set himself this goal after a referendum he was spruiking for the ALP was defeated. It was known as the “14 Points Referendum” and sought to give the Federal Government expanded powers to legislate on 14 powers including national helath, the ability to legislate for Indigenous Australians, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.
“The time will come when you may interrupt me.”
– In his maiden speech to Parliament in 1952, after future PM John McEwen broke protocol that maiden speeches are traditionally heard in silence. It was a reference to Benjamin Disraeli’s maiden speech in which Disraeli told a heckler “The time will come when you shall hear me.”
“Let me make quite clear that I am for abortion and, in your case Sir, we should make it retrospective.”
– On being repeatedly pestered by a punter on the campaign trail wanting to know Whitlam’s stance on abortion.
“When government makes opportunities for any of the citizens, it makes them for all the citizens. We are all diminished as citizens when any of us are poor. Poverty is a national waste as well as individual waste. We are all diminished when any of us are denied proper education. The nation is the poorer – a poorer economy, a poorer civilisation, because of this human and national waste.”
– From his 1969 campaign launch.
“Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur.”
– His address to the crowd gathered in front of Parliament House which had just heard Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s Official Secretary David Smith dismiss him from office, ending the proclamation with “God Save the Queen”.
– In reply to Sir Winton Turnbull shouting: “I am a Country member”.
“I was profoundly embarrassed by it and did all I could to change it.”
– On the White Australia Policy.
“We would do absolutely nothing. Now that’s a blunt, truthful answer.”
– On what he would do if Indonesia invaded East Timor. Three days later, on December 8, 1978, Indonesia invaded East Timor.
“Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.”
– August 16, 1975, as Whitlam handed over freehold title of the Gurindji lands.
“I’m not having hundreds of f…ing Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us.”
– To his Foreign Affairs Minister Don Willesee on the possibility of admitting certain categories of refugees in the 1970s.
“No other western nation has cities in which the incidence of urban sanitation is so primitive or so ludicrous as in the cities of Australia… We are the most effluent nation in what Liberals call the free world.”
– On implementing the $330 million National Sewerage Program. Before it was later cancelled by the Fraser Government, it had cleared the backlog of unsewered properties in Australia’s capital cities by between 30-50% in just seven years.
“The punters know that the horse named Morality rarely gets past the post, whereas the nag named Self-interest always runs a good race.”
– Written for the London Daily Telegraph, 1989.