Today the visionary Gough Whitlam, PM of Australia 1972-1975, died at the age of 98.
Much will be written about his legacy as the greatest Statesman Australia ever had on the world stage.
His government’s achievements in sweeping social change and reform through implementation of government policy is unsurpassed in Australia. He changed the way Australia though about itself………
- Abolished conscription
- Vietnam troop withdrawal
- Reduced voting age from 21 to 18
- Introduced equal pay for women and other policies to support womens rights (see here)
- Engaged with China as first Western leader (in opposition)to do so.
- Recognised China
- Free tertiary education (thanks Gough!)
- Universal health insurance (Medicare)
- Universal Childcare reform
- Death penalty abolished
- Anti-discrimination laws introduced
- ‘No fault’ divorce
- Aboriginal land rights recognised for the first time.
All this and more in such a short time………..
The one black mark that remains about the Whitlam government was their complicit silence on Indonesia’s take over of Timor Leste in 1975. Despite this Gough has a legacy of significant social reform in this country.
One area that will get no press mention and where Gough held a position completely contrary to PM’s (Liberal or Labour) before him or since, is his stance on Israel/Palestine. Something highly significant that has not been mentioned in any of the long lists of sustained achievements by the great man of Australian politics.
Perhaps it is best left to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs to enlighten us on his position on Israel with a section of the article from 2007 by Dr. Colin Rubenstein, (Nov. 14th 2007) “A Distant Affinity: The History of Australian-Israeli Relations” (full article here)
…..It is generally agreed that, despite a solidly pro-Israeli record up until that point, the election of an ALP government under Gough Whitlam (December 1972-November. 1975) marked a sharp departure in Australian policy toward Israel and Arab-Israeli issues. The Middle East was not a matter of controversy during the campaign and did not feature in the platform of either major party. Whitlam, speaking to Jewish gatherings during the lead-up to the campaign, emphasized his fraternal ties with the ruling Israeli Labor Party and friendship with leaders such as Golda Meir and Yigal Allon, and received a majority of Jewish support.
In office, however, the Whitlam government moved farther from the United States and closer in its foreign policy to the nonaligned movement, where condemnation of Israel was the norm. Although Whitlam described this policy as “even-handedness and neutrality,” such neutrality was a far cry from the sort also proclaimed by his conservative predecessors.
The effects of this new policy became most apparent during the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Australia failed to condemn either the Egyptian and Syrian attacks that launched it or the Soviet airlift of arms supplies to the Arab combatants. However, once the United States began to airlift arms and supplies to Israel, the Australian UN representative, on instructions from Canberra, condemned both airlifts with a particular emphasis on America’s. Even before this, there had been repeated one-sided condemnations by Australia in the United Nations of all Israeli reprisals for terrorist and cross-border attacks, but silence about anti-Israeli aggressions.
In a meeting with predominantly ALP-affiliated Jews called to clear the air, Whitlam apparently became angered by hostile questioning. He equated Israeli responses with terrorism, said an Israeli reprisal raid on a PLO base in Lebanon had been “not only a mistake, but a crime,” and cited the growing Australian Arab community becoming “more articulate” as a reason to change Australian policy. Most controversially, he referred to those present as “You people”; asked about the failure to condemn the Arab attacks that had launched the war, he responded: “You people should realise that there is a large Christian Arab community in this country.”
Under Whitlam, Australia also voted for a resolution equating Zionism with racism at a UN women’s conference in Mexico, though it voted against the equivalent resolution in the UN General Assembly. Whitlam later approved the establishment of a PLO liaison office in Canberra and became embroiled in scandals involving the acceptance of Arab loans to Australia and the ALP. In the 1974 Khemlani affair, Australia sought to borrow $4 billion from dubious Arab sources, repayable as a lump sum after twenty years. Even more controversially, during the 1975 election campaign Whitlam secretly approved a scheme to obtain a substantial sum, often said to be $500,000, from the Iraqi Baath Party to help fund ALP campaign expenses. It later emerged that the man at the center of the Iraqi loans affair, ALP activist Bill Hartley, had also written to Yasser Arafat seeking PLO funds for the party. Approaches for funds also were reportedly made to Saudi Arabia.
Following his highly controversial dismissal by the governor-general and subsequent loss of an election in 1975, Whitlam continued to maintain that his stances were justified by the existence of the growing Arab community in Australia. He also criticized Australian Jewish leaders for having “blackmailed” him, and implied that Israel dominated U.S. foreign policy and that the international media was monolithically pro-Israeli”.
What the article fails to mention of course, is that the reason for seeking the money through Khemlani was because the hostile Senate continuously blocked supply to the incumbent government. Gough needed the $4 billion to ostensibly buy ‘back the farm’, to buy back our mining resources from foreign ownership. He did not succeed and his now historic “dismissal” eventuated.