By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Gough Whitlam: His Time
By Jenny Hocking (Miegunyah Press, $49.99, hardcover, 596 pages)
“My experience in politics is that when nothing is controversial, when everything is beautifully co-ordinated, it must be that nothing is changing.” ~ Gough WhitlamArguably one of the most contentious events in Australian political history would have been when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the twice-elected Labor Government of Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Professor Jenny Hocking from Monash University paints a strong picture of how this dismissal, at the climax of the constitutional crisis, was abrupt and astonishing.
It highlights the highs and lows of public life, mentions connections with many senior politicians and public servants, reveals the identity of a third man involved in Whitlam’s removal from office, the ‘love of his life’, Margaret, and delves into the personal heartache of the 96-year-old former leader.
This is an earnest study of some important historical facts. Whitlam had led the Australian Labor Party into government for the first time in 23 years when he was swept to power in December 1972. As Australia’s 21st and eighth Labor prime minister, Whitlam led a party that had formed national government for only 17 of the 71 years since Federation.
More than that, he had led it out of Opposition and into government from an election for the first time in 43 years.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that he had been re-elected in a double dissolution election in May 1974. The Whitlam government had been back in office for 18 months when the dismissal occurred.
The way the book is seasoned in its approach to the public service is revealed early on: ‘‘For the new government with its own priorities and its own bureaucratic requirements, the difficulty lay with neither the establishment of new departments nor the closure of existing ones … but with the existing departmental secretaries’’.
This revealing, biographical tome looks not at the public service so much as the path leading up to events of November 11, 1975 and Remembrance Day.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.