its singing celebrities, hip T-shirts and dazzling leader’s increasingly fluffy mane’’, embodied new Labor.
The reality, the authors point out, is that between Whitlam’s election in 1972 and Paul Keating’s electoral demise almost a quarter of a century later, Labor ‘‘ ruled federally for 16 years — roughly equal to its meagre performance over the previous 70 years’’.
It seems indisputable that Whitlam and flamboyant South Australian Labor premier Don Dunstan, who had risen to power in 1970, had much in common. The authors put it particularly well: ‘‘ Elegant and well spoken, and paying attention to the environment, urban planning, consumer protection, education, the arts, equal opportunity and Aboriginal affairs, Dunstan, as much as Whitlam, epitomised the party’s changing image and policy orientation.’’
Prime minister Whitlam and his senior ministers were supposedly progressive but in 1972 not a single woman sat in caucus, let alone in the federal cabinet. As opposition leader, Whitlam had described his leadership style as ‘‘ crash through or crash’’. It is hard not to agree that this phrase applied equally well to Whitlam’s style of governing.
Moreover, like an earlier, short-term, Labor prime minister, Jim Scullin, Whitlam significantly raised expectations about what he could deliver, while confronting a ‘‘ global economic crisis, an obstructionist Senate and powerful vested interests that were hostile to his agenda’’.
Much of this heady material is traversed in Brian Carroll’s Whitlam. But do we need another book about the great man, especially as Carroll’s biography does not seem to contribute anything new?
Nevertheless, there are interesting bits in Whitlam. Carroll writes well about the twoman government of Whitlam and his deputy leader of the parliamentary party, Lance Barnard, which was sworn in on December 5, 1972. Remarkably, they were in charge of 27 portfolios: 13 for Whitlam, 14 for Barnard. This duumvirate abolished conscription, freed all jailed draft resisters, recalled troops still left in Vietnam and applied to the commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to reopen the equal pay for women case. It also appointed Edward Woodward to begin an inquiry into Aboriginal land rights and ‘‘ began moves to set up diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China’’. Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University. His most recent book (with Rick Murphy) is Austen Tayshus: Merchant of Menace.
Carroll usefully puts the spotlight on Whitlam’s trouble-prone attorney-general Lionel Murphy, who in March 1973 led ‘‘ raids’’ on ASIO offices in Canberra and Melbourne. In his book The Whitlam Venture influential Canberra-based political journalist Alan Reid rightly called Murphy ‘‘ a political bungler of considerable eminence’’.
Although Graham Freudenberg’s magisterial exegesis of Whitlam’s role in Australian politics, A Certain Grandeur, is mentioned in a section on suggested reading at the end of Carroll’s book, it seems strange that there is not one mention of Freudenberg in the footnotes.
Yet as Whitlam’s brilliant speechwriter, close adviser and confidant, the chainsmoking Freudenberg helped Labor to power in that heady year of 1972.
He also was instrumental in keeping in the public eye what he regarded as the main contributions that the short-lived Whitlam government had made to Australian life.