ing cap­i­tal­ism

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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.

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