Showing posts with label Whitlam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Whitlam. Show all posts

Monday, July 04, 2011

Gough at 95

An interesting column in The Monthly by (another) child of the Whitlam era Lindsay Tanner as a Gough retrospective at 95.

I'm with Tanner in agreeing that the Whitlam Government is often misrepresented as being economically negligent and careless in foreign affairs. Tanner is right to note how turbulent the times were, but he perhaps also fails to remind us that 1972-75 oil shocks were not only due to oil embargoes arising from the Yom Kippur War but were also a simple conscious economic act of "monopoly" pricing by the oil cartel that was OPEC.

The fact that Whitlam shared with every other Western Government the inability to deal with the consequent "stagflation" is conveniently forgotten. The fact that the very first piece of removing economic rigidities that was the correct response to stagflation was the 25% tariff cut is also underplayed. The conservatives don't want to admit it was an essential pre-condition for all the reforms that came later, and the left cannot accept ownership of it.

The coalition didn't especially revile the Whitlam Government because of the way they obtained power - it is always the nature of incoming Government's to critique their predecessor. Maintaining Whitlam as leader and being prepared to run the 1977 election on the same basis of 1975 was the ALP's choice. If Gough had stood aside immediately for Bill Hayden, the man widely credited as having renewed credibility to the Whitlam Government, 1977 would have been an election on Fraser's record, not Gough's.

In the praise of the Whitlam Government there is also a little too much of the "great man" view of history. Gough's Government was as much a product of the times as it was of any action by a single leader. In the west there was a "revolution" in 1967-68. Only in a few places (like Paris) did the revolution resemble earlier revolutions (like 1948) where the forces for change won the war without winning any battles.

Evidence of this can be found in the reformist zeal that infected even parts of the coalition, the Government of John Gorton giving particular expression to it. That forces of conservatism in the coalition destroyed Gorton simply showed the error in the ways of those conservatives.

The same factors underpin why the Government of Malcolm Fraser ultimately did so little to dismantle the Whitlam legacy - it amended at the edges but never the core.

Footnote: Gough and Margaret Whitlam were at Sydney University with my parents. My aunt Barbara Manton (nee Glasgow) gets one small reference in Susan Mitchell's Margaret Whitlam: A Biography.

Footnote 2: I can also recall exactly where I was when I heard Gough had been dismissed, I had jost crossed City Road on the over-bridge from Wentworth to Carslaw, and my Physics I tutor John Gerofi told me the news.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, March 15, 2010

The flunky fights back

Extraotrdinary. David Smith, sole defender of truth, does it again.

Smith, apart from being a former flunky to the GG, has also become a contributor of note to Quadrant. In that role he has played a bit of a role in defending the idea that there is one correct history. Quadrant of course, and its current editor, Keith Windshuttle, have been fond of regarding any written record as superior to any oral record.

But in refuting Malcolm Fraser's claim Smith goes one further than those who are criticised by his Quadrant fellow travellers.

The argument goes that, because John Kerr did not tell him that the conversation with Fraser included the two disputed points, they cannot have occurred. So we are asked to believe that the absence of heresay evidence is more significant than the evidence of a person who was present and who has a note that purports to be contemporaneous with the conversation.

That Kerr and Fraser may have denied it in the immediately following period, and that Kerr may have left it out of his briefing to Smith, are merely consistent with their concern that the conversation was improper. Would this be the first time people had lied to hide a misdeed?

PS Meanwhile Fraser's co-author Margaret Simons and Gerard Henderson have been having a separate stoush that has been reported in both Crikey and Media Watch Dog. Henderson has asked the pefectly reasonable question of why the time and date on the note is in a different pen than the rest. The supposed answer is that Fraser dated it later that day, but is now relying on a thirty year old memory to make that claim.

It is however interesting to note that Smith claims the extra two conditions were not discussed later at Government House, which means they either were discussed on the phone call or that this note was merely Fraser's idea of what he planned to offer but was never asked to.

At the moment I'm favouring the version in the Fraser book. Ether way, the evidence remains that Kerr handled the situation abomoinably. He should never have ambushed Whitlam. No "advice" from Whitlam as PM was ever enough to stop the GG withdrawing his Commission, and it is entirely unlikly that a "race to the palace" would have seen the Queen remove Kerr' commission.

PPS Perhaps Richard Nixon had the right idea and all conversation in the head of state's offices should be recorded.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Whitlam Legacy

The Australian editorial for 7-8 January, 2006 (" The Whitlam Myth") repeats the common criticism of the Whitlam government, that no matter how progressive its social record may have been it was an absolute failure in economic management. It further suggests that the social record is over-promoted, but it is the economic record I wish to defend.

Two major policy decision set up the Australian economy for the reforms and changes we had to wait for the Hawke-Keating era to conclude. The first was the 25% across-the-board tariff cut - the first dramatic step in opening the Australian economy. The second was the passing of the Trade Practices Act 1974, the first coherent step to make corporations more competitive.

A third but less significant step was the creation of Australia Post and Telecom Australia, the first major Australian step in the program of what became known as corporatisation and privatisation.

Yes, during the Whitlam Government both inflation and unemployment grew. This was the consequence of stagflation - a rise in the input costs of factors of production (in that case oil). The Keynesians who occupied all senior economic posts had no idea what to do.

Modern textbooks explain that you need to "free up the economy" - and reducing protection, improving competition policy and removing Government from the direct running of enterprises are pretty good starts.

Lord knows how the country would have faired under the Coalition as their record up to 1969 and from 1975 to 1983 was that they knew absolutely nothing about how to reshape the Australian economy.