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Whitlam addresses protesting supporters in Canberra following the dismissal

By Cory Anderson

 

The Australian government of 1972-75 stands out as one of the most successful reforming governments in history, comparable perhaps to the first Labour government here in Aotearoa or Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the United States. Led by Gough Whitlam, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) introduced significant reforms, including free tertiary education, increased pensions and healthcare funding, brought troops home from Vietnam and ended the racist ‘White Australia’ policy. Part-way through its second term however, it was thrown out by the Governor-General and the Liberal Party in what can only be called a legal coup.

 

Immediately after entering office, the Whitlam government set about business. They ended the draft after just 30 minutes in government, intervened to support equal pay for women, dropped sales tax on contraceptives, banned sports teams from apartheid South Africa and took steps to support Aboriginal land rights and culture.

 

But in spite of heading perhaps the most progressive Labor government in Australia’s history, Gough Whitlam came not from the left but the right-wing of the ALP. He cut his teeth campaigning for “modernisation” of the party and a reduction in the influence of unions. He wanted a more respectable, middle-class party with a media friendly image: more suits and less socialism. Under his leadership the party tacked to the right on Vietnam and he intervened to remove the left-wing leadership of the ALP’s Victorian branch.

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