Australian Commentary (29) The Death of Gough Whitlam

How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man has no knowledge, nor does a stupid man understand this: that when the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore (Ps.92:5-7).

Much is being written positively about the former Australian prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, now that he’s dead at 98. Intellectually brilliant, eloquent and ambitious he certainly was, but these are not uncommon attributes for political leaders.

Whitlam was a political humanist; a son of The Enlightenment. He must be considered in those terms, because deep down this was what he prided himself in, and this was what he represented. Not for him the restraints of Christian ethics and morality. No sir, he represented a much different train of thought. It wasn’t for nothing that he branded the Premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Peterson, “a Bible bashing bastard” in 1974.

It is interesting that his “conservative” political opponents were really not that different. They simply had never developed or expressed their ideology as completely as he had. His greatest political opponents like Doug Anthony and Malcolm Fraser, at the end of the day were not much different to him on most issues. Despite their great animosity in Parliament, Fraser developed a lasting friendship with him after they’d both left politics. At the end of the day it really was a case of “birds of a feather…”

What does this mean? Australian political conservatism has not developed itself ideologically or consistently since Menzies resigned in 1966. It is hardly less humanistic than the Labor Party. The goal is power. We’ll talk about ethics later.

Whitlam triumphed in 1972 because of two reasons. Firstly, Australian conservative politics after Menzies was weak and uncertain of itself, having been beset with a string of ordinary leaders who were not, and never would be decisive, confident conservatives.

Secondly, Whitlam offered hope to an easily deceived electorate. It is legitimate for political leaders to offer hope, but that hope has to have a legitimate base. Whitlam’s was a Messianic hope: great dreams, big visions, big promises, bigger government, and lots more spending on social projects like education and health.

Whitlam really did have utopian visions for Australia, and the younger generation in particular loved it. He offered something for nothing, especially in education. They could get tertiary education for free, and you can’t get it much better than that. Or so it seemed.

Whitlam’s economic record was ruinous. He produced massively increased unemployment, the highest level in Australia since the great Depression. Inflation got above 20 per cent at one stage. .. In 1974-75, government spending increased by 40 per cent, plainly a state of madness. Tax increased by 30 per cent. It wasn’t just that Whitlam was uninterested in economics, his economic policies were catastrophic and took many years to recover from.[1]

The facts of life catch up with everyone who ignores them. And anyone who adopts as his motto as Whitlam did, “Crash through or crash,” is courting disaster. Any sea-captain can drive his ship hard and fast, but if he ignores the lighthouse, he is doomed. Whitlam doomed himself in 1975 when he decided to take on the Senate and indirectly the constitution, for the constitution clearly gives the Senate power over money bills.

And when that act of political folly was failing as the Budget monies were running out, and his commission was withdrawn by the Governor General, his response on 11th November was to blame the Governor General, when in fact it was his own pride and vanity that had brought him down. When the electorate got its chance, it passed judgment in severe terms. Like all the enemies of God, Whitlam had become his own worst enemy.

The Bible tells us in Psalm 2 that God laughs at His enemies, and so should we.

[1] Greg Sheridan, “Busting Decades of Myths on Gough Whitlam,” ‘The Australian,’ 22/10/2014.