05 DEC 1972 - 11 NOV 1975


"The right man at the right time."





Parliamentary Service

Ministerial Appointments

Committee Service


Parliamentary Party Positions

Party Positions



Family History


Military Service


Further Reading

"You either crash through or crash" is the political philosophy of Gough Whitlam, and he looks as though he means it. A big, imposing man, with a biting wit and computer-fast intelligence, he has a dynamic confidence which made him the first Labor Prime Minister for 23 years.

Born in Melbourne in 1916, the son of a solicitor who became a leading public servant, his background was unusual for a Labor man when he joined the party in 1945. In those days, many of the leading Labor personalities were Irish Catholics from 'hard yakka' beginnings. Whitlam, an intellectual from an intellectual family, had never had to toil for his wages in the dust and heat.

In 1927 the Whitlams were among the first public service families to settle permanently in Canberra. The new capital was then little more than an unfinished sprawl, but the Whitlam home became a haven in which good books and political and intellectual discussion were all part of the daily fare. Gough Whitlam completed his education at Canberra schools and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated in Arts and Law.

In 1941 he joined the RAAF. His background left him amazed at his comrades' apathy toward the political affairs which could affect their futures. When he was discharged, his beliefs in progress and reform inspired him to join the Labor Party, although he had no intention of making a career in politics. He began to make a name as a successful barrister.

But impatience for national progress caused him to make a bid for a State Parliament seat in 1950 and, two years later, to win a by-election for the federal seat of Werriwa. He was to hold this seat, covering a new suburban area of Sydney, for more than 20 years and it gave him intimate knowledge of the needs and problems of Australian urban communities.

Whitlam entered Parliament at a time when successive Liberal-Country Party victories were shaking 'old-style' Labor to the roots. He was to encounter opposition from the old guard as he climbed steadily upward but, by 1967, he was leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

Labor had been given fresh hope for the future by the retirement of Menzies, the disappearance of Holt and the controversial regimes of Gorton and McMahon. Whitlam rallied the party for the hard-fought election of 1969, then prepared for the final assault in 1972.

He backed his election campaign with an armoury of 140 promises of reform, including an end to conscription and withdrawal from Vietnam, equal opportunities for women, vastly increased funding for education and the arts, a harder line toward South Africa, recognition of Communist China, urban renewal, universal health insurance, revisions to the family law and improvements to public transport. He was to keep these and many other promises.

In 1972 Whitlam was the right man at the right time. He presented an inspiring new image to an electorate tired of the old coalition, which seemed to have lost its way. The voters gave Labor a massive mandate and Whitlam instantly responded by pressing the button to start his dazzling reform program.

Despite a hostile Senate and a sometimes cynical media, the shiny new Labor machine quickly roared into top gear. But after a while it was bombarded by rocketing oil prices and it began to run out of financial fuel. Some members of Whitlam's government, including Rex Connor and Jim Cairns, defied the Constitution in a secret attempt to raise a $2 billion overseas loan to keep Labor programs rolling. The two men gave misleading answers to challenges from a revamped Opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser, and Whitlam was forced to demote them. Cairns added fuel to media fires by taking on a pretty young woman, from outside the public service, as his personal secretary.

Whitlam, campaigning against a backdrop of rising unemployment and inflation, fought a battle of wits and stamina with Fraser. Fraser, determined to force a dissolution of Parliament so that a scandalised electorate might show its opinion of Labor, contrived a Senate blockage of Labor's 1975 budget.

Whitlam still thought he would ride out the storm and, on 11 November 1975, he tried to present a plan of action to Governor-General Sir John Kerr. But Kerr demanded: "Are you prepared to recommend a general election?" When Whitlam refused, Kerr said: "In that case, I have no alternative but to dismiss you."

Kerr commissioned Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister and the coalition won a resounding victory in the December elections.

The 'Loans Affair' and 'The Dismissal' comprise one of the most controversial periods in Australian politics and many believe the whole truth about them has not yet been told. For Whitlam they were almost the end of the political road, although he has continued to play a leading role in social and international affairs since retiring from the Parliament.

Party Australian Labor Party
Electorate Werriwa
State New South Wales
Parliamentary Service Local and State
Made two unsuccessful attempts to enter politics in elections for the Sutherland Shire Council and for the State seat of Sutherland.
Won Labor preselection for the federal seat of Werriwa in 1952 and subsequently won a by-election in that year at the age of 36.
Elected to the House of Representatives for Werriwa, New South Wales, at a by-election on 29 November 1952 (vice the Hon. H.P. Lazzarini deceased).
Re-elected 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977.
Resigned 31 July 1978.
Ministerial Appointments
Prime Minister, from 5 December 1972 to 11 November 1975.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, from 5 December 1972 to 6 November 1973.
From 5 December to 19 December 1972 performed the portfolios of:
  • Treasurer;
  • Attorney-General;
  • Minister for Customs and Excise;
  • Trade and Industry;
  • Shipping and Transport;
  • Education and Science;
  • Civil Aviation;
  • Housing;
  • Works; and
  • External Territories.

  • Minister for Environment, from 2 July to 14 July 1975.
    Committee Service
    House of Representatives Standing:
  • Standing Orders, from 7 March 1960 to 11 April 1974;
  • Privileges, from 25 November 1969 to 11 April 1974.

  • Joint: Constitutional Review, 1956-59.
    Joint Select: New and Permanent Parliament House, 1965-70.
    As Deputy Leader of the Opposition from 7 March 1960 to 8 February 1967, visited:
  • Austria,
  • Belgium,
  • Brunei,
  • Burma,
  • Cambodia (2),
  • Canada (2),
  • Egypt,
  • Fiji,
  • France (2),
  • Federal Republic of Germany (2),
  • Greece,
  • Hong Kong,
  • India (2),
  • Indonesia (3),
  • Iran,
  • Ireland,
  • Israel,
  • Italy (2),
  • Japan,
  • Jordan,
  • Malaysia (4),
  • Mexico,
  • Netherlands,
  • New Caledonia,
  • New Zealand,
  • Norfolk Is.,
  • Papua New Guinea (4),
  • Philippines Singapore (4),
  • Switzerland,
  • Thailand (4),
  • Turkey,
  • United Kingdom (2),
  • United States (2) and
  • Vietnam.

  • As Leader of the Opposition from 8 February 1967 to 5 December 1972, visited
  • Austria,
  • Belgium,
  • Canada (2),
  • China,
  • Cyprus (2),
  • Fiji,
  • Finland,
  • France (4),
  • Federal Republic of Germany (3),
  • Greece (2),
  • Hong Kong (2),
  • India (4),
  • Indonesia (4),
  • Iran,
  • Ireland (2),
  • Israel(3),
  • Italy (4),
  • Japan (2),
  • Lebanon (2),
  • Malaysia (4),
  • Malta (2),
  • Monaco,
  • Netherlands,
  • New Zealand,
  • Pakistan,
  • Papua New Guinea (2),
  • Philippines San Marino,
  • Singapore (4),
  • Sweden,
  • Thailand (3),
  • the Vatican,
  • Tonga,
  • Turkey,
  • United Kingdom (4),
  • United States (4),
  • USSR,
  • Vietnam (2) and
  • Yugoslavia.

  • As Prime Minister attended Commonwealth heads of government meetings from 5 December 1972 to 11 November 1975 at:
  • Ottawa, August 1973 (also visited Mexico and the United States); and
  • Kingston, April 1975 (also visited Tahiti, Peru and the United States).

  • Attended UN General Assembly in September 1974, also visited
  • Rarotonga (South Pacific Conference),
  • the United States,
  • Canada,
  • Fiji (Centenary of Cession) and
  • Norfolk Island (Bicentenary of Discovery).

  • Visited ASEAN countries (except Indonesia) Laos and Burma, from January to February 1974; and EEC countries (except Denmark and Luxembourg), December 1974 and January 1975.
    Also Visited
  • New Zealand (3),
  • Papua New Guinea (2),
  • Indonesia (2),
  • Western Samoa (South Pacific Forum),
  • UK,
  • the Vatican,
  • Mauritius,
  • India,
  • Japan,
  • China,
  • Pakistan,
  • Bangladesh and
  • Singapore.

  • As Leader of the Opposition visited Malaysia (funeral of Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak) and Singapore, January 1976.
    As Leader of the Opposition from 11 November 1975 to 22 December 1977, also visited
  • Austria (2),
  • Bahrain,
  • Belgium,
  • China,
  • Cyprus,
  • Denmark,
  • Egypt,
  • France,
  • Federal Republic of Germany,
  • German Democratic Republic,
  • Greece (2),
  • Hungary,
  • Israel,
  • Japan,
  • Jordan,
  • Lebanon,
  • Malaysia,
  • Philippines,
  • Portugal,
  • Rumania,
  • Singapore,
  • Spain,
  • Sweden,
  • Syria and
  • United Kingdom (2).

  • Official visits in 1978 to
  • Andorra,
  • Argentina,
  • Belgium,
  • Brazil,
  • Chile,
  • China,
  • France,
  • Hong Kong,
  • Indonesia,
  • Japan,
  • New Caledonia,
  • New Hebrides,
  • Poland,
  • Spain,
  • Switzerland,
  • Thailand,
  • Turkey,
  • United Kingdom,
  • USSR and
  • Vietnam.

  • Leader of the Australian parliamentary delegations to the constitutional conventions, Melbourne, September 1973, Sydney, September 1975 and as deputy leader, Hobart, October 1976.
    Parliamentary Party Positions
    Deputy Leader of the Opposition, from 7 March 1960 to 8 February 1967.
    Leader of the Opposition, from 8 February 1967 to 5 December 1972, and from 11 November 1975 to 22 December 1977.
    Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, from 8 February 1967 to 22 December 1977.
    Member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry, from 27 January 1976 to 22 December 1977.
    Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, from 27 January 1976 to 22 December 1977 and on the Arts, from 25 March 1976 to 22 December 1977.
    Party Positions
    Joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1945.
    Member of the ALP National (formerly Federal) Executive, 1967-77.
    Vice President, Socialist International, from 1976.
    Education Schooling
    Mowbray House and Knox Grammar School in Sydney until 1928.
    Telopea Park High School, Canberra, for the next four years before switching to Canberra Grammar School.
    BA (Sydney).
    LLB (Sydney).
    Queen's Counsel, 1962.
    Family History Born
    11 July 1916 at Kew, Victoria.
    First of two children of Harry Frederick Ernest Whitlam and Martha Maddocks. Harry Whitlam (Fred) was the grandson of a British army officer who had migrated from India to Victoria in the middle of the nineteenth century. He joined the Commonwealth Public Service in the second decade of federation and subsequently became Commonwealth Crown Solicitor.
    In 1918 the family moved to Sydney and in 1928 it moved to Canberra.
    Gough Whitlam married Margaret Dovey in 1942. He has three children.
    Queen's Counsel, 1962.
    Socialist International Plate of Honour, 1976.
    Companion of the Order of Australia, 1978.
    Military Service
    Enlisted in the RAAF General Duties Branch,1941.
    Discharged 1945 with rank of Flight Lieutenant.
    The Truth of the Matter, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria, 1979.
    The Whitlam Government 1972-1975, Viking, Ringwood, Victoria, 1985.
    Further Reading
    'Abdication of Prime Minister Whitlam', Intelligence Survey, v.24, September 1974: 1, 8
    Edwards, John, 'Inside Gough Whitlam', Australian Financial Review, 30 May 1972: 2-3.
    Freudenberg, Graham, A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam in Politics, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1977.
    Frost, D., Whitlam and Frost: The Full Text of Their TV Conversations Plus Exclusive New Interviews, Sundial Publications, London, 1974.
    Johns, Brian, 'Whitlam - The Man Without a Faction', Bulletin, v.873, 11 December 1965: 17-21.
    Kelly, Paul, The Unmaking of Gough, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1976.
    McGregor, Craig, 'Children of a Lesser God' [Three Generations of the Whitlam Family], Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend, 8 October 1988: 38-44.
    McGregor, Craig, 'The Whitlam Era' in The Australian People, Hodder and Stoughton, Sydney, 1980: 210-17.
    'The Men Who Would be King', Courier Mail, 12 December 1975: 5.
    Oakes, Laurie, Crash Through or Crash: The Unmaking of a Prime Minister, Drummond, Melbourne, 1976.
    Oakes, Laurie and Solomon, David, The Making of an Australian Prime Minister, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1973.
    Oakes, Laurie, Whitlam PM: A Biography, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973.
    Ramsay, Alan, 'Great Gough Warts and Fall: Reflection on 20 Years of Whitlam Watching', National Times, 8-14 November, 1985: 20-1.
    Reid, Alan, The Whitlam Venture, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1976.
    Walter, James, 'Language and Habits Of Thought: Biographical Notes on E.G. Whitlam', Biography, v.4, no. 1, 1981: 17-44
    Walter, James, The Leader: A Political Biography of Gough Whitlam, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1980.
    Watson, Bruce, 'Wit and Politics: A Study of Whitlam and Menzies', Journal of Politics, Melbourne, v.13, 1981: 32-44.
    Webster, Paul, 'Edward Gough Whitlam: Australian of the Year', Australian, 1 January 1973: 7
    Wells, Deane, The Wit of Whitlam, Outback Press, Collingwood, Vic, 1976.
    Whitlam, M.E., My Day, Collins, Sydney, 1974.
    'The Whitlam Experiment' [in five parts], Sydney Morning Herald,
  • Paul Kelly and Geraldine O'Brien, 'Part 1: A Time of Boldness and Blunders', 29 November 1982: 7, 9;
  • Carlyon, Les, 'Part 2: The Loan Affair Is Inevitably the One Act by Which the Whitlam Government is Judged', 30 November 1982: 7;
  • Singer, Peter, 'Part 3: The Left Lowers its Sights and Plays it Safe', 1 December 1982: 7;
  • Steketee, Mike, 'Part 4: The Way it Was', 2 December 1982: 7;
  • 'Part 5: Whitlam Reflects on Whitlam', 3 December 1982: 7-8.
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