Gough Whitlam – a personal memory

October 22, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Federal Labor MP Michael Danby talks of his memories of Gough Whitlam, Australia’s 21st Prime Minister who passed away this week at the age of 98…

Michael Danby and Gough Whitlam - 1975

Michael Danby and Gough Whitlam – 1975

“On December 4, 1972 I walked down Balaclava Road on a balmy night to the ‘It’s Time’ rally at the then St Kilda, now Pt Phillip Town Hall. It was the beginning of a lifetime of coincidental meetings with Labor’s legendary leader. My close friend and Jewish community elder statesman, Mr Saul Same, is really the bearer of the Australian Jewish Community’s 50-year association with the late Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam.

Mr Whitlam, with whom I’ve been in contact with intermittently throughout my political career ever since then, was the key figure in ensuring that funding of non-government schools was non-partisan. The success of the Jewish schools, like Catholic schools, are largely due to him, as prior to 1970 hard-left, anti-Catholic sectarians were dominant in Victoria and funding of Jewish schools by the Federal Government would not have taken place unless this policy was changed. Indeed the issue of State aid to independent schools destroyed the career of my predecessor, Clive Holding. 3 days before the 1970 State election, Bill Hartley, the infamous anti-Israel head of the Victorian Central Executive, overruled Holding’s pledge to give Government money (State-aid) to Church (Jewish and Catholic) schools. This caused Mr Whitlam, who was then Leader of the Opposition, with the support of then ACTU President Bob Hawke, to intervene (in the Victorian Labor Party) and replace its extreme-left executive. Excising the hard-left Victorian central executive, dominated by little remembered, but prominent figures at the time, Bill Hartley and George Crawford, is widely judged to have been crucial to Labor’s election for the first time in 23 years in 1972.

Unfortunately Mr Whitlam sullied his record in 1975 by proposing to take a donation from the Iraqi Ba’ath party.

Occasionally, I saw Mr Whitlam through the ensuing years and our relationship slowly revived.

Our last conversation was several years ago at the ALP National Conference in Darling Harbour, where Gough Whitlam exhibited a keen interest in my role as the ranking member of Federal Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee. Whitlam was very anxious that the Liberals not role back “One Vote, One Value”. As he stepped into the car his parting remarks were, in his famous deep and self-mocking tone, “I pass to you, Danby, the torch of Electoral Reform”


2 Responses to “Gough Whitlam – a personal memory”
  1. Sol Salbe says:

    Like the Red Orchestra spies in Nazi-Occupied Europe Michael Danby’s trade mark is to include an error in some crucial detail so we know that he wrote it himself. The Elections were held on 2 December 1972, a date that Gough Whitlam pointed out was the date on which another ramshackle coalition was defeated in Austerlitz. By 4 December 1972 Gough and his Deputy, Lance Barnard were preparing to be sworn in as Australia next government on the next day.

    Danby doesn’t mention Whitlam’s comments during the 1973 war either.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    Yes, old Gough was a great reformer, but he failed at controlling his cabinet. He failed as well in the Khemlani affair, but most importantly he failed in two major ways: he failed to sack his buddy, the cur Kerr, and he failed by his unprincipled action of adopting a beautiful sounding policy – in fact an abandonment of principle – the “even-handed” approach to Israel and the fakestinians. One cannot adopt even-handedness between a criminal and a cop, a victim and his victimiser, the Jewish state and jihadis. National self-interest must come first, but being principled is an aspect of self-interest that is priceless.

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