Gough Whitlam

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Edward Gough (pr. Goff) Whitlam (b. 1916) was the Prime Minister of Australia in 1972 to 1975, until he was sacked by the Governor-General, precipitating a constitutional crisis. Whitlam is the only Australian Prime Minister to ever have been removed from office by the Governor-General. The opposition Liberal Party, which controlled the upper house of the Australian Parliament (the Senate) blocked supply (refused to pass the budget) in order to try to force an election; Whitlam however refused to budge. The Governor-General proroged Parliament, sacked Whitlam, appointed the opposition leader Malcolm Fraser Prime Minister, and called for new elections.

During Whitlam's time in power, Australia withdrew from fighting the Vietnam War, introduced a national health insurance scheme (Medibank, much later renamed Medicare) financed from general taxes, saw introduction of scholarships to University for just about anyone who could meet the entrance requirements, and the beginings of diplomatic and trade relations with the People's Republic of China. These things are probably rated as positive achievements (with some reservations) by the majority of Australians then and since.

On the downside, the Australian economy declined in several ways, with a modest increase in unemployment, and a level of inflation that was very high by Australian standards. This was partly due to external factors such as increasing oil prices and falling world prices for Australian farm produce, but the Whitlam government's economic policies were far from convincing, and were held to blame by many commentators. Towards the end of the government there were bizarre rumours of plans to nationalise certain key businesses (up to then Whitlam had seemed more liberal than socialist) and to refinance the nation debt through a foreign businessman with a dubious reputation. It now appears these rumours were at least partly true.

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