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(Edward) Gough Whitlam AC QC

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Prime Minister, December 1972 to 11 November 1975
Australian Labor Party

Gough Whitlam (1916 - 2014) was one of Australia’s most influential and controversial Prime Ministers.1 Larger than life and with a rapier wit, he set out to transform Australia through a wide-ranging reform program.2 While his rollercoaster term ended abruptly with his dismissal by Governor-General John Kerr, Whitlam ‘established social policies which endured long beyond his government’.3

Born in Melbourne, Whitlam moved to Canberra in 1927 with his family. In 1941 he enlisted in the RAAF, marrying Margaret Dovey the following year.4 They had four children. Discharged in 1945, Whitlam resumed his legal studies at the University of Sydney and was admitted to the Bar in 1947, taking silk in 1962. He entered federal Parliament in a 1952 by-election for Werriwa (NSW). Becoming deputy leader in 1960 and leader in 1967, he overcame internal opposition to reform and modernise Labor’s administration and policy platform. In 1971, Whitlam led an ALP delegation to China which laid a path for future diplomatic relations — a week before USA President Richard Nixon announced his intended visit.5

Campaigning with the slogan ‘It’s Time’,6 Whitlam’s 1972 election victory established the first Labor government in 23 years. With an ambitious policy program, his Government advocated a raft of social, environmental, and economic changes. These included establishing Medibank and the Australian Legal Aid Office, instituting welfare payments for single parent families, no-fault divorce and a new Court system through the Family Law Act 1975, extending the adult minimum wage to women, abolishing tertiary education fees, increasing spending on education and social housing, and returning a portion of the Wave Hill Station, NT, to the Gurindji people.7

In 1974 Whitlam won a double dissolution election and initiated what remains Australia’s only parliamentary joint sitting to enact the triggering legislation.8 However, the Government was beset with scandal and was faced with growing inflation, unemployment, and oil prices.9 In 1975, the Opposition blocked the Government’s budgetary legislation in the Senate in the hope of forcing an election. When Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the Government on 11 November 1975 Whitlam became the only Australian Prime Minister to lose office while still maintaining the confidence of the House of Representatives.10 He suffered a crushing defeat at the ensuing election, and again in 1977.

Whitlam left Parliament in 1978 but remained active in public life. He was appointed as Ambassador to UNESCO by the Hawke Government in 1983. With his old sparring partner Malcolm Fraser, Whitlam campaigned for various social and political causes, such as an Australian Republic.11 Throughout his life, Whitlam was known for his intellect, vaulting ambition, and humour. When a carer asked him at the age of 97 if he had four children, he replied, ‘So far’.12 Gough Whitlam died in 2014, with his state funeral attended by seven Australian Prime Ministers.13

Clifton Ernest Pugh AO
Melbourne-born artist and environmentalist Clifton Pugh (1924-1990) left school at 14 to work in a newspaper office and aircraft factory. In the evenings he attended courses in cartooning at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne, and life-drawing at the Australian School of Arts and Crafts. At the end of his wartime military service in New Guinea and Japan (1943–47), Pugh attended the National Gallery of Victoria Art School under the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Training Scheme, studying with William Dargie. In 1957, Pugh held his first major solo exhibition at the Victorian Artists’ Society. His skills as a portraitist saw him awarded the Archibald Prize three times, including for his portrait of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (which was subsequently acquired for the HMC). A winner of the Crouch and the Maude Vizard-Wholohan Prizes, Pugh’s works were widely exhibited in Australian and overseas galleries. He was chairman of the Victorian Australian Labor Party Arts Advisory Committee and a member of the Australian Council for the Arts. In 1985, Pugh was appointed an AO for his service to Australian art.14

(Edward) Gough Whitlam
by Clifton Ernest Pugh
Oil on canvas
113.5 x 141.5 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: J Hocking, Gough Whitlam: A Moment In History, The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, 2008; J Hocking, Gough Whitlam: His Time, revised edition, The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, 2014; M Grattan, ed., Australian Prime Ministers, revised edition, New Holland, Sydney, 2008, pp. 324–54; B Carroll, Australia’s Prime Ministers: From Barton to Howard, Rosenberg, Dural, 2004; W Brown, Ten Prime Ministers: Life Among the Politicians, Longueville Books, Double Bay, 2002; N Pearson, ‘Noel Pearson’s eulogy for Gough Whitlam in full’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 2014; T Stephens, ‘Whitlam, Edward Gough (1916–2014)’, Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Websites accessed June 2021.
2. ‘Australia’s prime ministers: Gough Whitlam’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 7 July 2021.
3. ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Gough Whitlam’, Museum of Australian Democracy, accessed 7 July 2011. See also: M Grattan, ‘The nation loses one of its most iconic leaders: Whitlam dead at 98’, The Conversation, 21 October 2014; M Grattan, ‘Gough Whitlam: a man for his times whose mark is on our times’, The Conversation, 21 October, 2014. Websites accessed 7 July 2021.
4. J Faulkner, ‘Condolences: Whitlam, Hon. Edward Gough AC QC’, Senate, Debates, 27 October 2014, p. 7762; D Murphy, ‘Gough and Margaret Whitlam: the greatest partnership’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2014; ‘Gough Whitlam’s partner: Margaret Whitlam’, National Archives of Australia. Websites accessed 7 July 2021.
5. B Griffiths, ‘Whitlam in China’, Inside Story, 22 October 2014, accessed 29 September 2021.
6. Australian Labor Party, ‘It’s Time’, online video, 1972, National Film and Sound Archive, accessed 29 September 2021.
7. ‘Gough Whitlam’s life and legacy: experts respond’, The Conversation, 21 October 2014, accessed 7 July 2021.
8. D Elder and P Fowler, House of Representatives Practice, 7th edition, Department of the House of Representatives, 2018, pp. 475–76, accessed 29 September 2021. See also Hocking, Gough Whitlam: His Time, op. cit., pp. 146–56.
9. Hocking, ibid., p. 162.
10. See G Barwick, Sir John Did His Duty, Serendip Publications, Wahroonga, 1983; G Bolton, Paul Hasluck: A Life, UWA Publishing, Crawley, 2014, pp. 464–65; P Kelly and T Bramston, The Truth of the Palace Letters: Deceit, Ambush and Dismissal in 1975, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2020; J Hocking, The Palace Letters: The Queen, the governor-general, and the plot to dismiss Gough Whitlam, Scribe, Brunswick, 2020; G Whitlam, The Truth of the Matter, 3rd edition, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2005; J Kerr, Matters for Judgement: An Autobiography, Macmillan Company of Australia, South Melbourne, 1978; A Twomey, ‘Australian politics explainer: Gough Whitlam’s dismissal as prime minister’, The Conversation, 19 April 2017, accessed 7 July 2021.
11. Hocking, Gough Whitlam: His Time, op. cit., pp. 467–69.
12. Stephens, op. cit.
13. The prime ministers were Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser, Robert (Bob) Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard.
14. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: ‘Clifton Pugh’, Culture Victoria; J Pugh, ‘Clifton Pugh’, National Portrait Gallery; T Allen, ‘Pugh, Clifton Ernest (1924–1990)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2012; ‘Guide to the papers of Clifton Pugh: Biographical Note’, National Library of Australia. ‘Pugh, Clifton Ernest’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 802. Websites accessed 26 March 2021.

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