Wide World of Quotes > Gough Whitlam Quotes
Gough Whitlam, 1955
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(A) Before Whitlam's election as PM in Dec. 1972
We have to face the fact that the countries of South-East Asia do not regard the Communist Government in China as being hostile to them. They do not wish to align themselves with either of the two power blocs, as they regard them.astill more serious phase of our policy is that we say not only that the Communist Government of China is not, and should not be, the Government of China... We must recognise the fact that the Government installed on Formosa [Chiang Kai Sheks regime on Taiwan] has no chance ever again of becoming the Government of China unless it is enabled to do so as a result of a third world war. When we say that the government should be the government of China, we not only take an unrealistic view, but a menacing one.
-- Whitlam's first major speech on international affairs in the House of Representatives, 12 August 1954
The way of the reformer
The way of the reformer is hard in Australia. Our Parliaments work within a constitutional framework which enshrines Liberal policy and bans Labor policy. Labor has to persuade the electorate to take two steps before it can implement its reforms: first, to elect a Labor Government, then to alter the Constitution.
-- Curtin Memorial Lecture, 1957
I determined to modernise the Australian Constitution
My hopes were dashed by the outcome and from that moment  I determined to do all I could do to modernise the Australian Constitution.
-- Speaking in 1961 of the defeat of the Curtin government's Fourteen Powers referendum of 1944, which had sought to give the Federal Government expanded powers for post-war reconstruction. (Quoted in Oakes & Solomon, The Making of an Australian Prime Minister.)
I strive to achieve the National Government of Australia
I did not seek and do not want the leadership of Australia's largest pressure group. I propose to follow the traditions of those of our leaders who have seen the role of our Party as striving to achieve, and achieving, the National Government of Australia.
-- Speech to Victorian ALP Conference, 1967
Faceless men followed by witless men
I can only say weve just got rid of the thirty-six faceless men stigma to be faced with the twelve witless men.
-- TV interview, Channel 7, Sydney, 15 February 1966, quoted in Laurie Gates, Whitlam P.M., Sydney, 1971, p. 134. This quote also appears here quoted here.
In The Dictionary of Australian Quotations (p. 280) Stephen Murray-Smith commented on this quote as follows: "Whitlam's attack on the Australian Labor Party's federal executive, based largely on that executive's stand against state aid to private schools, led to attempts to have him expelled from the party. The federal executive, often referred to as 'faceless men', had recently been reduced in size."
When government makes opportunities for any of the citizens, it makes them for all the citizens. We are all diminished as citizens when any of us are poor. Poverty is a national waste as well as individual waste. We are all diminished when any of us are denied proper education. The nation is the poorer a poorer economy, a poorer civilisation, because of this human and national waste.
-- 1969 election speech advocating equal access to education
Opportunities for all
We of the Australian Labor Party have an enduring commitment to a view about society. It is this: in modern countries, for all citizens the opportunity for a complete education, opportunity for dignity in retirement, opportunity for proper medical treatment, opportunity to share in the nation's wealth and resources, opportunity for decent housing, the opportunities for civilized conditions in our cities and towns, opportunity to preserve and promote the natural beauty of the land can be provided only if governments, the community itself acting through its elected representatives, will provide them. And increasing in Australia the national government must initiate those opportunities.
-- Australian Labor Party policy speech, Sydney Town Hall, 1969
Australia's current policies damaging and dangerous
All Australians must now realise how damaging and dangerous a reputation Australia's present policies produce. We are a European nation on the verge of the most populous and deprived coloured nations in the world. What the world sees about Australia is that we have an Aboriginal population with the highest infant mortality rate on earth, that we have eagerly supported the most unpopular war in modern times on the ground that Asia should be a battleground of our freedom, that we fail to oppose the sale of arms to South Africa, that the whole world believes that our immigration policy is based on colour and that we run one of the world's last colonies. We may rightly profess our good intentions and feel that we are merely the victims of special circumstances, but the combination of such policies leans heavily indeed on the world's goodwill and on Australia's credibility. The true patriot therefore will not seek to justify and prolong these policies but will seek to change them.
-- Speech at Port Moresby, January 1971; quoted in: Bruce Carroll, Whitlam (Rosenberg Publishing, 2011), pp. 156-157
Poignant falls of great leaders
Theodore's career and fall is a powerful reminder of a feature in Australia's political history; our chief men and our chief efforts have been singularly associated with failure and frustration. [...] There is a deep poignancy in the fate of a remarkably long list of our chief figures from the very beginning: Phillip embittered and exhausted; Bligh disgraced; Macquarie despised here and discredited at home; MacArthur mad; Wentworth rejecting the meaning of his own achievements; Parkes bankrupt; Deakin outliving his superb faculties in a long twilight of senility; Fisher forgotten; Bruce living in self-chosen exile; Scullin heartbroken; Lyon dying in the midst of relentless intrigue against him; Curtin driven to desperation and to the point of resignation by some of his own colleagues at the worst period in the war. Theodore's particular tragedy was that of a supremely able man suddenly struck powerless at the very time when his power and ability were at their peak and most needed.
-- Whitlam in his foreword to Irwin Stone's book Theodore: His Life and Times (Alpha Books, 1971), a biography of E. G. Theodore, the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister in the Scullin federal Labor Government of 1929-32 (in this quote, Whitlam hints at the inevitability of ultimate failure in politics). This quote also appears in: Graham Freudenberg, A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam's Life in Politics (Penguin, 2009), foreword.
When you are faced with an impasse, you have to crash through or you've got to crash. And I crashed through in a few impasses in the past.
-- TV interview with David Frost, August 1972, quoted in Laurie Gates, Whitlam P.M., Sydney, 1971, p. 42. Also quoted in: The most influential Australians by Tony Stephens 22 January 2001
So now we have the date, and I must say that I think it is jolly decent of the Prime Minister to let us know officially.
The second of December is a memorable day; it is the anniversary of Austerlitz. Far be it from me to wish , to assume the mantle of Napoleon, but I cannot forget that the 2nd December was a date on which a crushing defeat was administered to a coalition another ramshackle, reactionary coalition.
-- Commonwwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, vol. 81, 1972, p. 2296, upon Prime Minister William McMahon's announcement that an election had been called for 2 December 1972. The above quote also appears in: Bruce Carroll, Whitlam (Rosenberg Publishing, 2011), and Sally Warhaft, ed. Well May We Say...: The Speeches That Made Australia. 2nd ed. (The Text Publishing Compay, 2014).
Whitlam's famous policy speech in the 1972 federal elections
Men and Women of Australia! The decision we will make for our country on the second of December is a choice between the past and the future, between the habits and fears of the past, and the demands and opportunities of the future.There are moments in history when the whole fate and future of nations can be decided by a single decision.For Australia, this is such a time.
Its time for a new team, a new program, a new drive for equality of opportunities: its time to create new opportunities for Australians, time for a new vision of what we can achieve in this generation for our nation and the region in which we live.
Its time for a new government a Labor Government.
-- Policy speech for the Australian Labor Party in the 1972 federal elections delivered by Gough Whitlam at the Blacktown Civic Centre, in Sydney, on 13 November 1972
This famous speech is reprinted in whole here, here, and here. The introductory paragraphs of the speech appear here and in: Well May We Say...: The Speeches That Made Australia (Sally Warhaft, ed.). 2nd ed. (The Text Publishing Compay, 2014).
A brief commentary on the speech and significance can be read here.
(B) Whitlam's Prime Ministership (5 Dec. 1972 - 11 Nov. 1975)
No other Western nation
No other western nation has cities in which the incidence of urban sanitation is so primitive or so ludicrous as in the cities of Australia We are the most effluent nation in what Liberals call the free world.
-- On implementing the $330 million National Sewerage Program soon after the Labor government as elected in 1972 (this program cleared the backlog of unsewered properties in Australias capital cities by between 30-50% in just seven years before it was cancelled by the Fraser Government)
Almost right, Comrade!
After Labors thumping in the Parramatta by-election in 1973, the Partys then Federal Secretary David Combe, and Eric Walsh from Goughs staff briefed the Leader on Labors parlous electoral standing.
David Combe said to Gough "it is not as though we dont think that you are the best thing the Governments got going for it". Gough wheeled around. "Comrade, youve got it almost right. Im the only thing the Governments got going for it."
-- Whitlam speaking to David Coombe, Secretrary, ALP, 1973, as quoted by Senator John Faulkner
The difference between conservatism and social reform parties
A conservative government survives essentially by dampening expectations and subduing hopes. Conservatism is basically pessimistic, reformism is basically optimistic. The great traditon which the American and French revolutionaries of the Age of Reason with the modern parties of social reform is the tradition of optimism about the possibility of human improvement and human progress through the means of human reason. Yet inevitably there will be failures, and the higher expectations rise, the greater the likelihood of at least temporary failure to meet them.
-- Curtin Memorial Lecture, 29 October 1973
What Eureka teaches us
No doubt my opponents would say that the chief lesson of Eureka is a simple one: the Government was no more popular with mining interests in the mid-nineteenth century than the present Government is today. [...] the importance of an historical event lies not in what happened but in what later generations believe to have happened. [...] History is a process of collective remembrances.
-- Speech at unveiling of Eureka flag, Ballarat, 3 December 1973. Press release.
Sir Jo Bjelke-Peterson
The man is a paranoiac, he's a fanatic, and he's a bigot. What makes it all the more nauseating is, of course, that Bjelke-Peterson is such a Bible-bashing bastard.
- Speaking of the Queensland Premier, Sir Jo Bjelke-Peterson, in 1974
Curtin believed in the Australian people
In the times of his deepest difficulty, his most awesome responsibility, John Curtin drew strength from his deep belief in the intelligence and idealism of the Australian people and their sense of fair play. They are, I believe, things upon which any Australian leader can always rely with confidence.
-- Address at the foundation stone ceremony for Curtin House, Canberra, April 1974
Questioned in a press conference in October, 1974, about how indispensable he was, he said:
"I believe I have the greatest amount of talent at the present time This is unquestionably the opinion of my colleagues, and this is not an issue on which I feel disposed to differ from them."
-- Whitlam, press conference, October 1974, as quoted by Senator John Faulkner
These lands belong to the Gurindju people
Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands this piece of the earth itself as a sign that we restore them to you and your children forever.
-- Speech on the occasion of his handing to the Gurindji people at Wattie Creek, Northern Territory the title deeds to part of their traditional lands on 16 August 1975
Immigration from Baltic states
Im not having hundreds of f ing Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us.
-- To his Foreign Affairs Minister Don Willesee on the possibility of admitting certain categories of refugees in the 1970s
If Indonesia were to invade East Timor
We would do absolutely nothing. Now thats a blunt, truthful answer.
-- On what he would do if Indonesia invaded East Timor. Three days later, on 8 December 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor.
(C) Whitlam about the dismissal of the Labor government on 11 Nov. 1975
Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say 'God save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur. They won't silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks... Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.
-- On the steps of Parliament House, 11 November 1975 (Remembrance Day 1975)
The deceit he practised not only on me but others of my colleagues ... was in itself disgraceful. The secrecy of his intervention was the essential ingredient in the success of the whole operation. Yet if Kerr's chief concern was to end the crisis, then his intervention lacks the most fundamental of all justifications: the justification of necessity.
-- Quoted in The Whitlam Government, 1972-1975 (1985) on Sir John Kerr's role in the dismissal of the Labor government on 11 November 1975
Once Sir John Kerr had served his purpose and become a political and personal embarrassment, he was discarded. It was not the rage of the victims but the contempt of his beneficiaries which sent him into exile.
-- Quoted in The Truth of the Matter (2nd ed., 1983) on the fate of Sir John Kerr.
Fraser exploited his opportunity with great skill. He was certainly the better psychologist, at least with respect to Sir John Kerr ... He played on Kerr's vanity.
-- Quoted in Abiding Interests (1991) on the role of Malcolm Fraser in the dismissal.
This is the first time the burglar has been appointed as the caretaker.
-- On the Governor General Sir John Kerr
(D) Whitlam after his Prime Ministership (12 Nov. 1975-2014)
The horse named Morality
The punters know that the horse named Morality rarely gets past the post, whereas the nag named Self-interest always runs a good race.
-- Article in the London Daily Telegraph on 19 October 1989
Blimps like Bruce Ruxton bring the RSL into ridicule by claiming that all Australians have fought under the present flag.
- November 1994, at the ALP national dinner in Melbourne
A long and fortunate life
Let me again remind the Senate that in 1997 aged 80, Gough Whitlam published Abiding Interests. In the foreword he notes: "If I begin this book with a short review of the dismissal of my Government, it is to emphasise that my abiding interests for Australia did not end with it. They shall only end with a long and fortunate life".
-- Whitlam is foreward to the book Abiding Interests, 1997, as quoted by Senator John Faulkner.
When Sir Winton Turnbull [representative of a large rural seat] was raving and ranting on the adjournment and shouted: 'I am a Country member'. I interjected 'I remember'. He could not understand why, for the first time in all the years he had been speaking in the House, there was instant and loud applause from both sides.
- Debating the question That Politicians Have Lost Their Sense Of Humour, Sydney Town Hall, 24 May 2000.
Ex-servicemen serving as Labor MPs
The Caucus I joined in 1953 had as many Boer War veterans as men who had seen active service in World War II, three from each. The Ministry appointed on 5 December 1972 was composed entirely of ex-servicemen: Lance Barnard and me.
-- Speaking at a Federation anniversary dinner in Melbourne on 8 May 2001 celebrating the centenary of the federal ALP caucus and recalling his first days in power. This quote appears in this article.
Alternative version of this quote:
The Caucus I joined in 1953 had as many Boer War veterans as men who had seen active service in World War II. The three Boer War men had been ministers under Curtin.
(See: Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History by Jenny Hocking (The Miegunyah Press, 2008), vol. 1, p. 140.) (Jenny Hocking in turn references her quote to this source: _________).
An achiever, not a martyr
This is not just because I was a martyr. The fact is I was an achiever.
-- Gough Whitlam, 2002
Let me make quite clear that I am for abortion and, in your case Sir, we should make it retrospective.
-- On being repeatedly pestered by a punter on the campaign trail wanting to know Whitlams stance on abortion.
You can be sure of one thing, I shall treat Him as an equal.
- Whitlam on his 80th birthday, on a possible future meeting with God.
His marriage with Margaret
-- Whitlams description of his marriage to wife Margaret, on their 60th anniversary in 2002
My 25 years as member for Werriwa and three years as Prime Minister were just flashes compared in the long, warm glow of ... 60 years together with Margaret Elaine Dovey.
-- Speaking of his wife Margaret in 2002
How to improve the world
"Politics is a very honourable profession and anybody whos interested in improving matters, which are determined by the constitution or by acts of parliament, should join the Labor Party or the Liberal Party and try to do something about it. Because as far ahead as we can see, the Prime Minister of Australia will be a Labor man or a Liberal man, or woman; but otherwise youre just treading water or spouting into thin air if you say that you can change things other than by supporting the Labor or the Liberal Party."
-- Whitlam to Sen. John Faulkner, in documentary Gough Whitlam: In His Own Words (2002)
The tango might have suited me but thats gone already to Paul Keating in the first CD of this series. He is more the rose between the teeth type, anyway. He used to manage a rock band but the greatest rock band is named after me.
- 2003 speech to the Australian Institute of Music in an organised celebration of his life
Joe de Bruyn
Joe de Bruyn is a Dutchman who hates dykes.
-- Speaking of Joe de Bruyn, the Catholic social conservative member of the ALP's right wing and head of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA), who was "known for his opposition to abortion, stem cell research and lesbians having access to fertility treatment" (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 2003)
(E) Whitlam on the Media
Quite small and ineffectual demonstrations can be made to look like the beginnings of a revolution if the cameraman is in the right place at the right time.
-- Whitlam quoted in: Julian Fitzgerald, Inside The Parliamentary Press Gallery Seeing Beyond The Spin, Clareville Press, Canberra, 2008, p. 153. Also quoted in: Federal Parliamentary Press: History by Nick Haggarty.
"Whitlam was always in command, retaining discretion to recognise journalists or ignore them, and to terminate the questioning at his pleasure."56
-- C.J. Lloyd, Parliament and the Press, The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery 1901-88, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988, p. 251
"Most of his [Alan Reids] colleagues in the Press Gallery (especially the younger ones, most of whom were tertiary educated) seemed to be seized with an incurable affection for Whitlam."57
-- Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt, Alan the Red Fox Reid: Pressman Par Excellence, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2010, p. 275
In the authors experience, no party leader had better relations with Gallery journalists than Whitlam, and if they wandered into his office, they were welcome.
-- Rob Chalmers, Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House, ANU Press, Canberra, 2011. http://press.anu.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/whole-new.pdf, p. 163.
"[In press conferences, Whitlam ] often would not give the call to a journalist who had written something recently that offended him."59
-- Don Whitington, Strive to be Fair: An Unfinished Autobiography, ANU Press, Canberra, 1957, p. 150
"Television changed for all time the reasonably close relationship that had existed between individual journalists at Canberra and the politicians. Personal trust and understanding were still possible, but only on a private basis. One-man private interviews still occurred but the emphasis was on the mass interview, with the Prime Minister or one of his Ministers facing a battery of cameras, tape recorders and questioners. It became a matter of beat the Press rather than meet the Press. Everything, every gesture, every nuance, every word, was for the audience, and the bigger the audience the better for the politicians. Such old-fashioned techniques as off the record and background went by the board.
The change had debits and credits. The camera enabled the public to see its politicians as they really were their skill or ineptitude, their mental agility or their retardation, their knowledge or ignorance of the subject of which they were supposed to be master. It opened the way for a new type of journalism, whereby a sufficiently skilful interviewer could pin down his victim, and either extract information from him or reveal him in all his evasiveness and mendacity."65
-- Don Whitington, Strive to be Fair: An Unfinished Autobiography, ANU Press, Canberra, 1957, p. 149
(F) What Other People Said about Gough Whitlam
Paul Keating (1)
He snapped Australia out of the Menzian torpor -- the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep -- giving it new vitality and focus. But more than that, bringing Australia to terms with its geography and place in the region.
-- Paul Keating, former Australian prime minister
He was far too big a man to carry bitterness or sourness in his heart... He had aspirations probably too large for our immediate resources, but aspirations which I think touched the hearts and minds of a great many Australians.
-- Malcolm Fraser, former Australian prime minister
It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found Rome of brick, and left it of marble. And of Whitlam I say, he found Brisbane unsewered and left it fully flushed.
-- Neville "Nifty" Wran, former NSW premier
Gough always had a sneaking feeling that he could have been God and when he became prime minister with all those limousines and jet aircraft at his disposal, his suspicions were confirmed.
-- Clyde Cameron, former minister in Whitlam's government
You should have torn it up. There were only two of you there. Or you should have slapped his face and told him to pull himself together.
-- Margaret Whitlam, 2006, recalling her reaction when her husband told her that he had been sacked by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr
Gough Whitlam was a man for the ages -- and a giant of his time. No one who lived through the Whitlam era will ever forget it -- and perhaps nobody born after it can ever really imagine it.
-- Bill Shorten, ALP leader and leader of the Federal Opposition, October 2014
Gough Whitlam's legacy is one of a fairer and more just society.
-- Ged Kearney, ACTU President, October 2014
Paul Keating (2)
I mean Australia was a post imperial outpost, effectively, in the post war years. In the years of the Menzies torpor, it was like sort of wading in molasses, you know. And to shock the system and change it, to change Australia's idea of itself is what Whitlam did. [...]
He was a grenade thrower. I used to often say, well I'm the grenade throwing business, occasionally I drop one beside my foot but I get many direct hits. He was in the direct hit business. He wanted to make Australia fairer, more decent, more open, more confident, more exciting, you know. And he did, you know.
Reorientate the country in foreign policy terms, he wanted to make Australia, take Australia from an outpost to a bridge. We were a post imperial outpost. With all the glue of the Anglosphere hanging on us. We missed the sort of, by getting out of white Australia, we missed the marginalisation that South Africa had, we missed it by seconds in time and that change in orientation and the shift in policies and domestically in the big social programs like Medicare, you know, the health of any one of us is important to all of us. The right to get yourself a secondary education and a tertiary one, and further and technical and further education, these things.
But the whole range like, you know, fault free divorce, rights for women. It was all compressed into two years and nine months. That's tough. [...]
PAUL KEATING: He... there's always a sort of a disassembly and kindliness about Gough and thoughtful, he would look at current events and provide commentary to you. It was also a wide view. Often self deprecatory. He was sort of softer in private than you would see him in public. But the key thing is he made a difference. He was around and we all know that he's been around.
-- Paul Keating interviewed by Leigh Sales, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 21 October 2014
(G) Further Reading
Whitlam by Brian Carroll
Rosenberg Publishing, 2011
Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History by Jenny Hocking
The Miegunyah Press, 2008
A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam's Life in Politics by Graham Freudenberg
Whitlam P.M. by Laurie Oakes
Angus & Robertson, 1973.
The Leader: A Political Biography of Gough Whitlam by James Walter
University of Queensland Press, 1980.
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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.
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