Lorenzo Matteoli, 22 Ottobre 2014
Edward Gough Whitlam, 21st Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, died yesterday at the grand age of 98. He was the leader of the Labour Party from 1967 to 1977, and member of the Australian Parliament from 1956. Whitlam brought the Labour Party to power after 23 years of coalition Governments.
He won the elections for a second term in 1974 but in November 1975 he was dismissed with a unilateral, controversial decision by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr._ Whitlam is the only Australian Prime Minister whose term in power was truncated in this way._
The short, effective battle cry of his 1972 campaign was “It’s time!”.
Australia acknowledges today that the three “tumultuous” years of his Government have radically changed the country.
Welfare, public education, health care, land policies, relationships with the Aboriginal community, legal aid, relationships with the Unions, foreign policy_, relationships with migrants and immigration policies: there was no economic, social or cultural issue or aspect of everyday life which was not affected by Gough Whitlam’s progressive vision.
Whitlam had inherited a post colonial Australia, dominated by the British class system, with outright racism towards the Aborigines, closed and often hostile towards migrants (Indian, Italian, Greek, German, Hungarian, Asian…) who were of paramount importance for the development of the Australian economy.
What had been the “White Australia” instituted in 1921 with Gough Whitlam started the shift towards an open, multiethnic progressive society, the post colonial regime came to an end and the Country evolved to a social democratic non marxian regime.
Even after his controversial dismissal in 1975 and the subsequent Labor election defeats, the political and cultural turnaround started by Whitlam continued its progress and Australia is today an effective parliamentary social democracy.
Whitlam was an energetic enthusiast, tough in Parliament confrontations and a passionate advocate of the socially weak, capable of harsh put-downs against political adversaries as well as kind and tender gestures towards the people.
One famous anecdote: at the ceremony for the delivery of the land titles to the Aboriginal Tribes, having handed the documents to the Aboriginal elder, Whitlam picked up a handful of red earth from the ground and poured it gently in the hands of the old Chief, sealing with the gesture the return of the land to the pristine dwellers of the First Nation.
The Australian political world, Coalition, Nationals, Liberals and Labour, today paid its respects to the man with civilized intense eulogies, acknowledging his action, vision, passion and enthusiasm.
Whitlam’s life is interesting today because it is a clear evidence of “the power of political vision”: Whitlam’s revolution was the outcome of his passion, of his culture and visionary leadership, the specific legislation he was able to pass was a consequence. In just three years he was able to change a solidly established ruling culture.
As an old man, to the interviewer asking him what he deemed could be his most important legacy to the younger generation he said: “Maintain the enthusiasm!”