Gough Whitlam

Biography of Gough Whitlam

Edward Gough Whitlam (born 11 July 1916), known as Gough Whitlam, served as the 21st Prime Minister of Australia. Whitlam led the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to power at the 1972 election and retained government at the 1974 election, before being dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr at the climax of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Whitlam remains the only Prime Minister to have his commission terminated in that manner.

Whitlam entered Parliament in 1952, as an ALP member of the House of Representatives. In 1960 he was elected deputy leader of the ALP and in 1967, after party leader Arthur Calwell retired, he assumed the leadership and became Leader of the Opposition. After narrowly losing the 1969 election, Whitlam led Labor to victory at the 1972 election after 23 years of Liberal-Country Coalition government.

In his time in office, Whitlam and his government implemented a large number of new programs and policy changes, including the elimination of military conscription and criminal execution, institution of universal health care and fee-free tertiary schooling (university), and the implementation of legal aid programs. He won the 1974 election with a reduced majority. Subsequently, the Opposition, which controlled the Senate, was emboldened by government scandals and a flagging economy to challenge Whitlam. In late 1975, there was a weeks-long deadlock over the passage of appropriation bills, which was resolved by Kerr's dismissal of Whitlam and commissioning of Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister. Labor lost the subsequent 1975 election in a landslide.

Whitlam resigned from the leadership after the ALP lost again at the 1977 election, and left Parliament in 1978. With the advent of the Hawke government in 1983, he served as ambassador to UNESCO, and remained active in public life into his nineties. The circumstances of his dismissal, and the legacy of his government, remain part of Australian political discourse.

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