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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12178

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (09:37): Gough Whitlam our 21st Prime Minister was born on 11 July 1916 and passed away of 21st October 2014 aged 98 years. The 98 years of his life, although our country has gone through many ups and downs, saw an unprecedented improvement in the prosperity and the welfare of the average Australian. We saw vast improvements across our living standards during that period.

Here are a couple of examples: when Gough Whitlam was born, life expectancy for the average Australian was under 60 years. When Gough Whitlam died, it was approaching 85 years. Australians born today have been given the gift of a quarter of a century of life.

We also saw during the time of Gough Whitlam's life substantial decreases in infant mortality. In fact, at the time of Whitlam's birth, there were around 100 deaths for every thousand live births. Today it is down to less than three for every thousand live births. It has come about through improvements in prenatal and post natal care; new medicines; mass vaccinations; and improved sanitation.

We have also seen during Whitlam's life a massive decrease in deaths from infectious diseases. When Whitlam was born, there were around 143 deaths per every thousand people per year from infectious and parasitic diseases. Today it is down to just nine.

We also saw substantial increases in real wages and increases in household wealth when we look at what we take for granted today like motor vehicles. In the 1920s, when a young Gough Whitlam would have been considering getting a car, there were only 21 motor vehicles in the country for every thousand people. Today it is over 560 for every thousand people.

When we look at household appliances, communication and education, Australians today enjoy so much prosperity because we inherited the legacy of our previous generation.

The other thing we should be very thankful to our 21st Prime Minister for is his war service. We know that Gough Whitlam registered for the Royal Australian Air Force the very day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was called up in June 1942 and he served as a navigator, spending much of his time stationed at Gove. He moved further north and undertook bombing raids on enemy supply camps in the islands of the Philippines. We Australians today who enjoy the peace and prosperity that we do should always be thankful to that generation of Australians who fought and served during the Second World War.

Gough Whitlam also had ties to the electorate that I represent, Hughes. In fact, Gough Whitlam tried to run for the Sutherland Shire Council but was defeated twice. He also ran for the state seat of Sutherland in 1950 but was again defeated. Many might say that the Sutherland Shire's loss was the nation's gain, although some of the Sutherland Shire might put it the opposite way. In 1952, he was finally elected in a by-election for the seat of Werriwa, which at that time encompassed much of the Sutherland Shire and much of the seat of Hughes that I represent today. In 1955, the electorate of Werriwa, then the most populous in the nation, was split in two, with the older part of Hughes being created—the electorate that I proudly represent here in parliament today.

It took Gough Whitlam 14 years in this parliament, which is a substantial amount of time by today's standards, before he was elected leader of the Labor Party. He went on to lose the 1969 election, but in 1972 he finally led Labor into office after 23 years in opposition.

I believe that all our past prime ministers have been great patriots of this nation and they all wanted to see our nation succeed and our prosperity continue to increase. Therefore, I believe that they would all want us not to engage in mythmaking but to look upon their terms in office critically, to look at the things that they did wrong—not for the sake of criticising but for the sake of hoping to learn from those mistakes. The Whitlam government, although they certainly did many interesting things, they did a few things that we should look at and we should learn from those mistakes.

One, I believe, was the recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. That was undertaken by the Whitlam government on 3 August 1974. That was in the midst of the Cold War, the real struggle in the second half of the last century, the struggle between communism and the West. By recognising the communist takeover, we said it was okay for those people to remain locked behind the Iron Curtain, that the Iron Curtain was a permanent feature that we had accepted and that we had surrendered in the fight of the Cold War. History shows that that was the wrong thing to do. We have shown that that was standing on the wrong side of history. Thankfully, many other nations stood by the Baltic states, especially the Americans. When those states were finally liberated in the nineties, that recognition, unfortunately, was a very sad part of our nation's history. Thankfully, it was reversed after a short period of time.

The other thing that the Whitlam government was given much credit for was recognition of China, but that came at the expense of Taiwan. We withdrew from Taiwan and closed down our embassy, and we recognised China. We have to remember that the China that we deal with today is a different kettle of fish to the China of the 1970s. One reason, I would suggest, that China has gone down the track that it has and has seen its prosperity increase so much is that, during the eighties and nineties, the Chinese leadership had the opportunity to look at how their nation was progressing and compare it to the island of Taiwan. Whereas China's economy, GDP and standard of living were flatlining almost for decades, the economy of Taiwan continued to increase substantially. The prosperity the Taiwanese people enjoyed multiplied several-fold while the Chinese economy was flatlining. One of the reasons was that the Taiwanese people went down the track of free markets. They went down the track of democracy. They went down the track of creating an entrepreneurial culture, of allowing their own people to own and create wealth and to start up their own businesses.

I would suggest it was that prosperity—seeing the difference of the standard of living those two systems delivered, in terms of material welfare—that was one of the major reasons the Chinese government, in the 90s, decided to open its economy.

By pulling out of Taiwan, by closing our embassy there, we threatened the Taiwanese economy. In fact, the Taiwanese economy went through a very dark and harsh period, during the early 1970s, when countries such as Australia no longer recognised them—and recognised China. It is also worthwhile remembering that even in the 1980s our exports to China only represented 2½ per cent of our nation's exports. Today they represent over 30 per cent. That increase has come about because the Chinese have realised they should have followed the economic policies of the Taiwanese. What Australia and many nations did, by pulling out of Taiwan, threatened the very thing that has created the modern China of today.

There are also the mistakes we made about the Vietnamese refugees, and this was covered by a debate yesterday in this parliament. There is the decision of creating independence for Papua New Guinea. We see Papua New Guinea today experiencing as a nation great difficulties. Perhaps we rushed into giving Papua New Guinea independence. Perhaps it was because of an anti-colonialist attitude that we thought having another country as a colony—although we never treated it that way—was a bad thing.

Before we became a federation we were able to enjoy 100 years of British traditions and the establishment of those institutions to create the democracy that we have, the rule of law that we have. Perhaps we rushed into giving Papua New Guinea that independence. Perhaps we should have stayed there and helped that nation establish those British institutions, help establish the rule of law, help establish the Westminster system and help establish its infrastructure. Perhaps if we had done that Papua New Guinea would have been a stronger nation today.

The other thing we can learn from the Whitlam era is the way that we treat our troops when they come home. Much is said about the Whitlam government bringing the troops home from Vietnam, but history shows that this all happened under previous Liberal governments. When Labor came to power there were only 120 Australian troops left in Vietnam, most of those guarding our embassy. And none of them were conscripts. There were the attacks from the left when those troops came home—the demonisation of those troops—that caused many of those men many more problems than they had experienced fighting in the war.

We realise now those mistakes. We realise now the importance, whether people agree or disagree with the war, of treating our troops and armed service men and women, who serve and fight in those wars, with the utmost respect and dignity when they return home.

We also learned about the issue of so-called free education. Much is said about Whitlam making education free. We know there were many scholarships and grants, and the majority of people in university when Whitlam was in power were actually there on some type of scholarship system. We remember the word 'free', but nothing is for free. Someone always has to pay. So unless we are going to turn our lecturers in universities into slaves, someone must pay. If we are giving someone a free university education or even a subsidised university education, it means someone else out there in society—often someone who never would have the opportunity to go to university—has to pay.

We also learned about our Trade Practices Act. It is often said the Whitlam government introduced the Trade Practices Act, but we had a Trade Practices Act preceding that in 1965 and we had a Restrictive Trade Practices Act in 1971. Perhaps, with hindsight, one of the great mistakes of that Trade Practices Act was section 49, the provisions on price discrimination where, rather than following the entirety of US antitrust law at the time and implementing what was the US Robinson-Patman Act for price discrimination, we went with other wording. We tacked on the other end of our price discrimination act a substantial lessening of competition test, and that has led to much concentration in our markets today across all sectors.

The Whitlam government was certainly one of great historical importance and interest to our nation. As I said, we cannot sugar coat the period. We need to look at the mistakes that were made so we can learn from those mistakes. Of course during that period we also saw unemployment triple, we saw the tax take almost double, we saw the deficit blow out and we saw inflation soar to almost 20 per cent. When the Australian public was finally given the opportunity to give a verdict on those Whitlam years at the 1975 election, Labor were tossed out in a landslide. There was a 7.4 per cent swing against them and, of the 66 seats that the Labor Party held, 30 seats were lost. Almost half of the government lost office, with a two-party preferred vote of 55.7 per cent to 44.3 per cent. Whitlam stayed on in parliament and contested the 1977 election. Despite that, there was just a 1.1 per cent swing back and they only won back two of the 30 seats they had lost. It was still a landslide victory to the coalition.

Gough Whitlam was part of an era, a generation of Australians that has enabled my generation and my children's generation, and hopefully my children's generation in the future, to enjoy enormous prosperity. For all the errors, for all the mistakes, we must be greatly thankful for our 21st Prime Minister.