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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 63


Mr PEARCE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:31 PM) —As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Whitlam government, I rise today to grieve at the perversion of history that has been perpetrated in connection with the events of 11 November 1975—the perversion of history that has tried to cast former Governor-General Sir John Kerr as a villain in the events that forced the worst federal government of all time to face the people. I grieve when I think about the enormous edifice of myths that has been created around the events of that historic day, around the record of the Labor government that was terminated and around the individual members of that government. I grieve because the vast mythology that has been created by the Australian Labor Party and its friends in academia and in the media—that vast superstructure of myths—obscures timeless facts and relevant information about the nature of all Labor governments.

Those facts, if they were recorded accurately, spoken about frankly and passed on to every generation of Australians faithfully, would serve not only as a true record of the past but also as a lesson for all aspiring parliamentarians. If the appalling Whitlam government record were spoken about truthfully, it would also serve as a powerful warning to the people of Australia about the probable nature of future Labor governments. For if our political opponents here and outside this House choose to falsify the events of the past, refuse to face up to their true nature and will not recognise the disastrous errors that were made, how can they ever hope to learn from them? And Australia did experience that kind of epic failure again, repeated at the hands of the Hawke and Keating governments. Undoubtedly, history would also repeat itself under a Beazley Labor government—or should I make that under a Swan Labor government, a Tanner Labor government or a Rudd Labor government, maybe? Or even—do we dare even speak its name?—a Gillard Labor government?

But enough of such nightmare scenarios—may they be forever just a figment of the imagination. The Whitlam government, unfortunately, was not a figment of the imagination; it was an appalling and grotesque reality. And now, as we approach the 30th anniversary of the dismissal of that inept administration, I believe it is time, well and truly time, to remember and honour the role of the late Sir John Kerr in the events of that day. After 30 years of myths and lies about the events of 11 November 1975, we need to use this occasion to reinstate the truth. And the truth is: Sir John Kerr deserves to be regarded as a national hero for his role in bringing to an end that incompetent government. Sir John Kerr should be regarded as nothing less than a national treasure.

Sir David Smith, who was the official secretary to Sir John at the time of the dismissal, once noted that, unfortunately, most of the histories about the events of 11 November 1975 were written in the few years immediately following the occasion. Speaking in 1995, Sir David said:

Thus the history of 1975 so far has been written, not by the victors, as is usually the case with the writing of history, but by the vanquished.

And many of those books were written by journalists who, Sir David said, were committed to Labor’s view of the events. You do not have to look very hard to find examples of what Sir David was talking about. For example, in his 1976 book, The Unmaking of Gough, Paul Kelly wrote that Whitlam’s ‘appalling error’ was misjudging the Governor-General. That was his ‘appalling error’, was it? Misjudging the Governor-General?

I would have thought that that might be viewed objectively as very small potatoes in the pantheon of Whitlam’s errors. It is pretty small cheese when you put it up against some of his other ‘errors’, like: 17 per cent inflation, soaring unemployment, the loans affair and the formal diplomatic recognition of the Pol Pot regime—nice one, Gough. I wonder: did Mr Whitlam believe the Cambodian people thought it was time for that? In comparison with all of that, misjudging the Governor-General, if indeed Mr Whitlam did so, was an ‘error’ that had a very positive effect in that it led to the removal of the Whitlam government. The nation owes a lot to Sir John Kerr for bringing to an end the worst government in Australian history.

And he paid a terrible price for doing so. Because when the Governor-General did the right thing—in the interests of the country, and in accordance with the Australian Constitution—he exposed the Labor Party in all its thuggish ugliness. He revealed the culture of hatred and violence that lurks beneath the surface of the party of those opposite. Sir John was forced to endure a constant stream of vitriolic and often defamatory verbal attacks from the Labor leadership and trade union officials. He experienced outrageous acts of violent protest against him at almost every public appearance he made after that. Protesters were stirred up by the Labor leadership and the demonstrations were stage-managed by their union stooges. They turned the protests into riots: throwing eggs, throwing paint, throwing bottles. Sir John had to put up with all of that.

Of course, the outrageous behaviour was not limited to Labor’s goon squads in the trade union movement. Sir John endured a sustained attack from intellectual louts in academia and a constant stream of abuse and criticism from Labor’s mates in the media. When Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government he was correctly exercising the constitutional power of his office—just as the Senate was doing when it deferred passage of the budget.

In fact, in 1970, using exactly the same constitutional power, the Labor Party had tried to force the Gorton government to an election. Hansard records that on 1 October 1970 Mr Whitlam declared:

... the tradition is that, if a money bill is defeated ... the government goes to the people to seek their endorsement of its policies.

Hansard shows that between 1950 and 1970 the Labor Party in opposition tried on no fewer than 170 occasions to block financial bills, including taxation and appropriation bills. In 1974, when the Senate threatened to block the appropriation bills, Mr Whitlam went straight off to the Governor-General and secured a double dissolution election. The difference—the only difference—between that and what occurred in 1975 was that Whitlam knew that if he was forced to face the people he would be defeated. He had just scraped back in in 1974.

That is why, right from the beginning of the impasse, Whitlam was determined not to call an election. He had plenty of opportunities. Whitlam rejected a compromise proposed by Malcolm Fraser that offered to pass the supply bills if Mr Whitlam would agree to an election before July 1976. It was Whitlam’s outright rejection of that compromise, and his stated intention to try to govern without supply, that convinced the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, that a political settlement would not be reached. Sir John then sacked Whitlam, and every Australian should be grateful that he did.

I have always held the view, from my readings of the event, that Whitlam deliberately constructed the situation that occurred in 1975 in order to manufacture an issue on which to fight an election and to camouflage his appalling performance in government. So, as we approach the 30th anniversary of that day, let us dispel the myths surrounding the events of 11 November 1975 and reinstate the truth.

One of the great catchcries of Labor’s cheer squads down the years has been that the Whitlam government was a reforming government. That is a myth. The Whitlam government was not a reforming government. The Whitlam government was a deforming government. It deformed and twisted the social and economic foundations of our nation. Every Australian should be thankful that Sir John Kerr dismissed Mr Whitlam, the great deformer. We should acknowledge the debt the nation owes Sir John by making him a national treasure, for giving the people of Australia the opportunity to pass judgment on that dangerous and incompetent regime—which they did, in the form of a landslide victory to the coalition.

When you strip away the myths, you can see that when it comes to Labor’s economic mismanagement, history does indeed repeat itself. The Keating government gave Australia the worst recession since the Great Depression. With Labor, the faces may change, the message may change, but the incompetence never changes. And Labor would do it all again if they had the chance. So let us remember 11 November 1975; indeed, let us never forget 11 November 1975. And let us acknowledge the heroic role Sir John Kerr played in those events by making him a national treasure.