Tag Archives: Gough Whitlam

Labor, heal your hate

A Writer’s appeal to progressives.

I WAS reminded recently about the depth of hatred that courses through the Australian Labor Party, by a friend who admitted she is a ‘hater’ in the Paul Keating tradition. Her special kind of venom is reserved for Kevin Rudd.

She’s not a lonely hater, far from it. Plenty of others rail on Facebook about Bill Shorten’s shortcomings as an opposition leader, with a vitriol bordering on hatred.

Still another camp exists – the Julia Gillard haters – especially those in the Deep North who won’t ever forget what she did to their Kevin.

“Imagine what you’ll do when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd eventually bury the hatchet.”

In an arc from Whitlam’s sacking, to Keating’s toppling of Hawke and Gillard’s of Rudd, a ripple of Labor-red retribution runs through the left-leaning party and its followers so pervasively I wonder why anyone ever agrees to lead the rabble.

Whenever a Rudd or Gillard hater comes out of the woodwork, a rarely expressed question forms for me: If you hated (insert whichever Labor leader you like) so much, why did you vote for them?

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Did all the Rudd haters vote for John Howard in 2007? Did all the Gillard haters vote for Tony Abbott in 2010? Does the hate exist before these people lead the country, or does it develop later?

Maybe with all my questions I’m missing the hate’s purpose. Is Labor’s pulsating hating principle some kind of energy source to help progressives ‘take it up’ to conservatives?

LABORING THE FRIENDSHIP Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, 1991 (Photo: Peter Morris).
LABORING THE FRIENDSHIP Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, 1991 (Photo: Peter Morris).

If so, it’s not working. Since Paul Keating was popularly elected in his own right, all hate seems to have done for the party is truncate ALP leadership regimes. After acrimony borne of fundamental internal divisions, they collapse after about three years in power.

At its best, Labor’s ability to hate moves mountains. It toppled Work Choices, John Howard’s attempt to obliterate the workplace standards delivered to this country by the Trade Union movement.

Labor’s hatred of Malcolm Fraser’s meddling in Medibank ushered-in Medicare, one of the defining ALP social reforms.

And then there is just about everything Gough Whitlam did with his single-handed hatred of conservatism, from fault-free divorce to laws allowing home brewing.

All these were fine, upstanding examples of collective hatred directed at Labor’s common enemies.

Thanks to many in the Australian media we get regular encouragement for our Labor hate. For every David Marr and his revelations about ‘Rudd rage’ there is a Michelle Grattan calling for Julia Gillard to quit.

Some make no secret of their contempt. Chris Uhlmann springs to mind, whose Rudd hatred became patently obvious at the press conference the day KRudd became Prime Minister for the second time.

Someone – perhaps Kevin – had asked the ABC to televise each journalist as they asked their questions, an interesting angle which seemed to keep the media nice.

“Did a whole stack of ALP Rudd haters actually vote for Abbott at the 2013 federal election?”

When it came to Uhlmann, he turned Rudd’s embryonic policy on asylum seekers into war with Indonesia in a heartbeat, long before the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders ever hit the airwaves.

An attempt to shape the news, make the news, or just throw Rudd off? Whatever it was, the Rudd haters must have loved it, but it took a non-hater to see it.

I’ve had my own hate happening, I admit. The night of the 2007 election my husband and I watched the ABC, and once it became clear Howard was out, I said to Richard: “Why can’t we have her as Prime Minister?”

“Who, Julia Gillard?” he said.

“She’s very well spoken, she’s well turned-out and I like what she says; and she’s not religious.”

We shrugged and went to bed, happy the conservatives were defeated.

Apologies to the Stolen Generations, the signing of the Kyoto Protocol and an approaching price on carbon necessarily preceded the wave of legislative changes that impacted very positively on our household, when Kevin Rudd kept his election promise and changed over 100 laws that discriminated against same-sex-attracted de-facto couples in Australia.

Nevertheless, I celebrated on the day Gillard became Prime Minister, not because I hated Rudd, but because I felt Australia had grown up a little. Naively I thought others would see things the same way, but when I saw people upset at the news, genuinely confused and angry, I thought shit, this isn’t good.

So I turned my thoughts to the possibility this new atheist leader in a de-facto relationship would usher in marriage equality, since she seemed to understand the need for choice when it came to relationships, right?

Wrong.

Because she never explained her anti-marriage stance on an issue of equality, I hated Julia Gillard, for a while.

But I still voted for her. I would have voted for her again in 2013. Instead I voted for Rudd, even though it was boring as heck that he got back in, and it did no-one any good, but I wasn’t ever going to vote for the alternative.

Which makes me wonder: Did a whole stack of ALP Rudd haters actually vote for Abbott at the 2013 federal election?

To keep your ideology away from power to spite them … now that is hatred.

IT'S TIME to busy the hatchet, but not in one another's back ...
IT’S TIME to bury the hatchet, but not in one another’s back.

I say it’s time to heal your hate, Labor supporters. That means marrying Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard into one awkward, stumbling, problematic but progressive six-year relationship which saw great social advancements – from the National Disability Insurance Scheme to record numbers of women in cabinet – all of which is being swiftly undone while we keep hating one or the other of the leaders who brought it all into being.

To encourage you in your hate healing, imagine what you’ll do when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd eventually bury the hatchet. If Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser could find common ground after all that went down between them, it’s entirely possible for Gillard and Rudd to come to terms with the position each put the other in.

And remember, both of them gave you something, and that is not reason to hate, it’s great cause for hope.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.

Gough Whitlam – Australia’s true Liberal

A Writer remembers a great Australian.

IT took me almost half my lifetime to work out what I owe Gough Whitlam.

The second son of a NSW grazier and a nurse from Sydney’s north shore who gave up her career to have kids, I was a five-year-old when Whitlam was dismissed. At twelve I was given a fearful lesson on what would happen if the Australian Labor Party ever got back into power, which consisted of a darkly-uttered statement: They’ll spend all the money the country has, just like they did under Gough.

By then my family was a victim of the D-word (‘divorce’), a fate no other family seemed prone to, one that was uttered behind cupped hands. Mum still wore her wedding ring and kept her married name. It makes things easier, she said.

“Gough Whitlam got conservatives in Australia on the move in the late 1960s and they have never stopped running.”

At 18, I saw Gough and Margaret Whitlam enter a lecture hall at Sydney University. Not making for the stage, that practical pair equipped with a rug for both laps and a thermos, but for whichever spare seats they could find. A ripple of recognition ran through the capacity crowd, which turned into an electric standing ovation. Both acknowledged the accolade, and proceeded to dampen our enthusiasm with a few waves of their long arms, because they didn’t want to distract proceedings.

They seemed harmless, the instantly recognisable yet strangely anonymous Whitlams, portrayed as villains on both sides of my city-country family, so I started asking questions.

My parents didn’t vote for Gough, it just wasn’t done on the land, but mum did reveal when asked about life during the Whitlam era that when it came to the survey on changing Australia’s national anthem from God Save the Queen to Advance Australia Fair, two votes – hers and my father’s – were registered in the affirmative in our region. I turned this seed of progressive thinking in my family into a world of possibilities.

Soon after, I left Australia for six years. A political and economic dunce up to that point, the experience of living in another economy taught me everything that being a high achiever at private school never could.

In post-Thatcher Britain all the elements of an economic rationalist society were at work. Working alongside people who had families to feed for the same meagre weekly return as I managed, I started to realise how stacked the deck was. The cost of living was extortionate, the financial burden on the average family of a day trip to the coast so prohibitive that many I knew just stayed at home. What if that happened in Australia? I thought. A trip to the beach only for the very wealthy? Imagine how Australians would complain!

Returning home for breaks, I suddenly saw my country for the vibrant place it was, full of life, light and colour, whereas England was an economic web, waiting to trip you up if you didn’t feed the machine like you had to feed the electricity meter with pound coins. I decided to come home and embrace the land I was born in before it changed beyond recognition, and I only just got back before the damage really started. Ever since coming home I have despaired at the way Australia has bought the economic line of leaders intent on emulating Thatcher and her P-word (‘privatisation’) here.

Today, I feel like I have lost a family member. All day the media has covered reaction and response, from Prime Ministers past to an indulgent set of speeches in the House of Representatives, and I have tried to work out why.

FIRST COUPLE Gough and Margaret Whitlam at the apology to the Stolen Generations, 2008.
FIRST COUPLE Gough and Margaret Whitlam at the apology to the Stolen Generations, 2008.

Walking the dogs after work it struck me how distracted we are by the loss of Gough, because he has become so ingrained in our nation’s consciousness. For progressives, he’s held in our hearts, but his actions are possibly most ingrained in the hearts and minds of Australian conservatives, those who live under the great Australian misnomer of ‘Liberal’, because Gough came to embody their greatest fear – that people are infinitely more important than economies.

We live in a world where a tsunami created by an earthquake can occur in front of our very eyes, live on television, and yet the commentary, response and analysis is not about the people dying on a screen in our living room, it is about whether the economy will survive, forget about the people. I feel this same lack of compassion in the Ebola and Iraq coverage and the lack of action it inspires in Australians.

Gough didn’t think that way, and he didn’t act that way – he simply gave us what we needed.

When my family found peace away from the expectations of ‘happy marriage’ for the childrens’ sake, and didn’t have to find someone at fault and someone to play the victim, that was Whitlam’s legacy.

When my mother needed to work and still had nursing up her sleeve, started at a local hospital as a casual and ended up being night supervisor for a decade, her self-determined life as a single mother was Whitlam’s legacy.

My presence in that lecture hall, a student at an Australian university, free of charge, that was Whitlam’s legacy. My right to vote that same year, my eighteenth, was probably far more significant, although I didn’t understand it at the time.

I hope he felt the greatest compassion for himself after the dismissal. When I consider how he never seemed bitter, I feel a strong life lesson about failure, because even in the midst of his ‘well may we say …’ speech, a wry smile that always reminded me of Dame Edna crept up his mouth and projected his profile out to the crowd. Bitterness could have taken him away much sooner after such a diminishing moment, but he lived almost forty more years after that speech – my lifetime.

Gough Whitlam got conservatives in Australia on the move in the late 1960s and they have never stopped running, afraid of debt and deficit and spending money on people or places where it’s needed, as though money is a thing of power that could do something positive while stashed away in a nation’s coffers. For a man who was so ingloriously dismissed, I loved the way Gough dismissed economically fearful Australians with such panache, and held to account those who think it’s okay to make huge money by doing nothing.

Instead of wishing he’d had more time, or wishing he’d not been dumped, I want to see the whole thing in reverse, just like Malcolm Fraser does. Australian conservatives have simply been reactionary, because progressive thinking has been in Australia’s driving seat ever since Menzies. It took losing Gough to see it.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.