When the Withlam government was brought down on the 11th of November 1975 I had been in Australia for 18 months, I was 14 and my English was still a bit dodgy.
I wasn’t really into the news or politics as I am now, but of course since then I know much more about the events of that period. On an historical perspectives the current events with Craig Thomson pale in comparison. There we had blocked supply and eventually a Governor General dismissing a government which was elected with a majority.
Also the tragedy that must have been for Labor people to finally have a government after 27 years only to have its program frustrated at every angle (which forced an early double dissolution election in 1974) and having the whole thing collapse in just three years.
But it show how then as now, the Liberal Party is ruthless in getting power. In 1975 the law was that if a senator retired or died its replacement would be appointed by the Government of that state. The convention was that it would be replaced by someone recommended by the parliamentary party of the day. But when ALP Senator Bertie Milliner died suddenly, Joh Bjelke-Petersen instead of appointing what the ALP recommended, they appointed Albert Field who despite being a member of the Labor Party was of conservative and religious openly critical of the progressive Whitlam government. I will take from Wikipedia what happened next: “Field had resigned from the Queensland Public Service immediately prior to his Senate appointment, but there was a dispute about whether he remained a public servant when appointed. This may have made him constitutionally ineligible to be chosen as a senator, so the Labor Party challenged his appointment in the High Court. Consequently he was on leave from the Senate, unable to exercise a vote, from 1 October 1975. However, going against tradition, the opposition parties refused to provide a “pair” to maintain the relative positions of the Government and Opposition [sounds familiar?] This gave the Coalition a majority in the Senate, allowing them to pass motions to defer consideration of supply and force the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.”.
The echoes of 1975 are also very eloquently explained by Bernard Keane in Crikey.
And all this was orchestrated by someone that now is one of the poster boy of the caffelatte set, Malcolm Fraser. The fact is that the Coalition parties will stop at nothing to get power and they are good at it. I am wondering whether perhaps what I saw of the Hawke government was an aberration. Whether perhaps even if they can run the country Labor is not as politically adept in maintaining power.
Of course there are differences. Honesty, I know that I am left, but I can’t really accept that the Gillard government is ‘one of the worst government ever in Australia’ that’s bullshit. I have seen left governments which were on their last legs and unfortunately deserved to lose. The Kirner Victorian government in the 90’s and probably the NSW Kennally one last year. Like any government the Rudd/Gillard government made mistakes (like the often mentioned bats) but the basics remain sound. Unemployment, rates and inflation are relatively low. It may not be the best government we ever had but by no means the worse.
If anything, even if we now see the Withlam government with rose tinted glasses in its progressive policies (which was true) economically was pretty much a disaster. Unlike the Rudd government it failed to see that with the oil shocks of the 70’s the growth period of the 60’s was over, but it went on to spend regardless. This made inflation much worse. In 1975 it was 15.1759% (compared to the current 3.6026%). Also there was an attempt in raising funds from the Middle East and a Treasurer (Dr. Cairns) which bless his heart was really good on social policy, I don’t think was that great on the ins and outs of finance and economics. Not only he was embroiled in the aforementioned Loans affair that cost him his job, but was in a relationship with Julie Morosi, someone that he found attractive and that perhaps ill advisedly appointed her as Principal Private Secretary. The fact that they were in a relationship was known but it was heaven sent for the tabloid press, giving the idea of instability. The culmination came when Cairn admitted that he felt love for Morosi in the 1975 Conference in Terrigal NSW. Whic h while not the Gold Coast offered pictures of ALP ministers in holiday mode near swimming pools while the ‘battler’ (yes, they existed even then) was doing it tough.
There are other differences of course and the main one is offered by Bernard Keane again:
At least back then, in Fraser and Whitlam, we had two political giants slugging it out. This time around we have, to steal Laurie Oakes’ apt phrase, two political pygmies, neither of whom the electorate appears to have the time of day for.
I just hope that once in power whether in a few weeks, or in a couple of years Abbott will ditch the unhinged and become a balanced Prime Minister, albeit a conservative one.