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Whitlam, Edward Gough (1916–)

Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


Prime Minister of Australia (1972–5). The son of a senior civil servant, he served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War, graduated in arts and in law at Sydney University and practised as a lawyer before entering parliament in 1952. After the massive defeat of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the 1966 election, Whitlam became its leader in 1967. He lost the 1969 election (in spite of a 7 per cent swing to Labor) but widened the basis of the ALP, which was no longer simply a party of the industrial working class, by promoting policies which appealed to white collar workers and the young. Labor had shed its nationalization and ‘white Australia’ policies by the time he became leader. A witty and fluent speaker with an imposing presence (he was 6 ft 4 inches tall) he dominated parliament as opposition leader. Labor won the 1972 election, so Whitlam became the first Labor Prime Minister since Chifley in 1949. He had been elected on a reform platform and wanted a more just and humane society, in which wealth would be distributed more evenly. In his first month of office he pushed through a remarkable series of reforms: conscription was ended, the case for equal pay for women was reopened before the Arbitration Commission, the imperial honours system was abolished, military aid to South Vietnam was ended and diplomatic relations were opened with communist China. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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