Archive for October, 2019

October 9th, 2019

‘Damaging’, ‘costly’, ‘transformative’: how the right remembered Gough Whitlam

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Not without his critics: Gough Whitlam pictured in 1986.Gough Whitlam deadGough Whitlam’s life and timesGough Whitlam’s memorable quotesWhat did Whitlam actually do?Full coverage
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The announcement of Gough Whitlam’s death was only minutes old when Alan Jones delivered 2GB listeners a critique of the Labor icon’s time as prime minister.

“He damaged the economy through the absence of any prime-ministerial control,” Jones said.

Jones was one of many conservative figures attempting on Tuesday to walk a fine line between respect for a deceased Australian prime minister, while standing by criticisms of his time in office.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Andrew Bolt was one of the most strident critics.

“Whitlam explored the gulf between seeming and doing, and tumbled into the chasm,” he wrote in his blog on the Herald Sun.

“The Abbott government is even today dealing with the costly consequences and culture of entitlement bequeathed by Whitlam’s decisions to give free universal medical care and university education.”

Jones, for his part, acknowledged Mr Whitlam’s intellectual ability and dignity.

“They [Mr and Mrs Whitlam] were people of significant dignity, notwithstanding whatever your differences might be in relation to their politics.”

He did, however, tie Whitlam’s welfare policies to Jones’ own long-running crusade against “dole bludgers”.

“He was the man who allegedly created the mentality of the dole bludger,” said Jones, referring to the Whitlam government’s reformist welfare policies that provided a multimillion-dollar increase in funding for the unemployed.

“Mr Whitlam was of the view that if someone lost their job, then we should all pitch in for what would be one transitional payment from one job to the next.”

Jones added that Mr Whitlam could not have foreseen “dole bludgers” remaining on welfare payments for long periods of time.

“That ideological purity was abused and people became dole bludgers; he never envisaged that people would sit on that forever.”

James Paterson, deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, praised Mr Whitlam for ending conscription and cutting tariffs, but said that his other policies were “regrettable”.

“No prime minister changed Australia more than Gough Whitlam. He was a transformative prime minister,” said Mr Paterson.

“He oversaw one of the largest increases in the size of government in Australian history. It will require a Liberal prime minister as bold as Gough Whitlam to reverse that regrettable trend.”

Other conservative commentators avoided discussing Mr Whitlam’s controversial dismissal or domestic policies and praised him for fostering a relationship between China and Australia.

“Whatever doubts conservatives and Liberals have raised about Gough’s domestic and foreign policies during the last 40 years, there is no question the PM deserves high praise for his overtures to China,” said Tom Switzer, a conservative commentator and academic at the University of Sydney.

“He not just spectacularly wrong-footed Liberal prime minister Bill McMahon and even preceded Richard Nixon’s historic visit, he established one of our nation’s most important diplomatic relationships that has helped guarantee a prosperous Australia that is fully engaged in east Asia.”

Malcolm Fraser, the former Liberal prime minister who replaced Mr Whitlam after his dismissal in 1975, and long ago cut ties with the right, chose simply to remember him as a “great Australian”.

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October 9th, 2019

Forza Horizon 2 game review: hitting the open road

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The Italian countryside is yours to explore in Forza Horizon 2. Race a train in a Subaru WRX, because why not.
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Forza’s trademark cockpit view returns, and each car features a stunningly accurate interior. What this play option lacks in visibility it gains in terrifying immersion.

Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One, Xbox 360 Reviewed on Xbox One $89.95 – $99.95 Classification: PG Reviewer’s rating: 8/10

If the Forza Motorsport series is designed for car enthusiasts who dream of taking their hobby machines to professional race meets around the world, Horizon is for car enthusiasts who dream of road trips with friends and colour-filled parties where supercars are worshiped and their drivers are celebrities.

Horizon 2, in stark contrast to the straight-laced Motorsport 5, is a bizarre parallel world where a massive and picturesque south-eastern region of Italy can be shut down to host a gang of rich kids taking their Ferraris and Lamborghinis for a road trip. It’s an ego fantasy, pure and simple, and it’s a lot of fun.

The crazy attention to detail from the more serious game remains, as the cars look the part inside and out, yet rather than stick to the tarmac, Horizon 2 lets drivers loose upon fields and coastal towns, barreling through private property and narrowly avoiding unsuspecting traffic with nary a police car in sight. Events range from street races to crazy off-road tours through wheat crops, or you can always just roam the highways and enjoy the feeling of making a perfect corner in a Lamborghini Huracan.

This is still a simulation game, and car physics and control is realistically modelled. This means slamming the handbrake at top speed to drift around a corner is not a viable race tactic, but as always there are plenty of “assists” you can activate at any time – from rendering a suggested driving line on the road to automatically helping with brakes.

Despite the need to be a little more careful in your driving, the realism is an advantage as taking a 1988 Lamborghini Countach on a thrill-ride through wheat crops and across aqueducts on a whim wouldn’t be nearly as fun if the car didn’t fight you every step of the way. The 200 or so cars – which include work vehicles and city cars as well as those explicitly designed for racing – each offer subtle variations in performance and handling, and can be tweaked endlessly to your liking in the garage. Struggling to stay on the road at high speed in a McLaren or gliding around a corner in an Impreza is where Horizon 2 shines.

Another area of success is the sheer amount of freedom the game provides. Although you have to win a certain number of races and championships to progress, the class of car you race in is up to you. Fancy a 1999 Lancer Evolution for the next leg of the trip? Selecting the appropriate rally championship makes all the events ahead compatible with the car. Beyond the events there are also plenty of opportunities to hit the open road, and fulfil side objectives like taking photographs or discovering beaten-up old racers in countryside barns. An unexpectedly robust and streamlined online mode is present too.

The fun free-wheeling is ruined just a tad by the attempt to pull all the events of the game together into something of a road-trip story, as the cast of homogenised European 20-somethings (who by the way offer far to much input and exposition when they could be letting you enjoy yourself) aren’t quite sure whether they’re street racers or snotty billionaires. The rave festival narrative in general has a tendency to be at odds with the beauty of classic cars and coastlines (and this extends to the electro soundtrack, which can thankfully be switched off or turned to a channel of generic classical), but this is of course a matter of taste.

October 9th, 2019

Sudden impact: the Whitlam government’s legacy

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Rolling coverage: Whitlam dead at 98Martyr for a moment, hero for a lifetimeFull coverage
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No Australian government of recent times was more memorable.

No Australian government sought to change the country so much in such a short time. And no Australian government, for good and ill, has had such an impact.

The Whitlam government was a watershed in Australia’s history.

Before, Australia in the post-war era was a land of white people, where men were fully employed in farms and factories, and women fully employed raising kids. It was a prosperous land that, despite having more than non-British migrants, saw itself as British, followed the wishes of its “great and powerful friends”, took its culture from others, and expected the poor to get a job.

After Whitlam, Australia became another country, an adolescent nation that had left home to find its own identity. It no longer had full employment, rapid economic growth or low inflation. Women were no longer necessarily at home, mothers no longer necessarily married. Governments were big, deficit-prone and supported millions of people. Yet the country had a new independence and pride in itself.

Not all these changes began with the Whitlam government, or were caused by it. It was a government of change in a world that was changing more rapidly than ever.

In the three years Whitlam was in power, the Vietnam War ended, and with it the military phase of the Cold War. Throughout the Western World, the long economic boom came to a close, oil became expensive and mass unemployment arrived. Families broke up and sexual and social taboos broke down.

It was a time when men wore sideburns and wide lapels, and women wore short hair, jeans and platform shoes. The Kingswood was in the driveway, and the first colour televisions in the lounge. Skyhooks were our favourite band, Abigail was getting hot and bothered at Number 96, Peter Weir was shooting Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Patrick White won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Whitlam government was as much a manifestation of social change as an instigator of it. But while the fashions of the time have gone, the legacy of that government’s policy changes on Australia has been enduring.

An astonishing number of Australia’s institutions and policies were created by the Whitlam government. And our economic problems also largely date from that time.

To those who lived through that era, the amazing thing is that so many of the reforms that provoked such controversy at the time have become accepted on both sides of politics.

They include Aboriginal land rights; the replacement of royal honours and knighthoods by the Order of Australia (although Tony Abbott reinstituted knights and dames to the Australian honours system this year); the abolition of the gerrymander favouring rural voters; Medibank; and the expanded federal role in schools, universities, roads, the arts and the environment.

Yet that stunning first fortnight of leadership in which Gough Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, abolished conscription, recalled Australia’s troops from Vietnam, recognised China, set up the Schools Commission, opened the equal pay case and announced 35 other decisions, created an environment of unpredictable radicalism that was to turn malign as the government and the economy began to fall apart.

What is that legacy? Let’s look at some of the main areas:

Foreign policy

For a decade to December 1972, the main political battleground was foreign policy. Yet after that decisive fortnight when Whitlam rewrote Australia’s policies, it retreated to become an area of broad bipartisan agreement.

Whitlam’s main thrust was to develop Australia’s relations with Asia, communist and non- communist countries alike. He and the Indonesian leader, President Suharto, became the first leaders of their two countries to develop a close relationship.

Oddly, given Whitlam’s passion for foreign affairs and institution-building, he left no regional institutions, but Australian foreign policy now basically is as he left it.

At the time, the most controversial element of its foreign policy was Labor’s independent stance towards the United States, exemplified by open criticism of the US by ministers, and government demands for joint control over US defence bases in Australia. Forty years later, both positions are accepted without fuss.

Whitlam’s other main foreign policy problem and legacy, however, was East Timor. In 1974, the Portuguese dictatorship was overthrown, and its colonies prepared for independence.

In April 1975, Suharto and Whitlam agreed in Townsville that East Timor should be peacefully integrated into Indonesia.

The Indonesians took this as a green light from Australia to invade the colony. Australia’s silence as their preparations advanced confirmed their view that the one country able to stop the invasion would not do so. A dispute in 1975 was avoided by an outcome that damaged the relationship for years.

Race relations

The Whitlam government removed race as a criterion for immigration, introducing a new test based on qualifications and family ties that saw Asia become the main source of new migrants. Al Grassby, the flamboyant immigration minister, introduced Australia to multiculturalism.

The reforms met bitter opposition, as did the laws granting Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory (passed under the Fraser government) and overriding Queensland’s paternalistic legislation governing Aboriginal communities. Yet, 40 years later, Aboriginal land rights, Asian immigration, and multiculturalism are accepted by both sides of politics.

Health and education

The greatest expansion of the Federal government’s role in Australian life took place here. Labor set up Medibank to provide universal health insurance and took over tertiary education from the states, pumping huge sums into government schools. In three years, its spending on health and education quadrupled from $1.2 billion to $4.7 billion.

That legacy has endured, and with it the balance of federal and state powers has permanently shifted. The Fraser government dismantled Medibank, but the Hawke government restored it as Medicare, which now seems beyond challenge.

Social policy

This divided Australians bitterly in the Whitlam years. As Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy introduced the Family Law Act to make divorce easier. Single mothers were allowed to claim welfare benefits. Unemployment benefits, just $10 a week in 1972, were lifted to the pension level, which itself was raised substantially. Women were guaranteed equal pay for equal work, and the government actively took up a feminist agenda.

The House of Representatives voted that homosexuality should no longer be a crime. The government built the National Gallery, and spent $1.1 million buying Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for it. The Australia Council was established to fund artists and the Australian Film Commission to finance the film industry.

In 1995, it seems hard to believe the antagonism these changes met with at the time. In the bush, the Whitlam Government became identified with dole bludgers, single mothers, radical lesbians and arty wankers. But, equally, in 1975, it was hard to believe that the number of sole parents supported by taxpayers would rise nearly tenfold from 36,000 to 325,000 in two decades.

Cities this was the one area where the Whitlam government’s reforms did not last. From 1947 to 1972, Australia’s population grew from 7.5 million to 13.5 million, often housed in unsewered, poorly serviced suburbs. As Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren set up programs to sewer the cities, buy up urban land, and build new housing.

But the states blocked his goal of developing Townsville and Coffs Harbor into growth centres, diverting funds to inland cities where Australians did not want to go. As population growth shrank, the Fraser government scrapped the cities agenda.

The economy

In the end it was the collapse of the economy and ministerial disunity that brought down the Whitlam government.

In the decade to 1972, the Australian economy had grown by almost 6 per cent a year. Australians believed that they would always have full employment, rapid growth, low inflation and sound government finances; Gough Whitlam himself assumed it.

Yet by 1975 inflation had soared to 17.6 per cent. Unemployment had risen from 2.1 to 5.4 per cent. Growth was halted by recession, and despite taxes doubling in three years, the deficit hit $2.5 billion.

Why? Too much stimulus and strain came too fast. In that heady atmosphere, wages shot up 48 per cent during 1973 and 1974. Government spending increased by 75 per cent in two years (by 46 per cent in 1974-75 alone). Yet tariffs were cut 25 per cent overnight, and taxes and interest rates hiked just as world oil prices doubled, and the West crashed into recession.

The new thinking behind Whitlam’s reforms, many of them long overdue, went hand in hand with a chaotic, dysfunctional style of government, a centralist approach to relations with the states, and a blithe indifference to economic constraints.

For all his towering dominance, Whitlam was bound by his caucus in ways that past and future prime ministers were not. Sometimes his announcement of a new government policy was overturned by his party room within days.

The veteran Minister for Minerals and Energy, Rex Connor, followed his own agenda without reference to cabinet, secretly commissioning a Pakistani trader, Tirath Khemlani, to negotiate a $4 billion loan from Arab governments so Connor could nationalise the mines of foreign-owned companies and ‘buy back the farm’.

Labour Minister Clyde Cameron, a former secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, encouraged the Arbitration Commission to grant double-digit pay rises, regardless of the impact on a spiralling rate of inflation.

Whitlam had no interest in economic policy, and no appetite for managing his team of wild horses, who consequently went their own way.

To contain inflation, his government in July 1973 made a reckless decision to cut import tariffs immediately by 25 per cent: it certainly made imports cheaper, but also shut down hundreds of Australian factories.

Manufacturing output plunged by 10 per cent in a year, and over the next five years almost 200,000 manufacturing workers were laid off. The share of GDP going to wages, which averaged 55.3 per cent in the 1950s and 60s, soared to 63.5 per cent in 1974-75.

The combination of wage-price inflation at home, poor policy decisions, and soaring oil prices and recessions abroad sent Australia into its worst recession for 40 years.

The long boom had ended. Unemployment did not drop below 4.5 per cent for the next 30 years. Inflation took a decade to fall below 10 per cent. This was not just Australia’s experience: OECD growth rates collapsed from 4.8 per cent over 1964-73 to 2.2 per cent in 1974-83. But the Whitlam government contributed, and an angry electorate made it take the blame.

Looking back, we may have been unfair. In retrospect, the government’s errors on economic policy probably did less damage than we thought. Its reforms have proved more durable and substantial than they seemed. No government would want to imitate Whitlam’s in style, but none has left such a lasting impact.

Tim Colebatch is The Age’s former economics editor. This is a revised version of a piece originally published in 1995.

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October 9th, 2019

Abbott, Joko’s first date as awkward as it looked

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Tony Abbott and Joko Widodo meet after the new president’s inauguration. Photo: Michael BachelardAt times, international diplomacy resembles nothing more than speed dating.
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After the inauguration of Indonesia’s new president, Tony Abbott, along with a number of other international dignitaries, was found a short slot to meet with Joko Widodo.

A lot was riding on this brief encounter from Abbott’s point of view. He was searching for some way to establish a personal relationship that is warm, smooth and, as Abbott promised in the election campaign, contains “no suprises”. It follows a decade-long affair with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that had strong features of co-dependency — full of effusive praise (the diplomatic equivalent of roses and chocolates) then massive tantrums and the withdrawal of the ambassador.

So how do you go about building intimacy in international affairs between two people who have never met whose countries have a long and sometimes troubled history?

You put them together in a big room, the chairs barely facing one another, surround them by observers and note takers, and then ask them in about 30 minutes, to establish “warmth”.

Oh, and you invite dozens of cameras and reporters in for the first minute or two to capture the moment, which will then be publicly dissected and discussed.

In Abbott’s and Joko’s case, the first moments were painfully awkward. There was a long pause. The two men smiled at each other. Smiled at the room. The cameras flashed. Abbott nodded a few times. More smiles. Then Joko finally spoke, telling Abbott that, “if we have a problem, you can talk to my ambassador because for me communication is important”.

It may have been the equivalent of being told “talk to the hand”. Or it may have been a function of Joko’s self-acknowledged innocence in matters of foreign affairs.

Abbott replied that he was following in the footsteps of his mentor, John Howard, who had attended Yudhoyono’s inauguration in 2004.

Then the media were hustled out.

Afterwards, Joko walked Abbott out to the road and he left, with a wave, in his big black limousine. That left Joko, in the gap between that and a meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry, to kiss and tell.

He told journalists that “the main topic” of conversation had been Abbott’s strong desire for a second date at the G20 summit in Brisbane. Joko — who will already have been to two international summits that month, APEC and ASEAN — was again non-committal.

So all Australia has is the phone number of the ambassador. Abbott wants a a better, longer, less observed chance to find common ground with this new, unknown leader.

On the evidence of the first encounter, though, warmth may be a little hard to find.

October 9th, 2019

What did Gough Whitlam actually do? Rather a lot

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Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles generated considerable controversy for Gough Whitlam. Photo: Belinda PrattenLive: Tributes pour inTim Colebatch: the Whitlam government’s legacyGough Whitlam: full coverage
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He was prime minister for a relatively brief three years, but Gough Whitlam’s legacy is extensive. Here’s a selection of how he changed Australia.


That green and yellow Medicare card in your wallet is there thanks to one man.

Whitlam introduced Medibank, the ancestor of Medicare, as Australia’s first national health insurance system. It began operating on July 1, 1975.

Both sides of politics, often at their peril, have sought ways to wind back Medicare.

A $3.50 co-payment in Labor’s 1991 budget arguably cost Prime Minister Bob Hawke the leadership and opened the door to Paul Keating’s successful challenge.

The Hawke co-payment was gone by March 1992 but the Abbott government’s pursuit of a co-payment has been met with similar outrage by doctors, welfare groups, pensioners and even Liberal state governments.


“When government makes opportunities for any of the citizens, it makes them for all the citizens. We are all diminished as citizens when any of us are poor. Poverty is a national waste as well as individual waste. We are all diminished when any of us are denied proper education. The nation is the poorer – a poorer economy, a poorer civilisation, because of this human and national waste.” Gough Whitlam on the campaign trail in 1969

Whitlam attended Sydney’s prestigious Knox Grammar, but for him the difference in opportunity for private and government school students was “morally unjust and socially wasteful”.

Part of Whitlam government’s turbo-charged start to office was the establishment of the The States Grants (Schools) Act 1973 and the Schools Commission Act 1973 to create the new system of fairer funding.

A much-talked about legacy – both by those who took advantage of it and those who missed out when fees were reintroduced – is the abolition of university fees from January 1, 1974.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard and many other prominent Australians trace their opportunities and successes back to a free university education.

The policy also created the modern phenomenon of “mature-age students”, with a rush of older Australians getting degrees in the 1970s.


Paul Keating: “Gough Whitlam changed the way Australia thought about itself and gave the country a new destiny.”

Part of that change in thinking was a new approach to the indigenous owners of Australia.

Ten days after taking office, Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, announced a royal commission into Aboriginal land rights under Justice Woodward.

The findings of the royal commission led to the drafting of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and the establishment of an elected National Aboriginal Consultative Committee.

In his first month in office, Whitlam established the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

In 1975, he handed the Gurindji people at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory title deeds to part of their traditional lands.


Rarely a day goes by without a member of the government acknowledging China’s part in Australia’s enduring prosperity.

Forty years ago, relations were very different.

In January 1973, Whitlam re-opened the Australian embassy in Beijing, resuming diplomatic relations after 24 years.

After a visit to Indonesia with wife Margaret, Whitlam became the first prime minister to visit the People’s Republic of China in October 1973, having earlier led a Labor delegation in opposition.

Whitlam’s engagement with China came before US President Richard Nixon initiated the thawing of relations between the superpowers.

His early steps are seen as vital to the multiculturalism that developed in Australia throughout the 1980s and beyond.


Gough Whitlam did not like God Save the Queen.

SBS Soccer caller Les Murray recounted on Tuesday how Whitlam was the first prime minister to attend a Socceroos match – but only on the proviso that Advance Australia Fair was played.

It became the official national anthem on April 8, 1974.


Whitlam is remembered for his big thinking but part of his legacy is at the most local level – the backyard dunnie and the septic tank.

As the member for Werriwa, based around the then new-built but largely unsewered suburb of Cabramatta, Whitlam had a grasp of what was needed in the battler belt.

His government set a goal to leave no urban home unsewered. The Whitlam government gave grants directly to local government units for urban renewal, flood prevention, and the promotion of tourism.

Federal grants financed highways linking the state capitals.


In opposition, Whitlam described the Vietnam War as “disastrous and deluded.”

On taking office he quickly abolished conscription and released all conscientious objectors from jail.

The process of withdrawal from Vietnam had begun in 1970 under Liberal prime minister John Gorton and his successor Billy McMahon announced additional troop withdrawals.

On its seventh day in power, the Whitlam government announced the withdrawal of Australia’s remaining troops, which by then were military advisers.

Australia’s involvement in the war ended officially ended on January 11, 1973.


Whitlam “snapped Australia out of the Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep – giving it new vitality and focus,” according to Keating.

Part of that was a new approach to the arts.

Whitlam doubled funding to the arts in a year and created the Australia Council for the Arts, which is still operating today.

The government pushed forward with the creation of the National Gallery in Canberra with the first purchases of art.

The most controversial of which was Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. There was outrage at the $1.1 million price tag for a single piece of abstract art.

By some estimates, Blue Poles, is now worth $100 million.


Whitlam introduced “no fault divorces” through the Family Law Act 1975.

A national Family Court was set in train but not established until 1976 under Malcolm Fraser.

Sales tax was removed from contraceptives.


In June the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 also became law, ratifying a United Nations convention that, although signed by Australia, had remained unratified for nine years.


Whitlam scuppered plans to allow drilling for oil on the Great Barrier Reef.

His government introduced environmental protection legislation and the  Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1974 .

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