On Wednesday, 17 March, Labor Members of Parliament in Australia will be meeting in Conberrov to decide whether they want Mr.
On Wednesday, 17 March, Labor Members of Parliament in Australia will be meeting in Conberrov to decide whether they want Mr. Gough Whitlam to continue as their leader.
Just over a week ago, the national executive of the party found Mr. Whitlam and two party colleagues guilty of "grave errors of judgment" in having become involved in efforts to obtain funds for the party from Iraq. He was criticised for having entertained the idea, and for not communicating with the party officers and executive about it. But the executive made it clear that no funds from Iraq had in fact been received, and that neither Mr. Whitlam nor either of his colleagues stood to profit personally.
Mr. Whitlam, who is 59, became Prime Minister of Australia in 1972, when Labor was returned to power after more than 20 years in opposition. The Liberal leader, Mr. William McMahon, conceded defeat in these words:
The Whitlam government immediately set about giving Australia a new look. It passed a substantial programme of social legislation. And it realigned Australia's foreign policy by disassociating itself from the United States' war effort in Vietnam, recognising the People's Republic of China and North Vietnam, and developing a sympathetic connection with the third world countries of South East Asia.
The scale of government spending and the effect of world recession on Australia were already posing economic problems for the Whitlam government last July when it was rocked by alleged personal and financial scandals. Mr. Whitlam dismissed the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Jim Cairns, and called on the Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr. Rex Connor to resign. He had this to say about the Cairns case:
In these cases, too, Arab oil money was in issue. The Ministers were alleged to have been involved in secret attempts to raise funds to buy out foreign capital interests in Australia and develop her mineral resources.
A constitutional crisis followed. The liberal leader, Mr. Malcolm Fraser, used his majority in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, to block Labor's money supply bills with a view to forcing a general election. In the deadlock that resulted, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr (who represents Queen Elizabeth as Head of State) dismissed Mr. Whitlam on the ground that he was not longer in a position to govern, and appointed Mr. Fraser caretaker Prime Minister until a general election could be held.
Mr. Whitlam took the line that his dismissal was unconstitutional, and sought to make use in the election of the sense of outrage that many of his supporters felt at the Governor-General's unprecedented action. When the official proclamation was read, this was Mr. Whitlam's comment:
and pointing out that the proclamation was countersigned by Mr. Fraser as interim Prime Minister, he described the Liberal leader as "Kerr's cur".
But none of this saved Mr. Whitlam. On December 13th last, Mr. Fraser's Liberal Country Party coalition swept to power with a record majority in the house of Representatives, and with the prospect of holding sway in the Senate for ten years.
According to its President, the election has left the Labor Party 350,000 Australian dollars (about a million U.S. dollars) in debt. Mr. Whitlam went on television to say that he had not stopped the move to get Iraqi funds because he knew that the Liberal and Country parties were getting money from overseas, and there was nothing illegal in it. He said he had no intention of resigning, and expected to lead Labor in the next general election in 1978.
SYNOPSIS: The General Election of 1972 brought the Labor Party back to power in Australia, and made its leader, Mr. Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister.
The outgoing Liberal Prime Minister, Mr. William McMahon conceded defeat
Recognition of the People's Republic of China; disassociation from the United States in Vietnam; closer relations with her Asian neighbours; these were all part of the new look the Labor government gave Australia's policy abroad. At home, it put through a substantial programme of social legislation.
But last July Mr. Whitlam had to dismiss his deputy, Dr. Jim Cairns.
Soon afterwards, the Minister for Minerals, Mr. Connor, also had to go.
Labor had economic difficulties too, and the Opposition leader, Mr. Fraser, decided to use his Senate majority to block Labor's money bills and force an election.
The Governor-General, Sir John Kerr (who represents Queen Elizabeth as Head of State) intervened to end the deadlock. On the grounds that he was no longer in a position to govern, he dismissed Mr. Whitlam.
Sir John appointed Mr. Fraser caretaker Prime Minister until a general election.
And as the Governor-General's proclamation was read.......
But nothing saved Mr. Whitlam in the General Election. He and the Labor Party went down to a decisive defeat. He is now facing demands for his resignation, and his party executive has found him guilty of grave errors of judgement in countenancing the idea of seeking money from Iraq to help meet Labor's election debts.