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Whitlam, Success Or Failure? Essay

1213 words - 5 pages

When Australia’s 21st Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was swept into power in December 1972 there was huge anticipation for dramatic and swift change. Australia had been under the control of a conservative liberal government for 23 consecutive years, and Whitlam’s promises if social change were eagerly anticipated. Whitlam, despite his failings as a negotiator, managed to implement a huge array of reforms and changes, many of which shaped Australia into the country it is today. However is that enough to say he succeeded? Even Whitlam today admits that he regrets doing “too much too soon”, and perhaps Whitlam’s government was a government that was too socially progressive for its time, which ...view middle of the document...

The McMahon government had a strong relationship with the American president Lyndon B. Johnston; with his predecessor Harold Holt infamously stating that the Australia would go “all the way with LBJ”. This was in reference to Australia’s commitment to supporting the United States in the war in Vietnam. The Vietnam War became hugely unpopular with the Australian public, particularly with the younger generation, because of the liberal governments increased commitment to supporting the United States that required the introduction of conscription. There were many social movements that were against the Vietnam War, with the most organized and famous being the moratorium marches of 1970 and 71. The failure of the liberal government to act on the will of the people on this issue was a major factor in the increase in the popularity of the Labor Party; particularly once Gough Whitlam took over as leader of the ALP in 1967. The inability of the deeply conservative government to keep up with changing social attitudes on many issues was its ultimate downfall. Social movements and changes in attitudes of the public, which was becoming flooded with the Baby Boomers who were coming of age, such as views on the rights of women, gays, indigenous and foreigners dominated the period and gave rise to a period of large scale public activism. There were many reasons for this increasing social activism within Australian society, two of the most important were the coming of age of the Baby Boomer generation as well as the increase in the “increased participation in post-secondary education” by women, which allowed them the prospect of an independent career and opened their eyes to “a world that seemed to be peopled exclusively by men and their concerns.” At the same time as these many social changes were occurring, so too was a change in the Australian psyche about their national identity. There was a shift away from the traditional British identity that they had held for so long, towards forming an Australian identity that consisted of British, American and Australian elements. The changing makeup of the Australian public, and the social changes it brought with it was a big issue for the Liberal party. McMahon’s outdated social views and stance on national identity, seeing it a still strongly British but with a leaning towards the United States, also strongly contributed to his downfall and the ALPs victory at the 1972 election.
The change in the public’s social views needed to be reflected by a fresh face at the helm of one of the two major parties. Thus when Whitlam rose to...

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