Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – Why Gough Whitlam was simply magnificent

I rejected social democracy in the early 1960s when I worked on the Mount Isa Mail and saw the Labor Party and trade union leaders betray the miners who were struggling for a pay increase against US-owned Mount Isa Mines Limited.
Jack Egerton, later Sir Jack, president of the Queensland Trades and Labor Council, and Edgar Williams, Queensland secretary of the Australian Workers Union, sold the miners down the river and crawled before MIM’s George Fisher, later Sir George.
A few years later I was working in the National Press Gallery in Canberra for the Daily Mirror when I met Gough Whitlam, MP for Werriwa and deputy leader of the Labor Party.
I had to quickly revise my thinking.
Gough was magnificent. He had time to talk to the most junior members of the Press Gallery and there was nothing more exciting than to be offered the chance to enter his office on Friday afternoon for drinks.
In the House he was commandingly brilliant using his skills as a QC and a debater to tear apart ill-prepared Tory legislation and put Labor’s case. Question time was hugely entertaining when Arthur Calwell gave his deputy the opportunity to skewer Menzies or one of his incompetent minions. We packed the Press Gallery to watch.
When Gough won the 1972 election and was dismissed by Sir John Kerr in the Canberra Coup of 11 November 1975 I was working in London. By then, I had finished for good with social democracy, doubly disillusioned by the feebleness of Harold Wilson and his successor Jim Callaghan.
Returning to Sydney in 1986 it wasn’t long before I renewed my acquaintance with the Great Man. He read my articles in The Sun-Herald and often phoned saying: “Comrade, a very good article in Sunday’s paper. You do know, however, that the first old age pension was introduced ……” and he would be off. His knowledge was encyclopaedic and his memory for detail quite amazing.
He would sign off saying, “And how are Lucy and Jim?” (my parents) whom he met when he visited our home in Townsville during the 1969 election campaign and Mum made him a cup of tea. He still remembered.
Among Socialus Democratus Gough was Optimus Maximus. He was the last of a kind; we don’t have politicians of his calibre today in Labor circles, here or in Europe, Africa or Asia. In political and intellectual stature, Bill Short’n’sweet wouldn’t come up to his ankles.
Gough fought for reforms from the capitalist system to benefit working people; today’s social democrats want to prove that they are better at running the capitalist system than the Tories and bugger the working people.
While Tony Abbott – just like his mentors Howard and Menzies – relishes division, clinging to “tradition” (monoculturalism and the monarchy) and spreading fear and insecurity, Gough gave Australians purpose and confidence. He changed Australia and Australians. The country grew up and so did its people. We became more confident about ourselves and the world we lived in.
The State Funeral in Sydney promises to be the largest in the country’s history, as it should be.

Brown Noser of the Week

Step Forward Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, founded by billionaire shopping centre landlord Frank Lowy to further the interests of global capitalism and Israeli Zionism.
Fullilove wrote: “Tony Abbott’s promise to ‘shirt front’ Russian president Vladimir Putin has led critics to argue he is temperamentally unsuited to conducting foreign policy. In fact, he has made a good start to this part of the prime minister’s job.
“Three strengths of Abbott’s foreign policy – and three concerns – stand out. Foreign policy is central to this government. This is partly a function of events, including the disappearance of MH370, the downing of MH17 and the rise of Islamic State. But it also reflects the personalities of the key players. National Security Committee meetings are frequent. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is the government’s outstanding cabinet minister [!!]. Treasurer Joe Hockey is focused on the G20 leaders summit in Brisbane.
“And the Prime Minister himself is plainly ambitious when it comes to the world.” (SMH, 17 October 2014).
Fullilove, one of Paul Keating’s sycophants, must have stopped reading the overseas press. Abbott is regarded as a “wrecker” by the Obama administration, “unstable” by the Brits, a “fool” by Beijing, a “soft touch” by Tokyo, “reckless” by Jakarta, a “loose cannon” by Malaysia, a “joke” by Moscow and the “mad monk” by a growing number of Australians who aren’t members of Lowy’s pedestrian “think tank”.

New cop on the beat

Troy Grant, the 44-year-old former police inspector from the seat of Dubbo, is the new NSW Deputy Premier. He describes himself as “the accidental politician”, and that’s true.
He found himself in parliament on 26 March 2011, in the Cabinet by 23 April 2014 and Deputy Premier by 16 October.
For a political novice, he has been lumbered with a bundle of portfolios – Hospitality, Gaming and Racing, the Arts, Regional Infrastructure and Services, Trade and Investment, Tourism and Major Events.
Opposition Leader John Robertson and his front bench team decided to give the ex-copper a bruising welcome at his first question time as Deputy Premier. They peppered him with questions about the Baird Government’s new laws on political donations.
After a procedural row, Grant told MPs: “I am not afraid to answer any question the Opposition throws at at me.”
When “Robbo” continued barracking Grant said: “I will get to you in a second, bald eagle.” And he did.
The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition will come to order.
GRANT: As the leader of The Nationals I put this challenge to the Leader of the
Opposition: Bring to me a retrospective amendment to this legislation that holds to account those who failed to declare a bribe and carries 10 years’ punishment and I will call it.
ROBERTSON: Ah, the bogeyman. What about the 10 non-Liberal members?
GRANT: The Leader of the Opposition is a very lucky man that that matter did not come before me when I was in the Police Force because he would have been in the dock.
Grant was referring to Robertson’s belated admission that standover man and developer Michael McGurk had offered him a $3million bribe in 2006 during negotiations over the sale of Unions NSW holiday site, Currawong, on Pittwater.
“Robbo” rejected the bribe but did not inform his union colleagues, the Labor Party, the NSW police or ICAC.

Unrelenting war

A press release from Tony Abbott’s office has arrived with the short list from this year’s PM’s Book Awards saying:
“A number of the shortlisted books reflect on World War One and the Anzac story – the crucible in which the Australian identity was forged. These works are essential resources to remembering the tide of events that shaped our nation and that still cast a shadow over the wider world.”
Apart from Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I am nauseated by the emphasis on war stories in the fiction and non-fiction categories. With misanthropic reactionary Gerard Henderson as head of the judges’ panel the short lists are entirely predictable.
Part of Abbott’s “history war” policy is to inflict war, militarism, running up the flag, bowing to Mrs Windsor, decorations and uniforms into the national psyche. In the process, music, painting, the arts, books and science are buried by the peculiar “yobbery” that lycra-clad Abbott represents.
Tragically, I have received an email from Murray St Leger, CEO of the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) saying: “The vibrant domestic publishing industry that has emerged in Australia over the past 25 years matters to our nation and how we think of ourselves and the outside world.
“Without it we would not have seen a large number of titles commissioned, for example, on our long military history. Stories of Kokoda, Burma, Changi, Long Tan, Uruzgan may have passed with the men who lived them. Authors like Richard Flanagan may have never got their chance to tell the story inspired by his father.”
What “long military history” does Australia have? St Leger’s claim is an historical absurdity. And what is the “outside world”? (Will someone please inform him there is only one world and we belong to it).
I hope that his uneducated communique doesn’t mean that CAL’s highly commendable sponsorship of books, magazines, writers and poets is about to be diverted to the bloated ANZAC industry.
By the way, St Leger’s salary package is almost $500,000 a year which is a lot more than most writers or poets earn in a decade of creative endeavour.

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