Gough Whitlam

I don’t remember Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister but am fully aware of his political track record.

On learning of his death yesterday, one of my colleagues quipped that “Gough was the best recruiter for the Liberal Party we’ve ever had.”

In the years since his election and dismissal as Prime Minister, Whitlam became a larger than life figure whom many on the left sought to mythologise well ahead of his passing.

His woeful record on foreign affairs and economic policy were sanitised and carefully recrafted by the protectors of the Labor agenda.

However, he was Prime Minister and it has always been my belief that we should respect the ability of those who manage to attain the office, whatever their performance when they get there.

It’s a view shared by our Parliament, which as a mark of respect dealt only with condolence motions before adjourning for the day.

Such days offer an opportunity for reflection on the slings and arrows of political life.

It also allows one to contemplate how few people in politics actually leave a longstanding legacy. Former Prime Ministers like Menzies, Hawke and Howard are certainly some of those few.

Whitlam was too, so much so that even those like me who don’t remember him as PM feel like we did.

There’s no doubt he left his mark on Australian life. Whether it is described as a ‘blemish’ or a ‘beauty spot’ will depend on who is telling the story.

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