Gough Whitlam, 1955 (National Archives of Australia)
Edward G. (Gough) Whitlam was prime ministor of Australia from 1972 to 1975.
I was only ten years old when he became PM, and a pimply young teen in high school when he made his exit, but during his time he made some tectonic changes to the fabric of Australian life.
Before I start, I should point out that politically I’m a bit of an economic conservative. I once ran as a federal candidtate for the Liberal Party in the 1990′s – a political party directly opposed to many of the philosophies of the Labor Party, of which Gough was a member, and luminary.
After watching an excellent two-part series on Gough Whitlam by the ABC : “Whitlam. The Power and the Passion“, I felt like I needed to express my gratitude to this amazing man for his legacy, of which I am a beneficiary – even though he was only Prime Minister for three years, and left office over 40 years ago.
So, Mr Whitlam, here are the things I’d like to thank you for, in no particular order:
1. Free University Education. What an amazing gift from a country to its youth. I came from a low-income family. I doubt I would have been able to go to uni if I or my parents had to pay full fees. But I got to study at one of the best Universities in Australia (University of Queensland) and didn’t have to pay a single cent. After three years I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and was able to work in my chosen field. My uni degree opened up wonderful opportunities for me, and today allows me to enjoy a much better lifestyle than I would have otherwise had.
2. Universal Health Care. Occasionally, when we have been ill, my family and I have free access to some of the best doctors in the country. Sometimes our health system is criticized, but I am grateful for our doctors and hospitals. In this family, they have saved our lives on several occasions. I can’t imagine ever living under a system where you could only get quality health care if you could afford it, or if an insurance company gave its imprimatur.
3. No-Fault Divorce. As anyone who has ever been through it will tell you, divorce is an unpleasant experience. Gough Whitlam introduced the “No fault” doctrine into Australian Family Law so that divorce proceedings were no longer a witch-hunt to find out whose “fault” it was that a marriage ended, but (more importantly) what outcome would be fairest for all, including the children of the marriage. While I don’t think you’ll ever come up with a system where divorcees come out of the proceedings happy with the process, I think today’s system is much more humane because of the reforms brought in by Whitlam.
4. Ending Conscription. As a primary school kid, I remember the anguish suffered by friends of my parents, whose sons had been “Called up” for military service in the Viet-Nam war. While I wasn’t of military age myself, I’m grateful that Whitlam ended conscription which had, till then, forced young men fight in wars, even though they weren’t old enoughn to vote.
5. The Trade Practices Act. Yep – it might sound like a crusty bit of legislation, but this act gave consumers a whole swag of new rights when dealing with corporations, which till then were almost impossible for average mums and dads to pursue. If you enjoy reasable guarantees and warranties on your purchases today, thank Whitlam for it.
6. Aboriginal Land Rights. What’s that got to do with a whitefella like me? When Gough poured a hand-full of dirt into the hands of Vincent Lingiari, and said “This is your land”, he helped white Australians realize that this continent was not a British outpost. It wasn’t a commodity that was bought and sold by corporations. It had a wonderful heritage that reached back to the dawn of time. Although Aborigines were the custodians of that heritage, all Australians were spiritual beneficiaries.
7. Equal pay for women. I was a kid growing up in a low income family where both parents worked full-time. This law recognized that the work my mum did was just as valuable as the work done by her male counterparts. Our family benefited directly from this recognition. Today, my daughters benefit from this same recognition. They won’t be treated as second-class workers
Yes – there were economic problems associated with the Whitlam government: Inflation, Debt, Unemployment, Scandals. But, for me, the important thing is that that Whitlam made some bold decisions, and those decisions still benefit all of us four decades later.
The unveiling of the refurbished Tom Petrie memorial was an amazing experience for many reasons.
I’ve written severalarticles here previously about Tom Petrie. The man was remarkable for the way he learned the ways and language of the local Turrbal Aboriginal people, and showed them a respect and honor that was more than a century ahead of his time. It was fitting to remember him on the 100th anniversary of his death.
I also had the chance to meet Maroochy Barambah, an elder, Songwoman and Law-Woman of the Turrbal Aboriginal people. This talented and dignified woman is the great grand-daughter of Kulkarawa, a young Aboriginal girl who ran off with a Sri Lankan man named Shake Brown in the 1840′s. Brown was killed in the 1840′s on the banks of what is now called Browns Creek. By some strange co-incidence I actually took some photos of this area and wrote an article about it a few months ago. So I was overwhelmed to meet someone who was actually related to Kulkarawa (Granny Kitty) and Shake Brown (Grandfather Brown).
This event was the first formal occasion that descendants of Tom Petrie and the Turrbal people had met face to face since Petrie’s death. It gives me hope that things like this happen. The mutual history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia is something that can unite us, and strengthen our souls. It reminds us how precious is the place in which we live. It gives us continuity and reminds us that each of us is here for such a brief time, while the land is always here.
This time, although I hope I’m wrong, I think the ALP will win with a reduced majority of 5 to 10 seats.
I believe the people will not vote in a Coalition Government this election for one simple reason. Tony Abbott has failed to outline his vision for Australia.
He’s told us all how bad the ALP is, and how wrong their policies are, and why we can’t trust them. He’s probably right.
But I think voters want a prospective leader to do more. We want to know what a leader is passionate about. Where do they want to take us? What is the burning dream in their heart that drives them? What makes their face light up with enthusiasm and say “This is what it’s all about – follow me and I’ll take you there!!!!”. The prime example in recent memory was Barack Obama (“Yes we can!”) in 2008. Tony Abbott hasn’t done this.
Which makes me ask “Why hasn’t he?”. Either he doesn’t have a burning dream inside, or he (or his minders) decided to just run a negative campaign hoping we’d vote Labor out rather than vote him in.
It’s sad – the ALP has some pretty shonky policies on new taxes (Mining Tax, Carbon Tax etc), the internet filter, and borrowing to spend huge amounts of money on public projects. And the Coalition’s failure to enunciate its vision means the ALP is going to get a chance to implement these policies over the next three years.
There’s a non-political lesson in this for all of us. Find out what you love, what you’re passionate about, and go for it with all your heart. BE passionate about something. You’ll generate an energy which will attract followers, and you’ll get something worthwhile done, and have fun at the same time.
Or…. find something you don’t like, and complain about it, and tell everyone how bad it is.
Red Hand Cave, Glenbrook National Park. NSW. Australia by Jeannie Fletcher
Queensland beat NSW last night in the annual State of Original rugby league series. This year was special for a number of reasons.
It was a clean sweep. Queensland won all three of the games played this year – the first time they’ve done this in fifteen years. I think State of Origin football is Rugby League in its highest form. It doesn’t get much better than this, and to see your state win a series so comprehensively feels great!
But this series was overshadowed by some ugly racist overtones when the NSW assistant coach, Andrew Johns tried to inspire his team by making some racist jibes about some of the aboriginal players on the Queensland team. Stupidly, he didn’t realize that those jibes would offend some of the aboriginal players on his own team. Some people must be slow learners when it comes to interpersonal sensitivities. The end result was that Andrew John’s racist comments galvanized the Queensland team, and tore his own team apart.
The highlight (in my opinion) came last night when the Australian National Anthem (“Advance Australia Fair”) was sung at the start of the game, first in an Aboriginal language and then in English. Although not unusual by world standards (for example the New Zealand and South African national anthems) , it was a new experience for some Aussies. In fact, some of them found it a bit hard to take.
Some of my friends made comments such as:
“Excuse me but since when was our AUSSIE national anthem in any language other than English?”
“In Australia we speak ENGLISH. Deal with it or piss off I say.”
“I have a personal issue, with the ones around here that come and steal ya shit while you are at work to pay for thier (sic) rent, drugs and booze”
It seems like a lot of people share Andrew Johns’ attitude towards Aborigines, and feel insulted that something as sacred as our national anthem should be sung in a language other than English. After all, English is the only true Australian language, isn’t it?
Admittedly, English was the native language of the boat people who arrived here in the eighteenth century. But before they arrived there were more than two hundred and fifty Aboriginal languages in use throughout this continent. Most of those languages have become extinct, while a handful remain and are still spoken. Indeed there are some Aboriginal people for whom English is only a second or third language after their own traditional languages.
For many of us who only speak, read, write and hear English everyday, we forget the importance of one’s own language. Our mother tongue is bound inextricably with our culture and self-identity. It is the language of our soul. Without it we’re just foreigners trying to express the cries of our spirit in words we don’t fully understand.
Ian Waldron’s aboriginal ancestors come from around Normanton in western Queensland. He says “I can’t speak my language properly. And that hurts. It was supposed to be mine. It unlocks the Kurtjar world and connects us to the stars and the rivers and everything. It came out of that country near Normanton. Just like we did.”
Perhaps the colonial masters of nineteenth and twentieth century Australia understood the importance of the traditional language when they tried to stamp out all use of Aboriginal languages. Patsy Fourmile is an elder of the Yirrganydji Aboriginal people. At a language revival workshop in Cairns she said, “If you were caught speaking language, you were dressed in a rations sack, had your head shaved and locked in the dormitory”.
Perhaps I should make this a bit more personal. I’m a whitefella who wasn’t even born in Australia. I don’t know much about aboriginal culture. The only language I speak is English, and a bit of high-school French. I love Australia passionately. Liz and I own a suburban block to the north of Brisbane. But the more I fall in love with where I live, the more I realize that I belong to my country – not the other way round. The words on the title deed to my home say that I own a bit of land, but the reality for me is that it owns me. No matter where I go in the world, my guts tell me that this place is home.
And as this land infects who I am, I want to know more about it. Whose feet stood in this dirt before mine did? Fifty years ago? Two hundred years ago? Two thousand years ago? What stories did they tell? What was important to them? It matters to me because it’s part of the story of my place. It’s part of me.
And that’s the bottom line.
Whitefella’s like me who love our country need Aboriginal people, their stories, and their dreams. We need the spiritual link to the land we love, and we can’t get that from a meager two hundred years of European-style land title and tenure. We are blessed when an aboriginal woman sings our national anthem in an ancient language that was spoken thousands of years before Rome was built, before the Old Testament was written, when Englishmen were still daubing themselves with blue clay. It gives Australians a sense of spiritual continuity that nothing else can.
The sooner we embrace Aboriginal culture as something that is part of us as a nation, the better.
She’s only in an average health fund which costs her and Dad a total of about $350 per month.
And she recently got the bill.
Including drugs, pharmaceuticals, theatre and anesthetists fees, the total cost to her and dad was….Nothing. Not a cent.
The hospital costs were covered by the public health care system (Medicare) and the other stuff was covered the private insurer (MBF).
Mum raves about the quality of care she received. She can’t praise highly enough the dedication and attention she got from the nurses and doctors.
Neither can I. This is amazing. And it makes me realize we’re lucky to live in a country that has such fantastic health care. You measure it by the quality of care that average (not wealthy) people receive.
Some of the redneck yee-ha’s in the USA would call this socialism and throw tantrums about it. But when I look around here, I see dozens of health care insurers thriving. Hospitals – private and public are doing what they’re supposed to do most of the time, and average people are getting good care for a decent price.
All I can say is thank goodness we live in Australia. The health care system isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it works well.
Mapping the Human Genome was probably one of the greatest achievements of our time.
Scientists were able to unravel our DNA and gain an understanding of how its building blocks, chromosomes, specifically affected our lives. For the first time we were able to find out if we were susceptible to various diseases, where our ancestors came from, what might happen to us physically as we aged. Companies like 23 and me, and deCode have sprung up offering a comprehensive low cost service to analyze and help you understand your own DNA for around $USD 500. This is an exciting development which is changing the lives of many people, and offering hope to others.
At the same time, multinational drug companies such as Myriad Genetics obtained their own genomic information for use with tests such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 which can determine a woman’s susceptibility to Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer. The problem was they claimed exclusive ownership of the information, and legally threatened anyone else who tried to use this genomic information to do their own tests. They charged women in the USA $3,700 for the test.
In other words, Myriad was saying “Information about this part of your genetic material belongs to our company, you’re not allowed to use it, but we’ll do the tests for you if you pay us a lot of money. And if you try to do the testing yourself, we’ll sue you”.
The bigger issue in all of this is that the Human Genome belongs to all of us. In computer jargon, it should be “Open Source”. It’s abhorrent that a company can come along and try to hoodwink you into thinking that they own information about your genome. Multinational drug companies try to tell us that unless they can own and exploit that information, they won’t develop life saving tests.
Rubbish! These charlatans are building upon the freely available work of groups such as the Human Genome Project. They can’t then claim ownership of it, and bully anyone who disagrees with them. If they don’t like the situation, too bad. Some other organization will come along and quickly fill the gap.
This information belongs to the human race. It’s inappropriate for it to be traded around like MP3′s or computer games.
Were humans really heating the planet up through carbon emissions?
I thought perhaps the best thing was to play it safe. Slap a tax on CO2 emissions, and hopefully the planet would be better off.
I have now decided I am a skeptic of Anthropogenic Global Warming. I am not convinced that human activity is increasing the temperature of the planet.
Furthermore I am disgusted at the level of obfuscation and political spin that has crept into the “science” behind this issue as is evidenced by the Email Archives of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The scientific process must be an open, peer reviewed process where political spin has nothing to do with the process, where criticism is welcomed and openly debated, and where the data is made available in its entity without editing for all to see. The email archives I allude to show that this has not been happening.
I passionately believe we must reduce pollution and other environmental damage. We must preserve wilderness and bio-diversity. We must put a check on unmitigated development and land clearing. We must develop cleaner and greener ways of producing energy.
But, I don’t think that the government’s plan to impose a new tax on Carbon Dioxide will achieve any of this.
The skeptic in me thinks:
1. The government has borrowed and spent more than was prudent as part of a knee-jerk, poorly targeted stimulus package to try and stem the affects of the Global Financial Crisis.
2. The government needs more money.
3. The tax behind the Emissions Trading Scheme is money for jam – an easy way to raise money, by scaring people into believing that if we don’t pay more tax, the planet is doomed.
4. The government would happily participate in a misinformation campaign to secure future tax revenue.
Some ticks and crosses for recent political events:
√Julia Gillard visited India to reassure the Indian people that we want their students here, we’re serious about protecting them, and we’ll shut down any bogus educational organizations. This is a smart move. It’s a good example of Customer Service – how to turn a bad situation around by listening to concerns and doing something about it. The Indian government responded by inviting Australian universities to set up branches in India.
XNSW minister John Della Bosca resigned because he got caught having an affair. John Della Bosca’s personal life is irrelevant. The comments in the media about him missing planes because of his secret relationship are lame. The bottom line is whether or not he’s doing his job effectively or not, whether the NSW tax payers are getting value from his efforts, and whether his actions and those of his government are taking his state in the right direction. If you want to remove a government minister due to incompetence, that’s fine – it’s politics. But resigning, or getting kicked out because you had an affair is stupid. What sort of precedent does it set? If we want to get rid of a government now, do we forget about policy debates and performance indicators, and just take the easy way out and dig through their dirty laundry. This is grubby journalism, and stupid politics. And NO I don’t support NSW Labor, or their politics. But Della Bosca should still be a cabinet minister today.
√ Victorian minister Tim Holding was rescued from the Victorian Alps after two days being stranded on a mountain top. This is great news, and a good example of emergency services getting the job done when needed. Yes, he should have taken an EPIRB and probably should have taken a couple of mates with him, but despite that it’s good to see healthy active political leaders getting out and exploring the world, and surviving calamities.
XACMA refuses to ban junk food ads. The Australian Communications and Media Authority is toothless, and without gonads. They are incapable of doing anything courageous if it threatens the profitability of commercial broadcasters. Australian Commercial Media requires more regulation, not less. They intrude into every area of our lives. Most of our chubby little kids are addicted to the junk they serve up. Getting tougher with them won’t harm them at all. All commercial media has to compete in the same environment. Television advertisers still have to advertise. I just think they should have a few more boundaries so they learn to behave properly. The bottom line is that Australian Media can’t or won’t regulate itself. The Government needs to bite the bullet on this.
√XA bet each way for the Gorgon Gas project. It’s a good outcome which is a result of the efforts of both Labor and Liberal governments, past and current in WA and Federally. It injects billions of dollars into the Australian economy. BUT, environment minister Peter Garret was pretty much sidelined by the whole process. The project was announced and feted BEFORE Garret had given his approval as environment minister. Regardless of what the spin-doctors say, it shows that he’s considered irrelevant by the major players, and that the environment comes second when large amounts of money are involved.
XWayne Swan has left the spending tap on, money is splattering everywhere, and our current account deficit is blowing out. Yes, our economy has benefited from economic stimulus, but Swan forgets that the stimulus doesn’t need to be a blunt instrument. The Australian economy is growing, but Swan needs to be aware that the extra cash is boosting imports, and hurting exports. If our current account deficit continues, we’ll be staring at Paul Keating’s “Banana Republic” in the not too distant future, with a $300 billion foreign debit too boot.
Some really good things happen in the Australian Parliament at times. But sadly they receive little media coverage, because the stories aren’t as immediately exciting as some of the more tawdry events.
For example, how many column-inches, how much air-time has been wasted on the “Ute-Gate” saga about fake emails, and prime-ministerial favours to political donors?
One story worthy of far more attention than it received was the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill.
In 1992, the then Labor Government, with the support of the Liberal / National opposition, introduced a law which placed Assylum Seekers (men, women and children) in Mandatory Detention, and made them liable for the cost of that detention. This meant when a detainee was eventually deported, or released, he or she was presented with an invoice for the cost of that detention. An amount which could easily run into tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even exceeding one hundred thousand dollars. This, in a country where we don’t charge rapists, murderers and other criminals the cost of their detention – regardless of their nationality.
These people came to our shores for help, and we were treating them worse than criminals.
The mandatory detention policy continued under Coalition Governments througout the Howard Years. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009 was introduced by the current Labor government. Sadly, the bill wasn’t supported on a bi-partisan basis, and the Liberals and Nationals did not support it.
But to their credit, four Liberal members voted against their party, and supported the bill: Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent, Judi Moylan and Danna Vale. Although you might not often do it, I’d recommend you read their speeches. It’s good stuff, and helps underline the fact that we do have decent human beings in the parliament, who care about justice, and doing the right thing:
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Please let me know what you think, and if you’ve got some suggestions, I’d really like to hear them.
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