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21 Oct 2014

#ThankYouGough a legacy of real, life impacting policy

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I was too young to see this campaign material, though, considering his great raft of nation building policies, we should still want Gough

This morning, way before pollies had time to give their speeches and journalists had time to pull out their memories, we on Twitter went into #GoughWhitlam over-drive, as we do. People shared memories of Gough, older tweeps harked back to their favourite times, “Where they were when the Dismissal happened?”, some even discussing life prior to having a sewer line connected to their home (an initiative I was never aware was a Whitlam one),  to younger tweeps who very quickly latched on to the scrapping of Uni fees. From the environment, economics & Indigenous rights to a variety of social policy, most tweeps seemed to have a particular policy that really mattered to them from the Whitlam era.

For me, I was born in 1968 so when Whitlam was punted from Government I was more worried about bindies in the backyard. Whitlam didn’t really enter my consciousness until I was a teenager doing an assignment in high school. We focused on ‘female friendly’ policy and even in that limited scope of study I always found it odd that a man who seemed to achieve so much could have been dismissed from Government in such a manner? Obviously I was not around to notice what was happening at the time, so to this day it is still an extremely weird act in our history when he seemed to achieve so much for our nation.

Not sure what I am talking about, I suggest you visit the “Whitlam Institute” as there are many achievements during this period you may not be aware of but take for granted in daily life (ie connecting suburban homes to sewerage). This phase of political history in particular is actually astonishing, so much achieved in such a short time:

“The Whitlam Government brought about a vast range of reforms in the 1071 days it held office between December 5, 1972 and November 11, 1975. In its first year alone, it passed 203 bills - more legislation than any other federal government had passed in a single year. Whitlam reformed not only Australia's laws and institutions, but the way it sees itself.”

What I do know is that I myself was a massive beneficiary of Whitlam policy.

As my grandmother would remind me when I would whine about the boys school next door to my girls school being able to do stuff we couldn’t, I was a lot luckier than either her or my mother with the opportunities that I had to look forward to as a female and citizen in Australia, thanks mostly in part to Gough Whitlam and his policies.

In my 46 years, the below are just some of the Gough Whitlam policies that have assisted me:

  • I had free health care & would not need to worry about dying from a treatable ailment.
  • To go to Uni or not was a ‘choice’ for me, there was no socio-economic barrier, if my marks were good enough, I could attend Uni (something I think my grandmother would have loved to do).
  • Unlike my mother, should I choose to work and then get married & pregnant I would not have to leave my job.
  • As a young & dumb woman in a terrible marriage, I was not trapped, fleeing relatively easily (in comparison to the past)  due to “No fault divorce”.
  • In fact, had I been dumber (thankfully I wasn’t) and had children with my ex husband I could also have availed myself of the Family Courts.
  • Hell, I even got to vote at 18 instead of waiting until 21.

Obviously there are many more things I could add to the above, like the Great Barrier Reef is not just a big oil rig as Joh Bjelke-Petersen was envisaging due to the Seas and Submerged Lands Act where basically the Commonwealth could stop Joh in his tracks. In fact much of the Environmental & Cultural heritage we enjoy today we can thank Gough Whitlam for, plus much more...

Buzzfeed has actually done a pretty good list “16 Completely Life-Changing Things You Can Thank Gough Whitlam For” though for a serious look you really should cruise through the area “Whitlam Government Achievements” on the Whitlam Institute site.

Point is, when a former politician or statesmen dies, we are not usually thanking them for anything. We may admire them, be in awe of a particular brave act, be inspired by their acts in a particular time and place in history, but, we are not normally ‘thanking’ them.  #ThankYouGough or variations on that theme were all over Twitter this morning.

A very important thing I noticed was people were not really discussing politics, more policy. In an age of political slogans and where everything from our education to war and ebola has a ‘political’ spin on it, to be discussing the policies and initiatives of a man who had died, not his political party as such, not the spin, but his actual ‘policies’ and how they impacted on our lives and improving our future.

I know it is naive, but I truly hope that with Gough Whitlam’s passing that the introspection, retrospectives and plethora of legacy pieces and eulogies that some of the actual real life impacting and life changing policies will stay in the minds of media, politicians and punters.

Maybe the greatest honour we can pay Gough Whitlam is to not let his nation building policy die for short-term economic gain and that - ironically for the man who first came up with the catchy slogan ‘It’s Time’ - we look beyond the slogans for real policy (as Gough did) and true action that will benefit this nation into the future, as we have benefited ourselves from the Whitlam years.

PS. What 'real' impact did Gough Whitlam's policies have on your life?
List of #ThankYouGough Tweets 21 October 2014 as requested Looking at you Jan ;-)

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