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Issue #1662      October 29, 2014

Whitlam legacy

Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam.

Many important progressive, pro-people reforms were made during the three Whitlam years – 1972-1975. They include:

Foreign Policy – withdrew troops from Vietnam (also ended conscription; freed imprisoned draft resisters, dropped charges against others); recognition of China; Palestinian rights; granted independence to Papua New Guinea

Peace and Security – opposed nuclear weapons proliferation and testing; supported disarmament (nuclear and conventional weapons); increased foreign aid spending; abolished what remained of the White Australia Policy; took a strong stand against Apartheid; strengthened relations with Asian region

Security – raid on ASIO by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy suspecting ASIO was withholding information from the Labor government

Sovereignty and independence – opposed to foreign military bases, stations and installations in Australia; against extension or prolongation of existing ones (see “Whitlam on foreign policy” this issue); replaced British honours system with Order of Australia

Democratic and Human Rights – Racial Discrimination Act; introduced official policy of multiculturalism; special services for immigrants; ratification or enactment of important UN Conventions and Protocols; abolished death penalty; lowered voting age from 21 to 18; one-vote one-value electoral reforms; established Law Reform Commission

Health Care and Social Security – introduced universal health care system, Medibank (maximum gap between refund and fee $5); funded construction of new hospitals and community health centres and services; introduced single mother’s benefit (later expanded to include all single parents); raised social security payments across the board; means test abolished for those over 70 for age pension; created Social Security Appeals Tribunal; increased subsidies for non-profit aged care providers; improved funding for services for homeless people; funded grass roots social welfare organisations; invested in construction of new public housing

Education – established Australian Schools Commission; increased school funding for construction of new buildings and on basis of need (state school funding increased by 677%, non-government by 117%); abolished university and technical college fees; provided means tested assistance for tertiary students; Commonwealth took full responsibility for funding universities; Kangan report and development of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges; bridging and other programs giving access to the disadvantaged, Indigenous people, migrants and women; concept of life-long learning; education being much more than vocational training

Workers – a fourth week of annual leave; a 17.5 per cent annual leave loading; ratification or enactment of important International Labour Organisation conventions; introduced maternity leave for Commonwealth employees (52 weeks, 12 on full pay); outlawed discrimination on basis of pregnancy; removed sales tax on oral contraceptives and added them to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Women – advances with equal pay (re-opened equal pay case); increased access to childcare; established Family Law Court and introduction of no-fault divorce; specialist health and welfare services for women; funding for women’s health centres, rape crisis centres and refuges; support for victims of domestic violence; appointed a Women’s Adviser to PM (first ever in world); women’s learning centres

Indigenous Rights – return of land to Gurindji people in the Northern Territory; created Aboriginal Land Fund to be able to buy back traditional lands and Aboriginal Loans Commission; established National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (an elected body to advise the Minister); drafted Aboriginal Land Act (later passed by Fraser government); outlawed discrimination against Indigenous people; funded legal services for Indigenous people; and other measures to support the independence of Indigenous Australians

Environment and heritage – created Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (prevented oil drilling on the Reef); ratified World Heritage Convention, passed Environmental Protection Act; negotiated treaties to protect vulnerable species and ecosystems; funded heritage conservation projects; established Australian Heritage Commission

Culture – created and funded Australia Council for the Arts; established National Gallery of Australia; increased support for Australian film industry including establishment Australian Film Commission and increase in local content on TV; increased funding to ABC; establishment of Australian Film and Television School; minimum Australian music content on radio; introduced Triple J; community radio stations given licences

Cities – protected and renewed inner suburbs of cities; connected outer suburb homes to sewerage

Regional development – planning of decentralisation; provision of regional infrastructure and services.

Next article – Time to fight for women’s services

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