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Whitlam's other children

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It is a sign of Gough Whitlam's greatness and success that we have a government as spiteful and incompetent as the one we have today, writes Michael Galvin.

On November 11, 1975, I was sitting in a large hall at the old Sydney Showgrounds, marking Year 12 English papers, along with a couple of hundred high school English teachers. The supervisor broke the silence to make an announcement: the Whitlam Government had been dismissed.

To my dismay, a majority of the teachers present started clapping and cheering. So much for any youthful illusions I might have had that high school English teachers would more support a government committed to education than their own perceived self-interest.

We have heard and read much since Gough passed away last week.

For my own part, I felt an unsettling sadness, akin to the loss of a parent. While Gough was in the world, I felt somehow reassured, protected. Irrational, of course, but true. Like millions of others, I knew that Gough spent his life putting other people's interests above his own — that he cared more about our real needs (as distinct from our wants) than many of us did ourselves.

Which brings me to the point of this article: Whitlam's other children.

Also growing up in the 70s were a crowd of snobby private school kids who now run the country — Abbott, Pyne, Hockey and their fellow travellers.

These kids were also radicalised by Whitlam.

Pyne was reported somewhere as saying that his mother cried tears of joy when Whitlam was dismissed. Apparently, the precocious Pyne also took an active role as a 7-year old campaigning against Whitlam at the 1974 election. (That we know these things about the gormless Pyne speaks volumes for his lack of awareness of what it says about him and his prejudices.)

My hypothesis is this: it is a sign of Gough Whitlam's greatness and success in implementing progressive policies in the face of unstinting obstructionism that we have a government as bad as the one we have today.

Abbott's mob of right-wing zealots are not conservatives in the old Liberal sense. They are reactionaries in the purest sense of the word. They come from families and backgrounds that hated Gough and all he stood for. And they hated with such a vengeance that they have spent most of their adult lives venting their spleen at anything that might be seen as a progressive cause — even secular modernity itself.

How else explain Abbott's fear of women, love for the monarchy, disregard of science, opposition to same sex marriage, love of anachronistic knighthoods, public support for religious dinosaurs like Pell, and so many other issues?

Abbott's mob don't know much and their capacity to imagine a world better than the one they think they once might have lived in is zero. But they do know what they hate and what they oppose.

Their first political impulse is to pull down, to withdraw, to repeal; their first political awareness was pulling down Gough.

I know I am drawing a long bow here, but I will anyway; Gough, another sign of your greatness is the present Abbott Government.

That they are the most unlikeable, incompetent, self-interested, opportunistic, regressive, backward-looking, unimaginative bunch of losers ever to sit on the Treasury benches is a perverse credit to you. They hated you and all you stood for so much when they were young, that they have never been able to get over it and never will.

Bring on the next election!

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