Edward Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam (1916-2014) entered Parliament in 1953 and made his early political career in the worst years of the Labor Split, when it appeared his party might never govern again. Through the 1960s Whitlam goaded Labor into reforming and modernising many of its policies. He became Prime Minister in 1972 and won an early election in 1974, forced by the threat of the Senate blocking money bills. His government was dismissed by the Governor-General after the Senate failed to pass money bills in 1975. He was defeated by a massive Liberal landslide in the resulting election.

Download the Gough Whitlam Prime Fact and visit the Whitlam Institute.


5 December 1972

Gough Whitlam becomes Prime Minister

The Australian Labor Party wins the 1972 general election and its leader, Gough Whitlam, replaces William McMahon as Prime Minister. The Whitlam government embarks on a program of reform. It establishes the Family Court and Medibank, abolishes university tuition fees, replaces the Imperial Honours system with the Order of Australia, establishes diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and introduces the first federal legislation on the environment and human rights. For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.


Gough Whitlam.
11 November 1975

The Dismissal

In the greatest constitutional crisis in Australia’s history, the opposition parties in the Senate block supply for 27 days in an attempt to force Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to call an election for the House of Representatives. He refuses, and the resulting crisis becomes a bitter contest for political power. Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, accepts the opposition argument and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, acts on his advice by dismissing the Prime Minister. He commissions Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister on the assurance that Fraser will call a general election. He grants Fraser a double dissolution of both Houses, and Fraser’s Liberal–National Party Coalition wins a landslide victory at the general election held in December. This issue remains contentious in Australia. The question remains as to whether the exercise of the Governor-General’s reserve powers under the Constitution are compatible with Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy.


‘Did my Xmas chopping early this year’ Alan Charles [Sir John Kerr after dismissing the Whitlam government]