The Rt. Honorable R.G. Withers, Privy Councillor to the Queen, who has died in Perth, was the major figure in bringing down the Whitlam Labor Government in 1975 and saving Australia from the Whitlam’s “21 Bills” which, if passed, would have destroyed the Australian Constitution and created a statist dictatorship.
Despite his cynical and larrikin image (he was nick-named “The Toe-cutter”) Withers, who during the war had served at sea as a naval coder, was a deeply learned man with a profound knowledge of history.
This helped him see the menace to democracy of Labor’s bills and made him an advocate of impressive power. He went on to become Minister for Administrative Services but his achievement in putting backbone into the opposition to Gough Whitlam’s shambolic socialist government was probably his finest hour.
The voluminous tributes from a leftist media to Whitlam, who died a few days previously, completely failed to mention these bills, which Withers in 1975 roused the Opposition in the Senate to block.
He rallied the wavering among the Opposition Senators to stand firm to withhold granting money to the Government until the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam and called an election.
It is not surprising that Labor’s media poodles have sought to bury the memory of these bills and a penumbra of associated scandals under a mountain of gushing tributes to Whitlam.
They were a vital part of the Labor Party’s social engineering “project” that would have wrecked Australia’s Constitution and federal system, and given virtually unlimited power to Whitlam’s centralist government.
Among other things the bill provided for prison terms for anyone “insulting” government employees. This, however, was only the start of it. They added up to the most extreme, dangerous, and thoroughly disgraceful attempt at social control and engineering since Australia became an independent country.
Other parts of the “21 bills” were to forward the Labor “Project” which, as Whitlam pointed out in his Chifley Lecture, meant:
• The creation of an Inter-State Transport Commission with powers beyond that of any Parliament, especially economic powers to dragoon the States, local government and the private sector.
• Using the External Affairs power to extend the powers of the federal government to greater control over employers, health service providers, and almost anything else that could be called an “external” matter because it was the subject of some obscure foreign treaty.
• The acquisition or establishment of industries by the central government, including newspapers.
• Establishing an international government shipping line (which could be expected to dovetail nicely with the ambitions of the communist-controlled seamen’s and waterfront unions).
• Regional administrative centers to bypass State Governments and render them pointless (as Hitler established Gaus to bypass the old German States).
• Socialization of the waterfront (see above);
• Powers over hospitals, universities and housing being taken from the States and assumed by central government.
• Greater intrusion by central government into the legal and administrative aspects of “human relations.”
• Increased central powers over marketing and investment.
The 21 bills also specifically included:
• The Australia Police Bill, expanding on the existing powers of the Commonwealth Police and described by one academic as “the most powerful agency of social control since Australia itself was a prison.”
• The Superior Courts Bill, described by the Attorney-General as “a great trials court,” intended to bypass Australia’s common law traditions and enforce social engineering legislation.
• Two National Investment Fund Bills to drain resources into Government investment fund schemes.
Whitlam’s socialism was far more ideological and totalitarian than that of the last Labor Prime Minister before him, the pragmatic and sensible Ben Chifley. Even without these bills Whitlam did the Australia economy enormous damage in his three years of misrule (with inflation, for example, going from 2% to nearly 20%).
Whitlam himself said, and he meant it, that: “My style is revolutionary, my substance is the most revolutionary [the Labor Party] have ever had.” Like President Barack Obama, to whom he had in some ways an uncanny resemblance, he seemed to take a perverse delight in attacking and damaging the U.S. alliance, and cozying up to left-wing dictatorships (Australia was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Pol Pot regime). A disciple of the proto-totalitarian Rousseau, he was given at times to Leninist phrases like “the logic of history.”
The whole idea came to be feared and hated by the Australian people, who threw Labor out by landslides in 1975 and 1977. By the time Labor was re-elected under R. J. Hawke, it again had a pragmatic leader who had learnt sense.
R.G. Withers will not get the extravagant tributes accorded Whitlam, but Australia, and perhaps more than Australia, owe him an immeasurably greater debt.