Mungo’s best

A few days ago, listening to political journalist and commentator Mungo MacCallum chatting to Phillip Adams on Radio National’s Late Night Live, Mungo was asked who he considered to be the best Australian Prime Ministers in his lifetime. He nominated three: Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and John Gorton.

I imagine both sides of the political divide will be surprised at one, some, or all of his choices. The spectacular ends to their prime ministerships were inconsequential to Mungo. He was judging them on the jobs they’d done. Simply, their achievements.

I do not remember Mungo’s justifications, so I thought I’d Google them and list them here.

Gough Whitlam

  • 1972 – ended conscription during Vietnam War.
  • 1973: created new government departments including Aboriginal Affairs, Environment and amalgamation of armed forces into Defence.
  • 1974: Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, Australian Legal Aid Office, National Employment and Training Scheme.
  • The Health Insurance Act 1973 established ‘Medibank’, a national health scheme funded by levy which provided free public hospital treatment and medical benefits totaling at least 85 per cent of the cost of doctor and hospital services.
  • The Trade Practices Act 1974 outlawed restrictive trade practices and ensured consumer protection and product and manufacturing liability.
  • The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 established a service to plan and manage national parks in line with international standards.
  • The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 enabled Australia to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination.
  • The Family Law Act 1975 replaced the existing grounds for divorce with a single ground, irretrievable breakdown of marriage (for example, having separated and lived apart for 12 months or more) and the extension of federal jurisdiction to maintenance, custody and property matters.

Paul Keating

  • As Treasurer in the Hawke government, Keating was the architect of the deregulation of the Australian economy.
  • The government floated the Australian currency and allowed foreign banks to operate in Australia from 1983.
  • Removed direct government controls from interest rates which had helped create a competitive disadvantage for Australian companies.
  • Abolished the two-airline policy and achieved a general lowering of tariff levels.
  • As prime minister, built strong bilateral links with Australia’s Asia-Pacific neighbours, particularly Indonesia.
  • Was a driving force in establishing the Asia Pacific Economic forum (APEC) heads of government meeting with its commitment to regional free trade.
  • Responded to the High Court decision in the Mabo case 1992 and enacted the Native Title Act 1993 and the Land Fund Act 1994, which was the first national recognition of indigenous occupation and title to land.
  • In April 1993 he appointed a Republic Advisory Committee to examine options to make Australia a republic.
  • Established the National Training Act 1992, presented the White Paper Working Nation in 1994 to combat rising unemployment. Proposed a national superannuation scheme to redress low national savings.

John Gorton

  • Established National Film and Television Training School and Australia Council for the Arts. As Minister for Education and Science, laid groundwork for government assistance to independent schools.
  • Initiated reform to Commonwealth law that led to decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.
  • Rates of pay were standardised between the sexes.

That is just a brief look as time was against me, but it gives you a fair idea of their achievements. Based on what I’ve found though, I can’t say I agree with Gorton as a choice. Perhaps you will know something that I don’t.

Do you agree with his list? What would your list be?

37 comments on “Mungo’s best

  1. John Howard – He gave people a fistful of cash whenever they managed to have a poke and make a baby.


    (Gorton’s establishment of a film and television school when there was bugger all Australian film and television about shows remarkable prescience on his part. Prime Ministers now and in recent memory seem to regard the “arts” as a niche industry. It’s not. I agree with this list.)

  2. Or because his poor battling darlings on $100k+ just couldn’t cope on their meagre salaries, Ross.

    I tend to agree with Mungo’s list and feel that he’ll add the current PM to his list in due course.

  3. Sometimes history treats a Prime Minister better than the electorate did.

    My vote goes to Paul Keating for the long-term benefits he achieved for our economy. Great Treasurer. Great PM.

  4. My first vote was for Whitlam, he set the bar for PM’s for me -a great social reformer. One of the seemingly lesser things he did,that meant so much to my Mum was the removal of TV and radio licences . In those days we had just 1 TV and 1 radio in the house and both required a licence .I can’t remember how much they were but it was 2 less bills out of the household budget.

  5. Here! Here! Roswell.

    What a sense of humor too! Great picture of PJK there! That’s the man!

    “There’s always room for concern, but never for pessimism,” as he said in his 1993 victory speech. If you haven’t seen his victory for the true believers speech, watch it now.

    Take heart if you get down about JGPM’s chances for re-election. I find her spirit very similar to his – always positive and inclusive, but able to stand and fight when necessary.

  6. I fully agree with the three named. Would be hard to separate them. Found it hard not to vote for Gorton at the time. He was like a breath of fresh air in politics.

  7. Forgot about those radio and TV licences. One worried every time one turned on the TV, Most times when renewal came around, one just did not have the money to renew.

  8. Even if this PM did not get re-elected, she has easy done enough to be remembered in history.

    What do we remember McMahon, Holt or Howard for. In fact, what were the achievements of Menzies long years he was in power. Many say he wasted the post war boom. A sentiment I fully agree with.

    I note no one mention Hawke. That is of no surprise to me. Saying that, much was achieved during his time.

    I feel I have missed someone.

    Funny, it also took a Labor PM to get us through the war years. Looks like they shine in national emergencies.

  9. Hawke is mentioned quite a bit in the O’Brien interview Cu, but also for the negative of being the first Labor PM to drag the party to the right and give up many of the values that were once core Labor.

  10. Cu, I’m with you on that one. Julia Gillard will be remembered as an achiever. Her record, in her short term, looks brilliant when compared to Howard’s.

  11. Those three PM named as the best, had much in common.

    All were only in power for a short time.

    All were hated by the media.

    It is only in hindsight that they get any credit.

    And as Mungo said, all had the courage to follow what they believed in. .

  12. There is still one urban myth to put to bed.

    The one that says the PM is a poor communicator, along with the one that says the Opposition leader is a good one.


  13. Dion, I also tend to go with Whitlam, with Keating a close second, my reasoning being that Whitlam was the catalyst. This was then built upon by other reforming Prime Ministers.

  14. Ross, I remember the time of Whitlam as being the rise of nationalism, a time where we no longer had to apologise for being Australian, that we were not a bogan variety of English but had our own talents and skills..and these were not inferior. The encouragement of the Arts by Labor governments reflected this.

  15. And Bob Hawke..

    ◾1983 Wages Accord improved economic growth without inflation.
    ◾Modernised the national economy, integrated it into the global economy, and diversified Australia’s export base.
    ◾Comprehensive tax reform reducing the top marginal rate and introducing capital gains tax.

    ◾Stopped the Tasmanian Gordon-below-Franklin dam project.
    ◾The World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 gave the Commonwealth control over State heritage sites.

    ◾Developed closer ties with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South-east Asia.
    ◾Supported international pressure on South Africa to overturn its apartheid regime.
    ◾Established APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.

    ◾Established Medicare.
    ◾Improved social security benefits to the children of low-income families.

    ◾Outlawed sex discrimination in the workforce.
    ◾Established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) as the peak national policy and administrative agency for Indigenous Australians.

    ◾Reformed Australia’s education, training, and university system.

    Should the next government be Liberal, let’s hope that they at least attempt to enact *something* rather than *the nothing* which Abbott is proposing.

  16. Well Migs it is simply not true. Howards legacy is a disgrace. 72 billion in asset sales and the most socially divisive PM in Australian history.

    My vote has to go to Gough first. I remember as a young boy standing next to my dad, a trade union official on the steps of Rockdale town hall with Hawke when he was head of the ACTU, magical. Gough was a PM for the people whos reformist legacy is still alive today.

    Paul Keating is a close second, a man of fierce intellect who’s economic prowess gave us the prosperity we enjoy today.

    I admire Gordon for AFTRS but Hawke made the changes in concert with Keating that modernised the Economy after Fraser and Howard atrocious legacy.

    I admire visionary Prime Ministers and for that, I admire that Gillard is finishing what Rudd started. She has achieved what Rudd could not deliver under the most adverse circumstances. For that I respect her immensely and am a proud member of the ALP.

    All the great reformist visionaries are Labor. The biggest myth is Liberals are good with money. History’s legacy tells a very different story, the truth.

  17. Migs, I’d say the Galaxy polls concentrated on the Billionaires club, to get the results they required.

  18. Sometimes forgotten is that one of the very first actions of Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, on attaining office, was the abolition of the wine excise tax. Now as we enjoy drinking wine as a key aspect of our lifestyle, and observe how the wine industry has developed in this country, let’s drink to Gough!

  19. “Men and women of Australia…”

    How those words still resonate.

    There’s a lot of daylight between Gough and Mungo’s other preferences.

    Indeed, the drift to right wing neo-liberal ideology started in the dying days of the Whitlam govt, taking us the sorry plight of today’s Labor where there’s no difference between them and the Coalition.

  20. The Galaxy proves that they do not reflect reality at many times.

    We have a man that was despised for most of his years as a politician.

    A failled treasurer,

    A man, as a PM was nearly voted out in his first term.

    A man, in spite of his long tenure, lost not only his government but his seat.

    A man, history is showing, as also a failed PM..

    A man who ruled by creating fear.

    Now we are told this same man is the best PM ever.

    What did he achieve to earn this honour?

  21. “What did he achieve to earn this honour?”

    The GST ?

    Howard “broadened” the tax base…code for making concessions to the wealthy or middle class welfare.

  22. And even the GST is failing MJ.

    I don’t think there has been a single policy of Howard’s that was solely of the Howard government’s creation that has been successful.

    I know his gun control will be cited but even that has not been the great success story it’s made out to be. Read up on it and its consequences.

    For mine Howard’s greatest failure, and one he should be damned with throughout Australian history, is his failure to address skills. It was probably deliberate to allow for a future influx of cheap labour but that may never be revealed.

    Howard was warned about a looming skills shortage from early in his tenure, from the end of his first term or early in his second, can’t remember exactly but it was around that time.

    He was then repeatedly canvassed and warned that the skills shortage was escalating and the cost was impacting business in a significant way along with the failure of expanding and maintaining vital infrastructure, which was another Howard failure and another story.

    It was only when the skills shortage became drastic and began making headlines coming up to an election year that Howard did something, and it was his usual white knight riding in trick throwing heaps of ill targeted money at it and bringing in knee jerk policies like 457 visa expansions whilst making lots of noise at self aggrandisement using tax payer funded advertising and a compliant MSM.

    One of those knee jerk policies was his Australian Technical College (ATC), and what an expensive failure that was, not that you would have heard about that in the media.

    Conversely for mine Rudd’s greatest success and one you also don’t hear about in the media is his in school Trade Centres.

    Yet the media will be singing the praises of multiple failure Howard, who failed throughout his political career, except in winning elections on luck and fear campaigns, whilst Rudd will be destined to the also ran of history as his Trades Centres continue to be the success they currently are.

  23. Replace a wholesales tax with the GST. At least one could tax luxury goods extra, with a wholesale tax on foods. Services did not carry taxes until that time.

    Shame that the black market has grown since the introduction of the tax.

  24. “Shame that the black market has grown since the introduction of the tax.”

    Think of the forgone 10% as involuntary stimulus CU… 🙂

  25. Miglo, I came across this comment at Poll Bludger re that poll you wanted not to be true!

    Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
    ML: Before you get too excited:

    There’s a curious opinion poll in today’s Daily Telegraph, which reveals John Howard as the nation’s choice as best prime minister in the last 25 years.

    Well, it sort of reveals that. It’s not true to say most respondents said Howard was the best, but he was the choice of more respondents than any of the other four candidates from Bob Hawke to Julia Gillard. Howard won a comfortable plurality with 35 per cent……………

    But it would been a shock if the one Liberal didn’t get the most support. Imagine you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labor or Coalition supporter. You will most likely choose someone from your party. Labor supporters had four to choose from while Coalition supporters had just one.

    Another useless poll in other words. The figures that matter are that 57% of respondents identified a Labor PM.

    So there you are. What was that about there being lies, damned lies and statistics! Take heart. It wasn’t true!

  26. Thank you Patricia..that would indeed do it..JWH is the most popular but was the only Liberal nominated. A cynic might say that he might have been the only Liberal PM that anyone nder age 45 had even heard of.

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