On the surface, you’d think CanDo and Gough would have little in common. In fact, CanDo might find that he and Gough Whitlam have a bit and he should learn from Gough’s explosive two-term reign in the early seventies.
When Whitlam came to power in 1972, it broke a 23 year streak of Liberal – Country Party rule. Campbell Newman’s victory this weekend in Queensland broke stretch of ALP domination in Queensland that had lasted for 22 years (with the obvious exception of Rob Borbridge’s short Liberal rule.)
Both Whitlam and Newman based their campaign themes around it being time for change. Whitlam’s used the famous “It’s Time” jingle, but Campbell Newman adhered more closely to Bob Menzies’ 1949 campaign “It’s Time for a Change” slogan. It works.
Usually a government is officially sworn in a week or two after the election is held, to allow time for all votes to be counted, and for the leader to choose his ministry. Whitlam was in a hurry, and asked the Governor General to swear him and his deputy as soon as the result was definite. Between the two of them, they controlled all of the portfolios until the full cabinet was sworn in.
Campbell Newman has chosen the same approach. Less than 48 hours after the polls closed, Newman has already been sworn in, along with his deputy, Jeff Seeney, and his Treasurer Tim Nicholls. They have formed an interim government. A full cabinet will be announced and in due course. It’s not known why Mr Newman was so determined to assume the role of Premier so quickly, but it could be so that he can make changes at the highest levels of the Public Service.
When Whitlam came to power in 1972, he actioned everything he could get away with: foreign relations with China, Taiwan and South Africa, blanket exemptions from conscription, equal pay issues, major funding for the Arts, brought the last troops home from Vietnam and removed the sales tax from the conceptive pill, among other things.
The public reaction was overwhelming; things were getting done, without the burdensome processes of parliament. Many years later, Whitlam’s speechwriter commented that “We did too much too soon.”
Whitlam was also determined to hold power individually. Aside from the the caucus-selected Cabinet, Whitlam maintained full control of the cabinet agenda, and formed cabinet committees.
Campbell Newman, if you learn nothing else from Whitlam, remember not to run too fast, and remember to share your power. With no oversight from an Upper House and no Opposition, you and your team will be solely responsible for Queensland for the next three years. Take your time, and listen to smart people (particularly those who disagree with you).
We probably don’t need any more Jackson Pollack art for a while, either.