Gough Whitlam didn’t make roads, harbours and ports, but he changed Australia: Lessons to Sri Lanka

Australia as a nation is in tears about the loss of Gough Whitlam, a much better legend than a Prime Minister. Irrespective of party differences, it is surprising to see how all Australians believe that the country would not be what it is, without him.

As the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had led a chaotic big-spending government for less than three years between 1972 to 1975. That was not to make high-ways, new ports, new harbours, beautify Australian cities or to maintain the world’s biggest Cabinet of Ministers. He is a legend in the history of this country for ending the White Australia Policy and the Vietnam War, opening Australia to Asia, ending discrimination against women and Aborigines and for opening doors for the poor people to access the university education.

As www.bbc.co.uk[1] highlights it is interesting to understand what are the biggest reforms he introduced to be someone more than a Prime Minister of this state. He had pioneered in introducing a universal health insurance scheme targeting the low income earners which later developed to be Medicare. As a brand new migrant to Australia, I am privileged to enjoy this facility and thankful for the policy he fought for the betterment of the people of this country.

Education has been a core area of reform for the Whitlam Government, where he had taken all necessary steps to abolish the university fees and establish greater equity in the way state and private schools were funded, through the creation of a Schools Commission.

Whitlam government had been capable of breaking the previous system of government control over nearly every aspect of the daily lives of the Indigenous Australians and introduce reforms in the area of ‘self-determination’ for them and land rights.

The next most progressive reform he has introduced in 1973 had been ending the white Australia policy that intentionally favoured immigrants from European Countries, in particular the UK, dropping all references to race in its immigration policy. Since then, immigrants were chosen on merit and eligibility for various categories rather than on the basis of race, colour or religion.

What can Sri Lanka learn from this legendary personality? Recognising the significant damage caused to our lives and livelihoods from an array of conflicts since independence, including the protracted armed conflict that spanned three decades and the mistrust and insecurity generated between and among the peoples of Sri Lanka, our first focus would have been to take measures to build up a collective Sri Lankan identity, affirming the equality of all citizens irrespective of their ethnic, religious or any other differences with a commitment to ensure that all peoples have the right to preserve and promote their respective identities and live with dignity in one nation. My wish list towards this is not too long:

  1. As we have realised that we cannot win the rights of any community through a violent means of conflict, it is imperative to build consensus among all political stakeholders towards a governance structure that will protect the rights, dignities and responsibilities of all communities.
  2. Full implementation of the National Languages Policy assuring the right for any citizen to use either of the two national and official languages of Sri Lanka: Sinhala and Tamil as pronounced in Chapter IV of the Constitution whilst promoting trilingual competence amongst the entire population.
  3. Sri Lanka to have an education policy where the access to quality education for all is assured with no political interferences in the system. Sri Lanka as a nation will not be able to move forward without sufficient allocation of resources for education and research where we encourage generation of knowledge and skills of the next generation of the country.
  4. Stressing the importance of sustainable economic and social transformation to eliminate poverty and meet basic needs with a commitment to work towards realising adequate standards of living for all citizens including adequate food, clothing and housing, the full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities can complement the process of reconciliation and national unity.


Sri Lanka has commenced post-war development from the last point of my wish list of which also was not a priority of the late Whitlam government. Having read the work done by this great personality within a very short period of three years, only reminds me the sinhala idiom “hitha ethnam patha kudada”. Its time!

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-29699576

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