This is a paper presented by Barry Jones at a symposium conducted by the Whitlam Institute.
The symposium was titled: Gough Whitlam and the Social Democratic Imagination: the challenge for contemporary public policy.
Barry Jones was a Victorian state member of parliament (MLA Melbourne 1972-77) and then the federal member for Lalor (1977-98). He was Minister for Science and Technology in the Hawke government between 1983 and 1990.
Jones’ paper is notable for its pessimism about the capacity of the ALP to tackle contemporary public policy issues. He says that Gough Whitlam, Don Dunstan, Lionel Murphy and Jim Cairns were “the figures that changed the face of the ALP” in the 1960s and 1970s. He instances powerful figures of the Bob Hawke era, such as Bill Hayden, Mick Young and Kim Beazley, as well as Clyde Cameron. In this decade, however, Jones doubts that we could “identify nine current Labor politicians with equivalent intellectual power and persistence.
Jones sees current politics as one of “choice versus no-choice”, where Australia “is ruled by a Grand Alliance which refuses to engage in serious examination” of major issues such as climate change and education reform.
Whitlam’s death in 2014, says Jones, “reminded us that there was a time, and there was a Leader who could transform Australian society – shatter old beliefs, look towards transcendent possibility and tell a story to be proud of.”