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John Gorton

John Grey Gorton (September 9, 1911 - May 19, 2002) was the 19th Prime Minister of Australia from 1968 - 1971.

A minor Prime Minister of Australia, John Gorton's reign is remembered chiefly for coming on the tail end of the Liberal-Country Coalition's unprecedented 23 years in power.

Born in 1911, and educated at Oxford, Gorton enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, and achieved acclaim as a war hero who had survived two crashes, although a serious accident on a runway left his face shattered for life.

In 1949, he entered Parliament as a Senator, and served in various positions under Robert Menzies and Harold Holt, including Minister for the Navy, Minister for Education and Minister for Public Works.

After the death of Harold Holt, it was widely assumed that his deputy, William McMahon would be the next Prime Minister, but under intense pressure from the junior Coalition partner (the Country party, which did not like William McMahon's economic strategies), Gorton left the Senate to find a seat in the House of Representatives, and was elected leader of the Liberal party, and therefore Prime Minister.

His tenure as Prime Minister was quite brief, lasting slightly over three years. During this time, he did much to carve out a style quite distinct from his predecessors - in contrast to the aloof Menzies or the suave Holt[?], Gorton tended to portray himself as a man of the people, with a bit of a 'larrikin' streak about him. This was also evident in the policies that Gorton ran, trying to more overtly distance Australia from the foreign policy of the United States and the economic policy of the British Commonwealth.

However, he was a poor media performer and public speaker, and was portrayed by the media as a foolish and incompetent administrator. Combined with constant attack from the Opposition Leader, the formidable Gough Whitlam, Gorton lost the massive majority in the House of Representatives bequeathed by Holt at the 1969 election, although he managed to barely survive with a seven seat majority.

Within a few weeks, he found his leadership under challenge again, from William McMahon, but again he managed to survive, although he was gravely weakened. His leadership style becoming increasingly distant from his fellow MPs, isolating key figures such as Billy Snedden[?] and Malcolm Fraser.

With the Liberal Party falling further behind Labor in the polls, another challenge was launched in 1971, with Fraser proclaiming in Parliament, that Gorton was 'not fit to hold the great office of Prime Minister'. The next day, another challenge was launched by McMahon, and Gorton was defeated in a close ballot (although, contrary to popular belief, he did not cast a deciding vote against himself), but managed to retain the Deputy Leadership and the Ministry of Defence. Clashing with McMahon, he resigned the Deputy Leadership in 1971, but served in the Shadow Ministry of both Snedden[?] and Fraser during Whitlam's Labor government.

Becoming increasingly disillusioned with the party and its leadership (in part because of tactics adopted by Fraser to topple the Whitlam government), he resigned from Parliament and the party in 1975, and unsuccessfully stood as an Independent in the election that year.

Although branded a pariah[?] from the Liberal Party for three decades after he left Parliament, his legacy was resurrected with a celebration of his 90th birthday widely attended by conservative icons, and the publication of a new biography of his life.

Previous Australian Prime Minister: John McEwen
Next Australian Prime Minister: William McMahon



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