Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (4 June) . . Page.. 1805 ..
MRS DUNNE (continuing):
His prime ministership differed in both substance and style from that of his immediate predecessors, Robert Menzies and Harold Holt. Whatever one may think of what he did and how he did it, he was unmistakably Australian in his passions, his commitment and his demeanour. There can be no doubt about Gorton's attachment to Australia.
Much has been said by commentators over the past week trying to come to grips with the meaning of John Gorton, Prime Minister, and it presents a puzzle-a real puzzle. His informality is praised by his supporters, but his detractors see it as erratic behaviour and a lack of respect for the processes and protocol. His political realism is seen as refreshing by some and as authoritarian centralism by others. He promoted on merit, say his supporters, but others claim he entrenched mediocrity. It goes on and on. And yes, he did it his way.
It is not unkind to say that John Gorton, Australia's 19th Prime Minister, was an accidental Prime Minister. But he was not alone in that, as approximately one-quarter of the 25 occupants of that post can be so categorised: Watson, Page, Fadden, Forde and McEwen.
But his one claim to fame is that he was the longest lasting of the accidental band: he lasted just over three years. John Gorton filled a leadership vacuum that ought not to have been there and, hindsight may suggest, his filling it falls into the category of the streaker's defence: it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Similar remarks could also be made about Gorton's replacement, William McMahon. Suffice it to say, John Grey Gorton was his own man, unique, sui generis. He responded to a certain zeitgeist that was apparent at the time but is increasingly difficult to define or describe as the years go by. It may well have been that he was very much a product of that curious wish fulfilment that pervaded the 1960s. John Gorton was an impulse, not a program; an idea, not an ideology. In many ways he failed because of this. His flaws were inherent in his make-up.
Yet we remember him with affection and fondness-a good man, a sincere man, a brave man, a dedicated man. Whatever his faults, he left his mark, and we remember him accordingly.
MR WOOD (Minister for Urban Services and Minister for the Arts): Mr Speaker, there will be ample support, quite properly, from the other side for this motion. I want to raise just two points. First of all, I give recognition to Mr Gorton as the man who, in the Commonwealth parliament, first provided significant funds to the arts and to film. It is true that Gough Whitlam established the Australia Council later on, but that built on the earlier initiative of John Gorton. Over a period it became quite noticeable that the impact those funding decisions had was very important.
There was another funding decision Mr Gorton made that was not always well received, relating to the leasehold system in the ACT, when in an election period he removed the rent requirement on leases. That was the most significant and perhaps negative change to the leasehold system in all the years of the ACT. It was a controversial issue at the time and perhaps remains so, but it certainly had a very significant impact on this territory.