By Paul Dobbyn
CHURCH charitable organisations might not exist in their current form were it not for a decision made by the Whitlam Government.
Brisbane man and former Australian Catholic Relief national director, Mick Sullivan, said the decision made under the Whitlam Government to allow tax deductibility for donations to non-government overseas aid agencies had been a “shot in the arm” for these organisations.
Mr Sullivan, who led lobbying for such a change for some years before its adoption, said “the decision had played a significant role in making Caritas Australia what it is today”.
Catholic education also gained benefits from Whitlam Government initiatives.
Former Queensland Catholic Education Commission director Alan Druery said “the Whitlam era opened the floodgates to adequate funding for Catholic schools”.
“In a way it also forced us to grow up – it led to the formation of a national body the National Catholic Education Commission to work with the Commonwealth Government,” he said.
The relationship was not without pitfalls, however.
“We had to be vigilant over conditions attached to funding,” Mr Druery said.
“At times it was tantamount to financial blackmail.
“The seed was sown for more government intervention in the running of Catholic schools.”
Brisbane Jesuit Father Gregory Jordan, whose roles include national chaplain to the Australian Catholic Students Association, was not so sanguine about Gough Whitlam’s legacy.
He was concerned at the impact of the 1975 Family Law Act on Australian society and also Mr Whitlam’s championing of the legalisation of abortion.
“The Family Law Bill fundamentally changed the nature of marriage in this country,” he said.
“It gave the idea that marriage was just a contract to be broken at will, ‘a piece of paper’ as Margaret Whitlam once called it.
“The law’s impact has been glossed over – it was a decision which has had the longest and deepest influence on society, since after all marriage is the bedrock upon which society is built.”
Fr Jordan said Mr Whitlam had announced his support for the legalisation of abortion at a Labor women’s luncheon in Brisbane during his 1972 election campaign.
“Gough told the women the way to get abortion legalised was to encourage a conscience vote in parliament,” he said.
“This was an early disclosure of his intentions on this issue and showed he had worked out a strategy to bring such a change about.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Mr Whitlam was “an iconic figure”.
“This is in part because the scale of his achievements was matched by the scale of his failures,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons why he always seemed not some political cypher but a real human being in politics.
“I don’t think he had religious faith of any kind, but God rest him nonetheless.”
Mr Whitlam, (pictured) who died aged 98 in Sydney on October 21, was Australia’s 21st prime minister.
His state memorial service will take place in Sydney Town Hall on Wednesday, November 5 at 11am.