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Whitlam – Visit to the Philippines (1974)

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clip The end of the tour education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

On 13 February 1974, the final day of his six-nation South-East Asian tour, the then prime minister Gough Whitlam addresses local and foreign media at a press conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in Manila. He and his wife Margaret then depart the Philippines for home.

Curator’s notes

In a final press conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in Manila on 13 February 1974, Gough Whitlam finished his six-nation South-East Asian tour by responding to a question about regional rapprochement with China. Philippines media coverage of his visit was very positive. Whitlam reported on his entire trip to the House of Representatives on 7 March 1974.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, on the last day of an official visit to the Philippines in February 1974, on the final leg of a six-nation tour to South-East Asia. It shows Whitlam at a press conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in Manila, explaining Australia’s position in recognising the People’s Republic of China. The clip then shows the Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos with his wife Imelda farewelling Gough and Margaret Whitlam and their daughter Susan at Manila Airport.

Educational value points

  • The clip presents the tour by Edward Gough Whitlam (1916–) through South-East Asia, ending in the Philippines, as a success in terms of improving the relations between the country and the region. Prior to the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972, Australia’s foreign policy was closely aligned firstly with that of Britain, and after the Second World War with that of the USA. However, while Whitlam sought to maintain a close relationship with the USA, he pursued an independent foreign policy that emphasised regional engagement. Whitlam believed that Australia’s foreign policy should address the nation’s interests rather than be tied to the global objectives of the USA. The focus on the Asia–Pacific region was prompted both by Australia’s proximity to the region and by the desire to develop trade.
  • The success of Whitlam’s three-day tour of the Philippines is summarised by the narrator, accompanied by triumphal music and images of the formal farewell to the visitors, which included full military honours. The achievements of the visit included an updated trade agreement, greater Australian aid and investment in the Philippines, the promise of increased Australian investment in local mining and processing industries, a cultural pact and an increase in the level of migration of skilled Philippine workers to Australia.
  • At his final press conference of the tour Whitlam reminds the region that one of his earliest acts as prime minister of Australia was to transfer the Australian embassy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). After winning government in 1972 Whitlam moved quickly to establish diplomatic ties with the PRC and was the first Australian prime minister to visit the PRC. This historic visit took place between 31 October and 4 November 1973. After Mao Zedong had ousted the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 and led China into communism, most countries, including Australia, refused to recognise the new state and instead recognised the Government of the Republic of China set up in Taiwan. As Whitlam predicted in the clip, during the 1970s most nations came to recognise the PRC.
  • Whitlam strengthened trade relations with and increased aid to Asia, including the Philippines. He established diplomatic relations with the communist governments of North Vietnam and North Korea, and formally recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC), opening the way for multimillion-dollar trade and business opportunities between the PRC and Australia. The removal of the last remnants of the White Australia Policy, which used a dictation test to exclude non-European migrants and which was perceived within Asia as being racist, also sent a signal that Australia wanted to be an equal and active partner in the Asia–Pacific region.
  • Whitlam supported Marcos’s proposal of a Pacific forum that would strengthen economic and political ties between countries in the Asia–Pacific region. However, it was not until 1989, under the leadership of the then prime minister Bob Hawke, that the first meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum took place. While Whitlam predicted that engagement with the Asian region would be a ‘central preoccupation and an enduring feature’ of Australia’s foreign policy, his successor as prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, was less enthusiastic about regionalism. It was only with the election of the Hawke government in 1983 that Asia once again became a foreign policy priority.
  • Margaret Whitlam, seen in the clip, provided active support for her husband’s career, including accompanying him on official visits overseas to places such as China, Japan, India, North America and Europe. She also wrote a column for a women’s magazine and regularly appeared as a guest on television and radio, where she discussed political and social issues such as women’s rights and conservation. Her outspoken manner was a departure from the norm at the time. Her political activism has continued throughout her life, which was documented in a 2006 biography by Susan Mitchell.
  • Ferdinand Marcos (1917–89) was president of the Philippines between 1965 and 1986. While he was initially elected by popular vote, a deteriorating economy led to social unrest and in 1972 he declared martial law and assumed dictatorial control of the country. Marcos’s presidency was marked by government corruption and political repression, and he himself embezzled millions of dollars. Eventually he was ousted by a popular uprising. Marcos was committed to regional cooperation and in 1967 helped found the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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