I have personal experiences (but not documents), which assist me to be grateful and acknowledge the important, mature and moral firmness and gentle hand of this first rate human being who put himself forward, both as a witness, advisor and supporter of what can be best achievable not simply be advocate of making fit policy which would have no permanent value and consequently reflect misguided and irresponsible policy calls working directly with the Australians.
My first contact (if my memory is correct) was when controversy arose about the Whitlam government high priority and the sky’s the limit upgrade of childcare and preschools in this country in the early 70s. The atmosphere of the federal agency (then known as the Department of Education) in an important regional office (based in Sydney) was electric because of the standard of the innovation and very significant confrontations, then current about the role of teachers in childcare and preschools.
The Whitlam government several times during these events took on several major reviews to ensure implementation of what was needed to renew these services for Australia. Australians needed a radical change because so little had been attempted over many years but the needs of parents in the modern economy, which became geared to acceptance of the role of both men and women to pursue careers and success in the work place.
Questions inexplicably arose about the role of nurses also because of their role and vocation to guide and support the welfare and development of the very young (infants and new born). No matter what compromise was attempted the environment was of intense political nature and eye opener to me. The role of teachers was without controversy in the preschool area and nurses were accepted in that sector as making a successful and complimentary support to make these institutions viable and productive. In the child care institutions the role of nurses was understood in the agency to be misinformed and some thought could not lead to a valid result because of dogmas (not sustainable) that even childcare where the majority of the children’s needs were for care and support of the very young should be only a teacher’s domain.
I did not help calm these people when I should have. I thought the preoccupation with inflexible thinking and productive approaches (they thought professional views of occupational structure) given their naive understanding would not get the future of the policy across the line for the benefit of the public. Further inexplicable dogmas of the day about the public or private nature of the sectors concerned should predominate left the firm impression that people in glass houses should not take on too much without having a good look at themselves. The controversy for example (inexplicable to me) was misunderstanding of the role private groups (charities and churches for example) should be acknowledged even if best qualified to do the job. Its very sad in my view that for example right in front of me (so as to learn the rules) there was completely misguided personal attacks of clergy and charity workers, for which my view at time meant they should never have been given to make decisions at government level because these required looking beyond the squares to get this country right. These folk simply had lost the human touch and were not appropriate to their responsibilities.
I will not reveal the names of these staff as it happened a long time ago and the world has moved on The people concerned would have retired a very long time ago (or indeed have passed on). A mistake was made because the staff concerned simply should not have been tasked to take this formative and social justice role. One thing it leave with me was the correct impression that policies must not just arise form best way ideas to take us forward but also that implementation was crucial test as to whether the required changes would ever follow and consequently must be planned at the time of policy inception as realistically possible.
The disruption in the office was not appropriate to the idea of professional neutrality. It was the first time for me to se just how bad things can get. However later on with this atmosphere I attended a political meeting in Parramatta at the Town Hall where PM Whitlam and other important presenters took questions from the public about how Australia was faring. At this meeting and what followed nothing went right. I was an idiot and became a lot of nonsense. I came to the meeting with a close friend who was my mate and a semi professional photographer. He took photos of the event of the principal speakers including the PM. After the meeting we left to go home. Each of us went home by car to our own addresses.
At this point of time I was a novice and you may think I am fibbing but I did not have sufficient memory or pretend special expertise about internal Australian politics, which often clouds my life now and is pretty well established. Because I was a novice a lot happened that night on the way home. The PM left at much the same time but he pulled me over before I got home and treated me like a spoilt child because of what was transpiring in the agency where I worked (now I better understand). He saw me (possibly) as a pawn in a much wider confrontation. He tested me out as a novice pretending as a poser to see if I would not myself simply get out of the heat because I was immature and could not pretend to be a completely moral man. I was astonished by his frankness and reacted as though he was to go as far as a bribe because the injustice in the agency was so tough.
Knowledge of the confrontation was followed up. The turmoil within the agency grew and was seemingly unstoppable. I tried calming people. I had joined the staff having spent about two years in the infantry in my national service, which was the policy prior to Mr Whitlam. I did what I could to show I was only a person but this did not stop these people even so far as being hostile even about the PM. This situation went up line and the PM and the Governor General (the Australian President) even came to the office to confront the crazies there and insist on a fair go for me. The only way now I understand is that there were more important aspects that clouded my life, which of course is speculation. I saw all this from the perspective of a young guy approaching thirty years of age expecting only the rights of a person not anyone special but when looking back was not what the agency people understood.
One thing after another took place as people went too far. It became agreed that I would get a job in Canberra where a bloke like me was needed and his life in the circumstances was the best fit for everyone. My repeated contact with the PM and the President (Governor General) clearly showed me at the time and long since that I was and might forever be out of my depth until as indeed any other come good and have my own reputation, proper self development and a established record acceptable to others.
As these things transpired immediately before coming to Canberra a couple of things stand out in which my memory is confused and very old and far from perfect. The office was filled with turmoil so the PM and President (Governor General) once or twice would debate ourselves outside in one of the major streets in Sydney clearly letting all and sundry know a practical resolution was being developed. The pressure of some of these discussions was for me overwhelming but at one stage given, what I know now was probably Jimmy Carter (he would have been a presidential hopeful) was available as a convenor but we were not personally introduced. He simply stood there as knowledgeable human. I did not know then who he was and my memory is very imperfect and would need to be confirmed. Many photos were taken. It was agreed and I have been reminded that no matter who you are every man has his day. The leader of the opposition Mr Fraser detested this difficult call. All this was early days of my role here.
I will not name the offenders in the office. They would have retired a long time ago and indeed many have passed away. We are all entitled to have a positive reputation. I found later in Canberra I would have to lead and resolve much bigger questions and that Mr Whitlam knew I needed this background of wrestling with the impossible because of the nature of my skills and my eventual profile in the community. There is more to say but just not now. Carter made himself available later as a convenor and well wisher of what mature success must be about. However it turns out that much followed from what was said back then.
I will have ago at providing an explanation of other big problems, which Australia had to resolve but not just now. I hope you trust my account, which is largely based on memories of long ago and suffers accordingly.