UPDATE II: Thank you, Tim Blair, for reviving one of the greatest moments in Australian television:
Poor old Gough Whitlam. I can forgive him a lot, because he always made my dad laugh.
Also, God was good to him, in that Whitlam lived long enough to see his own appalling time in government bested by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd catastrophe. No longer could any of us say, 'Whitlam's government was the worst in Australian history'. Not after that.
I never thought I'd cite The Age favourably, but their article this morning on what they call 'the right' and their recollections and opinions of the Whitlam government is actually well worth reading. It's a painful reminder of just how bad Gough's government was, and just how damaging its legacy was to ordinary Australians. And I think the last paragraph is the unkindest cut of all.
The announcement of Gough Whitlam's death was only minutes old when Alan Jones delivered 2GB listeners a critique of the Labor icon's time as prime minister.So poor old Gough, God rest his soul. He knew not what he did.
"He damaged the economy through the absence of any prime-ministerial control," Jones said.
Jones was one of many conservative figures attempting on Tuesday to walk a fine line between respect for a deceased Australian prime minister, while standing by criticisms of his time in office.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Andrew Bolt was one of the most strident critics. "Whitlam explored the gulf between seeming and doing, and tumbled into the chasm," he wrote in his blog on the Herald Sun. "The Abbott government is even today dealing with the costly consequences and culture of entitlement bequeathed by Whitlam's decisions to give free universal medical care and university education."
Jones, for his part, acknowledged Mr Whitlam's intellectual ability and dignity. "They [Mr and Mrs Whitlam] were people of significant dignity, notwithstanding whatever your differences might be in relation to their politics." He did, however, tie Whitlam's welfare policies to Jones' own long-running crusade against "dole bludgers".
"He was the man who allegedly created the mentality of the dole bludger," said Jones, referring to the Whitlam government's reformist welfare policies that provided a multimillion-dollar increase in funding for the unemployed. "Mr Whitlam was of the view that if someone lost their job, then we should all pitch in for what would be one transitional payment from one job to the next."
Jones added that Mr Whitlam could not have foreseen "dole bludgers" remaining on welfare payments for long periods of time. "That ideological purity was abused and people became dole bludgers; he never envisaged that people would sit on that forever."
James Paterson, deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, praised Mr Whitlam for ending conscription and cutting tariffs, but said that his other policies were "regrettable".
"No prime minister changed Australia more than Gough Whitlam. He was a transformative prime minister," said Mr Paterson. "He oversaw one of the largest increases in the size of government in Australian history. It will require a Liberal prime minister as bold as Gough Whitlam to reverse that regrettable trend."
Other conservative commentators avoided discussing Mr Whitlam's controversial dismissal or domestic policies and praised him for fostering a relationship between China and Australia.
"Whatever doubts conservatives and Liberals have raised about Gough's domestic and foreign policies during the last 40 years, there is no question the PM deserves high praise for his overtures to China," said Tom Switzer, a conservative commentator and academic at the University of Sydney.
"He not just spectacularly wrong-footed Liberal prime minister Bill McMahon and even preceded Richard Nixon's historic visit, he established one of our nation's most important diplomatic relationships that has helped guarantee a prosperous Australia that is fully engaged in east Asia."
Malcolm Fraser, the former Liberal prime minister who replaced Mr Whitlam after his dismissal in 1975, and long ago cut ties with the right, chose simply to remember him as a "great Australian".