Mike Willesee started his career in journalism in 1961 but it was in 1967 on the program 'This Day Tonight' Mike was said earned his "reputation as a fearless political interviewer." In Australia in 1971, the Rod Stewart's song Maggie May was the 3rd hottest hit on the music chart. The biggest news on the automotive front was said to be the release of the all-new HQ Holden. And on Australian television, 'A Current Affair' with Mike Willesee debut. 'A Current Affair' was described as "Australia's foremost current affairs program comprising a cross-section of human interest stories and in-depth interviews."
It was understood 'This Day Tonight' made an "impact on the Australia's political culture. For the first time, politicians were subjecting themselves to tough cross-examination from a new breed of self-assured journalists...The arrival of nightly current affairs programs put politicians into lounge rooms in a way that had not occurred before. Inevitably, it enhanced the fortunes of politicians who were quick on their feet, looked good on television and could sell a political message in quick grabs."
'A Current Affair' was one of the few commercial prime time current affairs programs which "played a key role in political reporting in Australia" because "they were seen as a key way for politicians to reach large popular television audiences." In December 1973, Mike interviewed the Prime Minister of the day, Gough Whitlam in Canberra.
Mike: Mr Whitlam, it's not unusual on these occasions to talk about the worst mistake that you may have made or the Government may have made….
PM: I think that was your punchline last time I was with you 6 months ago (back in January 1973).
Mike: Not unkindly I hope but I wonder whether on this occasion you may not be now in the middle of your biggest mistake - the referendum?
Mike: Are you serious about the incomes?
Mike: Would you like to give the Liberal/ Country Party Government the power to control or even freeze incomes?
PM: I believe, that whoever the people elect as a Government should be able to pass laws about incomes. I don't believe a Liberal Government would venture to freeze them.
Mike: Are you happy to give a Liberal/Country Party Government that chance?
Mike: And that is precisely what you are doing?
PM: Yes, of course, it is. When you alter the Constitution at a referendum, you are giving the authority to whoever is elected as a Government in the future. My party, in the past, has sometimes opposed referendums; it has been wrong.
Mike: Do you agree that a victory in the incomes proposal is very unlikely?
PM: It will be much more difficult than on prices.
Mike: Would you also agree that it would suit your purposes to win on prices and lose on incomes?
PM: No, I would prefer to win both. I have always followed the line that whoever constituted the Australian Government ought to be able to pass laws on such subjects always.
Mike: And you are still convinced that you need this power that you could not have done it with the co-operation of the States?
PM: Of course ycu couldn't. There are no matters of national economic management that you can do with the States. Look at all the matters taxation, value of the currency, credit, tariffs, all those things have to be done on a national basis and everybody accepts that. It just happens, that in Australia, the national Government can't pass laws on prices or incomes. The only country in the world where that's the case.
Mike: So this referendum is not in any way a mistake?
Mike: On indirect taxes, your party even went so far in the 'It's Time' brochures to talk about the evils and unfairness of indirect taxes such as taxes on cigarettes?
PM: ...This has never been raised in the Parliament. I don't think we were breaking any promise not to raise taxes on cigarettes.
Mike: On perhaps a more substantive matter, didn't you promise that defense spending would be 5% of your gross Budget?
PM: There was discussion along these lines back in 1971…The military situation in our area has completely changed in the last 2 years (1971-72). Does that mean that we have been wedded to the degree of expenditure which was considered appropriate then? No, well let's be realistic about these matters. After all, since those things were discussed, over 2 years ago (in 1971), there has been détente (easing of strain relations between countries) between America and China and America has got out of Indo-China. This is rather a different situation.
Mike: On personal income tax, you certainly did keep your promise not to raise it?
PM: Of course I did.
Mike: But people like Dr (H.C.) Coombs and Mr (Bob) Hawke say that it was a mistake?
Mike: Who is right?
PM: I am. The Cabinet is.
Mike: Is it because it was a Cabinet decision, you're right or are you sure that in economic terms....?
PM: They happen to be the same. The revenue from income tax this year (in 1973) has gone up about 26%.
Mike: That's largely due to inflation, isn't it?
PM: Yes, and national growth.
Mike: Caucus is a hindrance to you…
PM: No, not at all, of course it's not. The weekly or more frequent meeting of all Labor members of the Parliament is one of the great sources of the Labor Party's strength. Because if people know that if they elect a Labor member to represent them in the federal Parliament he will have a full regular opportunity to participate in the decisions of the Government, if it is a Labor Government, or the decisions that an Opposition takes if it is a Labor Opposition. That is, if the people elect a member of Parliament who will be sharing the responsibility, he just won't be on the outside not even looking in, as happens with any Liberal backbencher or Country Party backbencher.
Mike: Do you support the principle of Caucus being able to review a Cabinet decision and change it?
PM: Of course. I not only support it, I advocate it. I believe that a Labor Government is a much better government than a Liberal Government because you get more people involved in the decisions. But let's put this in perspective: I suppose there might be half a dozen certainly no more decisions which the Caucus has over-ruled a decision by the Cabinet. Cabinet decisions this year (in 1973) are well over a thousand in number, so it is a mighty small percentage.
Mike: You are minimizing the obstacle the Caucus could be, but recently you threatened to resign if Caucus insisted on having a say on the tariff matter.
PM: If they insisted on seeing a Tariff Board Report before the decision was made and announced on the report. Yes, I did, it's the same as if Caucus were to say we want the Budget, we want to know what's in the Budget before it is published.
Mike: So you don't support all the power that Caucus would like to take to itself?
PM: Caucus doesn't want to take that power to itself. Your saying that there was a great deal of lobbying and, naturally, therefore, public reaction to the Tariff Board inquiry into color television. Caucus, last Wednesday (in December 1973), approved of that decision. No news. I don't think there was a thing in the paper about it. They approved it, there was no longer any drama about it.
Mike: Do you think there is any national difference between your style of Prime Ministership which some see as a Presidential style and the inherent democracy of the Labor Party?
PM: The Labor Party believes in representative government and there have to be some people or groups of people that are chosen to carry out some jobs. You can't have a public meeting deciding everything. You can't have all the members of the Labor Party in Australia deciding everything. The whole system of representative government depends on people being able to chose their representatives for certain jobs. And in some cases, the Prime Minister would be the representative. To give you an instance: if you are going to suggest somebody as Governor-General, the Prime Minister presumably has the principal and even the sole job on that. There are others where a ministry does it; there are others where the Caucus does it.
Mike: Have you had enough of Mr (Bob) Hawke?
PM: No, no, but I think you have asked enough questions on this subject...Let's get this straight. Mr Hawke gives interviews in a more frequent and informal manner than I am able to do, but you ask me whether I want him in the Parliament. I said yes. I also ought to take the opportunity to say, in the last elections and in the next elections, whenever they come, he will be a most effective campaigner. Now don't get these things out of proportion. There are 2 instances where you have quoted a difference of opinion. In one of them he is stressing that he speaks as an individual.