Bill's Speeches




Today our Parliament has some every sad news, and I think regardless of political affiliation, it is very sad news for all Australians.

Edward Gough Whitlam has passed away.

Today our Parliament and our nation pause to mourn the loss of one of Australia’s greatest sons.

I offered my condolences to Gough’s son Nick this morning, he told me that the great man had passed in peace and comfort.

He kept that ‘certain grandeur’ to the very end.

The Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC means a lot to the story of our country, the story of modern Australia, our home.

Gough’s was a truly Australian life and a life truly lived for Australia.

In uniform, in Parliament, in the Prime Ministership and around the world.

Gough Whitlam was a man for the ages – and a giant of his time.

No-one who lived through the Whitlam era will ever forget it – and perhaps nobody born after it can ever really imagine it.

Gough’s ambition went beyond his desire to serve our nation; he wanted to transform it – completely, permanently – and he did.

Today I submit that like no other Prime Minister before or since, Gough Whitlam redefined our country - and in doing so he changed the lives of a generation – and generations to come.

Think of Australia in say, 1966.

Ulysses was banned.

Lolita was banned.

It was the Australia of the six o’clock swill, with no film industry and only one television drama – Homicide.

Political movements to the left of the DLP were under routine surveillance.

Many Australians of talent: (Clive, Barry, Germaine, Rupert, Sidney, Geoffrey) as a matter of course left their home native country to try their luck in England.

Yet Gough reimagined Australia, our home, as a confident, prosperous, modern, multicultural nation, where opportunity belonged to everyone.

The Whitlam Government should not be measured in years- but in achievements.

Whitlam defined patriotism as seeing things that were wrong about Australia and trying to change them.

In 1970 he was referring to:

-        Our unacceptably high infant mortality rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

-       Our immigration policy based on race

-       Our support for the Vietnam War.

Whitlam said that a true patriot does not seek to justify unfairness, or prolong unfairness – but to change it.

And change it he did.

Our country is most certainly different because of him.

By any test is our country is better because of him.

Gough Whitlam spent his political life reaching for higher ground.

Think of all that he changed, forever and for the better.

Healthcare changed – because of him.

Education changed – because of him.

Land rights for Aboriginal Australians – because of him.

Our place in Asia, particularly our relationship with China changed – because of him.

Our troops home from Vietnam, the birthday ballot ended – because of him.

The death penalty abolished and discrimination banished from our laws – because of him.

No fault divorce and the family court – because of him.

Our suburbs, for the first time, at the centre of national debate – because of him.

Everywhere we look in our remarkable modern country, we see the hand and word of Whitlam.

‘The Program’ lives on.

Gough Whitlam opened the doors to our universities.

He lifted up our schools and training centres.

He said that every Australian should have a choice in education.

But, Whitlam said, this must be a choice between:

systems and courses; not between standards, not between a good education and a bad one, an expensive education, or a poor one, a socially esteemed education or one that is socially downgraded.”

He indeed believed that the health of any one of us, matters to all of us.

And with Medibank, he brought the peace of mind that is Medicare to every Australian.

He was determined to end what he called the ‘inequality of luck’ for Australians with a disability – and his vision is writ large in the National Disability Insurance Scheme now.

He understood that:

“The main sufferers in Australian society -  the main victims of social deprivation and restricted opportunity - have been the oldest Australians on the one hand and the newest Australians on the other.”

And he sought Land Rights for Aboriginal Australians, the end of the White Australian Policy and the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He tried always, to do good.

He strove like the conscientious Fabian he mostly was to leave behind a better world.

His speechwriter and confidante Graham Freudenberg reminded me this morning:

“There are some who say he did too much too soon, but few can say what he did that could have waited longer.”

Gough never lacked the courage for the good fight.

It was this courage, this determination that made him the great reformer of the Labor party – the greatest in Labor’s history.

Gough Whitlam loved the Labor Party, and the Labor Party loved Gough Whitlam, and Gough Whitlam changed the Labor Party.

He shook Labor up, he made our party relevant to the modern, multicultural, fair and reconciled country of his grand vision.

In 1964, Gough entered Trades Hall in Melbourne.

He had a speech prepared for the Labor party – but he said he could not deliver it because there were two Labor parties.

There were the men: the delegates and the candidates.

And the women: making the tea, preparing the meals out the back.

Gough declared then that we did not deserve to be called the Labor party, until we were one Labor party.

Gough declared that until we were one Labor party, we did not deserve to govern.

The result was the women stopped making the tea, they were no longer consigned to the back of the room.

And so began the making of modern Labor.

Gough refashioned our party, he drew it out of its narrow, quarrelsome, partisan divisions into an inclusive social democracy, and stirred with his wit and his capability many brilliant citizens into public service.

Gough presented to the nation and largely delivered a hearty, refreshing, merciful, forgiving, exhilarating New Order.

He was an unusual figure to be doing such things.

Large and regal, with an accent both broad and aristocratic, and a cadence so emphatic, it seemed you dare not oppose him, he appeared both prim and episcopal – and hugely conservative while changing society forever.

Francis James knew him as a schoolboy, when his aim was to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they truanted from Canberra Grammar to watch the young R.G. Menzies dominating Parliament House. 'Gough admired Menzies's lucidity,' Francis said, 'but found him insincere.'

He was judged by his acquaintances and political contestants in very different ways. The former Victorian Trade Union Defence Committee  swore blind he was a closet Liberal or, more frankly, a spy.

The Melbourne Establishment believed he was a class traitor, one who had sullied his boots, and his family name, by seeking an easier rise in the stupider party.

The DLP saw him as their bridge over troubled waters back to anti-Communist Chifleyism.

To his friend Jim Killen he was 'as obnoxious a by-product of the upper middle classes as has ever grafted itself leechlike on the egalitarian movement.'

To Sir John Kerr he was a dangerous megalomaniac.

To Sir Laurence Olivier a hero of the age.

To Gore Vidal the nation's most intelligent man.

Above all, Gough was an agent for democracy, an agent for tolerance.

Democracy and tolerance are defining features of our country, great leaders can make national character, can actually make national values.

These are very important qualities, democracy and tolerance, that do depend upon the country’s leaders.

Of all leaders, none had arguably more cause to carry an anvil of political hatred – but he actually did not.

In defending democracy, defending tolerance – Whitlam defined his values and his character – and indeed our nation’s.

There will be more to say about the loss of this great man – I know that so many of you will have personal stories and memories of inspiration to share.

And in remembering Gough, we remember his wife Margaret, a great Australian in her own right and their life together - a great Australian love story.

Our thoughts are with his family – a family that has given so much to our nation.

Their long line of public service did not begin with Gough – and it has not ended with him.

I believe that perhaps there will be more tears shed for Gough Whitlam today than perhaps any other leader in Australian history.

And his beloved men and women of Australia will long remember where they were this day.

‘It’s time’ Gough, once told us.

A phrase that captured the imagination of a nation.

A rallying cry for change, for a confident, progressive, fair and modern Australia.

It’s time, he said.

And because of Gough, because of his life and legacy, it’s always time.

It’s always time for a more generous and inclusive and progressive and confident Australia.

It’s always time to help our fellow Australians rise higher than their current circumstance.

It’s always time for courage in leadership and to create and seize opportunity.

It is always time.

On his 80th birthday, Gough Whitlam said

With all my reservations, I do admit I seem eternal."

He warned, however: "Dying will happen sometime. As you know, I plan for the ages, not just for this life."

And "You can be sure of one thing," he said of a possible meeting with his maker, "I shall treat Him as an equal."

Madam Speaker

The men and women of Australia will mourn Gough Whitlam as a legend – and we shall treasure his legacy.

Gough’s light shines before him – and the memory of his good works will live long in the heart of our nation.