Bill's Speeches

Remarks to Caucus - Gough Whitlam




I have some very sad news for all of you. And I think very sad news for all Australians.

A giant of our movement, a great leader of our nation Edward Gough Whitlam has left us.

I rang and 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.

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 did not just want to serve our nation; he wanted to transform it – utterly and permanently – and he most certainly did.

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.

He reimagined Australia – as a prosperous, modern, multicultural nation, where opportunity belonged to everyone.

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

Our country is 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 Indigenous Australians changed – because of him.

Our place in Asia, in particular 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.

Our suburbs at the centre of national debate – because of him.

His speechwriter and confidante, Graham Freudenberg once observed:

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 our history.

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

The men: the delegates and the candidates.

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

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

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

The result was that 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 partisan divisions into an inclusive social democracy.

And he stirred with his wit and his capability many brilliant citizens into public service.

He was indeed an agent for democracy, an agent for tolerance.

Democracy and tolerance are defining features of our country.

Great leaders can make national character, can make national values.

These are very important qualities, and their strength depend at every turn on the capacity of great leaders.

He was sacked. Unprecedented in Australian history.

But of all leaders, therefore, none more cause to carry an anvil of hatred – but he did not.

In defending democracy, defending tolerance – Whitlam defined his values and his character – and the 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.

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 told us.

Because of him, because of his life and legacy, it’s always time.

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

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