Bill's Transcripts

Sunrise - Gough Whitlam



SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam. 


SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: There’s been an extraordinary outpouring of grief and tributes for former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The Federal Opposition Leader and his front bench have laid a wreath at Old Parliament House, where Whitlam made his famous ‘God save the Governor-General’ speech after being dismissed as Prime Minister. Now the 98 year old was only PM for three years but he’s been hailed as a leader who changed our nation. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Shorten good morning to you, thank you for your time.




ARMYTAGE: We have heard many words to describe Gough Whitlam over the past sort of day or so, visionary, inspirational, a defining figure of modern Australia, he certainly made some big changes in a hurry. What do you see as his most significant contribution?


SHORTEN: He changed the way that Australians see themselves. He changed our identity. Back in the 1960s, we were an country who had one television show, Homicide. We had the 6 o'clock swill where everyone would go to the pub but the pubs closed at 6 o'clock. We were very inward-looking. When he came to power and got elected, he was of that World War II generation who represented the dreams of the baby boomers, the people of the ‘50s and ‘60s and he took us into a modern Australia where we engaged with Asia, we provided universal education for all our young people, regardless of how much money their parents had. Universal healthcare, Aboriginal land rights, he stood up for the rights for woman, he introduced the concept of no-fault divorce and the Family Court. He really changed every aspect of how we saw ourselves from being inward and unconfident to being a more modern, independent thinking country.


ARMYTAGE: The public response Mr Shorten to Gough Whitlam’s death is unprecedented for an Australian politician. It's bipartisan support. Are you at all surprised by the outpouring of tributes, not just from politicians but from every-day Australians?


SHORTEN: I’ve been moved by watching how people have responded to the passing of Gough Whitlam. There are a lot of Australians older than me, for whom Gough Whitlam represented a big change in the lives that they were going to lead. Just imagine if you were a 17 year old young man waiting to be drafted and sent to the war in Vietnam and Gough Whitlam comes and ends conscription and takes Australia out of the war in Vietnam. Imagine if you were a young woman looking for equal treatment in the workplace. He revived the equal pay case. Imagine if you were an Aboriginal Australian whose rights and connection with the land have never been respected and he pushed land rights with Vincent Lingiari. He changed the opportunities for a lot of ordinary people living in the suburbs of Australia.


ARMYTAGE: To have sort of I guess this week thinking about Gough Whitlam's achievements, does it reinspire you as Labor leader? Does it make you sit down and think about your leadership at all?


SHORTEN: Yes, it does. It was, sometimes the Parliament hits a really high note. It is the place which I think people hope that it should be more often. There were significant speeches, there were ideas put forward. As each speaker spoke in the Parliament yesterday on condolence about Gough Whitlam, even if people didn't agree with everything he did, the roll call of what he actually accomplished in a relatively short time, just - it was inspirational. It reminds me that how you govern, depends on what you do in opposition. Lazy Oppositions don't make good Governments. Gough Whitlam was very active in Opposition in preparing for his first 100 days in Government. So to me it inspired me to re-double our efforts, to make sure that we use the time that Labor has in Opposition to have the best set of positive ideas about the future of Australia.


ARMYTAGE: Okay, there’s an article in this morning's Australian newspaper written by Greg Sheridan, it described Mr Whitlam as the worst Prime Minister in our history. Perhaps you know, not appropriate the day after somebody dies to tread on their grave. But what do you make of those claims?


SHORTEN: Well, there’s always going to be some people who dispute what a lot of other people think. There’s always outliers in terms of political analysis. Someone has got to say he was bad - I don't agree with them. What is of interest to me is the reaction of ordinary Australians. You’ll have viewers this morning, especially people in their 50s and 60s, for whom Gough Whitlam represented a change in the pace and identity of who we were as a country. He gave the vote to 18 year olds. We were in a situation before him, where you didn't get the vote until you were 21. But you could go off and be killed in defence of Australia in the Vietnam War at the age of 18. He just changed who we were as a people and so when people criticise his term of Government and, there’s a legitimate debate, but for me recalling what Gough Whitlam did, reminds me that parliament and politics can actually be a great place to change the country for a better.


ARMYTAGE: He was certainly divisive, he certainly made an impact. Bill Shorten, thanks for your time this morning.


SHORTEN: Lovely to talk to you.