News National Vale Gough Whitlam: political titan farewelled

Vale Gough Whitlam: political titan farewelled

Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam at a republican rally in 1999. Photo: Getty
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Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who died on Tuesday morning at the age of 98, has been remembered by allies and adversaries alike as a giant of a man who changed the direction of Australian history for the better.

Although his short tenure as prime minister was rife with trials and tribulations, his progressive social policies on healthcare, education and multiculturalism undoubtedly changed the course of Australian history.

Few other leaders inspire the same sort of admiration and respect across the political spectrum.

Here, current and former political leaders pay tribute to an undisputed titan of Australian politics.

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Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser

Speaking on ABC Radio, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser remembered his late friend as a fearsome political opponent.

“His ambition for Australia was boundless, his enthusiasm was great and Australia is a much richer country for his life,” Mr Fraser said.

“We obviously came from different backgrounds – he was older than I and had served in the war – but in our hopes for Australia I think our views were similar. Perhaps it was those elements that made it much easier for a very real friendship to develop.”

Mr Fraser also celebrated Mr Whitlam’s hopes for Australia’s future and his proactive approach to international relations.

“He was a figure on the world stage. That was his idea of Australia, we didn’t just follow America, we had our own identity and purpose. He recognised that China had to come in from the cold and was bound to become an increasingly influential nation … he established a very positive relationship.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP

Mr Shorten told a special meeting of the Labor Party caucus on Tuesday morning that Mr Whitlam “passed in peace and comfort, and that “our country is different because of him”.

“Gough Whitlam spent his political life reaching for higher ground and encouraging Australia to reach for higher ground.

“Think of all that he changed 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 was abolished because of him.”

“Gough refashioned our party, he drew it out of its narrow partisan division.

“He stirred with his wit and capability many brilliant citizens into public service.

“Of all leaders, none had arguably more cause to carry an anvil of hatred, but he did not. In demanding tolerance and democracy, Whitlam defined his character and values, and our nation’s.

“His beloved men and women of Australia will long remember where they were this day.

“Gough’s light shines before him and the memory of his great works will live long in the heart of our nation,” Mr Shorten said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: AAP
Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Mr Abbott described his predecessor as “a giant of his time”.

“He united the Australian Labor Party, won two elections and seemed, in so many ways, larger than life.

“In his own party, he inspired a legion of young people to get involved in public life.

“He established diplomatic relations with China and was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China.”

Mr Abbott said Tuesday was a “day we honour a life of service to our country”.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating

“Gough Whitlam changed the way Australia thought about itself and gave the country a new destiny. A more inclusive and compassionate society at home – a more engaged and relevant country abroad.

Former PM Paul Keating. Photo: AAP
Former PM Paul Keating. Photo: AAP

“He snapped Australia out of the Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep, giving it new vitality and focus. But more than that, bringing Australia to terms with its geography and place in the region.

“Along his journey he also renovated the Labor Party, making it useful again as an instrument of reform to Australian society.

“He will missed by all who identified with his values and determination to see Australia a better place. But no one will miss him more than his family.”

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese

Mr Albanese told Sky News it is a sad day both for the Labor party and for the nation because Mr Whitlam “had a gigantic impact on this country”.

“I think modern Australian history can also be defined as pre-Whitlam and post-Whitlam,” he said.

Whitlam had “the vision to envisage a future for a modern Australia, but also the ability to help shape that future.”

He was a man much loved by multicultural and white Australia, Mr Albanese said, who wanted to create a better life for those in the outback and in the outer suburbs.

His legacy is a “more creative and outward looking Australia”.

Mr Whitlam was “always above” the mire of politics, and “an example of how politics could be inspirational”.

His introduction of free university education, universal healthcare and increases to pensions “made such a big difference to everybody,” Mr Albanese said.

“Many of the issues that he championed are now mainstream.

“A whole generation of Australians such as myself who were the first in our family to go to university, Gough created that.

“Gough Whitlam was, again, ahead of his time. He was prepared to push out there his agenda, and he will be remembered for that, I know.

Despite ill health, his death is “still a shock because we can’t imagine an Australia without Gough’s influence,” Mr Albanese said.

“It will be a very sad day for so many Australians today.”

Senator John Faulkner

Senator John Faulkner. Photo: AAP

Labor Party elder Senator John Faulkner addressed the party caucus on Tuesday morning, saying it was “the most difficult speech I have made and ever will make”.

“Gough Whitlam was a towering figure in our party and in our lives for as long as I can remember.”

“I will never forget the excitement and enthusiasm of that election.

“The surging tide of Labor supporters not only about a change of government, but about changing the country for the better.

“He set about transforming, modernising and making our party electable.

“His policy reforms to the Labor Party platform really did meet the needs of modern Australia.

“Gough and I were close for more years than I care to remember.

“He was so ambitious for our party and for Australia.

“He was a courageous, resilient and determined leader of our party. He was a visionary.

“He was a great Parliamentarian, he was a great leader, he was a great Australian, and for so many of us – and it’s what makes it so hard – he was a great friend and mentor,” Senator Faulkner said.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. Photo: AAp
Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. Photo: AAP

“On behalf of all Australians I wish to express sincere condolences to the Whitlam family on the passing of former Prime Minister, the Honourable Gough Whitlam.

“Mr Whitlam was a towering leader of his time who made a significant contribution to the life of our nation and his legacy endures today.

“Lynne and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Whitlam family at this sad time.”

Former Whitlam advisor James Spigelman

Mr Spigelman told ABC News that the death of the politician and friend was “a sad moment” for him and the nation.

“He was in the process of invigorating Australian democracy with the force of intellect and the strength of his character.”

There is “no question” that Mr Whitlam was ahead of his time, especially on the issue of “the liberation of women”.

Not just a powerful statesman, but also an intriguing person, Mr Whitlam had “a very wicked sense of humour, and it was on display on many occasions.”

Mr Whitlam’s influence on Australia’s relationship with China “still resonates,” Mr Spigelman said.

Greens leader Christine Milne

Greens leader Christine Milne
Greens leader Christine Milne. Photo: AAP

“This is a significant moment for Australia as we remember Gough Whitlam and his momentous contribution to our nation. He was Prime Minister for only three years but he swept all before him. We all mourn his passing and celebrate his great life,” Ms Milne told reporters in Canberra.

“He was a larger than life figure whose leadership profoundly changed the nation for the better, forever.

“Mr Whitlam made us a progressive nation and put us on the global map. After decades of conservative government, in came Gough.

“His passion for social justice, education and the arts was legendary. He improved Australia’s humanitarian and cultural standing in the world by ratifying the Human Rights Convention and the World Heritage Convention.

“Mr Whitlam was a champion for the environment, establishing the National Parks and Wildlife Service and protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

“I remember it keenly, being at university at the time, with so many young people who had lived in fear of being ‘called up’ that he ended conscription and completed the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.

“Mr Whitlam ended university fees and brought about federal funding on a needs basis for public schools. For the first time it didn’t matter how much your family earned, you could access quality education. He brought the Commonwealth into housing and health for the first time.

“His significant work on land rights and establishing the Department of Aboriginal Affairs set us on the path to further recognition of Australia’s first people.

“Internationally, his recognition of China and his visit there was critical to the redefinition of Australia as an Asian nation.

“Rest in peace Gough Whitlam. On behalf of the Australian Greens I send our deepest thoughts, sympathies and thanks to the Whitlam family and to all those who knew and loved him.”

Former Premier of Queensland Anna Bligh

On Twitter, Ms Bligh said Mr Whitlam “changed my life, changed my country, [and was] one of our Greats”.

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