Condolence Motion For The Hon E G Whitlam AO QC

Click here to watch Sharon's speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:50): I rise to convey my condolences to the House on the passing of the Honourable EG Whitlam AC, QC. In the coming days and weeks a great deal more will be written and said about the prime ministership of Gough Whitlam. It follows decades of discussion, writing and talking about the contribution of his government. One thing that can never be questioned is the modernising and transformative impact Gough had on Australia. The Australia that existed at the start of Gough's prime ministership was vastly different from the one that existed at the end of it.

Gough told us we could aspire to higher personal and national achievements, and we did. He told us we could be confident in the world, and we were. He encouraged us to open generous hearts to the less well-off, at home and abroad, and we did. His love of our country and our people translated through his leadership. He called to all of us to be our best, and we rose to that call. This is what continued to echo throughout the decades that followed his government. Unlike his government, the legacy could not be dismissed.

Gough's vision was as vast as international policy on the recognition of China and as specific as the position—as my colleague has just outlined—of sewer services and transport to the burgeoning public-housing suburbs on the fringes of our cities. Like my colleague, I did do the dance with the red-back spider before my own suburbs were sewered as a child. I have vivid memories of that legacy as well!

He knew we needed education and employment but also that we deserved arts and sports. He knew how to think deeply and to laugh fully. Some people represent their generation, and Gough certainly did that, but a rare few inspire us to imagine and act for future generations. Gough was one of those giants in our national story.

Many contributors to this debate have talked of the depth and spread of his enduring policy achievements and those of his government. It should not be ignored in this significant policy record that in my own shadow portfolio we saw the seeds of a truly national vocational education-and-training system begin to take shape through the Kangan report, the establishment of our modern TAFE system and the ensuing debate on how to grow productivity and participation for all Australians through the VET sector.

Gough did not only see university as a path to opportunity but also recognised the critical importance of skills, training, community and further education. Gough had very strong links to my own electorate of Cunningham. His early seat boundaries included suburbs that are now in my seat—in particular, the suburb of Helensburgh, and he is still very warmly regarded in the community. Like so many here, I was motivated by the experience of the Whitlam years. I joined the ALP, in 1977, as soon as I was old enough to join the party. I had been to many rallies and campaigns in Wollongong with my mum, dad and family.

In 1989 the University of Wollongong awarded him an honorary doctorate and he regularly visited the area to assist in ALP campaigns, including my own in 2004 when I was able to spend a leisurely afternoon with him at the Mt Kembla pub—which was owned by his son Nick at the time—where Gough very generously gave me a lot of his time and wisdom on political life and purpose.

Like many of us in this place, Gough was well-served by his long-term and extremely loyal staff members: Aaron Rule, Penny Sachnikas and Michael Vlassopoulos. Aaron, Penny and Michael devoted many years to working for Gough, and I know they will be feeling the loss particularly keenly.

To Gough's son Nick and his wife Judy, who reside in the Illawarra and are good friends to many of us, I would like to extend my personal condolences to you both. Nick has told me that in the end their dad went quickly and peacefully.

I would also like to extend my condolences to Nick's brothers and sister: Antony and Stephen Whitlam, Catherine Dovey, and their families. Through their hard work and vision, Gough and Margaret opened up opportunities that have shaped my generation and many generations to follow. We thank you for sharing your parents, the powerful partnership that was Gough and Margaret, with the men and women of Australia.

In the few minutes that I have left, I wish to put on the record the words of many locals who have gone onto my website to put tributes into my condolence book. It is a great privilege that we can stand in this place and reflect on our own experiences, and they have been wonderful personal experiences. But many in our communities are also very keen to express publicly their views. These are some excerpts:

Thank you for changing our lives for the better. My parents could have never afforded to send me to university if it weren't for your reforms. Justine Griffith.

Rest in peace, Gough. An inspiration to people across the ditch as well. Mark Byford.

I heard Gough speak many times when I lived in Sydney and always enjoyed the occasions. He was one of the world's best orators along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Carol Maloney.

A great and courageous Leader has left us. May his efforts to provide opportunity for all never be forgotten. Idalina Guerreiro.

A great man will be sorely missed A big loss to the Australian Labor Party and to Australian Politics. Jack Timpano.

A great man with a grand vision for what Australia could and should be. Although he will be missed each day we benefit daily from the legacy of his reforming and modernising agenda. Paul Scully and Alison Scully.

Gough Whitlam belonged to the 'great generation'—the one prepared to give of their lives for service to country. He went from RAAF navigator to head of government for all too brief a period. Gough Whitlam understood the important of political drama and seizing the moment. My generation sadly now takes many of his Government's hard-fought policies, in a wide range of areas, for granted Gough Whitlam's leadership and tremendous vision now belongs to the ages. I bid my own farewell to a great Australian leader and a great man. Gino Mandarino.

Australia has lost a truly great thinker, his ideas and courage to implement those ideas has never been equalled. His commitment to equality for all Australians is defined in the free education system we have at the present. Bev and Kevin Reed

A great leader, ahead of his time, who was always optimistic about our nation and what we could achieve. Janai Tabbernor and Chris Snewin

Gough, you will be missed by so many people. Goodbye Comrade. Cohn and Melissa Markham.

Inspirational leader who did so much for our country, condolences to his family. Dionne and Frank Garcia.

My heart is broken. Requiescat in pace sir, and thank you. Lyn Roseman.

My deepest condolences to the family. Rita Pozidis.

He was a truly inspiring man that shaped Australia into what it is today. Jessica Malcolm.

Gough and Margaret Whitlam did so much for our country. They will be sorely missed. Donna Tetley.

The day Gough was sacked I was a young 17 on the steps of parliament house calling out ( we want Gough). He inspired me then and still inspires me today. Mick Woods.

I am one of thousands of working class women and men who were able to go to University after Gough introduced free Higher Education. This changed my life, and the life of my sister, in numerous ways giving us opportunities to reach our fullest intellectual potential. My condolences to his family and may it perhaps assuage their grief just a little to know how many lives were changed for the better by his courage and commitment. Mary Day.

And let's not forget Margaret and her many achievements too. A great man and a great woman ... a great partnership! Eileen Day.

I wish to express my profound gratitude for the life and service of our comrade, Gough Whitlam. I owe a good deal of the standard of living of my life to his courage and determination to bring about the changes he made, particularly for women and for our First People Let us hope he casts a long shadow, even from the grave, and inspires a new generation in these dark times. Margaret Curtis .

Thanks to Gough I was able to get a tertiary education which my family would otherwise be unable to afford. We should embrace free education. Robyn Howson .

Thank you Gough. Richard Martin .

Remembering a great Australian. Sincere condolences to the Whitlam family. Bob and Anne Bower .

My condolences go out to the Hon. Gough Whitlam ' s family as well Australia for the loss of a truly inspirational leader whose legacy will live forever. Nabil and Lola Issa .

Vale Gough did so much for us, in such a short time. So much work still to do in his name. Liz Farrer .

A great man well ahead of his time . Peter Taylor .

He was a great man for the Country. Cengiz Girgin .

I have the advantage of a tertiary education ' paid for ' by Gough Whitlam thank you Gough! Chris Cartledge .

Giant of a man for Australia . Dorothy Park .

We have lost a great man however we have his legacy to continue! Maria Orr .

Our lives are all the richer for your presence in our own journeys, be it close o r afar. Thank you for showing our nation how to dream with courage and lead with conviction. Peter Jones .

A great Australian & PM … He had a social conscience with an agenda for change for all. Bryan Algie.

I think the words of the people, who feel so moved by his passing and so determined to reach out and record his legacy, say it all. I thank the House.

Do you like this post?