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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3619


Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (16:35): I rise to speak on this indulgence. I have written to Gough Whitlam to express the commiserations of the Ruddock family on the loss of his dear wife, Margaret. I entered this parliament in September 1973. Gough at that time had already been a member of the House for some 11 years and Margaret was what is known as, in some of the publications I have seen, a political wife.

I have to say that in my judgment the task of being a political wife is quite daunting and Margaret Whitlam fulfilled that role admirably. My own wife, Heather, from time to time has been known to comment that this is one of the professional fields in which you get two for the price of one. I think many of us can understand that in fulfilling one's representative obligations those commitments are often quite demanding and can lead to a spouse having very considerable obligations.

Margaret Whitlam was born in Bondi, as we heard yesterday from the member for Wentworth, married in 1942 and first lived in Cronulla. In 1952, when Gough was elected the member for Werriwa, Cronulla was probably included in it, but as the vagaries of redistributions go, he was in a seat that—I have seen this happen with my own—contracted further and further west. This meant that in 1957 he and Margaret moved to Cabramatta. When you think about it, Cabramatta is a very special place. It has been known as the home of many who came and settled in Australia through migrant centres that were established in its environs and Cabramatta has been the home of so many people of Vietnamese origin who settled in Australia. This was a very special community, one that had a higher level of immigrants. It lacked many of the facilities that other areas had—sewerage, paving, guttering, transport—and there was a need, and Gough Whitlam demonstrated that himself, to take up the demands for expanding basic services in those communities.

Margaret, as is the wont of so many wives of members of parliament, was engaged in the community. She took up a post working in the social area of Parramatta District Hospital. She said that: 'When we went to Cabramatta we were determined to carry on as before—it was a withdrawn form of life that we had been leading—it was no problem. At Cronulla I had been doing WEA courses, discussion groups and things and I started them in Cabramatta. There are always like-minded people wherever you live.' It is a great tribute to Gough and Margaret that they were prepared to relocate so that they truly represented the people of Western Sydney.

I had the pleasure of reading the material that Margaret wrote, as a social worker and journalist, about her own experience as the wife of a member of parliament. I found particularly interesting some of the secrets you do not often hear about. I so often hear members on the other side claiming of Liberals that they sometimes flirted with the Labor Party, or at least may have been asked to join it. But I note Margaret let the cat out of the bag when she said Gough was told by Liberals, when there was talk of him standing as a Labor candidate, that he should have been one of them. She went on to say there was no way he could have joined the Liberals, he was stunned to think that they would not join with them and that there were rumours spread about that. In my own experience as a colleague—and it was a great privilege to serve with him while he was not only Prime Minister but also Leader of the Opposition at a later point in time—Gough and Margaret were generous hosts and hospitable to all of us. My wife, Heather, reminded me of the many occasions in which Margaret was able to host the wives of members of parliament at the Lodge.

Their four children are Antony, Nicholas, Stephen, and Catherine. I have to say that I know them by their shortened names, Tony and Nick. It was a great privilege to also serve in the parliament with Margaret's son Tony Whitlam, who was, I believe, the Member for Grayndler for a short term. But this condolence motion is about Margaret. She was an extraordinarily accomplished woman. After 1977, when Gough left the parliament, Margaret was still involved and I have seen a list of her many achievements. She joined the migrant education service as a volunteer English teacher. She was the director of the Sydney Dance Company between 1977 and 1982 when Gough was overseas as UNESCO. She was the director of the Sydney Teachers College from 1978 to 1981. She was president of the ACT Council of Social Service from 1978 to 1980. She was chair of the national Opera Conference from 1979 to 1981 and president of the council of the Sydney College of Advanced Education in 1982 and 1983. She joined the board of governors of the law foundation in New South Wales in 1982. She was a woman of very considerable public achievements in the many roles that she took on. After Gough went to Paris, she was later herself, in 1989, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, and a council member of the college of seniors. She was recognised for her service to the community by the Order of Australia that was bestowed upon her in 1983.

I am pleased to say that even in their latter years I have had the pleasure of seeing Gough and Margaret at community functions, probably in a colleague's electorate or nearby, particularly with the Serbian community, with which he holds a very special place. It seemed to me, as Gough looked more fragile, that Margaret was often the person who was there to help him. It is, I note, a tragedy that she has passed away, but she had a very considerable life and it is one that I have been pleased to be able to catalogue and pay tribute to.