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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3621


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (16:43): I did want to associate myself with the remarks in recognition and remembrance of Margaret Whitlam. Much has been said about Mrs Whitlam's role as a national treasure and a national figure. All of those points are true. I particularly wanted to talk tonight about Margaret Whitlam's connection to and friendship with Western Sydney and in particular with south-western Sydney.

Of course Margaret was not a child of Western Sydney. As the Member for Wentworth said in the House yesterday, she was a Bondi girl. But she was an adopted favourite daughter of Western Sydney and she never lost that connection. Gough was the Member for Werriwa. Werriwa is now focused on the suburbs of Liverpool, but that was not always thus, as the Member for Berowra, I am sure, would recall. Werriwa. When Mr Whitlam became the member for Werriwa, well before the member for Berowra joined the parliament, Werriwa covered the area from Cronulla to Merrylands, an area now covered by many, many seats in between. He represented a big swathe of southern and south-western Sydney. Gough would often tell me that he was proud to represent four out of the five former wards of Fairfield City Council. There have been several successors as the member for Werriwa since Gough's retirement but, in another sense, there are many of us who regard ourselves as one of Gough's successors in representing south-western Sydney. The seat of Prospect was carved away from Werriwa in 1969 and was represented by the late Dick Klugman, then by the Hon. Janice Crosio and then by me before its abolition and replacement with the seat of McMahon.

The Whitlams lived in Arthur Street, Cabramatta from 1957 to 1973. The house is still there. It comes on the market every so often and is marketed as a prime ministerial residence. I am told that the switchboard is still in existence—the Whitlams had many phone lines in the years when Gough was Leader of the Opposition—and can be reconnected. I am sure it is not up to modern standards but, nevertheless, it is a matter of some historical reference. As an aside, generally speaking, governments should look to preserve some of that prime ministerial heritage. It would be incumbent on all governments to examine those sorts of houses when they come on the market. We have preserved the Curtin and Chifley houses, but we need to have a good process for looking at this sort of heritage to ensure it is never lost.

The connection that the Whitlams made with Western Sydney was never lost, particularly with Fairfield. Gough, in particular, refers to Fairfield as Campobello—obviously Italian for 'beautiful fields'. A few years ago he was honoured with one of Fairfield's monuments, Faces of Fairfield, which I attended, as I recall in my capacity as a backbench MP and, as I recall, both Gough and Margaret came to that particular honorary. The importance of Western Sydney in the Whitlam agenda cannot be underestimated and the importance of the experience of Gough and Margaret living in Cabramatta from 1957 to 1973 cannot be underestimated. His program of urban reform was very much formed by his and Margaret's experiences in south-western Sydney. There were the challenges of urban growth. For example, there was no sewerage when they moved to Western Sydney. Gough, despite all his achievements, claimed that one of his greatest achievements as Prime Minister was bringing sewerage to the western suburbs of Sydney. Some members may scoff at that, but the residents of Western Sydney will always be grateful for that.

Margaret, in her role as the spouse of the MP representing Western Sydney—who, of course, in those days travelled to Canberra by train; he has told me about these experiences—would make his lunch for the train trip, and his dinner, and she would then represent him while he was away, which were longer periods of time than we, with modern travel, have away from our electorates. That stayed with her for a very long time. She worked as a social worker at Parramatta District Hospital between 1964 and 1967. That experience also played a role in her understanding of Western Sydney.

My experience of the Whitlams was post their active political life, post Mr Whitlam's period as a member of parliament. It always struck me that, although they moved away from Western Sydney in terms of their residence, they never lost their connection with Western Sydney. I am sure other Western Sydney MPs have had the experience of going to functions and finding Gough and Margaret there. Sometimes it was a Serbian function. They were patrons of Fairfield Hospital's Whitlam Joint Replacement Centre. It was particularly fitting that the University of Western Sydney, of which the honourable member for Chifley is an alumnus, named the Margaret Whitlam Chair of Social Work in her honour. Margaret was a guardian and benefactor to the Whitlam Institute since 2000—the Whitlam Institute being very much associated with the University of Western Sydney. The stories we hear, and the stories we have heard in this debate, of Mrs Whitlam trying to ground Gough and telling him when he was speaking too much at a function are very true. If you were sitting next to Margaret and Gough was speaking, it would start as a dull roar. She would ruminate and start to moan and grumble. She might whisper to you: 'I wish he'd shut up! I've heard this before,' until, if he did not get the message, she would bang her walking-stick very loudly and say, 'Time to sit down, old man.' We all enjoy Gough's speeches; they are always filled with amazing facts and with an amazing and visionary approach to life. But Margaret was always very keen to ensure that he did not overstay his welcome at the lectern and to remind him that it might be time to sit down and give somebody else a go. The reason I mention that is because it is a testament, having seen that occur so many times.

A former prime minister and a former first lady, having been posted overseas, could well retire from public life and never return to Western Sydney and never show any interest in the institutions, but that formative time, their time representing Western Sydney, was one that stayed with them. I know that my predecessor as member for Prospect, the Hon. Janice Crosio, particularly paid tribute to the Whitlams' leadership in south-western Sydney. She was a former Mayor of Fairfield before entering this place, as I was before I entered this place. Her predecessor, the late Dr Dick Klugman, had similar views, although it is interesting to note that he did defeat a Whitlam in preselection for the seat of Prospect. He defeated Tony Whitlam for preselection for the seat of Prospect. Tony Whitlam went on to win preselection for the seat of Grayndler but, in 1969, when the seat of Prospect was created, the son of the leader of the Labor Party, Tony Whitlam, put his name forward but was defeated. The branch members have a particular way of making their views known, and that was to put somebody else into that seat. Nevertheless, Dr Klugman had a particularly good and close relationship with Gough.

I do send my condolences to Gough's family, some of whom I know and some of whom I do not. I know Nick, in particular, well—I regard him as a friend—and I send him my condolences. As to the other members, I know Tony, though not as well as Nick, but I also send him my condolences. The other children, who I have not had the honour of meeting, of course I know would also need to know that the condolences of the House are with them for a fine Australian, a great woman and a wonderful, firm and lifelong friend of Western Sydney.