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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3629


Ms BIRD (CunninghamParliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:33): I rise to support the condolence motion to recognise the passing of an extraordinary Australian woman, Margaret Whitlam AO. Procedurally that is what I seek to do, but at this moment in time in this place, what I am actually doing is celebrating a life of amazing achievement, of family, community, political activism, sporting prowess, culture and arts, a life that creates not only respect among all of those who reflect on it but affection too. It is not often that on the national stage one person encompasses both enormous respect and enormous affection together.

Many fine sentiments have been expressed about Margaret Whitlam in this place and more of course added as we have just been hearing from members opposite. The Australian yesterday had a headline in the Plus section which, in my view, summed up Margaret best. It said she was 'a towering figure in her own right', and I think that very well encompasses Margaret. She is a part of Australian history. I was reflecting yesterday on just how long she had been a part of our history. She was born before there was a Sydney Harbour Bridge. Her lifetime spanned the making of modern Australia. She was a champion swimmer. She was the mother of four fine children, a grandmother and a great-grandmother to many in the family. She was a community activist in southern Sydney and Western Sydney, especially during the time Gough Whitlam represented the division of Werriwa in this place. She was the only social worker at the time in a Western Sydney hospital, as her son Nicholas mentioned in one of the weekend's newspapers. She was a patron of arts and culture. Margaret campaigned in her own right during the 1969 and 1972 federal elections. She was a columnist and commentator. She was Australia's first lady and, in doing that job, forever changed the role of the Prime Minister's partner. Margaret was an Australian national treasure. And above all she was, as Gough said in a beautiful and gracious tribute upon her passing, the love of his life.

As is well known the Whitlam partnership lasted almost 70 years. Margaret was, as Gough as has said, his best appointment. I admired Margaret from afar for all of my adult life. I did have the privilege of meeting her and Gough on many occasions, and indeed the last time I saw her was at the Mount Kembla hotel in my electorate which was, for a time, owned by Nick and Judy Whitlam. Just as the member for Wentworth has had the pleasure of representing the patriarch and matriarch of the Whitlam family in his electorate, I have had the pleasure of representing the Whitlam's second son and daughter-in-law, Nick and Judy Whitlam, in this place. I would like to put on the record that Nick has indicated to me that, as his local member, he would be very pleased if I acknowledged his comments. He said to me: 'Please simply say that I am the proud son of a wonderful mother to four children.' As a mum, I think that is a tribute from a son that would bring joy to any mother.

I loved Margaret's wit, graciousness, wisdom, and outspokenness. Margaret was one of those people who always brought a smile to your face from the sheer pleasure of talking to her, of seeing her interviewed or even just thinking about her contribution, and many of the comments and contributions by people in this condolence motion have brought smiles to the faces of those of us sitting around the table listening to them, for the very simple fact that she was one of those people in life who always brought a smile to your face. It is reported that in 1973 she started a press conference, as the member for Kooyong said, with the statement to the press, 'Ask me an outrageous questions and I will give you an outrageous answer.' I think she lived an outrageous life in the very best sense of the word.

Margaret made amazing achievements in whatever she turned her mind to. She was a woman prepared to speak her mind. It has been remarked that Margaret kept Gough in check when his speeches wandered off into their second hour. I indeed saw this at a function a couple of years ago at the Sutherland workers club. I was seated at a table next to Gough and Margaret. Gough was into one of his speeches that, I must say, was crammed with details and memories which were very interesting. However, on this occasion, the speech was into about its fortieth minute—too much for Margaret, who loudly interjected, 'You've been going on too long now; people want to eat their dessert,' and we promptly managed to eat our dessert.

It was an honour and a privilege to know Margaret. She was a pioneer in so many ways for so many Australians. The grief of her family is one we all share for someone special and irreplaceable, and our heart goes out to them at this time in their lives. I also want to say that she will remain a person in my life, until the day I pass, who I will remember with fondness, respect and great admiration.