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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3630


Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:39): I join all members in speaking on this condolence motion for the late Margaret Whitlam and commend the parliamentary secretary, the previous speaker, for her remarks. I think they captured what all of us who have spoken have tried to capture, and that is the dedication of Margaret Whitlam to her party but also to her country. We celebrate a wonderful life well lived, of 92 years, and, as the parliamentary secretary said, that captured all of that period of time from 1919, before the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. As the parliamentary secretary was speaking, I was thinking back to 1919, a year after World War I, and all the change that Margaret Whitlam saw and obviously saw very closely not just as an Australian citizen but as someone who was very much a part of the change as the wife of a former Prime Minister but critically as someone who worked very hard to make a difference for what she believed in as well. As all the speakers have also captured, she was a lady of forthright views and great wit. Many people have spoken of many anecdotes. The parliamentary secretary just had another which illustrated once again that this wit was always on display.

Another former member of this place from the other side, Barry Cohen, who most of us have got to know, who himself has a great wit, wrote a wonderful piece in the Australian just a few days ago where he spoke of his first encounter with the Whitlams after being preselected for the marginal seat of Robertson in 1968. I think he won that election in 1969, just a few years ahead of the election of the Whitlam government. He spoke in the Australian of going to the Whitlam's house, which he called 'the lodge in waiting', at Cabramatta and listening to the leader very much in the vein of which the parliamentary secretary spoke. He said:

As a new candidate I listened attentively and grunted agreement at the appropriate time. The meal was progressing nicely.

We listened while "He" spoke. Suddenly Margaret found a way to include the guests in the discussion: "Excuse me Leader, would you pass the butter?"

It is a great anecdote, but what is really special in this condolence motion as we remember a wonderful life is just how many of them there are. On this motion we honour her contribution. We remember her very full life and we pay our condolences to the Whitlam family, to Gough in particular and to that very large extended family that is so much a feature of Australian political life.