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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3635


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (18:02): I join colleagues in paying tribute to Margaret Whitlam AO, a truly extraordinary Australian. Other speakers have talked about Margaret Whitlam's life, her achievements and her personal qualities which clearly endeared her to all Australians. From my observations, like many other women of her generation, Margaret Whitlam portrayed herself as a very supportive and loyal partner. But I suspect that in truth she was much more than that. She was clearly a confidante, a wise adviser, a tower of strength and an obvious influence on the life of Gough Whitlam. Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister of this country between 1972 and 1975, and he became Prime Minister after many, many years of government by the Liberal Party of Australia. So he led the Labor Party back into government. I can clearly recall those three years, and they were indeed very tumultuous years. It would not have been easy for either the Prime Minister of the country or, indeed, for Margaret, his wife. And I have no doubt that, during those very difficult years in which we had a double dissolution in 1974, her strength and her support of Gough would have been invaluable to him in carrying on in the role of Prime Minister.

Other speakers have made the point, and made it very well, that, as Australia's first lady between 1972 and 1975, Margaret Whitlam did all Australians proud. I share that view because I can clearly recall her role as first lady of Australia. I did have the pleasure of meeting Margaret Whitlam when she came to South Australia in the late seventies and came out to a community event in the electorate of Bonython, as it was then called; today it is the electorate of Wakefield. At that community event her presence was as noticeable and as significant as that of Gough himself, and I recall yesterday the minister for health speaking about Margaret Whitlam going to a community event in her electorate and saying that, when Margaret made comments to the effect that, 'Wouldn't you rather Gough as opposed to me?' the minister for health quite properly said, 'No, we want you there.' That was also clearly the case when she came out to Bonython in the late seventies. Her presence was noticed, because she made everyone there feel special and she made a point of meeting everyone in that room on the day. It is those kinds of qualities and characteristics that are rare, but that make people unique. She was indeed a unique person.

I will comment on another matter with respect to her and Gough's characteristics. The Whitlams were good friends of the Italian community, as they were good friends of all newcomers to this land. It was in fact during that era that Al Grassby became minister for immigration. I think few would disagree that it was Al Grassby who put multiculturalism on the political landscape and in the political vocabulary. It was Al Grassby who made it absolutely clear for the first time in a long time that this is a land that has people from across the world and they should all be respected and treated equally. That all happened during the era of Gough Whitlam. I suspect that Margaret Whitlam was as much supportive as anyone else.

Australia is a better place for the life of Margaret Whitlam. I take this opportunity to extend my condolences and deepest sympathy to Gough and to their four children.