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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12169


Ms LEY (FarrerAssistant Minister for Education) (09:02): Edward Gough Whitlam left on extraordinary legacy which has been captured by numerous speakers. This is my personal reflection. I was a year 8 student at Campbell High School in the ACT at the time of the dismissal. My family was delighted. My mathematics teacher was anything but. My memory is of him at the front of the class glaring around, face brick red, sleeves rolled up, declaring: 'There will be no maths today. Hands up anyone who, if they could vote, would vote Liberal at this election?' Needless to say, I did not put up my hand.

Gough's social reforms have quite rightly been celebrated. Helping to end the White Australia policy and making Indigenous and new Australians feel welcome and included are to me standouts.

The social mobility that he initiated was the beginning of the end of the class system we had inherited from Britain. Above all, Gough demonstrated with wife Margaret what a partnership based on love, equality and respect look like in a modern world.

Gough left a one-of-a-kind legacy in my electorate of Farrer. Albury-Wodonga was selected as the primary focus of the federal Whitlam government's scheme to arrest the uncontrolled growth of Australia's large coastal city, Sydney and Melbourne in particular, by encouraging decentralisation. Grand plans were made to turn Albury-Wodonga into a major inland city.

As Professor Bruce Pennay from our local Charles Sturt University notes that Whitlam from opposition and then in government was 'personally responsible for imagining the rapid and joint development of Albury-Wodonga' as a collective—one city straddling the New South Wales-Victorian border.

Drop into our border towns today and many people you meet will say the growth centre concept was both bold and imaginative. Some will say it was too rushed and less than well executed. It is somewhat ironic that the federal body known for most of its existence as the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation, which was set up to carry Gough's eventually unrealised visions from 1972, will come to a close at the end of this financial year. Regardless, Whitlam remained an enthusiast, and would visit from time to time to hail any new endeavour to promote the two cities as one and of course to rebuke those who would dare set them apart. The tax office in Albury, with over 600 staff, has provided employment and a career for many local people. In my case it was my first job after part-time study and the birth of my children, and it set me on a professional pathway that was largely instrumental in my coming to this place.

As many would be aware, the parliament owns Clifton Pugh's famous portrait of our 21st Prime Minister. The story of the picture reflects the intersection of art and this democracy of ours in several ways. When he won the Archibald Prize with his portrait of Sir John McEwen in 1971 Clif did not know Gough Whitlam, but he casually announced to the press that he would win the next year with whoever the Prime Minister was going to be. Whitlam, just as informally, sent a telegram agreeing to sit. They were relaxed times back then. My cousin-in-law, Judith Pugh, was Clif's wife and she explains that, as part of her role to keep the attention of Clif's sitters, she outlined to Gough the plan for the arts that had been developed by a number of creative and performing artists and persuaded him to be minister for the arts. What the artists at the time acknowledged but has become rather overshadowed is that, from the second Menzies government, Sir Robert and the subsequent coalition prime ministers developed a program of travelling exhibitions that engaged us with Asia, developed a remarkable collection of art and planned a national gallery in which the collection could be displayed. Gough Whitlam signed off on that gallery and of course it is now a place to see Australian and international art—a place of scholarship, a place of education and a tourist destination. Clifton Pugh's Archibald Prize-winning painting was bought by the Historic Memorials Committee, and it is fitting that it should be the most visited picture in this building, no doubt much as Whitlam would be happy to be remembered—thoroughly larger than life and just as important now that he has gone.