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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12170

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (09:07): Gough Whitlam changed Labor and he changed this country. He and his cabinet brought modern Australia into being. They created our modern social democracy. Last week, after we had heard the news, the Labor family walked to Old Parliament House to pay tribute to Gough together. As we walked up the steps, the member for Moreton asked me, 'How do you feel—a girl like you, a working-class girl from Cairns—to be here at such an occasion?' I said to him, 'Well, that's the point. That's what Gough did for us' and he agreed, because we both know that Gough wanted to create opportunities for everyone and he wanted to work for a more equal society. Like countless others, I am a direct beneficiary of that.

Earlier this year I gave a speech for Gough's 98th birthday. In that speech I thanked Gough for the opportunities I had had to get a higher education, and I thanked him for a lot of other things as well. I am pleased to say that he heard about the speech and that he knew of my gratitude. I received a message: 'You have made an old man very happy.' I must have been one of so many people who thanked him for everything he had done over the course of his life.

Remembering Gough reminds us all that politics matters and that public life matters. It reminds us that we must be here in this place with a sense of purpose, determined to improve the wellbeing of our countrymen and women. We all share in this great responsibility to build on his legacy. I do not claim to know Gough; I have only met him a couple of times. I was there at our national Labor conference when he and his beloved wife, Margaret, received their national life memberships of the Australian Labor Party. They were the first two people to receive those memberships from the party's national conference. But even though I did not know him it is impossible not to be grateful to him for what he did to change our nation. As I said, he also changed the Labor Party. That is important, because this nation and its people depend on Labor to be the party of great reform. The Liberals and Nationals can claim to have instigated very few of the nation's great reforms since the 1970s but, under Gough's leadership and since, our movement has won, and defended, for all Australians so many reforms.

I do not need to repeat the list of them and there are too many anyway, but I want to mention, as the member for Lingiari did much more extensively last week, Gough's work to improve the rights of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

As he said in 1972:

We will legislate to give Aborigines land rights—not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are diminished while the Aborigines are denied their rightful place in this nation.

It is because of Labor's reformist tradition that Australia needs Labor. There is no other party able to govern that will do what is needed to build our nation at the same time and make it a fairer place for everyone.

Gough understood the imperative to make Labor a better party so that we could fulfil that obligation. As Senator Faulkner said in his speech on Gough's 92nd birthday:

… he was determined to make much needed changes to get Labor out of opposition and into government.

He pursued party reforms to make the party a viable alternative government, and policy reforms to make Labor's platform one that truly met the needs of modern Australia.

In 1977, the year I was born, Gough came to Queensland and told our Labor-In-Politics Convention bluntly that we had to get our house in order. He said:

Whenever things go badly, there is a natural tendency to look for far-fetched answers and blame the people instead of ourselves. I don't think we need to go beyond the obvious for an explanation of our troubles: the party has been run down and defeatist, our policies have been too-little explained and too-little understood.

He went on to say:

Let us not delude ourselves that dissatisfaction with Mr Bjelke-Petersen is enough to put Labor back, any more than dissatisfaction with the Fraser government will put us back in the national parliament. We must put our own house in order first. A reformed and invigorated party in Queensland must be the first step to a Labor government in Brisbane and a new Labor government in Canberra.

In 2014, we can take a great deal of inspiration from Gough's policy achievements and we can also take a great deal of instruction from the way he worked to make Labor electable again. We owe it to him to be Labor, at Labor's, best every day.

I finish by expressing my sincere condolences to Katherine, Nicholas, Tony, Stephen, their partners and their families.