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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12173


Ms COLLINS (Franklin) (09:18): It is with some sadness that I rise to speak on the condolence motion to farewell the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC, the 21st Prime Minister of Australia. It is time for him to be with his beloved Margaret and it is time for us to say goodbye to a great Labor leader. But where to start when one talks about the most influential leader that this country has ever had? As so many have said, he was truly a giant of a man. He had a great intellect and he had a great vision, but he was also kind, funny and warm, and he had a loving family.

Gough dared to dream. He dared us to dream, to dream of what a future Australia should look like, and then he told us that we could make it so. Gough entered this parliament in 1952. He chose to do this because he believed politics is an honourable profession. He could have stayed with the law. He had served his country in the Air Force. He had so many options, but he wanted to serve his country as a member of parliament. I am sure, knowing Gough, that he would have been confident early on that one day he was going to be Prime Minister. He was Prime Minister for such a short time but it was a very busy time, with Gough and Labor in a hurry to implement their ideas and their policies after so many years in opposition. The government that he led, that implemented his vision, made so many changes to policy in this country that forever changed the people of Australia, how we thought about ourselves and how others viewed us from outside.

After winning the 1972 election, it was of course a Tasmanian in Lance Barnard, the member for Bass, who formed the two-part cabinet with Gough that made so many sweeping changes. It is hard to decide which of the many reforms had the biggest, most enduring impact. His changes to education meant so many Australians had an opportunity to get a tertiary education that would not have happened without his reforms. So many of us in this place have a story about the first ever family member who did go or is going to university because of Gough. His changes to the social security system gave poor people the dignity of being accepted and treated as equals in this country. So many children of those affected by these changes have had opportunities that they would not otherwise have had because of Gough. There were his changes to our health system, with Medibank, now Medicare, providing universal health care to so many and the start of the great Medicare. So many lives were enhanced, extended and saved because of what Gough did.

From health to education, from social security to antidiscrimination, to his wonderful land hand-back to Aboriginal Australians, to his passion for the arts, to his visit to China, to his commitment to equal pay and what he did for women's rights, to his starting to reduce tariffs, Gough really did modernise and change the face of this country. He reformed the Labor Party itself. He told us we had to believe we could win government, that we needed to win government. Indeed, he told the ALP's conference in Victoria in 1968 that 'only the impotent are pure' and that we need to change our platform and we needed to change our party.

He also changed the country's voting systems. To quote from Gough's speech from 2001 at the Federation anniversary dinner in Melbourne, celebrating the centenary of the federal ALP's caucus, Gough said:

Tonight we celebrate more than a century's commitment to change and reform through Parliament. My most constant objective has been to make Australian Parliaments more representative of all voters. The nadir of the Party's electoral fortunes was reached in March 1968, when the Dunstan Government was defeated despite winning 52% of the votes.

Only one of Australia's 13 Houses of Parliament was left with a Labor majority, the Tasmanian House of Assembly. Tasmania alone had equal enrolments in all electoral divisions in the State and Federal lower houses. In the winter of our discontent, Lance Barnard and I, the Leader and Deputy Leader in the Senate, Lionel Murphy and Sam Cohen, Premier Eric Reece and the Leaders of the five State Oppositions met in Hobart. We resolved to achieve equal franchise—one vote-one value—in the House of Representatives and in all the State Houses of Parliament.

At the joint sitting of both Federal Houses in August 1974, the House of Representatives was made the first legislative body in Australia to be elected on the principles of one vote, one value and regular redistribution.

Gough was truly a democrat. He believed in the parliament. He believed in people and their ideas.

I had the great privilege of meeting Gough on several occasions, particularly when he came to Tasmania, my home state, and, importantly, when he and Margaret were presented with their life membership at the ALP national conference in Sydney—the first people to receive a national ALP life membership.

In closing, my sympathies go to Gough's children, his family and his friends. On behalf of my electorate of Franklin and on behalf of the people of Tasmania I say, simply: 'Thank you, Gough.'