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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12175

Mr COLEMAN (Banks) (09:24): I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this condolence motion for the Honourable Gough Whitlam AC, QC. Like most Australians, I did not know Mr Whitlam. I was not born when he became Prime Minister and I was just one year old when he left office. Like most Australians, there was much about Mr Whitlam I respected. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to express my views in this place.

It seems to me that much of the battle in public life is about having the courage to ask the big questions. You cannot move things forward unless you are willing to at least contemplate some radical ideas. Wisely, we generally shy away from radical ideas once we have contemplated them, but every once in a while it takes a leader to grasp tomorrow's conventional wisdom today. Mr Whitlam demonstrated that leadership ability in a few important ways.

He established diplomatic relations with China. He was ahead of his time. He did it during the Cold War. If, politically, Richard Nixon could go to China, it was much more difficult for Mr Whitlam—but he did do that and it has been, clearly, to the benefit of our nation in the ensuing decades. He decolonised Papua New Guinea, recognising that the era of colonies was over and belonged to another time. He drafted the first Land Rights Act for Indigenous Australians, which put us on the path we have been on for some time since and that path towards acknowledging the legal fiction of terra nullius. Importantly, he cut tariffs by 25 per cent in 1973, a very aggressive idea at the time with little public support. It was certainly not supported by his union constituency or many others but was something that helped set us on that path of tariff reduction, which has been so important to our future prosperity.

None of us are any more than human and Mr Whitlam was just a man. He made at least his share of mistakes and pursued economic policies that the Australian people understandably rejected. But he was a man blessed with the intellectual depth to conceive of big ideas and he had the powers of persuasion to make them happen. He could never be accused of entering politics simply to occupy the crease. He had ideas. He pursued them with all vigour. We can ask nothing more of a public servant. I pass on my deepest condolences to Mr Whitlam's family at this difficult time.