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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12193


Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (10:44): Here is my Gough Whitlam story: I am in my 20s and I am a newish industrial officer at my old union, the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union in the postal and telecommunications branch. A big part of the job was taking phone calls and lots of them. On one particular day, we had been deluged by calls and from recollection there was a stuff-up in the processing of an allowance, so we had a lot of uptight members ringing through wanting to see what the union could do. I had finished this string of calls and decided I would just sneak out for a cup of coffee. But the loudspeaker on the phone piped up and it was reception telling me I had another call. I was at the door of my office and I leaned in and said, 'Can I just go and grab a cup of coffee?' Reception said, 'You'll want to take this call.' I said, 'I will be five minutes'—I was pleading—'take a message and I will grab a coffee.' Reception said: 'It's Mr Whitlam's office. Mr Whitlam wants to talk to you.'

At that moment, you would think that the importance would sink in and that I would respond accordingly, but I said to reception, 'Sure, put the great man through and get me next week's Lotto win as well!' So I pick up the phone and say, 'Hello' and there was silence. Then I heard, 'Comrade' and it was that unmistakable voice. There on the line was the former Prime Minister of Australia. He was ringing because I was the secretary of the Greenway federal electorate council at that time within the Labor Party and we had sent him a letter commending him on his strong response to a very disappointing inaugural speech by a former member for Oxley in this place. He had rung to express his gratitude, but then he went on to do what others have remarked upon and quizzed me about my background—where was I from, where were my parents from, where did my parents raise us, where did we live.

What would you take out of that encounter? Not that Husic is flash at writing correspondence, though I would be grateful for the compliment; rather it was his curiosity, his interest and his care. It is these personal attributes of the man that so many people cherish and remember. Inasmuch as he had an eye for detail, and we have all heard stories of him indexing and footnoting Hansard; there is something else that people valued and I want to get to that point in a way you would not expect. I ask the House: can you remember the name of the Bart Cummings's horse that won the Melbourne Cup in 1974 and 1975?

Mr Chester: Think Big.

Mr HUSIC: Correct. Very good work, member for Gippsland. I will remember to invite you to my next trivia night. If there was ever a horse that was so aptly named for the Whitlam era, it was Think Big—the name of the horse that won in 1974 and 1975.

Many people have celebrated his big range of achievements and they were secured in a compressed time frame. But Gough Whitlam thought big because he had big dreams for the nation. He had a big task of transforming and shaking up Australia and that demanded a big call-up of people. It was here that he did something special and why he is warmly remembered. He not only had self-belief; importantly, he believed in those who in a harder and tougher time did not benefit from the belief of wider society. If you think about it, he made a place for them all—for our nation's first people, for women, for migrants, for the families starting their lives way out in the suburbs and for the communities of our regions. He brought them within the view of public consciousness. That was the power of the Whitlam legacy. It was his faith in the capabilities of his fellow Australians.

Mr Whitlam was brought to life via the stories of my father, the man who tried so hard to peer through the windows of the Blacktown civic centre to see the man destined to become Prime Minister, when he made the call to the men and women of Australia. My dad had only just made it to Australia a few years earlier and mum followed soon after. I might have known Gough through those stories, but I actually knew him better because his belief touched our lives. He believed that working class families deserved access to quality health care or that kids of working class parents should be pushed to pursue higher education, prepared for it via good secondary schooling, or in Western Sydney that our homes should be properly sewered. Thanks to Gough, we never had to dance that dance of fear with redbacks in the outhouse!

I am here in part because of that belief that Gough Whitlam had in multicultural Australia. I am so grateful and honoured to be standing on this floor because Gough Whitlam had faith in multicultural Australia and he called up into national endeavour people of all backgrounds, and I am eternally grateful for that. On his passing, I thought of my dad's generation or the generation of Labor Party members out my way who had their belief ignited in the legitimacy of our party sitting on that other side of the House. It is from there that we can achieve so much for the people who deserve richer and better lives.

Much will be read into Mr Whitlam's style, approach and philosophy but, for me, he will always be remembered as a progressive for progress, not as a progressive championing the status quo. He recognised that the static imprisons the people we care for. It restrains Australians from capturing the opportunity emerging around them. He reformed and prepared his party—our party—as a vehicle for change in our country. As much as Mr Whitlam ushered in big change, huge change, he ensured the support was there for the people affected by it.

He had a grander plan for Australia. He called up people from the breadth of Australian society to help him bring that vision to life. He made sure his government looked after them on the way through, shielding them from the tougher short-term consequences of that change while awaiting the longer-term improvements that these changes would bring. That is a lesson for the ages. Thank you for your service and your belief. Vale Edward Gough Whitlam.