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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12198

Mr RIPOLL ( Oxley ) ( 11:01 ): It is an honour and a privilege to speak on the death of the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam, AC, QC. There is no doubt that Gough was and is an icon of Australian history; he was larger than life both physically and mentally. He cast a shadow far and wide, influencing people and politics not just across our nation but right across the world. In his nearly 100 years of enormous life, Gough, as he is referred to by almost everyone, was never going to be a man who merely participated in life but someone who would lead and create. Every country has at least one person, someone who has done more than most to affect our way of life and leave behind more than just their memory. For Australia, Gough was one of these people.

Be it through creating Medibank, now Medicare, or through free university degrees, which so many people have spoken about, he also gave a new level of access to Australians by reducing import tariffs and in the way that we educated ourselves. He truly reformed the way Australia saw itself as well as the way that we behaved. It has often been said that you should not measure the success or contribution of anyone, let alone of Gough Whitlam, by the number of years that he was Prime Minister, but more importantly by what his achievements were in that short period of time. Gough worked very hard and he had a great vision for Australia. He saw a bigger Australia, a more confident Australia, an Australia finding its voice on an international stage. He saw Australia as having something to say on our own future, and it was a vision that he would share with many Australians new and old. To say that Gough had courage is an understatement. In a time when the world and even the Labor Party were heading in the other direction, Gough forged a path to China and led the way for many other countries—including the United States, which would follow one month after Gough ' s historic visit to that country.

While Gough Whitlam could see the bigger picture on an international stage, he was also completely committed to domestic politics. He kept his promise to elevate the Office of Aboriginal Affairs to ministerial level once in government. Under Gough Whitlam the Senate was extended to include representatives from the territories. Cyclone Tracy struck in 1974—I am sure he was not responsible, but he was certainly there at the time. He also reformed and changed the Australian honours system. It was established to replace the British honours system. The first enactment of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act took place. The evacuation of Australian and US troops from Saigon took place. The Racial Discrimination Act was enacted and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race. There was the first Family Law Act. And there was the handover, very significantly, of Wattie Creek at Daguragu in the Northern Territory to Vincent Lingiari of the Gurindji people—just to name a few of the more historic changes made by Gough Whitlam and his government. But for Gough, all of these reforms were just part of a relentless drive to contribute and to drag Australia and the Labor Party out of the past and into the future—and that he did very, very successfully.

Everyone has a story about Gough Whitlam; inevitably they all involve some humour, some funny story, some great anecdote—elements of the great wit that the man possessed and usually a whole range of elements brought together that just showed the complexity of the person that he was. For me it was the first phone call that I received in my office. Not long after being elected to parliament, having made a speech in parliament, I got back up to my office and my staff told me that there was a gentleman on the phone who claimed to be Gough Whitlam. I answered the phone to hear that very familiar voice and he quickly told me that he had been listening in on proceedings of parliament, heard my speech, appreciated all of the things I said, but gave me some frank and fearless advice on how I could have said them better. I do not recall all of the detail of what my speech was about, but I do very warmly recall the fact that he took the time—obviously not just to listen to my speeches and contributions here but to also listen to so many members of parliament. It is legendary that up until maybe just very recently he was still reading the Hansard. He still took an interest in the daily politics of Australian life; he still took an interest in what this place did, what it said, what it meant for the Australian people.

I also very fondly recall his visit to Ipswich not so long ago to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the town hall. He was welcomed back to Ipswich almost as a son of Ipswich. He was welcomed in a way that only celebrities and pop stars normally are—all the pomp and the ceremony for a person of his standing in the community. But for all the noise and the fanfare on that day, and the long and detailed speech that is customary at any place that Gough attended, what really stood out for me was his generosity—he was generous with his time with every single person that approached him; he always gave his autograph and there was always a seemingly endless line-up of well-wishers who wanted their photo taken with the great man. Even more fascinating was his ability to recall mayors or councillors or details of things that happened 30 years before—recall in detail little elements about individual people, their families, their histories and their stories. For this and probably many other reasons, people always felt this really deep, warm connection to Gough.

There is no doubt he has had a great impact on so many people in this place—regardless of their politics, regardless of their own ideology or their own view of the world, Gough had an impact. It often brings a smile to people's faces—when you mention his name it triggers a little memory, and always a good memory. Gough, you have left us a much better place, a better people and a better country for your service—service in the military, in the RAAF, which has been talked about so much; service to the country in terms of public service; and service to the Labor Party in reforming the party and giving it an opportunity to lead this country and participate at a greater level. You have certainly served us all very well. My condolences to the Whitlam family for their loss. May he rest in peace.