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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12201


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:17): I am saddened but proud to speak in honour of a man who has made such a significant contribution to the wellbeing of our nation: the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC—11 July 1916 to 21 October 2014. There is much to admire about Edward Gough Whitlam's life: his service with the RAAF as a flight lieutenant, his transformation of the political landscape in Australia, his wit and his great love affair with Margaret. Despite these many contributions, it is his reforms to the law that have left the greatest impression on me as a lawyer. Gough's legacy remains in many of the important laws that underpin civil society today.

None of us arrive in this House from a vacuum, not even Gough. We are all shaped by our early lives and the families that mould us. Gough's father, Harry Frederick Ernest Whitlam, was a very bright young man who topped his school; however, his family did not have the financial means to send him to university so he joined the Commonwealth Public Service and studied at night to obtain a law degree. Gough's dad went on to have a brilliant career as the Crown Solicitor and as a human rights lawyer at the United Nations. That struggle for a university education would shape Gough. Also Gough's father-in-law, Wilfred Dovey KC, was a successful barrister and a judge who presided over many divorce and matrimonial cases back in the bad old days of divorce.

Gough's most enduring partnership, and perhaps his greatest influence, was Margaret. I use the term 'partnership' deliberately because that is obviously what it was. Margaret was very much an equal part of that relationship. She was a modern woman for the times and had very progressive views. During her time in the Lodge she was a very strong vocal supporter of women's rights.

These three family stories would shape the Whitlam government's agenda. Gough was, of course, a barrister, admitted to the New South Wales bar in 1947. Coincidentally, one of his chamber mates was Sir John Kerr, but that is enough about him. Gough took silk in 1962. Gough's progressive legal reforms shaped the way we live in Australia today. Gough said when he spoke at Old Parliament House in 2002 that he tried to apply an overarching principle and unifying theme to all of his work which he said could be stated in two words: 'contemporary relevance'. While that theme can be identified in his legal reforms, it seems to me that there is a far simpler theme that also persists in his legal reforms: to improve the lives of every Australian—and Gough most certainly achieved that.

When the Racial Discrimination Act was introduced it had monumental benefits for Indigenous people. No longer could they be discriminated against in employment, working conditions, remuneration or housing—issues that had long been problematic for Indigenous communities. This groundbreaking legislation overrode Queensland legislation at the time which restricted the property rights of Aboriginal people and provided inequitable legal representation for them. As ridiculous as it sounds today in 2014, before the Migration Act was amended by the Whitlam government in 1973—so in my lifetime—Indigenous people had to apply for special permission before they could leave Australia.

Other significant pieces of Whitlam legislation include the first Commonwealth legislation to grant land rights to Indigenous people; legislation to abolish the death penalty for federal crimes; legislation for equal pay for women; the Health Insurance Commission Act and the Health Insurance Act that created Medicare; the Family Law Act, which changed the way people divorced and made leaving a bad relationship far less painful than previously and enshrined the principle of the 'best interests of the child' so that children's rights are prioritised in any decision concerning them; and the Seas and Submerged Lands Act in 1973, which gave the Commonwealth authority over the states in any issues relating to the seas surrounding Australia—a piece of legislation that basically created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park down the track and thwarted Joh Bjelke-Petersen's plan to have mining on the Great Barrier Reef.

Gough Whitlam's government ratified some of the most significant international human rights agreements including the 1953 Convention on the Political Rights of Women, the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Not only did Gough enact some of the most groundbreaking legal reforms in Australia; he also established the Australian Law Reform Commission. There is no point in having legislation that provides justice if ordinary Australians have no access to it, so what did Gough Whitlam do? He created the Australian Legal Aid Office.

In 1985, on the 10th anniversary of the dismissal, Gough Whitlam delivered the John Curtin Memorial Lecture. He said during the speech:

A conservative government survives essentially by dampening expectations and subduing hopes. We, by contrast, exist to raise hopes and expectations—to lift the horizons of the people.

Hopes were raised and so were expectations during Gough Whitlam's term in office. We would never see Australia and our futures in the same way again that we did before he was elected. We as a nation were forever changed for the better, and I will devote myself to lifting those horizons for all, not just a few.

Gough enjoyed a long life. He also enjoyed many friendships, as we have heard in the contributions from both sides of the chamber. As the member for Moreton, I am well acquainted with his friendship with one of my esteemed predecessors Sir James Killen. I have actually heard quite a few stories from Lady Killen because I see her every year when she gives out the James Killen community service award in my electorate. Although James Killen and Gough Whitlam were on opposite sides of politics, their friendship continued until Sir James died in 2007. In fact, they telephoned each other most Sundays, and there are many stories about the notes they frequently passed back and forward during parliamentary sittings, often to the dismay of their colleagues.

In fact, Gough Whitlam gave the eulogy on behalf of the Killen family at Sir James Killen's funeral. Sir James describes in his book Inside Australian Politics an encounter in his parliamentary office when Gough was the leader and was particularly upset with a colleague. The colleague wanted to attend the funeral of a former Labor minister, but his name had not been called in the ballot to determine who would attend. Gough was frustrated at being put in this position and Sir James, who was Minister for Defence at the time and charged with organising the flights for the mourners to attend the funeral, was attempting to calm him down. Sir James Killen said to Gough, 'What do you want to happen when you die?' Gough took a deep breath and said, 'I just want you to get up and say, "Let the Senate be his pyre."' Gough understood history and timelessness. The previous member for Moreton is not here to farewell his great friend, but we who are who are left behind shall do our best to keep the Whitlam legacy alive. Edward Gough Whitlam: may he rage in peace.