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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3247

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:00): I move:

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death on Saturday 17 March 2012, of Margaret Elaine Whitlam AO, places on record its appreciation of her long and meritorious public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

The outpouring of tributes since Margaret Whitlam's death on Saturday morning has been widespread and it has been very heartfelt. We have seen her hailed as an icon, a national treasure and a revered public figure. Margaret Whitlam was all of those things; indeed, she was so much more. For many in the Labor movement and people of goodwill everywhere, this is like a loss in the family. We feel that loss because Margaret Whitlam was a public figure in our nation for half a century—vivid, independent and entirely herself. No rule or law required any of her service; it was given freely from the depths of a warm, gregarious heart, and our nation stands thankful today.

In his statement on Saturday Gough described Margaret as the 'love of his life', and indeed this was, at its core, a very great romance. From her very first meeting with Gough at a Sydney University student party in 1939, Margaret knew what she was getting into. She recognised Gough's dry wit and thought he was a good dancer, even though he had a tendency to talk too much and not listen to the music. Margaret had indeed captured the measure of the man. The conversation begun that night lasted for another 73 years, broken only by Margaret's passing on Saturday morning.

This was a partnership of equals, a woman more than matched in brains and humour and panache to this formidable and dynamic figure. Gough entertained no limitations on his own prospects and placed none on Margaret either. For 25 years, she combined university study, professional employment and raising four children in a pattern now familiar to Australian women but which at that time was very rare indeed. Only when Gough became federal Labor leader in 1967 did Margaret embrace the full-time duties of a political partner, only to completely transform and uplift the role. From it flowed all of those achievements and contributions that have been celebrated in recent days: her work as a patron of the arts, her service on countless boards and committees, her writing and television appearances, her compassionate embrace of social causes, her unexpected late career as a tour leader and, above all, her advocacy of women's rights.

Many accomplished women owe their success to the courage and inspiration they drew from Margaret at a time when so much needed to be done and so many barriers stood in the way. As a girl who was in high school during the years of the Whitlam government, I well remember the image that Margaret gave to the nation. It was one of the first times that I believe Australian women saw so publicly in our nation's life a woman who was part of a partnership and part of a great love affair but who was also a woman of accomplishment in her own right, and it gave young girls faith that it was possible not only to be in love but to be in love without those limits being placed on you.

I mentioned on Saturday that Gough impishly called Margaret his 'best appointment' in his foreword to his monumental book on the Whitlam government. In a later book, My Italian Notebook, he called Margaret his 'prima donna', his 'first lady'. Gough's privilege in finding Margaret was a privilege our nation shared and made its own. The Whitlam family is of course greatly saddened by this loss and our condolences go to them, and it is difficult to imagine the depths of pain for Gough Whitlam himself. We are saddened by this loss too.

Gough and Margaret were tall, commanding figures who together cut a swathe through decades of events. Together they embraced a life of activity and of constant service. They were separated only by the limitations of physical frailty and now, with finality, they have been separated by death. Though we mourn today, there cannot be disappointment. Margaret Whitlam's life was long, full, substantial and complete: a great and gracious Australian whose place in the affection of our nation is assured. I commend this motion to the House of Representatives, where Gough Whitlam so effortlessly dominated, and I commend this motion to the Australian people, for whom Margaret Whitlam had such abiding love and respect.

The SPEAKER: I thank the Prime Minister for that particularly moving contribution.