Statement on the Death of E. G. Whitlam

Tuesday, 21 October

History is littered with ordinary politicians. E. G. Whitlam was an extraordinary political leader. And statesman. He stands as an exemplar for us all.

This great man has left an indelible mark on Australia. An indelible mark for the good. And Australia will always be the better for it.

In his character lay a deep blend of wide vision, broad intelligence and a boundless heart for the nation.

And these were brought to light and life through virtues of great courage, great compassion and great determination.

People often forget Gough’s courage. People often forget that he proudly wore the uniform of Australia, flying with the RAAF in the Pacific War, playing his part in the defence of our country.

Some also forget his political courage, profound foresight and sheer statesmanship when as Leader of the Opposition, in the anti-Communist hysteria of the time, he visited China, met Mao and Zhou Enlai, and undertook to recognise China if elected in 1972. Which promptly he did after 23 wasted years in Australia’s crucial engagement with People’s China.

His broad vision for the nation embraced universal access to university education based on ability rather than privilege.

He embraced universal health care based on physical need rather than the ability to pay.

Gough’s instinctive embrace of Indigenous Australians, and their rights to land, particularly at a time when racism was still alive and well in our country, has made him an unassailable hero in the hearts and minds of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.

Just as his introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act fundamentally reshaped our laws.

And despite the many efforts of others over the decades to tarnish and reduce these legacies, they failed to do so because these profound reforms had become sown deep in the hearts and minds of the Australian people.

Therese and I are profoundly saddened by Gough’s death. We were honoured to have counted both Gough and, his partner for life, Margaret, as our friends.