Australia remembers Gough Whitlam, a Labor titan

THE flags atop Parliament House and other government buildings flew at half-mast on Tuesday as Australia remembered one of the most influential social reformers in the nation's history.

News of former prime minister Gough Whitlam's death in the early hours of the morning first came in a statement from his family, who described him as an inspiration to them and millions of other Australians.

Whitlam led the Labor Party to one of its most significant election victories and ended 23 years of conservative rule in Canberra in 1972.

He served as the nation's 21st prime minister for just three years.

Before being controversially ousted by then-Governor-General John Kerr, Whitlam began what would become key, bipartisan social policies in the creation of universal health care and access to university.

But he also made many other key changes including officially ending capital punishment and bringing land rights to indigenous Australians.

He also built Australia's links to China, which is now the nation's biggest trading partner.

Tributes to his life's work and that of his wife Margaret, who died in 2012, flowed from both sides of politics in Canberra, and all other parliamentary business was suspended for the day as a mark of respect.

Inside and outside the House of Representatives, current and former leaders including John Howard, Paul Keating, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard paid tribute to Whitlam.

Mr Hawke said the "simple truth is that Australia is a better country because of the life and work of Gough Whitlam".

Mr Howard said his greatest achievement was his election victory in 1972, rather than policy reforms, but also complimented his "ready wit, eloquence and prodigious recall".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said while Whitlam's reforms were "highly contentious at the time" and some were still, "one way or another, our country has never been quite the same".

Mr Abbott said Whitlam was a "giant figure" in parliament and Australian public life.

"Whether you were for him or against him, it was his vision that drove our politics then and which still echoes through our public life four decades on," he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Whitlam was a "man for the ages" and that no one who lived through the Whitlam era would ever forget it.

"Gough's ambition went beyond his desire to serve our nation; he wanted to transform it - completely, permanently - and he did," Mr Shorten said.

"Of all leaders, none had arguably more cause to carry an anvil of political hatred - but he actually did not.

"In defending democracy, defending tolerance - Whitlam defined his values and his character - and indeed our nation's."

A public memorial service is expected to be announced in coming days, while a private cremation ceremony will also be held for family and close friends. 


Highlights of Whitlam's Legacy:

  • Universal healthcare
  • Free education and access to university
  • Land rights for indigenous Australians
  • Ended capital punishment
  • Abolished conscription
  • Built closer ties to China
  • Significant legal and justice reforms
  • Social welfare for single mothers
  • Creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority



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