HON WAYNE SWAN MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LILLEY
MOTION OF CONDOLENCE - DEATH OF THE HON. EDWARD GOUGH WHITLAM AC QC
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014
***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
I rise today to offer my condolences to the Whitlam family but also to talk a little bit about an extraordinary contribution to our public life. A lot has been said today.
This is one of the finest discussions that I have sat through in this parliament.
I do not intend to go through the full list of policies, debates and events that are very pertinent to Gough's life, but I do want to focus on a couple of themes.
The first one is Gough's commitment to equality of opportunity, his absolute determination to ensure there was no discrimination on the grounds of race or gender or postcode.
And that determination runs through all of his policies, particularly the policies put forward in health and education. Almost every one of us in this room today lives with the benefit of that determination.
I agree with the member for Wentworth: today is a day for sadness, but it is also a day to celebrate-to celebrate an inspiring life of a person who showed us that political life can make a difference and that being a politician is an honourable profession. That is what is so good about today's debate.
We can all talk about what drew us into politics, but for me 1972 and 1974 were very important. The fourth of four boys in a family. Three of those boys, my older brothers, were not drafted.
I was coming up in 1972. In our household there was a breath of relief when the government changed.
This was a very dramatic event and debate, and our involvement in Vietnam is something that has reverberated through our country for years. But it was a very big change.
And, of course, in Australian politics there is now a dividing line. You can carbon date the dividing line at 1972: pre-Whitlam and post-Whitlam. The big debates that took place in the double dissolution elections of 1974 and 1975 are still with us today.
In 1974 I joined the party that year in May because of the forthcoming double dissolution over Medicare, over our education proposals and other social security matters. My wife still has at home that T-shirt, that Gough Whitlam T-shirt that she and all of my children have proudly worn in election campaigns right through good seasons and bad seasons, once again an example of the dividing line-a dividing line that still exists today.
We are still debating these principles of affordable health and education, how they shall be funded, how we deliver equality. I am not necessarily saying we always have the right answers on this side of the House, but I think we have been on the right side of history.
There is a theory about Australian politics. It is called 'initiative and resistance', and I think we have seen acknowledged today by some opposite that there was a lot of resistance going on then. Of course, that is why we had a double dissolution in 74 and again in 75-and we lost.
We lost for a variety of complex reasons. The governments were not perfect, and neither was Gough, but the ideas were right. The ideas were timeless because they are based on that fundamental principle of equality of opportunity and people having the capacity to get ahead irrespective of their postcode or race or gender.
And, of course, this was always reflected in Gough's approach to foreign affairs. The drama, the daring, the political courage of the ALP executive just down the road in 1971, receiving an invite from the Communist Party of China to send a delegation to China at a time when Reds were under the bed everywhere.
This was a very daring decision and, indeed, the day they took it, they moved from ALP headquarters to the Statesman Hotel at Curtin. The Labor greats were there with Gough-people like Mick Young, Tom Burns and many others.
Of course, as they juggled this decision about whether they would go or not, they had quite a few beers over at the statesman, and it went on late into the night.
But the decision was to do it and to go with Gough, and anyone who has been to China at any time knows the power of that image of us going to China before the Americans-getting there. It was so important for the future of our country.
That larger vision that a number of people have spoken about today from both sides of the House, the optimism that it reflects.
If we learn one thing from the passing of Gough Whitlam, it is that political leadership needs to inspire, that political leadership needs to be larger than just party politics and, if we are not living up to those objectives, to try harder and be more thoughtful.
That is the inspiration of Gough Whitlam, and with his passing many of us will still hear in our mind that distinctive voice urging us to go on and do better because our country deserves it.