The honourable Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC passes away

Gough whitlam











Gough Whitlam speaking on the steps of Parliament House, Parliament House, Canberra, 11 November 1975

Message from Prime Minister Tony Abbott


Australia mourns the passing of its 21st Prime Minister, the Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC.

We remember his lifetime of service to Australia in the Royal Australian Air Force, as a parliamentarian, as Prime Minister and as an ambassador.

Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time.

He united the Australian Labor Party, won two elections and seemed, in so many ways, larger than life.

In his own party, he inspired a legion of young people to get involved in public life.

He established diplomatic relations with China and was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China.  China now is our largest trading partner. That is an enduring legacy.

Gough Whitlam recognised the journey that our country needed to take with indigenous Australians.   The image of soil passing from Gough Whitlam’s hand to Vincent Lingiari’s is a reminder that all Australians share the same land and the same hopes.

Gough Whitlam’s life was inseparable from that of Margaret Whitlam.  Margaret Whitlam was a leading light for women of her generation.  Together they made a difference to our country.

On this day we honour a life of service to our country.

I have instructed all flags to fly at half-mast today  and on the day of Mr Whitlam’s State Memorial Service.

Further details on how Australians can honour Mr Whitlam will be announced in coming days in consultation with the Whitlam family.

On behalf of the Australian people, I extend my condolences to the Whitlam family on their loss.



Timeline of Gough Whitlam’s Life:

GOUGH Whitlam’s election heralded a period of unprecedented reform in Australia. But his period as prime minister is the country’s most controversial to date.

11 July,  1916
Edward Gough Whitlam is born in Melbourne, the eldest child of Frederick and Martha. His father was a lawyer who helped develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Attends Mowbray House and Knox Grammar School in Sydney, then Telopea Park High School and Canberra Grammar School. He completes the leaving certificate in 1931, aged only 15, but is considered too young to go to university. He sits the leaving certificate exam three more times between 1932 and 1934.

Enrols at the University of Sydney where he studies law and arts (BA, LLB). He wins a blue for rowing, and writes poetry, while there.
22 April 1942
Marries Margaret Dovey, with whom he shares an interest in politics, at Vaucluse in Sydney. They have four children: Anthony (1944), Nicholas (1945), Stephen (1950)  and Catherine (1954). On the 60th anniversary of their marriage, Whitlam calls their union “very satisfactory”.

Whitlam joins the Australian Labor Party, having earlier handed out Labor pamphlets to his defence force colleagues.

Whitlam is admitted to the New South Wales bar and federal courts.

1948, 1949 and 1950
He wins successive rounds of the Australian National Quiz, broadcast on the ABC to increase awareness of government bonds. He uses the 1000 pounds he wins to buy a block of land in Cronulla.

Unsuccessfully contests the new NSW State seat of Sutherland, having previously run for local government election. He faces criticism he is a “silvertail”.

Wins the Federal seat of Werriwa at a by-election in November. Nicknamed “The Young Brolga” for his imposing height (194cm) and imperious bearing.

March 19, 1953
Whitlam makes his maiden speech in parliament. Maiden speeches are customarily heard in silence, but Country Party member John McEwen interjects barely a minute into Whitlam’s speech, earning a reprimand from the Speaker. Whitlam’s quick response marks him as an MP to watch in the future.

Whitlam is elected Deputy Leader of the ALP.

Becomes a Queen’s Counsel.

In February, Whitlam is elected Leader of the ALP, polling 32 first preference votes followed by Jim Cairns with 15, and succeeding Arthur Calwell. He initiates the practice of appointing Shadow Ministers. He remains Leader until December 1977, a record term for his party.

June 1971
Whitlam leads an ALP delegation to China. At the time, the Liberal-Country Party coalition government refused to establish diplomatic relations with the Asian giant.

Whitlam launches the famous “It’s Time” campaign, saying the upcoming election is “a choice between the past and the future”. He promises to end military conscription and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, diplomatic recognition of China, independence for Papua New Guinea, free university education and a national health scheme.

December 2, 1972
After 23 years in Opposition, the ALP is elected to government after receiving 49.6 per cent of the vote at the federal election.  It does not have a majority in the Senate. Whitlam is sworn in on December 5, sharing all portfolios with deputy leader, Lance Barnard. The full ministry is sworn in on December 19.

Military conscription, which had chosen young men by ballot according to their birthday, ends after eight years. “.. it is intolerable that a free nation at peace and under no threat should cull by lottery the best of its youth to provide defence on the cheap,” Whitlams says in his 1972 policy speech.

Whitlam withdraws Australian troops from Vietnam, consolidating moves that had already been started by his coalition counterparts. He had been a vocal opponent of the war, and had he had addressed Vietnam peace rallies in Australia as early as 1965.

Establishes the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and backs land rights saying: “ We will legislate to give aborigines land rights – not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are diminished while the aborigines are denied their rightful place in this nation.”

The Whitlam Government establishes diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. A year later, the Australian embassy is opened for the first time in 24 years in Peking.

Welfare payments are introduced for single-parent families and homeless people.

Voting age reduced from voting age 21 to 18 after a campaign that points out young men who were conscripted weren’t allowed to vote.

The death penalty for federal crimes is abolished.

The national health care scheme Medicare is established, providing free health care to all Australians. It is funded by a levy.

The government abolishes university fees, a move credited with significantly broadening enrolment to new social economic groups and women.

8 April 1974
Advance Australia Fair  replaces  God Save the Queen  as Australia’s national anthem after national polling.

The Senate blocks reform bills, and Whitlam calls a double dissolution. At the election on May 18, he again achieves a majority in the House of Representatives, but not in the Senate.

September 1975
Papua New Guinea is given independence.

The Family Law Act 1975 replaces the existing grounds for divorce with a single ground, irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 enables Australia to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination.

The Whitlam government moves to sidestep the Loans Council to borrow $4 billion for ”˜temporary purposes’ from foreign, undisclosed, sources, using the services of shady broker Tirath Khemlani. Treasury opposes the plan. Despite its concerns, echoed by the RBA, the Minister for Minerals and Energy Rex Connor continues negotiations until Khemlani is ultimately exposed as a fraud.

Connor and Treasurer Jim Cairns are eventually sacked for their roles in loans scandals.

October 1975
After a series of scandals, chiefly the Khemlani loans affair, the Senate  – controlled by the Liberal-Country Party – blocks supply, cutting off the Whitlam Government’s access to funds to run the country. An unprecedented constitutional crisis emerges.

November 11, 1975
The Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, sacks Whitlam as Prime Minister and appoints Malcolm Fraser caretaker Prime Minister. The incident  – dubbed The Dismissal – makes Whitlam the only Australian to be ousted while holding a majority in the House of Representatives.

December 13, 1975
After a bitter campaign, Whitlam is comprehensively defeated in the federal election by Malcolm Fraser, whose Liberal-Country Party coalition achieves 56 per cent of the vote and 91 of the 127 lower house seats. Whitlam remains leader of the federal opposition.

Whitlam is defeated in the federal election. He stands down from the ALP leadership and is replaced by Bill Hayden.

July 1978
Whitlam retires from political life. He is made a Companion of the Order of Australia, and accepts a position as the first National Fellow at the Australian National University.

Accepts a position at a visiting professor at Harvard University. Four years later, he takes up a similar role at Adelaide University.

Published a book about the events leading to his dismissal, The Truth of the Matter. He writes The Whitlam Government 1972”“1975 in 1985, and Abiding Interests in 1997.

Gough whitlam 2

Gough Whitlam with Bob Hawke

Appointed Australia’s Ambassador to UNESCO by the ALP Government of Bob Hawke. Made a member of the Order of Australia (1983).

1983 to 1989
Serves on the World Heritage Committee. He is made Member of Honour by the World Conservation Union in 1988 and chairs General Assembly of World Heritage Convention in 1989.

Appointed to the Constitutional Commission.

Appointed chairman of the Australia-China Council, a position he holds until 1991.

1987 – 1990
He serves as chairman of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia.

With wife Margaret, is a member of Australia’s Olympic bid team which wins the 2000 Olympics for Sydney.

Chairs the Advisory Board for the sixth edition of Dick Smith’s Australian Encyclopaedia.

Gough and wife Margaret are awarded the Sir Edward (‘Weary’) Dunlop Asialink Medal by the University of Melbourne.

Whitlam backs protege Mark Latham in his unsuccessful campaign against Prime Minister John Howard in the 2004 federal election.

Gough and Margaret receive National Life Membership at the ALP National Conference in April 2007. At the time, both have been members for more than 60 years.


Source:   Australian Electoral Commission



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