Senate debates

Monday, 27 October 2014

Condolences

Whitlam, the Hon. Edward Gough, AO, QC

1:07 pm

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

It really is an honour to speak to this condolence motion upon the death of former Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam. I remember hearing the then-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, say that political leaders campaign in poetry and govern in prose. That said, Gough Whitlam was a marvellous poet—truly Labor's Henry Lawson. He was Labor's greatest-ever opposition leader and one of its greatest-ever campaigners. Mr Whitlam had a dozen ideas a day and, like Sir Winston Churchill, not all were good ones, but some certainly were, and they changed our country.

Forgive me, but, like Senator Moore, I am somewhat of a sentimentalist, and we all have 'Gough' moments. I cannot forget the first time I met Mr Whitlam. I was not even a teenager when he was Prime Minister. He bounded up the stairs of Old Parliament House and was standing right next to me and my father. My father very politely said: 'Good evening, Sir,' and Mr Whitlam touched my shoulder. Just for that split second I thought that here, truly, was a man from Mt Olympus—he had just a touch of a Greek god about him. He certainly looked the part. I met him many times after that, and he was one of the most gracious, polite and witty men I have ever had the privilege to meet. He even agreed to sign a very large black-and-white photograph—a rather enlarged one of about the size I am indicating—of that famous moment, some would say infamous moment, in front of Old Parliament House when David Smith, the official Secretary to the Governor-General, read the Governor-General's proclamation dissolving parliament. Thanks to the good offices of Senator Faulkner, Mr Whitlam signed that for me, and then David Smith also signed it. It hangs in pride of place in my electorate office.

I found Mr Whitlam to be a marvellous individual, and perhaps our greatest ex-Prime Minister. Can I conclude by echoing Senator Faulkner's remarks earlier today. The thing to me about Gough Whitlam was this: that Gough Whitlam was quintessentially modern. He was modern and he was a moderniser. When I think of political life before Gough Whitlam, it was black and white—actually, it was mostly grey. When Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister our political life exploded into colour, and it has never been the same since. Sometimes the colour was perhaps too bright, but I am very glad he brightened our nation's palette.

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