Vale Gough Whitlam

9.27pm | October 21, 2014

The election of the Whitlam Government in 1972 precedes my birth. However the decisions of that government shape both the country I grew up in and the party I joined.

Gough's government changed us, as Labor sought "to promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision making processes of our land; and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people."

Even now it's a striking vision for a more democratic Australia; augmenting our enduring intolerance for economic injustice with a rich humanist conception of self realisation through creativity and knowledge. It's a vision which continues to exert a powerful force within Labor communities across the country, through both it's practical and philosophical legacies.

Amongst the many lessons bequeathed to our party by Gough is the power of a government to make change when working in partnership with the community. Reviewing the decisions taken in the earliest days of the government by the duumvirate, it is striking how many of these decisions reflect the priorities which animated contemporary political activists, and that through those means were already re-shaping Australian society.

This was no more evident than in the area of women's rights, where women across the nation looked to the government to act on their demands for equality. In the first fourteen days Whitlam directed the conciliation and arbitration commission to re-open the equal pay case and appointed Elizabeth Evatt to the Commission. He placed the contraceptive pill on the National Health Scheme, contributed $300,000 for international birth control programs, and ended the ban on advertising contraceptives in the ACT. More than forty years later, as Labor once again seeks to renew itself, many of our members and leaders look reinforce and reinvigorate such powerful political partnerships between community and parliamentary actors.

In concluding his "It's Time" speech Gough said that: "... the best team, the best policies, the best advisors are not enough. I need your help. I need the help of the Australian people; and given that, I do not for a moment believe that we should set limits on what we can achieve together, for our country, our people, our future."

Gough's words remain as relevant today as then, reminding us of the ethical and practical power of democracy.

Vale Gough, and thank you.