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21 October 2014

RIP Gough, you really made a difference


I couldn't let this pass without commenting on it. One of my political heroes (I only have two), Gough Whitlam, died this morning, aged 98. Gough was prime minister of Australia when I was in my early 20s and did he shake things up! He brought Australia screaming and kicking into the modern world. He implemented indigenous land rights and established the Racial Discrimination Act. He gave us Medibank and universal health care, he abolished university fees (yes, there was a time when it didn't cost anything to go to university in Australia), he introduced environmental protection legislation, no fault divorce and established the Family Court. He stopped conscription and the death penalty. He supported the arts, established Triple J and helped strengthen the Australian film industry. The wonderful group The Whitlams were named for Gough and the campaign song for the 1972 election was the only campaign song to ever enter the pop charts.

All these initiatives sound quite commonplace today but when I was a young woman this new way of thinking and looking at the world was revolutionary. I think many people my age would look back at that time and think the same. Gough and his wife Margaret, who died in 2012, were intelligent, professional people who worked with the working class and the increasingly influential middle class and in doing so, made Australia a better place. I will always be grateful for the new freedoms they brought to me personally and to Australia in general. When I think of 1962 and 1972, that one decade brought about the most amazing changes to how ordinary Australians lived. Gough was a true leader and a great Australian.

RIP Gough. You really made a difference. Thank you.

23 comments:

  1. http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/gough-whitlam-dead-his-memorable-quotes-20141021-1193jd.html

    A link to some of his quotes.

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  2. When you put all those things he achieved in one paragraph. Each so significant in themselves. It blows my mind. RIP Gough.

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  3. And thank you for the link to that beautiful Whitlams song. His voice always makes my heart go all gooey!

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  4. My Dad is 61 and has often mentioned Gough, he (my Dad) is also a big admirer of his. What a loss to this country, he did so many good things. Medicare should be a world-wide system. Rest in peace, sir.

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  5. As someone who was born in the 80's it's so easy to take these initiatives for granted. I see a lot of people in my generation and those that are younger who don't completely grasp how fortunate we are to have these things. I'm grateful for the changes that Gough made - even thought I wasn't around when they were first implemented. I hope we can have more Prime Ministers like this in the future...

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  6. I too feel that Gough did make a real difference and modern Australia began with his prime ministership. I remember seeing his at the Sydney airport more than 20 years ago and being in awe of his statuesque frame in a fabulous suit, then he spoke. He truly had an aura about him. RIP Gough.

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  7. Yes Rhonda, I too remember those times so well! Although on the "other side" politically I admired him greatly and always appreciated what he did for our country. He and Margaret were a great couple. I read a story a few years back about how Margaret still made him his lunch to take to the office every day. When asked why he didn't just buy a sandwich he replied "But Margaret knows what I like!"
    RIP Gough.

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  8. To add to that comprehensive list: he promised 18 year olds the vote and they got it, he established massive sewerage systems in western Sydney and northern Melbourne.

    Vale Gough.

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  9. I had the good fortune to still be living in Australia during Gough´s leadership. A young newly divorced mother of two children I can´t say I was very politically aware but I do remember the surge of optimism and the many well-needed social reforms he introduced, I think he was too honest to last long. Today, he is mentioned in all the BBC news broadcasts and there are articles about him in the major UK newspapers I read on-line - all recognising the work he did. RIP Gough.

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    1. I'm really pleased to know that, Ramona. There are so few decent, intelligent and caring politicians. When there is a good one, we should all celebrate them.

      I hope you're well. xx

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  10. My dad was a great admirer of his and my uni was free thanks to Gough. I used to see him around the traps a bit when I worked in Canberra but never met him personally

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  11. I was a bit too young to appreciate what Gough achieved at the time but I realise now he was a visionary and achieved so much in a short space of time. He was there for everyone and not focussed on keeping himself in office like most politicians of late. I hope we get another visionary PM again soon and have the sense to recognise one when we do and let them stay in office longer!

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  12. I was lucky enough to be a recipient of a university education free from tuition fees. It saddens me to know that my daughter will be burdened with a substantial (and growing) debt for her university degree. In my view that is a hugely backward step for our society. We all benefit from a highly educated population, not just the individual. I can't imagine the level of disappointment Gough must have felt, watching his achievements dismantled...

    And, don't start me on the issue of universal health care!

    A great man and it seems, a once in a lifetime politician.

    RIP Gough.

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  13. Wonderful post, Rhonda.
    While I am too young (22) to remember Gough's stay in office, his legacy has affected us all in many ways. I don't usually comment on politics, but it's heart breaking to see some of his hard won reforms breaking down. The Australia I was brought up in was all about a 'fair go'. The recent policies don't seem to do that. I will be paying for my university degree via HECS (which I don't mind) and will be happy to pay higher taxes from my subsequently higher income to help Australians who aren't as fortunate as myself. I wonder where all this greed and individualism has come from. I certainly don't mind paying higher tax to fund universal health care and education. Education is VITAL to society. I can only hope that somewhere within my generation is a new 'Gough'. Intelligent, compassionate, and driven. A very sad day for Australia, may he Rest in Peace.
    Rebecca

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    1. Well said Rebecca. I hope the new 'Gough' arrives before it's too late!

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  14. Thank you for sharing this, Rhonda. As a US citizen, I didn't know about him! (Sorry--Australia's not my strong suit for international knowledge), but found it so heartening.
    Erin

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  15. You don't see politicians of this ilk anymore, where concern for his country was more important to him than his position. My parents loved Gough. I was only a small child when he was in government but am ever grateful for Medibank/Medicare. In so many countries (and even in Australia pre-Gough) if you got really sick you you could easily be facing extreme financial hardship or bankruptcy. I really hope we never go back to that. RIP Gough Whitlam.

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  16. The world needs more truly great politicians...and less obsession with looks, celebrity and soundbites.

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  17. I was still in nappies when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister. He was no doubt a good man and many of his achievements, both personal and political, are worthy of respect, but unlike most of the commenters here, I don't think he was a particularly good Prime Minister. His policies, although well intentioned, disincentivized self-reliance and initiated instead a culture of welfare dependency and entitlement that has, in large measure, torn apart the moral fabric of our society.

    Yes, Gough Whitlam made a difference, but not always for the best, and his legacy, like that of all politicians, should not be above reproach. Last week, for instance, when the kindly government health worker encouraged me to get a very costly MRI on the grounds that it was 'free' (i.e. taxpayer-funded) and I was 'entitled' to it, but not because I actually needed it (I didn't), that was Whitlam's legacy. When my high school/uni friends boasted unabashedly about the stereos they'd bought and the cars they'd paid off using their Austudy allowance, that was Whitlam's legacy. When my friend, a single mother, travels to Europe, drives around in a brand new car and wears designer label clothing courtesy of her wealthy parents, but happily allows the taxpayer to foot the bill for housing, child care, income support and other benefits (because she's 'entitled'), that's Whitlam's legacy. When the patients at the hospital where I work, all of whom have iPads and iPhones, gruffly tell me by way of salutation that they're concession card holders and, by golly, I'd better not charge them the full price for their medications (nice to meet you too, I always say to myself in response), that's Whitlam's legacy. When my mother-in-law repeatedly wastes her doctor's time on trivial concerns because she's getting his time and expertise for 'free', that's Whitlam's legacy. Unfortunately, I could go on.

    Yes, we should honour Gough Whitlam and discuss his legacy, but can we at least acknowledge that the welfare state he ushered in has not been been an altogether positive development for society?


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    1. Your examples above of Gough's legacy I am sure is not what he intended, that we would grow into a selfish greedy society is something he would have not forseen. The running of the welfare system is what is at fault not what Gough started. He also did one important thing that is to teach us to start to respect our indigenous people.

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  18. Hi Rhonda, i'm sorry for this unrelated comment but I feel compelled to respond.

    Simone: Whilst I do not want to get into a lengthy political debate (because I've not the inclination, nor is this the forum to do so), I think you're presenting a somewhat negative perception of the results of these reforms. Because of them, poorer people have access to quality education and healthcare, which is invaluable both to the individual and to society. Working in a hospital I am sure that you are well aware that preventative care is cheaper in the long run than treatment and (eventually) end of life care for preventable diseases. The entitlement you speak of has and will always exist. Perhaps previously only in the wealthy, now in the poor as well. I'm not saying it's acceptable or desirable, but such is life. There will always be people who rort the system, no matter what it is. We can only work to restrict it as much as we can. Perhaps you need to take a kinder view to those in your life. I am only 22, and was lucky that my Mother was able to receive government benefits (healthcare card/etc) whilst working full time to give us the best start in life. My siblings all work full time. I am at university and support myself. We are all driven, successful people. There were circumstances in our lives (which I won't divulge) which led to us needing to be dependant on welfare for a short time. We were grateful and certainly did not rort the system. Because of these reforms, I could afford to go to university, and my mother could afford to work. I have many friends who have needed to rely on government support whilst job hunting and attending university who are not 'entitled'. They are hard working future tax payers. Perhaps your circle of friends is different, but it is naive to think they are the majority and the norm. Colouring your world in a positive light will do you no harm. Always remember there are others less fortunate than you, and develop a compassionate heart.
    Regards,
    Rebecca.

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  19. As the beneficiaries of the good work of those who have gone before us, may each of us take up the challenge of living a life in which our values can be observed. May it be said that each of us has shown a positively responsibly life to modeled after rather than be the model of the kind of life to be avoided!

    Thanks for your blog, Rhonda, and the many examples you show in printed word, visuals and your visits and radio spots for positive impacts each of us can make to improve the condition of the world for now and for future generations.

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Thank you for your comment today. I love reading your opinions and thoughts. We have built up a wonderfully diverse community here that I'm very proud to be a part of.

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