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Local News

What Gough Whitlam did for you

Gough Whitlam during his book launch in Melbourne in 1986.
An enormous number of happy-go-lucky Australians got up this morning and went to work, just as if it were any other day.
It's not just any other day. Today, we say goodbye to a giant. We say goodbye to Gough.
Most Australians will know the name, and even very young Australians will know who he was: Gough Whitlam was the prime minister, back in their grandparents' day.
He had been and gone from office, before Generation X was even out of nappies.
Gough died this morning, at the age of 98 and, if you're an Australian under the age of 30, perhaps you're wondering what that has to do with you.
Do you owe him anything?
Well, let's see.
If you are the child of a migrant who came to Australia after the Second World War, a person who arrived with hope in their heart and not so much as a penny in their pocket, then yes, you probably owe one to Gough.
In all likelihood, he made it possible for your parents – maybe your grandparents - to finish their education, and go on to university, for free.
Very often, they would have been the first in your family to do so.
Gough Whitlam ended conscription - and the Vietnam War - for your fathers' and grandfathers' generation, and therefore for you.
He introduced the free, universal health care that you may well have used when you broke your arm while playing on the monkey bars; or when your first-born baby arrived a little too early and had to go into the humidicrib; or when your little one suddenly developed a fever that freaked you out and sent you hurtling into the nearest public emergency ward; or when you reached across your breast in the shower, and stopped dead, having found a lump.
Gough Whitlam introduced no-fault divorce, and no, that didn’t make separation any easier on anyone, but at least those people who today want to end a stale marriage no longer have to stand in one of the State criminal courts – yes, really - and publicly accuse the other (often falsely) of adultery.
Gough encouraged women into the workforce, and he edged their pay rates upward and so, if you’re a young woman who earns the same as the bloke in the cubicle next door; or who doesn’t have to quit work when you get pregnant; or if you’re a public servant who gets paid maternity leave when you have your baby – then, yes, you owe one to Gough.
Gough Whitlam started the first meaningful conversations with Aboriginal people about land rights. He created the first Department of Aboriginal Affairs; reduced the voting age from 21 to 18; paved the way for FM radio; bought in Legal Aid; and extended access to the contraceptive pill, and purchased Blue Poles, which is now worth a fortune.
He was in office for just three, short years. It was a dizzying time. Gough Whitlam bought the winds of change to Parliament House when he was elected, shaking the windows and rattling the walls, just as Bob Dylan promised, and whilst not everyone agreed with all that he did, and especially not how much he spent, there’s an old saying that fits:
There is a field
Out beyond
Ideas of what is right and what is wrong …
He met us there.

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