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Gough and Margaret Whitlam Awarded ALP Life Membership

Gough Whitlam, 90, and his wife, Margaret, 87, have been awarded the first-ever life memberships of the Australian Labor Party at the national level.

Gough and Margaret Whitlam at the ALP National Conference, 28-04-2007 The awards were made at the ALP National Conference in Sydney.

Addressing the conference, the former Prime Minister reminded delegates of his famous admonition of the Victorian branch in 1967 when he derided the oppositionist mentality that equated defeat with ideological purity: “Certainly the impotent are pure”.

Forty years later, the nonagenarian Whitlam told the conference, “when I was 50 I could get away with saying things like that.”

Whitlam noted that under his leadership in the 1969 elections, the ALP secured “the greatest swing on record and won 17 seats”. It would not have been lost on conference delegates that in 2007 the ALP needs to win 16 seats to secure a bare majority in the House of Representatives.

Whitlam said: “Our chief task in 1969, when we gained the greatest swing on record and won 17 seats, in a time of economic buoyancy, was to present policies to remove or reduce the inequalities entrenched by two decades of Liberal neglect. Now in 2007 the task of the Australian Labor Party is to address and redress the growing inequality created, not by neglect or drift or mere indifference, but by the deliberate infliction of a decade of the most ideologically driven regime in Australia’s history.”

This is the text of Gough Whitlam’s Speech to the ALP National Conference, in Sydney.

Men and Women of Australia’s oldest and greatest party.

I appreciate this honour all the more because of my co-recipient. Margaret has been the partner of my life and work for 65 years this week. If our generation had enjoyed the full benefits of equality for women initiated by my Government 34 years ago, no limits need be set on the positions and honours which might have come her way, as certainly as she receives this honour in her own right.

I thank you for inviting our children and my sister. I thank that the National President whom, as you know, I have long recognised as a superbly qualified spokesman in the Parliament and in the community, reasonable, responsible and robust, temperate, articulate, literate and numerate.

Delegates, we accept this honour as a celebration of our Party’s continuity with it’s past, its present successes, and, most of all, its confident future. I first addressed the Federal Conference as Leader of the Parliamentary Party four decades ago, in Adelaide in July 1967. That Conference, with its legacy of 36 faceless men, began the transformation into a national organisation for a national party.

After the 1966 electoral debate, I had to combat a growing attitude in some quarters that expressing the purity of our principles in permanent opposition was better than applying them in government. As I had to admonish the Victorians: “Certainly the impotent are pure”. When I was 50 I could get away with saying things like that.

Our electoral fortunes were at their nadir. When the Dunstan Government of South Australia fell in March 1968, there was no Labor Government on mainland Australia. The Adelaide Conference, however, had taken the first steps to rehabilitate the Party by enshrining the principle of one vote one value in the Platform. That was the beginning of my longest campaign, electoral reform. The subsequent legislation of the Whitlam, Dunstan, Wran, Cain, Goss and Gallop Governments formed the indispensable basis for Labor’s current ascendancy in the States and Territories.

When countries like Australia purport to preach the virtues of democracy, we might have the grace to recognise how violently resisted and how recently won even this most fundamental of all democratic principles has been, even in Australia.

We still have much to do to protect if from a government which routinely spends half a billion dollars of tax payer’s money every year on propaganda masquerading as government information. We have to protect Australian democracy from a government which last year denied votes to no fewer than 200,000 of our fellow citizens, at the stroke of a pen, by closing the electoral rolls at the moment the Prime Minister chooses to announce an election.

Delegates, this latest travesty of democracy reinforces the urgency of the appeal I have made to the Party over the last decade, to stop the manipulation of the electoral process and the stop the buckpassing of responsibilities between the State and Federal jurisdictions. And the way to do that is to establish fixed and simultaneous four-year terms for every House of Parliament in Australia.

Delegates, I refer today only to those Conference which did the work of taking us from long opposition to government in 1972. You will allow me the indulgence of mentioning two names, Lance Barnard, the best deputy a Labor leader ever had – Curtin’s mainstay Chifley had not been Curtin’s deputy – and Mick Young, the best National Secretary the party has ever had.

I mention those names especially in the context of the National Conference of 1969 in Melbourne. We re-wrote two-thirds of the Platform. In particular, we established the principles for universal health care, and for Federal aid for schools, government and non-government alike, on the basis of needs and priorities. We were enabled thereby to bury the sectarianism which had disfigured our society for a generation and had retarded education for a century. We must resist all the attempts of the Howard Government to dismantle Medicare and resurrect sectarianism.

As a result of the work of the 1969 Conference, I was able to say in the 1969 Policy Speech, at Sydney Town Hall:

“We of the Labor Party have an enduring commitment to a view about society. It is this: in modern countries, opportunities for all citizens – the opportunity for a complete education, opportunity for dignity in retirement, opportunity for proper medical treatment, opportunity to share in the nation’s wealth and resources, opportunity for decent housing, opportunity for civilised conditions in our cities and our towns, opportunity to preserve and promote the natural beauty of the land – can be provided only if governments, the community itself acting through its elected representatives, will promote them. And increasingly, in Australia, the national government must initiate those opportunities.”

Delegates, you will see at once the remarkable resonance and relevance of 1969 in terms of what we must do and what we can achieve in 2007. The issues on which we fought, in my first House of Representatives election as Leader – education, health, housing, fair shares for employees, fair provision for retirees, urban renewal, the environment, a failed war begun with lies, and a demanding foreign policy – all as urgent now as then and some of them even more pressing than they ever were.

There is, however, one big difference. Our chief task in 1969, when we gained the greatest swing on record and won 17 seats, in a time of economic buoyancy, was to present policies to remove or reduce the inequalities entrenched by two decades of Liberal neglect. Now in 2007 the task of the Australian Labor Party is to address and redress the growing inequality created, not by neglect or drift or mere indifference, but by the deliberate infliction of a decade of the most ideologically driven regime in Australia’s history.

History will record with disbelief that the major effort of an Australian Government in the first seven years of the 21st century was devoted to the dismantling of one of Australia’s oldest secular institutions, integral to all its history and its values – the union movement of Australia.

We must never accept the idea that the internationalisation of the economy forces us to accept lower industrial and working standards. On the contrary, the internationalisation of the economy is the strongest argument for the internationalisation of industrial standards. And that means applying and upholding international standards through the conventions of the International Labour Organisation. My Government ratified nine of those conventions.

Delegates, we can, I believe, re-assert with confidence an undiminished enthusiasm our belief in the sustaining ideal of our civilisation – the idea of equality. I recall that in the 1972 Policy Speech at the Blacktown Civic Centre, in the real heart of metropolitan Sydney, I said:

We want to give a new life and a new meaning in this new nation to the touchstone of modern democracy – to liberty, equality, fraternity.

The Sydney Morning Herald too me to task for campaigning “on the slogan of the French revolutionaries who replaced the old order with mob rule and terror.” The people of New South Wales too no more notice of the fulminations of the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 December 1972, when they elected my Government, than they did on 24 March 2007, when they elected the Iemma Government.

Delegates, at this challenging time in the history of our party, in the presence of our Leader, whose worth is testified every day by the wrath of our adversaries, I re-affirm the old faith and the new hopes for the Australian Labor Party which Margaret and I have now officially joined for life.


This is the text of an article in The Canberra Times on April 29, 2007.

Whitlam Joint Legacy Honoured

by Kate Hannon

Rapturous applause and four standing ovations greeted former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret, who were both granted national life membership of the ALP at the party’s conference yesterday.

They are the first to receive national life memberships, an honour previously only available through individual state branches.

Mr Whitlam, 90, arrived at Darling Harbour’s Sydney Convention Centre in a wheelchair but stood and walked into the packed auditorium supported by a walking stick in one hand and with the other on the shoulder of ALP national president John Faulkner.

Senator Faulkner paid tribute to the Whitlams for their six decades of devotion to the Labor cause.

The nature of their partnership had been revealed when Mr Whitlam once told Senator Faulkner that had he been expelled from the party in the “dark days” of 1966, then Margaret would have sought preselection for her husband’s seat of Werriwa and carried on his work.

Beginning his acceptance speech with his noted refrain, “men and women of Australia”, Mr Whitlam said he appreciated life membership all the more because he had received the honour with his wife, and in the week of the couple’s 65th wedding anniversary.

“We accept the honour as a celebration of our party’s continuity with its past, its present successors and most of all, its confident future.

“I first addressed federal conference in 1969 in Sydney as the deputy leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party my chief ally Don Dunstan and I removed White Australia from the platform.

“It was the beginning of Australia’s finest national achievement, the creation of a genuine multicultural society inclusive, outward looking, forward looking.

“It is a profound grief to Margaret and me to see this achievement, the embodiment of true Australian values, daily diminished at the hands of the Howard Government.”

Mrs Whitlam gently chided Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd for presenting her with her husband’s medallion and Mr Whitlam with her own during the ceremony.

Mr Rudd told the conference that his first contact with the Labor icon had been as an “acned” 15 year-old schoolboy who had written to prime minister Whitlam asking how he could become a diplomat.

Mr Whitlam had written back advising the young Rudd to go to university and to learn a language.

Mr Rudd described Mr Whitlam’s decision to travel to communist China as Opposition leader in 1972 as a remarkable act that had taken “genuine guts”.

He also nominated himself along with a majority of the conference’s 400 delegates as beneficiaries of the Whitlam government’s free university education introduced in 1972.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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