25 November 2014


Gough Whitlam's famous 'It's time' speech, beginning with 'Men and women of Australia' was made in the Blacktown Civic Centre on 13 November 1972.

It would have been three days shy of my first birthday. I would have been at home at Frederick Street, up the road from the Blacktown Civic Centre, just off Sunnyholt Road, which winds up through Campbell Street and Flushcombe Road, to that great Bowman Hall. Even today we refer to Bowman Hall as Gough Whitlam's shrine. At every event I have been to there—and there have been hundreds, including citizenship ceremonies and various community events—I am always reminded that this is Gough Whitlam's shrine. When I mention this to various community groups, who otherwise would not know much about Australia, everyone would always know that this is where Gough Whitlam made that speech.

Gough was so generous with his time in coming back to Blacktown, to the place of that great speech. Around 10 years ago he attended the opening of an art exhibition inspired by the dismissal, held at the Blacktown Arts Centre, just up the road from Bowman Hall. Again, the crowds who were there to see him, to pay tribute to him and to honour him never failed.

Only a couple of months ago Blacktown Arts Centre put on a local history exhibition. It was a project that involved locals talking, sharing photos and reminiscing about those two famous speeches that were made in Blacktown Civic Centre. Gough's eldest son, Antony, gave the speech at this particular opening. Everyone commented how fabulous Antony was. It reminds me of Gough's memorial and how well Antony spoke. He would have been so proud of his such accomplished children.

I want to focus on Blacktown, because this is an area that typifies Western Sydney and the new growth areas that Gough was so keen to make sure got their fair share. He set up a new ministry of urban affairs. His interest in city planning, his focus on local government, his passion for public libraries, his commitment to improving the quality of life of people living in the new suburbs of Sydney, with community centres and parklands, was absolutely unmatched.

When I was growing up, down the road was a magical new suburb called Kings Langley. I would look over the other side of Vardys Road and see this place that had brick houses. In 1973 Gough Whitlam actually opened an exhibition of new homes at this suburb of Kings Langley, again a testament to his focus on urban policy and housing as key ways of improving people's quality of life. I want to quote from some of Gough Whitlam's comments at the opening of the Master Builders' Association centenary parade of homes, and presentation of the Pearce Reserve, which is still there in Kings Langley today, to the municipality of Blacktown at Kings Langley, on Friday, 14 September 1973. He said:

The Australian people have been waiting a long time for a fair deal in housing. I hope you will forgive me if I recall some words I used 20 years ago, in my first speech in the national parliament. I said then: 'No one thinks that 20 years ago the people of Australia were adequately housed; and nobody thinks that they are adequately housed now.'

So he invoked his first speech in talking about how important it was to have a proper housing policy in this country.

I will take a few more quotes here, because they are still pertinent today:

Twenty years later, those words are still true. It is shameful that in 1973, the people of Australia are still not adequately housed. It is shameful that in a nation with abundant space, considerable wealth, a modest population, and a general commitment to the ideals of social welfare, thousands of Australian families are badly housed and unable to afford this fundamental amenity of a decent life.

How true, unfortunately, are those words even today.

I want to share two other memories and some of the legacy of Gough Whitlam. The first is his love of antiquity. I share this passion—I named my child Octavia. One of Gough's passions was the rightful return of the Parthenon Marbles. Reunification websites were abuzz with tributes to Gough Whitlam following his death, and rightly so. Some of Gough's words on this topic:

The Parthenon sculptures are unarguably among the world's most important surviving art works. The new Acropolis Museum gives the British Museum the opportunity of righting one of history's great wrongs.

I think it is absolutely important for all countries of the world to recognise and to reaffirm the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

The last point I want to make, as a former competition and regulation lawyer, is to commend Gough for his vision in reforming trade practices law in this country. Even in his Blacktown speech you can see his commitment very detailed in the context policies in these areas. I quote:

In the areas of economic law reform, we will legislate for a nationwide Companies Act; a Securities and Exchange Commission; an effective Restrictive Trade Practices Act and a modern version of the Australian Industries Preservation Act.

This represented a significant policy shift from the 1965 act. The policy approach was a combination of US anti-trust as well as public interest tests, as appropriate to Australia. There have been many reviews of competition laws since that time, as there should be. But, generally, Australia has had good stable competition law, so much so that many countries around the world have modelled their own laws on ours.

I want to end by commenting on Gough's wife, Margaret. Theirs was truly one of the great political partnerships. How fitting it was that the final hymn at Gough's memorial was Jerusalem, also the final hymn at Margaret's service. It was an honour to be present at Gough's memorial a few weeks ago. Gough changed Australia, but more importantly for me he changed Western Sydney for the better.