I rise in this place to put on record the significant impact over the last 40 years of Gough Whitlam’s Government.
Gough Whitlam has left a remarkable legacy - one that has served the Australian people for the better.
Gough created a new era of bright ideas and innovative thinking - one that had been lacking in Australia for the 20 years prior to his Government’s successful election.
He led a policy revolution in many areas, including the areas of health and international relationships. The impact of his creative policy development has played an important role in shaping Australia into the country we belong to today.
One of Gough’s first’s innovative steps in changing Australia was the new relationship he created with China and with Asia. At the time Australia’s outlook on Asia had been one of fear and of national security.
As Opposition Leader he visited China – one of the first senior Western politicians to do so. While he was heavily criticized at the time, weeks later the US President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger did the same thing, showing proof to Australians that Whitlam was a strategic and policy leader.
As Prime Minister he established formal diplomatic relationships with China. China today is our largest trading partner, and this relationship can be traced back to Whitlam’s foresight.
Whitlam’s contact with China was the first political contact between the two countries in 24 years. This single act has had a profound impact on the economic development of Australia. He discussed with his Chinese counterpart, Mao Tse Tung trade agreements including making an agreement on wheat exports in addition to security issues including our relationship with the USA through the ANZUS agreement. In a brief visit, Whitlam had achieved a stable and healthy relationship with China that Australia.
The Whitlam Government also created diplomatic relationships with other Asian nations. Whitlam visited and built personal and government relationships with India, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Burma and Papua New Guinea.
One of the major steps in deepening our relationships with Asia was changing Australia’s image of racial prejudice. One of the first major changes to law was the abolishment of the White Australia policy. Although many aspects of the policy had been removed before the 1970s, it still contain discriminatory features. This vastly improved Australia standing in the region. It dispelled the bad impression of Australian society as a society of hostility towards the people of our neighbours. Not only by the late 1970s had Australia become a more culturally diverse nation however we were able to get off on a better foot with China.
Within three weeks of taking office, the Whitlam Government had begun agreements with People’s Republic of China to start a new diplomatic relationship.