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Passing of legendary Aussie felt in Samoa

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MISSED: Edward Gough Whitlam.

Australians – including many of them in Samoa – are mourning the death of former Prime Minister, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Reacting to the news of his passing away yesterday, the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, perhaps captured the national spirit of loss when he said simply, “The nation has lost a legend.”

Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Sue Langford, said Mr. Whitlam visited Samoa.

“Mr Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia,” she said. “He visited Samoa as head of Australia’s delegation to the Fourth Meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in 1973.

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“He was a remarkable ambassador for Australian values and a man who lived a life of service to his country.”

Ms. Langford said Australian Prime Minister Abbott has requested that all Australian Government buildings, including the High Commission in Apia, fly flags at half-mast in his honour.

Back in Australia, flags around the country are at half-mast and the Parliamentary session was cut short in honour of the towering figure, who championed the value of a fair go for all Australians.

Swept to power in one of the most successful election campaigns in Australian history with the slogan, “It’s Time,” Whitlam wasted no time in introducing his visionary reforms.

In an unprecedented parliamentary arrangement of a ministry of two, Prime Minister Whitlam and Deputy Prime Minister, Lance Barnard, forged a new Australia in a series of breathtaking reforms including the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam and the release of draft resisters, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years, abolishing all university fees, and establishing a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Land Rights (the Woodward Commission).

In just 14 days from his swearing in on 5 December 1972 as the first Labor Prime Minister since 1949, until the full cabinet was sworn in on 19 December, Whitlam made 40 such ground breaking decisions.

There was a mood of jubilation as if, for the first time, anything was possible including righting age-old wrongs, particularly with regard to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

The Whitlam government initiated Australia’s first federal legislation on human rights, the environment and heritage.

Labor leader Bill Shorten praised Mr Whitlam, “He redefined our country and in doing so he changed the lives of a generation."

Mr Shorten said Mr Whitlam offered Australians a "new sense of what [Australia] might be".

"He re-imagined Australia as a modern nation where equality of opportunity belonged to all."

Current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott said, "Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time."

The dismissal of Gough Whitlam was an unprecedented constitutional crisis for Australia and the most dramatic event in Australia’s political history.

Like other momentous events in history, any Australian who was alive on Remembrance Day 1975 can state with clarity where they were when they heard the news that the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, standing on the steps of

Parliament House, had dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam from office and appointed Liberal, Malcolm Fraser, as caretaker prime minister pending a double dissolution election.

Although he was only in office for three years, from 1972 until 1975, Gough Whitlam’s reforms including the first national health care system, Medibank, brought about the most significant change that broke the grip of the privileged few, especially with regard to health and education, delivering new opportunity and dignity to ordinary Australians.

 

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