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RIP Gough Whitlam – Parthenon Marbles reunification supporter

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was a long time supporter of the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. I was fortunate enough to see him speak on the issue in 2001 at a conference organised by the Institute of Art and Law. I was later to discover that this was the last overseas trip he made.

He was 85 years old at the time, but if you met him, you would never have believed it. He talked eloquently at great length about the history of the sculptures & how they had come to be where they are today. The story was so convincingly told, that his conclusions that they must be returned were almost unnecessary – if you understood the story, you would have made up your own mind the same ways ass he did that there was only one rightful place that could be called the home of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Gough Whitlam died on 21st October, aged 98.

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam [1]

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam

The Australian [2]

Gough Whitlam praised from both sides of politics
October 21, 2014 2:30PM

POLITICIANS from across the divide have heaped praise on Gough Whitlam, describing the former prime minister as a “visionary” leader who spurred both progressives and conservatives into public life.

Mr Whitlam, who died this morning aged 98, led Australia for three turbulent years from 1972, launching sweeping reforms of the nation’s economic and cultural affairs, until his dismissal by the governor-general John Kerr amid a constitutional crisis in 1975.

His controversial reforms included early recognition of Aboriginal land rights, normalisation of diplomatic ties with China, universal health care, universal access to university, no-fault divorce, and the end of conscription and withdrawal of forces from Vietnam.

Tony Abbott has directed all flags be flown at half-mast in honour of Mr Whitlam, whom we described as “a giant of his time” who “inspired a legion of young people to get involved in public life”.

“Members of his government displayed the usual human foibles, but support it or oppose it, there was a largeness of purpose to all his government attempted, even if its reach far exceeded its grasp,” the Prime Minister told parliament.

“He may not have been our greatest prime minister, but he was certainly one of the greatest personalities that our country has ever produced. And no prime minister has been more mythologised.”

Bill Shorten said Mr Whitlam redefined Australia “like no other prime minister before or since”.

“Think of Australia in say, 1966. Ulysses was banned. Lolita was banned. It was the Australia of the six o’clock swill, with no film industry and only one television drama, ‘Homicide’. Political movements to the left of the DLP were under routine surveillance,” the Opposition Leader told parliament.

“Many Australians of talent … as a matter of course left their home native country to try their luck in England. Yet Gough reimagined Australia, our home, as a confident, prosperous, modern, multicultural nation, where opportunity belonged to everyone.”

Mr Whitlam’s children — Antony, Nicholas and Stephen Whitlam and Catherine Dovey — said in a statement: “A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians.”

There will be a private cremation and public memorial service, the statement said.

Julia Gillard, prime minister between 2010 and 2013, said Mr Whitlam remained alive in his reforms and the lives that were changed for the better.

“He is alive in our universities and the many lives he changed by giving free access to university education, my life included in that count. Alive in Medicare and the uniquely Australian health system we now take for granted. Alive in our suburbs and in our family law. Alive in our relationship with China and our multicultural society. Alive in our embrace of land rights for indigenous Australians and our hope for a truly reconciled future,” Ms Gillard told Guardian Australia.

“Gough is alive in today’s Labor Party, too. We celebrate his government’s triumphs and never forget the hard lessons learned from the mistakes.

“Every Labor leader and every prime minister who has followed him has wrestled with his legacy. Gough Whitlam transformed so much about Australia and the prime ministership.”

The Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, said: “You always got the impression with Gough Whitlam he was a follower of heroes but also wanted to be a hero himself. In fact, to many in the non-Labor side of politics, as is clear by this debate so far and from what I’m sure is to come, he is a hero to many in the non-Labor side of politics.

“To me Gough Whitlam conjures up images of a great ancient Greek or Roman statesman. A person of great wit, sophistication, eloquence, privilege but giving his life over to public service, seeing public service as the most important thing that he could do to make his society and his country a greater place.”

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, in a tearful interview on Sky News, said Mr Whitlam’s most controversial policies had become “absolutely embedded in our national history and character”.

“The lesson, I suppose, is those brave policy decisions which have set Australia on a better course should inspire us to bravery today as well, to make those tough decisions to stand up and argue for the things that we believe in — things that we know can make our nation stronger,” Ms Plibersek said.

“He was a loving and generous figure in the Labor Party as well … He was so generous with his time and his advice, it always felt like a real thrill as a young person moving into a position of responsibility in the Labor Party actually to be able to go and see Gough Whitlam and say ‘what do you think about these issues?’, ‘can you tell us a bit more about the history?’”

Veteran Labor strategist Bruce Hawker, on Twitter, described Mr Whitlam as “a giant in every sense of the word”.

“He inspired a generation and transformed his party, changing the nation forever,” Mr Hawker wrote.

Greens leader Christine Milne wrote Mr Whitlam’s death marked “a very sad day” for Australia.

“He was a larger-than-life figure whose leadership profoundly changed the nation for the better,” Senator Milne wrote.

Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett described Mr Whitlam as his “comrade”.

“A giant of a man, committed to the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece. A friend with a great sense of humour,” Mr Kennett also wrote on Twitter.

West Australian premier Colin Barnett refused to characterise Mr Whitlam as a great prime minister.

“He changed our thinking and modernised Australia but a lot of the things he set out to do didn’t really work … like his grand sort of spending programs that really just didn’t come off,” Mr Barnett told Perth radio.

“I don’t want to be miserable about it but I think he ended up with a government in chaos — it was absolute chaos, so he didn’t lead his government well.

“But he certainly painted a bigger, new, modern picture for Australia and for that he deserves his place in history.”

Former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke urged Australians against sad for Mr Whitlam’s death, saying he and his family were prepared for the end.

“No star has shone brighter in the Australian political firmament over the years than the star of Gough Whitlam,” Mr Hawke said.

“Australia is a significantly better nation because of the life and work of Gough Whitlam.”