|Gough Whitlam in China 1973|
In 1975 Mr Whitlam handed the Wave Hill cattle station, 800 kilometres south of Darwin, back to traditional owners. During the ceremony, Mr Whitlam famously poured soil into the hands of Gurindji activist leader, the late Vincent Lingiari.
|Vincent Lingiari and Gough Whitlam - Wave Hill 1975|
Mr Ryan says the Gurindji people called Mr Whitlam "Judgadi", which means "big man".
"He was well-respected by our people and all those that he came in contact with when he handed soil back to my grandfather, the late Vincent Lingiari," he said.
Flags at the Northern Land Council (NLC) flew at half mast today to honour the former prime minister. Council chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi said Mr Whitlam was a great friend of the land council and his passing was being mourned.
"Mr Whitlam was a great champion of the rights of Australia's Indigenous peoples," Mr Bush-Blanasi said.Despite spending less than three years in office before being sensationally dismissed by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, the Whitlam government enacted a series of reforms, including the extension of publicly funded health care (through Medibank, now Medicare) and higher education, a raft of changes in social, Indigenous and arts policy, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. His government’s legacy continues to be felt today four decades after it lost office.
Margaret McKenzie, Lecturer, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at Deakin University
The Whitlam government was more broadly globalist in its economic approach than previous governments, which had served to protect the traditional interests of largely British company subsidiaries, and of agriculture. It had a big task, being faced by the oil crisis of the mid-1970s. The oil price increased around fourfold in nominal terms between 1972 and 1977 (around threefold adjusted for inflation), at a time that inflation doubled from 10% to 20%.
Whitlam’s role in the development of the modern Australian economy is fundamental. Policy direction was shifted towards freeing up both trade and international capital movements. The Whitlam government moved away from the more Eurocentric perspectives of previous governments and recognised that Australia was a part of the Asia-Pacific region. It opened up cultural and educational links with China and Indonesia that were the precursor to economic ties.
Veronica Sheen, Research Associate, School of Social Sciences at Monash University
One of the most outstanding achievements of the Whitlam government was the introduction of the supporting mother’s benefit in 1973 (now called parenting payment). Prior to 1973, only widows were entitled to pension payments, so other women who were raising children alone faced invidious choices, often involving a traumatic relinquishment of the child for adoption or having to work long hours to support her family, which was not an option for many women.
The pension payment gave single mothers (and, in 1977, also fathers) choices and options around the raising of their children, enabling a focus on full-time care for babies and small children and a balance between work and care when the children were older. It was an immensely important initiative in removing old stigmas around single mothers.
Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University
Gough Whitlam will be remembered for passing Australia’s first environmental legislation, the Environmental Assessment (Impact of Proposals) Act; for appointing our first national Minister for the Environment (Moss Cass); and for setting up the inquiry into the environmental impacts of the proposed Ranger uranium mine.
That inquiry broadened into a general consideration of Australia’s role in the uranium industry generally, leading to the conclusion in the 1976 report that it is problematic to export uranium while the problems of weapons proliferation and waste management remain unresolved.