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Message from the MIA National President

The Rt. Hon Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916-2014)

The Rt. Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC, former barrister and prime minister died yesterday morning. I don’t think there are sufficient words that could describe one of Australia’s greatest icons, leader and legend. Mr Whitlam always fought for social justice and equity and based his policies for Australia on his experience in working with his western suburbs electorate of Werriwa in New South Wales.

The House of Representatives and Senate postponed business in Parliament to move condolence motions from all sides of politics to reminisce the landmark achievements of Mr Whitlam’s time in Government from 1972-1975 which included:

  • free university education
  • the introduction of a universal health care system (Medicare)
  • the opening up of trade relations with the People’s Republic of China and the first Premier of China, Zhou Enlai
  • the introduction of land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • the establishment of the Family Court of Australia
  • the abolition of the death penalty
  • the abolition of compulsory conscription
  • provision of legal aid services
  • Advance Australia Fair replaced God Save the Queen as the national anthem
  • The Order of Australia replaced the British Honours System

But I will always remember Mr Whitlam as the person who impacted on Australia’s immigration policy through the abolition of the White Australia Policy when the government removed the need for people to demonstrate that they were 75% substantially European to migrate to Australia. For the first time in Australia’s history, there was to be a non-discriminatory policy for immigration and citizenship. Under Mr Whitlam’s leadership, the policy of Multiculturalism was introduced in 1973. In 1975, Australia ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination which was the foundation for the establishment of the Human Rights Commission in 1986.

I’ll always remember Mr Whitlam as a man of tremendous wit who engaged and listened to the common people. I first met Mr Whitlam more than 30 years ago and enjoyed challenging conversations over a meal or drink with him. He used to call many colleagues “Comrade” and I was chuffed when he called me “Chairman Chan”. Even though Mr Whitlam had been a resident at Lulworth Nursing Home in Sydney for a few years he used to, until recently, still travel to his office on a weekly basis in Sydney. He was still a voracious reader – one of his favourite journals being the Guardian Weekly.

In 2012, Mr Whitlam was jointly awarded the MIA Award for Distinguished Service to Australian Immigration together with former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser, AC.

There will be many tears shed and words of condolence and sympathy expressed at the passing of such a great Australian but the wonderful legacy left by Mr Whitlam will hopefully, endure for future generations to come. Open your eyes and see all that he has left.

Requiescat in Pace, dear Comrade, the light on the hill.

Angela Chan FMIA, National President}

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