PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: I would like to add my voice to this condolence motion and congratulate the speakers who have spoken before me for their very moving words, and particularly the Prime Minister and the opposition leader.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Whitlam. I was not old enough at the time to really see the full flight of Margaret Whitlam and Gough Whitlam. I was just a few years old when he was Prime Minister and she the first lady. My remarks are very much based on the accounts of what other people have told me about her and what I have read about her, and what I have seen about her in her later years.
From all accounts she was indeed a very much loved person, particularly as the first lady, but also in the latter parts of her life, where she continued to make an extraordinary contribution after exiting the Lodge with her husband. Being a spouse of a politician is not an easy job and it is very much at times a thankless job. By reflecting on Margaret Whitlam and her life, in some respects we are also reflecting on the spouses of all of us, those of us in this chamber who have spouses and the spouses who have been beforehand, and reflecting on the remarkable contribution that each one of them makes. None of us here in this chamber could do our job without their support, particularly those of us who have children, as I do. I know that I simply could not do this job without the support of my wife, Teri. Others I know are in a similar situation. So in reflecting on Margaret, we also reflect upon those people.
Of course, being the spouse of a Prime Minister must be one of the most difficult jobs, and from all accounts Margaret Whitlam carried out this job with great poise and with great dignity, and made an incredible contribution in and of herself. She herself pointed out how difficult that job was. She said, ‘On the one hand, if you say nothing you’re just dumb. If you talk a lot, you’re told you are talkative.’ Somehow they must navigate that and strike the right balance.
Margaret, from what I have been told, was known as an incredibly sunny, optimistic and confident person who, as many people before me have said, redefined the role of a spouse of the Prime Minister. She championed many very good causes in her own right, and particularly equality of women and some of the issues which affect women. She represented many people who did not always feel that they were part of the inner circle of Australian society. I was taken by a comment she made—she being a very tall woman herself, being all of 188 centimetres tall—that, ‘I came to represent all the ungainly people, the too tall ones, the too fat ones, and the housebound, as I had been, who would never go to China or Buckingham Palace and went through me.’ I think that was a very nice thing to say, and I think that many people across our community could associate with those comments and, through Margaret Whitlam, indeed feel as if they were going to Buckingham Palace or going to China and having some of those experiences.
In her later years she branched out further and involved herself in numerous activities and continued with her writing. I know that, for members opposite, her advice was always sought after, that her views were always listened to and that her friendship was very much valued right up until the last days of her life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her service to our nation. It was indeed an incredible service and we should all stop and reflect on that service and thank her for it. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Gough Whitlam—her husband of 70 years, as the member for Herbert colourfully pointed out—and the rest of the Whitlam family.