Thursday, 6 November 2014

Noel Pearson at the memorial service for Gough Whitlam

Noel Pearson delivered an extraordinary speech-of-a-generation or more at the memorial service for Gough Whitlam yesterday. It began from his own experience of the massive changes to the situation and opportunities of Aboriginal and Islander people made possible by the Whitlam program. It went on to deal more broadly with issues for Australia, the transformation of Australia. Speaking before positive people and also in front of those who would corrupt it all again.

The transcript is here. The ABC News video-audio as uploaded to YouTube is embedded below.

Here are some excerpts:

"Of course recalling the Whitlam Government's legacy has been, for the past four decades since the dismissal, a fraught and partisan business.Assessments of those three highly charged years and their aftermath divide between the nostalgia and fierce pride of the faithful, and the equally vociferous opinion that the Whitlam years represented the nadir of national government in Australia. 
Let me venture a perspective.
The Whitlam government is the textbook case of reform trumping management."
"...In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leapt off the policy platform and into legislation and the machinery and programs of government.The country would change forever. The modern cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolour butterfly from its long dormant chrysalis.And 38 years later we are like John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin's Jewish insurgents ranting against the despotic rule of Rome, defiantly demanding "and what did the Romans ever do for us anyway?"Apart from Medibank and the Trade Practices Act, cutting tariff protections and no-fault divorce in the Family Law Act, the Australia Council, the Federal Court, the Order of Australia, federal legal aid, the Racial Discrimination Act, needs-based schools funding, the recognition of China, the abolition of conscription, the law reform commission, student financial assistance, the Heritage Commission, non-discriminatory immigration rules, community health clinics, Aboriginal land rights, paid maternity leave for public servants, lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years and fair electoral boundaries and Senate representation for the territories. Apart from all of this, what did this Roman ever do for us?"
 "I don't know why someone with this old man's upper middle class background could carry such a burning conviction that the barriers of class and race of the Australia of his upbringing and maturation should be torn down and replaced with the unapologetic principle of equality. I can scarcely point to any white Australian political leader of his vintage and of generations following of whom it could be said without a shadow of doubt, he harboured not a bone of racial, ethnic or gender prejudice in his body. This was more than urbane liberalism disguising human equivocation and private failings; it was a modernity that was so before its time as to be utterly anachronistic. For people like me who had no chance if left to the means of our families we could not be more indebted to this old man's foresight and moral vision for universal opportunity. Only those born bereft truly know the power of opportunity. Only those accustomed to its consolations can deprecate a public life dedicated to its furtherance and renewal. 
"This old man never wanted opportunity himself but he possessed the keenest conviction in its importance.For it behoves the good society through its government to ensure everyone has chance and opportunity.This is where the policy convictions of Prime Minister Whitlam were so germane to the uplift of many millions of Australians."
Thank you Mr Pearson.

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