Former Australian PM dies at 98
Updated: 2014-10-21 10:08
Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam makes an appeal for a "Yes" vote during a pro-republic rally in the Queen's Chamber in Melbourne, in this file picture taken November 4, 1999. [Photo/Agencies]
CANBERRA - One of the giants of Australian politics, former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, died at the age of 98, and current Australian political leaders immediately offered condolences to his family with Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing him as "a giant of his time."
Whitlam led the country through a period of massive social change from 1972 to 1975 before his controversial ousting by Governor-General Sir John Kerr in a seismic national event that became known as The Dismissal.
As a prime minister, Whitlam was an agent of change and reform. Despite being in power for only three turbulent years, he launched sweeping reforms of the nation's economic and cultural affairs, cementing his place as one of Australia's most revered leaders.
He put an end to national conscription, introduced free university education, materially helped indigenous communities, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes and reduced the voting age to 18.
On top of that, he established diplomatic relations with China and, in 1973, was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit that country, setting up Australia's trade agreement with the People's Republic of China. It was a brave, ground-breaking move that as Prime Minister Tony Abbott noted on Tuesday was to have huge ramifications for Australia's economy.
"China is our largest trading partner," Abbott said. "That is an enduring legacy (of Whitlam's)."
Whitlam first visited China in 1971 as Opposition leader and Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, a month before U.S. President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to Beijing.
In his statement honoring Whitlam on Tuesday, Abbott said: "We remember his lifetime of service to Australia in the Royal Australian Air Force, as a parliamentarian, as prime minister and as an ambassador.
"Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time. He united the Australian Labor Party, won two elections and seemed, in so many ways, larger than life."
Whitlam's children Antony, Nicholas and Stephen Whitlam and Catherine Dovey issued a statement Tuesday morning announcing their father's passing.