HOST: Joining me now is Labor frontbencher Tony Burke, Tony what was Gough Whitlam’s contribution to Australian multicultural society?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS TONY BURKE: Gough didn’t just talk about multicultural Australia, he celebrated it. You’d go to functions for the Greek community, the Chinese community any community and he’d be there celebrating with an intricate knowledge of so much of the culture of country after country. What amazed me, which I’d never seen coming, is that just wasn’t within Australia. I’ll never forget meeting in Shanghai the Director of Expo Shanghai who said to me: ‘You’re Australian?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Do you know Gough Whitlam?’ I said: ‘Well yes I do.’ He said: ‘That man changed my life,’ and explain how during the cultural revolution he’d been sent to the rice paddies and thought that he was there for re-education and that he’d never get out, only to find years later Communist Party officials came to him and said: ‘ We need an interpreter, we have a big man coming from Australia.’ He worked as the interpreter for Gough’s meetings with Chairman Mao; when Gough came back as the Prime Minister of Australia he was the interpreter again and ultimately ended up working here in Canberra at China’s new embassy. That sort of impact of Gough ricocheting within Australia through multicultural Australia and then ricocheting throughout the World; he was someone who celebrated diversity in the most direct way.

HOST: And he did have a big impact within the Labor Party itself - how did he help shape the modern day Labor Party as we know it today?

BURKE: Modern Labor is something that was so much a creation of Gough Whitlam. We became under Gough a party that would introduce the Racial Discrimination Act, that would care about the environment, that would support the arts, that would care about infrastructure in areas like Western Sydney that didn’t even have sewerage. Those sorts of changes in Labor making sure it was a party that would speak to the full diversity, including in our cities, made Labor what it became today. Until Gough, we’d spent more than 20 years as party not ready for government and he made us a party eligible to govern.

HOST: Thank you Tony Burke.


Tony Burke