Watch John Faulkner’s Touching Speech On Gough Whitlam To The Federal Labor Caucus

"I have said and done some hard things. Nothing, nothing harder than this."

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Earlier this morning Labor Senator, party stalwart and long-time campaigner for reform John Faulkner addressed the federal Labor Parliamentary caucus on the death of Gough Whitlam. Faulkner and Whitlam were close friends and shared a common passion to reform the Labor Party, making it more open, democratic and transparent.

The speech was broadcast on Sky News and ABC News 24, and you can watch it here. A transcription is below.

Colleagues, in the more than a quarter of a century that I’ve been a member of this caucus, as many of you know I have said and done some hard things.

Nothing, nothing harder than this.

This is the most difficult speech I have made and will ever make in this caucus.

Friends, Gough Whitlam was a towering figure in our party and in our lives for as long as I can remember. When I first joined the party he was Leader of the Opposition. My first election campaign as a very active young party member was in 1972, when 23 years of conservative government was swept away. Of course, “It’s Time” became part of our language, and I’ll never forget the excitement and the enthusiasm of that election, and neither will so many others who support our party, who knew the surging tide of Labor support was not only about a change of government but about changing the country for the better.

Those of us within the party know that Gough’s agenda of modernisation included modernisation. of the Australian Labor Party, and throughout that eextraordinary long career as a distinguished Parliamentarian he spent all that time, before and after, as a party activist as well. He set about reforming and modernisng and making our party electable. He worked tirelessly to make the Labor Party a viable alternative to government. His policy reforms to Labor’s platform really did meet the needs of modern Australia, and I think his campaign speech in 1972 really summed up his vision for Australia — to promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making process of our land, and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people. To those ends Gough devoted nearly seven decades of his long life.

And today we should also acknowledge that his commitment to political reform to better the lives of Australians was a shared value with Margaret. Margaret Whitlam was also an extraordinary woman, a towering figure in her own right.

Gough and I were close for more years than I care to remember. Each week when I was in Sydney I would go and have a cuppa or a glass of Passiona with Gough in his office in Sydney. He literally came into his office four days a week until the last week or two of his life. Quite a few years ago now we were talking about the possibility of making a film. He said to me that he thought this was a good idea — “let’s do it” — and back in 2002, on the 50th anniversary of Gough’s public life, we made a documentary: ‘Gough Whitlam: In His Own Words’. And in that film. as he so often did, Gough talked for many, many hours about his life, his career, his goals, his hopes for Australia. But I think something that’s very important for me to say to the caucus this morning that one thing he always kept returning to, time and again — and we should never forget this, in this, the federal Parliamentary Labor Party — was his belief that politics was an honourable profession.

Of course, that film got nominated for a Logie Award, and I said this to Gough. He seemed very pleased — very pleased — but I had to give him the bad news, because you get nominated for a Logie Award, neither of us realised this, and then about a month or two before the ceremony they tell you you’re not going to win it. Gough was crestfallen for at least five seconds and said to me, “Comrade, I suppose an Academy Award is out of the question”.

But friends, today we should remember that Gough modernised our party. He made our party electable. He was so ambitious for our party but he was so ambitious for Australia, for a confident and progressive nation. He was an inspiration to a generation of Australians. I’m one of them, and I know I’m here with others in this caucus today. He was a courageous, resilient, determined leader of our party. He was a visionary, and of course, in this caucus we all remember with very great gratitude his service. He was a great Parliamentarian, he was a great leader, he was a great Australian, and for so many of us, and this is what makes this so hard, he was a great friend and mentor.