Subject: Gough Whitlam
ALBANESE: Good morning. Yesterday we saw the Australian Parliament at its finest as it paid tribute to the passing of a great Australian. A great Labor man – Gough Whitlam.
Since then, we’ve seen the Labor family express our sorrow at the passing but also celebrate his life and his contribution to the Labor Party and to the nation.
People across the political spectrum, including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister delivered outstanding tributes to Gough Whitlam yesterday in the Parliament and since.
Also yesterday, the Greens political party put up, authorised by Lee Rhiannon on a website, an image of Gough Whitlam, ‘Vale Gough Whitlam’ next to the Greens Party political logo.
I think that is cheap, opportunistic and offensive, given that Gough Whitlam was a Labor man his entire life. Gough Whitlam understood that you needed to seize power and be in government to make a difference to this nation and he did just that between 1972 and 1975.
He understood and said very explicitly on so many occasions that he didn’t want to be just a party of protest. He wanted to be a party of government and he sought that mandate from the Australian people both prior to 1972 of course, but in 1974, 1975 and of course in 1977 as the Labor leader.
Right up until he was incapable of doing do due to ill-health he continued to campaign for Labor in every single political campaign. He continued to be active in local Labor party life including as Tanya Plibersek outlined yesterday explained yesterday attending Labor party Christmas parties in his local community.
I’d say to Christine Milne and to the Greens including Lee Rhiannon who authorised this, the Senator from New South Wales and to Adam Bandt, just do the right thing – pull it down and admit that it was an error of judgement. That’s the appropriate thing to do. That’s the respectful thing to do.
QUESTION: What do you find so offensive – is it the fact that they used the image or that they used it with the party logo?
ALBANESE: They are clearly trying to appropriate Gough Whitlam’s legacy for the Greens. Gough Whitlam not only was not a member of the Greens; he campaigned against them. He campaigned for me in my electorate; he campaigned for others who faced conflict with the Greens. We have a proud history. We are Australia’s oldest political party. We’ve formed government. We have legacies – and Gough Whitlam’s legacy was a Labor legacy. Tony Abbott and Warren Truss yesterday paid tribute to that legacy without trying to own the bits of the legacy they agree with.
You can do that to someone who you’re a political opponent of. Gough Whitlam, in terms of his legacy including on the environment, on health, on education – there’s been much said in the last 24 hours – all of it has been quite outstanding – including an appropriate analysis of where mistakes were made. This is not appropriate. They know it’s not appropriate. Anyone who’s looks at it knows that it’s not appropriate.
QUESTION: Have you personally discussed your concerns with Christine Milne?
ALBANESE: No, I haven’t. I see that Adam Bandt has been out there defending this this morning. I’ve seen the coverage. I only saw it during the caucus meeting and I raised it during the caucus meeting as soon as I saw it. It’s one thing, as happened the other day at my local train station, you arrive there and there’s a Greens corflute and it says ‘defend Medicare – vote Greens’. That’s one kind of attempt to pretend that Medicare is somehow a Greens legacy as opposed to a Labor legacy, begun of course as Medibank under Gough Whitlam. It’s another thing completely to use on the day of the great man’s passing, an image of him with the Greens political party logo on the poster. That is entirely inappropriate.
QUESTION: Aren’t you the one trying to score cheap opportunistic political points because all the Greens are doing are saying here is a policy that we are proud a Labor Prime Minister introduced that we are proud of. What is wrong with that?
ALBANESE: Well if I need to explain it to you Latika, then – people will make their own judgements. People will make their own judgements. You get to ask the question, I get to answer it, that’s the system of press conferences. You’ve asked your question. I find it offensive that there is the great man’s legacy with the Greens political party logo on it. I find that inappropriate. I think that is an attempt in an opportunistic way to appropriate Gough Whitlam’s legacy as somehow for the Greens. Gough Whitlam was a great Labor man and it is just not respectful. I ask myself, and I know the answer to this, what would the Labor legend say if the Greens and Christine Milne had said ‘how about we use an image of you and our logo on your image?’. What would he say? You can’t ask him. He would of course say no. His entire political life was dedicated to the cause of Labor. It would be like trying to say that Bob Brown is somehow a Labor supporter. Bob Brown isn’t. He’s entitled to his views. He’s made his own contribution to political life, as have the John Howards of the Liberal Party.
QUESTION: One of your MPs in caucus described it as grave-robbing. Would you go that far?
ALBANESE: I did not hear that description in the caucus.
QUESTION: How angry were people in caucus?
ALBANESE: I think people were pretty shocked. This is a difficult time for those of us who knew Gough and everyone who’s part of the Labor family. Even though he was 98 years of age and in ill-health it came as a shock to the nation, not just to people in the Labor caucus. Do the right thing, concede that it’s an error of judgement and move on. This should not be a major debate but it should be fixed. It should be fixed in a way that is dignified and in a way that restores some dignity to the political debate.
QUESTION: Is this grave-robbing?
ALBANESE: I’m not going to use that term. This shows no respect and is opportunism of the worst kind. I find it offensive and people in the Labor caucus today found it offensive. Thanks very much.