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Thousands pay tribute to 'visionary' Australian ex-PM Whitlam

05 november 2014, 15:27
0

 Thousands of mourners turned out for the memorial service of former leader Gough Whitlam Wednesday, hailing him as a remarkable politician who helped shape modern Australia, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was booed, AFP reports.

Abbott was joined by six former Australian leaders, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, Hollywood star Cate Blanchett and almost 2,000 other dignitaries and members of the public for the service at Sydney's Town Hall.

Many more watched the proceedings on a large screen in front of the building, with the crowd cheering for past and present Labor leaders while heckling others from the ruling Liberal Party, most notably Abbott.

Four air force jets marked the occasion in a brief flyover above Sydney's central business district in the "missing man" formation.

"The Whitlam touch is on us all. He touches us in our day-to-day lives, in the way we think about Australia, in the way we see the world," said Graham Freudenberg, a close friend and former speech-writer for the Labor prime minister, who died last month aged 98.

"He touches, still, the millions who share his vision for a more equal Australia, a more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia, a nation confident of its future in our region and the world."

Although Whitlam was in power for only three years -- from 1972 to 1975 -- before being controversially sacked, he launched sweeping reforms of the nation's economic and cultural affairs.

Academy Award winner Blanchett spoke of how some of Whitlam's reforms, including free tertiary education and healthcare, helped her pursue a career as an actress.

"I was but three when he passed by but I shall be grateful 'till the day I die," Blanchett said.

"The effect on the geo-cultural, political map of Australia made by Gough Whitlam is so vast that wherever you stick a pin in you get a wealth of Gough's legacy."

Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson also hailed Whitlam's achievements, adding that they might never be repeated again by modern-day governments "whose priorities are to retain power rather than reform".

Whitlam's oldest son, Tony, a former politician and judge, said his family was greatly touched by the outpouring of affection and respect from the public.

On Monday, a message of condolence to Whitlam's family from Pope Francis was reportedly read out at a memorial mass in Rome, The Sydney Morning Herald said. Whitlam established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1973.


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