Gough Whitlam Bangladesh

Gough Whitlam  Bangladesh

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, a towering figure who led the nation through a period of massive change died in Sydney on 21st October, aged 98. He was Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975.

Australia is the first Western country (Denmark, the second) to recognize Bangladesh on 31st January, 1972. The relations with Australia started with a very positive note. Australia appointed its first High Commissioner to Bangladesh, James Allen who could speak Bengali. The gesture demonstrated Australian government’s goodwill for the new emerging country.

Under Whitlam’s instructions, Australia assisted diplomatically for the admission of Bangladesh to the UN in 1974.

He was the first and last Prime Minister of Australia to visit Bangladesh on 19th January 1975. The visit put Bangladesh at the time at a high profile in the international community and was noticed by other Western leaders.

The visit also demonstrated clearly his desire of engagement with Bangladesh which was born out of a nine-month war of liberation. As an Opposition leader he fully supported the War of Liberation by the valiant freedom fighters and supported the open policy of entry to Australia of war-affected Bengalis…

During his discussions with Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it was reported that he offered his good offices to normalise the relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Bangladesh Prime Minister reportedly accepted the offer.

Within Australia, he changed its face with social, economic and health reforms. Whitlam took the ideas of social democrats in Britain and West Germany and to some extent in France and tried to deliver a program which was applicable to Australian circumstances. He was undeniably Australia’s greatest social democrat.

Despite being in power for only three turbulent years (1972-75), Whitlam launched sweeping reforms of the nation’s economic, education, health and cultural affairs.

He stopped conscription, introduced free university education, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty and reduced the voting age to 18 from 21. He introduced free universal healthcare for all Australians. Without this historic reform 1 in 5 Australians would be unable to afford basic health care in hospitals and visiting physicians..

Under his leadership, the last traces of the White Australia policy designed to exclude non-white migrants were also removed, and passed the Racial Discrimination Act, ushering in a new era of multiculturalism for Australia.

He implemented free higher education, making hundreds and thousands of Australians the first in their family able to go to university. He legislated for no-fault divorce, so women could chose to leave an unhappy marriage without being financially burdened. He reopened the equal pay case, championing the rights of women to work and be fairly compensated.

He championed Aboriginal land rights, returning land to the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. He was also known for involving Australia’s Aboriginal people directly in policy making and establishing free Aboriginal legal services.

Whitlam doubled funding to the arts, introduced legislation to form the Special Broadcasting Service for migrants, and created the Australia Council for the Arts.

He was the first Western leader to visit China and make his nation’s relationship with Asia a priority. This decision and those which flowed from it have been responsible for much of Australia’s economic and trade prosperity in the years. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying praised Whitlam as an “eminent statesman” and an “old friend of the Chinese people”. The official Xinhua news agency also paid tribute to the politician as “a dear old friend” and “a great helmsman in the China-Australia relations”.

Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the Labor stalwart “a giant of his time”, and instructed flags around the country to be flown at half mast while suspending normal parliament for the day as a mark of respect.

British Labour leader Ed Miliband described him as “a truly great Labour leader and a great Australian” who “changed his country forever”. “Gough remains an inspiration to social democrats around the world,” Miliband said.

Labor supporters will hold him in their hearts in the same way that Republicans in the United States will forever adore Ronald Reagan and Democrats John Kennedy.

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