PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has paid tribute to the late Labor legend Gough Whitlam, ordering that all Australian flags are to fly at half mast today.

Mr Abbott described the 1970s Prime Minister as "a giant of his time".

"He united the Australian Labor Party, won two elections and seemed, in so many ways, larger than life," Mr Abbott said.

"In his own party, he inspired a legion of young people to get involved in public life. 

"He established diplomatic relations with China and was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China."

Mr Abbott said today was a day to honour "a life of service" that Mr Whitlam gave to Australia.

"On behalf of the Australian people, I extend my condolenced to the Whitlam family on their loss.

Statement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the passing of former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam
Statement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the passing of former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam

Mr Whitlam's chief nemesis during his time as prime minister -- then Opposition Leader and future PM Malcolm Fraser --  has described his foe and eventual friend as "a very great Australian".

"He was a formidable opponent," Mr Fraser told ABC.

Mr Fraser did not wish to dwell on the pair's differences, but focus on the late Labor leader's achievements.

"He didn't want Australia to be a subject to any other nation," he said.

"Now these were views that certainly resonated with me and I'm sure resonate with many people today.

"He had an idea of social justice, which I think was deep in the heart of the whole Parliament then, that he gave it a voice and an impact which was important."

Take a pictorial look at the life of the late Gough Whitlam:

Former PM Julia Gillard has also penned a tribute to Mr Whitlam for The Guardian, describing her diplomacy with the Chinese as being within the shadow of his work decades earlier.

She describes her final meeting with the elder statesman:

"The last time I saw Gough he was both changed and unchanged. He sat, not strode.

"The love of his life, Margaret, was gone. He would focus on a world unseen to me.

"But then, suddenly, he would be back. Concentrating on me, engaged, the cadence of that truly magnificent voice was again in my ear."

"Gough will live always in our nation, which he transformed throughout his long public life."



Gough Whitlam dead at 98 

FORMER Labor Prime Minister and Australian Labor icon Gough Whitlam has died aged 98.

His family announced this morning that he died overnight.

In a statement, they wrote:

"Our father, Gough Whitlam, has died this morning at the age of 98.

"A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians.

"There will be a private cremation and a public memorial service."

Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975.

Although he led Australia only for a short period, he brought in a swag of new programs including fee-free university education and the creation of legal-aid programs.

He also acted swiftly to end Australia's involvement in Vietnam, eliminating military conscription.


Historic: Poiticians: Gough Whitlam Gough Whitlam (left) at the Maroochy Airprt Photo Sunshine Coast Daily Archives 4 April 1972 SCANNED 29/07/03
Gough Whitlam (left) at the Maroochy Airport on the Sunshine Coast, April 4, 1972 Sunshine Coast Daily Archives


With the Opposition at the time slowing the passage of his changes, Whitlam banked on a double-dissolution election in 1974. He won, but his majority was reduced.

In late 1975, the Senate again fought the government's appropriation bills which blocked supply.

After Whitlam accused the Senate of holding the government to ransom.

The so-called crisis was resolved on November 11, 1975 when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Prime Minister and put Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in his place as a caretaker PM.

It was here that Whitlam made his historic speech on the steps of Parliament House, attacking Kerr.

Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General!

The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur.

They won't silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for the next few weeks.

Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.

Labor was routed in the following election.

In 2008, Whitlam joined three other former Prime Ministers to witness the Federal Government's apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd.

In 2010, Whitlam had been moved into an aged care home since 2007.

He was still known to head into his office three times a week.

His wife Margaret died in early 2012 after suffering a fall.