I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Gough on a number of occasions.
He had sharp recall of his work to bring independence to Papua New Guinea and the personalities involved, and he retained a continuing interest in its affairs.
Gough was Australian prime minister between 1972 and 1975 before being dismissed from office in controversial circumstances that resonate to this day.
The following words are a slightly edited version from the Whitlam Institute….
The election of the Whitlam government in 1972 was a turning point in Australia’s international outlook.
Whitlam moved quickly to re-shape Australia’s foreign relations. It sought to abandon the relics of the colonialism and Australia’s hostile, fearful and suspicious stance towards its own region.
The arrival of the Whitlam government marked a new period of involvement, amity and goodwill between Australia and its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region.
Gough Whitlam was a strong advocate for decolonisation. Accordingly, he promoted self-government and eventually, full independence for Papua New Guinea.
The Australian government had administered Papua since 1906, and New Guinea since 1919.
Once the Whitlam government was elected, this commitment was swiftly implemented.
Self-government began on 1 December 1973. From that time, the functions of government were progressively transferred from the Australian government to the Papua New Guinea administration, led by chief minister and later prime minister Michael Somare.
Full independence came on 16 September 1975. In introducing legislation to the Australian parliament to grant Papua New Guinea’s independence, Whitlam remarked:
“By an extraordinary twist of history, Australia, herself once a colony, became one of the world’s last colonial powers.
“By this legislation, we not only divest ourselves of the last significant colony in the world, but we divest ourselves of our own colonial heritage.
“It should never be forgotten that in making our own former colony independent, we as Australians enhance our own independence.
“Australia was never truly free until Papua New Guinea became truly free.”