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Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam dead at 98

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Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam (right), one of the nation's most admired figures who led the country through a period of massive change, died Tuesday aged 98, his family said - PHOTO: AFP

[Sydney] Former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, one of the nation's most admired figures who led the country through a period of massive change, died Tuesday aged 98, his family said.

"Our father, Gough Whitlam, has died this morning at the age of 98," his children Antony, Nicholas, Stephen and Catherine said in a statement.

"A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians." Whitlam remained one of Australia's most towering figures despite being the country's only prime minister to be sacked, a touchstone moment in the nation's political history.

He led Labor to its first victory in 23 years at the December 1972 election on the back of the famous "It's Time" campaign before being sensationally sacked in 1975 by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.

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His dismissal was prompted by a refusal by parliament's upper house, where his Labor Party did not hold a majority, to pass a budget bill until the government agreed to call a general election.

To end the impasse, Kerr took the unprecedented step of sacking Whitlam and installing then opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister.

Despite being in power for only three turbulent years, Whitlam launched sweeping reforms of the nation's economic and cultural affairs, cementing his place as one of Australia's most revered leaders.

He stopped conscription, introduced free university education, recognised communist China, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes and reduced the voting age to 18.

His family said there would be a private cremation and a public memorial service. AFP

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