Gough Whitlam has been remembered as a great Labor leader, mentor, policy-maker and local member of parliament.

Labor has remembered Gough Whitlam as a giant of his time who reimagined Australia as a confident, modern and multicultural nation.

Mr Whitlam, who has died in Sydney aged 98, led the ALP from 1967 to 1977 including a tumultuous three years as prime minister from 1972-75.

Labor leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to Mr Whitlam in a speech to the caucus in Canberra on Tuesday and a condolence address to parliament later in the day.

“Gough Whitlam was a man for the ages and a giant of his time,” Mr Shorten said.

“Gough reimagined Australia, our home, as a confident, prosperous, modern and multicultural nation, where opportunity belonged to everyone.”

The Whitlam legacy included historic improvements to education, health care, Aboriginal land rights and Australia’s relationship with Asia.

Forging a new ALP was also a key focus of the former leader, who drew the party out of its “narrow, quarrelsome, partisan divisions into an inclusive social democracy”.

Mr Shorten recalled talking to Mr Whitlam on his 83rd birthday about death and dying.

“You can be sure of one thing,” the octogenarian said of the prospects of meeting God.

“I shall treat Him as an equal.”

Labor veteran John Faulkner told the caucus, in a speech he described as the hardest he had ever made, that his friend and mentor was a “courageous, resilient and determined” leader.

“My first election campaign as a very active young party member was in 1972, when 23 years of conservative government was swept away, and of course, `It’s Time’ became part of our language,” Senator Faulkner said.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Whitlam had a significant commitment to women, embodied in his remarkable relationship with wife Margaret who died in 2012.

“They loved each other very deeply and each of them made an enormous commitment to service to all Australians,” she said.

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke recalled a Chinese official asking him during a visit to Shanghai to pass on regards to Mr Whitlam.

“That man changed my life,” the official had said.

During the cultural revolution he had been sent to a “re-education” facility because he could speak English.

But years later he was called on by the Chinese government to be an interpreter for Mr Whitlam’s landmark visit to China.

“The impact of Gough Whitlam hasn’t just ricocheted around this parliament and around this nation, it’s ricocheted around the world,” Mr Burke said.

Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen spoke of Mr Whitlam’s role as a local MP in western Sydney who understood the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

He recalled what the late Neville Wran said: “It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble. It will be said of Gough Whitlam that he found the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane unsewered and left them fully flushed.”