Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ordered all flags to fly at half-mast as Australia mourns the passing of former prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time who inspired a legion of young people to get involved in public life, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.

Former prime minister Whitlam has died aged 98.

Mr Abbott has instructed all flags to fly at half-mast as Australia mourns his passing.

“Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time,” Mr Abbott said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

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

Mr Whitlam established diplomatic relations with China and was the first Australian leader to visit the country.

“That is an enduring legacy,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Whitlam also recognised the journey that our country needed to take with indigenous Australians.

“On this day we honour a life of service to our country.”

Flags will also fly at half-mast on the day of Mr Whitlam’s State Memorial Service.

Further details on how Australians can honour Mr Whitlam will be announced in coming days in consultation with the Whitlam family.

“On behalf of the Australian people, I extend my condolences to the Whitlam family on their loss.”