ALP NATIONAL POLICY FORUM
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014
Today is the product of a great deal of hard work by everyone here.
I’m grateful to all of you.
I thank Jenny McAllister for the leadership she has provided to the National Policy Forum (NPF).
I thank our Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek and indeed the entire Shadow Ministry for the energy, enthusiasm and intellectual rigour they have brought to this process.
I thank Michael Cooney, head of the Chifley Research Institute for the work he has done drawing together the thoughts of more than 1500 Labor Members, from 25 Member-run workshops around Australia.
Every one of you, every member of the NPF has made an outstanding contribution to what we might call ‘phase one’ of this policy process.
And I’m genuinely interested in your views, as we begin the task of turning hundreds of individual ideas into a cogent statement of Labor values.
Next Wednesday, at Sydney Town Hall – the home of so many great moments in the history of our movement – true believers will bid a fond farewell to the great Gough Whitlam.
Gough remade our party, and transformed our nation.
And his passing has caused so many of us to reflect on his legacy.
Beyond the substance of every particular reform, beyond the policy decisions of the time, Whitlam set a simple, bold ambition for his Government.
“To liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.”
A goal that is still relevant today.
A goal that will be relevant as long as there is a Labor party.
For all the soaring grandeur of his rhetoric, the electricity of his idealism – Gough Whitlam was also powerfully pragmatic.
Not a pragmatist in the sense of a particular policy – but in his realisation that Labor was not conceived as a party of protest – and we would not succeed as a party of protest.
We are a party of government – because we seek always the power to do good.
We strive to deliver a better deal and a fair go for the millions of Australians who depend upon us, who count upon Labor governments.
So today goes beyond the technical job of updating and reviewing documents – it is a moral task, renewing our ideas and our sense of moral purpose.
It is a call that every generation of Labor before us has answered.
At every turn, we have found the courage and leadership to remake ourselves.
And in doing so we have made our nation - and the Australian people - the beneficiaries of change, not its victims.
Now, in 2014, new change and new challenges are upon us.
Two retired generations living at the same time, a changing climate, a global market, a borderless world.
On our northern doorstep, the greatest economic transformation in human history is underway.
In our businesses and workplaces, new technologies have changed the way we work.
They offer greater flexibility but can reduce security.
In our streets and suburbs, we face the social problems of the 21st Century: a sense of isolation, loneliness and a loss of community.
And alongside the new problems – stand the old ones.
Teachers robbed of the resources they need.
Nurses and doctors pushed to the brink by a hospital system cut to the bone.
Indigenous Australians denied opportunity.
People with a disability seeking empowerment.
Exhausted carers receiving high praise but not necessarily high resources.
Apprentices who cannot find a start.
Older workers who fear, because of the grey in their hair, they will never find another job.
‘For Lease’ signs spreading like weeds on the main streets of country towns.
A growing army of Australians who feel as if they have lost their place in our nation.
People who feel like the system is set against them, that the Government has forgotten them, that politics lacks the capacity to speak to their daily lives.
And just at the moment when the nation’s leaders should be reaching out to these Australians, the Abbott Government is driving them away.
They are withdrawing their opportunities, undermining their hopes and discouraging their aspirations.
In doing so, they risk entrenching a forgotten generation.
Australia cannot afford this.
We cannot risk squandering our national potential through division and exclusion.
Injustice and unfairness to any Australian hurts us all.
In a time of global change, Australia cannot afford more of the same.
It is for Australia to decide – will we be swept along in the wake of the modern world, or will we lead?
Labor is ready to lead.
We should not be daunted by this task – we should not shrink from this responsibility.
We should embrace it with optimism – we should face it with ambition.
We should be optimistic for what Australia can achieve, ambitious for what our people and our nation can do.
We can overcome any challenge.
We can meet – and master – these moments.
We can still define our future.
Australia can be strong and safe in an uncertain world.
We can share in the growth and prosperity of the Asian Century.
Australia can be a hub for research, we can invest in science and innovation, we can compete for new industries and technologies.
Australia can grow.
Labor can prioritise the creation of national wealth and economic growth with greater equality.
Our economy can support jobs today and create the new jobs of tomorrow.
We can incubate start-ups and stimulate small businesses.
We can build world class schools and hospitals.
We can offer young Australians opportunity and quality in higher education.
We can give older Australians dignity in retirement.
We can do our fair share in global action against climate change – and create new jobs and prosperity through clean energy.
We can reinvigorate our regions, modernise our cities and enhance our communities.
We can close the gap and end disadvantage for Indigenous Australians.
We can succeed, we can thrive.
We can succeed as a nation that is prosperous and fair, smart and strong, diverse and united.
Indeed, that is the only way we will succeed.
So, friends, today is not about tactics for the next election.
It’s not about drawing up a plan for the defeat of the Abbott Government.
It’s about developing a vision for the Australia of 2020 and 2030.
A vision built on the lived experience of Australians: the product of community ideas and the broadest possible range of voices.
It’s a different way of doing policy – because we recognise that wisdom doesn’t emanate exclusively from this building.
Some of the crucial ideas Australian Labor needs are not to be found solely within our organisation.
We need to step outside the echo chamber of modern politics – to take the task of government to the community.
We want to work with the best experts, we want to hear from the people who know.
We are committed to an authentic national conversation, a genuine exchange of ideas.
It’s a reflection of our faith in the genius and generosity of the Australian people.
Because Australians are already organising their lives for the 21st Century.
They engage in complex transactions every day.
Managing the family budget.
Smoothing their prosperity over long life.
Raising their children, supporting their education and coaching their netball and football and soccer teams.
Attending to their health.
Enjoying a life outside work.
Starting and running small businesses.
In TAFEs and at university, learning new skills to go from what they have done to what they can do.
Paying their mortgages.
Building resilient communities – the resilience to deal with fire, flood and natural disasters.
And the resilience to cope with divorce, sudden illness, grandparents who have to become parents again because their own children succumb to drugs or worse.
That’s the resilience Labor needs to reward and nurture.
In 2014, Australians reasonably expect to see a ninth decade of life, and they manage their wealth in that expectation - saving and planning for their retirement and old age.
Our variable home loans and 28 million superannuation accounts are exposed to financial markets, we are actively engaged with the economy in a way unimaginable 20 or 30 years ago.
Labor is an internationalist forward-leaning movement, we see and seek a role for Australia in the world: in Foreign Aid, in our humanitarian intervention in Iraq, in dealing with Ebola and trade.
More Australians than ever are engaged in the world, eight million of us travel overseas every year, and more than 40 in one hundred of us have at least one parent who was born in another country.
The job for Labor is to construct a platform that speaks to the reality of Australians’ lives.
A platform as modern, confident, generous and outward-looking as the people and the nation we seek to serve.
Framing that vision requires a new chapter one – a redrafted, re-energised statement of Labor’s enduring values.
That’s exactly what this National Policy Forum process is designed to achieve.
During the first round of consultations, I know many of you were asked to complete the statement:
‘On its best day, Labor is…’
On our best day.
That’s exactly right – that’s exactly the aspiration we should bring to this process.
We should aim for chapter one to be more than just a declarative list – our goal should be to inspire, not just articulate.
We should reach for higher ground.
For an Australia that includes everyone, that helps everyone, that lets everyone be their best, that leaves no-one behind.
It is not my intention today to be prescriptive.
I’m here to invite your views, not dictate my own.
But I think that chapter one must begin with Labor’s belief in fairness.
Fairness drives prosperity, it underpins growth, it lifts living standards, it creates jobs – it gives everyone the chance to fulfil their potential.
Fairness insists upon the equal treatment of women, supporting their march through the institutions of power.
Fairness demands we care for the vulnerable, it demands we speak up for the powerless, include the marginalised and uplift the disadvantaged.
And fairness is a pact between generations.
That means opening the doors of education, from the earliest years giving every young Australian the chance to go on to a great school and onto university or training.
Fairness between generations means that Australians should not have to work hard all their lives, only to retire poor.
And fairness between generations means caring for the environment - passing on to our children a healthier national estate than the one we inherited.
That’s the higher ground I want Labor to reach for.
This is a task for all of us.
To think about what sort of party we should be on our best day.
And to make it happen.
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