Bill's Speeches

NATIONAL POLICY FORUM

NATIONAL POLICY FORUM

UNIONS NSW AUDITORIUM, SYDNEY

MONDAY, 20 APRIL 2015

 

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** ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS OMITTED **

It’s great to be with all of you again, here in this historic building.
Forty-one years ago Gough Whitlam stood here and said of our Liberal-National opponents:
“For the life of me, I can’t decide whether they are worse in opposition or worse in government…”
Tony Abbott has made the answer abundantly clear.
In opposition he was a nuisance for our party, in government he is a disaster for our country.
Of course, we’re not here to talk about the Government’s failures and missteps…two days probably wouldn’t be long enough.
Instead, this forum is another important step in crafting Labor’s positive vision for the future.
We won’t go to the next election with the three-word slogan: ‘Not Tony Abbott’.
We are determined to offer the Australian people much more than an itemised list of Liberal lies.
We will put forward a positive, alternative plan for the Australia of 2025 and 2050.
I said that in 2015, Labor would be defined by the power of our ideas.
Our opponents have taken to levelling this at me as some kind of insult – well, good luck to them.
I’m proud to lead a party that believes in ideas.
I’m proud we are a party with principles and policy ambition.
I’m proud of our commitment to developing and testing the best solutions, in partnership with leading experts.
And in the last 18 months, at every turn, by our actions we have made it crystal clear what we stand for.
We stood against the GP tax, because we stand for Medicare.
We stood against cuts to the pension, because we stand for dignity and security in retirement.
We stood against $100,000 degrees, because we stand for universities that reward students’ hard work and good marks, not their parents’ wealth.
We stood against paying big polluters to pollute, because we’re for real action on climate change.
And we’ve been working on proposals of our own.
We’ve put forward a costed and tested plan to close tax loopholes and crack down on profit-shifting to make sure that multinational companies pay their fair share.
A reasonable, equitable revenue measure, raising more than $7 billion over the next decade.
We’ve called for a national crisis summit on family violence, and promised to convene one within our first 100 days, as part of our determination to ensure every Australian woman is safe in her home, not at the mercy of a postcode lottery of uncertain support.
We’ve offered a constructive proposal for building the next generation of submarines here in Australia - an investment in our national security and our high-skill manufacturing sector.
We’ve offered a way forward for our renewable energy sector –providing certainty for investment and jobs in an industry where we should be using our natural and competitive advantages.
We’ve worked co-operatively on national security, striking the right balance between the liberty of the individual and the safety of our people.
We’ve urged faster progress on Constitutional Recognition for the first Australians, including a national gathering of Indigenous leaders to build consensus for change.
And we have committed to a new community-centred focus on reducing Aboriginal incarceration, including a new justice target in Closing the Gap.
These aren’t half-baked slogans or empty thought bubbles – they are genuine, concrete and constructive propositions.
Proof that Labor is determined to be part of the solution.
I can assure you, we will have much more to say in the weeks and months ahead – and this National Policy Forum will help shape this discussion.
So today, at our third full meeting, I offer you a vote of thanks – and a word of warning.
Thank you, all of you, for the effort and intellectual energy you have brought to this process.
I know I speak for our President Jenny McAllister, our Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek and my colleagues in the Shadow Ministry and Caucus - when I say we are truly grateful for your ideas, and your enthusiasm.
But be warned, we’re going to ask you to do plenty more work in the next two days - and in the weeks and months ahead.
Since you’re all here as volunteers, I’m happy to promise you double-time.
Last time we met, in our Labor Caucus room in Canberra, I said we had reached the end of ‘phase one’.
Today, as we gather to review the first consultation draft of our national platform, we arrive at another important milestone on the road to national conference.
The term ‘consultation draft’ is a bit too bureaucratic for my taste, but what it represents is important.
This isn’t a forum governed by fait accompli - and my colleagues and I don’t imagine that we’ve come to hand down commandments carved on stone tablets.
I said this would be Labor party where your membership entitled you to more of a say, and I meant it.
We stand here ready for your suggestions, changes and improvements.
But it also means we will all have to make compromises over the coming days.
We can’t expect unanimous line-by-line consensus on every semi-colon and sub-clause.
Everyone, on every side, is going to have to give some ground.
This is healthy, this is how it should be.
Our democracy isn’t defined by concurrence, and we shouldn’t be afraid of creative tension and constructive friction.
We will end up with a better and stronger platform if it is forged in the crucible of robust exchange.
In that spirit, I’ve come here to outline chapter one – a statement of Labor’s enduring values.
I hope this can stand as a clear and concise statement of who we are on our best day.
I hope that new members, and life members, can look at chapter one and see where we have been and where we are going.
And I hope that we can draw from this chapter the sense that Labor’s future can be every bit as powerful as our past.
The belief that our activism, our advocacy and our reforming energy can define the 21st Century just as much as the giants of our movement defined the 20th.
This begins with Labor’s vision for the modern economy.
We live in the world’s 12th largest economy, in the world’s fastest growing region.
And, as the biggest mining investment boom in our history draws to a close, we face the challenges of a new era.
An era that will be defined by digital disruption and innovation, clean energy industries and demographic change, equality for women and the rise of services.
Rising to these challenges, answering these questions, seizing this moment, defining our future on our terms demands a new approach.
A new plan for a smart, modern and fair Australia.
An Australia driven by a Labor party working with business, unions and community groups to build an economy and a society that rewards people for their ideas, their effort and their industry.
A strong economy, where people don’t get left behind.
A pragmatic, not dogmatic, approach to driving prosperity.
Unfettered ideology will always be the enemy of reform.
Ideology makes governments brittle when they should be flexible, it makes leaders stubborn instead of strong.
The example of last year’s Budget – the most extreme in living memory – looms large.
For decades, Labor has understood the balance between the contribution of markets and the role of government.
We will always be a party committed to the fair distribution of wealth – but modern Labor also embraces responsibility for creating wealth.
We know that sometimes governments create markets, sometimes they build institutions, sometimes they underwrite stability and sometimes their role is to release assets to allow for better competition and more opportunity.
This is a sensible, real-world position, a view that weighs economic decisions on their merits.
And I believe chapter one should reflect this.
But acknowledging the limitations on government power in the modern world…recognising that not every policy lever still responds to our touch…doesn’t mean walking away from planning for the future, or letting the market dictate our every move.
We will never be a party that says everything is safe in invisible hands.
Instead, in an era with fewer levers at our disposal, it becomes more important than ever for good governments to allocate their resources and apply their power selectively and strategically.
And in 2015, when the most profound economic transformation in world history is occurring on our doorstep, when the world’s economic centre of gravity is moving our way…this is a time that demands a government focused on the future.
A government determined to see Australia get smarter, not poorer.
Preparing for the future means guaranteeing world class education, for every Australian child.
Equipping every Australian with the skills to adapt and succeed in a rapidly-changing environment, to train and retrain throughout their working lives.
Nothing builds self-respect and self-worth like a good job, a job with some sense of security and fair pay.
And nothing matters more than creating the jobs of the future, jobs for our children.
This depends upon building a learning society, committed to lifelong education.
Reimagining Australia as an invention nation, an innovation nation, investing in science to drive new breakthroughs and discoveries in every field and industry.
And nourishing the arts, nurturing our people’s creativity and adding new layers to our nation’s spirit.
Labor’s faith in fairness will always be at the heart of our plans for prosperity.
I notice Joe Hockey has started using the word ‘fair’ a lot more in the lead-up to this year’s Budget – always with a great expression of concentration and no evidence of sincerity.
Mind you, ‘fair’ is a hard word to say when you’re chomping on a cigar.
The fair go will always be a foreign notion to the Liberals – and the language of fairness will always be an unfamiliar dialect.
For us, in modern Labor, fairness is more than a caring arm outstretched to those felled by the shafts of fate.
It is the operating principle for a thriving economy, the key to inclusive growth.
Fairness is never, never a matter of dragging everyone down to some kind of equality of mediocrity.
It is about lifting everyone up, gathering people in from the margins, extending opportunity to make prosperity work for everyone.
Fairness is supporting the march of women through the institutions of power, delivering true gender equality: in opportunity, in pay, in leadership and in the complete elimination of family violence.
Fairness is closing the gap between giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people equal opportunity to get a great education, a fulfilling job, raise healthy children and live a long life full of quality and meaning.
Fairness is dignity and security in retirement for Australians who’ve worked hard all their lives, raised children and built our communities.
Fairness is saving the Great Barrier Reef, conserving old-growth forests and taking real action on climate change, passing on to the next generation a national environment in better shape than the one we inherited.
Fairness is an Australia where farmers, agriculture and the communities in our regions and can thrive, not just survive.
Fairness is an Australia Republic, a place where every citizen, no matter how humble their origins, can aspire to be head of state.
Fairness celebrates the miracle of multiculturalism, it is an Australia where people of all faiths and traditions are respected, valued, welcome and equal.
And fairness is not a narrow, nationalist notion.
Fairness makes us good international citizens, seeking a positive role for Australia in the world, promoting peace and helping the vulnerable.
Fairness is an Australia strong in the world and secure at home, supporting the dedicated, brave professionals of our defence force and security agencies who keep us all safe.
Fairness is who we are, it is why we are Labor.
Chapter one also, rightly offers respectful tribute to the words and deeds of former Labor Prime Ministers and the governments they led.
We revere our Labor history, we venerate our legends – we always will.
We take pride in our place as Australia’s oldest political party.
We draw inspiration from the struggles and triumphs of those who have gone before us.
We will never forget that when a strong minimum wage and a fair day’s work were radical notions, Labor made them universal rights.
Or when half a million Australians came home from serving their nation in war, Labor built the economy that gave them good jobs.
Where once Australia looked only inward, Labor offered a home to migrants whose cultures and traditions enrich us still.
University education was a privilege decided by wealth, until Labor made it an opportunity earned on merit.
For hundreds of thousands of families, sudden illness or injury meant poverty, until Labor built Medicare.
Millions of Australians worked hard all their lives and yet retired poor, until Labor created universal superannuation.
Our nation’s failure to face the dark shadow of our history diminished us all, until Labor said Sorry.
Australians with disability were exiled to a second class life in their own country, their elderly parents wracked by the sleepless midnight anxiety of wondering who would care for their child when they no longer could…until Labor delivered the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
This is a legacy unmatched.
But we are not the prisoners of our past.
We are not captive to tradition.
We can learn the lessons of history - we have and we should.
But what separates us from our opponents is that we want to be more than curators in a policy museum or taxidermists of an extinct tradition.
Our duty is to go beyond echoing and imitating, re-litigating and repeating.
We are here to define the future – of our party and our nation.
To articulate to Australians what 2025 and 2050 will look like.
Labor has always found the courage to reinvent itself, to change.
To stop and ask: is there a fairer way to build a better society?
Are we doing everything we can to prepare our people for what the future holds?
This is what drives us, it always has, it will again.
Fairness will never be a vague notion for us– it is our bugle call, it is Labor’s ‘collective memory in action’, it is a good society on the march.
It is where Labor has been, and where we are going.
It is what we have built, and what we will build.
It is our proudest monument and our best blueprint for the future.
Fairness is Labor’s Australia, writ large.
An Australia that includes everyone, helps everyone, lets everyone be their best and leaves no-one behind.
This is the great objective we share, it is the success we will achieve, together.

ENDS

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