Bill's Speeches

SPEECH - NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT - NATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE, CANBERRA - TUESDAY, 20 JUNE 2017

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

I’m really glad you’ve made the time to come to Canberra – as you do annually.

I think it is a very important transfer of information from you to the national parliament.

While this is an annual catch-up, I want to make sure this is much more than a one-way conversation.

I fundamentally believe in a genuine dialogue with the local councils, local shires and local government in Australia.

There’s a lot that federal politics can learn from local government.

Our Shadow Minister for Local Government, Stephen Jones, has set the goal of meeting with every local council in Australia before the next election.

I’m not sure if he’s doing it alphabetically or geographically – but he’s working very hard.   

And I think one of the reasons why it is important we reach out and talk to local government - the level of government closest to the people - is because all of us have a challenge in our democracy, as we see elsewhere, there is a rising distrust.

Perhaps not in the individual councillor, but in the ability of individuals to change politics, and whether or not politics actually makes decisions in the interest of individuals.

There is certainly a sense in the nation that the conversations that we have in Canberra are disconnected and out of touch from the lives of ordinary Australians.

There’s a hunger in the people for a politics that is more down to earth, which more practical - less talk and just get on and do things. 

I think most Australians, if they choose to tune into Question Time, get turned off by it - the to and fro and the name-calling. 

People want a real conversation about the things which make a difference in their lives.

That’s why I was determined to speak to ALGA today because I think local government speaks to the lives of Australians in so many different ways.

You’re plugged in, you’re on the ground.

Labor values local government.

You directly employ 189,000 people.

My old union, the AWU, represents a lot of the blue-collar workers in Queensland and South Australian local government.

I've visited the depos where your staff work.

I take my family to the parks and gardens which are tended by council.

I take my 7 year old to the local Library.

I make sure that I put the bins out when I am home on a Thursday night to be sorted our and picked up.

And on the weekend when I come home, there is always a list from my wife, of things to take to the local transfer station.

I get it - I get how you intersect with people's lives.

And you deserve, as a result, more respect and certainty in the national policy debate.

That’s why we have sought to include local government in the Constitution.

The Constitution is meant to describe how this nation functions – but for 116 years, a whole level of Government has been invisible.

But as I said, every Australian sees it every day.

Fixing this omission would be a powerful message – not just about the status of local government, but the relevance of local government.

I also think it would help stop state and territory governments from rolling over the top of local governments and local communities on things like heavy handed council amalgamations.

Obviously, referendums are hard graft.

And without bipartisan support, they just don't get up.

It's always easier to argue don't change something than to include something.

So I ask you today, and I have a few, but firstly, please - by whatever various means you have - start talking to the Liberals and the Nationals about supporting future change to recognise local government.

We're up for it. I need all of your help to convince the conservatives to be up for it too.

I know that many of you are facing some tough pressures right now.

Cuts and funding freezes have forced you to make hard choices for local governments.

Those services I briefly mentioned: 

  • community care

  • library opening hours

  • waste transfer operations

those childcare and community kindergartens which are among the best.

The problem is, and the opportunity is that you’ve got to front up for these decisions, every day.

I want to put it to you though, that it’s not just proximity to your voters that makes all of you important local representatives.

I also think that local government is successful because you listen, you’re accountable.

I wouldn't want to do the work of a councillor. You have to fix everything! If there is a possum on the power line, if there is a planning development - you name it. And you’re on 24/7.

But you are in your communities.

You don’t pretend you were born with all the answers – you work with your communities.

Everything from who gets to use the local sporting pitch, the arguments and disputes - you are local arbitrators and problem fixers.

You are a shoulder for people to lean on and indeed, cry upon.  

I have always believed in the kind of leadership which comes from being with the community and within the community.

It’s why I use my time when I am not in Parliament to get out into the regions and the suburbs of Australia.

I like to do a bit of old-school politics - town-hall meetings.

You do them on street corners, you do them at your council meetings.

I've done over 50 town halls in the last year-plus. 

It's an invaluable opportunity.

A bit like council - I can't bare anyone from coming and I don't want to. 

Sometimes people bring their placards - I've seen more protest t-shirts than a farmers market.

No scripting, no vetting, no rehearsal. 

But what I do find is there is a commonality of interest. 

And I don't want to say that Blacktown is the same as Barcaldine - but there is a commonality of interest across Australia.

And I bet in your informal conversations, the dinners and the chats, whilst you all have different circumstances, you have a common threads running through the needs of your communities.

And what I see in my townhalls is the number one need for communities is jobs. 

Secure jobs, jobs which can help the young people. Jobs which help older Australians get a second chance to be able to reengage. And I think that when you talk to parents, the biggest single worry is that will their kids be able to find a job when they finish whatever form of training they're in. 

That leads me to the second priority that I see Australians talking about everywhere, it's education.

It's from those early years through to school, through to TAFE and university. 

And of course  health is always in the top three of issues – from waiting times, from the hip- replacements, to making sure you're able to see a GP and for parents juggling work and getting their kids to the doctor. 

Health is a major issue right across Australia. 

I do think what has emerged the most strongly though in recent times, and Councils bear the brunt too, is the price of energy. And we certainly think that the prices are going up. 

You see it in industry in your communities, how do we deal with climate change, how do we make sure that people have got some control over their prices?

Let me put to you that the number one challenge, the number one cause of increasing energy prices in this country is the policy paralysis around the future policy. There is paralysis. 

I for one am over the climate wars. Would I like to go in some direction? Sure. I'm sure there are Liberals that want to go in other directions. 

We need to find a place in the middle to meet, because when we don't have policy certainty then what happens is that people will not invest in new forms of energy. And if you don't get investment in new forms of energy, the prices go up and up and up.

I understand, especially when I travel through regional Australia, where there is perhaps one or two major employers in the town or in the district, that with power prices doubling this is a crisis. 

And it's not a crisis which can be sorted out by feasability study 2.0, it's a crisis which requires an end to the argument. 

Labor is up for having a serious look at this Finkel review and having a look at how a clean energy target could work. And we're calling upon the Government to stare down their opponents, and just say, let's just get on with it, because Council is the practical level of Government, you just want people to make a decision and to get on with it. 

Of course though there is also, I have to say, wherever I go, frustration about the NBN. 

The NBN is a great idea, but if you put inferior technology into it then what is going to happen is what we're seeing. And the change over – people are getting very frustrated about the lack of quality internet. 

Too many suburbs and towns have been short changed by the promise of NBN not matching the reality of NBN.

And there are still too many regional communities dealing with poor landline service or mobile black spots. This country is smart enough to sort those issues out. 

The added value I get from talking at my town hall meetings is that I always go out and meet with the local councils. And sure, Councils can get a bad wrap, periodically in the local media. But when you want to go out and find out what the economic and community heart beat of a district is, I have never been more impressed than when I meet with the council economic planners.

Now when I go out and talk around the country, if you want to know what the priorities of the district in the region are, councils have their finger on the pulse. And I'm being quite selfish. This saves me a lot of work when I see a well formed council plan and a set of priorities. 

I'll give you some examples of how relevant council can be, not that you need them, but it's worth repeating.

After Cyclone Debbie I visited the flooding in the areas from Proserpine to Airlie Beach, Bowen twice, and I went to Rocky.

It's the councils and the council workers who are providing that on the ground leadership, especially in the weeks after the emergency services had legitimately moved on, and people sort of hit that psychological slump. And I saw it in the bush fires in Victoria and I've seen it in floods elsewhere. 

You know, the first couple of weeks, everyone pulls in together. But then after a while the long rebuild stretches out in front of families and businesses, and it is councils who go the distances with those communities.

You know in Rocky for example, everywhere I went, clear message from the Regional Council down – South Rocky needed a flood levee. 

Just a 7.2km embankment to protect around 1500 properties. 

The need for a levee was first identified decades ago. Modelled again in 2011, modelled again in 2014. 

You know with anything like this, there's always two points of view, or twenty, about how you handle a flood. But what I see is that the council had a clear view, and that's why Labor is prepared to back it.

The Queensland State Government has put up $25 million, local council will fund $10 million – but they need another $25 million in the Commonwealth. And I said we'd do it. 

The Government though, has said they want to build a $200 million dollar dam somewhere else. 

Sometimes the problem doesn't have to be as complicated, sometimes the solution is as straight forward as what you know is necessary. 

Now again, I saw it for example in Nowra down in Shoalhaven.

Massive traffic congestion down there. 

The council explained to me very clearly, I heard it from the locals in the town hall meeting.

How about just a new concrete bridge in Shoalhaven?

The current bridge, in its form, has been there for 130 years, but now 50,000 vehicles are using it.

The congestion is actually holding Nowra back. 

Council was able to make a very clear case to us and that's why I have announced that we will find some of the money necessary, not for another study, but to actually start building the third crossing so that we can make sure that the Shoalhaven gets that economic boost.

Councils, in my experience, know what needs to be done. And they don't want more talk from Canberra, they want action. 

Both of these cases, from the Rocky levee to the crossing at the Shoalhaven, they've shown me that if we listen we can get things done.

And what it also shows is that if the Liberal party chose to copy these ideas tomorrow, that's fine by me. 

We don't always need to wait for an election to get a promise. 

We don't always have to wait for the politics to take over the practical. 

Councils have a very good idea of what needs to be done and we are up for hearing your ideas. 

And we live in an interesting time. I want to give you the example of the Townsville Stadium. 

Now some people say that there shouldn't be a Townsville Stadium, and I was convinced of the case by the Townsville Council that there should be a stadium. 

We announced, at the end of 2015, that we would find $100 million dollars to support the Queensland Government, the Council to build the stadium.

It's good for league, it's good for the Cowboys, it's good for tourism in the town. 

Now eventually the Government, who said it wasn't necessary, two weeks before the election was actually held they gave in and decided to support it. 

Now I'm cool with that because frankly Townsville is the winner.

And I think that this is the way that you have got an opportunity to do politics. 

 

We live in a more competitive era in this term of government and opposition. Labor is competitive. I don't put our chances any higher than that, but I don't put them any less than that.

And when the tension between opposition and government works best is when the opposition sets the agenda and the government feels inclined to match it. And you know what that means, it is good for you.

Because when all of a sudden it isn't a one sided game, when it is competitive as it is now, it means that if you can persuade one side of politics to advance on an idea, that chances are the other side will look at it carefully. 

You are all shrewd politicians, you understand exactly the mathematical equation I'm outlining.

So today, what I want to ask every council here – is start thinking about your top three local infrastructure projects. 

I haven't met a council that doesn't have 30 by the way, I get that, but I'm suggesting three. 

The best projects for:

• Creating jobs and boosting productivity 

• For easing congestion, helping business

• Building better amenity and community

And when you meet with me, or you meet with Stephen Jones, or Joel Fitzgibbon or Anthony Albanese, or with your local Labor member or candidate – we want to hear your ideas, have that list ready to go.

My experience of council is that you have projects ready to go, you've had projects ready to go for years. I have never met a council that didn't have three ideas. 

What I want to do is use the current political dynamic in the interest of the community and in the interest of local government. 

I had a great meeting up in Emerald. And they explained to me up there, they have a proposal for an inland port facility, and it seemed to make a lot of sense to me. 

When I met with the Geelong councils, there are five or six of them there, they said a convention centre in Geelong is a way to boost tourism for the whole district. It’s events- based. It's the way you get people into the area. 

They are both working up their business cases and they've got them ready to go. 

I use those as examples because even though you might have 30 ideas, the Labor Party is formally inviting you today to put forward your three top projects, from the big councils to the little councils. 

I'd like your top three ideas. So I'm inviting you to send to these ideas to localideas@australianlabor.com.au.

Why don't we turn Australian politics into a competition of ideas? 

Why don't we turn Australian politics into who has got the best ideas for the people?

Sure they can run their negative slogans and we can run ours, and you know that's all part of the political game, analysing each other.

What I'm interested in doing is fighting the next election on the grounds of who has the best ideas. And I'm sitting in a room of people and councils and communities who have the best ideas. 

I am hungry for this country, I am hungry for your ideas. It is your ideas that generate jobs, productivity, amenity, community. 

You know what needs to be done. And what I want to do is break the ideas logjam. I'm not having a giant feasibility study. I'm just asking you to share the work you've already done and we want to construct a way you can put that to us. 

My team, and I've mentioned them, we do talk to you, you know we get around, we're interested. 

We are interested in what a Federal Labor Government can deliver for every single community, every postcode. 

We talk in Labor about tackling inequality. We think that the share that the workers are getting in this country is declining. 

Since 1959 we've now got the lowest proportion of GDP going to wages, compared to other parts of the economy, including profits. 

We want a profitable Australia but we want an Australia where people are getting their fair share. So we are most committed to tackling inequality, but we want to tackle inequality not just through income, but we want to tackle inequality which is gender-based. 

We want women in this country to be treated the same as men. 

If this country did nothing else but treat women the same as men, we would be the richest country in the world. 

Let me be clear - if we treat women the equal of men there is nothing holding this country back from being the most successful nation. 

So income inequality is on our to-do list, that's what drives me, that's what drives us.

Gender inequality drives us, because we think that when women don't get an equal go then whole country lets itself down. 

But I'll tell you something else that drives us – regional inequality.

I am deeply dissatisfied and unhappy that in my home area of the western suburbs of Melbourne, we have worse health outcomes than other parts of Melbourne.

I am deeply dissatisfied that a kid from a country town can't get access to TAFE or university in the manner in which a child from the big city can.

I understand that regional inequality is as much an affront to the Australian sense of fair go as any other sort of inequality.

But I believe in effective, respectful partnership between federal governments and local governments is one of the best weapons against regional inequality. 

It is one of the best weapons against income inequality. 

I have no doubt that if we provide better community-based services than we enable more women to participate more meaningfully in the economy. 

So today I just want to extend an invitation to you.

The Australian people want more from our political system.

I do not believe the system is broken, but I do believe that there is great distrust and cynicism. 

You have ideas which, if we can utilise at the national level, will not only improve the quality, will not only improve livability, community, amenity, but we will also be able to tackle inequality. 

I am hungry and ambitious for this nation. And if I have the opportunity to be able to get your best ideas, as I do when I meet with many of you, but if I can get your best ideas and my party can get your best ideas, then together we will be a formidable partnership for the progress of Australia. And surely that is something we all have in common. 

Thank you very much.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.