Bill's Speeches

SPEECH TO 48TH NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY - ADELAIDE - MONDAY, 17 DECEMBER 2018

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We have another big day ahead of us, another packed agenda.

I can see President Swan is already warming-up his trusty time-keeping arm.

Now, today Tanya Plibersek will be leading our discussions on Chapter 7.

That’s a policy area which goes to core of Labor DNA and the heart of every parent’s hopes for their children, and indeed what we want for all children in Australia, which is a world-class education system.

I’m really pleased that Amanda Rishworth will be moving an amendment today to the Platform to enshrine Labor’s once-in-a-generation reform to early childhood education.

Two years of preschool or kindergarten for every Australian child.

This is world’s best practice, it is Labor policy and if we form government we are going to change the lives of future generations of Australians.

Then later on, Albo and Michelle Rowland are going to talk about nation-building:

  • better public transport – and more carparks at suburban train stations
  • upgrading our ports and our airports
  • safer regional roads

The best infrastructure and the best digital infrastructure: Labor wants an NBN that actually delivers for households and for small business.

Then South Australia’s own Don Farrell will take us through Chapter 10, including Labor’s plan for a real National Integrity Commission, to rebuild trust in Commonwealth Institutions.

And a pledge for better public services, kept in public hands.
We’ve seen five years of Liberal cost-cutting, selling, outsourcing, privatising, shrinking, putting in consultants. It’s been proven time and time again, privatisation is not the solution, it is the problem.

And then we go to Chapter 9. It takes as its title Labor’s oldest promise ‘A Fair Go for All’, and there’s some pretty important issues in this chapter.

As we’ve already mentioned this morning, it includes a fairer deal for our First Nations Peoples.

And as I said yesterday, it means rescuing the National Disability Insurance Scheme from corporatisation and death-by-a-thousand-consultants.

This chapter speaks to our timeless commitment for equality for all Australians, regardless of their sexual identity, their faith or heritage.

And it also deals with that enduring Labor idea that we measure our society not by how the wealthiest and most powerful are going, but how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us.

Because we have never condoned the complacency that another Australian’s misfortune is someone else’s responsibility.

So delegates yesterday I said NewStart should lift people back into work, not punish them in poverty.

If you’re on the minimum single rate for NewStart, that’s a fraction under $40 a day.

Now not everyone is on that rate, it’s a complex system, there are lots of different payments that interact with each other.

But for a lot of jobseekers trying to survive on $40 a day – that’s not enough really for a bus ticket to get to an interview, or a presentable set of clothes or the phone credit or access to internet to look for opportunities.

We know there is dignity in work and we want every Australian who’s able to know the dignity of work to be able to do so.
But as it stands, our system makes it too hard for some people to even get to the starting line.

We understand the theory that people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But we understand that you have to own a pair of boots in order to be able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

So I can confirm and announce to this conference, that if we are elected, a Labor Government will initiate an urgent review into the inadequacy of NewStart payments – the first in a quarter of a century. We will ensure this review is completed within 18 months.

I acknowledge the work already of the conference and delegates to have us arrive at this position.

We believe in the greatness of the Australian safety net. We want to lift everyone’s aspirations up, but we are the great safety-netters of Australian politics.

We understand that every Australian has the right to good health and to a good job.

And of course delegates, Chapter 9 of our platform also deals with our policies on border security and refugees.

And whilst there will be debate over the course of the day, I wanted to take this opportunity this morning to say to all of you, I sincerely respect your right to put your arguments and make your case.

I appreciate that everyone in this room comes to this issue with a passion that is genuine and deep.

And I am sure as we did at Conference in 2015, we will engage in a constructive debate which produces the right policies for our party and more importantly for our nation.  

Delegates, my own view on this is straightforward. 

We cannot and we must not and we will not allow the criminal people smuggling syndicates to get back into business.

But let me say, it is not a crime to want to come to this country.

All of us other than our First Australians came here from somewhere else.

It is not a crime to want to come to this country. But it is a crime to exploit vulnerable people, to put them in dangerous and unsafe vessels, and have them drown at sea.

We cannot, we must not and we will not permit the re-opening of their trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings.

This requires:

  • Rigorous security, character and health assessments throughout both our humanitarian and general migration programs
  • It means pursuing regional resettlement.
  • It means turning back boats where it is safe to do so.
  • And maintaining offshore processing

But also in our party, we understand that keeping our borders secure and keeping the people smugglers out of business, should and has never meant leaving men, women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention, in sub-standard facilities and unacceptable conditions.

It has never meant allowing people’s mental and physical health to deteriorate whilst under direct or indirect Australian care. 

It has never meant fighting every step of the way against medical advice which says that more needs to be done to treat people. 

I believe that Australia can meet our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities without compromising our national security or our commitment to strong border protection.

I wonder sometimes even deep down, that some of our opponents know this to be true. That it is not one or the other - strong boarders or indefinite detention. 
  
Because after all, on the current governments watch there are 800 asylum seekers in Australia who have been transferred here, eventually for medical treatment.

That is far more than remain on either Manus or Nauru right now, this has already happened.
 
But have no doubt, that our opponents will never let the truth get in the way of the pursuit of low political advantage.

We saw that when they were in Opposition, when this current Prime Minister was the spokesman for Immigration, and the Liberals decided to team-up with the Greens political party to vote against the arrangements with Malaysia.

Never forget that over 600 people drowned on their way to Australia, after that decision.

The Liberals did not vote against the Malaysia arrangement because they thought it wouldn’t work. They voted against it because they were afraid it would work.

They decided that they would rather have the slogan, they would rather weaponise the issue, than solve the problem.

And we saw a recurrence of this behaviour again in the very last week of parliament.

The government relying on Pauline Hanson to run down the clock in the Senate rather than be seen to help a handful of sick children on Nauru get the urgent medical attention they need.

And every time you see the government Ministers on television telling lies about Labor, they are doing the dirty work of the people smugglers.

The Liberals are acting as spruikers for the criminal syndicates. Every time they get up and say that there will be a change in terms of boarder security they are signaling criminal syndicates to try their hand again.

They should be ashamed.

They know what they do and they still do it.

If we are elected, Labor will offer policies that are strong, compassionate and sustainable.

We recognise the global context.
 
Around the world, one person becomes displaced every 20 seconds
 
      Nearly 70 million people have been driven from their homes
 
      Many will not find permanent safety, the United Nations reports that in some cases there is a third generation of children being born into displacement.
 
This is an issue of a most enormous scale and complexity, no one country can hope to fix it on its own - but Australia can do better.
 
So, if elected we will look to take-up New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru by immediately negotiating an agreement on similar terms with that, that has already been negotiated with the United States.
 
And today I am pleased to announce that if elected we will commit $500 million over the next five years to support the important work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
 
This funding will directly improve orderly, regional processing and resettlement in the region and countries closer to where refugees originally come from.

This funding will speed up legitimate settlement pathways, it will deny people smugglers a product to sell.

If we are elected, I will seek the immediate advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, the Department of Home Affairs, ASIO and other relevant agencies about our state of preparedness to disrupt people smuggling operations before people depart.

A Labor Government will triple the number of Australian Federal Police Officers working overseas in co-operation with other countries, to stop the people smugglers at their source, to prevent people even contemplating getting on that unsafe vessel in the first place.

And finally delegates, along with our responsible international role where Australia should of always been, along with our commitment to strong borders, Labor will build on the proven success of the existing Community Sponsored Refugee Program.

This means: 

  • state and local governments
  • community organisations
  • businesses and unions
  • and faith-based institutions

We’ll be able to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia, and support the economic and social integration of refugees into communities.

We will seek to expand this scheme from 1000 to 5000 places, and to be clear this would be in addition to the existing humanitarian intake, not instead of it.

So we will take more refugees as part of our migration mix, we will make sure that it is a safe process.

Our approach is both more practical and more affordable.

We're not afraid of immigration in this country, immigration has been a success in this country. Skilled migration, family union and indeed refugees.

What we will do with our sensible, strong yet compassionate approach is we will ensusre that people go to where they are needed, wanted and welcome in this country in a neighbourly way.

Labor will empower local communities, country towns, business and community groups. If country towns and regions want to sponser humanitarian intake well it is not the job of the Commonwealth to get in the way.

This will make sure there is no cost to the taxpayer.
 
Our approach, Labor’s approach: strong, compassionate and sustainable.
 
I want to rekindle Australia’s reputation as a good international citizen when it comes to dealing with these complex humanitarian challenges. 
 
You can have secure borders and you can living up to our humanitarian obligations, you just require leadership in this country.

We can keep the people smugglers out of business but we will most certainly if elected, keep faith with our enduring Labor values.

Proud at home and proud overseas, confident that we can work together as a community and as a nation, listening to each other, getting this right.

Being a welcoming nation, being consistent and strong. This is the Labor mission.

I look forward to the debates today.
 
Thank you very much. 


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