Bill's Speeches










I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

Last November, before a Sydney Town Hall packed with true believers, the great Graham Freudenberg said:

“The Whitlam touch is on us all.  

He touches us in our day-to-day lives, in the way we think about Australia, in the way we see the world. 

He touches still the millions who share his vision for a more equal Australia. 

A more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia.  

And a nation confident of its future in our region and the world.”

Friends, it is an honour to be with you tonight to pay tribute to the work and words of Gough Whitlam.

A hero of our party and our country.

My thanks to Stuart Whitman and Alexandria and Vanessa Langford organising this new tradition.

And to Race Matthews for his invitation and introduction.

Race, you were there, when it was time.

You were at the centre of the hope and heartbreak of those thousand days of ‘certain grandeur’.

When Gough Whitlam passed away last year, it was a Tuesday of a Parliamentary sitting week.

We met as a Labor Caucus to hear John Faulkner pay tribute to his dear friend, and there were tears.

For many in that room, Gough was more than a name from the history books, he was a mentor, friend, counsellor and confidante – as well as the best branch meeting fundraiser of all time.

There was laughter too, as we recalled Gough’s legendary wit – razor sharp and tinder dry.

For all Australians – but especially for us as Labor people – the days following Gough’s passing brought on this same mix of emotions.

Sadness and joy, contemplation and celebration.

A time to salute everything Gough achieved, and stood for.

And a time for Labor people to acknowledge Gough as the greatest leader of our party.

I’m not here to judge his time as Prime Minister, but rather to say that Gough took Labor from losing to winning.

Gough got the Labor party performing.

This is what I want to reflect on tonight.

What did Gough stand for?

What did Whitlam mean to Australians?

Gough’s great objective was:

‘to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.’ 

This was what he stood for, it drove his:

- Pursuit of universal healthcare

- His investment in education

- His support for reconciliation

- His faith in an independent Australian identity, an influence in the region and the world

Gough gave people hope.

He built things, he built values.

He should be measured by the things he accomplished that are still in existence.

Achievements we cannot imagine Australia without.

But if we want to be more than curators in the Labor museum…or taxidermists of a tradition long gone…

…if we want to do more than polish the trophies of our past success…

Then we need to be constantly modernising, evolving and updating our means and methods.

And we need to think, always, of how we can be a bigger, broader, more inclusive party for a bigger, broader, more inclusive Australia.

A Labor party as open, democratic, outward-looking and confident as the nation we seek to serve.

An organisation where your membership entitles you to a genuine, empowered say in our future direction.

This means rebuilding as a membership-based party, not a faction-based party.

A party engaged with the community, part of the local conversation and representative of local concerns.

A Labor party where more members, are more involved, more often.

This was a passion of Gough Whitlam’s.

And I know it’s a cause many of you in Local Labor have dedicated yourselves to.

This year’s National Conference provides us with a historic chance to rebuild our party.

I don’t underestimate the scale or the scope of the challenge before us.

We will all have to make sacrifices and be prepared to compromise.

Because no-one is immune from self-interest, or factional considerations here.

Everyone, on every side, will have to give some ground.

As you all appreciate, changing our rules and structures is a slow and complex exercise.

In honour of Gough, a lover of the classics, we might even describe it as ‘herculean’.

We are a democratic movement of strong passions and deep convictions.

Five good Labor people can hold five different opinions on one rule change…sometimes all in the same branch meeting.

Despite this, in the last year we have made good progress.

Our membership is higher than it has been since the early 1990s – but I want it to be even higher and more diverse.

In 2010, Federal Labor had an online network of 30,000 people, almost all of them party members.

Between them, they contributed $70,000 to the election campaign that year.

By 2013, our network had grown to 250,000 people – who contributed $1 million.

This was the biggest single financial contribution to Labor’s campaign: bigger than any union or company.

Today, our network is 450,000 strong.

I want more of these contributors to join us as members.

I want us to speak to, and for, new Labormembers from every field: small business people, farmers, working women, students and self-funded retirees.

This begins with making it easier to join our party.

30 years ago, it took me almost a year to join the ALP.

You all know those stories…forms went back and forth…Johnno at headquarters lost the carbon paper…etc

The problem is, this was still happening - 30 years later.

In a world where we can use our phones to book flights and accommodation, do our banking and check the weather…

…we’re not going to convince anyone that a couple of pieces of paper take months to process.

In the last year, we’ve changed this.

Now, every State and Territory branch has a one-click, online joining process.

And when people do join, we’re giving them more of a say: in choosing representatives and shaping policies.

In New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tassie, pre-selections for the House of Representatives are determined in full by party members.

In Queensland, branch involvement in pre-selections has gone up and I expect Victoria to increase the balance of rank and file members too.

And we’ve ended the constant resort to National Executive to decide Federal pre-selections.

There has not been a single intervention in a pre-selection ballot since 2013.

And more and more of our members will be able to vote for their State or Territory Labor leader in future ballots.

There is – undoubtedly - more work for us to do, more progress to pursue.

I had the privilege of serving the AWU for many years – and it is a privilege, representing working people.

I will always be proud to be a member of a union.

I will always value the work unions do, on behalf of millions of hard-working Australians and their families.

In 2015, I believe Labor should encourage more union members to join the party directly.

And it should no longer be compulsory for Labor members to be a member of a union.

We can send a message to entrepreneurs, the self-employed, contractors, retirees…

We can make it plain that modern Labor is not the political arm of anything but the Australian people.


The work of rebuilding and reforming Labor is always important…but it is not a transformation that happens in a vacuum.

We can’t allow this to be an exclusive, internal conversation…a closed loop ofLabor talking to itself, about itself

Instead we must seek to renew and rebuild with one objective above all in mind: serving Australians as their government.

This is the modern meaning of the Whitlam words: Party. Policy. People.

These are the objectives we pursue.

Not in isolation, or strict sequence – but simultaneously.

Updating our policies and our procedures – always, always, with the Australian people in mind.

Because our success as a political party won’t just depend on having the right rules, it’s about having the right policiesand standing for the right principles.

Connecting with people and reflecting their priorities.

An empowered, united, renewed Laborparty…and a genuine, positive alternative government.

Gough Whitlam knew this.

He knew this when he told a wary, if not hostile, crowd at Labor’s Victorian Conference:

We are in reality two parties, the LaborParty for men…

and the Labor assistants, stall attendees, tea makers and social club activities for Labor women. 

We cannot claim to be a Labor party until we are a Labor party equally for men and women. 

When we remember Joan Kirner, when we salute Julia Gillard.

And when we look at this generation of remarkable Labor women: TanyaPlibersek, Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin,Catherine King and Kate Ellis…(and that’s just the women in the Shadow Cabinet)…we know how right Gough was.

Now it falls to us, to you and me, to continue to fight for the equal treatment of women in our society – and our party.

I am committed to affirmative action and I want this to be a cause that all of us share.

Our current affirmative action rules were adopted in 1994.

And I think it is time for National Conference to consider: are we are doing enough to encourage Australian women to participate in all levels of politics?

This responsibility reaches beyond our party.

We must close the gender gap: in pay andin superannuation, in leadership and in opportunity.

Helping working women balance their family responsibilities and their career, by supporting paid parental leave and supporting better childcare.

Not demonising new mothers as ‘double-dippers’, ‘frauds’ and ‘rorters’, or lowering a new glass ceiling into every workplace by attacking pay and conditions.

Our whole nation benefits from the march of women through the institutions of our society.

If we can boost the numbers of women in work by 25 per cent, in the next ten years, that’s 300,000 new jobs in the economy.

And the equal treatment of women demands we accept nothing less than the complete elimination of family violencefrom our national life.

Because every woman has the right to be safe in her home.

Friends, our long, proud Labor story is a relay race across the generations, passing the baton of change and progress.

Building on the broad foundation laid by those who’ve gone before us and leaving a marker for those yet to come.

From Medibank to Medicare and on to the NDIS.

Land rights, native title, the Apology and Closing the Gap.

Gough saved the Great Barrier Reef from oil-drilling – and we must save it from climate change.

Whitlam decriminalised homosexuality in the Commonwealth territories, four decades on we seek to make marriage equality, a reality.

The Whitlam government opened the door to university education for a generation and so far, we have successfully defeatedChristopher Pyne’s plan for $100,000 degrees according to the same Laborprinciple.

And that Labor principle is this: auniversity education should always be an opportunity earned through hard work, not a privilege conferred by your parents’ wealth.


I wanted to leave you tonight with some very interesting focus group research which I recently came across.

Focus groups, as you may know, invite people to free-associate on the positives and negatives of a particular party, leader, policy or personality.

So for example, under the heading: “What stops people voting Labor?” we have the following quotes about leadership:

‘Ignoring questions and evasion’ 

‘Talks in qualifiers too much’ 

‘Always knocking the government’ 

‘Not rugged or manly’

And the Labor party itself?

‘A bit old-fashioned’

Now before you jump to any conclusions…I want to tell you the most interesting thing about this research – the date at the top.

December, 1971.

Less than a year later, Gough stood at the podium in Blacktown and askedAustralians to choose… “between the habits and fears of the past and the hopes and demands of the future.” 

Hope won the day.

Friends, there will always be those who run us down, who write us off, who say the sun has set on the best days of Labor.

But the choice between hope and fear, between the future and the past, endures.

It’s the choice Labor will ask Australians to make at the next election.

Whitlam made mistakes – but he built things, he built values.

I’m unashamedly a Whitlam…and a Hawke…and a Keating admirer.

And again, at the next election, I believe Labor can give Australians a sense of hope about their future.

I and Labor have a philosophical framework from which our ideas spring.

Labor will grow our economy, and boost our living standards by policies which:

- Open Australia to the world

- Smooth the transition from the mining boom to other industries, to the regions and our cities.

- Deliver higher levels of productivity

- Support a true, decent, generoussafety net, delivering social justicefor all.

This is a Labor framework.

And everything we do can be judged against this framework.

We will offer Australians more than a reason to vote against the government.

We will present a vision people can proudly vote for, and own.

A growing, competitive economy, independent in the world.

Quality education, universal healthcare, opportunity in jobs, security in retirement and equality for women.

Australians, when they look in the mirror, want to see a nation which is honest, generous – and not too stuffy.

Australians want to see a smart, modern and fair Australia.

And that is what we will deliver for them at the next election.

Thank you