Bill's Speeches




7 MARCH 2014


We all know the Whitlam words:

The party, the platform, the people.

Today we start to bring together the first and second elements – to capture the imagination of the third.

I know that to return to government, Labor needs new policy ideas.

We won’t win the 2016 election with the policies of 2013.

We can’t sit back and hope that the cruel cuts of Liberal Governments will deliver us an electoral dividend.

We need to offer a positive alternative vision.

This vision has to be the product of consultation and consensus.

All of us have a voice in this forum – a voice that will be heard.

But when we arrive at a consensus, when we reach a policy position, we have an obligation to speak with one voice.

Shadow Ministers, Caucus members, rank and file members, trade unions and party organisations alike.

When our policy is agreed, all of us must lock in behind it.

I don’t want the papers to be writing about our differences – I want them to be writing about our ideas and our policies.

I want them to be writing about the differences between us and the conservatives.

About how we’re looking out for working people and they’re looking after vested interests.

Let all of us agree - the days of disunity are done.

Throughout my life, I have always sought out mentors and role models and drawn on the advice of experts and leaders.

I know no-one has a monopoly on good ideas.

As Labor leader I want to draw on the best ideas and the most innovative thinking.

We need to take hard evidence, the strongest science – and combine it with the Labor values that all of us believe in.

The challenge ahead of us is significant.

To win the next election, we need to change half-a-million minds.

This means regaining the trust of people who have voted for us in the past, but did not vote for us in 2013.
It also means reaching out to new constituencies.

People the Coalition have forgotten, or taken for granted.

I want Labor to be the party of small business and entrepreneurs.

I want us to be the party for farmers – people who know the danger of climate change better than anyone.

I want science to be a first-order political issue.

Above all I want us to re-engage with people who are cynical and disillusioned about politics.

People who no longer believe that the political system works for them.

People who have lost faith in government as an agent of change and a driver of social good.

I think this process begins by demonstrating a willingness to listen – and a determination to lead.

This time last week, Jenny Macklin announced that Labor is bringing together social policy experts, economists, academics and business and union leaders to help re-design Australia’s social welfare system.

Since the very first years of Federation, Australia’s social welfare system has led the world.

This review will allow us to give new thought to the problems of our 21st century society.

I want us to think about helping people deal with loneliness, a loss of community and rising levels of mental illness and exclusion.

I want us to take a new look at supporting people into work, many of whom have never been in the workforce before.

I believe we need to re-examine the support we provide to the increasing number of people with insecure and casualised jobs, and put a new focus on preparing people for the jobs of the future.

We need a system with the flexibility to help the modern Australian and the modern Australian family.

The only time our opponents talk about social welfare, is when they’re planning to cut it.

The only time our opponents talk about family is when someone like Kevin Andrews or Cory Bernardi sets off on a new social engineering frolic.

Only Labor believes in reforming Australia’s social wage with compassion and fairness.

Only Labor knows that it doesn’t matter if you’re a nuclear family, or a blended family - what matters is giving children the love and support and security they need.

This is just one example of the policy work I want us to do in 2014.
It’s also an example of the model I want us to adopt – a consultative, consensus process.

A model that gives Labor the vision, the ideas, the policy that will engage the Australian people and inspire their support.

Our task goes beyond regaining the faith of the true believers.

It’s about building a bigger tent.

It’s about being a modern party, a party that reflects modern Australia.

I think that starts with party membership.

In 2014 Labor has 44,000 members – we should have 100,000.

This Wednesday, it was exactly 29 years since I joined the Labor party – it would have been 30, but back then it took me a year to go through the various membership processes.

Three decades later, it is still too hard for people to become a party member.

In a world where people can vote, sign petitions and advocate causes every day with the click of a mouse, it shouldn’t be so hard to join the Labor party.

Our membership processes need to match the reality of the modern world.

I believe if you’re willing to go online and donate money to our cause – we should embrace you.

233,000 people were on the ALP e-mail list in 2013 – we should be getting them onto our membership rolls.

Every branch in every state could do with new voices, new perspectives, new people.

Every member of the Labor party is a voice for our cause.

Their persuasive power lies in the fact that they’re not some talking-head on TV, they’re a family member, a friend, a colleague, a team-mate, a fellow commuter.

By their very existence in the everyday world they demonstrate that ours is not a secret sect or some obscure cabal - it is a representative, democratic assembly of the men and women of Australia.

The voice of the members, the advocacy of members is infinitely more powerful than that of any politician.

They help us show that politics still works for people.

That the political system remains the best way of building a better world.

That politics is still the place for the great contest of ideas.

That’s why the National Policy Forum is so important to me.

I firmly believe that Labor’s path back to government starts with your ideas.

The National Policy Forum is proof of our determination to listen and engage with our members.

This representative, open group reminds us all of the great intellectual strength and policy passion of our party.

For more than 120 years, Labor has relied on party members to provide the on-the-ground support for our parliamentary candidates.

We have also looked to them for policy inspiration and reform.

So many times in Labor’s history, party members have pointed the way for the caucus.

Today’s event continues that tradition.

It sends the clear message that developing policy is the work of all of us – because it touches all of us.

Today’s meeting is only the start of the conversation – and your deliberations and discussions shouldn’t be confined to this room, or this forum.

I want our party to be open for ideas every day and through every channel.

Douglas Carswell, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, said that voters are living in the on-demand age of Spotify but that his party are still thinking like the local HMV.

I think we’re well ahead of the Tories – but it’s an analogy worth keeping in mind.

Your ideas, your input, your arguments, will make sure that our policies are relevant to Australians’ lives and matched to their priorities.

Today I want us to look beyond National Conference in 2015 – and look to the Australia of 2020, 2030, 2050.

The Australian people are already organising their lives to take advantage of the next 20, 30, 40 years.

The people of Australia are living in the 21st century – it’s our responsibility to do the same.

Australians understand there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore, but several careers with constant learning and re-learning.

Australians understand the need for universal superannuation, so they don’t work hard their whole lives and retire poor.

Australians understand the need for balance –they don’t want to live to work, they’re working to live a life outside of work.

Australians understand that health and quality of life are linked.

Australians live with the ups and downs of life – whether it’s divorce or illness or ageing parents or beautiful children with developmental delays.

It’s our job to share in the aspirations of Australians – and to deliver policies that realise their goals.

We know the choices in front of us.

Will we get smarter – or poorer?

Will we start a race to the top – or a race to the bottom?

Will ours be the last generation to know an Australian manufacturing industry?

Or the generation that invests in the research and innovation  that will create a new wave of prosperity and a new wave of Australians enthusiastic about making things.

Will ours be the last generation to see a free and universal Medicare?

Or will we be the generation that guarantees Medicare’s future forever.

Will ours be the last generation to deny marriage equality?

Or the first to say that it doesn’t matter whether you are gay or straight – the only thing that matters is that you love each other.

Will we be the last generation to doubt the threat of climate change?

Or the first to save our environment from its effects?

Will we deliver the reforms of the future?

Or will we cling to the past?

This the test that Labor has always passed.

This is the clarion call that we have always answered.

It’s our anthem of inclusion.

We have always made it our mission to help those struck down by the shafts of fate.

To lift people up, and gather them in.

We’re the party of prosperity – and the party of fairness.

We’re the party that floated the dollar and dismantled the tariff wall.

The party that lifted our nation’s eyes to our region and our world.

We’re the party that tied economic growth to wages and living standards.

We’re the party that steered Australia safely through the Global Financial Crisis, adding 800,000 jobs while millions were lost around the world.

We’re the party that knows national prosperity and social advancement has to belong to the many – not the few.

It’s why we created the National Disability Insurance Scheme – a reform that will empower hundreds of thousands of Australians, and bring new hope and opportunities to their families and carers.

It’s why we put in place the Gonksi school reforms.

A new system that will give every Australian child the chance to have their love of learning supported by a great teacher in a great school.

We know what success looks like:

It’s young Australians going from a great school to a great university.

It’s young Australians having the opportunity to own their home.

We need to make it easier for them to enter a housing market that they feel has shut them out.

It’s elderly Australians being cared for and supported in a secure and dignified retirement.

It’s every Australian having the chance to find a good job with decent pay and conditions in productive and profitable enterprises.

It’s an Australia where an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in East Arnhem Land has the same opportunities to finish school, get a fulfilling and fairly remunerated

It’s an Australia where women don’t do more work than their male colleagues, for less pay.

Labor believes in an educated and healthy and scientific nation where no one is shut out by disability or gender or disadvantage.

A prosperous Australia that invests its wealth in the brainpower of its people.

An Australia that reaches out a caring arm to those in need.

Labor’s mission is to foster a diverse, creative multicultural society.

An Australia where it makes no difference whether you are a citizen by birth or choice.

An Australia where everyone is equal, and everyone is welcome.

We have always known the mission – our task today is to identify the methods.

Ideas that can turn our core values into concrete outcomes.

This is more important now than at any time in our party’s history.

After six months, Australians are learning the hard way what those of us in the Labor movement have always known about our opponents.

They’ve got no vision.

They’ve got no plan.

They only know one way.

Every day that my colleagues and I have to sit in the Parliament and listen to Tony Abbott, I’m reminded of something the French philosopher Alain once said:

‘There is nothing more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea’.

With your help, I believe Labor can rise above their bleak and sterile view of Australia.

I believe our country is too big, too generous, too smart for their narrow politics of division.

Enduring reform doesn’t come through division.

It doesn’t come from bullying and lecturing.

It takes ideas, it takes leadership, it takes consensus.

I believe Labor’s journey back to Government starts here.

Let us begin – together.