Bill's Speeches




30 JANUARY 2014


[Acknowledgements Omitted]

And as a Labor leader, it’s a special privilege to speak to you in the Clement Attlee suite.

I have always admired Attlee as a Prime Minister of great vision, courage and principle.

But it was only recently that I learned he was also one of the last soldiers evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.

A place made sacred by the sacrifice of so many young British, Indian, New Zealand and Australian and other Commonwealth troops in a military campaign that will forever shape our shared national memory.

It was Attlee who the people of Britain chose to rebuild and remake their society in the aftermath of the Second World War.

And after his overwhelming victory in that 1945 election, the famously taciturn Attlee made the traditional visit to Buckingham Palace to receive his commission from King George VI.

Legend has it that Monarch and Prime Minister-elect stood there in silence for some time before Attlee said:

‘I’ve won the election’.

‘Yes, I know,’ said the King, ‘I heard it on the 6 o’clock news’.

And so, with that rather awkward conversation, began one of the most remarkable reforming Governments, I believe, in world history.

A Revolutionary Moment

When Attlee came to office, Britain’s national wealth had contracted by a quarter of its pre-war level.

Exports were 30 per cent lower than pre-war levels.

The economy, geared toward wartime protection and the support of a vast war-winning military presence, was running up international debts and an unsustainable balance of payments.

These were hardly ideal conditions for the creation of the world’s largest, most comprehensive and expensive National Health Service – or any of the other wide-ranging welfare measures that would define his legacy.

But Attlee’s Government acted according to the bold words of the famous Beveridge Report:

‘A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching’.

A time for revolutions, not patching.

With conviction, and calm, Attlee steered the policy through his Cabinet and the Parliament to provide healthcare services free to all at the point of delivery.

Within a year of its creation, your NHS had treated more than 8.5 million dental patients and provided 5 million pairs of spectacles.

65 years on, it remains a remarkable accomplishment.

One celebrated so memorably and with such affection at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

It is the fourth largest direct employer in the world, pipped only by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Walmart and the Indian Railways.

Most of all I think it is a tribute to Attlee’s policy vision and political courage.

There are many historians and commentators who have suggested that Attlee, that man of few words, would never have survived the marvellous modern political world of the soundbyte and the 24-hour news cycle.

After all, this was the man who, when asked by a reporter if he had any thoughts about the upcoming general election, replied: ‘No’.

He was truly, as the late Margaret Thatcher described him admiringly in her memoirs:

‘All substance and no show’.

I think that any analysis based on the idea that a leader of substance, committed to delivering a better life for people would somehow be a political liability…

…does both Clement Attlee and modern politics a grave disservice.

All of us know that stagecraft and advocacy, media management and presentation is a part of our job – but it is not why we are in public life.

We’re here because we believe that ideas matter.

That substance is what endures.

That hope can trump fear.

The optimism that a good idea, well implemented, can change lives – and nations.

This is the story I want to share with you tonight.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme

When I entered Federal Parliament at the end of 2007, I was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities.

After 14 years as a Union representative, I thought I had seen unfair treatment in the workplace.

I thought I had witnessed disadvantage and powerlessness, and I had.

But nothing had prepared me for the invisible world of disability.

Imagine, if you will, if we built a city with very high walls.

And into that city, we exiled hundreds of thousands of our citizens – the half a million Australians with profound and severe disabilities.

And behind those walls, we put another half a million Australians – the families and carers who love their precious brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers who have an impairment.

And we said to the people of this city, this place bigger than many of cities in Britain.

‘From the day you are born to the day you die – from cradle to grave – you will have, at best, a second-class life’.

Imagine telling every person with a disability, their carers and loved ones, that by dint of birth, or, to quote Poet Laureate Robert Frost, the shafts of fate, you will forever be a second-class citizen.

That behind these wall you will be more likely to be poor and far less likely to finish school, go to university, get a job or own a home.

If we built these walls around other citizens, there would be a revolution.

The outcry of voices would make a noise and a song and chorus that would tear down those walls.

And yet this same unfair divide, this apartheid of disadvantage was what I discovered when I began my time in Parliament.

Over my first few months in the portfolio I met young Australians with lifelong disabilities who were forced to live in aged care homes.

People of 20 or 25 with their life ahead of them, living alongside elderly Australians in their final days.

People imprisoned, effectively, by a lack of choice.

People exiled, not because of their impairment, but the barriers our community put around them.

I became witness to the shattered exhaustion in the eyes of parents barely hanging on, loving their adult child with the sleepless midnight anxiety of wondering who will love their precious son or daughter when they become unable to do so any longer.

I spoken to many parents who had been living with too little hope (and rest) for too long.

Speaking to many mothers of children with a diagnosis of autism. Told that they were bad parents by ignorant people who asked ‘Can’t you control your child?’

This sense of isolation inflicted on too many amongst us.

Caring families, whose marriages had been driven to the brink of collapse by the physical, financial and emotional stress of caring for a child, a precious beautiful child with an impairment.

And I had the privilege of meeting thousands of inspirational people with disability who refused to be defined by their impairment.

People who were able to work, wanted to work, but were held back by a system that says we cannot recognise the value of their potential contribution, because we as a society cannot get beyond your impairment.

A system that can only describe the cost. A system that knows the price, but not the value of the person.

And every time I met one of these steadfast people, every time I heard one of their stories, my, and our government’s, determination to do better became stronger.

I do not view carers as saints, I do not have a view that people with disabilities and their families are seeking anything other than an ordinary chance.

Parents should not be made to feel bullies by an educational system merely because they assert the right of their child to have access to educational opportunity.

I was very fortunate too that my wife, who had worked in disability, gave me the tutoring and the networks to talk to people who understood what was really happening.

So I suppose, this was a revolutionary moment for me.

And then I realised that I had the opportunity, as an elected member of parliament, to dedicate myself to working with so many other remarkable people to organise a disempowered group and a neglected system for national change.

I do not believe that disability is the most important issue in Australian politics, but I do believe either that there is any issue more important than disability.

And merely because the media doesn’t report disability as a political issue, does not therefore mean it is not a political issue.

And we’ve begun in Australia a journey to create a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Why not replace a fragmented system that arbitrarily allocates resources to people based on crisis and fatigue?

Why not create a national scheme supported by a single funding pool?

Why is it that parents should have to put their children on lists to get support, when we could have a system which says: ‘we understand the impairment, we will provide you with a package of support where you will allocate the resources and you will make decisions’.

Why not create a system where rather than viewing a person as charity, views them as a consumer?

Why not underpin people’s rights to support with legal entitlements that give people with disability what they need, not as a ration but as of right.

We commissioned an independent statutory economic body called the Productivity Commission to review was it possible to fund a disability scheme.

I have a view that for too long we viewed disability as we would view leaning over a well, tossing a coin in and never hearing it land – a bottomless well, the funding of disability.

Our Productivity Commission returned with a view that, albeit expensive, you can actually put money into the well of disability and you can hear it reach bottom – it can be funded.

Then it becomes an issue of national will.

Why not build a program which says to people with disabilities and their carers, let’s focus on your individual needs, and abilities and personal goals.

Why not provide to people the option of giving them the chance to chance to live independently in supported accommodation and work within their community, rather than relying on the actions of charities?

Why not provide a tailored level of support for everything from home and vehicle modifications to assistance with household tasks and daily care needs?

At the heart of the NDIS is the recognition that disability could affect any of us.

The child, the beloved new child, at a year and 18 months whose development is not going in the manner which was expected.

The victim of a car accident, needing support.

These are all potentially our families that we talk about.

But I believe that the NDIS is also a major economic reform.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme introduces a far more efficient and cost-effective model of service delivery.

If you put consumers at the core of service delivery, and give them control over resources, you will get a more efficient allocation of resources.

Trusting people to pursue their own futures invariably provides better outcomes.

Money goes where it is needed, rather than being absorbed by administration costs.

It saves money in the long run because you provide services in a more efficient way, and you create markets for service providers.

The economic gains go well beyond the efficiency of improved service delivery.

Carers suffer from chronic fatigue.

They lose the opportunity to save money for their own retirement.

Providing families and carers the opportunities to participate in the workforce, because they understand that there is support for their own family members will have a marvellous effect on participation in our society.

The dignity and benefits of work offer opportunities for productivity and wellbeing which the absence of can never deliver.

If Australia can achieve the OECD average benchmark of disability employment ratios, it would mean an additional 100,000 Australians in the next number of decades.

Australia – like the United Kingdom – grapples with the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population, we need to find people to be able to work in our community.

An expanded labour force increases the tax base, and reduces the demands on government services and payments. .

Families and carers get a new chance to re-engage with the labour market.

I believe it will deliver a boost to our productivity and wealth in our nation.

Here in the UK

Ladies and Gentlemen

Before the introduction of the NDIS, many Australians whose lives had been affected by disability looked enviously at the UK’s disability care and support system.

You pioneered legal entitlement to basic services and supports – in education, social services and healthcare had been guaranteed by ground-breaking legislation in the 1970s.

For all its faults and failings, the UK system has, for decades, been far more effective and responsive in helping people with disabilities and their families than Australia’s fragmented, crisis-driven system.

In this country, people with disabilities and their families at least have access to legal remedies, should a Local Education Authority or a Social Services department fail to provide the services and supports to which they are legally entitled.

Prior to the NDIS, no such legal entitlement or legal remedy existed in Australia.

Instead, people with disabilities were at the control of bureaucracies and charities.

I believe that with the development of our four launch sites for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, with full implementation by 2019.

Australia’s disability care and support system will be transformed from one of the most backward in the developed world to among the very best.

The statistics suggest that here in Britain, the fight is far from over to ensure people with disabilities and their families no longer suffer from lack of access, equity and opportunity in work and education.

In 2012, 46 in every 100 working-age people with disability in the UK are in employment, compared with 76 in every 100 of all other working-age people.

21 per cent of children in families where at least one member has a disability are living in poverty.

People with disability are around three times as likely not to hold any qualifications compared to those without disability, and around half as likely to hold a degree-level qualification.

And over a quarter of people with disability say that they do not frequently have choice and control over their daily lives.

I think your presence here tonight, organised by Slater and Gordon, is testament to an appetite to improve the deal for people with disabilities, for the right of people with disability to an ordinary life.

To make their fight for opportunity and equity your own.

To make the design of a new, fairer system for people with disability, a potential ‘revolutionary moment’.

And I think there are lessons that can be drawn from the Australian experience.

I think there’s the temptation of hindsight is to see the arrival of disability as a political issue in Australia, and the NDIS, as an irresistible fusion of economic and policy logic and the moral imperative of social justice and inclusion.

An idea whose time had come.

But the NDIS wasn’t even government policy until 2009.

Change is not inevitable, it is a door ajar which requires people of goodwill to press through it.

Without the spirited, co-ordinated, grassroots advocacy of community groups, public sector leaders and people with disabilities and their carers;

- people with the moral authority that comes from a life spent fighting for what is right
- people who were determined to be the voice for the voiceless

This issue would not make it onto that national radar.

There is a temptation in modern society to say that the great fights have happened.

That we have reached a relative state of prosperity and there are no longer arguments to be made and fights to be had.

That the big changes have been done and really, we can just leave it as it is.

But with the advocacy of Labor Prime Ministers and Senior Minister Jenny Macklin we were able to put a new proposal to our Cabinet.

We were able to have a Labor Government who believed that finding billions of dollars in extra funding in a time of downgraded budget revenues and economic pressure, was simply a priority.

To pass these laws – we were a minority government ¬– and we were still able to do so.

Ideas whose time appear to have come require people who determine with will that they have arrived.

Substance over Show

The lesson I take from my involvement in the NDIS – the goal intend to live by as Labor Leader – is that substance will always matter more than show.

That in this new era of fragmented media and rapid-response, arguing for a big and complex idea is both more difficult– and more rewarding – than ever before.

I think our constituents are attuned to authenticity and sceptical of spin, they will reward parties that take them into its trust by arguing the case for change.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme was a big, expensive, complicated policy.

We were able to pass, with the support of the Conservatives, a new tax to fund it – a new portion of our Medicare levy.

People are willing to back in new ideas if the case is made.

I think by acknowledging the complexity, the expense and the difficulty; by engaging in a frank and mature discussion with the electorate; we were able to deliver a comprehensive national solution to a problem first identified by a Federal Labor government in the early 1970s.

At the most recent 2013 Federal election the NDIS did not deliver us popular acclamation or a political dividend.

But in the end, that is not the reward that matters, nor the reward we sought.

Labor should not be about creating monuments on hills or statues in parks.

Labor’s monuments and statues are when a young person can find a job.

When a person with disability can get access to the ordinary life that others take for granted.

Our achievements, our monuments should be when a parent or a grandparent in their 70s or 80s can be looked in the face by a Labor member of parliament and that Labor parliamentarian can say to that parent or grandparent ‘your child will be ok’.

That is the Labor goal.

When we can create, as Clement Attlee did the NHS, when we can create the NDIS.

We understand you only need one victory to change your country, forever and for the better.

The supreme challenge of Labor is to recognise our ‘revolutionary moment’ when it arrives.

And to have the courage to seize it, wholly, boldly and completely.