Bill's Speeches



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

It's great to be here with you Jenny and you spoke well in your reminders about what's important. 

It's also great to be here with Gary, I've always wanted to do a gig which was ‘Shorten Sweet.

But like all of us we are honoured to be here I think, to hear a bit of tribute to Les and to The Mouth that Roared.

I've lived in Victoria my whole life, and like most Victorians we know Les from television in no small part, from years of the TV news.

He'd look down the barrel of the camera, he'd have his jaw out, he wouldn't be mincing a word. 

He wouldn't be cutting the cloth of what he felt to suit the audience, much rather just telling it as it is.

The unvarnished truth being broadcast into the lounge rooms of Australia.

Staring down the macabre sensationalism and fascination of journalists who would rather write their one hundredth story about ‘demon drug youths’ rather than take the time to learn the human cost of poverty and substance abuse.

Les isn’t just a helping hand for those in need – he’s a conscience for the rest of us.

He calls out the hypocrisy.

He's had a love hate relationship with the Labor party, it’s in the good phase at the moment.

But it's the same with the media. 

He writes in his book:

Anyone who has to deal with the media knows the journos are desperate for the tales that scare the daylights out of the people.

But he's been a conscious, he doesn't settle for the simple explanations.

He has opened the eyes of a Melbourne that too many of us don't want to acknowledge exists and he makes us look at complexity.

As he says in the book Les ‘tears away the veil’ that shows us the reality of disadvantage, addiction, hardship.

He speaks up for the people who would otherwise be ‘alone with their sorrow’.

That's Les, he is the warrior for telling it how it is.

But he is a man who refuses to give up on people and I suspect many of you in this audience know that personally.

He won't give up on people even when they’re close to giving up on themselves – that is the Les who leaps from this clever book in every page.

Only Les could have a story written this way.

It's not just an autobiography, it’s a sort of cross between Henry Lawson and Dougie Hawkins.

It's a style which as you read it, you can get the texture - it's a cross between a front bar yarn and a sportsmans’ night.

But it doesn’t take away from the substance of it all does it, it enhances his story.

I can promise you there's more philosophy in this book than the newspapers in this country on any daily basis.

There is inspiration which I think is very real and more concrete than we can see in perhaps our modern 24/7 digital media age. 

And like all good autobiographies, we learn a few new things too.

It does reveal something that Les and I have in common: we love elections.

And I do on that note, want to draw attention to a very clear promise that Les makes on page 270.

Next time I run for parliament, I’ll give my preferences to Labor.

He goes on - 

Maybe. Probably. Okay, I will.

That's as good as a contract Les. I’ll only hold you to the federal seat mate.

I think most of all, this book isn’t just a series of fond reflections – it’s a call to action.

I think it's a challenge in this for us to all think more creatively, to think more deeply about how we best help people in need.

And it's not just by writing a cheque – it's by investing our emotional energy, our emotional strength, our interest and our shared view that we can hope for a better future.

There are two words which keep cropping up in this book: guts and heart.

And it’s not just the old footy coach shining through - and I think it's great that we're here at the Willy Football Club.

As I understand, when Ned Kelly was resident of a prison hulk just offshore here, he got to play a couple of games here. 

But guts and heart - they're sort of Les’ engine, that's what drives him. They are the resources which he deploys to every person, to every problem.

I think that's what helps him keep banging the drum. It must be something special.

Demanding change, tackling the stereotypes, defying the cynicism and the pessimism and tabloid scare campaigns.

Guts and heart are why I think Les never gives up.

Never gives up on people, never gives up on change, never gives up on those who have less power in our society. 

It's a fight which one way or another has come through his book, that he's given his whole life to. 

For me the most telling passage in here, is in his book where Les talks about the advice he got when he first started out as a youth worker.

The advice was: 

Don’t be drawn too close, never invest your hope for these kids too deeply, because they’re going to break your heart.

Les goes on to say:

Good advice. Pity it’s never been possible for me to benefit from it.

Les – it's fair to say tens of thousands of vulnerable people have benefited from you ignoring that advice about never getting too close. 

From you investing every fibre of your being.

From holding out your heart, time and time to people again.

Knowing time and time again it can be broken - because you always get up, every time. 

You’ve never built a barrier between your soul and your work. 

That's what I think is the reason why so many people love you. 

You have had so far, an interesting life. 

You talk about from your childhood onwards an Australia, which I think still exists, but clearly gave you such a depth of character from those early years in Churchill Avenue in Braybrook. 

I think we all agree reading his book is that he's had a very interesting life. 

And we're all perhaps a little bit jealous, but we know we can't imitate his life.

But by the time you finish reading this book, if you don't respect him even more from the start to the end of it, you probably heaven't read the book carefully. 

I genuinely think and I congratulate his co-author, this is a great book.

It is worthy of a great man. He's a humble man.

And we all look forward to seeing the sequel. 

Goodness knows what will be in that.

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