Speech to the Tom Uren Memorial Foundation for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – Sydney
Australia must play its part in abolishing nuclear weapons
In 1961 John F Kennedy told the United Nations:
Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
It is incredible to think that almost six decades on, this threat still exists.
We must continue to dedicate ourselves to eliminating this threat.
Every nation has a responsibility to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Australia is no exception.
That is why the work of ICAN in Australia and around the world, in helping to progress the disarmament agenda, is so important.
I come to this debate with the benefit of the testimony of a man who saw the horror of nuclear weapons first hand.
Tom Uren was imprisoned in a POW camp on the island of Omuta on 9 August 1945.
Just after 11am, the US detonated an atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki about 80km away.
Estimates of the death toll ranged between 40,000 and 80,000.
That’s men, women and children. Nuclear weapons don’t discriminate.
Tom witnessed the explosion.
He later said:
It reminded me of those beautiful crimson skies of sunsets in Central Australia, but magnified about 10 times stronger, and it’s vividly … it’s never left me.
As you know, in October last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution to convene a UN conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.
One hundred and twenty-three nations voted in favour of this resolution.
What is disappointing and unacceptable is that that Australia was not one of the countries that voted in favour of this resolution.
ICAN is right to herald this resolution as a potential breakthrough, after decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
Thanks to leaders like Tom Uren, Bruce Childs and Robert Tickner, the Labor Party has a proud tradition of advocacy for disarmament.
People like Melissa Parke and many others have tried to build on that legacy and maintain that struggle.
The Labor Party’s platform affirms our belief, committing our party to work toward the end of nuclear weapons and supporting the negotiation of a global treaty banning such weapons.
It says Labor will encourage the pursuit of further substantial reductions of nuclear arsenals and promote the development of processes to bring all nuclear armed states into the disarmament process.
As a non-nuclear armed nation and a good international citizen, Australian can make a significant contribution to promoting disarmament, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles and the responsible use of nuclear technology.
Indeed, our nation has a proud history of activism on the international stage, including in efforts to ban chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
We have now reached a time where an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations are ready to outlaw nuclear weapons, just as the world outlawed chemical and biological weapons and land mines.
There is no reason why we should not be providing leadership in the effort to ban nuclear weapons.
Australia must play our part.
Malcolm Turnbull should commit to attending the 2017 negotiating conference.
If Australia fails to participate, this will tarnish our international reputation as a disarmament supporter and, in doing so, fail to act to promote safety in our world.
So tonight, let us all recommit ourselves to supporting the work of ICAN and to seizing the present opportunity to make real progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of country and pay my respect to their elders past and present.
I’m proud as the newly elected federal member for Grayndler to have the Sydney College of the Arts in my electorate and I’m proud to stand with these students.
Sydney is a great global city and global cities value culture.
They value the enrichment that the arts give.
It’s appropriate that this demonstration of students and supporters of SCA take place outside the Archibald awards that are taking place inside the Art Gallery of NSW, because this magnificent institution has produced Archibald winners.
This magnificent institution makes a difference to Sydney. A global city such as Sydney needs enrichment, it needs the arts, it needs diversity. What it doesn’t need is the commercial imperative overriding the cultural need of this city.
And that is precisely what we are seeing here. The idea that Sydney College of the Arts is the same as an urban design faculty, the same as other institutions at UNSW and serves the same purpose, misses the whole point. The whole point.
SCA is also a focal point of the inner west community. The Callan Park master plan, which the State Government has refused to proceed with, sees the Sydney College of the Arts as being the catalyst for other arts and cultural activity at the Callan Park site.
Not only have the students of SCA not been given any certainty about their future, or what will happen to them from 2017, but the local community, the businesses of Darling St and Balmain Road that rely upon the students and the teachers for their living.
The residents of the inner west who are looking for Callan Park site to build the diversity and build the cultural activity around there, are concerned also about whether this is just an opportunity for a sell off of that land, or inappropriate use of that land.
The students I have met with have told me about the specific value of the site, such as the print area that is available there, that has been used for many, many years.
Art is something that you can’t always just put a dollar figure on. Just like human interrelationships and human activity can’t always be measured by the dollar. Human relationships are about much more than that, and that’s why the struggle of the students is about more than just them.
I pay tribute to them, because what they’re fighting for is the very nature of the way that we regard society; of the way we regard education, and; of the way that it’s more than something that just benefits the individual. It benefits all of us.
But what we’ve seen here from the university hierarchy, and I’ve written to Mr Spence on this issue, is again an institution such as Sydney Uni, that I’m a proud graduate of, being reduced to activity that is more and more commercial. That more and more, sees education as a transaction between an individual and an institution rather than something that benefits the whole of society.
So I say to the students here; congratulations. You look fantastic. And the local community stands with you in this struggle. This issue must be revisited and it must be revisited in the interests of students, in the interests of the community, but most importantly in the interests of this great global city and our reputation as a centre of arts and culture.
Well done. I stand with you and I will continue to stand with you on this issue
One hundred and one years after Australian troops landed at Gallipoli, we gather again today to recognize their immense sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices of those who followed in their footsteps.
Silently, sadly, we come to places like Petersham to confirm by our presence that we will never forget those who gave everything to protect our way of life.
There was a period a few decades ago when people speculated about what might happen to Anzac Day as the veterans of the First World War passed away.
In his song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda Eric Bogle, wrote:
Year by year, more old men disappear,
Someday no-one will march there at all.
But that’s not what happened.
In the 21st century, our reverence for Anzac Day – particularly among young people – seems to be growing stronger.
It is not fading away.
Families pass down the legends.
Schools teach the facts and governments fund education campaigns and research projects.
Archeologists survey the old battle fields.
Young people planning backpacking holidays make sure they include Gallipoli on their itineraries.
As a people, we don’t forget.
People of my generation could literally reach out and touch the Anzac legend because its veterans were still participating in Anzac Day marches.
But those men are all gone.
The ranks for World War II veterans are also thinning.
Yet our national embrace of Anzac Day has not been weakened by the passage of time.
That is a very good thing.
What it says to me is that today’s young people understand the importance of freedom and the value of sacrifice.
Decades have passed since the World Wars.
But people still understand why Anzac Day is so important, including younger people who have never shaken the hand of a man who stormed the beaches of Gallipoli or patrolled the jungles of New Guinea.
I suspect there are two reasons for the durability of these national memories.
Firstly, Australians understand how lucky we are to live in a nation where freedom is seen as a birthright.
Our lifestyle is so free, and our futures so full of wondrous possibilities, that we have the ability to make whatever we wish of our lives.
That is a precious gift.
Not all people on this earth enjoy these freedoms, so Anzac Day reminds us how fortunate we are.
But it also reminds us that our way of life did not just fall out of the sky.
It was purchased for us by our forefathers on battle fields around the world.
Secondly, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century is a constant reminder that we cannot take our freedom for granted.
There are people in the world who openly swear that they want to destroy our lifestyle.
That’s the word they use: destroy.
That’s why Australian military forces are fighting right now in the Middle East.
We must support their efforts.
Like the generations we honour on Anzac Day, our generation must be prepared to sacrifice to defend freedom.
Not just our freedom, but the freedom of the generations who will follow us.
Today, we remember the dreadful price paid for that freedom.
At Gallipoli alone there were 26,111 Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths.
Across World War I, out of a population of less than five million, 61,522 Australians lost their lives.
These are staggering figures.
One of the positive things about the information age is that it is becoming easier to access facts about the individual men and women who have served our nation over the decades.
Men like Vincent Alexander Burns, who lived right here at Petersham.
Vincent was a 23-year-old quantity surveyor who put his career on hold in 1915 to serve in France.
He never made it back.
He died in action 1917.
Or Phillip Henry Dawes – an accountant.
Phillip was born in Petersham in 1882 and served in France as a gunner.
He survived the war, but never recovered completely from the effects of being gassed twice.
Phillip died in 1946.
Others, like Charles Percy Taylor, were lucky enough to survive and resume their lives.
Charles joined the 1st Light horse Regiment at Liverpool in in July, 1915 and served on the Western Front until the end of the war.
He came home and returned to the building trade in the Inner West, living a long life before passing away in 1976.
These are the human faces of WWI.
They walked the same streets that we walked to come here today.
They were ordinary people.
But when faced with a challenge to our national way of life, they responded in an extraordinary way.
It’s not just the veterans of World War I that we remember today.
We think also of the men and women who served in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the many conflicts and police actions that have followed.
We also remember members of the military who are serving overseas right now.
Just as importantly, we salute the sacrifice of the loved ones of those who have fallen in wars throughout our history.
When we think of such losses, we must harden our determination to ensure that we always provide for the care and comfort of the spouses and dependents of Australians who fall fighting in our name.
Decades after wars end, hindsight gives historians the opportunity to critically examine the global political forces that led to conflict.
We can all discuss the rights and wrongs of our involvement in WWI or the Vietnam War, just as we can all take a view about our nation’s involvement in the Middle East today.
But there is one thing we must always remember.
Whatever factors lead to war, the men and women who have fought the wars in our history were not motivated by politics.
They were not motivated by ideology.
They were motivated by the desire to defend their families.
But importantly, they were also thinking about us – we who were not even born at the time of their service.
Generations of Australians have understood that freedom and democracy are the key factors underpinning the Australian way of life, which is the envy of the world.
Having won life’s lottery by being Australians, these men and women have responded to their good fortune by defending that way of life on behalf of their descendants.
We are the beneficiaries.
That’s why we must never forget.
Manawatu Golf Club, Palmerston North
I’m honoured to be invited here tonight to give the Michael Joseph Savage address.
The first Labor Prime Minister of New Zealand was a man whose strong human values and dedication to the welfare of others are as relevant today as they were when he died in office, at the height of his popularity, in 1940.
In the spirit of the friendly rivalry that exists between our two nations, I am often reminded that New Zealand has given Australia many of its most successful international figures.
But tonight, let me turn the tables.
Michael Savage was in fact born in Australia, near Benalla, in the Australian state of Victoria.
It was 1872 and at this time, as bushranger Ned Kelly was causing chaos around this region, Michael Savage grew up to dream of a more just world and to take action to advance this objective.
Savage is revered in this country as the father of the social security system.
In the difficult years before World War II, he was one of the few national leaders prepared to criticize Britain’s appeasement of Germany, Japan and Italy.
He is known as a fighter, not just because he was a boxer as a young man.
He fought for people who most needed his help.
Told by doctors he had cancer and needed immediate surgery, Savage knocked them back, saying he wanted to focus on his getting his social reform program through the legislature.
Savage is remembered as a great communicator; a man who rallied those around him to the banner of justice.
A man who sought to unite, not divide.
A straight talker fond of putting decisions in their proper context.
For example, during World War II, as Prime Minister, Savage warned that it could become necessary to conscript “human flesh and blood’’ to fight World War II.
But he added that people should understand it would also be necessary to conscript private wealth to care for the families of servicemen who lost their lives.
This kind of spirit is reminiscent of one of Australia’s greatest prime ministers, Gough Whitlam, who in only three years from 1972 to 1975 pursued the same type of social reforms as Savage.
Both men hungered for justice.
And both kept their eye on the main game.
They did not use the power of high office to serve existing entrenched interests.
They challenged and redistributed the prevailing power relationships, such that New Zealand and Australia respectively were never the same.
By the time of their passing – Savage in 1940 while still in office and Whitlam just last year – both were seen as national heroes.
Tonight I want to argue that in 2015, any progressive party that wants to win elections needs to start from the proposition of putting people first by demonstrating how their lives will be improved by government policy decisions.
They must do something more.
They must also argue the case for long term reform that will make a positive difference to society beyond the short term interests of any individual member.
THE WORLD IS SHIFTING
In sport and in politics, focus is important.
Just as the All Blacks won the World Cup by putting aside the hype and focusing on what mattered most, politicians must, like Savage and Whitlam did, keep their eyes on the main game.
Concepts like fairness, sustainability, the creation of opportunity and shared prosperity must be firmly in our sights.
In 2015 there is no doubt that such concepts are gathering favour globally.
Across the world right-wing governments are on the nose.
People are looking to the progressive left for a way forward.
The shift has also found its way to Australia, where the conservatives have dumped the aggressive and divisive conservatism of Tony Abbott in favour of Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull is now busy appropriating Labor Party rhetoric across many areas and is presenting himself as the conservative you have when you don’t really want a conservative.
Of course, the truth is that Malcolm Turnbull has not changed the substance of the conservative Government.
But, in recognition of the public mood, he is attempting to engage people by talking about important policy areas including investing in cities and public transport – both banned by his predecessor.
The problem is that the Australian Government’s core policies have not changed under Mr Turnbull.
They still want to destroy trade unions.
They want to increase the regressive goods and services tax.
They still propose huge cuts to health and education.
THE LIGHT ON THE HILL
Former Australian Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley once described the labour movement as “bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people.’’
Chifley was articulating the idea that the labour movement encapsulates a spirit of selflessness – the idea that we are all here on this earth to do something more than feather our own nests.
While we seek personal success, most of us can’t tolerate seeing others being prevented from being their best because of their gender, colour or the circumstances of their birth.
This spirit points us toward a better place for all, while all the conservatives offer is a continuation of the status quo.
Ours is a compelling vision.
It speaks loudly to people who want their children to grow up in better circumstances than they did, an aspiration held by all parents.
The current shift toward progressive politics is confirmation that the real human mission in the 21st century is not to limit fairness, but to extend it.
Tonight, I want to offer five areas that should be core business for progressive parties in 2015 as we seek to respond to the public shift in sentiment.
1. Future job creation and the economy.
2. Developing our cities and regions.
- Building communities.
- Advancing equity.
- Environmental sustainability.
1. FUTURE JOB CREATION AND THE ECONOMY
No government can survive if it cannot maintain a strong economy.
That’s part of the job description whatever your political affiliation.
But the difference between the left and right of mainstream politics when it comes to the economy is the reason we want a strong economy.
For the conservatives, a strong economy is an end in itself because it means more profits for business.
But Labor wants a strong economy because it generates jobs and government revenues that allow us to deliver ongoing reform.
It’s critical that we explain this difference to voters because it goes to our motives – what we actually stand for.
From this side of the Tasman you would be aware that Australian economic growth has declined in recent years due to the decline of the mining boom.
In my country, the competing political visions about how to deal with economic policy sum up the policy divide.
So far, Malcolm Turnbull has articulated two possible solutions.
The first is to increase the goods and services tax, which as New Zealanders know only too well, will hit pensioners and low-income earners harder than the wealthy.
The second, which is even more worrying, is to attack the wages and conditions of average workers to boost corporate profits.
Mr Turnbull, for example, wants to abolish Sunday penalty rates for workers in hospitality and tourism.
Existing arrangements mean many low-income workers rely on weekend penalty rates for a living wage.
There is ample scope in existing enterprise bargaining arrangements for workers and their employers to trade off penalty rates for higher base rates.
But Mr Turnbull is not looking for trade-offs.
He just wants lower wages.
In the same way, he proposes to destroy the Australian domestic shipping industry by exposing it to unfair competition by foreign-flagged cargo vessels paying third world wages.
On my last visit to New Zealand in 2011 I saw firsthand the extraordinary damage the Liberian flagged MV Rena caused off your pristine north coastline.
The jailing of the captain and navigation officer provides little comfort, given the damage.
Mr Turnbull has decided that because foreign vessels carry freight more cheaply than Australian vessels, he should run local operators out of business or force them to sack their Australian crews and replace them with cheaper foreign labour.
What a betrayal of the national interest.
Labor takes a different approach.
We seek to balance the legitimate hope of business that governments can reduce costs with the equally legitimate aspirations of average people to access employment with fair pay and conditions.
Instead of firing the starting gun on a race to the bottom on wages and conditions, we want to develop new, well-paid jobs in new industries, particularly in areas we can support by investing in innovation and research.
We want to see Australians working in areas like high value manufacturing, infrastructure development, financial and legal services, food and agricultural production, tourism, renewable energy, information technology, urban design, the arts and creative sector, education and health services.
To support those emerging sectors, we also need to invest heavily in our education and training systems to ensure that they produce graduates with the skills to fill these jobs of the future.
That’s an approach that takes people’s legitimate individual aspirations into account while also advancing long-term reform to broaden the economy.
And it’s a whole lot smarter and more sustainable than simply cutting people’s wages.
2. DEVELOPING OUR CITIES AND REGIONS
In an increasingly populous and urbanised world, no political party can be taken seriously if it sees no role for itself in promoting the productivity, sustainability and liveability of cities.
Across the world, cities are clogged with traffic congestion and held back by inadequate infrastructure.
In Australia, for example, a recently produced Infrastructure Australia report found that if we fail to act, congestion will cost the Australian economy $53 billion a year by 2031.
Part of the problem is a shift in work patterns, with the Digital Revolution driving jobs growth in service industries in central business districts and inner suburbs of cities.
The result is longer commuting journeys for average workers, who can’t afford homes close to town and live in the outer suburbs.
Governments must confront these trends head on.
We need better roads, public transport and where appropriate, greater housing densities to make our cities are as productive as they can be.
For governments in 2015, urban design cannot be ignored.
It requires that national government work with councils and industry on better design that creates more vibrant neighborhoods featuring more than just residential development, but also retail and entertainment opportunities and open space like parks, bikeways and walking tracks.
We need to accept that people are not just cogs in some economic machine that we can shift around at will without any consideration of human needs.
That means that wherever people live – close to town or further out – governments need to think about liveability.
In a carbon-constrained world, we also need to ensure that new developments optimize the use of renewable energy, water conservation, and other sustainability measures.
If we want to engage voters, we need to talk about their genuine concerns.
Those genuine concerns start with sustainability and everyday quality of life where they live.
3. BUILDING COMMUNITIES
The challenge for governments is what they can do in practical terms to promote liveability.
Australian demographer Hugh Mackay has done much work in this area, reminding us in his book The Good Life, that humans are sustained by deep social links.
It’s not up to governments to build those links.
That’s up to individuals.
But governments need to do more to promote and sustain human relationships by nurturing and maintaining local communities, which are the stages upon which people live their lives.
We can have all the money in the world, but, as Hugh Mackay has noted:
The thing we need most is each other.
Governments underappreciate the strength of the positive bonds that exist within functional communities and the desire among people to see those bonds strengthened.
Communities are more than simply places where houses and shops exist.
Too often, national governments turn their back on communities, ignoring the potential to collaborate with people to achieve better outcomes.
That needs to end.
We should support churches, sporting groups, clubs and other community based organisations.
We should invest in community based infrastructure and services, local cultural events and sporting festivals.
People want to work together.
Governments can help them to do so.
4. ADVANCING EQUITY
Equity must always be the guiding light for progressive political parties.
We insist that people have a fair chance to be the best they can be by having fair access to education and training.
We retain and protect a social safety net so economic disadvantage is not allowed to become so great that it holds people back.
We oppose discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality, gender or colour.
The progressive left has long been the trailblazer in the cause of equity.
Much has been achieved, but there remains unfinished business.
In my country that means joining New Zealand in the 21st century by embracing marriage equality.
In a digital world, genuine equity means freedom of access to new technology.
There’s an interesting ongoing debate in Australia about the development of the National Broadband Network.
The former Labor Government designed the NBN to provide fibre optic cable carrying high-speed broadband directly to homes and businesses in Australia.
It was to be universal, the 21st century equivalent of providing water or energy.
But the Coalition has changed the project so that it will provide fibre to the node – a fancy way of saying that the fibre will be connected to a box on the street corner.
Consumers will pay to have it connected and the signal will travel from the street corner box to their home or business via copper networks.
This means that while Labor wanted everyone to have broadband access, Mr Turnbull wants to ration that access according to person’s ability to pay.
First rate access will be restricted to those who can afford it.
Our political opponents insist that their way will cost less and produce the same result, even though the truth is their NBN will cost twice as much as they promised and deliver half the Internet speed.
Compare this approach to that being taken here in New Zealand, where a similar debate is being conducted at a far more mature level.
The current government was wise enough to understand the importance of rolling out broadband to the home.
Under current planning, it is hoped that 75 per cent of New Zealanders will be connected via fibre to the premises by 2019.
And New Zealand Labour, unlike the conservatives when Labor held office in Australia, is not trying to undermine the project – only to hold the government to account in its performance in delivering the rollout.
That is as it should be.
As NZ Communications Minister Amy Adams said in Australia during a visit in August 2012:
It made better sense to do it now rather than have to come back in the future and retrofit fibre-to-the-node to fibre-to-the-home connection.
I understand there is dissatisfaction in this country at present over Internet services in rural areas.
That’s not surprising.
Equity matters, geographically as well as within individual communities.
Labor also insists on equity measures in taxation.
That means requiring multi-nationals that fill their coffers off the backs of consumers in nations like Australia and New Zealand actually paying their taxes in the places where they generate the profits, rather than playing accountancy tricks to send their profits offshore.
It also means taking action to ensure that the wealthiest individuals pay their fair share of tax, rather than using accountants and lawyers to not only minimise their exposure, but reduce their tax liability to zero.
There is no greater intergenerational issue than the environment.
Our world needs to deal with climate change, not prevaricate and kick the problem down the road for our children and our grandchildren.
Climate change is not some kind of international scientific conspiracy dreamed up by extremists who simply hate the mining and energy sectors.
It’s an economic issue.
The world is moving toward a carbon constrained future.
In Australia, our choice is simple.
We can do nothing and wake up one day in the future to find the market for coal is shrinking and that our international competitors have cornered the market on clean-energy technology.
Or we can embrace change as an economic opportunity.
There are fortunes to be made in emerging renewable energy sectors but the current government is turning its back on the reality of change.
Sustainability must be promoted to the very centre of our policy considerations across the board.
Let me conclude tonight by noting that progressive political parties all around the world are generally motivated by altruism.
We want people to get a fair go, to have a decent opportunity to be their best and to live rich and fulfilling lives.
Most human beings, whatever their political affiliation, would identify with that concept.
The task for the great labour movements of Australia and New Zealand is to tap into that egalitarian spirit and ensure it is reflected in our policies and in the way in which we explain them to the community.
Around the world, people are turning away from rigid ideology.
They are sick of mindless aggression and needless partisanship.
They want pragmatic government focused on them and on building them a better future.
That provides genuine opportunities for Labor, here and in Australia.
In New Zealand, Michael Savage responded to the challenge all those decades ago.
We must defend the gains that have made our respective nations successful and build on them.
It’s up to us to respond to the challenges of today.
It’s often said that the greatest speech ever delivered was Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
In less than 300 words, Lincoln’s tribute to the sacrifice of those who died in the cause of freedom drilled deep into the heart of the American spirit.
It was a landmark in human expression, not just for its lyrical beauty, but because it spoke directly to Americans about their national identity.
Because it focused on the great American dedication to the pursuit of liberty and sacrifice in the cause of freedom, it touched all Americans.
It still does.
Ben Chifley’s Light on the Hill speech was 484 words long.
But Chifley’s thoughts on the nature of the Australian labour movement are, in many ways, our equivalent of the Gettysburg Address.
When Chifley spoke of “bringing something better to the people’’ and praised those who gave freely of themselves to advance the circumstances of others, he was outlining the Labor Party’s mission statement.
But the Light on the Hill is not only about the ALP.
It’s a mission statement for the entire Australian people.
Chifley’s emphasis on selflessness, compassion and social justice speaks directly to all Australians about our national values.
Values like the Fair Go; the rejection of entrenched class divisions; equal respect for the highest achievers and the most humble of battlers; and our concept of community that is so recognizable in regional cities such as Bathurst.
Indeed, Chifley’s modestly stated aims promote the concept that while individualism might provide us with financial rewards, what Australians really seek are the greater rewards that come with living their lives to their fullest potential.
That is so much more than simply advancing our personal interests.
Australians want to be a part of something bigger than themselves – something that speaks to their deeply held values.
That spirit encapsulates the Light on the Hill.
It extinguishes the darkness of self-interest.
It illuminates what Abraham Lincoln himself referred to as the better angels of our nature.
It resonates deeply with a people who pride themselves on egalitarianism and mateship.
That’s why so many people invoke Chifley when they refer to Labor as the Party of the Light on the Hill.
They understand its power.
Labor’s call for collectivism, progress and shared prosperity is much closer to the values held by most Australians than the individualism that so excites the conservative parties.
When Labor gets it right, we have a compelling narrative.
Tonight, as we think about Ben Chifley and his contribution to our nation, I’d like to offer some ideas about how Labor can make sure we get it right now and into the future.
The conservatives have provided us with a clear example of how to get it wrong.
They admitted as much this week by knocking off the most-negative leader I have seen in my time in Parliament in Tony Abbott.
Mr Abbott had a plan to get into government, but no plan to govern.
That’s why there’s no sense of purpose or narrative emanating from our conservative opponents.
For them, the attainment of power is the end in itself.
The change in the conservative leadership doesn’t change that fundamental problem.
It is clear from Malcolm Turnbull’s first days as Prime Minister that he has put his personal ambition ahead of his convictions in critical policy areas including climate change, renewables, water sustainability for the Murray Darling Basin and marriage equality.
We all know what Mr Turnbull has said about these issues in the past.
But he has exchanged those principles for the keys to the Lodge.
Policy and intellectual integrity matter in public life.
Mr Turnbull has sacrificed both to become PM.
In doing so, he has given up the authenticity that Australians are seeking from their political leaders.
These actions also represent a breach of trust from the legitimate expectations that people had of Mr Turnbull.
Labor always performs at our best when our policies target the aspirations of the Australian people.
Those aspirations have motivated generations.
Above all, Australians want to ensure that their children have better opportunities than they enjoyed.
They don’t want a free ride.
They do want a Fair Go.
They want a chance to make something of themselves in life without artificial impediments like the circumstances of their birth or other factors outside their control.
Understanding these basic aspirations must always sit at the heart of Labor’s thinking.
While our opponents seek to empower the individual, we must dedicate ourselves to the many, not the few.
Our opponents believe that if the state just gets out of the way, everyone will be better served.
Labor seeks office so we can use the power of the state to intervene to make a real difference to people’s quality of life and their access to opportunity.
If we see a barrier to fairness, we are prepared to use the power of the State to make a difference.
Or, in the words of Ben Chifley:
I try to think of the labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people.
Our long history is adorned with great leaders.
From Chris Watson through to John Curtin and Chifley himself and on to Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, our record speaks to our ideals.
We build in a real sense through the delivery of great infrastructure.
Think of Ben Chifley’s Snowy Mountains Scheme, the transcontinental railway, the major national highway network and the National Broadband Network, to name just a few.
While others talk about infrastructure, Labor builds it.
But Labor’s most cherished capital project has been building up the social capital of the Australian people.
We empower Australians with education and training, delivering opportunity and unlocking human potential.
We introduced universal health care, building in people the sense of security that comes with knowing that if they become ill they will receive care, whatever their financial means.
We built the social safety net that ensures that all people, regardless of their economic means, are treated with the dignity that we regard as a birthright.
Indeed, when you consider all of the game changing social and economic reforms in our nation’s history, they were delivered by Labor governments.
Action on climate change; childcare; education; fair industrial relations; the National Disability Insurance Scheme, compulsory superannuation.
The list goes on.
Labor is also the author of the great statements of national leadership that have helped Australians come to terms with our past and set the scene for a better future.
Once seen, the great photograph of Gough Whitlam pouring red soil into the hands of Vincent Lingiari can never be forgotten.
And the proudest moment of my time in Parliament was when Kevin Rudd rose to deliver the historic national apology to our stolen generations
Labor always leads the way.
In 2015, as we prepare to write the next chapter of the great Labor story, our history must be our reference point.
We must always deal with the urgent needs of present circumstances.
But we must also always be looking to anticipate the future and, by doing so help to create that future.
A future where people come first.
Whilst this principle has guided my political engagement, I was struck by a QANTAS billboard when travelling through an Airport this week.
It depicts a QANTAS pilot saying, “I don’t just fly planes for a living, I fly people and there’s a difference”.
Indeed there is.
It’s a powerful message that shows that keeping people at the centre of the business equation is just as critical as putting people first politically.
Tonight, I want to raise five points that encapsulate a plan for an approach that puts people first can drive the agenda of the future Labor Government.
- Future job creation and the economy.
- Developing our cities and regions.
- Building communities.
- Advancing equity.
- Environmental sustainability.
1. FUTURE JOB CREATION AND THE ECONOMY
Building a strong economy is a core responsibility of Government working with the private sector.
For Labor however, a strong economy is not an end in itself.
It’s about creating jobs for Australians.
And it’s about generating the national wealth to fund nation changing reform.
As the resources sector moves from the construction to the production phase and beyond, the current Government has failed to identify and prepare for the jobs of the future.
Our location in the fastest growing region of the world gives us an advantage. China and India have increased their economic size by 6 times in the last two decades. In just one decade the Asian region will account for half of the global economy.
Our superb natural environment is another advantage. Our biggest advantage is the ingenuity and creativity of our people.
We must identify future opportunities now and create policy frameworks that facilitate the realisation of those opportunities, including the provision of education and skills appropriate to these future jobs.
High value manufacturing, infrastructure development, financial and legal services, food and agricultural production, tourism, renewable energy, information technology, urban design, the arts and creative sector, education and health services are all sectors primed for expansion.
The shift to a carbon constrained global economy provides extraordinary opportunities if we end the distraction of the climate skeptics in our national discourse.
Australians have been responsible for some of the world’s greatest advances from WiFi, the bionic ear and breakthroughs in solar and wave technology.
What we have not done as well as maximise the commercial opportunities that these advances have made possible.
Australia stands at a crossroad when it comes to the nature of future job creation.
Labor rejects the idea that we should compete in our region by lowering wages and conditions.
We must create high value jobs that allow for a continued improvement in living standards and fairness in our workplaces.
And we need to understand that while Australians want jobs, they don’t want their jobs to rule their lives.
We want to retain room to meet our commitments to our families, our friends and our communities.
Otherwise, we start to feel like units of production, rather than human beings.
For our political opponents, the nature of employment is solely about meeting the needs of business.
The current government goes even further.
It is prepared to destroy Australian jobs as though an individual’s job security is meaningless.
There’s a stunning example of this phenomenon in my own shadow portfolio of transport.
It’s in Australia’s economic, environmental and national security interests to maintain a vibrant domestic shipping industry.
Yet legislation before the Parliament would allow foreign ships to compete on domestic routes, paying third world wages.
No other advanced nation has such a regime.
This is a case of unilateral economic disarmament.
Evidence before Parliament from Mr Bill Milby of North Star Cruises has confirmed that he was advised that in order to compete he should reflag his ship and replace his Australian crew.
The Australian flag should not be replaced with the white flag on Australian jobs.
We need to balance the legitimate hope of business that governments can reduce costs with the equally legitimate aspirations of average Australians to employment with fair pay and conditions.
2. DEVELOPING OUR CITIES AND REGIONS
The current government’s is not interested in shaping our cities and regions.
This is evident in their approach to traffic congestion which has been exacerbated by a major shift that is under way in patterns of work in our cities.
In previous decades, jobs growth was strongest in the outer suburbs of big cities, close to affordable housing.
But this is changing.
The rise of the Digital Age means jobs growth is now concentrated in services industries like insurance and information technology which are based in inner suburbs.
This result is longer commuting journeys for average workers.
It is a tragedy that many working parents spend more time travelling to and from work than they do at home with their kids.
The suburbs of middle Australia are being transformed from lively communities where people lived, worked and played into drive-in, drive-out suburbs where people can afford a home but can’t find a job.
The problem here is not simply inconvenience.
Here we have millions of people literally watching their quality of life drifting away like the white line in their rear-vision mirror.
And the current government is doing nothing.
It sees no role for itself in urban policy or the provision of the public transport that could make a real impact on this problem.
But when Labor returns to government, we’ll begin a major attack on the problem of traffic congestion.
We won’t just build a few extra toll roads.
We’ll attack this problem at multiple levels to give all Australians the time and space they deserve to be more than just numbers on someone’s payroll, more than just cogs in a machine.
But it’s not just about what we do in our big capital cities.
It’s also about what we do to harness the ability of our regional cities and towns like Bathurst to take some of the development pressure off the major cities.
Many Australians stuck in the traffic jams I just referred to would happily consider moving to regional Australia for its lifestyle advantages.
What they need is the confidence they will be able to find work in those regional areas and access the services that are available in capital cities.
That’s why Labor is focusing heavily in boosting regional development and promoting quality of life through close attention to urban policy.
We must strengthen regional centres by working with local businesses to promote jobs growth.
We must also focus on consistency of quality of government services across the nation.
I’m not just talking about good schools and hospitals, but also tertiary education via well-resourced regional campuses of universities and vocational training.
Infrastructure is also critical.
If we hope to see rural and regional Australia taking some of the pressure off our cities, they need to be linked to those cities by good roads and, critically railways.
The recently opened Regional Rail Link, in Victoria, allows commuters from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong rapid access to Melbourne on a new rail line that is separate from the existing Melbourne passenger train network.
It’s a game changer.
The Regional Rail Link was the largest ever commonwealth investment in a public transport project.
It’s projects like this and the proposed High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra that show how carefully targeted commonwealth investment can make a real difference when it comes to strengthening links between cities and regions and, in the process, lifting productivity for both.
The most important way to boost regions in the Digital Age is to ensure they have access to a National Broadband Network connected directly to homes and businesses.
A half-baked, second-rate NBN of the type being delivered by the current government not only shortchanges cities like Bathurst.
It also shortchanges the entire nation.
It denies us the chance to bring our country into the 21st century – a century where technology is overcoming the tyranny of distance and allowing for greater connections between regional and metropolitan Australia across a whole range of areas.
3. BUILDING COMMUNITIES
Australians want stronger communities.
They understand that the rapid changes that are a constant in the 21st century risk isolating people from each other in a personal sense and seriously damaging the community fabric.
Governments have a role to play in strengthening communities.
I’m not just talking about handing out grants for community festivals, although this is money well spent.
I’m talking about, for example, focusing on quality of life by tackling traffic congestion in cities.
I’m talking about working with councils on urban design to ensure that our cities evolve in ways that promote a sense of community by providing opportunities for the interaction with others that most of us crave.
Designers pay great attention to the look of new apartment buildings.
But to promote healthy communities, we need to think more about the design of the spaces between those buildings.
We need better designed cities and towns, more public transport and better roads.
We need support for the arts and encouragement for local councils which, reflecting the closeness to their community, want to focus on development and sustenance of those strong community links.
It’s not just in big cities.
Every small community in Australia – from Bathurst to Bamaga – adds something to our nation by providing Australians with a home base for their broader activities and a context for their lives.
Governments need to value communities as more than simply places where houses exist.
They are people’s homes – places where they live, work and play.
A future Labor government will provide policy leadership to the states and local government and collaborate with both so that the great gains this nation has made in personal prosperity in recent decades are backed up with commensurate enrichment of community life.
Our task will begin with addressing the drive-in, drive-out suburb phenomenon and extend into any area where we can make a difference.
The best place to start is to work with the local councils, because they are in the closest contact with the needs and aspirations of communities.
The former Labor Government did exactly that in my own area of infrastructure and transport through programs Regional Development Australia Fund and the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure program.
In this region, these programs delivered, for example an upgrade for Mount Panorama, the refurbishment of the Chifley House, the expansion of the Orange Airport and the upgrade of the Orange Aquatic centre.
We also delivered projects like the Orange Bypass and the Great Western Highway upgrade.
A commonwealth government that listens to communities about their needs, rather than seeking to impose upon them some outcome dreamed up by bureaucrats in Canberra, stands the best chance of enriching community life.
4. ADVANCING EQUITY
The next Labor Government must be also address inequality.
Whilst growing income inequality is central, there are also aspects of social inequality.
That’s why a Labor Government will legislate for marriage equality within 100 days of its election.
It’s why we will promote racial equality by getting on with a referendum to recognise indigenous Australians in our Constitution.
We’ll enhance universal health care and promote a higher education system in which wealth does not determine access to self-improvement.
We’ll attack digital inequality by giving all Australians equal access to a world-class NBN that is based on fibre to the home and business.
In the 21st century economy, all Australians should have the best available Internet access.
Australia needs broadband, not fraudband.
That means fibre, not copper.
That means universality of service.
Otherwise those who can’t afford it won’t have access to the tools of social mobility.
That’s not only unjust.
It is just plain stupid because it will also limit this nation’s future economic growth.
Labor will also insist on equity measures in taxation.
We’ll require the big multi-nationals that fill their coffers off the backs of Australian consumers to give something back by actually paying tax in this country, rather than playing accountancy tricks to send their profits offshore.
We’ll also consider the introduction of a Buffet Tax under which individuals will be required to pay a minimum tax rate beyond which they cannot reduce their exposure with tax deductions.
The Buffett rule is named after American billionaire Warren Buffett, who found to his shame a few years ago that his accountants had ordered his affairs so that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary.
We also need to deliver gender equity by escalating the battle against domestic violence.
This requires the entire community to be mobilized to address this national crisis.
Striving for equity is central to the Labor mission.
It cuts across just about every policy area on the political radar screen.
There is no greater intergenerational issue than the environment.
The current Government’s refusal to take serious action on climate change not only isolates us from the international community, but also creates a situation where our inaction will impose costs on our children.
Their prevarication and whining about taking any action will do nothing but kick the problem down the road for our children and our grandchildren to deal with.
I don’t want to leave my son and his children a massive bill to make up for the current generation’s inaction on climate change.
I’d rather they inherit a clean environment; a healthy Great Barrier Reef; an Australia that has invested in renewable energy sources.
Labor must not be intimidated by our opponents into turning away from policies that focus on sustainability.
Indeed, sustainability must be promoted to the very centre of our policy considerations across the board.
Sustainability is not just about the environment.
It’s also about the way we design our cities and our communities.
It’s about the way we use government intervention to promote sustainable industry.
It’s about transport policy.
For example, one crowded commuter train can take hundreds of carbon emitting cars off the road.
So public transport not only boosts economic productivity by reducing congestion; it also provides an environmental outcome.
In the future Labor Governments should bring the concept of sustainability to the centre of policy making by considering the sustainability implications of all decisions.
And of course, we must act on climate change.
While the former prime minister became so irrational on the issue that he reduced this critical issue to arguing that wind turbines were ugly while coal mines were beautiful, most Australians understand the arguments for action.
That includes the new Prime Minister, although he agreed to shackle himself to inaction on the issue as a precondition to winning support among his colleagues.
Climate change is not some kind of international scientific conspiracy dreamed up by extremists who simply hate the mining and energy sectors.
It’s an economic issue.
We can kid ourselves as much as we like to avoid the truth, but the world is moving toward a low-emissions future.
Our choice is simple.
We can do nothing and wake up one day in the future to find the market for coal is shrinking and that our international competitors have cornered the market on clean-energy technology.
Or we can embrace change as an economic opportunity.
There are fortunes to be made in emerging renewable energy sectors but the current government is turning its back on the reality of change.
We’ve already lost the first mover advantage.
But it’s not too late for a Labor Government to get things back on track.
We don’t underestimate the complexity of managing a transition from an economy where mining is a key employer to one where the influence of mining declines over the long term.
But we need to manage the shift to renewable energy whether we like it or not.
We can’t stop it.
That’s why Labor remains convinced that a market-linked mechanism is the best way to deliver genuine outcomes.
It’s hard not to conclude that Ben Chifley had real enthusiasm for his life’s work; that he took joy in fighting the good fight on behalf of those who needed a hand.
While I’ve got no doubt Chifley was a political warrior, his real interest was in delivering progress.
In 2015, we need to follow his example.
For the past decade I have watched the quality of political debate in this country deteriorate into hyper-partisanship and negativity.
Tight electoral margins, the rise of the 24-hour media cycle and the particularly combative approach of Tony Abbott have led the decline.
I believe that Tony Abbott became so comfortable with being Opposition Leader he failed to transition.
Malcolm Turnbull’s repudiation of long held political positions is also a win for short term tactics over long term policy implementation.
Mr Turnbull should take the opportunity to explore ways to collaborate to achieve real progress for our nation.
He could start by accepting Bill Shorten’s invitation to join him in a bipartisan national summit on addressing the domestic violence crisis.
US actor Kevin Spacey, who plays the President of the United States in the series House of Cards, has obviously reflected seriously on this issue.
Spacey once said in an interview:
He’s spot on.
If the only language between politicians is the language of conflict, we’ll make a lot of noise but less progress.
Indeed, that is pretty much the story of the recently departed Abbott Government.
Lots of noise, no progress.
Tonight I’ve tried to explain why I think Labor can and should return to government.
But I know one thing.
We won’t return to government unless we put people at the top of our agenda.
Putting people first requires that we speak to them respectfully; communicating with them in an authentic manner.
We should look no further for inspiration than former US President John F Kennedy.
On 15 July 1960, as Kennedy accepted his party’s nomination to run for the presidency, he declared,
“We are not here to curse the darkness. We are here to light a candle.’’
Whenever I hear that Kennedy quotation and its focus on bringing light to the political darkness, I am reminded of the quiet dignity of Ben Chifley.
Chifley did not curse the darkness. He pointed to a better future – one in which people came first.
Let me thank the Labor Party Bathurst branch for giving me the great honour of delivering tonight’s address.
For me, being given such an opportunity is a dream come true.
But that’s the thing about the labour movement. People’s dreams can come true.
A train driver can become prime minister.
A boy who grew up in a council house with his single mum can become deputy prime minister.
Forty years after Chifley, the Manchester band The Smiths sang: ”There is a light that never goes out’’.
As long as the Australian Labor Party has true believers working for the advancement of all, that light will indeed continue to be a beacon of hope for us all.
THE UNITY HOTEL, BALMAIN
Economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that turmoil was a necessary ingredient for achieving progress in a capitalist society.
His Theory of Creative Destruction holds that in order to create a new economy, we must continually annihilate the old one.
This is an economic determinism that is indifferent to humanity.
Dennis Glover’s book stands in stark contrast to Schumpeter’s assertions.
This is a book that puts people back into the economic equation.
An Economy is Not a Society, argues that the benefits of economic reform must always be balanced against the human costs they incur.
It asserts that progress needs to be achieved without having a disregard for negative consequences.
In the field of public policy, if human feeling cannot trump mathematical calculation, we are in danger of becoming a mere economy, rather than a society; digits on some economists’ spread sheet, rather than human beings living in actual communities.
There is no humanity in viewing workers as mere economic units to be moved about in accordance with textbook theory, rather than as real human beings with families who are a part of a community.
There is no doubt that more than two decades of continuous economic growth has lifted average living standards and that many individuals have benefitted from this growth.
Dennis’s book is a thoughtful reminder that these years of economic growth have not come without cost.
He skilfully illustrates his point by transporting us to his boyhood home town of Doveton, about 35km southeast of Melbourne.
When Dennis was growing up in Doveton in the 1970s, it seemed to him that everyone had a job.
His Dad worked at the Holden factory.
His Mum worked at the Heinz factory.
All of his friends parents’ were also employed in manufacturing and his community, while not affluent, was secure and functional.
The workers of the area felt genuine loyalty for their employers and had a sense of identity.
Work was seen by employer and employee as a co-operative partnership – something not so common these days with the casualization of the Australian workforce.
Move forward 30 years and a lot has changed in Doveton.
While the removal of government support for manufacturing has delivered benefits for many, people who remain in Doveton tell a different story.
Dennis reveals that while the factories of his youth provided 7500 local jobs, economic change of recent decades has destroyed all but 500 jobs.
The unemployment rate sits around 21 percent.
The most compelling images of this book come early on when Dennis writes of returning to the street where he grew up.
While the street featured tidy, well-kept homes and a lively family atmosphere, it had become a picture of disorder.
Yards concreted over. Green areas overrun with weeds.
Indeed, his old family home was littered with car wrecks and it turned out the occupants were using it to run a backyard wrecking business.
… it’s because of all the sacrifices that the people of Doveton have involuntarily made that people in more affluent places get to drive their Audis and BMWs.
Dennis describes this process as “the revolution the little people lost’’.
An Economy is Not a Society is a passionate and unflinching critique of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction.
It is a brave and thought-provoking book.
You can feel Dennis’s strong and thoughtful passion on every page.
In many ways it is a polemic.
It should be of interest to all who believe in reform, particularly those who believe that Labor’s historic role is to represent the interests of those who most need an interventionist state.
It is also a book which has a moral purpose – something that can be lacking in the pure science of economics.
I don’t endorse all of Dennis’s sentiments.
But I agree with Dennis’s core argument that whatever benefits we believe can be gained by reform must be weighed against the costs.
While it is the role of government to achieve progress, we must not allow it to crush the legitimate interests of average Australians, working hard to raise their families.
Indeed, if we are serious reformers, we must accept that with change comes a responsibility not to leave people behind.
In my shadow portfolio of infrastructure, I’ve always argued that when considering whether we should build a new road or railway line, we should conduct cost-benefit analysis.
Dennis’s book is a reminder that we must apply the same discipline to the task of economic reform.
While Dennis’s canvas is his own community, his observations are relevant right across this country.
Here in Sydney the inner west industrial belt around Marrickville and Sydenham once provided many more jobs for unskilled workers, particularly from migrant backgrounds, than they do today.
There’s another example not far from here at Millers Point, in the shadows of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For decades, the Maritime Services Board provided public housing in Millers Point for dock workers and seafarers whose base was Sydney Harbour.
Generations of workers lived in this area, which grew into a real community – the type of place where people check in on their neighbours and look after each other.
Residents might have been poor financially, but they have always been rich in their sense of community.
However, the Baird State Government is selling the properties on the seemingly rational economic basis that the proceeds can be used to build more public housing elsewhere.
Economic rationalists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
No-one in the Baird Government has considered what is being lost in this transaction – a living, vibrant, caring community.
When Mike Baird looks at Millers Point he sees dollar signs.
When I look at Millers Point, I see a community made up of people who deserve respect and care.
However, elderly residents of some of these homes have received eviction notices slipped under their doors.
The message being sent is that these people are disposable – that you can just put them out like the rubbish.
Never mind that many have lived in these homes for their entire lives and have established strong and effective support networks within their community – networks that have value.
We might not be able to express that value in dollars and cents, but we are fools if we pretend it does not exist.
Here is another example.
Right now, across Australia’s major cities, demographic change linked to the economy is ravaging communities.
In the past decade, there has been a shift in the location of jobs growth in our cities.
Previously, jobs growth was strongest in the suburbs in industries like manufacturing – close to where people could find affordable housing.
But the rise of the Digital Age has seen a shift, with jobs growth now concentrated in inner suburbs in service industries.
This means many Australians now live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs – suburban communities where housing is still affordable but where jobs are scarce.
Tragically, this means that many people spend more time driving to and from work than they spend playing with their children.
This development, linked as it is to shifts in the economy, requires a government response to preserve people’s quality of life and protect the economy from erosion of the productivity needed to create jobs.
Yet the Abbott Government is apparently unaware of this problem and has no strategy to meet its challenges beyond building a few more toll roads.
If it had any interest in the quality of life of average Australians, it would tackle the drive-in, drive out phenomenon by investing in better public transport and roads, tackling housing affordability and lifting housing density along established public transport corridors.
But that is the problem with this crowd.
They think of Australia as an economy, not a society.
As Dennis has pointed out so well, Labor Governments need to remember that the economy serves the people, not the other way around.
Or, in Dennis’s words:
Making the economy stronger is not an end in itself; creating a better society is.
Early in this book Dennis poses the question: “Can an economic theory exist in the absence of a moral position?’’
To that I say absolutely not.
Former US President John F Kennedy once provided a more eloquent answer.
Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of people remain in poverty, while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.
In 2015, Labor must stand for economic reform.
But never without social progress.
I’m very proud to speak to a community rally today outside this important ALP National Conference and to do so as someone who is a proud member of the Labor Party and a delegate to this conference. Earlier this year we lost a great warrior for the environment, in my mentor Tom Uren.
What you may not know is that Tom Uren was the first environmental spokesperson for any political party in Australia, way back in the 1960’s. The platform that he put together as Labor’s environment spokesperson led to the vision that occurred under the Whitlam Government. Vision about ensuring that we looked after our natural environment but that we also understood urban environmental issues.
Then of course, we saw the great legacy continued by the Hawke and Keating including stopping the Franklin Dam; including making sure that we protected Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef; including making sure that Australia was a positive participant in the first conferences of the UNFCCC, including in Rio way back in 1992.
Labor continued that legacy in office under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard; the world’s largest marine parks. Ending the decades-long conflict over Tasmanian forests. Signing up to and ratifying Kyoto as our first action in Government.
As Labor’s then-environment spokesperson, I remember coming to a conference just like this and presenting a case for a 20% per cent renewable energy target by 2020 at a time when renewables were 2% of our electricity grid. And it has been achieved. It has been delivered.
At this conference Mark is going to tell you about how we’re going to take that to the next logical step. Because delegates to this conference just like people out there in the community understand that the challenge of dealing with climate change is the ultimate intergenerational issue. They understand that we need to have a vision for the future, not a pining for the past.
They understand that a government led by a man who says that he objects to solar and wind but doesn’t mind a coal mine, anywhere, even on prime agricultural land is a Prime Minister who is not worthy of support of the Australian people.
Delegates in there understand, just as I do, that when I’m not going to these conferences anymore, and I’m sitting on the porch with my now 14 year old son’s children, I want to be able to say that I did everything I could to deal with climate change.
It is an intergenerational issue, because what we do today impacts on what occurs tomorrow. That’s why the lecturing from first world countries such as Australia who have created the problems by having the highest per capita emissions in the world, to developing nations, where we’re not prepared to take action ourselves is simply not good enough.
It’s why we need a comprehensive, whole of government strategy.
It’s why Mark has the climate change portfolio but in reality, all of us have the climate change portfolio.
It’s why we need to invest in urban public transport, not just in roads.
It’s why we need proper emissions standards on cars.
It’s why we need to deal with the nature of our cities and making sure that jobs are closer to where people live and we have 20 minute cities whereby everyone can have access to work and recreational activity within 20 minutes by public transport cycling, or by walking with active transport.
So all of us have a responsibility.
But the bloke I’m about to introduce has a bigger responsibility than most. And the fact that he was elected ALP National President by the rank and rile of the Labor Party says to me and to all the delegates to the Party to which I belong that we value environment being front and centre.
Friends, Mark Butler.
I rise to speak in support of this amendment which will be seconded by the CPSU calling upon an incoming Labor Government to give consideration to the introduction of the Buffett Rule on tax, which I support.
This came about when US investor Warren Buffett came to realise that although he was a billionaire he paid less tax than the secretary who looked after his diary.
This proposal is the creation of a minimum tax rate levied on the total income of high-income earners. If adopted, wealthy Australians would continue to spend fortunes on accountants. But once they reached a certain rate – 35% is what was proposed in the United States – no further deductions could be claimed.
The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling has done research that showed that just for the top 1% of income earners, this could produce $2.5 billion revenue each and every year.
$2.5 billion that could be spent on infrastructure, on schools, on hospitals. The Australian Tax Office figures for 2011-12 show precisely why I believe very firmly that such a policy is needed.
They found that 75 wealthy Australians earning more than $1 million a year paid no tax. Of those 75, they had a combined pre-tax income of $195 million.
But their accountants managed to reduce their collective taxable incomes to just $82. That’s $82 in total out of $195 million that was earned. That is simply unacceptable.
That means that the burden of tax paid by those working men and women who are PAYG tax earners, are the people who are doing the heavy lifting. We hear a lot from this government about lifters and leaners.
Well I say, that one way we could deal with the tax system is to make sure that those people who should be paying tax do pay their tax and that those companies who should be paying tax do pay their tax as well, not offshore it.
We’ve had policy put forward by the Shadow Treasurer on multinationals to make sure that they pay their fair share of taxation. The adoption of this today will ensure that a Labor Government will give proper consideration to this proposal.
I believe it has the overwhelming support of the Australian community.
This is an issue on which we can mobilise people – because they know that the nurses, the teachers, the miners, the construction workers -they shouldn’t be paying all the tax while the millionaires simply are able to minimise theirs.
Delegates, I congratulate the CPSU on the leadership that they have shown on this issue and I comment the amendment to the conference.
Address to ALP National Conference event for the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons – Launch of Tom Uren Memorial Fund
Just after 11am on August 9, 1945, on the island of Omuta, prisoners of war noticed an odd discolouration on the horizon in the direction of Nagasaki, about 80km away.
Decades later one of those prisoners – Tom Uren – described the sight.
It reminded me of those beautiful crimson skies of sunsets in Central Australia, but magnified about ten times stronger, and it’s vividly… It’s never left me.
Watching a nuclear explosion that killed as many as 80,000 people had a deep effect on Tom.
In later interviews Tom noted that in 1945, he was glad the bomb had been dropped because it meant that war was about to end and he could go home after years of oppression in POW camps and being treated like a slave on the infamous Burma Railway.
But he also said that later, the more he thought about witnessing the explosion, the more he came to realise that nothing could justify the use of nuclear weapons.
He later told a journalist:
As I evolved and understood nuclear war, I found that it was a crime against humanity.
Really. I really do think that the dropping of a nuclear bomb on human beings, generally, was a crime against humanity, and a lot of my mates don’t agree with me.
It says a lot about Tom Uren that despite losing his youth to the war; despite undergoing unimaginable hardships at the hands of his Japanese captors, he was able to disconnect his own experience from the broader issue of nuclear weapons and their impact on humanity.
He came to understand that the world would be a better place without nuclear weapons and was happy to stand up and argue the point – anywhere, any time and at any cost.
Tom Uren was an extraordinary man – a great man of the Left who dedicated a lifetime of activism to a range of important causes.
If you look through the history books at photographs of some of the great public movements of the past half-century, there’s a very good chance you’ll see Tom leading the marches or rallies.
The Vietnam War.
Land rights for indigenous people.
Justice for former POWs.
Protection of our urban and natural environments.
Attacks on civil liberties.
Self-determination of the people of East Timor.
Tom was always there, right out front.
But when he retired from Parliament in 1990, he left us all in no doubt on what he saw as unfinished business.
“The labour movement has been good to me in all the years I have been in politics,’’ Tom said.
“For the rest of my life I will commit myself to the people. The struggle for nuclear disarmament is the most important struggle in the human race.’’
Although Tom passed away on Australia Day this year, his comment is as important today as it was when it was made.
In political life, we encounter many issues and fight many battles.
Some matter more than others.
But when everything is said and done, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t see the existence of nuclear arsenals that could result in the destruction of the mankind as the number one issue facing our race.
All of us need to consider this issue from the perspective of our legacy we will leave.
Only a fool would not want their children and grandchildren growing up in a nuclear world if they could do something to prevent it.
It’s true that the extreme tensions of the Cold War, which was still a cause of fear when I was young, have eased.
That’s a good thing, because in those days kids were told the world really could end at any moment.
But let’s not forget that even if tension has receded, the weapons are still out there – enough weapons to destroy the globe many times over.
According to ICAN, nine countries together possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons.
Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people.
Even if global politics is no longer an intractable battle of ideologies, too many nations possess nuclear weapons.
Some use them as threats as they pursue their economic, regional or global policy ambitions.
We’ll never stop there being differences between nations over any range of matters – territorial disputes, ethnic battles, religion, politics.
But what we can do is work together to disarm so that, when nations have disputes, there is no chance that their arguments will get out of hand and lead to nuclear conflict.
International powers need to work together to that end.
They must put the arguments of the day aside and accept that the existence of so many nuclear warheads around the world represents a danger to us all.
That’s a threat we can do without.
This requires commonsense and goodwill, commodities that are sadly often absent when it comes to the debate about nuclear weapons.
Just earlier this month when US President Barack Obama clinched a deal with Iran to surrender 97 per cent of its enriched uranium and allow intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions by the US and Europe, he made a critical step forward in reducing the chances of a Middle east arms race.
Yet there are conservatives in the US and Israel who are uncomfortable with the idea. They are wrong.
They have given in to fear and paranoia or because they simply can’t bring themselves to trust people they see as their enemies – they can’t see the forest for the trees.
It is that sort of approach to the issue that we really need to eliminate.
We need to accept that, whatever our arguments, the existence of nuclear weapons is a threat to us all and that the only way to reduce the threat is to work together.
Or, in the words of British songwriter and activist Billy Bragg:
The only way to disarm is to disarm. (from his song The Warmest Room)
What Billy was trying to say is that we can find all sorts of excuses about why we should not disarm, but if we stop using those excuses and just get on with it, the world will be a better place – for all of us.
I don’t know if Tom Uren ever met Billy Bragg.
But I do know that after all of his experiences, Tom had a similar view on the issue.
Indeed, in 1959 Tom gave one of his first speeches in Parliament in which he expressed his dismay that when conservative politicians debated issues to do with nuclear weapons, their comments were laced with paranoid Cold war rhetoric about the evil of Russia and China.
Clear-headed Tom said: “We on this side of the House do not want a hate session with anybody.
“We must do our utmost to stop nuclear tests. Problems can no longer be solved by wars. We must solve them by peaceful negotiation.’’
More than half a century later, Tom’s words ring down the decades.
Peaceful negotiation in the interests of common humanity is the way forward.
I’m very pleased to have been asked to speak today about Tom.
As most people here would know, I used to work for this great man.
He was like a father to me and we spoke often of these issues, as well as his concern about the use of nuclear energy given the unresolved issue of safely disposing of nuclear waste.
My position on the nuclear fuel cycle is clear.
Until the issues of nuclear waste and nuclear proliferation are satisfactorily solved, I oppose any further Australian involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.
Nuclear waste created today, remains an issue for generations to come.
That’s why I am proud that Labor is sticking by our strong commitment to develop alternative energy sources and will seek a target of 50 per cent use of renewables by 2030.
That’s a sensible and responsible approach.
I note that Tony Abbott doesn’t like solar or wind energy.
The problem of course isn’t that Tony Abbott is stuck in the past, it’s that he wants the rest of Australia to go back there and keep him company.
I’ve had concerns about nuclear energy for my entire period in parliament, so I thank you for the chance to speak today.
I’ll speak about Tom Uren any time. He was a special man whose sense of justice and love for humanity make him one of our nation’s all-time greats.
I miss his love, his friendship, his counsel – and his hugs.
It’s fitting that ICAN has chosen to create the Tom Uren Memorial Fund.
Long may people rally behind his name.
To understand Tom Uren’s political career, which featured 32 years in parliament as the Federal Labor Member for Reid, the best place to start is at the end.
When he retired in 1990, he was asked what he would do now he was no longer in politics.
“I’m out of Parliament,” Tom said, “not out of politics.”
Tom’s political power and influence came directly from his political conviction.
Tom Uren was a man of substance.
Tom was a true believer.
He was a proud man of the Left – “Straight Left” as he named his wonderful autobiography.
Political activism was a way of life.
Over his long career, he pursued this responsibility with commitment, tenacity and absolute conviction.
He could be a ferocious and fearless opponent.
But just as importantly, he did so with a generosity of spirit and a willingness to work with anyone of good will to achieve practical outcomes.
He was selfless in his struggle for justice, compassion and progress.
If you look at photographs of some of the big peoples’ political movements over six decades, chances are you will see Tom in the front line:
- The Vietnam War moratoriums
- The anti-nuclear movement
- Indigenous land rights
- Protection of our urban and natural environment
- Self-determination for the people of East Timor
- Justice for war veterans
- Uncompromising defence of civil liberties
If he was convinced he was right, he feared nothing.
Not even jail.
But then again, I suppose it’s pretty hard to intimidate a bloke with the threat of an Australian jail, when he had worked on the Burma Railway.
Tom lived the vision of change outlined by Barack Obama who once said:
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Tom was always seeking change.
On the streets.
At public forums.
In the Labor Party.
In the Parliament.
He was immensely proud of his last major victory, when he convinced Julia Gillard and the former Labor Government to provide compensation for surviving prisoners of war.
The great testimony to Tom’s life as an activist is that he was on the right side of history on all of the major causes he was associated with.
When Tom and his great mate Jim Cairns led opposition to the Vietnam War it was a radical position.
It takes moral courage to campaign and bring people with you.
After he was declared one of the 100 living national treasures in 1997, Tom joked that people applauding his lifetime of achievement would have had him hanged in the 1960s over these very same issues.
There’s a message here that we should never forget.
Today’s unfashionable cause can become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.
Tom argued that if you believe in your heart that your cause is just, you should fight for it.
And fight Tom did.
Tom’s parliamentary career began in 1958, in the seat of Reid after moving to Guildford with his wife Patricia.
In a hard fought preselection he defeated a sitting member, Charlie Morgan, who he saw as being linked with the right-wing industrial groups.
This was the first time a sitting Labor member had been successfully ousted for a long time.
He didn’t do it by stacking branches or calling upon favours from sympathetic trade union blocks.
He simply argued his case and persuaded party members over cups of tea at their kitchen tables.
He was persuasive, passionate, and of course he could be charming.
His conviction shone through and he was a grassroots campaigner without peer.
While he was a strong supporter of collectivism through the union movement, it was the community that was his political support base.
You couldn’t walk down the street alongside him, without feeling the warmth that people had for him.
People truly loved him.
After easily winning his seat, Tom spent his first two or three terms creating firm alliances with likeminded MPs.
He worked hard to absorb knowledge from colleagues and books as he sought to make up for his lack of educational opportunities earlier in life.
He taught himself the principles of economics and the fine detail of the full spectrum of commonwealth legislative activities.
Tom wanted to change the world.
And his tool was persuasion.
His aim was incremental progress.
He would always tell me, “you’ve got to bring people with you.”
It didn’t stop opponents questioning his patriotism.
Tom responded with successful legal action.
Tom built a place in the mountains called Fairfax Retreat, and a house down the South Coast he nicknamed Packer’s Lodge.
By the late 1960s Tom was in a leadership role.
Tom had a difficult relationship with Whitlam, worrying that Gough might be too wedded to American foreign policy.
But when Whitlam declared his intention to bring troops home from Vietnam, that cemented Tom’s support.
And if you had Tom’s support, his loyalty was absolute.
Gough Whitlam turned to Tom to design, and later implement, the nation’s first comprehensive policy for improving living standards in our nation’s cities, the outer suburbs and regions.
In 1969, as man walked on the moon, millions of Australians watched the event on televisions in homes that were not even connected to sewerage.
Roads were inadequate. Public transport was underfunded.
There were few protections for heritage values and the environment.
Gough and Tom realised that if they worked with state and local government to provide political leadership and direct investment in communities, they could deliver real improvements in the day to day life of millions of Australians.
Having spent their political lives aspiring to uplift mainstream Australia, they had hit upon a practical way to do so.
Tom attracted the best and the brightest to the Department of Urban and Regional Development, more than 20 of these creative public servants went on to head Government departments and agencies.
Tom Uren’s achievements in the Whitlam Government stand as testimony to what can happen when national leadership and vision is put into practice:
- Growth centres such as Albury-Wodonga
- Provision of parks and environmental protection in suburban Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and other parts of Australia
- Provision of sewerage in the outer suburbs of our capital cities
- Direct funding of local government through Financial Assistance Grants
- The first significant federal funding of public transport
- The Australian Heritage Commission
- The Register of the National Estate
- Rejuvenation of urban precincts, like Glebe and Woolloomooloo
- Protection of the Sydney Harbour foreshore
As much as Tom put collective action before the role of any individual, the truth is that one man did change the relationship that the national government can have in improving the quality of life, particularly for those living in outer suburbs.
That man is Tom Uren.
Tom became Deputy Leader to Gough Whitlam after the loss of Government, defeating opponents including his later great friend, Paul Keating in the caucus ballot.
He continued to play a role in the executive right up to the 1983 election of the Hawke’s Government in which he joined Bill Hayden, Lionel Bowen and Paul Keating as the only Whitlam Government Ministers to also serve in Bob’s Government.
As a Minister in the Hawke Government, he took up where he left off- supporting public and community housing, cementing his position as the modern father of local government.
As the Minister for Administrative Services, he oversaw the construction of the new Parliament House, which had begun with his motion in the Parliament back in 1975.
Tom started the ball rolling on self government for the ACT, consistent with his support for grassroots democracy.
After he stood down from the Ministry in 1987 he became Australia’s delegate to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, taking his message of peace, nuclear disarmament and social justice on to the international stage.
In 1990 he retired from Parliament as the Father of the House of Representatives in 1990, but continued his political activism across a range of areas including serving as head of the Parramatta Park Trust.
Tom continued to be respected across the political spectrum.
In 2012 then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Greens Party Leader Bob Brown combined to enthusiastically sponsor Tom’s nomination for Australia’s highest homegrown honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his remarkable contribution to our great nation.
To the very end, Tom Uren was an optimist. He drew his positive outlook from people around him.
Into his 90’s he said:
“I hope that right to the end of my days, I’ll always struggle for progress. Always have faith in tomorrow.
Unless you’ve got faith in people, got faith in the future, then your life is not worth tuppence halfpenny and a beer bottle top.”
Tom lived by this positive creed until the end of his days on this land, which he respected and loved.
Those of us who remain can honour his legacy by living by this creed.