I’m delighted to be here in Ballarat, a city for ever linked with the proud history of organised labour in this country.
It’s a place of great history – a place where, in years gone by, fortunes were made in a day.
Where, in 1854, diggers angry about onerous government licensing requirements rebelled, harnessing the strength that comes from unity in the face of unfairness.
Of course, there were no unions at the time of the Eureka Stockade.
But the spirit of collectivism that flourished on the goldfields was an important point in the history of this nation.
It was a catalyst for subsequent events that gave birth to trade unions and the Australian Labor Party.
In fact, I understand your secretary contends that it is fact Ballarat, not Barcaldine or Balmain, that was the birthplace of the ALP.
More than a century and a half later, Ballarat is still a city where people understand the strength of unity.
It’s a city where people take values seriously.
Where people join together in the collective good, rather than succumbing to the selfish weakness of individualism that forms the ideological basis of the views and actions of our opponents.
That’s a good thing.
A BATTLE FOR FAIRNESS
Because today, just like those diggers in 1854, we face a battle for fairness – a serious contest about what values underpin our national life.
Our opponents are ideologues with no positive plan for Australia.
They can tell you the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
Most people who stand for office, whatever their political stripe, want to take the nation forward – to make it a better place.
But Tony Abbott is a reactionary.
The problem 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.
That’s why the 2014 Budget was not a plan for the future, but an attack on the gains of the past.
The Prime Minister’s vision for Australia is one seen through a rear-vision mirror.
- A place where people pay a Medicare levy every week only to be told they have to pay again to visit a doctor;
- A place where education is not about spreading opportunity, but entrenching privilege;
- Where climate science is derided;
- Where a visiting US president’s praise for the splendor of the Great Barrier Reef is attacked as an affront to our national sovereignty.
- Mr Abbott’s world is a place where our renewable energy target has been so successful that it has to be scrapped.
- Where we have only two women in the cabinet;
- Where the government’s political agenda is set by shock jocks and partisan newspaper columnists;
- Where bigotry is a right;
- Where people communicate over ageing copper wire rather than 21st century fibre.
No wonder 39 of Mr Abbott’s colleagues voted for an empty chair.
They know Tony Abbott won’t be forgiven for treating his election promises like plates at a Greek wedding.
No cuts to health – smashed.
No cuts to education – smashed.
No cuts to the ABC – smashed.
No cuts to pensions – smashed.
Even worse, when anyone called Mr Abbott out on his deceit, he has made the ridiculous, Monty Pythonesque assertion that he has broken no promises.
When Queensland LNP member Wyatt Roy dared to raise the issue of broken promises at a private dinner, Mr Abbott rounded on him with expletives and scorn.
The verdict is in – Tony Abbott is finished.
His own caucus knows that Australians no longer take him seriously.
Mr Abbott has run out of political capital.
He exhausted it all on the issues that matter the most to him.
- Like proposing to pay millionaires $50,000 to have babies.
- Like attacking the ABC and the Human Rights Commission
- Like reintroducing knights and dames and then granting one to the Queens’s husband.
NO PLAN FOR GOVERNMENT
But regardless of who replaces Mr Abbott – whether it is that modest battler from struggle street, Point Piper, Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop, little will change.
The real problem for the Coalition all along has been its lack of policy ideas.
Most political parties that lose government go into a period of introspection. They return to the policy drawing board and seek ways to re-engage with the electorate.
That’s what the Labor Party is up to right now.
But after losing office in 2007 off the back of the obscene WorkChoices regime, the Coalition devoted six years to shouting three-word slogans.
They did not work on policy.
They had a plan to get into government, but no plan to govern.
So now, whoever is prime minister, the Coalition is bereft when it comes to ideas.
Because of that lack of policy development, the Coalition has retreated to implementing policies that reflect their prejudices.
You can be sure that if the term public is involved, it will come under heavy attack.
You might recognise a bit of theme here.
They just don’t like the public.
Instead they stand for vested interests.
That’s why they want to change the balance of power in the workplace.
At the front line is their attack on penalty rates, which they characterise as a way to create more jobs.
What they don’t understand is that many working families rely upon penalty rates to meet the basics of life – to pay their mortgage, to feed their families and to fit out their children for school.
They just don’t get it.
We in Labor will be successful if we campaign on our values.
Our values are simple.
We want the next generation to enjoy a better standard of living than we enjoyed.
We want our kids to have greater opportunity for education, whether that be university, or a TAFE qualification.
We want to hand them a natural environment that is in better shape than the one we inherited.
We want to lift people up.
The fundamental difference between us and our opponents is that we care about our entire community, not just about ourselves.
That’s why I admire so much the trade union delegates and community activists who are here tonight.
Your involvement in our great labour movement is a part of a historical tradition of selfless commitment to collectivism.
You fight for others, not just for yourselves.
Whilst our fundamental values are central to our pitch for support, Labor also needs to put forward specific policies that highlight the differences between us and our opponents.
Those differences could not be more clear than in my own policy areas of infrastructure and cities.
Ever since the Whitlam era, Labor has worked with councils and state governments on concrete ways to improve the standard of living of Australians within their own communities.
We’ve focused particularly on outer suburbs and cities.
But when I talk about cities, I’m not just talking about capital cities, which are under siege from urban sprawl, traffic congestion and a lack of job opportunities close to where people live.
I’m also talking about regional cities like Ballarat.
If we can make our regional cities more productive, sustainable and liveable, they can take some of the developmental stress off the capital cities.
Last year, in a major speech at the National Press Club, I released a 10-point action plan for our cities that included a new focus on decentralisation of job creation.
We need to focus on jobs in regional areas – not only for current residents, but so that, over time, they will become more attractive to capital city people looking for a fresh start.
We cannot afford to go backwards.
I understand that there have been a number of recent job losses in your community involving employers like Telstra and Allied Mills.
When the Tories talk about regional development, they are usually referring to pork barrelling in National Party electorates.
But Labor understands that regional development is about jobs, economic development and quality of life.
We will go to the next election not just talking the talk.
We have a genuine record of delivery we can point to that demonstrates that we can also walk the walk.
This afternoon I was proud to inspect progress on the duplication of the Western Highway from here to Stawell.
Despite Warren Truss’s constant attempts to re-announce this project and pretend it was somehow delivered by Tony Abbott, Labor is responsible for this work.
We also upgraded the Western Freeway between Melton and Bacchus Marsh via a new connection through the appropriately named Anthony’s Cutting.
Then there’s the biggest single commonwealth investment in public transport in the history of this nation – the Regional Rail Link.
It was designed, funded and substantially delivered by Labor.
This fantastic project is untangling suburban and regional rail lines and providing faster links between Melbourne and regional centres like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.
In the next election campaign, we’ll be making sure voters understand our commitment to the regions.
At the same time, we can expect more of the old negative politics from the Tories.
They will try to scare people.
They’ll also demonise unions and working people.
For a group that loves to talk about security, I find it more than passing strange that they never want to talk about security in the workplace.
They simply don’t understand that job security is essential for the quality of life of working people and their communities.
Thanks again for your invitation to be here tonight.
Let me leave you with a comment about the nature of political debate in this country.
Tony Abbott is the most-negative politician in living memory.
Throughout his time leading the Liberal party, the quality of political debate has reached alarming lows.
Where previously, politics was a battle of ideas, Tony Abbott has turned it into an ugly shouting match where the facts mean nothing.
He has based his political discourse on negativity and three-word slogans, not on policy and respectful debate.
I am convinced this is why Australians constantly tell pollsters they have no respect for politicians or the political process.
We in the Labor movement must begin to address this problem.
The best way to do that is to base our arguments for power on carefully thought-out policies – policies that pass the test of fairness while also dealing with the genuine economic challenges our nation faces.
We need to talk about ideas, not personalities; policy, not dogma.
Just like those Diggers in 1854, Labor’s cause is justice for all.
It’s a compelling narrative, one that will beat three-word slogans every time.