May 30, 2019

Address to Labor Caucus – Canberra – Thursday, 30 May 2019

Thank you very much, and thank you for the incredible honour and privilege of being the 21st Leader of our great party.

Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respect to their elders, past and present.

I said on Monday that for me and for all of us, we’re not just a party, we’re a movement.

A movement for a better Australia.

A movement that has an incredible history whether it was Andrew Fisher setting up the Navy, building the transcontinental railway – you look at the photos over there.

You look at John Curtin who the nation turned in our darkest hour to see us through the Second World War.

You look at Ben Chifley, who led post-war reconstruction and helped establish modern Australia.

That modernisation was stagnant for a while, and then along came Gough, who brought us, who brought us into what is now modern Australia – did so much in such a short period of time.

And then of course along came Bob Hawke, who transformed the country just as largely and just as significantly as Gough Whitlam did, but he taught us something else.

He and Paul Keating taught us that we need long-term Labor government to entrench our reform and change agenda.

And then I was incredibly privileged to serve in Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s governments. History will treat them well.

The apology to the Stolen Generation, taking action on climate change, most significantly, most significantly, coming through the global financial crisis better than any industrialised economy in the entire world.

I pay tribute to Bill and to Tanya.

These two giants of our movement, have fought for the cause of Labor their entire lives.

No-one could have done more to try to get us in the room where we want to sit, after the next election, than Bill Shorten as Leader, ably assisted by his loyal, passionate, and talented Deputy, Tanya Plibersek.

Bill Shorten’s given a lifetime to this movement – the industrial wing and the political wing – which go together, go together, hand in hand, and we don’t shy away from our origins, indeed, we are proud of our connections to the great trade union movement of this country.

To Bill and to Tanya, I say this – I welcome your contribution to the new team.

You will have significant roles to play, not the least of which will be to give me advice about how my performance can be improved, and a way forward.

You have been through the furnace that is a federal election campaign.

For those of us who have been campaign directors, been senior candidates, I say that, unless you have actually done it -I don’t know what it is like – I look forward to the experience.

But I do so, I do so with something that is a really important starting point, that started with your leadership – unity.

Unity of purpose.

We learned the lessons of the last time we were in government and we haven’t gone back there.

The fact I stand today as the person elected to lead our great party, unanimously, with the support of the caucus and the party, is quite extraordinary. I’ve been in this place for more than two decades. I’ve been through a few processes.

This has been smooth, it’s been collegiate, it’s been in the spirit of unity, people have put the interests of our great party before their own interests.

And that is Labor at our best.

In the election campaign, it has to be said, and I say it unequivocally today – I accept my share as a senior Shadow Minister in the show, for the fact that we weren’t successful.

I think the senior Members, all of us, have to accept responsibility, that those many millions of Australians who rely upon us and the tens of thousands of people who have worked on our campaigns, need us to do better next time.

And today we resolve to do just that.

To our fallen caucus members, I pay tribute to them and acknowledge the hard time.

I have spoken to all of them, and I will continue and I say to caucus colleagues, continue to reach out.

It’s a difficult period in their lives and we know for all of them, it wasn’t anything that they did wrong.

They were hard working, as were our candidates in marginal electorates, and I pay tribute to them as well as every single true believer out there, who campaigned for the cause of Labor – not for something for themselves, but because they want a better nation.

To Scott Morrison, I say congratulations.

You have been elected the Prime Minister of Australia, by the people of Australia. That is an incredible honour.

Earlier today, at a media conference, I said that I’d reached out to Scott and organised for us to talk.

I’ve heard since that he actually did text me congratulations – to a wrong number -a couple of days ago.

And he then on Tuesday followed up with a text message, that I thought was from Scott, my mate from Concord, who I grew up with.

So to Scott and Shiree, g’day.

They grew up in Lambert Street, Camperdown, in council housing with me.

They don’t live in my electorate anymore, they live in Reid, but apologies, they still come and hand out for me.

And they are great people, and so to Scott, where’s your message, mate?

To the Prime Minister, I say thank you for the courtesy in sending me that message.

I say that I respect the Office of Prime Minister.

That doesn’t mean you will get an easy time because you won’t.

My job and our job in this room so to hold you to account.

We have fundamental differences, fundamental differences about the direction that the country should go.

Part of those differences are that we understand that change happens, and we went to an election campaign fighting for a change agenda.

That’s harder than if you’re just trying to preserve the status quo of existing relationships within society.

But I say this also – that where we can reach agreement, we will do so.

I want to be known as the Labor Leader, not the Opposition Leader.

I want to be prepared on issues such as reconciliation and the recognition of First Nations people in our Constitution, and the voice. I want to advance that.

Issues like that can only be advanced with consensus.

You can’t win a Constitutional change if there’s argument out there.

And I say there are so many issues that are so important facing this nation, that are before us, that are much more important than differences between us.

And I make that offer genuinely and sincerely.

Can I say also that I understand the great responsibility that I have – I love this party.

I love our supporters. But I also love the nation. And I have a responsibility to them.

The fact is that at the last election, we are in circumstances whereby one in four Australians didn’t vote for either of the major political parties.

We received the support of one in three Australians, as their first preference.

In Queensland, that figure was one in four.

We need to do better if we are going to have the first caucus meeting of the next Parliament just down the corridor, and I’m determined that we do just that.

I believe that one of the reasons for that one in four vote for neither of the major political parties is that people have conflict fatigue.

They don’t want to see us yelling at each other for the sake of it.

They want solutions, not arguments.

They want unions and business to be able to work together in the common interest.

They want an economy that works for them, not the other way around.

Labor supports economic growth as the core part of our agenda.

Because jobs are always first, second, and third priority of this great party.

Not just any job, good jobs, with fair pay, and fair conditions.

That’s why we were created out of the trade union movement, way back in 1891.

And today, those values are just as important.

We want an inclusive society, one that reaches out and does achieve social justice.

That don’t mean dragging people down, that means lifting people up, that means a positive agenda when it comes to inclusion.

Including on the basis of gender, on the basis of race, and ethnicity, on the basis of who people love and on the basis of faith.

We respect people and I have said before that one of the great privileges of living in the greatest country on the planet is our diversity, is our multiculturalism.

We need to celebrate it each and every day.

We also need to promote opportunity regardless of where people live.

There’s a bit of a debate about aspiration going on.

I see myself as the embodiment of aspiration.

The son of a single mum, who made a courageous decision in 1963 to keep me, and indeed, under circumstances in which some of that brought shame, to have a child out of wedlock, in 1963.

I was given my father’s name and I was told he had died.

That was the level of pressure that was placed on a young Catholic woman in 1963.

I’m standing here today as the physical embodiment of what this country offers.

Opportunity to aspire to a better life.

But it’s not just about individualism, because I believe Australians firmly want not just a better life for themselves, they want a better life for their family, they want a better life for their neighbours, they want a better life for their community and for their nation.

And that’s what Labor offers.

That’s what we need to clearly articulate.

So that whether you’re a trade union member, a non-union member, a someone who is involved in small and family business, whether you’re someone who set yourself up as a tradie, whether you’re a pensioner, whether you’re young or old, whether you live in a city or a region, or a remote community, you feel included in society.

And that is the Labor agenda very much.

I’ve concentrated in the last decade on building, whether in government, or in opposition as a Shadow Minister.

Wherever I go in the country, I can point towards projects and things that we have built.

Whether that be major projects of railways and roads throughout the country, or whether it be my engagement with local government, where in my period as the minister, I transformed the relationship between the national government and local government.

I treated every Mayor and Shire President in the country with respect.

I brought them to Parliament House.

They got to meet the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and the Deputy Prime Minister and the entire team, here in Parliament House, over a period not for an hour – for days.

And have that genuine dialogue and engagement.

I intend to renew that engagement as Labor leader in regional Queensland, in regional WA and New South Wales, in Tasmania, in South Australia, in the territories.

Right throughout the country I intend to build on that relationship that I have.

And I think that is very important that at this phase, we all go out there and there will be a listening tour, we’ll have a shadow ministry meeting next week.

It is time for us to use this period to listen to what people are saying to us about how we can improve our performance.

Because we do need to, as I said before, hasten slowly.

The next election is three years’ away.

I was asked earlier today whether there would be any debate about legislation in this afternoon’s caucus.

The government has to form policy before they can put it into legislation before we can then consider it.

At the moment, very clearly, the government relied upon a fear campaign and what they were against, they were against us.

They don’t really have a third term agenda.

And we shouldn’t let them get away with this idea that somehow there’s anything new about them, because there’s not.

This is their third term in office.

They have concentrated in their second term in fighting each other.

What they need to do is fight for the nation.

And we will do that.

We will do that.

Bob Hawke showed us, I believe, that we’re at our best when we bring the nation together.

And that needs to be a guiding light for us.

Bringing people together.

Trying to do what we can, even from opposition, but then in government, to narrow the gap, to say to Australians, that what divides us is much less than what unites us.

That we do have common interests and we do have common purpose.

Chifley, of course, spoke about the light on the hill.

We need to power that up so that every Australian in every corner of this vast continent can see the light that we offer.

This caucus is an amazing group of people.

The truth is that getting together the shadow ministry team, anyone here could have served.

The team that we’ll be going forward with, I want person to person, is just so much more impressive and capable than those on the Government benches who have suffered on top of what occurred last time, where they had ministers who had to be hidden from view, during an election campaign.

They since then of course in recent times, you’ve seen Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Arthur Sinodinos and Mitch Fifield depart the scene.

That’s a huge group of their best people.

They have left.

So we’ll see what they come up with. But I think that one of the points that I want to make, and I conclude with these points – is that this group are quite rightly disappointed.

I am too.

I wanted and thought, truth is, I’m going to rewrite history, I thought when I arrived at Channel Nine on election night, that we would be claiming victory at some stage during that evening.

Again, a lesson of why we need to hasten slowly.

The election won’t be determined in coming months.

Might not even be next year.

Sometime between December ’20-’21 and March 2022.

We need to continue to respond to the day to day issues that we have to and we will, but always focusing on that day, because it’s that day that matters in terms of whether we’re in a position of forming Government.

So from time to time, you’ll see various reports from the fourth estate, saying, the Leader of the Labor Party wouldn’t answer every question.

That was put there, because he said he was going to consult the caucus and the team.

Too right I am. Too right I am. Because the capacity of all the people in this room I value and I want to hear from, and I want you to participate in those decisions.

Because collective decision making is always much better than decision making by an individual.

And we’ve been really well served over the last two terms by the fact that we have had a collegiate atmosphere and that comes from the top in Bill, but also comes from the bottom.

Also comes from the bottom from the responsibility that caucus members have shown.

I can’t remember the last time that a shadow cabinet meeting leaked.

I can’t remember it.

That hasn’t always been the case.

So we need that discipline.

So I say that we are disappointed but we’re certainly not despairing.

We are determined, determined to do better.

Our task is great, we have only gone from opposition into government three times since the Second World War.

Whitlam, Hawke, and Rudd.

It’s hard when you’re the change party.

When you’re the party that seeks to really make a difference and has to argue the case.

I think Australia is already a great country.

Our task is to ensure that there’s an even better Australia that awaits is achieved with us in government after the next election.

I thank you for honouring me with your support.

ENDS