Meredith Burgmann, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m pleased to be here today to launch Dirty Secrets-Our ASIO Files.
When I read this book, it provoked a full range of emotions.
Occasional anger. But more often amusement.
The odd burst of laughter or LOL in today’s parlance.
I also felt a sense of nostalgia for a time when I viewed the world in more simple terms.
But the biggest take-out for me – and this might surprise some of you – is hope.
This book makes me feel truly optimistic.
I should explain.
The book details the lives and experiences of many Australians – prominent and not so prominent – united by the fact that ASIO created a file about their activities.
While their activities were deemed worthy of expensive and time-consuming surveillance by the authorities, we now have the benefit of hindsight.
So we should ask ourselves exactly what it was that they were fighting for.
- Opposition to the Vietnam War
- Rejection of apartheid.
- Land rights.
- Women’s liberation.
- Gay rights.
- Trade union activism.
If you consider what became of all of these causes, you will understand why this book gives me such a sense of optimism.
It’s because, by and large, the causes championed by these activists have been realised.
So while the fight for justice will never end, this book is testimony to the reformist credentials of the progressive left.
It should remind us about the victories of the past but also stiffen our resolve to keep fighting for justice in the future.
Think of it this way.
If the events in this book were taking place today, I imagine some of the people under ASIO surveillance would be campaigning for action on climate change.
They’d be under surveillance out on the streets as they questioned why their national leader believes that the science behind climate change is, in his words, absolute crap.
But, just as the activists in this book were right about peace and equality, today’s activists are on the right side of history when it comes to climate change.
I know some of the 26 Australians who feature in this book personally, so I know their activism came from the best of motives.
These people were not planning to overthrow the State in violent revolution or to diminish the rights or quality of life of any individual or group.
They were motivated by improving the quality of life of their fellow citizens whether as individuals or society as a whole.
Reading their stories invigorates my reformist spirit.
It also reminds me that one of the problems with the progressive left is that we consistently fail to celebrate our victories.
Often that is because, having won one battle, we hasten to move on to the next.
People who simply defend existing power relationships in society don’t have that problem.
They celebrate the past almost by definition.
To inspire the next generation of activists, we should understand the past, celebrate the gains which have been made, and both anticipate and create the future.
This book documents the gains that have been made by the political struggles which drew such paranoid responses from ASIO.
It is an affirmation that, in spite of the best efforts of those who seek to hold back progress, or worse still, wind back gains that have been made, history moves forward.
Last year the funeral of Nelson Mandela saw him recognised as one of, if not the most, inspirational figure of the 20th Century.
There is a broad acknowledgment that the Vietnam War was a mistake.
A woman’s right to choose is a given for most Australians and we have had a female Prime Minister, Governor General and female leaders of every State and Territory Government except for South Australia.
Lex Watson, who sadly passed away last fortnight, did so knowing that the political debate about sexuality had moved from one of decriminalization, to one where a majority of Australians support marriage equality.
With the benefit of hindsight, the investigations of the Australians in this book look a bit silly – and in some cases just ridiculous.
David Stratton being under suspicion for lining up Soviet bloc movies for the Sydney Film Festival comes to mind.
Even more surreal, is the ASIO file which read in 1950 ‘Mrs Reed very militant, active…son Jonathon (4 and a half years old) an active school propagandist…organises groups away from teachers’ grasp.’.
That’s why it’s an important book – it’s not merely a biography of prominent Australians, it’s a chronicle of how issues have advanced over a relatively short period of history.
This book reminds us that social change doesn’t just happen.
Brave activists who believe in the advancement of humanity make it happen.
And sometimes they pay a price.
This book tells their story.
About invasion of civil liberties.
About political misuse of security services.
About wasted resources and incredible amateurism at times verging upon making our ASIO officers seem completely out of touch. For some it was a very personal price.
My friend Penny Lockwood, expecting a proposal from her partner of almost a year, only to hear what must have been a devastating confession; “I can’t do it anymore. I don’t love you. I’m working for ASIO”.
It’s also a snapshot in time that tells us much about the politics of the middle decades of the 20th Century.
As it traverses that era, it reveals the youthful spirit of many great Australians who, despite having attracted ASIO’s attention, have in many cases, become known to their countrymen as modern pillars of society.
Even a High Court judge.
As someone who has served on the national security committee of the Cabinet, it is clear to me that national security issues should be taken seriously.
There is no doubt that ASIO and other agencies have undertaken critical work such as stopping the terrorist plot aimed at a major sporting event here in Melbourne.
Taking it seriously also means acknowledging that every hour spent on observing someone who is engaging in legitimate and peaceful political activity is a distraction from the task of national security.
That’s why security agencies must not be above scrutiny and accountability.
I know many of the people whose activities are revealed in Dirty Secrets as honest, community-minded Australians with nothing but love for their country.
They were mainly earnest people going about their legal business of expressing their right to comment, dissent and association.
For example, I noticed a photograph of Meredith in the book taken on the steps of the Sydney Town Hall at a protest in June, 1971.
Standing nearby was my political mentor Tom Uren.
Tom was a prisoner of war and a former Minister of the Crown, who has earned a reputation for decency and a never-ending craving for justice.
Indeed, he remains the most inspirational 93-year-old activist I know.
Tom is a great Australian. He wasn’t a subversive.
Still, people moving in Tom’s orbit came under ASIO scrutiny.
- Because they were socialists.
- Because they were pacifists.
- Because they could not stand silent in the face of institutionalised racism.
- Because they were black.
- Because they were gay.
I can’t imagine that many, if any, of these people, were motivated by anything other than a desire to make their country a better place.
Michael Kirby has always put his country first.
This was the case whether he was a boy carrying a gluepot to help a relative paste up Communist posters in inner Sydney, or whether he was a High Court Judge or indeed a UN appointee clinically dissecting the authoritarian outrage of North Korea.
I’m confident that author Frank Hardy and columnist Phillip Adams, as members of the Communist Party of Australia, felt they were embracing a way forward for society, not violence or hatred.
David Stratton, photographed by ASIO visiting the Soviet Embassy as he was lining up films for the Sydney Film Festival, was certainly not hell bent on violent revolution.
In fact, according to this book, David was, even as he was being observed by ASIO officers who took his red necktie as evidence of subversion, a Liberal voter.
I must say I am happy to see that David says he has since seen the light.
Indigenous activist Gary Foley no doubt cared about his country, even as ASIO officers traced his visit from Sydney to Gympie for a meeting with a woman who, unbeknown to him, was a Communist Party member.
Gary’s only interest in this woman, as he outlines in the book was “romantic’’.
Meredith Burgmann was sincere and correct in her opposition to the Vietnam War and apartheid and her youthful activism was about peace, not hate.
She became a distinguished President of the Legislative Council of NSW and remains a committed political activist who has stuck to her principles.
But at the time, ASIO saw all of these Australians as dangerous.
Their only crime was to hold progressive views.
It seems that, at that paranoid time in Australian history, authorities confused progressive politics with violent revolution.
This phenomenon is highlighted in Dirty Secrets in the section about Tasmanian horticulturalist and television presenter Peter Cundall, who had a brief involvement with the Launceston Branch of the Communist Party in the 1960s.
One passage in particular caught my eye. I quote:
I’m anti-war like every other soldier that’s been to war but that of course horrified them. I even briefly joined the Communist Party in an effort to get the things that I believed in – racial equality, education for everyone, an end to poverty, an end to war – all these things. But of course I left when I found out it was getting nowhere.
What I found so interesting about that was that Peter, despite being tagged by ASIO as dangerous, did not dabble with the Communist Party because he wanted a revolution.
In his own words, this revolutionary gardener just wanted peace and equality.
And having served in the Korean War, you would have thought he would know something about peace.
How could it be that Peter’s motives and those of others in this book could have been so ridiculously misunderstood?
There are a couple of reasons.
Younger people in the audience today will not have memories of the Cold War, when the paranoia and suspicion driven by the existence of two political philosophies on a collision course gave people an excuse to see dark motives where none existed.
The authorities were so spooked by the external threat that they had no tolerance of internal dissent, even if it was non-violent.
While that might have been described by some as prudent, there was another factor at play.
Conservative politicians of the day encouraged this paranoia regarding progressive politics to secure domestic political benefit.
Robert Menzies, still feted as a small l liberal was in fact so illiberal that he attempted to ban the Communist Party, a move thankfully overthrown by the High Court, as Michael Kirby outlines in this book.
But there is another reason for the events in this book that is not related to Cold War politics.
It is the never-ending tension between conservatives and political progressives.
True conservatives simply cannot abide change.
They fear anything that is at odds with the status quo, even to the extent of being unable to recognise when the status quo represents injustice.
It should not be forgotten that many conservatives described Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in the African National Congress as terrorists.
Such people can stare injustice in the eyes and still convince themselves it must be right because it is the status quo.
Some conservatives are so reform shy that they are reactionaries and, if given a chance, will seek to tear down the gains of the past.
This brings me back to Tony Abbott.
We now have a Prime Minister committed to tearing down the gains of the past, rather than adding to them with new policy vision for the future.
His Budget attacks universal health care, equality of access to education, a decent safety net and he opposes action on climate change.
Mr Abbott has defined himself by what he is opposed to, not what he supports.
However, the good news is that history is frequently kinder to progressives that conservatives.
The dreamers among us – those prepared to fight for a better future, are always on the cutting edge of reform.
While progressives are often vilified at the time of their advocacy, they are the creators of the positive narrative of human advancement.
In my time as a political activist, causes such as anti-apartheid, the right to love who we choose, the rights of the first Australians have all advanced.
The apology to the Stolen Generation went from being a radical concept to one of national celebration when Kevin Rudd lifted our hearts with the sincerity of his words.
A year earlier, the conservatives were still arguing that an apology would be divisive rather than a positive step on our national journey.
In the same way, people will one day look back at Tony Abbott’s views on climate change and say “really?”
Which brings me back to where I began.
This book brings an opportunity to look to the recent past and acknowledge the contribution of these 26 Australians who made a positive difference through their activism.
But more importantly it gives us hope for the future that this and future generations of activists will also be successful in advancing the cause of humanity.
This book adds to Meredith Burgmann’s extraordinary contribution to public life and for that she deserves our collective thanks.
Good process delivers better productivity – Speech to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia – Sydney
Thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.
For me, meeting Infrastructure Partnerships Australia is always important.
I know we share a common view on the importance of carefully planned government investment in roads, rail and other infrastructure and of supporting measures that facilitate private investment.
Evidence-based investment in infrastructure is good business for your members, and is also a critical driver of economic productivity for the entire economy.
I was pleased to work with you previously as Australia’s first Infrastructure Minister.
When I took up that role Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of investment in infrastructure as a percentage of GDP.
I am proud to say it is now first.
Today’s meeting is more than timely, given two recent disturbing developments out of Canberra.
The first was a disappointing federal Budget in which the Government failed to match any of the soaring rhetoric on infrastructure that preceded its delivery.
While the Government promised a big infrastructure spend, the vast majority of its announcements were already in the Budget – funded by the previous Labor Government.
The few new projects announced are being funded by cuts to existing road and rail projects.
And despite the Government’s promises of a cost-benefit analysis for any project worth more than $100 million, new projects like Melbourne’s East-West Link are being funded without such studies.
The second issue of concern is the collapse of the evidence-based process for funding projects which was put in place by the previous Labor Government.
That collapse became clear on Monday when a Senate Budget estimates committee heard that the Abbott Government had committed to pay the Victorian State Government 1.5 billion for the East-West Link project by June 30, including $500m for Stage I and $1 billion for Stage II.
This is despite the fact that the project has no cost-benefit analysis and that, as the committee heard on Monday, construction won’t start until the end of 2015/16.
This directly contravenes the Coalition’s stated policy of making milestone payments contingent on the actual delivery of projects according to time lines.
It is clear that the Government, anxious to demonstrate its infrastructure bona fides and deliver on election campaign thought bubbles, has thrown process out the window.
Before the Budget the Government inflated expectations about infrastructure.
As it leaked to the media bad news about its cuts to health, pensions and education, it argued that the bad news would be offset by good news about infrastructure.
But by Budget day it was clear the infrastructure spend was a con.
The Budget was largely a collection of re-announcements of projects funded by the previous Labor government.
And it featured significant infrastructure spending cuts including:
- Billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to public transport funding for projects including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project and public transport projects in Perth and Adelaide.
- Cuts to existing road projects including the M80 in Melbourne and Tasmania’s Midland Highway upgrade.
- A $1 billion cut to Financial Assistance Grants to local government for local roads through an end to indexation.
While the Government announced a few new projects, it is clear that these are being funded by severe cuts to existing road and public transport projects.
And in doing so, the Government has passed up the chance to play its part in tackling urban traffic congestion by investing in urban rail.
On the new projects, the Government has not produced cost-benefit analysis.
That’s a direct breach of Mr Abbott’s pre-election promise of a full cost-benefit analysis for every infrastructure project worth more than $100 million.
The Budget also creates a $5 billion incentive fund which the Commonwealth will use to reward state governments that sell public assets and use the money to fund new infrastructure projects.
But this isn’t new money either.
It comes from transferring $5.9 billion from the previous Labor Government’s Building Australia Fund and the Education Infrastructure Fund.
To sum up, the Abbott Government’s infrastructure package is a collection of already funded projects and cuts to fund other projects which have not even been tested by experts to verify that they represent value for money.
Creation of the $5 billion Incentive Fund was also presented as having potential to leverage new investment into infrastructure.
However, the Government has done nothing to utilise existing tax concession arrangements put in place by the previous government designed to leverage as much as $25 billion in private infrastructure investment.
Those arrangements would have helped deliver the Melbourne Metro and the Cross-River Rail project.
They would have involved an Australian Government guarantee on private debt associated with approved projects, enhancing their credit-worthiness and helping reduce the cost of capital.
But since the Government has arbitrarily decided that it will not fund urban rail, those arrangements will not be used.
This absurd, counter-productive decision not to fund public transport is the worst feature of the infrastructure Budget.
The previous Labor Government, keen to address congestion in the nation’s cities, allocated billions of dollars to urban rail projects across the nation, including the two projects I just mentioned as well as urban rail investment in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart.
The source of the current Government’s ban on investing in urban rail can be traced to Tony Abbott’s 2009 book Battlelines, in which Mr Abbott wrote:
…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.
The Prime Minister might not be aware of this, but literally millions of Australians use public transport.
I imagine one or two people in this room are public transport users.
Mr Abbott’s position is wholly ideological.
It makes no sense.
On top of all this, the man who promised before the election not to lift taxes has reintroduced indexation of fuel excise.
He doesn’t want to fund public transport but at the same time will make it more expensive to use the only alternative – the motor car.
When he is being less ideological than when he was writing Battlelines, the Prime Minister argues that if the Commonwealth spends more on building roads, the states will spend more on trains.
If only that was how it worked.
The fact is that in Melbourne, the Napthine Government redesigned the former Metro project after it became clear earlier this year that Mr Abbott would withdraw Labor’s $3 billion budgeted commitment.
What was originally envisaged as a Metro serving the entire city for decades ahead, has become a pale imitation – a second-rate project that does not even go into the city’s CBD.
In Brisbane, the Commonwealth has withdrawn $715 million for the Cross-River Rail project.
The Newman Government is designing a second-rate alternative.
First-rate cities like Brisbane and Melbourne do not deserve second-rate public transport systems, just because the Prime Minister doesn’t like trains.
There wasn’t even any good news in the Budget for rural and regional areas, where the Prime Minister’s freeze on indexation of financial assistance grants will smash the ability of local councils to maintain their road systems.
At this week’s Senate Budget Estimates committee hearing, the secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, Mike Mrdak, conceded the decision meant many councils would have to re-examine their Budgets to take account of the cut.
This means Mr Abbott’s cut will force councils to either lift rates or slash services, or both.
That’s a poor outcome all round.
For rural roads and those who use them, it will affect road safety and reduce efficiency.
Within seven years, this compounding effect of this move will rob councils of more than we spend each year on the successful Roads to Recovery program.
No wonder Victoria’s Weekly Times attacked the Minister for Infrastructure this week in an editorial urging him to wake up to himself.
COLLAPSE OF PROCESS
In some ways, the Government’s attempt to rebadge Labor’s infrastructure spending program and present it as something new is flattering.
It shows we were already investing in the right projects.
And the $20 billion investment in new projects Labor delivered in the 2013-14 Budget will sustain construction activity and produce ongoing productivity gains.
But what is truly worrying, however, is the collapse of process under this government when it comes to making decisions about infrastructure spending.
This audience will be familiar with the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill (2013), under which the Government is attempting to gut the independence of Infrastructure Australia.
Labor established IA in 2008 to independently assess proposals for major infrastructure projects advanced by states and rank them according to their potential to contribute to economic productivity.
But the new Government proposes changes that will allow the government to influence IA’s research agenda, including ordering it not to examine “certain classes’’ of infrastructure like public transport.
The legislation would also allow the government to prohibit IA from publishing the results of its assessments.
This is a challenge to the whole concept of evidence-based policy.
It’s bad for your industry and it’s bad for our country.
The reason the original design of IA stressed transparency was that we wanted citizens to be able to judge for themselves whether government investment decisions were based on the national interest or the political interests of the government of the day.
We also wanted to provide greater certainty for investors.
The ultimate aim should be to have IA produce a pipeline of investment embraced by both sides of politics because it is based on evidence.
I know that Infrastructure Partnerships Australia expressed discomfort with some of these proposed changes in a submission to a Senate committee inquiry into this legislation.
As if this attack on IA was not enough, this week’s Senate Budget Estimates heard disturbing testimony about poor-decision making linked to this year’s Budget.
Among the few new projects funded in the Budget are Melbourne’s East-West Link and the Toowoomba Range crossing in Queensland.
Importantly, neither has been the subject of a final cost-benefit analysis.
As I mentioned earlier, this is completely at odds with the Coalition’s infrastructure election policy, published last September.
That policy says and I quote:
The Coalition will make Infrastructure Australia a more transparent, accountable and effective adviser on the planning, selection and procurement of infrastructure projects.
To ensure more rigorous and transparent assessments of taxpayer-funded projects we will require all infrastructure projects worth more than $100 million to undergo a cost-benefit analysis.
There has been no rigour whatsoever when it comes to cost-benefit analysis for these projects.
But it gets worse.
In the case of the East-West Link, funded in part by the way, by a $500 million cut Melbourne’s M80 upgrade, the government has decided to give the Government of Victoria a total of $1.5 billion payable by June 30 this year.
What is so astounding about this piece of news is that the project will not even commence until the end of 2015/16 at the earliest.
So here we have a government breaking its own rules on cost-benefit analysis and depositing $1.5 billion in the bank account of the Victorian Government for a project the does not need to be funded until the financial year after next financial year.
At the same time the Government continues to assert that the nation faces a Budget emergency that requires massive spending cuts.
The burden must be shared, we are told.
Apparently the Victorian Government is not included in the burden-sharing.
After all, they are facing an election later this year.
This massive and pre-mature payment is just a gift from Mr Abbott to his political colleagues in Victoria to pad their Budget.
All it will do is earn interest for the Victorian Government.
Process is important if we want an infrastructure delivery process that serves the national interest by driving productivity and jobs growth.
Process is important to taxpayers because they need to know what’s going on with their money.
But it’s equally important to the infrastructure industry.
Your members deserve to have confidence that both sides of politics are serious about ensuring that decisions are driven by facts and evidence.
That requires transparency.
In the case of the East-West Link, the estimates committee heard of two pieces of preliminary work suggesting that for every dollar of taxpayer’s investment, there would be an economic return of either 50 cents or 80 cents.
Compare that to the $2.20 return for the M80, from which the Commonwealth cut $500 million in funding.
The other travesty of process that emerged this week was the complete lack of information about the proposed Perth Freight Link – the old Roe 8 project.
There appear to be no traffic projections, no business case and no environmental assessment to back this $925 million investment.
When it was announced on Budget night the WA Freight Logistics Council said they didn’t know where this had come from.
This doesn’t sound like evidence-based planning to me.
People in this room understand the infrastructure business.
And those of your members who have been around for a while know that over recent decades the process for deciding how to spend vast amounts of public money on infrastructure has not always been as rigorous as Australians might have liked.
The nature of democracy is such that governments change and ministers come and go.
But judging from the commitments and assurances given by the current government when it was in Opposition, your industry had every reason to believe that there was bipartisan support for a proper, evidence-based infrastructure investment process.
After the Budget, I believe you are entitled to question that conclusion.
Once again, thanks for inviting me here today.
The labour movement is one of the greatest forces for justice, fairness and equity in global history.
Few social movements have had such a profound effect on human existence as organised labour.
Working from the idea that fairness and collectivism will always trump greed and self-interest, the labour movement built the foundations of decency in modern Australia.
The architects were working people who understood that fairness could never be achieved if self-interest guided decision-making in all things.
Their collective achievements underline their passion and their preparedness to embrace the public interest ahead of their own personal interests.
- Prior to collective bargaining, exploitation of workers was the norm, not the exception.
- Before union activists helped form the Australian Labor Party, working people in this country had no-one to represent their political interests and aspirations.
- And before Labor Governments were elected there was no political force prepared to legislate to turn the idea of a Fair Go into reality.
So as we come together tonight here in Cairns, we should be proud.
Proud of the labour movement’s great achievements.
- The aged and widow’s pensions
- The eight-hour day
- Decent standards of workplace health and safety
- Universal health care through Medicare
- Universal access to tertiary education
- Superannuation for all, not just the rich
- Workers compensation
- Nation Building Infrastructure like the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Trans-Continental Railway;
And more recently,
- Saving 200,000 Australian jobs with an economic stimulus package in response to the Global Financial Crisis.
That’s a great record. It is one that our opponents, whose creed is based on self-interest, will never match.
Labor’s record of achievement is made more impressive because it was delivered by people acting for each other, not out of self-interest.
Indeed, the labour movement is driven by the notion of the Fair Go – the idea that all of us deserve access to the dignity of labour with fair working conditions.
Or, in short, that opportunity should not be determined by birth.
You could use another term for that concept.
A vision of humanity that accepts that we are not only responsible for ourselves, but also responsible for each other.
THE STRUGGLE IS NEVER OVER
When your ambition is social justice, your struggle is never over.
Today’s struggle is against Tony Abbott and his conservative agenda.
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.
In opposition, he was relentlessly negative.
He spent no time developing alternative policies. His contribution to public debate was to shout slogans.
If the pre-Budget leaks are any guide, this month’s first Budget will prove that Mr Abbott, despite having won office, is still mired in negativity.
The wheels of his government are spinning. There’s no go-forward.
Apart from paying millionaires to have babies, it seems Mr Abbott’s only Budget plan is to break his explicit pre-election promises and rain down pain on average Australians.
Using dodgy and confected Budget reckoning, he will use his overblown claims of a debt crisis to justify his real aim – an ideologically based attack on fairness in this country.
This in spite of the fact that he inherited a growing economy with relatively low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates and a Triple A credit rating.
Broken promises, cutting pensions and services, new taxes, public transport cuts and cuts to the ABC are all on the table.
The pathetic attempt this week to call a new tax a “levy” just adds insult to injury.
The savage Budget cuts we are being softened up for are a threat to the very principle of a fair go so central to the Australian story.
So like a lot of other people, I’m going to stand up for the values I cherish.
I won’t cop Tony Abbott’s small-minded politics of exclusion.
Nor should you.
But if we are going to do more than just talk about our heritage and our achievements; if we are going to return to office and deliver progress with fairness, we must ask ourselves some critical questions in the light of last September’s election result.
- How do we make sure our policies will appeal to progressive Australians outside our movement – the sort of people who in the last election voted Green, Liberal or for Clive Palmer?
- How do we find candidates with broad community appeal and the ability to argue our case?
- And how do we improve our standard of communication with the Australian people?
These are not just questions for the Labor Party, but the entire labour movement.
LABOR PARTY REFORM
As Bill Shorten said in his important speech last week, we need to reform the Labor Party.
It’s a debate that is fundamental to the future of our movement – a movement that has stuck together through good times and bad for more than a century.
Here’s my starting point: I don’t accept a view that says unions have no place in this Party.
The union movement and the Labor Party are bound by a shared vision of justice.
History shows us that Labor Governments are at their best when they work with unions and with business to deliver reform.
The Hawke Governments’ Accord delivered structural economic reform that set Australia up for decades.
It required the key players from labour’s political and industrial wings to recognise that if each put aside their individual aspirations – if they each gave ideological ground to the other – their work together in delivering economic reform could deliver something special for the entire nation.
It also required courage from all sides – a recognition labour’s grand and ongoing push for a better society was more important than their ambitions as individuals.
This is a time for courage.
I have no doubt that unions will continue to operate in close partnership with the Labor Party.
But for our partnership to be successful, we must broaden our appeal.
To do that, we must broaden our membership.
As Bill said last week, we need a bigger party. But as he also indicated, size isn’t everything.
If the best we can offer members is the chance to sell raffle tickets and hand out how-to-vote cards, it won’t work.
If we use our members as little more than a cheap labour force while a small number of people retain all power to make the decisions that matter, particularly on policy and candidate selection, they just won’t stick around.
The bottom line for Labor Party reform is that unless some people who hold power now are prepared to share it with others, it will fail.
You can’t give more power to the membership without taking it from the powerbrokers.
Just as we embrace the idea of collective bargaining in the workplace, we must accept that we have a collective responsibility to reform our party – even if that means some of use lose individual power or influence.
I include myself in that.
This will mean uncertain outcomes.
But that’s the point.
When Bill and I contested the federal leadership last year we were both energised by the enthusiastic response from the membership.
This active engagement empowered the membership, led to thousands joining up and hundreds of thousands outside the party paying attention to the process.
It was a great example of how an internal reform can produce external benefits and allowed the new Labor Opposition to gain momentum.
But we need to go further.
I support the rank and file membership having a direct say in electing delegates to state and national ALP conferences.
The same goes for the selection of Senate and Upper House candidates.
For too long all of the political parties have treated the Senate as a sort of pressure valve for internal tensions.
We can do better.
In the Labor Party, we’ve had some great senators, such as John Faulkner, who announced this week that he will not contest the next election after a long and distinguished career.
But we haven’t always put our best foot forward.
There is no question that Labor suffered in the recent WA Senate election re-run when the public scrutinised our processes.
The public delivered an unambiguous verdict.
If we want to advance our great movement we need to find a better way.
A good start would be to have more open and transparent processes in which candidates have to argue their case to rank-and-file party members.
We also need to get more serious about democracy on the floor of our National Conference.
Too often policy debates take place in the backrooms, rather than on the conference floor.
The rank-and-file leadership ballot showed that the public would respond to open but respectful political discussion.
The best debates at recent conferences have been on issues like uranium and marriage equality, where there has not been a disciplined predetermined outcome.
Our conference must be a producer of ideas – a driver of policy.
And we need to draw those ideas from far and wide, not just from our existing circle.
Ideas must come from the parliamentary wing and workplaces, but also from business people, mums and dads in the suburbs, young people, professional people, churches, and ethnic communities, even the local footy club.
This is critical because these are the places inhabited by the uncommitted voters we must engage with.
If we do not craft policies with these people in mind, we can look forward to a long period in opposition.
We must change the culture of party processes to harness the broader participation that will broaden our access to new ideas and potential candidates.
And the opportunities for broader participation have never been greater thanks to new technology.
The new ideas that will sustain our success must come from diversity and openness.
There are some who say internal debate on party reform is a distraction from the real issue of crafting policies that will mobilise public support.
I think they miss the point.
Party reform is not the end objective in itself. It is the enabler – the path to success.
Our internal deliberations must always be driven to how we project outwards as an effective political force, rather than looking inwards.
Party reform needs to be used as the vehicle to ensure Labor can find the ideas and the candidates who will win that very public support.
CIVILITY IN PUBLIC DEBATE
Labor can beat Tony Abbott.
I mentioned earlier that Mr Abbott’s negativity during his years in Opposition prevented him thinking much about policy.
He won office largely on a policy of undoing every reform of the previous Labor Government.
Where Labor was looking for a contest of ideas, Mr Abbott chose a different battlefield – negativity.
He turned the Coalition into the Noalition.
This provides an opportunity for Labor.
Mr Abbott still has no new ideas. He is a reactionary and a conservative.
He opposes change and finds new ideas too confronting.
His announcement of a return to Knights and Dames is almost a parody of himself, worthy of a Clarke and Dawe sketch.
If we can craft progressive policies and endorse candidates drawn from across the community – not just from our existing circle of insiders – we can make Mr Abbott a one-term Prime Minister.
But I’ve got one word of warning.
We must channel our passion.
I know progressive Australians are angry about Tony Abbott’s broken promises and his scorched-earth attitude to the achievements of the previous Labor Government.
But while it is good to be passionate, anger gets you nowhere.
A genuine debate is not a shouting match – it’s an exchange of ideas.
Who could forget Mr Abbott’s decision to address a rally outside Parliament House in front of posters denigrating the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard in misogynistic terms?
In 2011 I had a group of these angry climate change sceptics march on my electoral office, with Sophie Mirabella in tow.
They brought a coffin and banners loaded with offensive, personal abuse. The most remarkable banner, given the multicultural nature of Marrickville, said “tolerance is our demise”.
I addressed them and put my position on why action on climate change was important.
They shouted abuse and pushed and shoved.
In doing so, they alienated mainstream members of the public who saw the news that night.
A genuine contest of ideas needs to be conducted with civility, or else people just won’t listen.
Labor’s starting point on the road to political recovery must be acceptance that negativity and name calling won’t advance our political cause.
It is a shame that when 100,000 Australians joined in the March in March protest, the message was undermined by some of the banners.
The vast majority of participants marched peacefully and maintained their courtesy despite their anger at Mr Abbott and his government.
But one banner I saw actually condemned democracy.
That’s not progressive. That’s unacceptable. Full stop.
In this country, peaceful demonstrations are a sign of a healthy democracy.
I am proud to have participated in demonstrations about a range of issues over more than three decades.
However, in this country we change governments at the ballot box, not in the streets.
I am vehemently opposed to many of Mr Abbott’s policies and to the entrenchment of privilege that he stands for.
But in the words of Martin Luther King that I quoted in my 1st Speech to Parliament in 1996:
There is no progress in hate… like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity.
We should leave the abusive slogans and offensive posters to the fringe.
Labor seeks to govern with majority support of the nation, not to be just a party of protest.
We will beat Tony Abbott with ideas and values, not with clenched fists or raised voices.
Today is May Day. It’s celebrated around this country as Labour Day, although the dates of its observance vary from state to state.
But whenever we celebrate it, Labor Day reminds us of where we came from and what we stand for.
It unites us with a common view of humanity.
Today, let it also cause us to consider our future and what we need to do to ensure we can continue to deliver progress with dignity and fairness for our country.
Let those of us who hold leadership positions in the movement embrace the principle that lies at the heart of our movement – that justice for all is more important than the power of the individual.
The launch pad for Labor’s recovery is the resumption of a respectful battle of ideas – a battle we can win and which Mr Abbott is ill-equipped to fight.
We need to reach out to the community about our vision for its future, stressing issues like education, health care, housing affordability and the cost of living.
But importantly, we need to be open to take on ideas that come from the community.
We should also point to our achievements.
They are considerable in areas including the economy, health, education, housing, childcare, infrastructure provision and care for people with disabilities – areas which, I am sad to say, are right now endangered by Mr Abbott’s ideological crusade.
We owe this to ourselves and to our country.
Thanks for your attention.
It’s great to be here today to address your conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the site of so many famous cricketing battles over the decades.
And of course South Sydney’s last grand final victory way back in 1971, where my Mum braved the Hill to take me to what is one of my fondest childhood memories.
I was just a little fellow and I have a very strong memory of being literally tossed in the air by fellow Bunnies fans as we beat St George by 16 points to 10.
It’s also humbling to be speaking in the Steve Waugh room.
I’m not sure he if he barracks for the Bunnies but, but I have to admit I am a huge Steve Waugh fan.
I’ve always admired his tenacity and focus.
He is a great role model for anyone, including a person like me, whose battles take place in the arena of ideas, rather than on a cricket pitch.
THE LABOR VISION
It is fitting that we are sitting in a huge public sporting facility as we discuss urban policy and infrastructure planning.
This ground has stood here since the middle of the 19th century – close to the centre of Australia’s largest city.
Imagine the amount of work that has been done over the decades to balance the development of the SCG with the needs of its surrounding community and the development needs of Sydney as a whole.
Imagine also how authorities have had to tackle issues like the efficient movement of people to and from the ground and the provision of infrastructure like water, sewerage and power.
Effective planning of our cities is critical, particularly in Australia, which is among the most-urbanised nations on the planet.
Cities need to be efficient, not just because they are home to millions of people, but also because they are home to industry and jobs.
If cities work well – if people and goods can move around them with ease – their efficiency fuels growth in economic productivity which in turn creates jobs and prosperity.
But if cities are congested and inefficient, stagnation is the result.
Today I want to outline Labor’s vision about the role of the Commonwealth in infrastructure planning and delivery.
I’ve had a serious interest in this critical policy area for most of my professional life.
Indeed, my first job in politics was working for the great Labor reformer Tom Uren, whose nation-building achievements fit squarely within the great Labor tradition.
Careful decision making about our cities can extract huge benefits for the community – not just in terms of urban amenity, but also when it comes to the economy.
The question in dispute in 2014 appears to be this: which level of government holds the key to unlock these benefits.
I accept that councils and state governments are the main players with responsibility for transport, utilities and town planning.
However, I also understand that in a market economy, where developers, planners and regulators all act on different impulses, the Commonwealth must provide leadership on urban policy and infrastructure.
Without that leadership, we sell our nation short; we deny it the full value of potential productivity gains and, in doing that, we reduce our ability to turn those gains into new jobs.
My view: the Commonwealth must lead the process by providing national leadership and by establishing a framework for sensible decision-making.
While final decisions are obviously the province of elected representatives, without an impartial evidence base to guide them, we open the door to bad decisions made on the basis of political considerations, rather than on the basis of the national interest.
The Commonwealth can also lead on investing in infrastructure – helping states and councils to fund the big, game-changing projects that optimise urban productivity.
I see infrastructure development as a joint responsibility of all levels of government – a partnership in the national interest.
Traditionally, Coalition governments have taken a different view. They tend to take a hands-off approach to urban policy, disavowing any leadership role and generally leaving investment to other levels of government.
These two approaches could not be more different and the difference will become more and more marked in coming months.
LABOR’S VISION IN PRACTICE
When Labor took office in 2007, we set about turning our vision into reality.
As the responsible minister, I used as my touchstone Labor’s history of nation building.
Nation building is not just a political slogan. It has been Labor’s aspiration across the decades.
Think about projects like Andrew Fisher’s trans-national railway, Chifley’s Snowy River Scheme or, in the future, high-speed rail down the nation’s east coast.
We think long-term.
One of my first actions after taking office in 2007 was to ask the officials who were reporting to me to introduce me to their urban planners.
I was keen to engage the bureaucracy’s finest minds.
I was stunned by the response.
It turned out the Commonwealth had no urban planners – not one.
That’s why we created the Major Cities Unit to drive urban policy within the new Department of Infrastructure and engage with other levels of government.
We were also anxious to have industry input, so we appointed the Urban Policy Forum, composed of industry experts, to provide independent advice.
But our most-profound reform was the creation of Infrastructure Australia to build a genuine framework around infrastructure investment.
Infrastructure Australia was deliberately designed as an independent research organisation tasked with working with states to audit the nation’s infrastructure needs and rank them according to their potential to boost national productivity.
IA’s brief was to collect evidence and ignore extraneous factors such as the political interests of the government of the day.
Crucially, IA’s findings were published so that the public could engage with the process.
In this way citizens, in possession of the same advice as had been given to the government, could make their own judgements about whether governments were nation building or pork barrelling.
In other words, we attempted to decouple the infrastructure planning process, which is necessarily long, from the political process, which works to shorter-term deadlines.
The ultimate vision was for IA to deliver a pipeline of major infrastructure investment projects which both sides of politics could embrace over multiple electoral terms.
Infrastructure Australia later produced a priority list of 15 major projects across the country.
The government funded them all.
Here are a few figures that tell the story of the former government’s efforts to address the infrastructure deficit we inherited:
- When we took office, national spending on roads, railways and public transport was worth the equivalent of $132 per capita. When we left the figure was $225 per capita.
- When Labor took office Australia was 20th among 25 OECD nations in terms of infrastructure spending at a proportion of GDP. Australia now tops this list.
- We doubled the roads budget to $46.5 billion, allowing us to build or upgrade 7,500km of roads.
- We rebuilt 4000km of railway track. As a result, by 2016, the average rail transit time between Brisbane and Melbourne will be seven hours shorter than it was in 2005. The journey from our nation’s east coast to its west coast will have been reduced by nine hours.
- Because of this investment Woolworths is now moving much of its produce on the nation’s railway tracks, taking trucks off the road and reducing carbon emissions.
- Labor also committed $13.6 billion to congestion-busting urban passenger rail projects around the country – more than all previous commonwealth governments put together.
Like all governments, we made our share of mistakes.
But on infrastructure, I remain very proud of our record.
THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT
I don’t want to get too political today. An audience like this has heard it all before when it comes to political brawls.
But I want to describe the emerging Coalition Government’s approach because I believe the radical differences between it and Labor’s approach will have serious negative implications for our cities.
The Coalition’s world view is that infrastructure is about regional roads and railway lines and that urban policy is a matter for other levels of government.
The Prime Minister has made clear, for example, that he does not believe in investing in urban rail.
That’s why we can expect that the first Abbott Budget, to be brought down in May, will slash literally billions of dollars that Labor allocated for major public transport projects.
When Mr Abbott announced his first ministry, it was immediately obvious to me there that no-one was responsible for urban policy.
The closest you get is the Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt, who addressed this meeting earlier today.
One of the incoming Coalition government’s first acts was to abolish the Major Cities Unit.
The result: once again we will have no planners in Canberra.
The Urban Policy Forum has not been convened since the election and is not expected to meet again.
The result: No planning sector perspective is being presented to government.
Perhaps you are starting to pick up on a theme here: the government is systematically winding back the previous government’s infrastructure reforms.
Where this trend becomes truly concerning is the Government’s plans for Infrastructure Australia.
Legislation now before the Senate will bring what was designed to be an independent adviser well and truly under the yoke of executive government.
The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill (2013) will give the minister the power to dictate IA’s research agenda.
The minister will have the power to exclude entire classes of infrastructure, such as public transport, from its considerations.
If you are serious about obtaining the best results, you can’t exclude some options simply because you have entrenched views about the roles of different levels of government.
The legislation also gives the minister the power to restrict publication of Infrastructure Australia’s research findings.
That is the very antithesis of transparency.
The Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013 is bad legislation.
Don’t take my word for it.
The Business Council of Australia, in a submission to a Senate committee inquiry into the changes, insists that IA should be unrestricted in its ability to evaluate all high-value infrastructure projects.
The submission says and I quote:
It is unclear why there should be a need for a power to carve out ‘classes of projects’.
Good planning should prioritise any infrastructure projects of the highest economic and social value and not differentiate by project class.
The BCA also opposes ministerial powers to ban publication of IA research findings, arguing that (and again I quote):
Publication of evaluations should be the norm except where there is a justifiable reason not to do so.
Major submissions agree, including those from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and, most significantly, the submission from Infrastructure Australia itself.
Let me return to the approaching Federal Budget which I expect will take a razor to urban infrastructure spending.
Before last year’s election, Labor negotiated with state governments joint funding arrangements for billions of dollars’ worth of investment in urban rail projects including:
- Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
- The Melbourne Metro;
- Adelaide’s Tonsley Park public transport project.
- Perth’s airport rail project and light rail proposals.
Instead, the current government will fund two major road projects judged by Infrastructure Australia to be of less potential to enhance productivity than the public transport projects that are about to be scrapped.
These are the East-West Link and Melbourne and Sydney’s WestConnex project.
IA has yet to see full and final business cases for either of these projects, despite the Coalition’s election promise to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis for any project worth more than $100 million.
A BETTER WAY
An exclusive focus on roads and an indifference to urban passenger rail will not ease congestion.
I want to make clear here that Labor has no ideological opposition to building roads. Our funding record proves that.
But if we are serious about efficiency in our cities, surely we invest scarce taxpayer dollars on whichever mode of transport provides the greatest productivity return.
We need to be modal blind, if you like.
We need to deliver a fully integrated transport system – one that plays no favourites and aims for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
It makes no sense for our cities to have better roads if the planning for those roads happens in a silo and is not integrated with other transport modes.
If we work together, we harness all available expertise. And if we drop the arbitrary ideology, we can achieve better outcomes for everyone.
While transport is a critical element of urban policy, it’s only part of the leadership equation.
The Commonwealth should also work with states on urban planning and building design as well as in doing what we can to preserve community amenity as we constantly strive to remake our cities.
We need to work with states to ensure that housing density is increased around existing public transport corridors.
And to preserve equity, the Commonwealth needs to take a role in providing public housing options along the same corridors, rather than just dumping it on the edge of town where there are no services.
The Commonwealth has a role to play in helping states ensure that housing development on city fringes is conducted in an orderly manner and that services like sewerage and water, as well as community infrastructure, keep up with the spread of development.
Such issues require Commonwealth engagement with other levels of government.
The 2013 edition of the State of the Cities reported a strong trend toward growth in technology-related, high-paying jobs in our inner city areas.
But it also found that despite this jobs growth in urban areas, population growth was focused on the edge of cities.
That’s a challenge for policy makers to address by working together to amend planning rules to encourage greater population density closer to employment growth hot spots in cities.
More broadly, the Commonwealth needs to engage on what it can do to create jobs in the suburbs.
In Sydney, we seem to be headed in this direction with the Government continuing Labor’s push toward the development of a second Sydney airport.
A second airport will drive growth in high-value jobs in the transport and logistics sector as well as indirect jobs in the service and tourism sectors.
The infrastructure development required by a second airport will have major benefit for other industry development in the region.
This comes with the development of the Moorebank Intermodal terminal that will create thousands of jobs in construction as well as thousands of ongoing jobs.
We know this will happen because we have seen in before.
Government investment in the Westmead Hospital’s research precinct has created significant jobs growth in Parramatta and has resulted in a large number of local residents being engaged in medical research and science.
These are examples of what the Commonwealth can do if it chooses to be engaged in urban policy:
- If it chooses to work with other governments, the private sector and local communities themselves.
Such an approach is vital if we want our cities to be dynamic and productive, rather than just random collections of pockets of advantage and disadvantage.
As urban economist and urban policy thinker Edward Glaeser has said and I quote: The best cities … provide pathways for those who start with less to end with more.
You can’t secure such outcomes if the commonwealth says such issues are none of its business.
Infrastructure and urban planning in this nation is at the cross roads.
This is not the time for a u-turn.
The Coalition took office with the benefit of Infrastructure Australia to provide an evidence base for non-political decision making so that it could invest in the right projects at the right time in a way that would maximize community benefit.
It also inherited skilled planning expertise in the Major Cities Unit and the Urban Policy Forum to gather views from the sector.
And it inherited a Budget in which major infrastructure projects, including congestion-busting railway projects in our cities, had been developed, negotiated and funded.
Less than six months later, the government has sacked its own experts, sidelined its industry advisers and is in the process of politicizing Infrastructure Australia and stripping the Budget of funding for projects which would truly transform many of our cities.
It does not have to be like this.
Orderly planning and efficient use of public money ought to be a bi-partisan goal.
But it requires leadership.
Throughout recent decades effective delivery of urban policy has been an on-again, off-again affair.
Progressive governments want to be involved in cities.
Urban policy is the engine room of productivity growth.
We know that if cities are productive, sustainable and liveable, the whole nation prospers.
I believe there is community support for this approach.
At a gathering of this kind it is appropriate to conclude with a reference to where I began this address – our current location.
Those who worship individualism and argue “there is no such thing as society’’ have got it dead wrong.
The experience of those who come to the SCG, whether to cheer the Aussies, the Swans, South Sydney – or even to be part of the Barmy Army, are cheering for more than themselves.
They are affirming their identity, their history and their community.
Cities are extraordinary gatherings of people and in the past decade became home to most of the world’s population.
They work only if there is a sense of community.
And we can only create a sense of community if we get the planning and infrastructure right.
That can only happen if governments are prepared to show vision and leadership.
Thanks for your attention.
ARTHUR GIETZELT – A MAN OF CONVICTION
When it comes to politics, history tells no lies.
At the end of a long career, once you strip away the rhetoric, the greatest legacy of a parliamentarian lies in what he or she achieved for average Australians and whether the world is left a better for their political contribution.
The world is indeed a better place for Arthur Gietzelt’s contribution.
Arthur Gietzelt achieved a great deal.
For his community;
For the Labor Party and the cause of progressive politics;
And for his nation.
His story is one of passionate and principled conviction – of standing up for what he believed was right and of refusing to back down when the going got tough.
And while his work improved life for his contemporaries, much of his activism was way ahead of his time.
Arthur was a trailblazer who had the courage to pursue positions that, in his own era, were not always fashionable.
But Arthur was usually on the right side of history.
I was reminded of this just last week when I went to see the new film about the life of Nelson Mandela – perhaps the greatest political figure of my lifetime.
If you asked the young people in the audience, I’m sure many of them would think support for the cause of the African National Congress was a consensus position in the 1970s.
Many political figures were indifferent or even hostile to sanctions against the apartheid regime and were strident critics of Mandela and his comrades.
They opposed sanctions on the basis of their likely impact on commerce or international sporting fixtures.
As Mayor of the Sutherland Shire he led his colleagues to ban the involvement of racially selected competitors in surf life-saving contests on the Shire’s beautiful beaches.
This was years before sporting sanctions became widespread.
Faced with a battle for racial justice and human rights, Arthur did not flinch – not even after the bombing of his family home, one of the few terrorist acts that have taken place on Australian soil.
Supported by his wonderful wife and closest adviser Dawn and children Lee, Dale and Adam, Arthur always stood up to be counted.
Arthur brought the same passion to issues like gender equality, gay rights and protection of the environment.
This summer holidays, thousands of visitors flocked to Queensland’s Fraser Island, a fishing and holiday nirvana that is a critical part of that state’s tourism industry.
Most would have been unaware of Arthur’s link to this wonderful environmental asset.
In 1975 the Federal Labor Cabinet agreed to allow sand mining on the island.
Arthur wouldn’t cop that.
Backed by the union movement, including the ACTU’s Bob Hawke, Arthur led a backbench revolt.
Mining was banned.
Arthur would certainly agree with Mahatma Gandhi, who once said:
A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.
Speaking of trouble, Arthur saw plenty in his three decades at the helm of the Left faction of the NSW ALP.
If you spend a career in the NSW Left of the Australian Labor Party, I have noticed that from time to time you find yourself in the minority.
But this never bothered Arthur.
He was always optimistic about the prospect of progressive change. He understood the value of facts to the art of persuasion.
His objective was nothing less than the advancement of the human condition.
He embraced economic prosperity, but could not abide growth without fairness and sustainability.
I’ve often thought that you can tell a lot about the success of a parliamentarian’s career by examining their maiden speech.
If you compare it to their lived experience in politics you can get a good idea about their priorities, their ticker and the depth of their conviction.
Arthur’s Maiden speech, which came after he moved to the Senate after 16 years in local government, was partly about urban development.
He warned that the gross national product had become “the new God’’ and said development was becoming more important than people.
Arthur told the Senate:
Every country aims at greater production, greater development, greater profitability – and in so many cases human values are forgotten.
We have to recognise that the world is in the midst of its second major ecological upheaval.
The whole of humanity, in one way or another, is switching from an agrarian to a highly urbanised society.
Urbanisation is the new phenomenon.
Arthur warned that governments had to craft policies that dealt with this shift while retaining the nurturing of community and human relationships.
That was right then and it is right now.
Arthur Gietzelt and his colleagues such as Tom Uren and Bruce Childs ensured these issues remained core to the Labor agenda.
Arthur would say that’s the thing about the Labor Party: We think ahead.
We don’t seek office just to occupy power – we do something with it.
We don’t just talk about justice – we craft the policies that make it real.
Arthur embodied this reformist spirit, always looking for progress with fairness.
When Bob Hawke appointed him as Veterans Affairs Minister in 1983, he wasted no time taking advantage of his opportunity.
Informed by his own three years’ service in Papua New Guinea, Arthur reformed entitlements and achieved formal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ unofficial work patrolling Australia’s northern coastline in World War II.
He also established the Evatt royal commission into Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Arthur was a formidable organiser, but for him this was just the means to achieve political objectives.
As he told The National Times in 1976:
My opponents try to paint me as a sinister backroom boy, just a numbers man rather than someone with beliefs.
In fact my beliefs are what make me want to muster the numbers.
It was this perspective that drew many young activists to Arthur.
He was a true mentor who would take the time to sit down and go through historical analysis with Young Labor activists as they formed their own views.
Labor has a strong culture of oral history. It’s how we pass our values from one generation to the next.
It’s how we learnt about the Vietnam moratoriums and the struggles of those who led the way.
He set up his Senate office in Caringbah, rather than the CBD of Sydney, because he was dedicated to community engagement and believed that social change had to be driven by the community.
Arthur knew that progress was unstoppable.
But he told younger party members that achieving progress required community support which they could develop if they showed the courage of their own convictions.
Above all, Arthur was an optimist.
Throughout a period where so much of the progressive Left would often be captured by a negative analysis of the present and a romanticism of the past, the strength of Arthur’s ideological foundation allowed him to retain a faith in human progress.
There was no ballot that was not winnable. Progressives should not simply defer to those with more conservative views.
He also understood the importance of remaining engaged with those who disagreed with his views, accepting that people of good conscience could hold differing opinions.
So he respected his opponents, even though he never tired of attempting to convince them of his position.
This month it is 25 years since Arthur left the Senate.
His passing, mourned by even his most strident political opponents, is a great loss for his family, his friends, the Labor Party and the entire community.
But I like to think that if Arthur he was here today he would be proud to think that his activism over decades provided an invigorating example for others on the progressive side of politics.
Generations of Labor people have been influenced by Arthur to continue to fight what he called “the good fight’’.
Today a new generation is taking up that good fight to the Abbott Government.
I referred earlier to Labor’s oral history tradition.
This means we talk about the lives of leaders, celebrate them and learn from them.
It’s why on a sad day like today as we mourn Arthur’s passing we are keeping his cause alive.
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, SYDNEY
It’s great to be here today to address your conference, just a stone’s throw from the site of the first European settlement of this nation.
I wonder what the first settlers and the indigenous Australians who witnessed their arrival would say if they were here today to see what became of their endeavour.
I imagine they would have been shocked by the complexity of modern Sydney and the sheer beauty of this city despite its size, population and density.
Australia is the most-urbanised nation in the world, excluding city states like the Monaco and Singapore.
Depending on how you define it, up to 80 per cent of Australians live in cities. The Australian Bureau of Statistics puts the figure about two-thirds.
However you define it, that’s a high level of urbanisation.
It is in our interests to ensure our cities develop and are maintained in ways that preserve our environment and our living standards.
But there’s another aspect of cities that is just as important as amenity and the environment – one that affects the entire nation and must be understood by policy makers if they are serious about serving the long-term national interest.
I’m speaking about the role that cities play in the national economy.
Efficient cities can drive gains in economic productivity and job creation. Conversely, inefficient cities can be a drag on economic and productivity growth.
That’s what I would like to speak about today.
I am worried that the recent change of government will have profound implications for urban policy in this country including potentially dire consequences for economic growth.
The broad problem is simple: Like previous conservative governments, the Abbott Government believes there is no role for the Commonwealth in urban policy.
In particular, Tony Abbott does not believe the commonwealth has a leadership or funding role on urban rail transport.
That’s a dangerous position.
The state of public transport in our cities in the coming two decades will be a key determinant in the nation’s broader economic development.
With the right policies on public transport, cities will flourish and turbo-charge growth of national productivity and jobs.
The wrong policies today will stymie growth and make it harder for future generations.
Modern Labor has always believed that the commonwealth has a central role in urban policy, from Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren in the 1970s to Brian Howe in the 1980s and that tradition was renewed under the Rudd and Gillard governments.
We know that state governments and councils have primary responsibility for transport, utilities and town planning.
But Labor has always believed the federal government should provide leadership in urban policy and, where possible, should help the other levels of government to fund the really big projects that will have profound impacts on the nation’s economic development.
I’m talking about projects like Andrew Fisher’s the trans-national railway, which commenced in 1912, the Snowy Mountains scheme and, looking ahead, a high-speed rail network.
In other words, we are Nation Builders. That’s what Labor does.
Big thinking requires leadership.
Labor looks beyond the electoral cycle to think of where we want our nation to be decades from now and we implement policies to put the entire nation on the right path.
That’s the approach we took when we won office in 2007, when we took over from another conservative government that had no urban policy.
Our starting point was the need for a proper process to assess Australia’s Infrastructure needs, which was why we created the independent Infrastructure Australia to assess and rank projects that could best contribute to improved national productivity.
On top of this we created a Major Cities Unit to drive reform, launched a national urban policy, introduced our Liveable Cities Program and established the Urban Policy Forum to provide us with independent advice.
Our urban policy had as its foundation improving productivity, sustainability and liveability in our cities.
My focus has always been upon evidence-based policy.
So, having set up our policy and administrative bases, Labor set out to tackle the key urban policy challenges of our era – traffic congestion, urban sprawl and the need for greater population density in cities.
These problems have been present for years.
But in their current manifestations, these issues go way beyond urban growth pains.
Changes in our society linked in part to technology are driving a significant shift in cities which must be addressed by governments.
The 2013 edition of the State of the Cities report, which I launched earlier this year, neatly summed up the challenge.
It found that the trend toward strong growth in technology-related, high-paying jobs in our inner city areas was accelerating.
But it also found that despite this jobs growth in cities, population growth was focused on the edge of cities.
Putting it another way, more and more people are driving their cars to work, creating congestion that not only makes them angry as they sit in their cars, but is also a drag on productivity.
There are two approaches possible to respond to this challenge.
Tony Abbott’s prescription for our cities is just to build more roads.
By itself, that approach doesn’t work for me.
Labor’s approach is comprehensive.
Firstly, we encourage jobs growth closer to where people live.
At the same time, we need to encourage greater urban density, particularly near public transport corridors.
And we must invest in public transport.
During our period in office we delivered funding for the Noarlunga line upgrade in South Australia, the Moreton Bay Rail Link, the Gold Coast Rapid Transit and the Commonwealth’s single largest ever investment in urban rail the Regional Rail Link.
This investment followed advice from Infrastructure Australia.
Rigourous cost-benefit analysis also mean we committed to investing in vital projects such as Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro.
They also included innovative proposals to mobile private investment.
These were not politically inspired decisions that were aimed at the electoral cycle.
It is extraordinary that the incoming government has abandoned these projects as well as public transport projects in Perth and Adelaide.
Labor is about finding responses to the long-term challenges of change in ways that would improve urban lifestyles while also lifting economic national productivity to the benefit of everyone.
Infrastructure Australia’s 2013 National Infrastructure Plan notes that the closer businesses are to their workforce, the more productive they become and the more convenient life is for their employees.
The report says, and I quote:
… higher density residential areas can offer more affordable housing options with better access to services and employment and support more liveable, vibrant communities.
Success in our cities is also a virtuous cycle, where higher living standards draw global talent, attract global business and investment and boost trade opportunities.
This phenomenon in cities is called agglomeration – where clusters of economic activity produce bigger effects than the sum of their parts.
It’s clear that urban density has a multiplier effect on economic growth, with businesses and employees thriving when located close to one another.
For every doubling of job density, there is up to a 13 per cent increase in labour productivity.
This brings me back to the alternative approach that holds that state governments should be responsible for cities and that the commonwealth should “stick to its knitting’’ and just fund roads.
Don’t get me wrong here. I like roads.
But their provision must be part of a holistic, integrated approach to infrastructure.
During our six years in office, we doubled road funding to $46.5 billion and built or upgraded 7,500km of road. On top of that, we lifted commonwealth road grants to local councils by 20 per cent.
When it came to major road projects, Labor also took the advice of Infrastructure Australia about where to spend.
That’s because we understood that allowing politicians to choose road projects left the door wide open to political decisions and pork barrelling.
The Coalition is already moving to give Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss the power to interfere in Infrastructure Australia’s independent considerations.
Legislation before the Parliament allowed Mr Truss the ability to direct Infrastructure Australia’s agenda.
That means this government, with its opposition to commonwealth spending on urban rail, will be able to instead direct Infrastructure Australia to focus on its favoured priority of roads.
I note that that Environment Minister Greg Hunt addressed this conference earlier. The speech on his website indicates that his key messages to this conference related to the Coalition’s intention to conduct a Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s infrastructure needs and the way they are funded.
We already have a process for this. It’s called Infrastructure Australia – the same process Mr Truss is trying to amend to allow for more political interference.
Mr Hunt also spoke to you about the Coalition’s plan to abolish carbon pricing.
That’s not an urban policy.
In fact, the need for a price signal in a market economy through the use of carbon pricing is understood and supported by the Property Council, the Green Building Council and many others with an interest in good urban policy.
The suggestion that the best the commonwealth can do to plan for the future is abolish the carbon tax and create a green army is the sort of policy framework that exposes the government’s lack of serious policy thinking.
Like you, I’ll be carefully watching the Coalition’s progress.
So far, I’m not very encouraged.
One of Mr Abbott’s early decisions was to abolish the Major Cities Unit, which provided co-ordinated policy, planning and infrastructure advice to government and was helping our government advance its urban agenda.
This decision was a clear manifestation of Mr Abbott’s refusal to provide leadership on the big issues facing our cities.
Despite having four years in opposition to think about what he would do in government, it’s becoming clear his path to office was paved with political calculations, not clear thinking on policy.
As I have explained, roads are only part of the congestion equation.
The incoming government is not a Nation Builder. It’s not a driver of policy reform.
Its interest is in occupying government, not using its opportunities to think ahead.
So where is all this leading?
It will take us back into the old blame game that was Mr Howard’s specialty.
Mr Howard refused to get involved in providing leadership on the big reform issues in areas like health and education or urban policy.
Whenever anyone complained, he just blamed the states.
I predict Mr Abbott will take the same approach.
In the area of your concern – urban policy – he’ll spend money on the roads of his personal choice and retreat into policy indifference.
When people wonder why public transport services is not matching shifts in population density, he’ll just blame the states.
The blame game gets you nowhere. It might create grist for the journalistic mill, but it does nothing to help.
Each of our five biggest capital cities is expected to nearly double their population by 2056.
That requires policy responses NOW – not sometime in the future when existing pressures have escalated so much that they stand as obstacles to national growth.
To all those with an interest in sound, evidence-based policy and nation-building, I make this promise: You can expect me to be on your side.
The creation of the Major Cities Unit and the development of the State of Our Cities reports represented a framework for the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.
This whole debate is not some sort of abstract discourse that is only had in places such as today’s conference.
There were three million downloads of the State of Our Cities Reports.
Australians are interested in urban policy.
They want engagement.
They want seriousness from policy-makers.
Once again, thanks for the invitation to speak today and good luck with the remainder of your conference.
Thanks for your attention.
AUSRAIL CONFERENCE, SYDNEY
Thank you for that generous welcome and thanks for the opportunity to address your conference.
I have always appreciated the Australasian Railway Association’s critical role in promoting policy debate about the rail sector and its importance to the nation’s infrastructure mix.
The Australian Labor Party will always engage with your organisation.
Like you, I understand the importance of rail transport – for freight and people – to national productivity.
Productivity is what I want to talk about today.
You can’t have a thriving economy without a thriving rail sector that can quickly move goods and passengers, allowing businesses to operate at peak efficiency and fostering the greater urban densities that will have a multiplier effect on productivity growth.
Governments that tolerate inefficiency in their transport systems cripple their own potential economic activity and growth.
They also limit their potential to create jobs.
FIXING THE HOWARD LEGACY
During my six years as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, I worked hard to correct the previous Howard Government’s under-funding of the rail sector as part of Labor’s drive to boost productivity.
We replaced a government that talked a good game on freight rail but failed to back its words with significant funding.
Worst still in terms of productivity, former Prime Minister John Howard had an ideological aversion to investing federal money on urban public transport.
The responsibility for improving urban passenger rail, Mr Howard said, lay with state governments, while the commonwealth should focus on highways.
It was as though Mr Howard was wearing blinkers. He just didn’t get the relationship between public transport and productivity or, if he did, he chose not to make it his business.
Sadly for our nation, Tony Abbott has inherited Mr Howard’s ideological blinkers on public transport.
I am here today to tell you that Labor’s strong support for Commonwealth investment in passenger rail infrastructure in particular has not changed one iota.
And it won’t change. We are the party of nation-building. Always have been. Always will be. Nation-building is what we do.
We see enhancement and promotion of urban passenger rail as central to driving national productivity and creating jobs.
In government we committed $13.6 billion to urban passenger rail projects – more than the total of all previous commonwealth governments combined.
On freight, we delivered twice as much funding in half as much time as the previous Howard Government – that’s $3.4 billion in investment over six years, allowing the rebuilding of more than a third of the national network – about 4000km of track.
The result is that by 2016, the average rail transit time between Brisbane and Melbourne will be seven hours shorter than in was in 2005.
The journey from our east to west coasts will be nine hours shorter.
On inland rail, I note that it was the former Labor government which committed $300 million in new money to the project.
The incoming government has not committed one additional dollar to the project.
On top of this, Labor planned for the possible construction of a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne, proposing that, if we were re-elected, we would appoint a high-speed rail authority and legislate to preserve the rail corridor for this exciting proposal.
THE NEW INFRASTRUCTURE AGENDA
That’s a truncated version of a very proud record.
But my real concern today is about where your sector is headed under Mr Abbott.
I know that Minister Truss addressed this conference earlier.
I welcome the minister‘s indications that he will not compromise the funding for freight rail that the Labor Government included in the budget.
However, no Australian Government interested in job creation and economic growth can be taken seriously if it wipes its hands of urban public transport.
Like Mr Howard before him, Mr Abbott says he wants to spend on roads and that the Commonwealth should “stick to its knitting’’ and leave the cash-strapped states worry about public transport.
In a modern and growing nation like Australia, under-funding public transport is sheer economic folly.
Mr Abbott’s doctrinaire, anti-public-transport approach will damage the economy by stalling productivity growth.
It will retard job creation and it will destroy existing jobs.
It will also damage our quality of life. We will all lose – commuters, businesses, job seekers, pensioners – all of us.
Urban congestion is a brake on productivity growth.
It slows the movement of goods and services and also affects our quality of life.
Mr Abbott’s position is serious because the current demographic trend in this country is heading toward greater density in cities.
The 2013 edition of the state of Australian Cities, which I had the pleasure of releasing earlier this year, noted that:
- There is significant jobs growth in the centre of cities, particularly in high-paying jobs.
- But, in line with global trends, our population growth is happening on the edges of cities.
Economists tell us there are two possible policy responses to these trends.
Firstly, we must endeavour to create jobs closer to where people live in outer urban communities.
Secondly we need to increase density in inner-city areas, particularly around transport corridors.
The policy experts also tell us greater urban density is a virtue because it places workers closer to their workplaces and promotes the generation of hubs that drive increased economic activity.
But we can’t just wish traffic congestion away.
One policy instrument governments need to use to meet these trends is to encourage greater housing density closer to city centres – something Labor in office did under its urban policies.
Another, which complements the first, is to construct modern, world-class public transport.
It’s a simple equation: if we want the economic benefits that can undoubtedly come with greater urban density, then we have to meet the resulting need for better public transport or else the increasing density will become a burden, not a productivity driver.
If we act appropriately, our efforts will have a multiplier effect on productivity an outcome that delivers greater prosperity for all.
The argument I am putting is widely held by people who understand urban policy and transport. It’s not radical.
For example, the 2013 State of Australian Cities report says, and I quote:
This new infrastructure agenda in our cities cannot afford to lose steam. It will need a continued focus over the long term.
Public investment in urban transport should focus on public transport, with expansions to the urban and road network funded by users, not all taxpayers.
The Australasian Railway Association also understands the productivity equation.
The first of five key priorities the ARA named ahead of the recent federal election was public transport.
I quote from the ARA website:
Traffic congestion is costing Australians $15 billion per year and rising.
Instead of simply building more roads, which encourage more cars, more trucks and make our cities more congested, our focus should be on building and expanding mass-transit solutions – of which rail is most suited to the task.
I couldn’t agree more.
However, Mr Abbott’s plan is to build more roads.
The modern infrastructure agenda is already losing steam under the new government.
When Labor was in office we committed to a series of important infrastructure proposals that were aimed at addressing urban congestion.
- Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, a tunnel under the Brisbane River to respond to the fact that the existing rail bridge over the Brisbane River is about to run out of capacity.
- The Melbourne Metro: which Infrastructure Australia has reported could increase passenger capacity on Melbourne’s urban rail network by 30 per cent
- The Perth Airport link, designed to ease congestion around the busy Perth Airport.
- An upgrade of Adelaide’s Tonsley Park rail line.
These commitments in the Budget followed our investment in the Noarlunga line in South Australia, the Moreton Bay Rail Link, Gold Coast Rapid Transit and the Commonwealth’s single largest ever investment in urban rail – the Regional Rail Link.
Where Labor had proposed to partner with state governments to deliver these nation-building projects, Mr Abbott has vacated the field.
He won’t offer a penny in funding for public transport.
I have nothing against Mr Abbott’s plans to spend on roads.
In government, Labor doubled the roads budget we inherited from Mr Howard, built or upgraded 7,500km of roads and lifted grants to councils for local roads by 20 per cent.
But we saw it as our responsibility to funds roads AND passenger rail.
The infrastructure challenges I have been talking about are so profound that they demand federal leadership.
Incidentally, when Labor opted to fund the projects I just mentioned, we didn’t just pick them out of the air or pick projects that would benefit Labor electorates.
They were independently assessed by Infrastructure Australia, which assessed the nation’s infrastructure needs and prioritised them on the basis of the greatest potential productivity benefit.
There is nothing revolutionary in the policy approach I am advocating.
In a speech to this very organisation exactly a year ago today, Mr Truss said the importance of urban rail would increase in coming years.
I quote Mr Truss:
Urban congestion is on the rise and passenger rail presents as an effective means of reducing reliance on the car as the primary means of travel to work.
So Mr Truss and Mr Abbott agree that our nation needs to tackle urban congestion. They just don’t want to pay for it or provide policy leadership to the states.
That’s an abdication of responsibility.
Leadership requires forward-thinking.
Labor in office was prepared to think decades ahead and to embrace one of the most-visionary projects on the national agenda – a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
As you know, people have talked about this project for years.
Labor took this project seriously.
We commissioned a high-speed rail study which found a link between Brisbane and Melbourne would cost $114 billion and, if operational by 2065, would carry 84 million passengers a year.
Before the September election, we promised that, if re-elected, we would spend $52 million over four years to begin securing the corridor and establish a High-Speed Rail Authority to oversee the planning.
If you judge people on their actions rather than their words, the signs are not good.
Earlier this month Mr Truss sacked the High-Speed Rail Advisory group, which advised the commonwealth on the project.
Its members included former deputy prime minister and railway expert Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott and your own ARA chief executive Bryan Nye.
High-speed rail is a visionary project that could change the face of transport in this nation and reduce our carbon emissions.
If we don’t start planning now for the possibility of high-speed rail, it will never happen.
That’s why I confirm today that when Parliament resumes over the next fortnight I will be introducing a Private Member’s Bill that would require the Commonwealth to begin work immediately on securing a corridor for a future high-speed rail line.
It would also create a High-Speed Rail authority, which would be made up of representatives of the commonwealth and affected state governments as well as a nominee from the Australasian Railway Association.
I am certain that by the time this project materialises, I won’t be a Member of Parliament.
But, as I said earlier, I’m into Nation Building. Nation builders have to think beyond the political cycle.
They need to imagine the future and start planning for it.
After only a few months of Coalition Government, we are learning more about the conservative agenda on infrastructure.
And the news is not good.
Mr Truss is proposing legislative changes that will allow him to directly interfere into Infrastructure Australia over what projects it assesses.
What that will mean is that if the government policy is that the federal government wants to “stick to its knitting’’ and just do roads and not rail, as Mr Abbott argues, then Infrastructure Australia will not be able to do the comparative analysis of where investment should go to.
And investment money should follow productivity. It should follow jobs. It should follow a proper objective analysis.
But the Infrastructure Australia legislation that has been introduced into the Parliament does the opposite.
It allows for the minister to designate what they will look at as opposed to the existing system of having a council whereby the council, chaired by Sir Rod Eddington, with representatives of state government, with representatives of federal government, have a look at the circumstances and do a proper analysis.
It is modal-blind, if you like, about what should be supported.
We meet at a critical point in the development of our nation’s infrastructure as our cities are transformed by technological and economic changes that will increase their already huge contribution to national growth.
If we make the right decisions, we can harness change and use it to drive productivity gains that will take us into a new golden age of productivity growth.
If we don’t we will consign ourselves to a future of urban gridlock, lower living standards and less growth.
Thanks again for inviting me here and I wish you well with the remainder of your deliberations.
I believe very clearly that Labor is at our strongest when we identify and are talking about the same issues that families are talking about over dinner or watching tele or in their local community.
We need to identify with them.
And what is that about?
What people want is pretty common, pretty simple.
They want a secure job for their kids with better working conditions and living standards than they themselves enjoyed.
They want to make sure their kids get a better education and opportunity in life than they had.
They want to make sure their kids will be able to afford a home.
They want to make sure their kids will be able to access the world through the National Broadband Network.
Labor must stop talking about ourselves – and power struggles within – and start talk about them. That’s where we went wrong during the last two terms; good governments, but distracted by internal issues.
This ballot is an opportunity for us to draw a line in the sand and for us to unite as a team going forward; unite around common principles.
The truth is that during this campaign, just as some people have asked why there isn’t an argument, Bill and I have very similar values and we both have similar values to all of you.
That’s what unites Labor.
We must always remember that it is Labor that unites; that people join the Labor Party for the best of motives, not to get something for themselves, but to give something to the nation.
It is the national interest that drives the cause of Labor. It is the national interest that drives Caucus members, local branch officials, down to the person who volunteers to hand out on polling day.
They don’t ask anything of themselves. What they do ask – and what we in the Parliamentary Party have a responsibility to deliver – is that we’re concerned with them, their local communities and the national interest each and every day.
What sort of Opposition Leader would I be?
Well people have seen me in the Parliament and in the community. I agree with Bill that it’s not just about the Parliament.
When a bunch of people – the Climate Change sceptics – demonstrated outside my office with a coffin, with signs, very brave signs to have in Marrickville saying ‘tolerance is our demise’ – it’s a bit like having such a sign in Richmond, being opposed to tolerance – I went out and fronted them. I put the case.
I’ve always been prepared to be someone who has put the case.
Bill says he loves the Victorian branch where he has won and lost. I love the NSW branch where I have never won!
But it hasn’t stopped me getting the respect of people who may well disagree with me, but who respect me because I’ve been prepared to argue my case without fear or favour my entire political life from the age of 15, for the last 35 years.
And I’ll continue to do that if I’m the Opposition Leader on behalf of our great Party.
That will mean being prepared to defend our legacy. That will mean being prepared to advance the next big ideas that will come up.
What’s the next National Broadband Network? What’s the next Disability Care Australia? What’s the next Better Schools plan? Where is the vision?
Labor must always be looking forward. We can’t, like our opponents, be defined just by what we’re against.
That’s why I call them the ‘Noalition’. That’s why we can defeat them in one term – because on so many issues they have no idea what they are going to do.
We’ve seen Christopher Pyne on education come up with an idea and get smacked down the next day. On health policy, Peter Dutton, who would know? He hasn’t opened his mouth for six years!
They have a series of people who are defined by what they are against, led by the most negative leader in Australian political history; Tony Abbott.
The Australian people are better than that. They want an alternative. They want a vision for the future.
And one the thing that defines Labor is that we’re concerned with the immediacy of issues, the urgent necessities of today, dealing with issues – people who need health care, people who need a hand up, people who need welfare. We’re concerned with that.
But we’re always looking forward too. Looking forward generations with long term reforms like the National Broadband Network, like Disability Care Australia.
It is only Labor that changes Australia for the better. It is only Labor that has ever had the big ideas.
And it’s a party that I would be honoured, if I was given the task, of leading it to the next election – where we can win in one term.