Nov 13, 2013

Statements on Indulgence – Member for Griffith

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (20:43): I pay tribute to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on this very significant day for the parliament. He is someone who respects our institutions, including this great parliament, which is why he made the appropriate decision to inform the parliament here first. Giving respect—a lesson for all of us.

Others have said that Kevin Rudd led Labor to a historic victory in 2007. That is certainly the case. Having experienced 12 long years in opposition, it was indeed a timely victory for the class of ’96, let alone the classes of ’98, 2001 and 2004. It is particularly significant for Labor. Labor governed for around about one third or less of last century. There are only three people who have led Labor to government from opposition—Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam—since the Second World War. That is how significant that victory was, and all the more significant because John Howard—whilst I would have a couple of differences with him—was a very formidable Prime Minister and political leader, indeed.

Kevin Rudd’s tenacity and determination on behalf of the Labor cause was something to behold and it explains some of my position around the events of 2010—a position I will hold forever—that we should respect our leaders. The apology to Indigenous Australians, the ratification of the Kyoto protocol as the first act of the Rudd Labor government, the largest ever increase in the age pension, the expansion of affordable housing, action on homelessness, the National Broadband Network are all part of the Rudd government’s legacy.

I believe the most significant part, though, was seeing Australia through the global financial crisis. That was regarded by people like Jo Stiglitz as the world’s best designed economic stimulus plan. Treasury estimates it kept 200,000 Australians in work. Running the economy is the fundamental objective of government. If you do not do that, then you cannot create the space for the social and environmental policies that you would like to do. For a Labor government there can be no greater legacy than safeguarding the jobs of Australians.

Kevin’s greatest foreign policy achievement was his international leadership in elevating the status of the G20 during the GFC. I had the honour of going with Kevin and the Treasurer Wayne Swan when I was the infrastructure minister to that first conference in London. I saw first hand a great example of Australia punching way above our weight in terms the size of the economy. I saw the work that Kevin was able to achieve in the negotiations on the floor. His leadership was quite extraordinary. I have no doubt it played a role in securing Australia’s position on the United Nations Security Council.

His dedication to nation building meant that it was a pretty good time to be infrastructure minister, because Kevin backed me up—doubling the roads budget, increasing the rail budget by more than ten times, recognising through his advocacy of projects like the cross-river rail project and the Moreton Bay Regional Rail Link—

first promised in 1895 but delivered by the Rudd Labor government and under construction right now. Kevin also continued to advocate for his local community. With an airport-affected seat, I certainly related to Kevin’s advocacy there. I am very proud that I got to serve as Deputy Prime Minister to Kevin when he returned to the Prime Ministership earlier this year. It is something that does not get taken away. I will probably regret the fact that Kevin called me Albo at that first press conference and now everyone calls me Albo. It used to be just my friends.

Kevin’s leadership during that difficult time was quite extraordinary: taking on the leadership of a party that had been through a very difficult and turbulent time, preparing for an election campaign and then campaigning right around the country with energy and vigour in a campaign in which the odds were always against us. To repeat a private conversation—I don’t do that—I said to Kevin at one stage on the day, ‘I don’t know why you’ve just made this decision; it’s not in your interests.’ He could have retired having led Labor to victory in 2007; 2010 changed, and no-one could have questioned what the outcomes might have been in 2010. He could have retired as an undefeated Prime Minister from the Australian electorate. He chose to put the party that he loves first, before his own interests and the interests of his family. And I thank him for that, because Labor is competitive.

Finally, I thank him for what he has done for our party: the democratic reforms that he championed, in having a leadership ballot of the party where more than 30,000 people got to vote in that democratic election—I believe, a process that showed that you can have a democratic election without rancour and emerge stronger as an organisation if people actually accept processes and participate in them with goodwill. We emerged, after a significant election loss, with a party that is more united, stronger and more cohesive than it would have been if that reform was not put in place under Kevin Rudd’s leadership. And it must be, as Kevin said, the first step. We also need to democratise and give greater direct participation—I think it is the way forward, not just for Labor but for all political parties. The world has changed and people demand a direct say, not just sitting in halls; that is a thing of the past. And I intend to continue to champion an extension of Kevin’s democratic reforms which he began.

He leaves the parliament with my best wishes and my enduring friendship. I also extend my thanks to Therese and other members of Kevin’s family for their contribution to the cause of Labor, and also for their contribution to the cause of our great nation, Australia. Our families give up an enormous amount for the decisions that we make to be in this place. And the sort of scrutiny of them that occurs, sometimes most unfair, is something that comes with the job. But for Kevin, who has given so much for Australia up to this point: I look forward to watching his contribution outside the parliament and on the issues he has indicated—Indigenous welfare, homelessness, organ donation and others—that I have no doubt Kevin will take up with passion and commitment. And I pay tribute to him and honour him here tonight.