Event Date: 16 September 2011
Friends. I’m with you today, as your Labor Leader, to discuss our Labor values.
Values 120 years old, values that have shaped this nation.
Values that inspire us today and will inspire us tomorrow.
Values that we have fought for in the past and that we will fight for to our last breath.
Every day, Australians demand that we answer the most important question they can ask of any government: What do you stand for?
They are right to ask.
It is their Government, not ours.
And we should welcome the question, because our answer is clear.
Opportunity for all, not as a theoretical concept but as a call to arms, to be expressed every day in making sure men and women have jobs and that every Australian, child and adult, has access to the transformative power of education, no matter where they come from or what their circumstances in life.
Not leaving any one behind, once again not said as a platitude but as a powerful statement that age, disability, ill health shouldn`t spell the end of decent life.
Recognising our responsibility to the Australians of the future, to Australia`s children.
Just as parents work hard to give their children a better life, we work hard to give Australian`s children a better life.
Our sense of love and responsibility for the nation`s children drives us on to make the social, economic and environmental reforms which will create Australia`s future prosperity and share its benefits.
Proud to call ourselves a Labor Government and proud of our union heritage and union links, always ready to fight against conservative forces, who simply don`t accept our core values and who represent the interests of the privileged and the powerful and friends, they are circling again, as the Liberal Party prepares to launch another attack on the rights of Australians at work.
These are our values, our Labor values, the values I have put at the centre of our government and at the centre of what we strive to achieve for the nation.
They are my answer to that great question, “what do you stand for”, in words.
But we must always answer that question with deeds as well.
As we did three days ago, when I stood in the House of Representatives and introduced the Clean Energy Future Bill 2011.
As we did four years ago, when I stood in the House of Representatives and introduced the Fair Work Bill 2007.
On our best days our values and deeds come together to dramatically change lives and change futures.
Being our best means learning from the days when we could and should have done better.
My responsibility as the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is this: To do everything in my power to ensure our Party is always its best self.
Being our best means facing up to some hard truths.
We meet in difficult days for social democracy – at home and around the world.
We have lost government in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
In the United Kingdom and New Zealand our sister political parties are in Opposition.
In Europe the tide runs against the Centre-Left.
And President Obama, whilst confronting far more grievous economic challenges, faces comparable problems with hard right wing activism that is long on complaints and conspiracy theories and short on solutions.
The grand paradox of this lean season for social democracy is that it is occurring when the catastrophic global costs of markets focussed on profit but devoid of responsibility have never been more evident.
And when the power of ideas about social and corporate responsibility enlivens so many individuals and so much of public debate.
It falls to us to analyse and understand this contradiction of our age.
We live in an age which at its best is one of individual empowerment and at its worst is one of stress, anxiety and confusion.
A primary school child using a computer at school has more information available at his or her finger tips than was conceivable at any other time in human history.
That child will grow to be a citizen who expects, indeed who cannot even imagine, a world that fails to offer immediate answers, customization, options, choice.
But at the same time, for too many people, the lived reality of a world of so much promise is actually one of feeling adrift in a sea of information and overwhelmed by too much change.
The lived reality is one of feeling that they have lost control of their own lives.
Indeed, I believe this clash of the choices of modernity with our need for security in life is one of the reasons that there is a sense of anxiety in the community.
These trends of our age are much discussed and analysed.
And in that analysis, many commentators have predicted that the social democracy has past its use by date.
That our notions of collective action, solidarity, unionism, are incompatible with today`s individualism.
Friends, I am here today to say to you, that fashionable thinking is a mistake – indeed a grave error driven by a misunderstanding both of our collective traditions and of our ability to apply them to the contemporary world.
Our collective tradition began more than a century ago.
Working men and women came together in trade unions, understanding that collective action gave them a power they would never have alone.
And that tradition of unionism and collective action gave birth to our political party.
Ours is a political party unashamedly built with collective action as our foundation stone.
Its mission, to end want for working people.
Its method, to stick together.
A collective method, given expression in many forms, from locality branches, to affiliation with trade unions, to the binding discipline of Labor caucus.
At every level we gave expression to our belief that numbers bring strength.
To end want we have argued for collective action through Government, through a fair distribution of risk.
Think of the great Labor achievement of Medicare.
At its heart Medicare was born because we said that the cost of ill health should not fall on and break an individual, it should be shared by each of us.
That the most healthy amongst us had an obligation to share the burdens of the most unwell.
That life is so full of unknowable risks and we would share those risks so that sudden illness won`t bankrupt a family.
And in our historic mission of ending want we have achieved so much.
From the creation of the old age pension to our plans for national disability insurance.
In the second half of our existence, we aimed higher.
We have never left our concern about defeating poverty and sharing risk behind but we have rightly worked for more.
We have striven for a fair distribution of opportunity.
We have worked to ensure we have a resilient modern economy that offers people not just a job but the prospect of better jobs and we have worked for an education system that gives working class kids a chance.
As others have put it before me: the light on the hill now shines from a lamp on the desk.
Friends, this mission of fairly distributing opportunity and sharing risk is not yet done.
It won`t be done until a child born into welfare passivity and family dysfunction gets as good an education as the child of a multi millionaire.
It won`t be done until an Indigenous boy or girl has the same ability to get a job, a house, to build a good life as their non-indigenous friends.
It won`t be done until we fairly share the costs of addressing risks, like the risk of being born with a disability or the risks of mental illness or of the incapacity that can come with ageing.
Because fairly sharing opportunity and risk requires constant effort.
Working together to strengthen and modernise the economy so Australians have the benefits of jobs and ever better jobs.
Yesterday`s Snowy Hydro scheme is today`s national broadband network.
Yesterday`s dollar float is today`s carbon pricing.
Working together as well to revolutionise education, from early childhood through schools to apprenticeships to university.
We should never rest and settle for second best in the world when it comes to quality and equity in education.
I feel this deeply with every fibre of my being.
If I lived in any other age it would have been impossible for me to be standing here.
Education made me.
Without great schools and Whitlam`s reforms of university education, I would not be here today.
Every child today deserves this same chance.
The need for collective action is with us today and it will be with us tomorrow.
But even as we still strive to achieve these great things together, our understanding of our mission needs to deepen and our aim needs to be higher again.
Understand, collective action was never simply an end in itself: we saw strength in shared endeavour in politics, we saw value in sharing risk through government, for a reason.
Because we wanted to empower “the great mass of the people”, all those the conservatives would leave behind.
And as communities, families and individuals have embraced the benefits and empowerment collective action has brought them, they have embraced new opportunities and demanded new choice.
So today our ethos of collective action must respond to individual needs and demands for choice and control.
For a long period of time, our great movement believed that if you could lift incomes and end poverty that everything else necessary to get people on the road to a better life would follow.
Now we understand that for our most disadvantaged, welfare support alone is not the answer.
Of course, ensuring people have life`s basics is necessary but change only comes by marrying a requirement for personal effort and responsibility with the customised supports that give people a hand up and out of poverty and dysfunction.
For a long period of time, our great movement believed that the highest aspiration of working people was for a decent job.
Now we understand it can be to run a decent small business.
Protecting rights at work will always be central but building skills, rewarding enterprise, encouraging the embrace of risk, helping people be their own boss, is part of the dream of working people too.
And for a long period of time, our great movement believed that one size should fit in all in service provision, that those seeking choice were undermining collective aspirations.
Now we understand that desire for choice is rightly strengthening not abating.
In this age we need to pursue our historic mission while also embracing choice and creating ways to give individuals more control.
Australians want to make their own choices and control their own lives.
But this can only happen if the power of collective action, in creating opportunity, sharing risk and not leaving any one behind, is joined to meaningful individual empowerment, joined to personal choices and control.
This is our Labor mission today.
Cradle to grave opportunity. Cradle to grave care for each in the face of life`s risks.
Cradle to grave shared expectations of personal responsibility met with a shared resolve to leave no one behind.
Collective action used to create great jobs, to build great infrastructure, to deliver great public services – and then collective action used to empower individuals to choose between these good things.
Some Australians have always had the resources to make every choice they want.
It is our task to ensure that every Australian has every choice.
That the choices made by our people are never limited by the circumstances of birth or where they live or what they do for work.
So at every stage, our great party of collective action must embrace new ways of enabling individual empowerment.
Friends, we are a movement in politics, not a school of philosophy.
So we must answer the question, what does this mean in practice for policy and Government?
The example which is closest to my heart is MySchool.
Publishing data on school performance has been both popular and controversial – everyone knows that.
But what I hope everyone also knows is why I did it.
Because this is a reform which reflects my deepest determination and is based on the experiences of my own life.
I don`t forget Unley High, where so much of my success in life began, but where other kids sat at the back of the room and did “make work” and were left behind.
And this is a reform which exemplifies Labor`s modern approach of joining collective action with choice for individuals.
Because it combines public funding for the education of every child with publication of new information about every school.
MySchool isn`t just a conversation starter motivated by education quality and equity.
It is an enabler of millions of choices powered by more information than ever before.
It enables individual choices about which school is best for your child, community choices about how to make a school better, national choices about how to improve all schools.
It is something I believe in, something I fought for, something which together we have achieved.
And MySchool – along with many other policies we have pursued and many more which lie ahead – rests on my confidence that social democrats, with our understanding of social solidarity and our sympathy for individual freedom, are best placed to respond to the needs of today.
Working with my team, it is my job to shape our shared future.
But I also keenly understand that in this age, as our Government writes the story of our collective future, every individual Australian wants to write the story of their own lives with more choice and control than ever before.
This approach – combining the strengths of collective action and the opportunities of individual choice – needs to live and breathe in our political party as well as our government.
Just as the Australian people demand customisation, options and choice in policy, so they demand this in politics as well.
Some hold that the historic structures of the Labor Party are sufficient to the complex and personalised politics of today.
I do not.
I believe we must also embrace choice and control within our political party – not just collective action.
Our National Conference at the end of this year is an important opportunity to do this.
This will never distract us from governing but we do have a responsibility always to renew ourselves and our organisation.
I look forward to the debate in December in Sydney.
I am determined that we have a fair dinkum Labor Party conference, not an American-style convention.
I want there to be debates, I want there to be votes, I want there to be surprises.
And so that the debate can be a real one, and the openness genuine, I do want to put forward my proposals for Party reform today.
Not brought down from a mountain and written in stone.
But brought up from the members, through an election review I initiated, in a process I began.
Here`s what I`ll propose.
First, we should aspire to be a growing Labor Party with new and active members.
So I`ll set the Party a challenge – recruiting eight thousand new members next year – and I want the Party Conference to sign up to the challenge.
Second, we should embrace a community organising approach to ensure that we are growing and that we are connected to the community.
So I`ll move that we increase our local connections to Labor supporters by trialling community preselections, or primaries, in some seats.
I understand and respect the concerns of those who want to ensure that primaries are about community not a vehicle for maximising the voice of special interest groups. The trials will be a genuine learning experience and are important to working through these concerns.
Third, we have to offer a richer experience for members of the Labor Party, including by giving them more opportunities to have a say and a direct vote in important decisions.
So I`ll move that we embrace the party members empowerment reforms proposed in the Faulkner-Bracks-Carr review – including the proposal that the National President elected by members serve a full, three-year term without rotation.
And fourth, we need to modernise our structures and recognise that the old branch structures alone are not the future.
So I`ll move that we embrace online membership and opportunities for supporters to become more involved.
So members and supporters can hear directly from me and their Labor Government – and so I can hear directly from them.
Friends, this is what I propose to reform and modernise our Party.
And this is what I want discussed at the “open conference” I look forward to this year.
I don`t want to get my own way on every precise detail.
I don`t want everything sewn up by some meeting at midnight the night before.
I do want change.
This is vital if we are to strengthen our party and be a party of ideas.
On the day I ordered our review I was determined to create an opportunity for reform which this great Party would not squander.
I remain so determined.
This is my approach to our great Party`s future.
Not change for its own sake, but progress for a purpose.
So our Party and our movement are always their best, so we fight for our values in the future just as hard as we have in the past.
So we always stand for opportunity for all.
So we always insist no one be left behind.
These values are the measure of our responsibility to Australians not yet born – the motive for the nation-building reforms we pursue – but they are more than this.
They are a statement of hope for the future – a statement of our enduring optimism for this great country we love.
They are the tenets of our abiding Labor faith that we really can build a “workingman`s paradise” in this land.
I am optimistic by nature – but as an Australian and a Labor person I am more than that.
I am optimistic by experience – because of what has already been achieved by our people to make Australia what is today.
I am optimistic by observation – because of the millions of Australians who each, in their own way, do so much to make this a better place tomorrow.
And my optimism is determined, specific, real.
Because I don`t only see that better country we can be in the future very clearly in my own mind.
I want kids like those at the back of the room at Unley High to see it as well.
I want them to see a country where their education is the best in the world and where their education is as good as any Australian child`s.
I want them to see a country where they can find a job, and keep a job, get a better job and where their boss respects their rights at work.
I want them to see a country where they are cared for and protected if they become mentally ill, if they become disabled, and when eventually they age and become frail.
I want them to see a country which is courageous enough to act on the threat of climate change.
For them to see all that – for our nation to be all that Labor must be true to its values.
Labor must be at its best.
When I knew we would meet at Old Parliament House today, I began to look forward to the opportunity of coming to address you all, in this historic place.
It`s a grand thing to come to this old House of the people, this home to so many of Labor`s grandest days.
Here where we enacted Medicare – and Medibank before it.
Here where we legislated the Snowy Hydro scheme.
Home to grand days of Labor courage and conviction as well.
Here, where Calwell lost the 1966 election and won his place in history speaking “as a voice for reason and right” … “when the drums beat and the trumpets sound”.
Here, where Curtin`s courage kept us free in times of war and Chifley`s convictions built a nation for the peace.
Here, where Labor caucuses met after hard fought election victories understanding the responsibilities that came with governing for the nation`s good.
And it`s a grand thing to address the Labor faithful as well.
Because ours has never been solely a parliamentary caucus or a campaigning organisation.
Labor in Australia is a movement.
A movement of people, in a great cause for change.
A movement for the future and a Party of hope.
That is what we have been on our best days.
That is what we have been on our bravest days.
I firmly believe it is what we remain on this day in this House.
I absolutely know it is what we will remain in all the days to come.