Brett Gale
Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Introduction Speech: Towards 2022

The fact that so many people are willing to join us three weeks out from Christmas, illustrates the great hunger for positive discussion on Labor’s future and on Australia’s future.

And the fact that there are so many representatives of the media here today shows that what we Laborites discuss is of great interest and import not just to us gathered in this room but to the nation at large.

That hunger and passion for debate is one we hope to harness over this weekend.
This conference is not another autopsy on the election just past, it is a chance to look to the future.

However, before we head off into the future, we do need to take stock of where we are, of what our starting point is.

Wage stagnation, rising inequality, a climate change emergency, and very real fears about the impact of technology on job security, ripple throughout every advanced democracy.
If there was ever a point in history that should suit a political message of civilising capitalism, of looking after the most vulnerable, of caring for the environment, and protecting workers’ rights, now should be that point.

The times are right, and yet, with very few exceptions, social democrats are still not winning.


We live in an age of political disenchantment, dismay, and disengagement.

This has had more profound impacts on the social democratic project than we may have imagined.

For over fifty years, around the world, centre-left political victory was built on a successful blending of progressive social values and safety net economic policies, mixed with a strong message of optimism about the future.

In retrospect, this was not the mood of Australia’s last election campaign – there was no shortage of progressive policy, and a strong and untied Labor team – but what was missing was the sense of hope within the electorate.

As the scale of the problems I mentioned earlier mounts, cynicism about the ability of government to fix those problems rises, and it becomes harder and harder to generate a message of hope.

The filter bubbles of social media – both left and right – just make everyone angrier, without giving them a sense that things can get better.

To cap it all off, in recent years political populists have been much better at exploiting the justified grievances of those who feel they have been left behind by the vast economic, social and ecological changes of recent decades.

This sense of sullen disengagement is reinforced by research Chifley has recently undertaken.

Punters are sick of the political game – the majority think the major parties are too close.
But at the same time, they also see politics as too divisive.

This is not a contradiction, it’s a warning against simply playing “the game” of politics.
This is an important message for progressives.

Playing the political game will not be enough for Labor nor for other centre-left parties.
Political games of fear and smear might work for conservatives, but this is not an even playing field.

We are the ones who want to change the nation – we need to own it, explain it, and then

win it.
But as we know only too well it won’t be easy.

Heartbreakingly for those of us on the left, Australia’s default political setting has been one of status quo conservative governments occasionally turfed out when the public realise that conservative inaction has actually let us fall behind, whether militarily as in the case of Curtin; socially as in the case of Whitlam and Rudd, or economically in the case of Hawke.

Indeed, the stronger the perceived gap between where Australia is, and where people think it should be, always makes the case for a Labor government easier.
This means we need to prosecute the failings of conservatism in terms of lost opportunities for Australia, and for all Australians.

Over the past six months I’ve been thinking a lot about Australia’s lost opportunities.
No reversal of cuts to penalty rates.

No meaningful action on climate change.

No increases in funding for health and education.

No increases in funding for childcare and no increases in pay for childcare workers.

Instead what have we seen?

Australians’ homes burn in unprecedented early season bushfires and the Government says now is not the time to even talk about climate change.

The only substantial thing done by the Morrison Government since the election has been to make our progressive tax system less progressive.

It seems Australia truly is run by a combination of flat taxers and flat earthers.

It will be Labor’s electoral task to highlight these failings to Australians and to devise policies to address them.

But, while a comprehensive suite of progressive policies is important, they need to be anchored in a deep and clear narrative about what we believe in and what we stand for.

And, how we will make people’s lives better.

Our challenge is to set out a vision of what a social democratic future looks like.

As a starting point, we at Chifley hope that this Conference will play a part in re-imagining that progressive future.

It’s why we’ve brought together the leaders of our movement with you, the engine room, the heart and soul of Labor.

Over the next two days we will be discussing and debating the policies, politics, and approaches that can help us build that social democratic future, and build a better and fairer Australia.

Labor thrives when people dare to believe – when they agreed it was time for Whitlam, when they cheered for Hawke, when they turned to Kevin 07. In each of these campaigns there was a sense of hope that government could be better, that Australia could be better.

Because we make Australia fairer by doing what Labor at its finest has always done – imagining a better future, building the road-map to get there, and then convincing people there is nothing to fear in the journey.

That’s what this weekend is about.

I wish I could finish on that note which I hope reflects what this weekend’s conference is trying to achieve.

Hope, vision and a better future.

But unfortunately, though importantly, I’ve got to go through some logistics.

You’ll note from the program that our concurrent sessions will be held in different rooms.

The Hawke Room is down here and the Whitlam and Keating Rooms are upstairs. Please take a look at the map in your guide to work out where you want to go next.

We also want to make this conference as interactive as possible. This weekend is also a chance to have your voice heard. So, feel free to ask questions in the panel discussions, or even better give an opinion.

We are sort of the anti-QandA around here – you don’t have to pretend your opinion is a question. The only thing we ask is please don’t monopolise debate because others want to have their say too.

And we’ve also got a special session planned for lunchtime today. One of the things Labor is pretty bad at is harnessing the knowledge, skills and talents of the great Labor diaspora. At Chifley we are trying to rectify that.

That’s why we are holding a session entitled Labor Leader for a day. It’s your chance to get up and say what your number one priority would be if you were Labor Leader. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and will help us gather some good ideas.

Also please share your thoughts about the Conference and our speakers on social media. Please tweet what you hear using @chifleyresearch and the hashtag #towards2022
Finally, some thank yous.

I’d like to thank the staff of ALP National Office for their support and help, and Uptown Communications for the work on logistics.

And, this Conference wouldn’t be possible without the help of our sponsors and partners. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those sponsors and supporters who have partnered with us for this Conference:

Our Premium Partner Australian Labor International, our major sponsors Maurice Blackburn, Slater & Gordon, and LEAN – the Labor Environmental Action Network (as an aside LEAN has books from our keynote speaker Jeremy Rifkin available in the foyer)
our sponsors Ernst and Young, Price Waterhouse Coopers, and the Australian Hotels Association (NSW Branch).

Our partners who’ve given great in-kind support the Australian Brewers Association, Essential Media and Hawker Britton, our media partner the Cornerstone Group
and the Socially Democratic podcast.

Thank you all for all your support.

About Brett Gale:

Brett Gale is the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre.