NEW SOUTH WALES LABOR CONFERENCE
SUNDAY, 27 JULY 2014
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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
And today I reaffirm Labor’s commitment to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first peoples of Australia, in our Constitution.
Tanya, thank you for your generous introduction, and through you, I want to thank the leadership of the NSW Branch.
Your General Secretary Jamie Clements, all your office holders, officials and staff here today – your work of rebuilding and reform is vital – thank you for everything you do.
The State Labor Parliamentary team has worked so hard since 2011 and I know you have more to do between now and March 2015 – in John Robertson you have a great leader and he leads a great team.
Let me acknowledge my remarkable Federal colleagues, who join me on this stage today.
I am so grateful for the support of our united Parliamentary team in Canberra and I am tremendously fortunate in the quality of the delegation from New South Wales.
Let me acknowledge NSW unionists here today, from Marilyn Issanchon and Mark Lennon to every delegate, activist and member – you stand up for working people every day.
Friends, I will never apologise for representing working people – and I pay respect to the work of Australian trade unions.
I did in particular want to acknowledge my fantastic Deputy. She is a lion of this Branch, she is a great voice for progress in this State and this nation – Tanya Plibersek.
And perhaps most importantly, I want to acknowledge rank and file Labor members.
People like George Turner from Tweed Heads: A life member, fighting the Nats in tiger country on the far north coast for years, helping Justine Elliot to her fourth victory in Richmond.
And Scott Rhodes of Frenchs Forest: a 25 year member tirelessly flying the Labor flag in the blue ribbon booths of the Northern beaches and the lower north shore.
No-one gets past Scott without a how-to-vote card – he’d even give one to Bronwyn Bishop.
And Paula Keyes from Hinchinbrook, who made thousands of cold calls to swinging voters across all target seats from the Parramatta headquarters, every day and night of the last campaign.
George, Scott, Paula - like all of you – have shown more than faith alone, you lift Labor with your belief and energy.
The only thing more remarkable than your patience is your passion.
The view from this stage right now is the best view in Australian politics – you inspire me.
Delegates, coming to this hall, to speak to this conference, is one of the great rituals of Australian Labor politics and one of the great privileges of a Labor Leader’s life.
The greats of our movement, the giants of our party have all gathered here.
But I know that many of you this weekend will have reflected with some sorrow that the last time we were in this room was to farewell Neville Wran.
When Frank Forde spoke to a hushed Parliament on the death of John Curtin, he said that Curtin was always a common man, a man for the masses.
He: “strived and struggled among them, and even when he came to the highest place in the land, he was still one of them.”
In May I told the Parliament that the same could be said of Neville Wran.
This great man of integrity dominated NSW Labor’s substance and defined your style.
From what Paul Keating called his “PhD in poetic profanity” to Wran’s pragmatism in delivering progress, Neville personified the best of Labor in New South Wales.
Federal Labor is deeply indebted to Neville Wran and through him deeply indebted to all of you.
Just as Australia in the modern world is unimaginable without the nation-building reforms of the Hawke and Keating Governments…
…the election and achievements of the Hawke and Keating Governments might have been unthinkable without the leadership, professionalism and judgement of this great Branch under that great man.
I know you are rebuilding and I want you to know why it matters so much to Australia that you do.
Because Neville Wran taught Labor in Canberra one thing above all else - we are only strong there when you are strong here.
We gather at a time when many people in our country are mourning terrible loss.
The past ten days, since the attack on MH17, have been days of sorrow, anger and confusion for so many.
The families and friends touched directly by this loss have already suffered greatly.
The uncertainty, obstacles and indignities of the days since have only deepened their grief.
All Australians share in their sadness – we are all affected, we are all involved.
And on this we are all agreed: we must see the victims identified, the bodies returned, the police investigation concluded and those responsible brought to justice.
MH17 is a scar on Australian innocence.
A catastrophic reminder that the destiny of Australians is joined to the wider world.
And if we ever thought that Australia was a small country far away, without a place in global affairs – we can dispel that illusion.
Together, we have built our nation up – through politics and diplomacy, through the economy and trade, as a global citizen – and it has have served us well in recent days.
And I pay tribute to the work of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard in winning a UN Security Council Seat for Australia.
Today our world is more borderless, our people are more connected and the pace of change is faster than at any time in human history.
And I look to the future with hope and optimism.
Today, our economy is strong, and our people are skilled, independent and tough.
But our nation’s future success is not guaranteed, because delegates, in 2014, our fairness and our prosperity are under siege.
Australia cannot afford national complacency as the pace of international change accelerates.
There is so much for our nation still to do, so much progress still to be made.
- Creating jobs and growth
- Moving to clean energy
- Investing in new technology
- Standing up for regional and rural Australia
- Improving education and skills
- Supporting small business
- Modernising health and disability care
- Seizing the opportunities of the Asian Century
- Saving for retirement
- And demanding the equal treatment of women
So much to do.
That’s why, as Chris Bowen says, we need an economy which is “innovative, agile, entrepreneurial and embracing of change”.
This is not inevitable, it requires policy and leadership.
To build an Australia that is strong, prosperous and fair – we have to be modern, flexible and innovative.
That’s the big picture.
That’s the Labor project that we must commit to in the decade ahead.
That’s what a Federal Labor Government would do if we were in office today.
But delegates, that is not what we are witnessing in Canberra right now.
This Abbott Government – and this Hockey Budget – they are neither the team nor the plan Australia needs.
The Liberals are cutting where they should be investing – they are hurting those they should be helping – and they are doing nothing at all where they should be doing the most.
If Australians want to know the difference between the Liberals and Labor, just look at Medicare.
There is no better measure of what Labor does – no better proof that Labor is the party that represents and reflects our country at its best.
Medicare is the rock upon which we built modern Australia.
For 30 years, Medicare has set the community standard around Australian health – the standard of universality.
If ever there was one measure which marks us out as a society, rather than a collection of individuals, it is Medicare.
Medicare declares that the health of any one of us, is important to all of us.
For three decades now, every parent, every person, has known this:
If you have nagging asthma, if your child has a rising fever – and you’re worried it’s something more serious – you can see a GP.
It doesn't matter if you've lost a job or you're flat broke.
It doesn't matter if you work hard but it's the day before pay day.
You can get the care you need, your child can get the care they need, your elderly parent can get the care they need and every Australian is healthier as a result.
Medicare is fair - and Medicare works.
In America, for six long years, President Obama has been trying to introduce universality.
To take the United States away from its two-tier, unfair, internationally uncompetitive system.
It is madness for Australia to go down the American road, just when Americans are finally making a long, exhausting u-turn.
Medicare doesn’t just keep Australians healthy, it makes us more productive and it boosts participation.
Our smart, universal system of primary, preventative care means fewer sick days – it is good for business, and good for jobs.
And our smart, modern system of funding that care means our system costs less for taxpayers.
Australia spends barely half as much on health compared to the United States, as a proportion of our GDP.
That’s less money, for better care, longer life expectancy and greater access.
All of this with no cost to employers and no extra burden on business – giving us a real head start in the world.
Medicare is fair, Medicare works – so why do the Abbott Liberals hate it so much?
Their plans for Medicare are a disgrace.
The GP Tax represents an unconscionable assault on the bottom half of Australia.
And it turns our hard-working GPs – Australia’s medical front line – into tax collectors.
Taking their time and their attention away from their patients.
Two weeks ago, Catherine King and I presented a petition to the Parliament, signed by more than three thousand doctors – 2500 of them GPs.
They know what the GP tax will mean, they know the pain it will cause.
Here's what Dr Julie McClellan, one of the 3000, had to say.
The Prime Minister should come on a nursing home visit and see if he feels comfortable asking the palliative patient or the confused elderly lady rocking in the corner for their $7.
Something tells me that's an invitation Tony Abbott – or Joe Hockey – or Peter Dutton - will never accept.
And even in the Abbott-Hockey Budget, none of this is about money.
The GP tax is not being returned to the bottom line – not one dollar of it.
This is about philosophy, their philosophy, or more accurately, their prejudice.
It is nothing but a plan to destroy the universality of Medicare.
Medicare is fair - Medicare works - and Medicare is ours.
Medicare belongs to Australians and we will not let the Abbott Government take it away.
For more than a decade, even the Liberal Party, even under John Howard, knew to keep their hands off Medicare.
But what was good enough for Howard is not good enough for Abbott.
Now Tony Abbott wants to wreck Medicare, to demolish it, to lay waste to Australia’s smart, fair and strong health system.
Delegates – the fight for Medicare is upon us in earnest.
Here today, loudly and proudly, let us make this promise:
Labor will fight to the death for bulk billing in Australia.
We will fight right down the line for the principle of universal healthcare .
No compromises, no trading, no retreat, no surrender.
We built it, Australians depend upon it, and we will stop Tony Abbott’s Liberals from tearing it down.
The crimes in this Budget go beyond Medicare.
Budget cuts to education, training and skills will be devastating.
This Government is cutting $5.3 billion from our universities.
They are doubling and tripling the cost of degrees in science, accounting, veterinary care – pushing the price of a university education beyond the great, good dream of ordinary families.
Forcing young Australians to choose between a mortgage and higher education.
Forcing young women to choose between starting a family and paying off their degree.
And training is hit too – apprentices lose support for their tools and will be slugged with debt instead.
There is insult added to this injury.
Not only did the Liberals ambush Australians in the budget, they lied to Australians in the election campaign.
Delegates, they aren’t just cutting higher education and training for the future, they are trying to change school education to make it look like the past.
We spearheaded crackdowns on bullying and violence in schools - they want to bring back the strap.
We expanded the teaching of Asian languages- they want to expand learning about the Kings and Queens of England.
I don’t know if you know the Education Minister Christopher Pyne – if you’d met him, you’d remember him – but he must be the most backward-looking, extreme and out-of-touch Education Minister since Federation.
Education is the driver of our future – yet this Minister has told his chauffeur to put us in reverse gear.
The difference between Liberal and Labor on education is wider than the Nullarbor.
We believe in needs-based funding for all of our children.
The Abbott Liberals believe in the old private vs public arguments.
Yesterday, John Robertson made it clear that State Labor would do things very differently as well.
Robbo, your plans for schools, TAFE and skills are exactly what New South Wales needs – and we’ll work with you to deliver these plans.
The Abbott Government’s cuts to education and training take Australia in the wrong direction.
These cuts are not the exception, they are the Liberal rule.
In fact, more than fifty billion dollars will be cut from hospitals in coming years.
This is worth repeating – fifty billion; fifty thousand million.
These are enormous, unprecedented cuts – the equivalent of sacking 1 in 5 nurses – or 1 in 3 doctors – or closing 1 in every 13 hospital beds.
There is no doubt – waiting lists will grow, waiting times will go up, the sick and the injured will be turned away.
Under the Liberals, the pension age is going up, while the pension rate is going down, the seniors supplement is gone for good and superannuation has been frozen.
Frugality is their motto.
This Government’s only retirement plan is to make Australians work longer and harder and retire later with less.
There are cuts that hurt families – a family which lives on
$80,000 per year will be $4000 worse off, and worse off every year.
And a family on $65,000 will be over $6000 worse off.
In Tony Abbott’s Australia, the less you earn – the more you pay.
And there are so many more victims of these Budget cuts – our veterans, our Indigenous people, carers and people with disability.
None of this happened by accident – this Government knew exactly what it was doing and who it was doing it to.
And the only thing more terrible than the impact of these wilful cuts is that the Liberals now think the cuts haven’t gone far enough.
Two weeks ago, Joe Hockey blustered that if these cuts are blocked, he’ll go further – with cuts that bypass the Parliament.
And now we read in his new biography that the Treasurer believes the Budget should have been tougher.
If this is what an authorised biography reveals – imagine what the un-authorised biography looks like!
This arrogant, cigar-chomping Treasurer’s hopeless biography reveals that it took Tony Abbott to block him from deeper, harder cuts.
If it’s up to Tony Abbott to tell you that you’ve gone too far, you’ve really gone too far.
The Liberals can’t blame Joe Hockey.
He’s only a symptom, he’s not the cause.
This is a Government unravelling from the centre and rotting from the top.
If it’s not Ministers talking about secret plans for cuts, or Liberals speculating about leadership succession, it’s a $22 billion dollar paid parental leave scheme - where only Rupert Murdoch was consulted, and a plan for knights and dames where even John Howard was out of the loop – but he’s still waiting at the letterbox!
Joe Hockey’s talk of more cuts is hardly a surprise.
We already knew the Government wants to drive further down this road, because we’ve seen the Government’s roadmap – the Commission of Audit drew it for them.
The Commission of Audit report is the plan Tony Abbott asked for, the plan Joe Hockey paid for, and the plan the Liberals are hungry to implement.
Here’s the destination the conservative side of politics has set for itself.
Completely abolishing Family Tax Benefit Part B.
A fifteen dollar GP tax.
A hospital tax.
A lower minimum wage.
Delaying the NDIS.
When the Liberals talk about looking for alternatives, these are their alternatives.
When they say they want to go further, this is where they want go.
Believe it or not – this is the Australia the Liberals believe in.
Of course it’s unfair – they’re the Liberal Party.
But the Budget doesn’t just hurt Australians today, it will hurt Australia tomorrow.
It is not just conservative, it is regressive.
It is capital C conservative.
This is a Budget brought to you by a conservative Prime Minister who doesn’t see it is as his duty to care for everyone.
By a conservative Treasurer whose personal comfort in life has completely robbed him of charity. And, I might say, judgment.
By a conservative Government which governs only for those it sees as its core constituency.
We know the Budget failed the fairness test.
The Budget fails the future test as well.
Take just one example: climate change.
It is no coincidence that one of the fundamental questions for our future is one of their fundamental policy failures.
They believe in a price signal to punish the sick and the vulnerable – but not to punish polluters.
They love freedom so much they’ve made pollution free.
Delegates, Labor will “fight and fight and fight again” for action on heat trapping greenhouse gasses.
The Fraser Government abolished Medibank for a while but it couldn’t kill the dream of universal health care.
The Abbott Government may have stalled action on climate change – but they can’t stand in the way forever.
Australians are better than this Liberal Government – and Australia deserves better than this Liberal Government.
That’s where we come in.
Only Labor can modernise Australia – only Labor ever does.
The responsibility always falls to us.
And only a modernised Labor party can modernise the country.
Only a Government which sets aside vested interests and outdated thinking to seize the future can succeed in our country today.
Labor has to be as modern, confident, democratic and outward looking as we want Australia to be.
No person, no group, is immune from self-interest – everyone on every side has to give some ground.
If we want to change the country, we have to change.
And if we want to change the Government, we have to change.
In so many ways, New South Wales is showing the way.
I congratulate you on the lead you have taken on rebuilding Labor.
You’ve made enormous progress over the past two years, and you’ve made important progress over the past two days.
That’s good – because this is urgent.
We all know what has to be done and we don’t have forever to do it.
There is a lot of detail and lot to debate, as there should be.
But I am here to state a very clear direction.
Labor has to rebuild as a party of members, not factions.
A bigger, bolder, broader party – 100,000 strong.
A party where your membership card entitles you to genuine participation in our party: in the choice of our leaders, our candidates, our policies and our dreams of Australia.
A party where more people, are more involved, more often.
That’s the direction this branch has set – but we now have to complete the schematic – to make it obvious to everyone what Labor stands for and how we conduct ourselves.
Change in our society never stops – and the work of our movement is never done.
There are always new threats to our security, new competitors for our economy – and old unfairness in new forms.
And to all those who say that the great battles have been fought…
That the great races have been run and won…
That our society is fair, that the politics of progress are fulfilled, that the free market can take it from here, I say:
Tell that to a young jobseeker in our suburbs, or to a worker retrenched in our towns.
They’ll tell you as long as there aren’t enough jobs for people who want work, we still have work to do.
Tell that to a young student who’s been racially abused on public transport.
They’ll tell you as long as long as there are still people who want the “right to be a bigot” - we still have work to do.
Tell that to a tourism operator watching the Great Barrier Reef die through the glass bottom of her boat.
She’ll tell you until we have real action on climate change, we still have work to do.
Tell that to a teacher without the resources to teach the children who need the most help how to read and write and count, much less fulfil their potential in the modern world.
He’ll tell you while we don’t have great schools, we still have work to do
Tell that to a country person waiting for the NDIS to reach their town.
They’ll tell you that as long as Australians living with disabilities are exiled to a second-class life in their own country …
… Labor in Australia still has work to do.
And until the only test of whether you can get married, is whether you love each other - Labor still has work to do.
We reject complacency - this is no time for lethargy or shoulder-shrugging.
As long as there are Budgets like this Abbott-Hockey Budget…
As long there are Governments like this Liberal Government…
As long as there are leaders who think it is their job to cut jobs, cut wages, cut pensions, cut education, cut health …
… then Labor in Australia - you, me, all of us - we still have work to do.
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