Address to the Australian Worker's Union Conference, Gold Coast
MON 14 FEBRUARY 2011
Thank you very, very much and it’s a very great privilege to join you here tonight, join you with so many friends around the room.
Now I am going to try and acknowledge my Federal Parliamentary colleagues who are here tonight, but I know even as I say those words I am going to get these acknowledgements wrong, because every time look down at my list of Federal colleagues here tonight I’ve seen another one or two saunter past, so the room is filled with colleagues from the Federal Parliament.
But the list is something like the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer and long time friend of this union, Wayne Swan, the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, who has such a special connection to this union, and then other Parliamentary colleagues including Mark Bishop, Stephen Conroy, Yvette D’Ath, Michael Danby, Don Farrell, David Feeney, Michael Forshaw, Bernie Ripoll is here, Mark Dreyfus, Mark Furner, Ed Husic, Joe Ludwig, Deb O’Neill, Graeme Perrett and I think so more that I’ve managed to miss.
But the fact that so many of us are here from the Federal Parliamentary party should tell you how much we value your work.
And of course we are joined by friends from the union movement, including Ged Kearney and Jeff Lawrence.
Perhaps instead of doing a long list of acknowledgements, it would be easier to say here tonight the people gathered in this room are friends of Bill Ludwig and that would catch every category.
And, of course, friends of Bill Ludwig because Bill Ludwig has been a stalwart of this union, a big man with a big heart, but Bill Ludwig as a Labor leader has always understood that strong unionism and a strong Labor Party go hand in hand, and whilst he has fought for his union he’s fought for Labor governments here in the great State of Queensland, and for the whole nation, and tonight I honour his contribution over so many years to the labour movement and to the Labor Party. It is unequalled in my experience in the Labor Party. I’m proud to be here and to call myself a friend of Bill Ludwig.
And Bill, I did want to thank you tonight for letting us have Joe Ludwig in Canberra. He brings your values, your ideals, your understanding of this great State with him to Canberra. He’s a very valued member of my team and I thank him, too, for his friendship and support.
And I also want to acknowledge Paul Howes tonight. I want to thank him for his speech a little bit earlier, and I also want to say to Paul thank you for asking me to join you here for Valentine’s Day. I’m viewing it as a kind of Valentine’s Day date, however you’re viewing it, and even though, of course, your wife is here tonight.
But, Paul, I did want to just say a few words which I mean in a spirit of constructive criticism, so if you could take them that way I would be very grateful.
As people know from my time as Minister for Education, I am a stickler for grammar and for English language and its true meaning. I’m therefore very concerned that the title of your recent book should be Confessions of a Faceless Man. I think to have written this title you must have misunderstood the meaning of the word confession, and misunderstood the terminology ‘faceless man.’
If I can explain to you where the word ‘confession’ comes from, it comes from a religious practice where one goes and acknowledges error and asks for forgiveness. It is therefore not appropriate to start any text with the words: ‘I confess, I was right’.
And, Paul, I also mean this in the spirit of constructive criticism, but it seems to me it is perhaps hard to describe oneself as a ‘faceless man’, having in the past described oneself as a media tart. These things would seem to me to be mutually inconsistent, and can I say to you I think possibly a little earlier in your life you would have needed to have chosen the path of a faceless man. Given you didn’t, I think it’s probably too late to try and be one now given your face is so well known.
But, Paul, I do mean this in the spirit of constructive criticism, because I’m sure in the future we will see further great works from your pen, and most of the room is living in fear of it.
But, Paul, of course, is a great contemporary leader of this union with its 125 years of proud Labor history, and I want to reflect on some of that proud Labor history and then talk to you about what it means for our future as a nation and for the future of our Labor Government.
I want to set the scene by drawing your attention to words written a long time ago talking about the things of this union’s history, and the words are as follows:
The meeting place is at Barcaldine at the end of the camp. Against a tree flying the flag of Freedom under the Southern Cross. The flag is a bit ragged, and no wonder, for it is never taken down. The reading room or recreation hall is a good specimen of bush-building, fitted with seats and tables of rough packing-cases, where the men read and play cards, chess, or draughts. Their lending-library was roughly built at first with bits of old bag and tattered canvas, but a new tent has taken its place. Some 600 books of all sorts are collected here and issued on loan under the authority of the librarian, ‘Old Jim’, who may always be found close at hand, unless drawn hence by ‘home affairs’, or marching off with his wooden gun for a little drill.
What those words from your union’s history should tell us is that it is rooted in this great union and in the Labor movement; to believe in the politics of opportunity; to believe in the politics of social mobility; to believe in the distribution of the benefits of hard work; to believe in what teamwork can bring.
And I know that it is fashionable in the modern age - we see it in newspapers commentary all the time, and sometimes we perhaps indulge this commentary ourselves - but it’s fashionable in the modern age to reflect on the labour movement as if it is no longer a movement with a future. It’s sometimes fashionable in the modern age to reflect on the Labor Party, and some are driven to conclude that the Labor Party no longer understands its purpose. And sometimes people reflect on Labor Governments in the modern age and wonder how they join with the historic ideals of the labour movement.
I think in all of these reflections we are showing an uncertainty and a timidity that is not justified, and we should not forgive. We should not succumb to this timidity and uncertainty.
I believe the labour movement knows where it is going, and it’s got a bold course for the future. I believe that whilst I won’t be here and neither will Bill Ludwig, that this union will celebrate another hundred years in the future, and another hundred years beyond that, that it will continue to build a future the way it built over 125 years in the past.
I do not believe we should be uncertain about the future of the labour movement. The labour movement has a strong future as a part of this country; as part of shaping the destinies of working Australians; as part of shaping our prosperous modern economy. That’s true today and it will be true for many, many years to come.
And I do not believe that the Labor Party has ever forgotten its purpose. I am crystal clear as Labor Party leader what the purpose of our political party is. The purpose of our political party is to ensure that every Australian, no matter the circumstances of their birth, enjoys opportunity. A fair nation does not unfairly deny a child access to opportunity. This is what we have fought for over all of these long years - opportunity and social mobility - because the trade union movement has been built by working people who have done some amazing and courageous things, fuelled by the ambition and belief that their sons and daughters would live a better life than they have: a more materially prosperous life; a life of greater opportunity.
That’s why the manual worker dreams of his son getting an apprenticeship. That’s why the tradesperson dreams of his daughter going to university.
Working people believe in opportunity. They want to leave a country for the next generation that is better than the country they inherited from the generation before.
We are fuelled and driven by the politics of opportunity. This is the great Labor purpose, and that great Labor purpose is best fulfilled when we work together as a team. And put simply, that’s what unionism is: the simple recognition that by being members of a team together we are strengthened beyond our individual efforts; that every great team is more than the sum of its parts; that therefore a union is actually more than the sum of the individuals within it, because there’s a special power that comes when working people combine and pursue goals together.
The purpose of unionism, that sense of teamwork, that mission of coming together to achieve great goals, is part of our Labor history, it’s part of our Labor future, it’s part of our purpose, it is what defines us as a Labor Party.
So, clearly understanding as Labor leader the historic mission of Labor, the politics of opportunity, the politics of working together, the understanding of the great combinations of working people and what they can achieve, my vision for this Labor Government, despite the circumstances of a minority Parliament, is a very clear one.
We will work together as a political party, with the labour movement, with the broader community, to bring change to our nation, to further opportunity - opportunity for every child, opportunity for every person, driving towards a nation where we can truly say demography is not destiny, and you cannot predict a child’s life path by knowing which postcode their parents reside in.
That through this Labor Government we will harness the benefits of economic prosperity, make sure that those benefits persist into the future, that we are a prosperous nation with those benefits to share.
That the purpose of this political party in government is to ensure that as we share those benefits we share them in the form of social services that working people rely on, including health, which is why the struggle for health reform has been so important to me in the days that have just gone by.
And it is not in this political party’s DNA, it is not in the DNA of the labour movement, to be afraid of the future. This Labor Party, this labour movement, has been created by people who were prepared to face up to the challenges of the future, and they haven’t always been easy.
When this union was formed the challenges of fighting two world wars were still to come. When this union was formed the challenge of the Great Depression was still to come. When this union was formed what we needed to do to modernise our economy and make our nation competitive in a ruthless and cut-throat world was still to come, and people from the Labor Party and labour movement looked inside themselves and found the courage to face those challenges.
We are called on today to face some of the difficult challenges so we can shape our future. They’re different challenges than the past; the challenge of climate change and pricing carbon; the challenge of making sure our technology, like the National Broadband Network, keeps this nation in front rather than falling behind, but they are challenges that we are up to and challenges that we will meet working together.
So, friends, if I can leave you with one message tonight, one message in this great gathering of working people from the Australian Worker’s Union, a union with so much history combined with so much Labor Party history; if there’s one message I want to leave you with it’s this:
We will be as bold in our future as we have been in our past.
We will serve the cause of brining opportunity to every Australian.
We will pursue that historic mission of fairness that has created the Labor Party and had it endure all of these years, and we will do it together as we always have, understanding that working together as a team we’re unbeatable.
Thank you very much.