New Democratic Party of Canada Federal Conference, Montreal
- Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation
[Check against delivery]
New Democrats, it’s an honour to be with you today representing the Gillard Government and the Australian Labor Party.
Australia and Canada may lie at opposite ends of the globe, but we have much in common.
We were both colonies that became countries.
We are both democratic and multicultural.
We are both nations that need political leadership to plan for the next 20, 30, 40 years.
And Australian Labor and the NDP both represent working people.
The difference is that we’re in government – you’re in opposition.
Either way, everything is at stake for both of us.
And that’s what I want to do today – to give you an Australian perspective on what can be achieved if you win.
There’s an old saying in the Australian Labor Party: Only the impotent are pure.
That might sound cynical. It’s not. It’s pragmatic.
Those words were spoken by Gough Whitlam – one of the great leaders of the Australian Labor Party – the Prime Minister who saw what Medicare was doing in Canada and replicated it in Australia.
Whitlam said “only the impotent are pure” to a hostile ALP conference in 1967.
At the time, Labor had been out of power for a generation.
We were divided and we were more interested in fighting ourselves than anyone else.
Some elements of the Party were happier to lose and remain pure than win and accomplish reform.
Some didn’t want to win if they had to compromise.
Some in our movement would settle for nothing rather than power.
Therefore, that’s what millions of Australians had. Nothing.
Whitlam and his supporters wanted more.
They wanted to change the country – and they did.
The Labor Government I am a member of feels the same.
We were elected in 2007 with a burning desire to make a difference.
- We’ve kept Australia out of recession during the Global Financial Crisis, our economy has grown by 13 per cent plus since the GFC.
- We’ve created 890,000 jobs, our unemployment rate 5.6 per cent.
- We’ve boosted compulsory and universal superannuation pension payments from nine to 12 per cent of income for all employees.
- We’ve started building an optic fibre National Broadband Network right around the country.
- We’ve implemented a price on carbon pollution.
- We have a record number of children completing year 12.
- We’ve started rolling out a National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure Australians with a disability have the support they need to reach their full potential.
- We’ve increased our aged pension to $733 per fortnight.
- We now have a minimum wage of $16.76 per hour Canadian.
- We’re skilling hundreds of thousands of apprentices and trainees.
- We’ve corrected past wrongs – apologising to Indigenous Australians, apologising to children forcibly adopted, and establishing a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse by the clergy and other institutions.
- We repealed unfair labour laws.
- We passed laws that promote collective bargaining.
- We’re ensuring safe rates for long distance truck drivers.
- We’ve delivered equal pay for tens of thousands of women working in predominantly feminised industries like the community and care sectors.
- We’re working to remove asbestos from Australia by 2030.
- We’re fighting for local jobs to go to locals first, ensuring temporary migrant labour is used to fill only legitimate vacancies and not reduce labour costs for multinational companies.
- We’re aiming to provide 15 hours a week of pre-school for every four-year-old Australian child.
- And we’ve delivered new school buildings in each of 10,000 Australian schools…as I said, we’ve achieved a great deal.
We’ve made Australia fairer, stronger and more sustainable.
But, New Democrats, one of the challenges of being a progressive party is that you can never stand still.
There is always another baby being born.
There is always another child starting school.
There’s always another self-made small business person aspiring to do more.
There is always another man or woman who’s lost a job – or is looking to re-enter the workforce.
There’s always another older worker who’s looking to retire comfortably.
There’s always an ageing parent awake at midnight, anxious about who will look after their adult child with disability, when they no longer can.
And those people need the protection of a progressive party.
That’s why there is always so much more to do – so much more at stake.
That’s why, unlike the conservatives, we must never be satisfied.
For instance, the reforms our government has made since 2007 – whether it’s carbon pricing or the National Broadband Network or superannuation or the National Disability Insurance Scheme – will take years to work their way through the economy, the community, the environment.
In the meantime, those gains are at risk.
They’re at risk because our opponents would love nothing more than to:
turn back the clock on workplace rights;
pretend climate change doesn’t exist;
forget about the secure retirement of working men and women;
allow people with disability to be exiled as second class citizens in their own country.
Our opponents are not looking forward, but backwards. They’re fearful of the future. They want to pretend that things can stay as they are.
They cry out that we cannot compete with the rest of the world.
They’re not pure, but they’re not impotent, either.
In Australia, our opponents have a single obsession.
They think the answer to all of Australia’s ills is to put an end to basic workplace protections – to go back to the law of the jungle.
They think demonising trade unions and deregulating labour laws is the only road to productivity growth.
In fact, they say the day of the trade union is over, that there is no longer a role in society for organised labour.
What they don’t appreciate is that modern unionists would seek cooperation at work in productive jobs, in profitable enterprises.
Modern unionists are committed to raising and educating their children, honouring their mortgage, paying their taxes, and building their communities.
What conservatives don’t understand is that, in the twenty-first century, people are the difference – our people are what make our homelands great.
They don’t understand that the workplaces of the future will be high skilled, high performing, co-operative enterprises where the productive capacity of individuals is recognised and nurtured.
Conservatives just don’t get it. They really don’t.
And that’s why progressive parties like ours must never stand still.
Must never be satisfied with the status quo.
Must always have an eye on a greater purpose.
And, New Democrats, for me, the greater purpose of progressive politics in the 21st century is employment.
Put it another way: the future is a good job.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
All the challenges we face – whether they are globalization or the skills race or the empowerment of workers and consumers – all of them come back to the brains and ability of our people.
Booms will come and go.
Minerals and commodities prices will eventually decline.
That’s why, to prosper in the 21st century, Australia – and, I suspect, Canada – needs a healthy, highly educated, creative workforce.
We need students and apprentices.
We need men and women who are encouraged to work – whether they are parents returning from maternal or paternal leave…or people with a disability…or are unemployed.
We need older workers not to be discouraged and discriminated from working.
We need women to be treated the same as men in our society.
And that’s why it’s vital to keep fighting for progress.
Because progressive politics is all about fairness and productivity – profitable businesses...good jobs for working people…co-operation over conflict…on-the-job safety and equality…regular hours…some control of one’s tasks at work…a secure retirement as a just reward for a lifetime of hard work.
Progressive politics is all about social justice – an educated and healthy and scientific nation where no one is shut out by disability or gender or disadvantage…where no one is left behind.
Progressive politics is all about fostering a diverse, creative multicultural society – where everyone’s a local…no matter whether they are first or fifteenth generation citizens…
Where it makes no difference whether you are Australian or Canadian by birth or choice.
Everyone is the same.
Everyone is equal.
Everyone is welcome.
Progressive politics is all about keeping our hard-wired DNA promise to our parents by leaving a better future to our children than we inherited.
New Democrats, the future is not an unknown.
We can predict the forces of the next 20, 30, 40 years:
- The re-emergence of Asia as a world power.
- The ageing of our societies.
- The growth of service industries.
- The exponential impact of the digital age.
- The march of women through institutions of power,
- The absolute obligation of sustainability.
The citizens of Australia and Canada are ahead of us.
They are already organising their lives to take advantage of the next 20, 30, 40 years.
They understand there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore, but several careers with constant learning and re-learning.
They understand the need for sustained prosperity, so people don’t work hard their whole lives and retire poor.
They understand the need for balance – about prioritising so that they’re not living to work, but working to live a life outside of work.
They understand that healthy and quality of life are linked.
They live with the ups and downs of life – whether it’s divorce or illness or ageing parents or beautiful babies with developmental delays.
The people we represent are living in the 21st century – our challenge is to make sure our governments do the same.
New Democrats, progress is not about bricks and mortar – it’s about hearts and souls.
It’s about enabling people to live long lives, full of meaning and purpose.
That’s the promise of progress – and it’s a burden of principle and purpose that progressive parties must carry.
Our reward is not a monument on a hill – it’s a young person in a job.
It’s the reward of knowing the power of a good idea – like Medicare.
There’s a good idea that Canada came up with – and 16,000 kilometres away a Labor Government followed.
It’s a good idea like a National Disability Insurance Scheme or a decent retirement income.
And it’s the knowledge that you only need one victory to change your country – and maybe another country as well – forever and for the better.
New Democrats, I’m going to be blunt.
Despite all that we have achieved, published opinion polls have not been favourable to our Government of late.
It’s going to be tough for Australian Labor to win in September.
But we can win – because we must win – because we know what is at stake.
Let me tell you something: progressive politics is not for the fainthearted – or the short sighted.
It requires vision. It requires heart. It requires endurance.
You have to prosecute the case for reform – for change – and the burden of proof is bloody hard work.
You have to constantly prove your case. But your opponents don’t.
You have to tell a story that’s built on principle and purpose.
And even when you’re right – and we usually are – it takes years, decades, for the jury to come back in your favour.
That’s the burden of progress.
We know we must never be satisfied with the way things are, but continually strive to put things right … to make them as they should be.
New Democrats, in the end progress is all about twin concepts: idealism and pragmatism.
You have to stand for something – and you have to be prepared to make something happen.
In politics it’s true that no matter how hard the contest, if you are prepared to go one day longer than those who say change is too hard, then victory is inevitable.
New Democrats, I congratulate you on how far you have come.
You know change is coming – that change is inevitable.
You don’t fear change. You want to shape it.
You are not pre-occupied with the few, but the many.
You respect success, but you want opportunity for all, not just some.
You include all business people and unionists.
You seek consensus over conflict.
You value diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or sexuality.
You believe in the creation of national wealth, and thereafter the fair distribution of national income.
You know that it’s not enough to simply be the conscience of the nation.
You know to make a difference you need to win.
We are the hopers, the dreamers, the optimists, the chancers, the unifiers.
They are pessimists, the naysayers and the dividers.
I truly believe the times do suit you.
I wish you all the best with your convention and every success in your contests ahead.
Bonne chance. Good luck.
Merci. And I thank you.