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Speech to the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference, Canberra.
Speech 22 November 2009
Speech to the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference
21 November 2009
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I acknowledge the First Australians on whose land we meet, and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
I thank Jim Wallace for his invitation today and I am pleased today to be the first serving Prime Minister to address the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference.
In speaking to you today, I also acknowledge the enormous contribution of Australia's churches and church communities throughout our nation's history.
The history books often recount the great moments of conflict and change in our nation's story - war, depression and political strife.
But they can miss out on the quiet years that also shape a nation's character and destiny.
The years when people are going about their normal lives - working hard, raising a family, building communities and building the institutions that sustain a nation through the good times and the bad.
If we studied those quiet years more closely, I believe we'd all better appreciate the profoundly important role of our churches and religious institutions in our national life.
The work of sustaining community life in times of celebration and times of grief and loss.
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The work of caring for those at life's extremities, those in need of care in our hospitals, our aged care homes and our refuges.
The work of improving opportunity for all through our schools.
The work of helping shape the values that are essential for a healthy society - values of compassion, of tolerance, of sacrifice for others, of hard work, of responsibility, of self-respect, - and of the equal dignity of every human being.
And the work of helping people to wrestle with deeper questions of meaning.
This isn't noisy work - it's quiet work.
Yet it's the work that builds a nation.
Work that builds families.
Work that builds communities.
Work that strengthens the social fabric - or the social capital - of the nation.
And we must all be attentive to how stressed our social fabric - and with that our families - have become with the challenges of 21st century life.
Of course like governments and other organisations, churches and church institutions have sometimes failed to live up to those values.
The apology to the Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants in the past week was a sharp reminder of that.
Among the stories of those men and women raised in orphanages and institutions run by the state, by churches and by charities, there are many heart-wrenching stories of neglect and outright abuse - physical, psychological and sexual.
The truth is, the church and the state failed badly to provide the love and protection that a child needs as he or she grows up.
And for these grave offences we must both be sorry.
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Churches now have an important role to play now in making those Forgotten Australians into the Remembered Australians.
For this is the only way to go about healing broken lives.
This coming Tuesday will mark the second anniversary of the Government's 2007 election win.
We have faced enormous challenges over the past two years.
Challenges that were barely on the radar in November 2007.
By September 2008, the worst global economic downturn in three-quarters of a century was threatening to slam into Australia.
As the crisis unfolded fully, we had just one clear goal.
To do everything we could to cushion our economy, our communities and our families from the full impact of a global economic cyclone by supporting jobs right around Australia.
To keep as many Australians as possible in work.
So as many families as possible continue to have at least one breadwinner, and children do not have to face the insecurity and instability common in jobless families.
We know the toll that unemployment can take on even the strongest families.
We have seen in the post-war period the destructive cycle of successive generations of unemployment, welfare dependency and the destruction of the human spirit.
So we were determined to do all we could to keep as many families as possible out of that cycle.
To learn from history.
Not to repeat it.
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That's why we took strong, early and decisive action to build a stronger Australia.
And our actions have been effective.
Australia is the only advanced economy to so far stay out of recession.
Australia has the second lowest unemployment rate of all the major advanced economies - so that today, hundreds of thousands of children have been saved from the trauma of seeing mums and dads losing their jobs.
And we have done so with the lowest debt and deficit of any of the Major Advanced Economies.
Nevertheless, many, many Australian families have been doing it tough through this crisis.
Economic downturns invariably hit the most vulnerable people in our community the hardest.
That reality has underscored the strength of the Government's commitment to building a fairer Australia - a nation where it is possible for everyone to enjoy a decent family life.
We have honoured our commitment to abolish Work Choices, replacing it with a fair and modern industrial relations system that gets the balance right.
We have built a decent safety net of conditions that removes the incentive for employers to make employees work unsociable hours, by ending Australian Workplace Agreements that stripped away penalty rates and overtime pay.
We are introducing into all awards and enterprise agreements a provision for individual flexibility that makes it easier for employees to negotiate family-friendly work arrangements.
We have decided to introduce Australia's first system of paid parental leave, and we have extended rights to parental leave to make it easier for parents to choose to stay at home during the earliest years of a child's life.
We have initiated the greatest ever Commonwealth investment in social
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housing and in tackling the scourge of homelessness - because we know that without a place to live, it is difficult for people to find work, for kids to study and for people to make a fresh start to get their lives back together.
Our first White Paper was entitled A Place to Call Home - with the aim of halving homeless for the more than 105,000 Australians who currently are without a place to call home.
And as part of the Nation Building Economic Stimulus plan, we are building almost 20,000 units of social housing for the neediest Australians.
We have implemented the largest reform of our age pension since it was introduced one hundred years ago - raising the single age pension by $32 per week to help the most vulnerable Australians to make ends meet.
We are investing in the quality of education in our most disadvantaged schools.
We have made the apology to the Stolen Generations, and we are taking action to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
As I have said before, I do not believe that in Australia you can successfully advance an economic reform agenda without a complementary agenda to help strengthen our social fabric by providing maximum support for families under pressure.
We should not have to choose between faster growth and a fairer society.
It is not easy tackling the complex challenges of closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, halving homelessness, or supporting families and building more resilient communities where there's been decades of multiple disadvantage.
In working to build a fairer Australia, we recognise that we cannot be effective if governments merely act alone.
Governments must work in partnership with local people and with community-based organisations to deliver lasting results.
As we work to build a stronger and fairer Australia, the Australian
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Government is strongly committed to continuing to strengthen our partnerships with organisations in the 'third sector' - many of which are church or faith-based organisations.
That is why we have been working with many community organisations this year towards establishing a Compact with the Third Sector.
As we continue to build a stronger Australia and fairer Australia, the Government is also determined to prepare our nation for the challenges of the future.
We are taking action on climate change.
We are tackling the challenge of long-term health and hospital reform.
We are seeking to build the best educated, best skilled, best trained workforce of any in the world.
A country where we halve homelessness.
Where we close the gap with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Where we don't allow the fair go to slide out the back door.
This is the kind of Australia we can build together.
The focus of the ACL's conference this weekend is how we as a society care for the best interests of our children.
Governments have fundamental obligations relating to the safety and protection of children, as well as ensuring that every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential through the opportunity of a world class education.
That is why the Government that I lead is committed to an education revolution in Australia.
I spoke about the need for an education revolution in my maiden speech in 1998, shortly after being elected to Parliament.
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After I was elected as Leader of the Opposition, the first policy paper that I released was entitled The Australian Economy Needs an Education Revolution.
And since coming to office, the Australian Government has got that education revolution underway.
We have set out goals to achieve: