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Address to 5th Annual Chifley Dinner-Dance: Rooty Hill RSL, Sydney: Saturday 22 November 2003.\n

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We are meeting tonight in the heartland of Australian democratic

politics. Roger Price, our host, and his federal Labor candidate

colleagues, Ed Husic, David Bradbury and Chris Bowen are among

our point men in what will again be a titanic struggle for the political

soul of Australia next year.

Never underestimate the way last century the aspirations and needs of

the people of the great Western Sydney region came to drive Labor’s

vision for modern Australia and our understanding of the character of

the Australian nation. Gough Whitlam dragged the Labor Party

kicking and screaming from esoteric debates about socialism into the

solid realities of a moral commitment to equality of opportunity for all

Australians. Whitlam’s - and more broadly Labor’s - understanding of

what that meant came in the first instance from a close examination

of the needs of the people in the burgeoning suburbs of Western


Sydney’s west was our testing ground as we discovered its issues and

character replicated throughout our country’s expanding capital cities

and regional centres. After all, as he got out of bed every morning, it

was the social reality Gough woke up to.

Now we point proudly in Western Sydney to the nation ‘s third largest

economy with a regional domestic product of nearly $60 billion. We

point to a population the size of our state capitals of Perth and

Brisbane; greater than Adelaide; three times the state of Tasmania.

A growth in population terms of 7.9 percent between 1991 and 1996,

vastly greater than Australia’s 1.2 percent at that time, still expanding

by another 100,000 over the next four years.

From being Sydney’s food and manufacturing base in Gough’s day,

Western Sydney is now a centre of Australian technological change

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and modern global competitiveness as a result of its focal importance

to Australia’s IT industry and learning. Here two thirds of the work

force have secondary qualifications or higher. Future Australia is

being raised here with a quarter of the population under the age of 15

- 5 percent higher than the national average. No part of Australia

better represents or exploits the Australia we have become - more

than 100 nations provide the ethnic, religious and cultural

background of the modern Westie.

That this vibrant community stays in finger tip touch with the services

its people need to sustain its dynamism and their aspirations is in

large measure a product of the changed vision of the Labor Party in

the last third of last century. It was Gough Whitlam who forced the

Federal Government to face the health, education, transport and basic

services, like sewerage, needs of the changing Australian community.

We can point to Westmead Hospital and further hospitals in Liverpool,

Campbelltown and Mt Druitt as a direct product of these initiatives.

Likewise, the University of Western Sydney. Likewise, expansion

money for new private and public schooling. Likewise, the first direct

assistance for local government by federal government which went to

the western region councils. It was the Hawke and Keating

Governments who continued the drive.

Make no mistake about it, it is the Labor members in Western Sydney

who believe this system and relationship as the core of their being. It

is their Liberal opponents who pay lip service to it. Behind the scenes,

they dismantle the public policy edifice which sustains it. Sometimes

they are too dopey to move their lips appropriately. We found this

with the member for Lindsay recently when she dumped on the

Howard Government skinned University of Western Sydney. The

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Penrith Panthers, on the other hand, were prepared to support the the

region’s great institution.

Labor’s realism got to grips with the needs of ordinary Australians.

Continuing tough mindedness is necessary in the circumstances we

now face. We live in insecure times. The threat of terror in our region

and globally is real. The challenge to identify the terms and

conditions of Australia’s national security, always significant, is now

paramount. The obligation to seek the keys to national unity in times

of crises is now overwhelming.

To successfully negotiate the first decade of this century requires us to

be able to identify priorities for our defence. It also requires us to be

able to identify those things which frustrate Australians’ abilities to

optimise their skills, innovate in our industries, perceive fairness in

our society and sustain happy and healthy family life. Therein lies the

key to stability in society as everyone sees themselves as equal


I can think of few of my colleagues better placed in their background,

and interests to handle these issues than Roger Price. He has served

on numerous parliamentary committees which have handled all the

society building issues of our times - industry, education,

employment, training, transport, etc. He’s chaired some of them. He

has built a formidable parliamentary background over nineteen years.

In these fraught times he has developed additional skills. He has

served for thirteen years as either a Parliamentary Secretary to the

Prime Minister and the Defence Minister or as Chairman of the

prestigious Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, or

as Deputy Chairman of its sub-committee on Defence. One report on

the Australian Army produced under his direction particularly comes

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to mind as one of the most effective in the Committee’s long history.

He has a clear-eyed view of the Defence needs of this nation.

Patriotism in a member of parliament can be reflected in a grabbing of

national symbols and an eye to exploiting a situation for temporary

political advantage. It can also be reflected in a deeper consideration

of weaknesses in a community that undermine national unity over the

long haul. Such a patriot is also likely to see that at the heart of any

successful defence strategy is a priority given to self-reliance and the

self-respect that comes from a capacity to defend ourselves. This

patriotic member of parliament also understands that you are useless

to your foreign allies and friends if you do not have a clear

understanding of the terms and conditions of survival in your own

part of the globe. I’m proud to have a large number of these patriotic

colleagues, but few with greater experience, or breadth of knowledge

than Roger.

The time has come to challenge this government’s largely self-claimed

and unjustified reputation as effective defenders of Australian national

security. They falter at the national level and they undermine us at

the societal level. They sneer at the Party who picked up the pieces

when their World War II government fell part as we faced our crisis of

national survival. They mock the Party that saw us through the last

decade of the Cold War and built an enviable reputation for Australia

in regional security and economic affairs.

As one of Bob Hawke’s Defence Ministers, I was immensely proud the

other day to hear the assessment of one of Australia’s foremost

experts on Defence matters, Professor Des Ball. He said this of our


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“….. in 1986-87 we produced for the first time, a clear and

coherent basis …for Australian defence planning and capability

developments. New Strategic concepts were developed for

contingency planning and warning time analysis. Clear and

coherent guidance was set out which provided the ADF with the

capacity of controlling the sea-air gap, that ocean moat to our

north and thus affecting the defence of Australia on a self-reliance basis. We have not matched this logic since.”

Indeed we have not, and a couple of events in the last few weeks

demonstrate the validity of that assessment. The first concerns the

ease with which people smugglers penetrated our borders twice this

year. Given that only two boats came, they enjoyed a 100 percent

success rate. The second, a farcically inadequate presentation of a

revised defence plan produced by the Defence Minister on a Friday,

fundamentally disagreed with by himself, sinking without a trace by

the subsequent Sunday.

Let’s be clear where Labor stands on border protection. Our lengthy

and detailed review of this issue produced this assessment, “Labor

understands the concerns of Australians and shares their view that

the unauthorised boat arrivals are the worst of all possible outcomes

both from Australia’s point of view, as a nation managing its borders,

and from the point of view of the asylum seekers who risk, and

sometimes lose, their lives. Australians rightly want a managed and

fair system.”

There are two critical components of the successful protection of

Australia’s maritime borders. All other legislative additives are

secondary. The first is the implementation of a surveillance and

interception regime, 100 percent effective beyond our territorial


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The second is the maintenance of a relationship with our Southeast

Asian neighbours which ensures they inhibit the onward activities of

people smugglers. As our understanding increases of terrorist

activities in our region it is clear these objectives are important well

beyond dealing with people smuggling.

The incidents this year at Port Hedland and Melville Island represent

major security failure. This has been accompanied by major

accountability failure. To cover their negligence the Howard

Government regulated to exclude 3000 Australian offshore islands

from our migration zone. You can’t protect your borders by

eliminating them. Port Hedland is not an island, and in maritime

terms, Melville Island is spitting distance from the mainland. But the

Government is out there spinning and the media, as usual, is


The real story is the collapse of effective surveillance. Annoyed by this

focus on a second order and distracting problem for our stretched

defence forces the armed forces withdrew a substantial portion of their

assets. In the absence of an election, the Government doesn’t care.

Amanda Vanstone gave us the ultimate in border protection

complacency and neglect when she said there are hundreds of similar

boats out there. You can’t inspect them all. You can make a darn

good fist of it if you have a dedicated agency - a Coast Guard - for

whom it is a first order priority. Imagine if those boats carried

terrorists with a mind to roll a few sea mines over the side. Just to

underline their complacency -- the Government, demanding savings

from the Navy, has decided to tie up one third of our counter-mining

ships. What a gesture in this terrorist dominated age. The

Government should be beaten like a gong.

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To make matters worse, Vanstone, Ruddock, Howard, Downer et al

insulted the Indonesians once again by falsely claiming the

Indonesians acquiesced in the asylum seekers return. Every

Australian knows now that a trusting and intimate relationship with

our Southeast Asian neighbours is critical both to the war on terror

and preventing people smuggling.

Here is what the Indonesian Foreign Affairs spokesperson had to say,

“Agreement was not sought, nor was it given by Indonesia to the

decision by the Australian authorities ….. Information was shared

with us - on this case we weren’t asked for agreement, nor is it our

intention to reach agreement to Australia’s action because to do so

would be to give it blessing.”

Make no mistake about it. If this flow increases, it will not be because

our laws are inadequate but because the Government has yet again

poisoned the well with our neighbours. Howard and co. will be 100

percent responsible. It is time we all had the sophistication to hold

them accountable.

The farce of Government defence capability planning is even more

serious. Remember, good defence policy needs the orderly, rigorous,

public and transparent alignment of assessments of the security

environment, articulation of strategic objectives and priorities,

definition of capability requirements and commitment of financial

resources. The Government managed finally to do this in 2000 and

Labor agreed with them. We seek bipartisanship.

However, since then the strategic policy process has collapsed. Since

Hill became Minister a few weeks after September 11, we have had

one 20 page ‘update’ and this month’s 3-page ‘review’. They present

no coherent analysis of our threat environment, articulation of

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strategic priorities, no comprehensive decisions on the shape of our

defence forces and no details on the defence budget impact. This is

not serious strategic policy.

This is against a background in which none of the 20 largest defence

equipment projects that were planned in 1996 have been delivered.

Two have been cancelled and the rest are a total of 85 years late.

Eighteen projects underway are up to $7 billion above agreed cost

estimates. So appalling has this become that in his three page flimsy

of a couple of weeks ago Hill plaintively boasted as a point of pride

that one army project - observation helicopters - was actually on

schedule. Well he might - it sticks out like a ‘good thumb’.

Two years ago with much fanfare the Government announced $1.4

billion additional money over those two years for new equipment.

Hardly any of it has been spent on equipment. Slabs of it went on

rising civilian personnel costs - up by 13 percent, overseas travel - up

by 22 percent, consultants and professional service providers - up by

53 percent. Most of the rest of it - put in a savings account.

You see no figures on the latest review because the truth is this. In

the immediate future money is to be spent on bloating costs while real

capabilities are reduced (including for border surveillance). Then in

five, seven, ten years time by a process not yet clear we’d have money

for great new amphibious ships, airwarfare destroyers, replacement

fighters, etc. How we get there is a matter of faith not planning.

There are some things we know for sure and they are the cuts. These

acts of vandalism strike at the roles we know our defence forces have

had to perform at this time. Frigates, critical to our various war,

peacekeeping and border protection efforts will be reduced by two

before any replacements are delivered. One third of our mine

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clearance vessels in this time of terror will be laid up. The F1-11s will

be pensioned off before they are replaced, despite their immense

psychological significance in a region where an arms race is underway

and equipment better than ours is on order in the neighbourhood.

Everyone thought after the Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor, Solomons, and

Bougainville experience there would be another battalion or two for

the Army. Instead, the money is to be spent on a replacement tank,

which will halve the size of our tank force - which has featured in

none of these deployments anyway. The new tank will not be able to

be transported anywhere in the region by any Australian capability.

The real problem is this. The Government does not have the iron in

its soul that comes with an absolute determination to assign first

priority to defending the Australian people. Craving public approval

by saying the right thing about good allies and the unstable character

of the world we live in might resonate around the kitchen table for a

time, but it doesn’t produce the goods.

They only get away with this because all the agents of accountability

in our society do not have the courage and focus to challenge this

Government’s credibility. A credibility that is based on the policy

equivalent of a smokescreen. The challenge for Labor then next year

is to forensically expose this incompetence. The good news politically

for Labor is that the Government cannot fix this problem this side of

the next election. The bad news for the country is that the Howard

Government cannot fix this problem this side of the decade.

We owe it to the country to go onto the front foot on this issue despite

the fact we will largely have to do it alone. Make no mistake about it.

Having people like Roger Price around, who have proved over more

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than a decade a preparedness to plod through the tedious detail of it,

believing it is his patriotic duty, is a great asset.

I’ve concentrated so far on the issues involved in defending Australia,

protecting our borders. These are the things we can control.

Important thought our allies and neighbours are, we don’t control

them or their policies. We do control our own. The other dimension

of national security that we control is the sense our people have that

they are stakeholders. This is the idea that that important strategic

asset of national unity is built around a government that cares for the

needs of average Australians and their families - that it meets their


We have seen since Howard came to office massive pressure on middle

Australia and the poor. In the last few years of Howard, the income of

the top 20 percent has grown seven times faster than the bottom 20

percent and 50 percent faster than the pressured middle. The

western suburbs of Sydney represent that classic middle with a strong

leavening of the poor. On the last census, 90 percent of those who

declared their combined family income, have incomes of less than

$75,000, most less than $60,000. There are some high income

earners, but outside Baulkam Hills and Hawkesbury, very few.

These are the families classically dependent on strong government

support for education, health and family living standards. With the

above average number of children in the West, this is an area where

the government’s botched family benefits scheme would be important

indeed. I would suggest that more than the national average of one

third of family benefit recipients would be experiencing each financial

year the Government claw back of benefits, getting a tax bill rather

than a refund. Above average numbers would experience the middle

income earning families effective marginal tax rates of more than 62

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percent. These are not folk in the top tax brackets. As many are new

home owners with record levels of mortgage commitments as a

percentage of their income, they are particularly vulnerable to the

Government’s complacent attitude to what looks like foreshadowed

substantial interest rate rises.

For families in the West, government support for their educational

aspirations in government schools, poorer Catholic schools and the

University of Western Sydney is critical. Their health is heavily

dependent on access to good quality health care in the public

hospitals Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments extended here.

The John Howard squeeze in these areas has been massive. The cost

of health rises about six percent a year. Howard has increased the

subsidy for private health by around 8 per cent. For public hospitals

increased support has been less than3 percent. Public investment in

higher education has fallen some 12 percent on OECD figures while

others in the OECD have seen increases on average 17 percent. The

happiness of so many families is bound up in their aspirations for

access to the University of Western Sydney. UWS is the big loser in

Nelson’s so-called higher education reforms. The relativities between

government support for government schools and poorer private

schools as opposed to the wealthy has increased massively.

Labor has been homing in on these collective injustices whilst

savaging waste and inappropriate expenditure elsewhere. We have

found space for $4.5 billion of extra support so far. We will be able to

find more. Government spending on consultants has reached an

incredible $500 million a year. This is despite the fact that though the

Commonwealth public service was reduced by more than 30,000 early

in this Government’s time there are now 2000 more employed than in

Paul Keating’s day. This Government has turned into public policy

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what the Bible meant only in spiritual terms: “To him who hath more

shall be given.”

I rarely agree with radio talk back host Alan Jones. I did however a

couple of months ago when he railed against an inconsequential tax

cut promise from the Government who gave you the GST: “I think

Australians want to see better services. Better health services, spend

more on the physical nature of hospitals, better schools - get rid of the

demountable class rooms …… And a deal more on our infrastructure.”

I am not surprised he should say this, given his Western Sydney

audience. Building national unity by meeting the aspirations of

middle Australia is not Labor’s tactic: it is its passion. That is the

passion which drives the political life of Roger and his Labor

compatriots. Your presence tonight is a sound investment in the

security of our nation and effective parliamentary representation.