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Address to ALP National Conference, Sydney.



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ADDRESS TO ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE SYDNEY CONVENTION CENTRE 30 JULY 2009

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Two years ago, I stood before you as Labor leader and said that Australia stood at the crossroads.

That Australia faced a choice between the past and the future.

Two years later, we gather here as a Federal Labor Government because Australia chose the future.

Throughout our history, we have always been the party of the future.

Always prepared to look beyond the horizon.

Always prepared to be bold and to imagine what Australia could be at its absolute best.

Always prepared to paint a broad and inclusive canvas on what our possibilities as a nation might be - rather than simply being content with the way things were.

Because ours is a message of hope; our opponents a message of fear. And as we all know, fear so often is a more potent emotion than hope.

Ours has been a mission to build up, rather than to tear down.

Ours has been a mission to include, rather than to exclude.

Ours has always been a message of fairness for all, rather than privilege for some.

Ours has been a message aimed at the better angels of our human nature, rather than the worst.

These, in all fundamental respects, continue as the dividing lines of our national political life - as real today as they were 100 years ago.

For more than one hundred years of our national political history, our challenge has been to obtain political office to translate these great values into policies that change the lives of working people.

And as you as delegates know, this is no easy task.

Conference after conference, we have assembled to pass resolution after resolution: · on reconciliation with Aboriginal people;

· on Australia’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; · on the obscenity of the industrial relations regime from the waterfront dispute through to WorkChoices; · on the obscenity of the treatment of refugees under the Pacific Solution; and on Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War.

These resolutions represented the consistency of our purpose and the conviction of our resolve.

They reflected the heart and the soul of so much of our party and our movement.

They reflected the most deeply held beliefs and aspirations of each and every one of you as delegates to this, our party’s, conference.

They embodied what you, as the party of true believers, held to be positions of fundamental principle.

Yet, at the same time, year after year, conference after conference, our resolutions progressively became essays in political futility and frustration.

But in 2007, after twelve long years, our party and our movement prevailed.

We prevailed because of the consistency of our purpose.

We prevailed because of the essential decency of our message.

We prevailed because of the discipline of our politics.

And the result: in less than eighteen months in office: · an Australian Labor Government apologised to the stolen generations; · an Australian Labor Government ratified Kyoto; an Australian Labor Government threw out WorkChoices once and for all; · an Australian Labor Government abolished the Pacific Solution; and

· an Australian Labor Government withdrew our remaining combat forces from Iraq.

All made possible through the party of true believers.

Keeping the faith - as you have done.

Fighting the fight - as you have done.

Securing political victory - as you have done.

Because you, the women and men of our branches and our unions, have never lost sight of the light on the hill - and for this, as your leader, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

I have said before, we are a party both proud of our history and confident of our future.

Throughout our history, we have been driven by two great overriding purposes: the first, a fair go for working families; the second, nation-building for Australia’s future.

These traditions are writ large across our history.

It was Andrew Fisher who, one hundred years ago, delivered the age pension, workers’ compensation and industrial arbitration.

And it was Fisher as nation-builder who gave us a national bank, a national currency, a national coat-of-arms, a trans-continental railroad across the mighty Nullarbor, a national capital, and our own navy under our own national command.

A generation later, it was Curtin and Chifley who delivered social security for the unemployed, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme for subsidised medicine, the post-war immigration scheme that built the fabric of modern multicultural Australia.

And it was Curtin and Chifley as nation-builders who began the great Snowy hydro scheme, founded a national university for the nation’s capital and forged Australia’s independent standing in the councils of the world.

And so too with Whitlam, with Hawke and with Keating: opening our universities to all on the basis of merit, rather than to the few on the basis of privilege, the establishment of universal health care for all on the basis of need, rather than just some on the basis of those who could pay,

together with universal superannuation for working families to underpin a decent retirement for all, not just for some.

And as nation-builders, these living greats of our party gave us national investment in infrastructure for our cities, the internationalisation of our economy and the revitalisation of our industry.

Delegates, this is the tradition of which we are so proud.

And this is the tradition which now shapes the future we would craft for Australia.

A fair go for working families.

Nation-building for Australia’s future.

Neither - neither - being possible without the active agency of government.

It has often been Labor’s lot to form government at times of national adversity.

And so too has it been with this Government.

The global financial crisis, which began in August 2007, has given rise to the worst global economic recession in three quarters of a century.

In 2009, the global economy is projected to shrink for the first time since the war.

What began as a global financial crisis, has become a global economic crisis, which has in turn become a global employment crisis.

This crisis has been caused by a combination of unrestrained greed, unlimited credit and unregulated markets - all cornerstones of an ideology of free-market fundamentalism promulgated by the political right over the last decade and more.

Of course, the free-market fundamentalists accept no ideological responsibility for what has occurred.

Instead, governments of the responsible centre have had to step in to clean up the wreckage.

In Australia, we have taken strong, early and decisive action to cushion our economy from the worst impact of the global recession.

We have done so without apology.

We have done so without reservation.

We have done so with absolute conviction.

And that conviction proceeds from one fundamental premise: the paramount importance of jobs. Jobs are not about abstract principles of economics; jobs are about working families, the ability to make ends meet and about fundamental human dignity.

Our strategy has been straightforward: nation-building for recovery.

Supporting jobs, small business and apprenticeships today while investing in the infrastructure our nation needs for tomorrow.

Our strategy combines the two great traditions of our movement: fairness for working families and nation-building for the future.

The Government has acted to guarantee every working Australian’s bank deposit - to stabilise the financial system.

The Government has acted to treble the first home owners boost - to help young Australians buy their first home.

The Government has acted to treble the tax break for business to invest in plant and equipment - to keep the economy going.

The Government has acted with a three stage economic stimulus strategy - to fill the gap left by a private sector in retreat.

The first stage - direct cash payments to pensioners, carers, veterans, farmers in hardship and working families - to support the 1.5 million Australians working in retail.

The second stage - medium term infrastructure including the biggest school modernisation program in Australia’s history, the single biggest investment in social housing in Australia’s history, and the biggest investment in energy efficiency measures for all Australian homes.

And the third stage - long term infrastructure investments in rail, road, port, universities, TAFEs, hospitals and medical research facilities, urban water projects, clean energy and a national high-speed broadband network.

Seventy per cent of our total stimulus strategy is directed to infrastructure investment.

And the result: as of today, Australia has the fastest growth, the second lowest unemployment, and the lowest debt and deficit of any of the Major Advanced Economies. And while every Major Advanced Economy is in recession, Australia so far is not.

These results are not a random event. They are, in large part, the direct product of government policy intervention.

Notwithstanding what we have done, the road to recovery will be long, hard and uneven - with many twists and turns.

Unemployment will continue to rise for some time to come.

That’s why the second arm for our strategy for dealing with the global economic recession is aimed explicitly at supporting those who cannot find work.

Our nation-building for recovery plan this year will support more than 200,000 people in work who would otherwise lose their jobs.

And the same for the year after.

But the tragic reality is that many Australians could still lose their jobs.

Our responsibility is not to repeat the mistakes of earlier recessions but instead to intervene early so that those directly affected are provided new skills for when the economy recovers.

Our Jobs and Training Compact includes a Compact with Local Communities - with local employment coordinators being appointed to twenty regions across our country where unemployment is rising most rapidly.

The second part of our Jobs Compact is our Compact with Australians who have been retrenched through no fault of their own.

Under this plan, the Government is guaranteeing training, supported by our productivity places program, so that during a period of extended unemployment, these retrenched Australians can pick up new skills to use as the economy recovers.

Finally, our Compact with Young Australians, where our policy is simple: young Australians under the age of 25 will be required to be earning or learning - either in full time employment or in full time education or training.

No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Delegates, the Government I lead will not stand idly by while thousands of young Australians have their hopes crushed by a global recession not of their own making.

That’s why we are determined to act.

Between June 2008 and June 2009, the number of unemployed 15 to 24 year olds has increased by 60,000 to 255,000 - an increase of 30 per cent.

This rise is primarily the result of school leavers being unable to find work.

Today I announce a further measure to assist young Australians during this difficult time in our economy.

The Government will now create 50,000 new green jobs, traineeships and apprenticeships aimed chiefly at helping young Australians to obtain new skills during the downturn - new skills which will be become highly applicable in the low carbon economy of the future.

The climate change sceptics constantly scare-monger about the possible loss of jobs through the transition to a lower carbon economy.

But they constantly fail to talk about the new clean energy jobs of the future which will arise from the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the renewable energy target and energy efficiency measures in the future.

Specifically, these fifty thousand positions will be made up of: · 4000 disadvantaged job seekers participating in the current insulation program; · 6000 local green jobs through the jobs fund; · 10,000 places in a new National Green Jobs Corps; · 30,000 trainees and apprentices in priority sectors of the building

and construction sectors and other trades, where places will concentrate across the range of “green skills” competencies that will be needed in the future. These will be achieved through a new National Green Skills Agreement and will start building a new skill base in existing industries and cutting-edge industries, and create jobs and opportunities for generations to come.

The practical job-ready skills included in this training will include: · Training electricians in the installation of solar energy;

· Training plumbers in the installation of water-recycling, plumbing systems; and · Training workers in the booming home insulation industry and the retro-fitting of buildings to reduce energy consumption

Taken together, our Nation-Building for Recovery plan and our Jobs Compact with Australia are designed to help working families see their way through the global economic crisis - rather than allow free market forces to throw them to the wolves.

Young peoples’ lives who would otherwise be left with little hope.

Young people like 18- year old Matthew Jenkins. Matthew finished school at the end of last year. He tried his heart out with local companies to try and find an apprenticeship but there wasn’t much around.

Then he saw a piece on the TV news one night about my visit to a company called CO-WYN Builders - a family company based in Bankstown, founded in 1954, and run by Kevin and Mark Cohen.

Kev said on the TV news that because of the government’s stimulus strategy, he was looking to hire.

Matthew then set about hunting Kev down.

But he had no idea of the name of the company- nor how he could find it.

Nonetheless he grabbed the yellow pages, made a stack of random calls and hunted them down.

Kev was so impressed with Matthew’s attitude that he started work on 1 July as an apprentice carpenter.

I’m told he absolutely loves it. TAFE every Monday. Different jobs on site with Kev’s company. And if all goes well, Matthew Jenkins becomes a fully qualified carpenter in just under 4 years.

Our charge as a government is to make thousands of these possibilities available for the young Matthew Jenkins of Australia.

This approach is part and parcel of the responsible, conservative economic management of the government which I lead.

Conservative economic management which expands the role of government when the private economy is in retreat - and gradually reduces it as the private economy recovers.

Conservative economic management which will return the Budget as the economy recover and increase Australia’s international competitiveness.

It is the right strategy for the economy; it is the right strategy for working families; and it is the right strategy for nation-building for the future - the skills and the infrastructure that we will need to lift our global competitiveness once we are through the crisis.

It is also a strategy which only an Australian Labor Government can deliver because we believe unapologetically in the role of government.

Our opponents do not. They believe instead in the magic of the marketplace.

They believe that markets are self-correcting.

They refuse to accept the reality of comprehensive market failure.

As others have written, could it be that the reason that it is called the invisible hand is because it is often not there?

Delegates, notwithstanding these great global challenges, the Government has got on with the business of laying the foundations of our long-term reform agenda for the nation - building a stronger Australia, a fairer Australia and an Australia capable of meeting the challenges of the long-term future.

We have done so in a manner consistent with our pre-election commitments to the Australian people.

We are also doing so by harnessing our long-term reform agenda for the nation with the short-term measures being implemented under the nation-building for recovery plan.

This is where nation-building for recovery becomes nation-building for the future.

Prior to the election, the Government committed to a new productivity agenda for the economy by investing in an education revolution.

This Government’s education revolution is well and truly underway.

We are implementing our commitment to universal early childhood education by 2013.

We are implementing our commitment to have 790,000 computers installed in schools by 2011 so that years 9 to 12 students have a 1:1 student to computer ratio by 2011.

We are implementing a $2.5 billion roll out of state-of-the-art trades training centres to support all of Australia’s secondary schools.

We are implementing a $15 billion school building program for all of Australia’s primary and secondary schools, including state-of-the-art libraries, language centres and science centres.

The Government is doubling the investment in Australian schools to achieve our national target of lifting year 12 or equivalent attainment from 75 per cent to 90 per cent by 2015.

We are investing in 712,000 productivity training places to help realise our goal of halving the proportion of 20 to 64 year olds without at least Certificate III level qualifications.

And we’re undertaking the biggest long-term investment in higher education and research in Australia’s history, including an additional 50,000 students attending university by 2013.

This, delegates, is an education revolution.

A revolution that, combined with our nation-building infrastructure investment, will drive long-term productivity growth.

We also committed to the Australian people that we would build a fairer Australia.

That is why the Government abolished WorkChoices and replaced it with the Fair Work Act to build a fair and balanced industrial relations system for all Australians.

That is why we have introduced the single largest reform to the aged pension.

That is why we are introducing Australia’s first national paid parental leave scheme.

That is why we have committed $1.2 billion to a new national homelessness strategy - to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020.

And that is why we have made a national apology to indigenous Australians - backed by a $4.6 billion investment in a national strategy to

close the gap in standards in health, housing, employment, education and life expectancy.

The Government is also honouring its commitments to the Australian people on climate change, water, health and hospital reform - embracing many of the great challenges of the future.

Conservative governments of the status quo simply hope that these problems will one day go away.

The truth is they won’t.

That is why reformist governments of our tradition believe in tackling these challenges head on.

That is why we have honoured our commitment to ratify Kyoto, to introduce a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; to introduce a renewable energy target of 20 per cent of total electricity generation by 2020; a new

$4.5 billion clean energy initiative, including ground-breaking clean coal technologies and a $1.6 billion investment in what will become the single largest solar energy project anywhere in the world.

That’s also why the Government is embracing the challenge of long-term health and hospital reform. Phase one of this reform was the Government’s $64 billion Australian Health Care Agreement last November - a 50 per cent increase over the previous Agreement and including, for the first time, direct Australian Government investment in hospital emergency departments and elective surgery waiting lists.

Phase two goes to the long-term reform of the system over the next twenty years. The Government commissioned an independent health reform commission to provide recommendations for long-term reform to produce the best system possible in preventative health care, primary health care, our hospitals, our outpatient services, in dental health, mental health and aged care; and with least cost to the taxpayer and individual Australians.

This blueprint for reform is the largest reform agenda to the health and hospital system since the introduction of Medicare.

Delegates, as you can see, this Government has no intention of simply being in government for the sake of being there.

As both a party and a Government of reform, we should be clear-cut about our vision for the nation for the decade ahead.

An economy which is among the most globally competitive.

An economy turbo-charged by 21st century infrastructure - fully wired and fully connected, from every part of our vast continent to every part of our vast planet.

An economy with a workforce which is the best educated, best skilled, best trained of any workforce in the world.

A country which prides itself as being the most Asia-literate country in the collective West.

A country which has become a decisive part of the global climate change solution - not just an irritating part of the climate change problem.

A country where we, in fact, halve homelessness.

Where we, in fact, close the gap with our indigenous brothers and sisters.

A country where we don’t allow the fair go to slide out the back door.

A country where we can hold our head up high in the councils of the world with an independent voice making a difference in our region and in the world.

This, delegates, is the kind of Australia we can build together.

Delegates, this is the 45th national conference of the Australian Labor Party.

You may be surprised to know that only fourteen of those conferences have been held while we have been in government. Thirty-one when we have not.

Of the forty-two House of Representatives elections held since 1901, we have one thirteen and fallen short in twenty-nine.

And of the 108 years of our federated history, Labor has only been in government for 35 of those years - just on a third.

These figures should be the cause for sober reflection for us all.

Our resolve from this conference should be to apply every effort, every energy and every discipline to build a long term reformist government for the long-term future.

That is the resolve of the team that I now lead in government.

I say to you with great pride that they are a first-class team, made up of absolutely first-class ministers, including a first-class Deputy Prime Minister in Julia Gillard.

A woman of extraordinary strength, extraordinary energy and extraordinary conviction.

Delegates, this Labor Government has embarked on the road to reform.

Just as the nation, when confronted with Australia at the crossroads at the last election, voted to take the road to the future.

The nation took the right road.

Too many opportunities have been squandered in the past.

We can squander them no longer.

I remain an unapologetic optimist about Australia’s long-term future.

The threats are real, the challenges are great but so too are the opportunities extraordinary.

As a party, as a government and as a nation, let us seize those opportunities together - because, as a nation, we are all in this together.

Mr President, I formally move Chapter One: “Governing for Australia’s long-term future”.