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Tuesday, 5 December 2006
Page: 41

Mr RUDD (Leader of the Opposition) (3:14 PM) —Right now this country is engaged in a battle of ideas for Australia’s future. On the one side of this battle we have a vision for Australia’s future which says that, when it comes to economic prosperity, you cannot have economic prosperity and social justice—that these are incompatible. There is another view, another vision—and it is our vision—which says that this nation and this people are at their best when we are a people and a nation committed to building a prosperous nation while at the same time not jettisoning our vision for a fair Australia and a fair society. In an absolute nutshell, that is the divide between us—a view of the world which says it is about ‘me, myself and I’, and an alternative view which says that we are about an Australia which, sure, recognises that individual hard work, achievement and success are to be encouraged and rewarded but which says at the same time that we cannot turn a blind eye to the interests of our fellow human beings who are not doing well. That has been the divide between us for a century and remains the divide between us today.

Ideas in politics are important. They in fact affect everything that we do. They shape our vision of what it is possible for the government to do for the nation. They shape the concrete dimensions of policies which are brought forth in this chamber. Ideas shape the content of legislation. They shape everything that is done in this place, and that is why on this occasion it is important to revisit what actually divides us. What are our different views of the role of government and society? What are our different views of what the state can do to help human beings? This divide between us is fundamental to the debate that we are going to have in the year ahead. It is a debate which also impacts fundamentally on the interests of Australian families.

But what are the values which the Liberals stand for? They talk about liberty, they talk about security and they also talk about opportunity, and all that is fair and fine—we do not have a problem with that. But what we add to this fabric of values is a view that you can do that and still have the parallel values of equity, of sustainability and of compassion. In fact, it is time to rehabilitate the word ‘compassion’ into our national vocabulary. Compassion is not a dirty word. Compassion is not a sign of weakness. In my view, compassion in politics and in public policy is in fact a hallmark of great strength. It is a hallmark of a society which has about it a decency which speaks for itself. For us in the Labor movement from which we proudly come and have come this last century, these values of security, liberty and opportunity are not incompatible with equity, with sustainability and with compassion, because that in our view is what the Australian people are about as well.

The Australian people are a decent bunch. When you talk to Australians around the world, they cannot help but be engaged in the interests of other people. Australians are not by their nature a selfish mob. The Australian people are deeply concerned about the wellbeing of others. What we have seen instead on the other side of politics is an attempt to corral that basic decency of Australians into an alternative vision for the country’s future—a vision which simply legitimises a doctrine of ‘me, myself and I’; a doctrine which says that we as a country can only be about the aggregation of personal greed. That is what it is about. They try to make you feel good about the fact that that is what you are on about. I think that is a great tragedy of the way in which this government has attempted to shape this country over the last decade.

The great danger that we face with the modern face of liberalism, this modern Liberal Party, is that it is not the Liberal Party of old. If you go back and read what Bob Menzies had to say about social responsibility and social justice, there is no way that Bob Menzies would fit into the world view that we are now being offered. You see, the member for Kooyong recently delivered a speech on Bob Menzies’ legacy within the Liberal Party on these questions of social responsibility. It is quite clear when you read that clearly that there has been an ocean of change between that Liberal Party and what it stood for, despite our criticisms of it and our disagreements with it at the time, and the market fundamentalism which has overtaken the current Liberal Party.

We have seen this complete right-wing takeover of modern liberalism, and it is an ugly spectacle to behold. It is in its essence about everything being an economic commodity. It is about everything being about the triumph of the markets. It even says that, when it comes to commodities, human beings are no more important than any other economic commodity. That is ultimately the view. If you want to go back to basic philosophical premises here, that is where we part company.

We as a movement for more than 100 years have said that human beings have about themselves an intrinsic dignity; it does not need to be explained. Because of that intrinsic dignity, humans are deserving of fundamental protections inside the workplace and beyond the workplace. Our opponents have come from a different view. When you strip their tradition back to its absolute philosophical core, it says that human beings are of no greater worth than any other economic commodity in the marketplace. You see that writ large in the pages of the industrial relations legislation that they have brought into this parliament.

Of course, it gets very practical and very meaty indeed when we see this visited on families, when we see this visited upon how families are supposed to have their life and being. I listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister had to say in response to questions yesterday and today about the impact of Work Choices on Australian family life. The Prime Minister is uncomfortable with these questions. He knows what they go to.

Mr Andrews interjecting

Mr RUDD —And I do not think the minister at the table should laugh at this, because he comes from a tradition which is respectful of this—and that tradition says that human beings in families are such a basic social institution that they deserve special protections. When you instead have a set of laws which says that you can be told to work at any time of the day, at any place and for virtually whatever rate of pay, that your hours can include weekends or whatever and that you can have your shifts and rosters changed at a moment’s notice, just pause for a moment. Let us think through where that all goes in terms of the impact on working families.

Let us pretend for a moment that we are not in this place. Let us imagine ourselves in the suburbs of Brisbane, in Wagga, in Perth—out there in any place in the country right now—with our families, trying to plan our weekend ahead. Put yourself in that position. Can I predict now that I will be able take the kids to soccer on Saturday morning? Can I predict ahead even—if I am a churchgoer—that we can go to church together on Sunday morning? Can I predict ahead that I can be at home on Saturday night for dinner with my family? Can I predict in any way anything that makes it possible for me to preserve my family life?

It is not an accident—and the minister at the table should reflect on this—that the Catholic Church has come out so strongly on this question. The Catholic Church does not come out and cheer for the Labor Party every day of the week; we know that. But, when you strip this back, it is about what happens to families. When you analyse it carefully, it is about a family’s ability to stay together and have time together. We all know, with our fractured lives in this place, how difficult it becomes when we as human beings cannot spend time with one another. However, the problem is that these industrial relations laws now set that disease in place right across the nation in every workplace, in every part of the country. What I fear most of all is the ultimate impact of this on the fabric of Australian family life. This country has been made great through the solidity of our families for its more than two centuries of European settlement and the honour in which families were held in the period beyond European settlement.

When I ask questions today in this place about family values and the self-proclaimed party of family values, I am serious about it, because I believe that this party in government has lost its own origins on this question. Menzies would never have legislated this. Menzies would never have the gall to legislate this. Menzies would have recognised that there is such a great breach in the social contract involved in this legislation that he could never have done it.

We offer a different set of values for Australia’s future. The government, at its essentials, is ‘me, myself and I’. As for us, we believe that there is a central place for the market. The market is a wonderful, creative and innovative thing in the economy and it produces unprecedented wealth. But we have also come from a tradition that says the free market has its limitations. There are such things as market failure. There are such things as public goods, like education and like health. There are also fundamental protections for human beings and families, who should be protected from the market.

The bogus proposition, which has been put by those opposite for over a decade or so now, is that somehow we from the Centre Left of politics in this country and around the world have been disoriented by the fall of the Iron Curtain. Our movement for a century fought against Marxism, if you bother to read your history. We have had nothing to do with Marxism and madness. We have always seen our role as what we can do to civilise the market. That is where we come from as a tradition. Why do you think Keynes and the rest of them were called upon to try to save market capitalism from itself after the Great Depression? Because social democrats believed that you had to have constraints placed around the market, otherwise it becomes too destructive indeed.

So, when it comes to our Labor values of equity, sustainability and compassion, we do not just believe that these in themselves are self-evident and worthy of being pursued; we also hold that they are values necessary to enhance the market itself. If we do not take sustainability and climate change seriously, what will happen to the future of the market economy? Sustainability is a core Labor value. It is also one that goes amidships into the agenda of the global market economy. If we do not rescue this planet from itself in terms of the damage being done to it by unrestrained market capitalism, let me tell you: the entire market system ultimately will fragment. That is the tradition we have come from proudly for 100 years.

Labor’s message then is this: we believe in a strong economy; we believe also in a fair go for all, not just for some. That is Labor’s message in a nutshell. When it comes to fairness, a fair go, some people think that this just mysteriously grew out of the soil one day in Australia. Do you know that it did not? Our movement etched it into the Australian soul through the 19th century and the 20th century. If you read the history of 19th century Australia, you will not see much about a fair go; there is nothing about fairness. With our industrial movement—which has been so criticised by those opposite today—and with our political movement from the 1890s on, we took fairness and a sense of the fair go, we won political office, we obtained concessions in the workplace and we entrenched fairness in the statutes of the nation. We etched the fair go also into Australia’s consciousness, our political consciousness. It is our legacy to the nation—a legacy that the current government seeks to peel apart bit by bit, step by step and piece of legislation by piece of legislation.

We want a strong economy based on nation building. In the days ahead—and in the weeks and months ahead as well—we will outline new and additional proposals about how we can do that better. But we will also be advancing proposals about how we intend to build and entrench our notion of a fair society, because these things travel in tandem. Those opposite have asked why we have raised federalism and questions on health in this parliament. There is no greater touchstone for the whole debate about fairness than health and hospitals. In the days ahead, you are going to see much more on this—and in the weeks and months ahead as well—because we believe that this is essential to any effective policy of fairness for our country.

So the battlelines are drawn in this great battle of ideas between us. In the 10 days or so ahead, when we leave this place, I will be travelling the country, taking this message out. This is not just a battle for ideas; it is a battle on the ground as well. I say to those opposite: we intend to prevail in this battle of ideas, on the ground, right through to the next election. We intend to prevail.