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Launch of 'The Australian Moment': Speech, Canberra

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L aunc hof ' T h e Australian Moment' , Canb erra


Prime Minister

Well it’s a great pleasure to be here to launch George’s book.

Y ou’ve got to come and help a man whose surname is shortened to ‘ Mega’, what a fantastic surname he has. He was just pointing out to me with one more vowel it would have been ‘ genius’ on the end too but that wasn’t to be.

So it’s great to be here to launch George’s book. I think George passes the Gillard test of journalism, which is he doesn’t write crap. And on a day like today let me say that with more passion and force than usual. Not every anecdote here is retold as those involved in it remember.

B ut you don’t launch a book by Megalogenis because you agree with every word of it. Y ou launch it because you are interested in every word of it. B ecause George is a born myth-buster, empirical and sceptical, without succumbing to contrarianism. Still, my assessment of George’s new book is that he’s only half-right. Sorry about that, George.

The two big myths about Australia were best articulated fifty years ago. One, about our national economy: that we’re just a “ lucky” country. Two, about our national leadership: that we’re run by second-rate people. George busts one of them -but I’m afraid he’s still in thrall to the other.

InThe Australian Moment he smashes up one of the greatest myths of our time -that we’ve lived on our luck. He calls that one out right and I couldn’t be happier that he’s done it.

Y ou know, all those cartoonish lines you read elsewhere, about our future being “ a quarry and a beach” , all that silly self-deprecation about having “ dumb luck”with our resources. I’ve never been so impatient with that kind of laz y opinionising as I am in 2012.

In reality, so many countries manage their mineral wealth badly that in the developing world they call it “ the resource curse”and in the advanced world they call it “ the Dutch disease” . National success in managing resources isn’t dumb luck.

This truth, that Australia isn’t lucky, that we’re actually good at national economic policy, runs through the whole of George’s story, until he comes to this terrific question at the end. In his words:

Are we in danger of becoming a great country?

Well my answer today is you bet we are.

Here’s Australia, with a great people, with a good government, doing the hard things, and doing them well. Making the most of a boom in mining investment, sharing the long-term benefits, pursuing the long term reforms, with economic numbers anyone else in the world would do anything to grab, with more Australians in work than ever before. This is a country where we make change work for us.

We’ve built a strong economy in the past thirty years -and we’re building a new economy for our future right now.

B ut here’s the rub, and here’s where George and I do part company as analysts. Having busted the “ lucky”myth, he’s still taken in by the “ second-rate”myth. So George says himself that Australia is “ the West’s last best role model” . High praise -that’s George’s words.

And I agree with that -our unique synthesis of equality and prosperity makes Australia a nation where we prove that fair countries can be rich and rich countries can be fair.

B ut still, George says the “ last serious election”was nearly twenty years ago, in 1993. Well I’m afraid George, I just don’t buy that. In specifics, because I know there were some big issues at stake in 2007 -like WorkChoices -and 2010 -like the NB N -and that there’ll be big issues at stake in 2013.

B ut it’s really the general reflection on the state of Australian leadership that I want to rebut. If we’re so good at managing the economy - maybe our politics and government isn’t quite as intellectually arid as all that.

Y ou see we’re not run by some wise old owl playing the clarinet in the bath or some solo genius z ipping back and forth from B ungendore in a sports car while the political class wastes its time on doorstops. I think we’ve got a smart, hard-working people, tough businesses, and yes, a class of economic officials that the world envies.

B ut we’ve got politicians who make decisions and get the job done. Taxing mineral rents -doesn’t just happen, it takes decisions. B uilding high speed broadband -takes decisions. Pricing carbon -takes decisions. And big ones at that.

And while I know you are not a born nostalgic, George, there is just a touch of “ lollies were sweeter when I was young”in that way of looking at the 1980s and 1990s. Now, the boomers have got Gough and their kids have got B ob and Paul and I don’t begrudge anyone fond memories of the politics of their youth.

And my government isn’t perfect, any more than theirs were. B ut reading George’s account of Australian politics, I am reminded of something I often draw from conversations with Hawke and with K eating.

We in Labor rightly look back to the 1980s and 1990s as a period of great government, great reform. B ut the rear vision mirror should never be rose-coloured.

The truth, as we read here funnily enough, when you see the facts laid out by George, and as the leaders of that period tell you themselves, at least in private, what they say is that it was a very human business back then too. Sometimes they made mistakes, missed soft landings, had big regrets; sometimes they had triumphs, did good things for all.

At times they overcame determined conservative opposition, like on super, at times the opposition supported reforms, like on tariffs; they sometimes brought people with them, sometimes they pressed ahead with unpopular plans.

Through it all they built two models, two enduring Labor models of a strong fair economy and of a forward-looking politics. A nostalgia for their period is a contradiction in itself. So yes our economy is strong, but no, it’s no coincidence. B ecause we are well led. We’ve had leadership, not luck.

Take the Deputy Prime Minister. Wayne Swan’s been Australia’s Treasurer for nearly five years, Labor’s Treasury spokesman for almost

Page 1 of 2 Launch of ' The Australian Moment' ,Canberra | Prime Minister of Australia


eight, saw us through the Global Financial Crisis, is seeing us through Mining B oom Mark II, was the Euromoney Finance Minister of the Y ear in 2011. If this is the Australian moment, and it may well be, Wayne got us here as much as anyone. Swanny should probably have more mentions in your book than Margaret Thatcher. B ut I might be biased.

Where I have no doubt is that we’re doing exactly what our great predecessors did. Working with business, and we’ll have more to say about our deregulation agenda with the B CA shortly. Making the big investments, delivering the big reforms, making the big changes work for us. Y es, we’re working with industry, working with manufacturing, working with cars.

And for the heresy-hunters who want to say that this is anathema to the Hawke-K eating tradition, well, go to George’s index, look up tariffs, see what actually happened. The Government I lead won’t turn the clock back. What we will do is build a new Australian economy. So, George is half-right, but in fairness, that’s better than being entirely wrong.

And it is a good book -a clever, funny and compelling read in George’s typical style. First, there’s new facts and new analysis galore. This is the person who told J ohn Howard, to his face in an interview, that it was under his Prime Ministership that for the first time the majority of migrants to Australia came from Asia. Now that’s not bad to claim in the book.

Second, he builds on the facts and analysis with great colour. When he climbs these little mountains of empiricism he always plants a flag of expectation on the top. So he doesn’t just do the analysis that tells us, for instance, that the generation born after 1964 is and I quote-The first group in which women are better educated than men, and the Australian-born children of immigrants are better educated than their local peers.

He calls this group-Generation W, for women and wogs.

That’s nice. In fact George I regret that I didn’t make the birth cut-off, having been born in 1961. George of course then does the high politics as well

He has an argument to put about the “ fifty or sixty politicians in conscious tension with one another,”and if it’s a bit tough on the profession of politics overall, in its detail it’s rarely conventional wisdom

Finally, with George, you do get the economic big picture. In the end, what George does in The Australian Moment that I think hasn’t been done as cleverly or successfully before is this: He connects our domestic reform experience -the decisions our leaders have made - to our experience of the global economy -the economic shocks of the last forty years.

That story of the interplay of politics and the economy, the successive shocks and what we did in them, from the OPEC oil prices of 1973 to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, that’s the prism through which George tells his story.

It’s not complete. B ut it is a convincing way to understand a lot of what’s been done in this country and why. And it’s his most interesting and significant contribution yet.

It is good to be living the Australian moment in 2012. And I’m delighted to be here to launch The Australian Moment today.

Thank you very much.

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