It’s a great pleasure to be addressing the conference of W.A. Labor at such a critical time in the history of our Nation and our Party.
As Tony Abbotts’ Coalition approaches the end of its first year in Government it has become known for the rash of broken promises that reach into every household in the country.
As bad as they are the Coalition project is bigger than the sum of each broken promise. Their mission is to recast the essential values on which our country has been built. From health to education, infrastructure to taxation – fairness is no longer the touchstone.
The consequences are brutal. The politics of equality is being replaced with the politics of fear, of envy, of resentment.
The strong are being told to fear the weak. The rich are being encouraged to resent the poor. The majority are enticed to feel oppressed by the minority.
This tragedy turns to farce when those who complain about oppressive tax burdens secretly pay no tax and defend their entitlement to concessions and rebates.
This is not the Australia we want for our kids. It is not the Australia we want to grow old in.
The battle is not joined on even ground – as a Party we are also challenged from parties on the left and right and from parties who are all over the place. We have suffered a significant defeat in the Federal Poll – in many ways we deserved it. But Australia cannot afford for Labor to retreat to introspection. Australia needs Labor to rise to meet the challenge.
The Good News is that Australians aren’t buying Tony Abbott
The PM promised many things before the election. In shades of long ago when he promised a kinder, gentler polity, he promised a better politics. The Coalition would say what it meant, and do what it said. There would be no surprises – no excuses
They told Australia that they could balance the budget without cuts to health, or education, or pensions. There would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS either. This was their solemn contract.
The breach of faith with these promises has seen the fastest plummet in a PMs approval ever.
This breach of faith did not start with the budget.
The ink was not dry on the declaration of the poll when they abandoned their commitment to our schools. We were told you could vote Liberal or Labor and get the same outcome on education. They then slashed billions of dollars from the Labor / Gonski school funding plan.
This Government has turned its back on everyone. They turned their back on auto workers – too inefficient. They turned his back on food workers – claiming they were overpaid. They left QANTAS workers swinging in the wind.
The treasurer Joe Hockey – with an eye on the main job – has launched an ideological war on the income of ordinary Australians. His War on Entitlements. The problem for Mr Hockey is that too many on his own side didn’t get the memo.
Your own Don Randall obviously never got the memo – he thought it was OK to take a tax payer funded real estate tour of Cairns to scout for a holiday house.
George Brandis who has never seen himself as an ordinary Australian was putting in a claim for reimbursement for his book collection at the very same time the Government was axing the school kids bonus.
The governments priorities are on display each day: they slashed tax rebates for cleaners, waiters and shop assistants earning less than $38K a year while giving superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy
They have turned Australia into a laughing stock by re-introducing the royal titles of Knights and Dames – while giving comfort and succour to bigotry. Of all the rights our Attorney General could champion – it’s the right to be a bigot that gets priority.
Commission of Audit
As anyone who has ever run a business knows – when you bring in the auditors – they check the numbers and verify the accounts. Not this Government – they set up a Commission of Audit to do a line by line analysis of expenditure. But they got the basic numbers wrong.
In a feeble attempt to justify the introduction of the GP Tax – these auditors said we visit the doctor 11 times a year. The problem is they read the wrong column. The number is 5. And by the way visiting your GP is one of the most effective way of dealing with public health.
Labor is rightly proud of our achievements in health care: more doctors and nurses, reforms to Medicare and the PBS to expand the drugs and services while ensuring costs are contained. We helped states fund hospitals properly while doing everything we can to ensure people don’t have to go there by giving primacy to health and prevention.
The PM sees the world very differently its public versus private, leaners versus lifters. In the Liberal world public health and public schools are for people who can’t afford the private option. Public transport is for people who can’t afford a car.
We see it very differently.
Lets Talk about the Budget
A budget is not just a set of numbers – it is a statement of values. The statement in this budget is don’t get old, don’t get sick, don’t get the sack and don’t dream of going to University unless your loaded.
The GP Tax, a $7 charge for GP visits, X-rays and pathology. It is the thin edge of the wedge. It will drive up costs, kill bulk billing and do exactly what it is designed to do – stop people going to the Doctor.
The $55 billion cuts to hospital funding has been described by Liberal Premiers as devastating. It will lead to longer waiting times, more pressure on Emergency Wards and puts regional hospitals at risk of closure.
The increases in PBS charges and the axing of preventative health programs will send health care backwards.
Higher education is the means by which our children make a better life for themselves and the country. The Coalitions policy which removes the cap on uni fees, cuts per student funding by 20% and increases the interest payment on student debt will put the cost of education out of the reach of many.
Its as if they are offended when they see our graduation halls swelling with kids form the suburbs and regions – so they are putting in place the obstacles to stop it happening.
They said there would be no changes to pensions. They are still denying it. But changes to indexation rates mean cuts to benefits. As ACOSS have shown, if they operate for the next 10 years pensioners will be $80 a week worse off.
Perhaps the harshest measure is the one which bars people from benefits for 6 months if they lose a job. Only a person who has never been out of work would think this is fair.
We must be fit to Govern
Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop, Warren Truss - the entire Coalition Team have done a good job of demonstrating why they are not fit to unite this country and take it forward.
It now falls to Labor to demonstrate that we are. We have done a good job of holding the Government to account for their mean policies and broken promises, but we need to do more.
I’m pleased that Bill Shorten has followed Gough Whitlam in identifying 3 priorities for winning government: Party, Policy and People. I believe that they are the right priorities.
Sometimes reform is difficult – but it pays off. The decision to open the vote for the Parliamentary Leader to party members has been a very good one. It has delivered member engagement, and an important debate about the policy direction of Labor. It has also delivered a discipline and unity of purpose that has not been seen in a long time.
It puts Labor in complete contrast with Coalition in Vic, SA, NT and NSW where internal bickering and leadership changes has seen a crisis in public confidence. Of course we don’t need to look to other Parties for evidence of the 1st rule of modern politics – we cant win elections while squabbling in public. We need to continue the reform project.
I’m a rookie Shadow Minister from NSW – that automatically disqualifies me from having anything to say about your WA Party reform debates – these are matters for you to determine. I will, however, offer a few observations as a member of the Federal caucus and as a participant in party reform debates in NSW.
In a few weeks’ time the NSW State Conference will debate proposals for reform. There will be proposals to change the method of electing Party Leader, Senators and MLCs as well as internal Party positions. These are important debates which are engaging members. What is clear from members is that they don’t want us to change what we stand for – they do want us to change how we do things. You are not alone in grappling with these matters.
As a member of the Federal Caucus I see the contribution of your State MPs and Senators. I can say that WA boxes well above its weight in the federal caucus, the Parliament and national political debate. You are represented well – but in holding only 3 of 15 seats and wining only 1 senate seat in the last election it is clear that we need to do better.
We know we can’t continue to do the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome. Nor can we assume that the natural arch of the political pendulum will swing back our way and carry us into Government. It will swing back, but it may knock us over on the way to rewarding someone else if we don’t get things in order.
Party, policies, people – these are the right priorities.
Friends there is too much at stake. Australia needs us to be better. We must defeat the attempt by Tony Abbott and his Coalitions to re-draw the fundamental values that we all believe in, that Australians accept as birthright. We must and we will be the Labor Party that Australians, and Western Australians deserve.