Latham’s First Major Speech To ALP: My Vision For Australia

The new Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, has delivered a speech to the Victorian ALP State Conference at the Moonee Valley racecourse.

The speech was Latham’s first public address since being elected leader of the ALP on December 2.

  • Listen to Latham’s speech (in progress – 19m)

Transcript of Opposition Leader Mark Latham’s speech to the Victorian ALP State Conference.

LathamThank you very much, thank you for your warm welcome.

To Steve Bracks; to my Deputy Leader, Jenny Macklin; to all my parliamentary colleagues, Federal and State; to all our candidates in the field working so hard; delegates and friends – it’s great to be at this Victorian Conference.

It’s a great pleasure to be here today, although I must confess that it hadn’t been in my diary until the last couple of days.

On Tuesday, I was given the honour of a lifetime, the support of my colleagues to lead the Australian Labor Party. And today I want to tell you about the things I believe in, the great things we can do together for our country.

I also want to tell you about the inspiration I take from the State of Victoria. In recent times, and Steve mentioned 1999, you have demonstrated that with new leadership, new unity and new purpose, that Labor can win the support of the people, Labor can win elections.

And that today is my central message to you – the Howard Government is beatable in 2004. I want to win that election to give Australia a Labor Government. But that is not an end in its own right. We only exist as a political organisation to do good things for the Australian people. Our mighty crusade for a more just, tolerant and independent Australia. The cause of Labor is the cause of the Australian people.

And more than ever, delegates, we need a change of Government. The Howard Government has many failings. I could stand here hour after hour reading out the policy failings and the difficulties they’ve caused our country.

But the worst of those failings is pettiness. John Howard is the first Prime Minister in our history who has tried to make himself look bigger by making the rest of the country look smaller.

Delegates, the Australia I love is a big country. The Australia I love is a big country – big in size and big in spirit. We can do so much better, we can be so much bigger than the Howard Government – big enough to invest in the education and healthcare of our children; big enough to invest in early childhood learning and child protection; big enough to provide public housing for the poor and care for the aged and disabled; big enough to give working people a decent industrial relations system, a decent minimum wage and better protection of casual workers. We can be big enough, big enough to care about our natural environment and our national heritage.

That is the core of Labor’s approach, that’s the core, the reason we exist and they’re beliefs we hold. Social investment and opportunity are the reasons why we exist. But we also have another purpose, another purpose in this important public task in public life of ours, and that is to uplift the spirits and unity of the Australian people.

Our political opponents, of course, have just one tactic – one tactic, and we’ve seen it before – tear the nation in two and then try to pick up the bigger part politically.

That’s why their eyes light up when they see boats on the horizon, when they see other controversies looming in the public debate – not because they care about Australia, not because they care about Australians, but because they care about themselves and the opportunities for narrow political advantage at the expense of national unity.

Well, delegates, I believe in something different. I will always put the national interest ahead of political interest. I will always try to bring Australians together, never pulling them apart, trying to bring Australians together with a sense of common purpose and national unity.

We should be a big country in every sense, a big country in size, big in spirit. And that for me is the Australian way – taking people at face value, giving them a go, always a fair go for the future.

So we need to be bigger than the Howard Government, big enough to get the children out of the detention centres, get them out from behind the barbed wire. With Santa on his way, let’s get them out by Christmas, let’s get them out by Christmas.

Delegates, we need to be big enough to say sorry to the Stolen Generations. My old mate Peter Costello, he talks about tolerance. John Howard, he’s always talking about family values. But delegates, that’s all it is – it’s just talk. That’s all it is, just talk. How about some tolerance and understanding for the Aboriginal families that were torn apart? How about some tolerance and understanding for them?

Delegates, we need to be big enough to advance the cause of an Australian republic. Australian pride means Australian independence. I’ve always believed that, always. I’ll always believe it. We should be big enough to say that we want our own head of State, someone who’s one of us.

Delegates, we need to big enough to say multiculturalism is good. We need to say multiculturalism is good. John Howard, of course, can barely utter the word, he can barely say it. Where I come from, we just love to live it, just love to live it. It’s part of the Australian way.

I believe in the community of communities – a diverse but united society in which we all take responsibility, serious social citizenship responsibility for the future of our country.

For me, this is the authentic Australian way – a big country, big in size, big in spirit – so much bigger than the Howard Government. My goal is simple enough – to give this country a Government every bit as good as the Australian people themselves, every bit as generous, every bit as fair-minded as the Australian people themselves. That is what I believe in – a fair go for all, always reaching out to help people who are willing to help themselves. That’s what we mean by building a fairer society, that’s what we mean by the Australian way.

Delegates, my plan is simple enough – I want Australians climbing the ladder of opportunity. All my live I’ve believed in hard work, effort, climbing the ladder of opportunity – a powerful combination. The most combination you can have in a civilised society – people who work hard, families and communities that care, and Governments that play a collective civilising role for the benefit of all.

It’s a powerful combination and one that will only come, will only come from a Labor Government in the future. I’ve believed in this all my live. I’ve lived it all my live. I believe in the value of hard work and reward for effort.

The first rung on that ladder of opportunity is early childhood development. I see this very much as the missing foundation stone in lifelong learning because, essentially, learning doesn’t start on the first day at school – the starts on the first day of life. I’ve been very, very struck by the international research that shows if you want to work out where someone is going to be later in life, it’s thought out a lot at aged five.

It’s the value of education in the home, reading in the home, the quality of the preschool and childcare systems that give young people, potentially, a flying start to their lives. This international research is compelling -this it is the missing foundation stone in our system of our lifelong learning.

I’m struck also by Australia’s outstanding childhood author, Mem Fox. She wrote to me once, saying I should read three books a night, three books aloud to my little boys, and by the age of five they’ll be literate and doing numbers.

Well, I believe in that creed for myself. I believe in it for the nation. And I want to launch a great national program for early childhood development in this country – improved preschool access, qualified teachers in our childcare system, a national program to encourage parents to read aloud to their children, the greatest gift we can give to our children, the greatest gift we can give to the little ones. And special literacy programs for those initiative.

We can do this as the foundation stone of a learning society, that first rung on the ladder of opportunity is all about our infant children.

The next rung on the ladder of opportunity is about good schools. All my life, I’ve been a beneficiary of two fundamentally important things -a good family and good Government schooling. No institution in my life has ever been more powerful than a good Government school.

It makes a big difference when you come out of a public housing estate in the western suburbs of Sydney, and you’re standing there aged eleven or twelve. People work out pretty quickly if you’ve got good family and good Government schooling and good teachers, it will be your chance to prove yourself in life and do a lot better for the future.

I also know right around the country there are many under-resourced non-Government schools – and I want to say and make it clear at the outset, Labor believes in school funding equity – a needs-based system, not sectors fighting against each other for money, but all schools, Government and non-Government, reaching a strong national standard for resources and achievement.

I give you this one commitment here today – I will not rest easy, I will not rest for a moment – and I know Jenny Macklin shares this sentiment – until every school in this country is a high-achieving school, until every Australian school is a high-achievement school fulfilling the potential, the rich potential of the next generation.

As we go up the ladder, the third rung on the ladder of opportunity – Labor’s ladder, the only party that every provides these opportunities right across the community – is post-secondary access and opportunity.

We’ve released our Aim Higher policy – 20,000 extra university places, 20,000 extra TAFE places, without the need for heavy debt early in life, without the need for heavy student debt through the university system.

In this respect, of course, the Howard Government has gone debt crazy – record household debt, record credit card debt, record foreign debt, record current account deficit. You asked me their policies for universities. You guessed it – student debt. Their policy for families – Centrelink debt.

They’ve gone debt crazy. We don’t want a debt culture in this society of ours. We want to build a culture of saving and opportunity for all.

So I say that Labor has a firm commitment – we want to guarantee that young people have their very best opportunity in life.

If students work hard in school and make their best efforts through the schooling system, they don’t have to hesitate for one moment to think, can they handle the financial consequences of going on to post-secondary education through university or TAFE.

Labor will reverse the Government’s 25% increase in HECS, plus abolish its full-fee system. We will abolish their 25% increase in HECS and the full fees. We don’t want one Australian student pausing for a moment. We believe in equity and opportunity for all – it’s the Labor way and it’s the Australian way.

Another rung on this ladder of opportunity is healthcare for our families. Medicare is a universal system of public healthcare. It can never be means tested. It can never be developed into a two-tiered system; otherwise it’s no longer Medicare.

That’s how we established it, the Australian Labor Party – first Medibank and then Medicare. We’ve always seen Medicare as a universal system for the public healthcare of the nation – never the means testing, never the two-tierism of our Tory opponents.

If it’s not universal, it’s not Medicare; and if there’s insufficient public healthcare, then it’s not Medicare either. Labor founded Medibank, and then Medicare, and only Labor will save them. Under a Labor Government, Medicare won’t need a safety net, because we’re going to rebuild the bulk billing doctors from 68% under this Government to 80%.

This is the basic principle of Medicare, because if you’ve got enough bulk billing doctors out there in the community servicing the families, servicing the elderly, servicing everyone in our society, you can avoid two very, very scary facts in the health system.

You can avoid the need for private health insurance to see a GP. That was the essence of the Kay Patterson’s health plan. The Government had given up on the provision of bulk billing doctors and said, “Well, if you need to see a GP, you’ll need private health insurance.” That was the essence of the Kay Patterson plan.

That failed, and they went for the Tony Abbott plan. Well he, too, has given up on the bulk billing doctors and adequate provision and availability of bulk billing doctors in our community.

So he says you need a safety net, a means testing system, because he has given up on the basic principles of Medicare – to have an adequate number of bulk billing doctors in the community.

Delegates, you only need a safety net if you turn Medicare into a highwire act where families can easily fall off If you don’t turn Medicare into the tightrope and families don’t fall off, you don’t need the safety net. And that’s the Labor way – a universal health system, a universal health system with strong and available bulk billing right across our community.

Labor will also improve our public hospital system, plus take a proper Federal responsibility for dental care.

And just as I thank Jenny Macklin, I want to pay tribute to the work of Julia Gillard, another great Victorian part of our front bench team – working up, working up our agenda to save bulk billing, to restore decent Federal responsibilities for hospitals and dental care.

And people worried about these changes. They see too many changes to the health policy under the Howard Government. It’s an echo, a replay of those phases they use when, slice by slice, they were cutting up the Medicare system.

Just in our recent years, we’ve seen the Liberal policies oscillate, their pre-2001 policy with Wooldridge, and their post-2001 election policy, the Patterson package, and the Abbott package.

The bottom line is you can’t trust the Liberals when it comes to the healthcare of our families. You can’t trust them. You can’t trust them, and it’s only ever Labor that established the principles of universal healthcare in this country.

Delegates, there are other rungs on the ladder of opportunity – in housing, child care, recreation services, libraries and decent industrial relations.

There’s one fundamental principle, as I talk about this ladder, one fundamental Labor thing about it – everyone’s got to have a foot on it, everyone’s got to get off the bottom and put a foot on it.

And for too many Australians in this country living in poverty, they’ve been forgotten by the Howard Government. We’re going to put their foot on the ladder of opportunity to give them the chance to move up, move up for themselves and move up to their families.

We have a problem in this country – there are too many Australians without a foot on the ladder, let alone finding the rungs. I know, you know, suburbs, neighbourhoods with 40% unemployment rates, 80% welfare dependency rates. We can’t tolerate a society with these extremes, extremes in inequality. We can’t tolerate a society where so many Australians are left at the bottom.

Under the Howard Government there’s been economic growth, sure. Growth is good, but it’s got to be growth for all, all Australians participating in a society that grows and prospers.

We’ve seen under this Government economic growth, but the number of long-term unemployed Australians hasn’t fallen, hasn’t fallen.

And does it show up in worry and concern on the face of Howard Government Ministers? [inaudible] looking at them in Parliament and the things they talk about, they’re not too disconcerted by the fact that so many Australians are left at the bottom of ladder of opportunity, without even one foot on the first rung.

In the Labor Party, that’s what we care about. We care about a national campaign to rid our society of poverty, and provide opportunities for all.

I give you this commitment – as Prime Minister, I will launch a new national effort against poverty. Sure, it’s absolutely vital – we must win the war against terror internationally, but we must also win the battle against poverty domestically.

I’ve been struck by research saying an important first step is Government coordination, the research that says if you do seven or eight Government programs concurrently in the one neighbourhood, you will receives 10 to 20 times the result than if the programs had come in one by one, staggered over the years.

We need a concerted Australian Government effort, local, State and Federal, to win this battle against poverty and when I go to my first Council of Australian Government, or COAG, meeting with my Labor State and Territory colleagues, our local Government friends, the first item on the agenda will be an inter-Governmental effort to win the battle against poverty and make our society so much fairer.

So, delegates, they’re the things I believe in, the things that I see as important for equality, and equality in our society. These I’ve believed in all my life and things I’ll always fight for in the future.

I’m here today, proudly, the new leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. I want to thank you very much for the warm welcome and encouragement I’ve received in the room this morning.

I just want to say a few things by way of conclusion.

This is the Labor way, to reward effort. It is the Labor way to build that powerful combination of hard work, of good families and communities, and the collective civilising role of Government.

I want just one thing. I dedicate myself to this role, and I always dedicate myself to my country. There’s one thing I want for it – a Government that’s as good as the Australian people themselves. That’s the Labor way, and next year we’ll be working as hard as possible to restore it, proudly and rightly as the Australian way.

We’ll be giving people a choice, a real choice: the Labor way, and Australia, forever young, forever fair; or the Howard way, a nation weighed down by a Government with old ideas and an old, divisive style of politics.

And I just want to finish on a personal note. It’s indeed a great honour to lead. I’ll do everything to meet my responsibilities and obligations to the Party and the nation.

I want to say, at the end of this week – and it’s been quite a week – I draw personal inspiration from a great Victorian, a great son of the Victorian Branch of the Labor Party, Simon Crean.

I know people talk about guts and courage in public life. If you could bottle Simon Crean, the country’s problems would soon be over. That’s the truth of it – he’s a very special person, and resilient. In fact, he’s here today – always dedicating himself to the Labor movement and the country.

Simon, I thank you and Carole, your family, for the wonderful contribution through so many generations, and I look forward to working with you in the future on my front bench.

So delegates get on board, get on board, because we’re going to be positive, we’re going to set the agenda, we’re going to do things the Labor way. I’m going to stand up for what I believe in.

It’s been an interesting week – in many respects, the week of my life. I sat there up in the front seat in the Parliament, across the wooden table from John Howard, sort of spinning around a little bit, but also in a sense of who’s doing what.

Because the Government’s just so negative, just so negative, everything is about me, talking about the past, not the future. They were so negative – much more interested in my past than the country’s future.

And I think for the people sitting there – and certainly how I felt in Question Time – you would have that I was the Government and they were the Opposition. So, delegates, don’t worry too much – they’re just twelve months ahead of themselves.

So I want to work with you. I look forward to working as hard as I can with you to make this a reality, a Federal Labor Government doing good things, great things that need to be done for our country.

Let’s give the Australian people the Government they deserve and need – a Federal Labor Government in the future.

Many thanks.

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