What then makes a good political speech? An analysis

Over the change-of-year break, we have had the opportunity to appraise several political speeches. Some of you have ventured an opinion about the characteristics of a ‘good’ speech. Some have given straightforward advice about how to create such speeches; for others, creating good speeches has seemed more complex and not amenable to a simple solution.

The purpose of this piece is to draw together those comments and fashion a framework for creating and evaluating political speeches for your consideration.

Let’s begin by detailing the purposes of such speeches:

A generic statement of purpose might read:

To gain and stimulate interest to:
- enable transfer of information, ideas, motivation and inspiration,
- hold concentration through the speech.

To transmit information about:
- what already is,
- what is planned,
- what might be possible,
- what is predicted.

To explain:
- why actions have been taken,
- the expected consequences,
- the benefit of the actions,
- the possible or anticipated drawbacks of the actions.

To garner approval for:
- what has been achieved,
- what is planned,
- what might eventuate.

To seek ideas about:
- the current situation,
- what might be done about it,
- creative alternatives,
- design ideas.

To motivate and inspire the audience to:
- accept the value of what has been done,
- accept the need for further action,
- change attitudes and values,
- create a vision of a better future,
- establish a different paradigm, another way of viewing issues.

To catch the imagination of the audience so as to:
- paint an exciting picture,
- describe a new perspective,
- generate a desire for action.

To induce harmony and understanding among the audience so as to:
- engender cooperation,
- achieve consensus,
- enable compromise where consensus is not possible.

Not all speeches will embody all of these elements, but all will embrace some.

In brief, the speechwriter and the speaker will need to ask themselves:
- what are the desired ‘take-home’ messages?
- how will they be transmitted?
- what inspirational devices will be used to maximize attention and assimilation?
- how will we know that the messages have been heard and assimilated?

There are a number of devices that facilitate the creation of good speeches:

Message and emotion
To begin with, there is a proven connection between what is to be transmitted and the emotional garment in which it is clothed. We learn and assimilate better when we are emotionally engaged, especially when swept along by the inspirational words, manner of speech, and gestures.

One reason that the speeches by Kevin Rudd, Paul Keating, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus are so highly regarded is that they touched the souls of the people, identifying injustice and discrimination. Ben Chifley’s speech reminded the people of traumas not long past and assured them support.

Speakers know that if they can engage the consciousness of the audience and establish good rapport, if they can build on the emotion that resides in their bosoms, the message, especially when it is one of hope and promise, will impinge more strongly. Unless the audience can be emotionally involved, messages will seem inert and devoid of feeling, and will usually go unheard or unheeded.

Sometimes the emotion is so adverse that transmission of information is nigh impossible, as we have seen several times in regional meetings about the Murray-Darling Water Plan. Unless anger and opposition in the audience are recognized, acknowledged, addressed, and neutralized, at least in part, little of the message will be heard, and even less remembered.

Words and their emotional clothing go together.

Engaging the audience
A speaking device that is a proven success is engaging the audience on a personal level. While even the best of speakers cannot engage everyone in a large audience, they can and do engage selected members. They eyeball one or two near the front and a little way back. It is possible to also target some right at the back and the sides. Good speakers talk to them as if they were the only ones present, moving from front to back, and from side to side, looking intently at their eyes, with an unspoken but unmistakable “You know this to be so”, or “I’m sure you understand this” or “I know you will give me your support”. At a distance, others nearby the targeted ones will also feel as if they are being addressed personally too. In this way, it is possible to personally engage large sectors, even of a big audience. This engagement is vital. Without it, the audience feels ‘out of it’, becomes restive and finally disinterested and unresponsive, and remembers nothing much positive, only feelings of boredom and disengagement. Some have suggested Julia Gillard lacked such a connection to her audience in her address to the ALP National Conference.

Of course, if some members of the audience come carrying adverse baggage about the speaker, it makes it even more difficult for the speaker to engage. From the description of PM Gillard’s audience, it seems as if there were some carrying such baggage, somewhat surprising among an audience of the so-called party faithful.

Avoid reading a speech
Eyeballing selected members of the audience requires the speaker to take his or her eyes from a prepared script. Anyway, it is desirable, if not essential, to not read a speech parrot-fashion. There is a technique of using written notes as a reminder, yet look at the audience while speaking. A quick glance at the notes then raising the eyes to the audience to speak is a well-tried method. The trick is to not read the script, and to speak only when looking at the audience. This is possible if time is taken to rehearse the speech so that most of it is committed to memory, and the script is used only as an aide memoir.

Tell them what you’re going to say
Another device used by successful speakers is the well tried – tell the audience what you intend to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have just told them. They then know what’s coming, they recognize it when it comes, and they are left with the distilled ‘take home messages’. Handouts at the end of the take home messages are valuable, and visual aids to accompany the spoken word are useful, so long as they match. These devices are perhaps less suitable for political audiences than for other learning situations.

Repetition and reiteration
Repetition is a sound technique. Martin Luther King powered his address by repeating the now-famous words: “I have a dream.” Kevin Rudd repeated: “We are sorry” many times.

Many a good speech, at least in parts, includes short sentences, often using similar words or themes, delivered rhythmically, which create an attractive cadence that can be almost mesmerizing. Martin Luther King used this device, and so did Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.

Reiteration too is effective. Reiterating the key elements of the message drives it into memory. Several of the speeches use this device.

Summing up or ending with a rhetorical flourish reinforces the message and the emotion that clothes it.

You may care to refresh your memory of the endings of these speeches by Julia Gillard, Ben Chifley, Kevin Rudd, Paul Keating, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus, and remind yourself of the take home messages and the rhetorical flourish with which most conclude. The initial final words are in the links.

We are the people who share and stick together.

I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket...

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

There is one thing today we cannot imagine.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet…

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…

Manner of speech
This can have a significant effect on audience attention and affect the potency and attractiveness of the message. Julia Gillard’s ocker drawl is often criticized, and the less than enthusiastic reception she sometimes receives is attributed to this trait. Sometimes she is said to appear condescending or school-marmish.

There is no doubt that those with a strong resonant voice like Martin Luther King have an oratory advantage. Kevin Rudd spoke in suitable deep tones in his ‘Sorry’ address.

Speakers are stuck with their usual voices, but voice training can improve lesser voices.

The use of hand and arm gestures can enhance, or sometimes detract from the speech. They too can be improved with training.

How long ought a speech to be?
Many commented on the length of the speeches and drew the conclusion that shorter speeches are to be preferred. That is likely to be so when a politician is engaging a remote and largely disinterested audience, such as in a televised address. The attention span of most audiences is said to be about twenty minutes, after which concentration lags. For many audiences it is much less, conditioned as they are to ten second grabs on TV, and rapidly changing subject matter. Even serious subjects, such as those on news bulletins, generally last no more than a few minutes. When a politician is addressing a wide audience the speech needs to be brief. But if the audience is in an auditorium, the duration depends on the subject matter and the nature of the audience. An interested audience, anxious to hear the speaker’s message, will look for a longer presentation, and provided the speaker follows the twenty minute rule and gives the audience a break or takes them in a new direction, good speakers can hold the attention of audiences for an hour, and often do, for example in academic environments.

Speakers at meetings of the party faithful ought to be able to hold their attention for substantial periods. Politicians addressing businessmen or farmer groups, or mining executives, or economists, for example, ought to be able to hold their audiences for as long as it takes to transmit the message in its emotional cloak. Indeed, such audiences would rightly feel short-changed if offered only short ‘grabs’, when what they are seeking is detailed information, plans, predictions, encouragement, and inspiration. Shorter speeches are not necessarily better – the duration is very much a matter of ‘horses for courses’.

In conclusion
Above all, the good speech delivers clearly messages that the speaker wishes to be readily remembered, does so to an attentive and motivated audience that gathers inspiration and hope from what is said and how it is said, an audience that is emotionally engaged throughout.

Writing and delivering speeches is an exacting and complex process. To some it comes easily; others struggle to ascend to great heights. There is no simple formula. Each speech needs to be fashioned to suit the audience, and the message that the speaker wishes to transmit and have remembered. The relationship between the speaker and the audience is critical. A congenial relationship is essential for success – the opposite brings disappointment to all participants.

Although the above suggestions cover a lot of ground, there may be other elements of speechwriting and speechmaking that you would wish to advance. Please add them and tell us what you think.

What makes a good political speech? Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

This is the last in the series of change-of-year speeches. Some may consider it solely religious, but the scribes and Pharisees would have seen it as highly political. Compare it with the others in the series. Would you, as many do, rate it as the best speech of all time?

Here is the source. It is taken from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5. An audio version is also available via the link.

1: And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:

2: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

3: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

6: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

7: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8: Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

12: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

13: Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15: Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

17: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

18: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19: Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

21: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.

22: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23: Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24: Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

25: Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26: Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

27: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

28: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 


29: And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

30: And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

31: It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.

32: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

33: Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:

35: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36: Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37: But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

38: Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40: And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

41: And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42: Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

43: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45: That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46: For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

47: And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

There it is. Let’s have your comments. How do you rate it? How does it compare with the others in the series? What do you think?

What makes a good political speech? Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech

Although it was only 278 words and took only two minutes to deliver, US President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg is regarded as one of the finest in American political history. It was given on Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Here it is, and here is the source.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


What is it that makes this speech so impressive? Could a latter day politician give such an address today? How would it be received? How would the media rate it? How well would it be remembered?

There is one more speech in the change-of-years series to come.

What makes a good political speech? Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech

Martin Luther King’s famous speech, delivered on 28 August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. to a vast throng, is classed as one of the top ten speeches of all time; some would place it near the top.

Here it is. The source is here.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!


There it is – around eighteen hundred words. Why is it so highly regarded? What makes is so inspirational? How readily can politicians talking on other subjects achieve the same impact? How does it compare with other speeches in this series?

There are two more to come.

What makes a good political speech? PM Keating’s Redfern speech

This is a further speech for your appraisal in our change-of-year series of political speeches. Like the Kevin Rudd speech, it is about indigenous issues. Although there is still controversy about its authorship – between Paul Keating’s speech writer Don Watson and Keating himself – it is generally regarded as one of Keating’s finest, and one of great merit. It is a little over 2000 words. Here it is for you to judge for yourself.

Here is the source of this address.

Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Redfern address, Sydney, 1992

Ladies and gentlemen

I am very pleased to be here today at the launch of Australia’s celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous People.

It will be a year of great significance for Australia.

It comes at a time when we’ve committed ourselves to succeeding in the test which so far we have always failed.

Because, in truth, we cannot confidently say that we’ve succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and to the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be – truly the land of a fair go and the better chance.

There is no more basic test of how seriously we mean these things.

It’s a test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history. How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. How well we know what Aboriginal Australians know about Australia.

Redfern is a good place to contemplate these things.

Just a mile or two from the place where the first European settlers landed, in too many ways it tells us that the failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia continues to be our failure.

More I think than most Australians recognise, the plight of Aboriginal Australians affects us all. In Redfern it might be tempting to think that the reality Aboriginal Australians face is somehow contained here, and that the rest of us are insulated from it. But of course, while all the dilemmas may exist here, as we all know, they are far from contained. We know the same dilemmas and more are faced all over Australia.

This is perhaps the point of this Year of the World’s Indigenous People: to bring the dispossessed out of the shadows, to recognise that they are part of us. That we cannot give indigenous Australians up without giving up many of our own most deeply held values, much of our own identity and, indeed, our own humanity.

Nowhere in the world, I would venture, is the message more stark than in Australia.

We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course the world and the people of our region would not. There should be no mistake about this – our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world.

But however intractable the problems seem, we cannot resign ourselves to failure – any more than we can hide behind our political opponents contemporary version of Social Darwinism which says that to reach back for the poor and dispossessed is to risk being dragged down.

It seems to me not only morally indefensible, but bad history.

We non-Aboriginal Australians should perhaps remind ourselves that Australia once reached out for us. Didn’t Australia provide opportunity and care for the dispossessed Irish? Did it not for the poor of Britain? The refugees from war and famine and persecution in the countries of Europe and Asia? Isn’t it reasonable to say that if we can build a prosperous and remarkable harmonious multicultural society in Australia, surely we can find just solutions to the problems which beset the first Australians – the people to whom the most injustice has been done.

And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us – the non-Aboriginal Australians.

It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.

We brought the diseases and the alcohol.

We committed the murders.

We took the children from their mothers.

We practised discrimination and exclusion.

It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this was done to me?

As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded us all.

If we needed a reminder of this, we received it this year with the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which showed with devastating clarity that the past lives on in inequality, racism and injustice. In the prejudice and ignorance of non-Aboriginal Australians, and in the demoralisation and desperation, the fractured identity, of so many Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

For all this, I do not believe that the Report should fill us with guilt. Down the years, there has been no shortage of guilt, but it has not produced the response we need. Guilt, I think we’ve all learned, is not a very constructive emotion.

I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit. All of us.

Perhaps when we recognise what we have in common we will see the things which must be done – the practical things.

There is something of this in the creation of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The council’s mission is to forge a new partnership built on justice and equity and an appreciation of the heritage of Australia’s indigenous people. In the abstract those terms are meaningless. We have to give meaning to ‘justice’ and ‘equity’ – and, as I have said several times this year, we will only give them meaning when we commit ourselves to achieving concrete results.

If we improve the living conditions in one town, they will improve in another, and another. If we raise the standard of health by 20 per cent one year, it will be raised more the next. If we open one door others will follow.

When we see improvement, when we see more dignity, more confidence, more happiness – we will know we are going to win. We will need these practical building blocks of change.

The Mabo judgment should be seen as one of these. By doing away with the bizarre concept that this continent had no owners prior to the settlement of Europeans, Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice. It will be much easier to work from that basis than has ever been from any case in the past.

For this reason alone we should ignore the isolated outbreaks of hysteria and hostility to Mabo in the past few months. Mabo is an historic decision – we can make it an historic turning point, the basis of a new relationship between indigenous and non-Aboriginal Australians.

The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include indigenous Australians.

In fact, as all of us I think here know, there is everything to gain.

Even the unhappy past speaks for this. Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions. Economic contributions, particularly in the pastoral and agricultural industry. They are there in the frontier and exploration history of Australia. They were there in the wars. In sport to an extraordinary degree. In literature and art and in music.

In all these things they have shaped our knowledge of this continent and of ourselves. They’ve shaped our identity. They are there in the Australian legend. And we should never forget – they helped us build this nation. And if we have a sense of justice, as well as common sense, we will forge a new partnership.

As I said, it might help if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we have lived on for 50,000 years – and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.

Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless. Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we’d given up without a fight. Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books. Imagine if our feats on the sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice. Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.

Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.

It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice then we can imagine its opposite. And we can have justice.

I say we can have justice for two reasons: I say it because I believe that the great things about Australian social democracy reflect a fundamental belief in justice. And I say it because in so many other areas we have proved our capacity over the years to go on extending the realms of participation, community and care.

Just as Australians living in the relatively narrow and insular Australia of the 1960s imagined a culturally diverse, worldly and open Australia, and in a generation turned the idea into reality, so we can turn the goals of reconciliation into a reality.

There are very good signs that the process has begun. The creation of the Reconciliation Council is evidence itself. The establishment of the ATSIC – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission – is also evidence. The Council indeed is the product of imagination and goodwill. ATSIC emerges from the vision of indigenous self-determination and self-management. The vision’s already become the reality of almost 800 elected Aboriginal Regional Councillors and Commissioners determining priorities and developing their own process.

All over Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are taking charge of their own lives. And assistance with the problems which chronically beset them is at last being made available in ways developed by the communities themselves. If these things offer hope, so does the fact that this generation of Australians is better informed about Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal achievement, and about the injustice that has been done, than any generation before has so been aware.

So, we are beginning to more generally appreciate the depth and the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. From their music and art and dance we are beginning to recognise how much richer our national life and identity will be for the participation of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. We are beginning to learn that the indigenous people have known for many thousands of years how to live with our physical environment.

Ever so gradually we are learning how to see Australia through Aboriginal eyes, beginning to recognise the wisdom contained in their epic story.

I think we are beginning to see how much we owe the indigenous Australians and how much we have lost by living so apart.

I said we non-indigenous Australians should try to imagine the Aboriginal view.

It can’t be too hard. Someone imagined this event today, and it’s now a reality and a great reason for hope.

There is one thing today we cannot imagine. We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through 50,000 years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and the environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.

We can’t imagine that.

We cannot imagine that we will fight it.

And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won’t fail.

I am confident that we will succeed in this decade.

Thank you for being with me today.

The ABC has classified this as ‘An unforgettable speech’. If it is, what makes it so? What do you think of it? How does it compare with its predecessors in this series? There are still more to come.

What makes a good political speech? PM Kevin Rudd’s Apology

This is the next in our change-of-year series of political speeches.

Only the most bigoted amongst us were not moved by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples. It was widely regarded as an inspiring speech to parliament, one that brought the tears to countless eyes, in parliament and around the nation.

The text is reproduced here: where you will also find audio and video versions.

I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There it is, around 400 words. For those of you who felt stirred and inspired by this speech, what was it that created those emotions. What made it a great speech?

Are there any lessons in it for political speechwriters?

New Year Greetings from The Political Sword

Greetings on New Year’s Day 2012 from The Political Sword. We wish all visitors a Happy New Year and a Productive and Satisfying 2012.

2012 will be an important year in Federal Politics, a year when our views need to be expressed. The Fifth Estate is playing an increasingly significant role in shaping public opinion, in giving the electorate perspectives quite different from those expressed in the mainstream media.

We need all the help we can get to have our opinions recognized. The more who express them here, the better the chances that journalists will read them and sometimes endorse them. We know they peruse the blogosphere, and take note.

We extend a warm welcome to all to contribute here. Please feel free to join The Political Sword friendly family by expressing your opinions in the Comments facility. We will respect them and respond courteously.

Lyn, who has for so long provided us with links to relevant articles in the Fifth Estate, as well as the Fourth Estate, has meticulously kept a record of those who have left a comment on The Political Sword, and in many instances the date of their first comment. Talk Turkey suggested this was a good occasion to publish the list, which we now do for the first time. I have added several names to the list, those who commented on The Possum Box, where I first began blogging on 14 June 2008, courtesy of Possum Comitatus, who gave me my first exposure in the Fifth Estate, which I gratefully acknowledge. The Political Sword began three months later, on 13 September 2008.

The list appears below. Counting those on The Possum Box the list now numbers more than 350. Judging from the stats of our traffic, we know too that for every one who leaves a comment, there is a countless number that visit and read but choose not to comment.

If you have commented here and by some chance your name is not on the list, please let us know via the Comments facility or email it to me via Contact on the top menu, and we will add it in.

This is an appropriate time to acknowledge those who have contributed so much to The Political Sword over the years. Since Lyn has been posting her LYN’S DAILY LINKS the traffic has escalated steadily as people come here to see what’s happening elsewhere, saving them the time it would take to research the links themselves.

Regular contributors of original material in 2011 were Feral (Hillbilly) Skeleton, who brings her long-standing expertise in matters political and the ALP, together with her capacity for incisive analysis, to bear upon the excellent pieces she pens. This year we have been delighted by Acerbic Conehead’s clever satire, which he writes for us every weekend. Next year, we will be joined by Nasking who will write on international affairs. Others have expressed an interest in contributing original material, which hopefully will take place during the year.

In addition to the original contributors, there are many regulars who post detailed comments and links in the Comments section. They enhance TPS immeasurably, and attract visitors who enjoy reading their comments. They are too numerous to mention by name.

To all these contributors we extend our heartfelt thanks for their interest and devotion to The Political Sword; we look forward to their contributions again in 2012.

Here then is the list of contributors since 2008. We thank you one and all for making The Political Sword what it has now become.


A BOOR’S BOAR 9/10/2011
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ACERBIC CONEHEAD
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ADELAIDE GIRL
AGNES MACKALEX 24/8/2011
AMOS KEETO
ANDREW SMITH 21/2/2011
ANDY S HASTINGS 7/3/2011 - OWN BLOG SENNEX
ANOTHER
AMY RORKE 24/8/2011
ANNIE THROPE 14/3/2011
ANDREW ELDER - OWN BLOG POLITICALLY HOMELESS
ANN 18/6/2010
ARBITCHOICES NIEN MACHT FREI
ASH 8/9/2010 - OWN BLOG ASH’S MACHIAVELLIAN BLOGGERY
AUGUSTUS
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IAN
IT'S TIME

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LEFT OF THE RIGHT & RIGHT OF THE LEFT 20/5/2010
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MICHAEL Z 23/6/211
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NASKING 17/5/2010
NATURE 5 25/5/2010
NEIL
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NICK G
NIKE LEBRON8 6/2011
NORMAL 29/6/2010
NORMAN K 30/5/2010
NOTUS 18/10/2011

OLIVER TOWNSEND 5/8/2010
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OZ FROG 25/6/2010
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PAT 5/9/2011
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PAUL WALTER 16/6/2011
PER ARDUA 30/1/2011
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QIER 25/9/2010

RAJA CUHE 15/9/2011
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RN 30/7/2010
ROGER 16/3/2011
ROBERT VAN AALST 5/11/2011
ROD
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ROSWELL 29/6/2010
ROWAN 20/8/2010
RUSSELL GLENDALE NEWCASTLE 14/6/2011

SALLY 22/5/2010
SANDY 27/6/2010
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SHAUN 28/8
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TALK TURKEY 15/9/2010 - OWN BLOG OZZIGAMI
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TYPECAST 12/2/2011
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VALERIE 29/7/2010
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