Will commentators ever be satisfied that the Labor Party and its leadership have established an ‘overarching narrative’ that portrays what the Party and its ministers ‘stand for’? I doubt it. The quest for this Holy Grail has been going on ever since Labor came to office, and indeed John Howard was accused of lacking one in his latter days. Do these commentators know what they are looking for? Would they recognize it if they saw it? Most who castigate politicians and political parties for lacking it, never suggest what the narrative might look like, nor have they ever had to create one. But there is one who has created a narrative for the Labor Party – Paul Keating.
In a recent conversation with Paul Kelly reported in The Weekend Australian
on October 22, Keating lamented Labor’s lack of ‘a compelling overarching story’, and went on to say that Labor needs to emphasize more the transitions the nation is traversing, and should marshall its creativity
to manage them and to spell them out for the public to understand. He cited the arts and music as crucial ingredients in reaching this goal.
On many occasions commentators have made reference to Ben Chifley’s 1949 “Light on the Hill” address. It has been cited as a glowing example of a rousing address that inspired the party during tough times. The phrase ‘light on the hill’ has resonated down the years as epitomising the Labor philosophy. Made in the late forties when the Great Depression of the thirties was still a vivid and frightening memory, Chifley made reference to the fear of another depression. He said: “If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labour movement will be completely justified.”
The speech was not a long one – just 484 words, yet its impact was profound, and if one can believe the critics, still is.
I have wondered what a latter day ‘light on the hill’ address might look like. We can have a glimpse by reading Julia Gillard’s speech at the Chifley Research Centre
on September 16. Also take a look at Making a Difference
on the ALP website. Check too at the attached PDF file to read the detail of Labor’s plans and achievements
Here’s how Making a Difference
began – harking back to the ‘light on the hill’: “The Australian Labor Party is Australia’s oldest political party. Labor’s history and the history of Australia’s democracy are inextricably intertwined.
“We have a great objective — the light on the hill.
“For 120 years, the enduring values of fairness, opportunity and the betterment of humankind have motivated members of the Labor Party and the wider Labour Movement, and they motivate us still.
The government I am privileged to lead continues in that proud tradition.”
Since Paul Keating has urged Labor to focus on the transitions that are extant in Australia and use creativity and art to explain it to the people, I have attempted to put together a statement that might be termed ‘Julia Gillard’s Light on the Hill’, but I have titled it: THE LIGHT ON THE HILL BURNS BRIGHTLY STILL
Although it is over sixty years since Ben Chifley spoke of the ‘light on the hill’, it remains a shining beacon to which Labor continues to be attracted and which it seeks to arrive at by “working for the betterment of mankind”.
Then, Labor sought to bring “something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people.”
So is it now. The light on the hill burns brightly still.
Then, Labor’s aim was to “make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best.”
So is it now.
Labor still has its eyes on the great objective – the light on the hill. For 120 years, the enduring values of fairness, opportunity and the betterment of humankind have motivated members of the Labor Party and the wider Labour Movement.
So is it now.
In Chifley’s days the world was changing. The fear of recession persisted.
So is it now.
Then Labor sought to “bring better conditions to the people.”
So is it now.
As Chifley said: “If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.”
So is it now. The light on the hill burns brightly still.
Change has always been a part of life in Australia. Yet every decade has brought better conditions to the people. As it prepares for its next phase – transformation of its economy and integration into the Asian region – this country looks to an exciting future, one that will bring great benefits to all the people.
TODAY WE SEE CHANGE AND TRANSITION ALL AROUND US.
WE ARE A NATION IN TRANSITION.
Change is often feared, yet it should be seen as an exciting opportunity to be creative, to do better, to achieve more, to improve life for all our citizens. If we avoid change, we decline.
Let’s look at these transitions, which draw us to a better life. There are many.
Transition from a heavily polluting society to one where coal is gradually replaced by natural gas and renewable energy, so as to slow carbon pollution and the progress of global warming, and thereby secure our planet for future generations.
Transition of our economy from the manufacturing and agriculture of the past, to an open economy based on renewable energy, the minerals boom and the resourceful use of water, with all the jobs these transitions create.
As in the past, where horse and buggy gave way to rail and then to air transport, so we must now modernize out economy and transform it into one for the twenty-first century with new jobs, new industries, high speed broadband and efficient infrastructure that give this nation a global reach.
We need to accelerate the transition of international trading from that based on traditional markets in Europe and the US, to trading more and more within the Asian region.
Education is in transition with more transparency via the MySchool website and the National Curriculum for literacy and numeracy, 430,000 new computers in schools, fast broadband, increased university places, skills training, more funding, and renewed school buildings through the Building Education Revolution.
This Government believes every child should have the opportunity for a great education, which is the rock on which a strong modern Australian economy is founded. The Government’s focus is on creating jobs, more jobs and new jobs; education and training are the pathway to job creation.
There is transition in our health system from hospital to community care with more Federal funding and more local control. Super fast broadband will bring heath care to remote communities. Mental health initiatives will provide support for young and old, and aged care will be a priority as our population ages. The My Hospitals website now gives better information about our hospitals. We have introduced a national disability insurance scheme. Plain packaging of cigarettes will reduce the scourge of smoking.
We are in transition in the way we use water, especially within the Murray-Darling River system, so that both agriculture and the environment can stay alive.
Your Government is managing these transitions creatively and resolutely. Here’s what we have done:
We moved quickly to shield the economy from the effects of the global financial crisis and kept the nation out of recession. Our economy is in better shape than it is in any other developed nation.
We stimulated the economy with cash payments to individuals, by home insulation and school building programs, and then with infrastructure works.
We kept unemployment down to the lowest level in the developed world, and it continues to fall. We believe in the dignity of work. We created three quarters of a million new jobs, and are providing training for those still unemployed.
Interest rates fell during the global financial crisis, have remained low, and are falling again as inflation is kept low.
We have reduced taxes, increased pensions and family payments and introduced a Paid Parental Leave scheme.
We are committed to getting the budget back into surplus in 2012/13.
We have passed legislation to place a price on carbon to motivate polluters to reduce pollution. This will be environmentally effective, is economically responsible, will drive investment and innovation in clean energy, and will create jobs. And it is socially fair – the revenue raised will compensate families and businesses for increased costs, will increase pensions and welfare payments, and will reduce individual taxes.
This reform will encourage innovation, increase productivity, create new industries, lift economic output, and transform our economy.
We are legislating to place a tax on minerals so that all Australians can share in the bounty that our rich resources provide – a tax that will fund better superannuation, lower company tax, benefit small business, develop needed infrastructure, and simplify taxation for millions.
We have plans to improve water use in the Murray-Darling river system to sustain food production, maintain regional communities and improve environmental flows.
We have given great emphasis to regional development through our Regional Infrastructure Fund, increased funding for schools, hospitals and health care, including 22 regional cancer centres, and we have arranged for regional communities to have the early benefits of the NBN.
To prosper, this nation needs a strong economy that is competitive globally, and that requires a strong and productive workforce, one that needs boosting by immigrants. This is why we have a controlled immigration program to bring in skilled workers to do the jobs that we cannot fill.
We have invested more in infrastructure than any other government – road, rail and ports. Our nation-building efforts are overseen by Infrastructure Australia.
In pursuit of fairness in the workplace, we legislated to replace WorkChoices with Fair Work Australia that provides a balanced approach to industrial relations. Already it has worked well in stopping the Qantas dispute after its lockout of workers.
We have increased Australia’s involvement in world forums. We are now members of the G20 forum, the East Asia Summit, APEC and CHOGM. Our country is giving strong leadership on the international scene. Our economic performance is universally admired and our advice sought. We seek to be good global citizens in combating climate change.
We place heavy emphasis on defence and our commitment in Afghanistan. We are reviewing our strategic relationships in tune with the changed geopolitical situation. We aim to keep our borders secure, and are determined to deter people smugglers from taking asylum seekers on dangerous boat journeys. We do need immigrants, but we want them to arrive in an orderly and safe way. And when they are accepted, we wish them to be integrated in a socially inclusive way into our community. We value the multiculturalism this brings to our society.
Australia is a large country. To flourish we need large ideas, bold ideas, daring ideas. We need the courage to undertake brave reforms. While it might be easier to take a conservative approach and leave things the way they are, we know that will lead to decline – in our prosperity, in our way of life, in our international standing.
This is why this Government has undertaken difficult reforms:
- tackling climate change,
- introducing a tax on mineral mining,
- structural separation of Telstra and initiation of nation-wide fast broadband,
- reform of industrial relations and removal of WorkChoices,
- review of the tax system and social security,
- reform of the health system towards community, aged and mental health care,
- crucial changes in the education system,
- a water plan to repair the Murray-Darling river system, and
- moves to create a regional response to irregular migration.
Although we have achieved much, there is still legislation in progress and still more reforms underway. We do not have a perfect record, but we are determined to complete our reform agenda.
None of these reforms are easy. Change is resisted. Obstacles are raised. As Chifley said in his ‘Light on the Hill’ address: “No Labour Minister or leader ever has an easy job. The urgency that rests behind the Labour movement, pushing it on to do things, to create new conditions, to reorganize the economy of the country, always means that the people who work within the Labour movement, people who lead, can never have an easy job.”
Past reforms have not been easy. The reforms of the Hawke-Keating era: enterprise bargaining, tariff reduction, floating the dollar, the prices and incomes accord, superannuation reform, deregulation of the financial system, and the privatization of public utilities, were not easy. John Howard’s GST reform and his IR reforms were not easy.
So is it now. But the light on the hill burns brightly still, and drives us on.
In the past, predictions of calamity have accompanied each reform. Yet, far from calamity, most of the reforms have brought enormous benefits to our nation.
Still today the doomsayers predict disaster, instill fear and insecurity, and threaten to reverse the reforms we are undertaking. Time will show how wrong they are.
What the modern Australia needs is both an open economy that is competitive on the world stage yet engages with our Asian neighbours, and a culture that embraces social inclusion and multiculturalism. We can have both.
Your Government sees these objectives as the ‘light on the hill’, which we are determined to reach, despite the obstacles, despite the criticisms, despite the opposition.
We seek to make this great country greater still – more prosperous, more comfortable for its people, more welcoming to new arrivals. We seek to become an integral part of our region, while maintaining old allegiances.
The light on the hill burns brightly still.
We invite you all to join us as we seize the opportunities, make the transitions, and transform our country into an advanced nation that can take its place confidently in the global community that makes up the twenty-first century world.
Your Government is up to the challenge. We need you too.
This has not been an easy ‘speech’ to write. It has proved to be the most difficult, the most time consuming task I have undertaken writing for The Political Sword
. I suspect the critics – those who yearn for a narrative, indeed insist upon one, might have the same difficulty should they try, which they will not discover until they do.
Although it is over three times longer than Chifley’s ‘Light on the Hill’ address (and would take around 15 minutes to deliver), it still seems insufficient, - still needing more appeal, still needing to be more inspirational. It may be too long, to all-inclusive. It is deliberatively repetitive in places, to underscore important points. Quite apart from the need to choose the right words, there is an imperative to include the most important matters, yet not overload the text with superfluities. It may be better broken into two or three parts.
Does it depict to you ‘a nation in transition’ as the overarching theme?
Would this, Julia Gillard’s Light on the Hill address, appeal to you?
Your constructive critique will be welcome.
Tell me what you think.