Evan Williams. What Bill Shorten should say – but won’t

Apr 22, 2016

With Australia’s longest-ever election campaign now underway, politicians face a problem. How long can they go on repeating the same promises and slogans? According to usually reliable sources, Bill Shorten drafted a speech for his campaign launch which was immediately shredded by his close advisers. Leaked extracts are reproduced here by Evan Williams, who accepts no responsibility for their accuracy.

Men and women of Australia!

We all remember the words of my great predecessor Gough Whitlam when he launched his election campaign in 1972. Tonight, as we approach the centenary of his birth, I hope to draw some inspiration from his record and achievement. In the best Whitlam tradition, I’m presenting an ambitious program for reform and renewal.

I won’t give you platitudes and slogans. I won’t go on about the momentous choice we face on July 2 because you know that already. I won’t say that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us, because I don’t believe it. Politics is all about the things that divide us. It will be a sad day for democracy when politicians agree on everything.

Tonight I’ll say what I really mean, and I begin with this firm pledge. The first priority of an incoming Labor government will be to increase taxes. Why? Because we need the money. I’m not talking about tobacco taxes or excise duties or tinkering with the capital gains tax. I’m talking about an increase in personal income-tax, sufficient to strengthen the budget bottom-line and pay for the things we need.

That’s why I favour a rise in income-tax over a hike in the GST. Under a progressive tax system everyone will pay a share and everyone will pay their fair share. Of course we’ll be clamping down on tax loopholes, superannuation concessions, negative gearing and other rorts that benefit the wealthy. But that won’t be enough. We have a revenue problem and a spending problem, and my Government will tackle both.

The Liberals have only one solution to budget problems: sack more public servants and slash more public services. That’s not Labor’s way. Of course we’ll face a relentless scare campaign from our opponents and the media. But I believe that if the case for a tax increase is honestly presented and clearly explained, Australians will accept it in the right spirit.

Will this make us another high-taxing, big-spending Labor government, as our opponent will claim? It probably will. But it will put us in distinguished company. The Scandinavian countries have much higher taxes than we do, including a thumping GST, but are among the most stable, most prosperous and fairest societies in the world. Let’s join them.

It’s time! It’s time we put paid to the myth that Coalition governments are better economic managers than Labor. Of course Labor governments have made mistakes – Gough, let’s face it, did a fair bit to wreck the economy in 1974 – but look at the history. It was a conservative government that took Australia into the Great Depression. It was a Labor government that the people turned to for deliverance. It was the Hawke and Keating governments that transformed a moribund and congested Australian economy in the 1980s with a series of reforms that are now universally applauded. It was the Howard government that squandered the windfall benefits of the commodities boom by handing out needless tax cuts when we should have been investing in infrastructure and development. It was the Rudd government that led Australia successfully through the Global Financial Crisis and averted a crippling recession. Australia emerged from that crisis as one of the strongest economies in the developed world. So who are better economic managers?

Tonight I applaud the record of the Rudd and Gillard governments – on economic management, on national disability insurance, on great infrastructure projects like the national broadband network, on our overdue apology to the stolen generations. So you may well ask: if they were such good governments, why did I help tear down their leaders? I’ll give an honest answer. I supported and encouraged the Labor caucus in changing the leadership because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Kevin was demoralised after the defeat of the emissions trading scheme he negotiated with Malcolm Turnbull, and, rightly or wrongly, was deeply disliked by many of his Cabinet colleagues. Julia did some great things but she ran a dysfunctional government and suffered from the same problem as Tony Abbott – too many bad Newspolls. We dumped Julia for the same reason Malcolm Turnbull knifed Tony Abbott – a settled conviction that without a change of leadership the election would be lost. Politics can be a brutal game.

My next pledge tonight is in the great tradition of all Labor governments: we’ll deliver a new deal for education. I’ve already promised that Labor will implement the full scope of the Gonski education reforms. No ifs, no buts, no qualifications. But we’ll go further. Coalition governments have grievously undermined vocational training and dismantled our TAFE colleges. They’ve slashed grants to the States for public education and cut funding for universities. Yet by every international yardstick our academic standards are in serious decline. This has to stop.

Malcolm Turnbull keeps telling us that we must become an innovative and creative nation to deal with changing economic times. But the way to stimulate innovation and creativity is not to give more tax breaks to big corporations. The best way is to raise educational standards, to encourage our brightest students to take up careers in science and technology. The Liberals have cut funding to the CSIRO, our leading scientific research organisation. My government will increase it. We will appoint a royal commission – yes, another royal commission – into the entire education sector: schools funding, teacher training, curriculum development, standards and outcomes at every level. We will ensure that every Australian child receives the best possible education with the best-trained teachers in the best-equipped schools, regardless of income or postcode. Comrades, it’s time!

I promise that a Labor government will welcome refugees and free all children from detention. We’ll close the hellish prisons on Nauru and Manus Island. Boat people will be processed in Australia and given decent accommodation on the Australian mainland before being resettled in the community. We’ll launch our Let Them Stay program, inviting Australian families to make room in their homes for refuges in need. And while we’re about it we’ll ban live animal exports. We’ll be the first government in Australia to establish a Ministry for Animal Welfare to protect defenceless creatures from needless suffering. I know this won’t please our friends in the cattle trade or the racing industry. But they don’t vote for us anyway. New Zealand gets along without live animal exports, so why can’t we?

And we’ll take a good, hard look at the defence budget. Do we really need all these new submarines and frigates and surveillance vessels, with a big boost in the overall defence budget? That’s another myth – that the Liberals are better than Labor at defence and national security. Are they really? Again, let’s look at the record. It was a Labor government that led Australia through her years of gravest peril and mobilised our defences in World War II. It was a Liberal government that got us into the Vietnam war and it was the Whitlam government that got us out. It was the Hawke government that helped liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1991 and It was a Liberal government that got us into the disastrous, unwinnable war in Iraq. What sort of national security are the Liberals talking about?

Finally, and most important of all, we’ll tackle the threat of global warming. And we’ll tackle it seriously. I’ve already promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 – it was my first major policy announcement as leader – but if Australia is to meet her international obligations, flouted and disregarded by successive Coalition governments, we may have to go further.

Climate change is an existential threat to our way of life, possibly to our very survival on this planet. We see the evidence every day. Last month brought the hottest global temperature readings for any month in recorded history. The Arctic ice sheet is disappearing, glaciers are melting, sea levels and ocean temperatures are rising. Already we are seeing the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and a decline in fish stocks around the world. The science is in – and Labor accepts the science. We’ll make Australia a leader, not a laggard, in the international effort to protect our planet. It’s time!

Our measures will be costly. Many businesses and householders will need compensation to support them through the crisis. For this, and for the other commitments I’ve outlined in Labor’s policy tonight, we will need to make sacrifices. I make no apology for that. Under Labor there’ll be no more delay, no more dithering, no more smooth double-talk. Labor will be the party of action on the things that matter. I say again, that will mean some pain for all of us. But as another Malcolm once said, life isn’t meant to be easy. And I’m sure Gough would agree.



Evan Williams is a former newspaper editor and Walkley Award-winning journalist. He wrote speeches for Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and a succession of NSW premiers. He headed the NSW Government’s cultural sector from 1977 to 2001, and for 33 years wrote regular film reviews for The Australian. He is a Member of the Order of Australia.




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