SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

23 August 2019

OPENING OF ALP QUEENSLAND STATE CONFERENCE BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM

BRISBANE CONVENTION CENTRE

BRISBANE

*** check against delivery ***

Thank you, Premier.

May I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Yuggera and Turrbal people, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

And thank you to Ashley and Aaron [Ruska, Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dance Company] for your very warm welcome to country.

I want to acknowledge Wayne Swan, National President and former Deputy Prime Minister, and my many State and Federal parliamentary colleagues here this evening.

And of course I want to acknowledge the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, her Deputy Premier and Treasurer – and my good friend – Jackie Trad, and all the members of their team.

I want to take a moment to give credit to you for your government’s achievements.

  • Another balanced budget with a surplus.
  • Over 165,000 jobs created over the past four years.
  • Record exports last year – at $77.6 billion, more than New South Wales and Victoria combined – and more than double than under the LNP.

As I was preparing for this evening, Murray Watt’s office sent me a summary of the main achievements of Annastacia’s government – to refresh my memory a little.

And this list of achievements ran – I kid you not – twelve pages.

Even in her first term, leading a minority government, Annastacia passed 138 of 139 bills, and delivered 505 of 553 election commitments – more than 90 per cent.

That kind of stability and reliability is extraordinary under any circumstances.

Annastacia has a right to claim being the most effective premier in the country.

A big part of her success is in bringing people together.

Many people in our line of work see everything in terms of combat – where conflict is an end in itself.

Annastacia isn’t about that.

She recognises that there is a lot of conflict fatigue in our community.

People want solutions, not arguments. And they want stability.

They want business, unions and government to be able to work together toward common purpose.

People want us to be enablers of their aspirations.

Comrades, colleagues, friends:

This is a tough moment to be Labor. There’s no pretending.

There are a lot of reminders of the result of May 18.

The morning papers, the evening bulletins.

Every time we walk into the Parliament.

But each time I walk into the Senate and face this dangerously incompetent and divisive government, my resolve hardens.

It’s true that the first months after an election loss always feel grim.

This election feels most like 2004, when we not only lost, but went backwards.

And for the second election in a row, we were wedged by John Howard, who manipulated a tension between Labor constituencies.

In that case, between environmentalists and people whose livelihoods depended on forestry.

There is an obvious parallel with the election just past.

And that parallel reminds us that we cannot accept the argument that there is one choice for Labor to make between working Australians or progressive reform.

It is Labor’s task to advocate both for working Australians and progressive reform.

This is the lesson that every successful Labor leader in the modern era has taught us.

Our party must champion the material concerns of working Australians.

And we must embrace and respect the concerns of Australians motivated by desire for progressive reform.

These constituencies overlap more than may suit reactionary commentators.

Many times in my life I’ve felt the solidarity of blue collar workers standing with me in standing up to racism – just as many suburban Australian mums and dads went out of their way to tell me they wanted their gay son or daughter to have the right to marry the person they love.

Equally, there are millions of – dare I say quiet – Australians worried about the world they are leaving for their kids.

Because this generation, like all who have gone before, share the hope that we can leave behind a better world.

People can simultaneously want fairness, opportunity and a better future.
In fact, most of us do.

The reactionary right fosters a sense of social scarcity, with everyone in conflict; everyone in competition.

They want to divide the country, to set Australians apart.

It is not only a cynical worldview, it is a self-serving political tactic.

In this, Scott Morrison channels John Howard.

The Liberal National Party wants to divide Australia.

Labor must work to bring Australians together.

All the leaders who have won government for Labor have understood this as our challenge.

They did not see conflict between the desires for fairness, economic growth and a sustainable future; they saw these values as mutually dependent.

They knew that it is only when we successfully champion material and progressive ideals that Labor wins government and changes the nation.

This is what Whitlam did. It is what Hawke did. It is what Rudd did.

I don’t want to pre-empt the Party’s comprehensive review process.

It is not insignificant, by the way, that it is led by two of our sharpest minds from what I used to hear described as “outlying states” – my home state’s Jay Weatherill and Queensland’s Craig Emerson.

We need to understand what happened if we are going to find our way back into government at the next election – and I believe we can.

It’s important that we don’t reach for the low-hanging fruit of simplistic, hackneyed explanations of what went wrong.

Clearly – Federal Labor did not do well in Queensland.

In fact, it was our worst Queensland result since World War Two.

We suffered a net loss of two seats, and had swings against us in all but two seats.

In the Senate we lost Chris Ketter.

Amid this darkness, there have been two bright beams of promise, with the election of two talented, capable young women who I know will make a big impact: Nita Green and Anika Wells.

They join talented Queenslanders in our Federal Labor Caucus, including our Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, frontbenchers Terri Butler, Shayne Neumann, Murray Watt and Graham Perrett, as well as Anthony Chisholm and Milton Dick.

The fact that the election was otherwise bleak in Queensland is cause for analysis and action, but it is not cause for despair.

It is also no basis for overwrought pronouncements like “Queensland is not a Labor state”.

Labor has governed in Queensland for 25 of the past 30 years.

All of you in this room are a part of this great achievement.

And this is the first place anywhere in the world to elect a Labor government.

Queensland Labor overcame the rotten Bjelke-Petersen regime despite its corruption of the state’s institutions and electoral system.

You dispatched Campbell Newman after just one term.

And Queensland Labor was the spearhead of our last return to federal government.

No one should underestimate your resilience.

But one thing has always been true.

From that first state Labor government to this current one – and in 2007 as well.

Labor will only win and hold office when we are both champions of progress and trusted custodians of the economy.

That will be the case over the coming years as much as ever.

With growing uncertainty in the global economy, the trade war between the United States and China showing no sign of being resolved anytime soon,

Australians want a government they can trust with the security of their economic futures.

They will not get that government from Scott Morrison.

His Government has no plan for our country.

They wander aimlessly from blunder to blooper, pausing only to indulge in culture-war follies.

For them the national interest is eclipsed by their self interest.

They have left Australia dangerously exposed in this time of global economic uncertainty.

Let me count the ways:

  1. Australia is experiencing the slowest economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis and its longest “per capita recession” since the 1982 recession.
  2. Australia was the 8th fastest-growing economy in the OECD when government changed hands in 2013 – now we have dropped to 20th.
  3. Real household median income is lower than it was in 2013.
  4. Wages have grown at one-eighth of the pace of profits over the past year.
  5. Household debt is at a record high of around 190 per cent of disposable income.

For months the Reserve Bank has been asking the Morrison Government to stimulate the economy and create jobs by bringing forward infrastructure spending.

The cost of essentials has skyrocketed, electricity prices have increased and health insurance premiums have almost doubled.

Australians are worried about their wages, their job security and their cost of living – but what is Scott Morrison talking about?

The Labor Party. Trade Unions. GetUp.

Last week Scott Morrison’s victory lap brought him to Adelaide for the Liberal Party State Conference.

With as friendly and faithful an audience as he’s ever likely to find, he summoned the courage to take the great risk of laying out his bold third term agenda: a crackdown on who he calls the misogynist bullies at GetUp.

Strangely he didn’t use his platform to lay into any other misogynist bullies he knows. I guess his courage only goes so far.

There’s just one other discernible part of their third term agenda, and that is the LNP’s article of faith – the one thing on which they can always agree: destroying the trade union movement.

The so-called “Ensuring Integrity Bill” is all about preventing union members from being in control of who they elect and what decisions they vote for within their own union.

It has outrageous rules for the deregistration of unions and it weaponises the law so any employer can threaten to have individual union officials disqualified during negotiations.

I spoke earlier about parallels to 2004, and we remember what happened after that election.

Australians have no interest in politically manufactured conflict. They gain nothing from the LNP’s war on unions, because ultimately they are wars on working people.

These wars ultimately bring the LNP undone, because they always go too far. They can’t help themselves.

We’re seeing it again with the brewing support among Liberal backbenchers on unfair dismissal.

But aside from plagiarising the IPA’s ever ready to-do list on industrial relations, they have nothing to offer.

So far, this 46th Parliament has sat for three weeks.

In the second sitting week, the Senate ran out of business.

In the third sitting week, the Government had to filibuster their own bill, because they had no other legislation once that bill passed.

And when they do produce legislation, they are not telling us why it is in the national interest, or how it will boost the flatlining economy, or how it will create jobs, or fix the energy crisis they have created.

They say: it’s a test for Labor.

Tax: a test for Labor.

National security: a test for Labor.

Drought relief: a test for Labor.

When a government defines its legislation only by the political conflict it can provoke, that government is nothing more than an opposition in exile.

They define themselves by what they’re against.

It’s like the entire government is auditioning to be the next Peta Credlin or Chris Kenny. There won’t be enough hours in the night.

With all due respect to Albo, Scott Morrison may be the most successful opposition leader I’ve ever seen.

Perhaps second only to Prime Minister Abbott’s “no-alition”.

Since the election, the entitlement on the government benches has been palpable.

Scott Morrison is now basking in his own glory and propelled by his arrogance.

I don’t mind if the LNP laps it all up. In fact, I’m perfectly happy for them to drink that Kool-Aid in Costco quantities. But we can’t.

In the 1980s, John Howard famously prophesied that the times will suit him.
In Scott Morrison’s case, the times will expose him.

As the weight of the office bears down on him, as Australians demand he delivers security for them in an insecure world, it will become ever clearer: that all that throwing his weight around, all the arrogance, all that smug brushing away serious questions – it’s all an act. It’s all a front.

The times will inexorably pull back the curtain on the imagery and the invincibility and there will be the Wizard of Oz.

It’s the biggest bluff in Australian history.

Whatever a quiet Australian is, Scott Morrison certainly is not.

So comrades, let them think they are invincible because we know they are not. We’ve seen it all before.

It may feel like we are at the lowest point but it is the beginning of the way back.

We can win the next election, if we can earn the trust of Australians to lead in these uncertain times.

Scott Morrison will carry on with his endless distractions and political conflict.

Albo will bring the country together.

He will speak to Queenslanders – and to all Australians.

He will unify the nation around the Labor project, continuing the tradition of our most successful leaders.

And together, we will continue the tradition of our great Labor project to deliver:

A fair society.

A growing economy.

A sustainable future for all Australians.

Because when Labor wins government, we change the nation for the better.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.