ALP Queensland State Conference Speech

Thanks Stacia for that kind introduction.

I am proud to be introduced by one of Queensland Labor’s most successful Premiers.

And it’s great to see the Prime Minister here, Anthony Albanese, and of course Jim Chalmers, and Murray Watt. 

Prime Minister we all congratulate you on your magnificent victory, the 4th Leader to do so from Opposition in the post-war era.

I acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we meet today, the Gubbi Gubbi, and acknowledge their elders past, present and emerging.

Gubbi Gubbi land, home to the mighty Maroochy River, or black swan territory,  a region that is steeped in Indigenous story telling, from Mt Coolum, Ninderri and Mujimba Island.

It’s got some history for me too, because just up the road from here is the old Surfair hotel, opened by Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1971 and the site of a drunken celebration on 2 December 1972 when my mates and I took it over and celebrated Gough’s magnificent victory after Labor’s 23 years in the wilderness.

For me Gough’s victory was the first of many nights celebrating the fruits of hard work…….like December 2 1989 – Wayne Goss.  Like Keating in 1993, Rudd in 2007 and Palaszczuk in 2020.

Nights where we gather to thank the people who do so much, and to get ready for all the work still to do.

Like election night this year, like this Conference dinner itself, I like to think of those occasions as:  piss-ups with a purpose!

Gough’s great victory was narrow, barely 8 seats.  The same as Anthony’s.

But it was  momentous in the changes he brought to our nation:  multiculturalism, free universities, Medibank, an independent foreign policy.

Anthony’s victory nearly 6 months ago had the same “It’s Time” feel to it.

Like Gough, a narrow victory and a breath of fresh air, but a victory which holds the promise of re-industrialisation, investments in the skills of our people, a renewable energy super- power, and reductions in inequality through an end to wage suppression.

I want to thank all the true believers for their magnificent effort in that campaign, and in particular acknowledge our Life Members.

(Lets see them stand up and honour them with applause)

May all our new members take pride in, and inspiration from, the big beating heart of our true believers ion doing their work for our movement and our country.

Their service teaches us that a political life is an honourable life, and an honourable political life can change a country.

I want to say to all our union members here, a strong labour movement working with the Labor Party is the most powerful force we have to drive greater equality and opportunity in our society.

Just look at what you have achieved with superannuation.

Today there are  $3.4 trillion in funds under management in industry super funds giving workers a direct slice of profits, a say in the deployment of capital, a secure retirement for their members and building our nation.

If you told people 30 years ago unions and employers would create a national savings pool bigger than the Australian economy they would tell you you are dreaming.

Unions did this, and Labor did this,  and the visionary unionists that put this together in the 80s are national heroes.

I reckon we ought to put them on the $5 note!!!

So we are all proud to be Labor, not just because of what we have achieved but also for the solutions Labor has for the future.

As Party members we should be waking up every day and looking for ways to energise our movement, our cause and our values.

While we have won back our Federal Government and have become the natural party of government across most of the Australian mainland – we can’t ignore the fact our Federal Party has yet to achieve the same sustained electoral victories our State colleagues have delivered. But I believe federally it can be done.

In the recent Federal election campaign we began our repair by talking about a decent payrise for the low paid, affordable child care, modern infrastructure to create the jobs and economy of tomorrow, including serious action on climate change, emissions reduction and political integrity.

Ultimately we won because we reconnected with our base.

Albo’s use of the dollar coin in the wage debate was the most effective piece of political communication I have seen since Bob Hawke.  It worked because it spoke to our values, it was uncomplicated, and it didn’t involve modelling.

Our great Queensland champion Treasurer Chalmers is leading a national conversation that focuses on the economic concerns of our base – the way working men and women suffer in the tax, housing, wage and retirement incomes systems……just to name a few.

Victory is about establishing a Labor narrative and delivering it in plain language. 

We proved that winning hearts and minds turns as much on passion as it does on technical detail.

Stacia’s delivering this in spades here, with the recent energy package - one of the most effective and worker friendly in the western world.

The narrative is about investing in and creating the jobs of the future.

But there is much more to be done.

Somewhere in the last couple of decades (I include myself in this) we have become too technocratic and elite without the passion that flows from our values.

Too much of our language is best categorised as “university common room politics” with too much jargon rather than regular conversation.

The sooner we realise that we are not a pressure group, we are not a policy seminar, we are not a wine and cheese society, we are an organisation dedicated to winning Government or we are nothing.

You can’t change values, you can’t change policy, unless you change Government and retain government over the longer term.

This approach I characterise as pragmatic idealism, which must be accompanied by ruthless organisation. 

It’s the only path to defeat the radical right and remain a party of Government.

The Prime Minister’s victory created that opportunity.

Now the job is for all of us to make that future a reality. Nothing is pre-determined. That future is governed by what women and men in this room do not just today but week in, week out.

We are not alone. Globally many of our sister parties are in an uphill battle with the radical right, and we have been under many of the same pressures for many years.

The rise of fascism in the US Republican Party isn’t just a localised moment.  The radical right has a strong grip too in the modern Liberal Party who are still caught in a trickle-down mindset and edging towards anti-democratic practice when it comes to a fair and open electoral system and access to the power of big money.

Around the world, including in Australia, there are too many lower income working class voters voting against their economic interests and for authoritarian leaders who are a threat to democracy.

Its chilling in the United States that Democrats have lost a substantial portion of working class voters, particularly in outer suburban and regional areas.

Federally prophets of doom have been hand wringing about Labor’s primary vote eroding to catastrophic levels. We are not in an inevitable and permanent decline the likes of which the Liberal Party has experienced in this last election.

But it is our fate if we don’t learn some of the stark lessons evident in the last two Federal election campaigns.

Disturbingly across state and federal campaigns in recent years, Labor has gone backwards across some, but not all, outer suburban and regional lower-income communities.

At the moment, we are not winning enough seats across enough diverse parts of the country nor are we recruiting and retaining significant numbers of new members, particularly in outer suburban and regional areas.

We have to build the Party to build the movement.

This part of the world is a stark reminder of that.

In 1972 the Sunshine Coast had two state seats and the Gold Coast three. In 2020 the Sunshine Coast has 8 state seats and the Gold Coast 11 – giving us 3 out of 19 and no federal representation.

The excellent work done by our friend and colleague Greg Combet and his team looking at this year’s election result will tackle these realities.

The battle of ideas, the contest between social democracy and autocracy, is in full blast across the globe.

 It can’t be won without a dedicated,  strong and larger Party and membership organisation.

We can’t always rely on good leaders and good luck to pull us through, we have to rebuild our appeal from the ground up.

The Labor Party and the labour movement can only survive through building a strong coalition of low and middle income earners backed by a growing Party membership.

Because we’re serious people, we see there’s a lot of problems to solve. Because we’re progressive people, we believe we can get it done.

And because we’re Queenslanders, we know it can be done because we’ve done it here.

Queensland Labor in the 2020 election secured a 3rd term because of a compelling and articulated narrative for re-election. We added to our working class base and won some conservatives too.

But the next State election will be tough.  Tough as 2015 because getting a 4th term is really hard.

We won ion 2020 because we had a dominant narrative based on values.  We didn’t allow our economic message of secure jobs and decent wages to be drowned out by interminable debates about social issues. 

The same goes for the climate debate.

Stacia’s leadership and Albo’s leadership have created the opportunity for a winning Labor narrative.

The party’s campaigns have shown the way. But it’s your work that will make the difference in the years to come.

It’s not rocket science.

Bending history back towards social and economic equality, turning around an existential climate crisis and shouldering the challenge of prevailing against the global wave of autocracy.  Easier said than done for sure.

But being on the right side of history is what being in the Labor Party is all about.  We get things done.

But it will require an engaged and bigger Labor Party membership.

I know we’ll enjoy the night ahead – and I know you’re looking forward to the fight ahead too.  Have a great night.

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