ALP National Conference 2023 Opening Address

Delegates, welcome to Queensland.

Beautiful one day – perfect the next.

The home state of almost half of the mighty Matildas!!

The “state of origin” - where the Labor Party was formed in Barcaldine 132 years ago.

Now, I know Albo and the NSW contingent are going to argue that last point.

But whether it was the tree of knowledge or the Balmain branch, nothing changes the fact that we are the oldest continuing social democratic party in the world.

And not just the oldest, we are also the strongest.

In Government, right across mainland Australia.

Including here in Queensland with Premier Palaszczuk and her great team.

Delegates, it’s a great pleasure to welcome you all

  • To our first in-person National Conference in 5 years
  • Our first National Conference in Government in 12 years
  • And our first National Conference in Queensland in 50 years.

You might be surprised to know I wasn’t actually a delegate at Surfers Paradise in 1973.

But, like many of you, I’ve been a participant in Labor conferences over decades now.

In good times and bad, in government and opposition.

The debate is always willing, the rhetoric can be fierce, tempers can run hot.

That’s a healthy thing, a good thing.

It’s a sign of our party’s life and confidence and strength. 

The capacity we have to renew ourselves and re-commit ourselves to the big challenges of this moment:  from the economy to climate change to housing and to national defence.

While we bring different perspectives and passions to these questions, we all come from the same place – and ultimately, we all seek the same objective – greater progress and fairness for the people of Australia.

And it’s worth remembering we are not just the oldest party in Australia – we are the only party who does this – who has the courage and the intellectual self-confidence to have these debates in public.

The Greens Political Party conduct the whole thing in secret.

Of course, there will be some who look on our commitment to democracy and debate as controversial.

No doubt the same commentators who complain that we have no ideas will freak out when they see we actually have competing ideas!

But however tough the debate, let’s never forget who we are … why we are here ... and the footsteps in which we follow. 

A federal party for over 120 years. One of the oldest democratic labour parties in the world. The first labour party anywhere to form a national government.

The party that has contributed to the leadership of this country some of its greatest names – Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard to name just a few.

The party who has always stood up for Australia in hard times:

In World War I,

In the Great Depression,

In World War II, and in the face of attacks on Australian soil,

In the world-wide downturn of the early seventies, and

In the recession of the early eighties. 

We were there during the global financial crisis, successfully guiding Australia through an episode that saw the United States and Europe sink into deep recessions.

And we are in government again now under Anthony Albanese, following nearly a decade of Liberal mismanagement and leadership instability.  And we should savour this moment.

Labor has only won government from opposition five times this century.

The responsibility for reform always falls to Labor.

But delegates, we welcome it.

We embrace the chance to put in place the big building blocks of economic and social reform.

Ours is the party responsible for Medicare, for a proper minimum wage, for a decent old age pension, for a strong social safety net, for workers’ superannuation.

The party that legislated Mabo and vastly extended land rights for our Indigenous peoples.

The party that presses for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice, enshrined in our Constitution.

The party that in in due course will invite Australia to embrace a republic and an Australian head of state.

And here I want to pay tribute to the Party activists, people like Uncle Bob who have contributed many decades to our cause. 

But we all understand that in the long run, winning over the next generation will determine our electoral fate.  That generation understands the politics of social and economic inequality instinctively and is impatient to save the planet it will inherit.

We in the Labor Party have always defined ourselves by what we stand for, those in the Liberal Party have only ever defined themselves by what they oppose.

The strength of the contest between initiative and resistance has waxed and waned over the years since Federation but the dynamic is constant.

Our opponents seek to entrench privilege, we work to extend opportunity.

We saw it again, just last week, when the Liberals and Nationals tried to deny millions of Australians access to cheaper medicines. 

Putting the interests of one lobby group ahead of 6 million people, in the middle of a cost of living crisis.  Talk about sick.

Our party is responsible for the great policy innovations that have made us both a prosperous society and a fairer one … than many countries to which we compare ourselves.

We find much to admire of course in the United States and the United Kingdom, societies in many respects like our own.

Yet they are also more unequal societies, where the many left behind by globalisation, by increasing inequality, have turned to the right … where they are not offered solutions … only scapegoats.

Candidates who treat the truth as irrelevant, the law as an inconvenience and democracy as disposable.

We see glimpses of it here in Australia too, as the Liberals and Nationals and One Nation are out pushing conspiracy theories and seeking political dividends from division.

But what has always set Australia apart is we have restrained the increase in inequality, we have maintained a fairer distribution of income, we have upheld universal access to good health care and a good education.

And the reason for that is the Australian Labor Party.

Lastly, I congratulate our Vice Presidents Mich-Elle Myers and Susan Close on their election and I want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our National Secretariat team, led by Paul Erickson and Jen Light.  You can’t win the battle of ideas without a strong organisational base, and we see this not just in last year’s election campaign, but in their ongoing service to our great Party.

I wish you all a spirited, and successful conference. One that advances our cause and by extension advances Australia.

As it always has been.

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