By Wayne Swan – Federal Member for Lilley, President of the Australian Labor Party
It’s my extremely happy duty as the newly elected President of the Australian Labor Party to welcome you to this, our 48th National Conference here in wonderful Adelaide.
I want to start with some thanks.
First, to the incredibly hardworking team at the National Secretariat and our South Australian branch hosts for pulling off the difficult feat of planning this conference not once but twice in the same year.
This is the National Conference our opponents didn’t want. They tried their best to stop it happening. Well, here we are. Our democracy stops for no one. Delegates, let’s get it on! Let’s win the battle of ideas!
Second, to Bill Shorten. As Opposition Leader, for the last two terms he’s taken on the toughest job in Australian politics. He’s not only survived, he’s seen off two prime ministers, and is currently besting a third.
His leadership has given us real unity, purpose, a courageous Labor agenda, and the chance we can make him Australia’s 31st Prime Minister in 2019. Let’s make sure we do it.
Third, I want to thank all of the party members who participated in the democratic ballot for the presidency earlier this year. I especially want to thank the outgoing president Mark Butler for making that presidential contest one about ideas not personalities. Mark, your service and your passion as our president won’t be forgotten.
Standing up here is a massive honour for me. I’ve been a member of the party for 44 years, a member of parliament for over 23 years, and have been the third-longest serving Labor Treasurer behind Paul Keating and Ben Chifley.
I have to begin with an apology – for lateness. You see, I was supposed to be installed as President at this conference on Friday the 26th of July, but Malcolm Turnbull called a series of by-elections for the following day. Super Saturday, I think he called it. But it turned into the weekend from hell. And as a result, he had to call another by-election soon after – in Wentworth.
Delegates, we have a government falling apart in front of our very eyes. Led by a grinning fool in a baseball cap who thinks the G20 Summit is a good place to talk about sausages. Who would have thought the Liberal Party could have found someone to make Billy McMahon look so good?
The focus now shifts to us.
By intentionally delaying this conference the Liberals have actually done us a huge favour. They’ve given us the chance to turn the next three days into a springboard for government -- by demonstrating we have the policies and the ideas the Australian people are looking for.
Where better than Adelaide to begin this final push to government?
Over the years it’s been the home of so many great Labor people.
Like our Senate leader, the talented, courageous, brilliant and much-loved Penny Wong.
One of the many great women, like Tanya Plibersek, now at the top of the modern ALP.
Delegates, we are the only party that looks like modern Australia, because we are the only party making female representation in parliaments and government across the nation a living reality.
South Australia is going to be well represented in the next Labor government through great people like Don Farrell the Senate Deputy Leader and a good friend for 30 years and of course frontbencher Amanda Rishworth.
South Australia gave us my great mentor Mick Young, who, along with Don Dunstan began the project of turning the ALP into a modern social-democratic reforming party in the 1960s. Mick’s organising work, blended with Gough’s equality of opportunity agenda showed us how to win with Labor values. How I wish Mick, who we lost far too soon, was with us today.
That example of organising and modernising is something every Labor generation must do.
As we start this conference, I want everyone here to ponder the importance of this moment.
Not just because there’s a crucial and winnable election coming up.
But also because of the state of the world.
The fall-out from the Global Financial Crisis has arrived.
There is political chaos everywhere you look.
In the U.S. -- with the election and barely believable presidency of Donald Trump.
In the U.K. -- with the Brexit shambles, ripping another government to shreds as I speak.
And across Europe -- where the Yellow Vests have brought mob violence back to the streets of Paris after fifty years and paralysed the French administration.
That chaos has many causes. But at the bottom of this instability and chaos lies a common cause: inequality.
Across the world, ordinary people feel they’re being left behind while those at the top are benefitting.
It has caused anger, frustration, and division.
People feel their political parties have stopped listening.
And they’ve turned to cynical populists wanting to direct anger against the innocent.
Mainstream political parties have failed to rise to this challenge because they have failed to listen and failed to articulate a clear alternative to the failed policies of trickle-down economics.
Many of our sister parties, like the SPD, the French Socialists and the Italian Social Democrats, have in recent years seen their votes plummet and their representation slashed.
Those parties cruised. They treated politics like a game of musical chairs. They took their supporters for granted. And forgot their founding principles of economic justice. In a world of growing economic inequalities they failed to speak for the people.
And as a result those parties have all but disappeared.
As social democrats today, delegates, you are bold or you are dead. We are the strongest political force opposing right wing populists, and it will be them or it will be us.
We’ve faced momentous challenges at our national conferences before.
In 1942, John Curtin tackled the conscription issue to defend the country from foreign invasion.
In 1969, Gough and Mick won through with changes to our constitution and platform that were needed to finally bring the Menzies era to an end.
This is our moment.
And the aim of our conference must be to win the battle of ideas -- to show we’ve been listening to the people and to endorse the sort of bold program the Australian people want.
To tear down trickledown economics and demonstrate how Labor’s alternative will create a wealthier and fairer and better society.
Our job here is to show that we are a party of the people, by the people, for the people. Not the party of, by, for the top end of town.
We’ve spent our time in opposition wisely.
As I mentioned earlier, unlike our opponents, we’ve remained incredibly united. Can we hear it for our united parliamentary team?
We’ve done the hard policy work too.
We’ve shown boldness by producing an economic platform that will return fairness to our tax system and our economy. Can we thank Chris Bowen and his economic team, including Jim Chalmers, for their great work and their refusal to run away from tough decisions?
So let’s get down to work.
Let’s show the people that we reject rising inequality.
That we will restore dignity to everyday life by putting fairness and opportunity at the top of our agenda.
Let us show people that we reject the politics of division. That we believe each of us has a stake in each other’s success.
And that we’re ready for government under Bill Shorten when the election is called less than six months from now.