Speech – Australian Labor Party – Chifley Research Centre
Canberra, Australia, 4 February 2023
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Thank you [chair of session], and what an honour and a privilege to be here today in Canberra, on my first visit to Australia, and in the first year of Anthony Albanese’s ambitious Labor government.
Australia is once again showing us the way ahead to the light on the hill, which still shines.
And I am delighted to be here to learn from you.
Because the challenges that you met, in winning back power; the discipline you showed, the focus you kept, the messaging you honed, in defeating a party unfit for office but still clinging on, are the challenges we now face; and the challenges, to which you are rising in power, of making the social and economic infrastructure of our countries fit for our age, of sustaining in office, the ambition nurtured through long years out of it, are the challenges we hope to face.
And in both our countries, after long years of rightwing rule, those challenges loom large.
But to see the challenges of our time, simply as repairing the damage we inherit, is to fail.
Our ambition must always be greater, than building a better yesterday.
In July this year, it will be seventy five years since Britain’s postwar Labour government introduced not just our National Health Service, but the modern social security system which sits around it.
And I know it is fifty years next year, since Medibank first passed into law here in Australia.
In every generation Labour governments have risen, in Australia and in Britain, to the challenges not just of their times, but the challenges ahead.
Because the light on the hill is always in front of us, never behind us.
It is central to our politics, that tomorrow can and will be better than today, that our greatest days are yet to come.
In Britain our Labour leader, Keir Starmer has spoken of the perils of sticking plaster politics, of a politics that engages only with the symptoms in front of us, not the deeper wounds behind them.
Short-term-ism, not just in the solutions that get advanced, but the problems they identify.
Because the challenges that are greatest are rarely the ones that arrive most suddenly.
And their solutions aren’t always simple, nor technical, nor cheap.
But the governments that solve those problems, and the systems they create, are the leaders we remember, and the institutions that endure.
And today one of the great challenges we face, is provision for our children and our families.
Because the peacetime story of Britain, over three generations, has been many things, but in particular, it has been a story of the changing shape of families.
Not of women entering the workforce: women have always worked.
But of women entering the paid labour market.
Of women economically active outside the home.
In Britain, women’s economic activity increased by nearly two and a half times over the period 1951 to 2018.
Three generations of progress have narrowed inequality within families.
There is still a long way to go, but we have come a long way.
But the searing inequality between families remains.
Inequality which scars our society and holds back our people.
And above all it is our children who pay the price.
Now for parties like ours, with the values we share, with the focus we have, which we must have, on owning the future, thinking about our children, and the world they will inherit and shape, should be central to our government’s vision and programme.
Because children are not simply a phase in the lives of their parents, nor simply the workers who fill the jobs to come and the economy for which we plan, but the citizens and the society of the future, the artists, the scientists, the activists and campaigners, the inventors, critics, thinkers and poets, the people who throng to gardens, beaches, hills and parks at the weekends, the partners and parents, carers and volunteers, and of course, the voters.
Today’s children are tomorrow’s society.
In Britain we see every day how that vision is missing from government.
In Australia we see not only a government that shares our values, but a steely determination to make them real.
A government with not just a vision, but a hunger for change.
Back home, during my fourteen months in post, I have been up against no fewer than five education secretaries.
A different education secretary for every school term.
The only change on offer from Britain’s government is the dynamism that comes from rearranging the deckchairs.
The contrast is spectacular.
To come here and see the change you are making, is to be reminded so powerfully, of what government that believes in itself can do, with the people, for the people, for good.
Climate targets that meet the challenge the whole world faces for generations ahead.
A rising minimum wage, because the growth that matters is growth for everyone.
Expanding university education, because opportunity should be for all our young people, not just some of them.
And closest to my heart, making quality childcare more affordable for working families.
Because around the world, fixing childcare is the great challenge of our time.
Not all of us have children, but all of us were children.
And the best start for every child today, is the best promise of a better tomorrow.
Labour in Britain is determined that we will build that better tomorrow.
We will build a modern childcare system, fit not just for today but for the future we need, with a focus not just on our smallest children, but on every child, looking towards a system that stretches through lives, from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school, that stretches through days to support parents, with the choices they make, that integrates into the joined-up education young people deserve, that empowers all our children to achieve and thrive, that matches the needs families have, with the help the government provides, and that ensures the people who deliver that start for our children have the respect they deserve.
That is why when I set out the approach Labour will take, to building the modern childcare system we need.
The very first step was for school-age children.
Breakfast clubs, for every child, in every primary school.
The evidence is clear, that they improve attainment for children, through the club, not just the breakfast.
The unions are clear, that they give working parents more choices.
Our schools are clear, that children benefit from the social framework, the healthy start.
And Labour is clear, that offering change that binds a coalition together is the route to a better future for us all.
I am determined that we will learn from all over the world to do right by our children.
The reform agenda of Britain’s next Labour government, will not just be informed by understanding what needs to change at home.
It will be lit up with the knowledge and experience of progressive governments around the world.
We are determined, that as a modernising Labour government, we define ourselves not against the government we replace, but through the future we deliver.
That we look beyond making today’s system sing, to moving to the better answers we need for tomorrow.
It’s why I visited Estonia, to see a childcare system that supports every family, around every school, why I’m learning from Ireland, where government and unions together have agreed an approach that delivers for children, delivers for families, delivers for the workforce, and delivers for the economy.
And it’s why I am so pleased to be here today, and to be listening to Jason Clare on Monday, and to be visiting a childcare centre to listen to the most important stakeholders of all.
Lastly, we are determined, too, that a better system will endure.
We know, as you know, how easy it is for governments of the right to dismantle the achievements of Labour governments.
The last Labour government in Britain delivered not just a network of children’s centres which transformed lives for our youngest children in every corner of our country.
But a level of real-terms investment in our schools which the Tories have still not matched.
Across England, thousands of children’s centres have been closed over thirteen years of Conservative government.
School budgets squeezed, school buildings crumbling.
So the coalition we need for change is to bring parents together, across families, across our country, and across the age range; and to move from thinking of services as institutions to improve, to thinking of them as the tools with which we craft the chances of the generation ahead of us.
I was born a few months after Bob Hawke took office in Australia, a time some of you will remember, the beginning of a succession of election victories for the ALP, which in Britain we have yet to match: our Labour Party has sadly, less of a record of success.
My mam brought me up alone, in a time and a country when families were judged by the shape they had, not the love they gave.
That changed with Labour.
But the first general election in which I voted in Britain, back in 2005, was the last which Labour won.
Young people will be voting in Britain’s next general election, who have never lived through a Labour victory.
And two-thirds of my life has been spent under Conservative governments in Britain.
I am determined that Labor’s success here last year, is the model that we follow in winning the next election at home.
Because just as Anthony changed Labor here, Keir Starmer has changed Labour back home.
Changed it for good.
Change for the better, a change that will endure.
Under Keir, Labour has turned a corner.
A leadership, and a party, looking outwards for victory, not inwards for legitimacy.
No longer a party of protest, but a party of public service.
We are a party not just ready to win, but ready to govern.
Ready not just to take power, but to use it.
With a mission for change which we will take from transforming our party to transforming our nation.
Putting children, education, and families at the heart of the challenge.
Putting these issues centre stage in our debates.
Defining the difference between the parties, not on who promises what for today, but who can deliver for our children tomorrow.