Address to Annual ACT Labor Conference

Katy Conference Speech

“I stand before you and the community today, ready to take our policies and our team to the ACT election, ready to work with all of you to make Canberra even stronger…”

  • Mr Garrett Purtill, President of ACT Labor Party
  • Mr Elias Hallaj, Secretary of ACT Labor
  • Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Andrew Barr
  • Mr Simon Corbell, Ms Joy Burch and Dr Chris Bourke
  • Ms Mary Porter and Mr John Hargreaves
  • The Member for Canberra, Ms Gai Brodtmann
  • The Member for Fraser Dr Andrew Leigh
  • ACT Labor candidates for the 2012 ACT election
  • Delegates, colleagues, comrades and friends

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people. I respect their continuing culture and I acknowledge the contribution they make to this city and this region.

Delegates, every year we meet together as one party to map out the year ahead, to debate important issues and to remember what it means to be a Labor party, a party of inclusion, a party of reform and a party of equality and social justice.

Today I am going to begin my address to you by talking about the NDIS

Four days ago, COAG met. The country’s leaders came together and we all talked about a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Sitting at the COAG table I had the chance as Chief Minister of the ACT to sign up to be at the forefront of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This was an opportunity that I could not let slip by. For the first time in our country’s history we had a Prime Minister who was prepared to step up and say that the current system was unfair and needed reform. She was also prepared to put money on the table to support the move to a new, fairer and simpler system where the important element of universal entitlement was recognised.

No more fights by families to be more needy than others.

Whilst leaders from other jurisdictions complained and delayed, I sat there waiting to sign up. I understood that this entailed some amount of risk to our own budget and that there was an element of the “unknown” to it. But to have let this opportunity pass us by would have been a terrible outcome for the ACT and for the thousands of people and their families who need increased access to care and support.

While I was listening to the Premiers object on Wednesday, my own mind slipped back to a dear old friend named Charles, who I had the privilege of knowing for 10 years before he died. Charles was a man with cerebral palsy who lived in Ainslie with his beloved mum for his entire life – most of his adult life was spent in a bed set up in the lounge room after he became too large for his mother to move around.

When I first met Charles he was in his late 40′s and his mother and extended family had provided all of Charles’s care in his earlier years. However, as his mother aged it was clear that Charles needed more support and that his mother could not provide that care on her own. What that meant was that Charles didn’t get out much at all. In fact, his time with me was about the only time he did get out. I spent 8 hours a week with Charles where we would pack in trips to coffee shops, car showrooms, libraries – anywhere he wanted to go – but it was only 8 hours per week. If Charles had had his way he would have been out everyday all day but the funding to support him wasn’t there.

There was always a sadness for both of us as I returned Charles to his home and assisted him to get back into bed, knowing that he would not leave that bed for another 4 days until I returned.

In a very simple way that is why the ACT signed up to the NDIS – because it should have been done years ago, because the need is so great and because it was the right thing to do – a Labor thing to do.

The NDIS is an example that should remind us all, on the eve of an election, why we are all members of the Labor Party and why it matters to be part of a progressive reformist movement. We are a party that can take these challenges on, make them our priority and get them done.

And we can take these reforms on because we are a party of the community.

We are working men and women, from the trades and from the professions.

We are retirees, and we are young people still deciding what their working future holds.

We are private-sector entrepreneurs, and we are career public servants.

We are people of many faiths, and people without religion.

We are the smart and caring face of modern, organised labour.

We are people passionate about our streets, our suburbs, our town. People passionate about the planet.

We know that Canberra is a great place to live, work and play.

In many ways we are a most fortunate community. Highly educated with good jobs, a strong economy, fantastic facilities and services and a strong and bright future ahead of us as a city.

The latest “State of the States” report, out this week, finds the ACT is still the second-strongest economy in the country and that we enjoy the second highest population growth and the lowest jobless rate in the nation.

Whilst our own budget is under pressure we have been able to maintain our Triple‑A credit rating, and have a low net debt and we have conscientiously invested in jobs and services by maintaining our spending when others haven’t.

A strong performing economy is critical to the overall wellbeing of the community, as without one – all of us are affected – whether it is through reduced job opportunities or services.

Our children achieve excellent results in education and in health we are delivering more services than ever before whilst building new services at the same time.

We can achieve these results because as a government we have prioritised investments in jobs and high quality services.

But whilst there is lots to celebrate about living and working in Canberra – there is much more to done.

I go to this election leading a party and a government that has a clear vision for this city over the next four years. We have already released some important policies in health and sport and we will continue to release our plans and ideas in the lead up to the October poll.

Delegates I can assure you that I take nothing for granted. This will be a tough campaign.

Plans to support jobs, keeping our edge and improving education outcomes, building a revitalized health system, providing targeted assistance to families needing an extra hand, addressing housing affordability, implementing tax reform, developing policies to address some of the biggest health challenges facing our community are just some of the areas where we will continue our efforts over the next four years.

Our policies and our vision will be comprehensive, targeted and evidence based and importantly our plans will allow clear comparisons to be made with our political opponents – whether it be the Liberal party or the Greens party.

The Canberra liberals have already shown how much money and effort they are prepared to put into personal attacks and negativity – I really do hope that at some stage in the next 84 days they put as much effort into policies – if nothing else so that the election can be a true contest of ideas – as it should be.

One thing is clear at this late stage of the electoral cycle and that is that the Canberra Liberals don’t have a vision, and it’s obvious why – vision is something positive. It’s something affirmative. And it’s forward looking.

Like Tony Abbott’s politics there is only one way for them  – relentless, pointless negativity. They talk down everything because they have nothing to talk up. While we build things up, the Liberals wish only to tear things down.

And as they have shown recently they don’t care who gets caught in the cross fire of their vicious attacks.

Delegates, we won’t play that game. We never have and importantly we don’t need to, because we have ideas, policies and plans to make sure that Canberra’s second century is our best one yet.

As a Labor Government, there are things we will do, and things we won’t do if we win the October election.

What I won’t do, if I’m Chief Minister after October 20, is close the nurse-led Walk-In Centre, a popular, free health service that has already proved its worth to more than 33, 000 people.

What I will do is double funding for that service, so we can open centres in Tuggeranong and Belconnen.

What I won’t do is slash the ranks of our hard-working, front-line public servants, and scale back services to the Canberra community.

What I will do is keep on protecting jobs – in the private sector and in the public sector – by maintaining government spending on services and vital infrastructure like roads and hospitals, generating economic activity providing a vote of confidence in our city.

What I won’t do is talk down and denigrate our wonderful government schools, which consistently deliver the best numeracy and literacy results in the country and which prepare our children for a digital future, with high-speed broadband and wireless networks in every school, and a 1:1 computer/student ratio in the crucial years from Year 9 to Year 12.

What I will do is ensure that every Canberra child has the same opportunity. $28 million worth of ICT and fibre-optic upgrades has already been delivered by the ACT Labor Government under the Smart School, Smart Student program with all public schools now connected to high-speed broadband and access to wireless networks.

As a government we want to make sure that all children have access to learning with the latest technology and there are a number of non-government schools that are finding it increasingly hard to keep pace with the growing demand for online learning among students.

We want to make sure that that all students, regardless of where they learn, have the opportunity to make use of available fibre-optic and fast broadband infrastructure.

If re-elected ACT Labor will fund $2.5 million worth of Smart School, Smart Student grants for non-government schools to help fund or subsidise the installation of fast broadband infrastructure in ACT non-government schools.

Delegates we are all living in a rapidly changing world. Our children are growing up in and learning in a world where the technology is changing every minute of the day. Technology is re-writing how we make money, how we spend money, how we learn, how we stay healthy, even how we stay in touch (I’m sure some of you are tweeting as I speak – you better be saying nice things :)  because I will find out  – I’m following all of you!)

As Chief Minister I’ve been using these new technologies to invite Canberrans to have a bigger say in government decision-making, greater input into the policies that will determine what sort of city we are tomorrow. In the last year we have launched our “open government” website, released FOI’s online, streamlined the ‘Time to Talk’ site and held four Twitter cabinets, including one virtual cabinet with students from colleges around the ACT.

Alongside this we are making sure that government services are more convenient for people by expanding our online transactions capabilities, making government/community information widely available and we’ve put in train investments in new technologies to make day-to-day life a bit easier such as by upgrading all our parking metres to allow payments by credit card and SMS. We are also in the final stages of delivering real-time passenger information for Canberrans who catch ACTION buses, which will greatly improve the service currently offered to ACTION passengers.

Until now, however, the sheer speed of technological change has made it difficult to have a coherent, city-wide, community-wide direction, a shared understanding of how best to bend this digital revolution to our own purposes, to make it serve us  – both in the public and private sectors. Because this revolution isn’t just a revolution in the delivery of government services. It is a revolution in how our entrepreneurs reach out to global markets, how industry takes its productivity to the next level.

In addition to our commitment to connect broadband to non-government schools, today I will outline a component of Labor’s vision to turn Canberra into the country’s first truly digital city.

If we are re-elected we will create free wi-fi zones in Civic and in each of Canberra’s town centres  – with the Tuggeranong Town Centre the first site to ‘go hot’. This is a four-year, $2 million stride towards a truly connected capital, which will ensure that every single member of the community can access the Internet regardless of capacity to pay.

Connecting up our public transport provider is an important part of this transformation and so a re-elected ACT Labor Government will also deliver free Wi-Fi on  ACTION buses – another four-year, $1 million investment in our digital city. This will be great for existing commuters and will also encourage more people onto ACTION as it too develops into a modern, responsive and efficient public transport service.

Delegates, the strength of Canberra’s future will not just be found within our borders  – we live in a connected world – and I believe we have untapped potential as the major service centre and economic heart of the south-east region.

In some areas – like the provision of tertiary health services – we already play that role. I want us to be the destination of first choice for tertiary education, and for smart business investment too.

I’m terms of local-government services there is great potential for using our collective clout to get a better deal for all of us. We have to start thinking as a region, planning as a region and delivering services as a region.

I believe our future as a regional powerhouse is so important that, if re-elected in October, I have announced that I will create a ministry for regional development. I have had an incredibly positive response to this announcement since I made it on Thursday as the business community understands very well that our regional future will become far more important in the years ahead.

Delegates, aside from education there is no greater area of importance for any government than in the area of health. Delegates our health system is undergoing major reform.

There is the comprehensive rebuild of our public hospital system well underway with the addition of more than 260 new beds to date – including re-opening the 114 the Liberal Party got rid of – and many more to come.

The new Centenary Women’s and Children’s Hospital opens next month, the new community health centres in Belconnen and Gunghalin soon to be completed with Tuggeranong to commence shortly. These expanded community health centres are all part of our plan to make sure people can access care closer to where they live, more conveniently and without the need to go to hospital.

The ageing of our community means we must forever be more creative and more thoughtful in how we take quality health services to people where and when they need those services.

Over the past couple of years we have been making targeted investments to encourage and help GPs make home visits to older Canberrans living in nursing homes.

Today, we take the next step. We know that good oral health is fundamental to an individual’s own health and wellbeing. Poor dental health is also linked closely to socioeconomic status. We have a very good public dental program here in the ACT which delivers thousands of treatments every year with dental clinics based in our community health centres.

Today I can announce that a re-elected ACT Labor Government will establish a mobile dental clinic to provide dental care to residential aged care facilities, special schools and to the young mums and dads at the Canberra College Cares program.

Labor will invest $1.6 million over four years to establish and run the service, which will provide comprehensive dental treatment to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Providing targeted assistance to people who need an extra hand up is core labor business. That is what this policy is about. It’s also about being flexible in our thinking about how we provide services to our community. If people find it hard to come to the dental clinics – well we will come to them.

Delegates these are exciting times for our city– a new century, a coming of age. At such times, the community deserves a government of ideas, energy and vision, a government of practical people who listen and then knuckle down and get things done.

To you, the delegates here today, men and women of ACT Labor, we gather today 84 days out from the ACT election. We have a job on our hands to ensure that we get the opportunity to continue the work that we have started but not yet finished.

Whilst I will work my hardest to deliver that outcome I will need to help of all of you – whether it be in support for our candidates or simply talking with your family and friends about Canberra’s future and what it means to have a Labor government – you only need to look to QLD, NSW and Vic to get a taste of what a Liberal Government would do here in Canberra. And it’s not a good look at all.

I go to this election side by side with a team of candidates that would be the envy of any party in any parliament in the country – each and everyone of them chosen by the rank and file of this branch.

Our candidates have been out and about, working harder than any other party, for months. Wearing out shoe leather and listening and responding to our local community.

I don’t know what your diaries look like for the next twelve weeks, but let me tell you that my next 12 weeks will be spent exactly like my last 12 months have been spent: working hard, leading by example and listening and responding to what the community is saying to us.

We have a job ahead of us delegates and I want each and every one of you to be a part of making sure that as a party we do our very best to make sure that we are able to continue to serve the community as a modern, progressive, experienced government come October.

Now I will finish my address to you where I started with a final reflection on the NDIS.

On Wednesday night I got an email from a mum of a young man with a disability who I used to work with many years ago. Her message was simple. “Good on you Katy”

I replied “I did it for that beautiful little boy I used to look after on a Friday morning at Lollipop and his wonderful mum who cares so much about everything” that is why I joined the Labor party and that is why I am so proud to be your parliamentary leader.

I stand before you and the community today, ready to take our policies and our team to the ACT election, ready to work with all of you to make Canberra even stronger – our little slice of heaven indeed.