Address to the 2013 ACT Labor Annual Conference

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Friends, every year we gather at conference to remind ourselves of what it means to be Labor.

We discuss what unites us, what guides us, what challenges us, our common goals, our differences, our future priorities and our dreams for our community and our country.

As your elected officials, this is an important annual event which helps us in the work that we do to represent Labor – its members and its values.

The collective strength which comes from the belief and commitment of party members and supporters, from all walks of life, is the strength that holds this party together through the highs and lows of Australian politics.

There is no doubt that since we last met there have been some highs and lows for the Australian Labor Party.

ACT Labor achieved an amazing result in last October’s election. We were the first incumbent Labor government to achieve a swing towards us since Mike Rann in South Australia in 2006.

We increased our vote and we won an extra seat, which is almost unheard of for a fourth term of government.

This was no small achievement – all of you played your part in that result – and today I acknowledge the effort, commitment and unity which delivered a great victory.

Now I don’t want to sugar coat the election outcome. Whilst we are right to celebrate our hard fought victory, we do so very mindful of the messages delivered by the electorate on that October day.

And we do so knowing the great opportunity that this unprecedented fourth term of government gives us to strengthen the Labor vision, to transform our city, build economic prosperity and create opportunity for all in our community.

Let’s remember that we don’t seek government for government’s sake.

We fight hard in elections because progressing a Labor agenda, a progressive agenda, a fair agenda is what we signed up to do when we joined our great party.

Our government is not wasting any time

In our first budget since the election we were able to start funding 70% of our election commitments.

And we are proud to be delivering the big ticket Labor reforms

•National schools funding reforms

•DisabilityCare

These reforms quite rightly get lots of public attention – they will change Australia for the better.

But it’s also our smaller programs and policies which truly show Labor values and priorities at work.

Supporting the vulnerable, making sure services are accessible, supporting our multicultural community, the non-government sector and continuing to work away at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage are just some of the areas where our policies are making a difference:

Our nurse-led walk-in centre – still criticised by the naysayers but not by the 1,400 patients being treated there each month – will be extended to Belconnen and Tuggeranong.

Our no interest loans help low and middle income families deal with cost of living pressures and unexpected needs, so that when the heater gives up the ghost in the middle of winter, the kids don’t have to freeze and get sick.

Our secondary bursary scheme and student support funds which give low income families the financial support they need to keep their kids through school.

For Indigenous Australians, the $400,000 Indigenous Scholarship Program provides education and training opportunities which are critical for people to get established in the workforce. While our strategy to cut smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a vital part of Closing The Gap in Indigenous health.

Now these initiatives won’t always get the big headlines – my point is that they are Labor priorities, Labor policies, Labor programs, and they only exist because we argued for them and earned the support of our community to deliver them.

Delegates we have a very busy agenda mapped out for the next term. We must maintain our focus on improving important service areas like health and education, roads and municipal services, which will remain priorities.

Running parallel to this is our need to look forward, to create a vision for our city’s future and create the capacity to build it – not just for our generation but for the generations that will follow.

The National Arboretum stands as a lasting symbol of our party’s preparedness to keep one eye to the future. A project agreed to 10 years ago in controversial circumstances now stands proud at the centre of our city welcoming 230,000 visitors in the 5 months since its formal opening.

But what work needs to be done now to ensure a bright and prosperous future for generations of Canberrans to come?

This is a question which must guide a progressive government and why Canberra’s Centenary is the right time to step up and start the long, hard work of transforming the city as we know it.

This is the work we have now begun.

The future is about tax reform – a long term plan to transition to a fairer system where we all pay a fair share of our revenue instead of just 9% of Canberrans paying 1\4 of all ACT taxes.

It is about delivering Capital Metro rapid transit light rail in our city – a transport system ready for future growth, one that will create investment and jobs, and one that will spare us the congestion crippling other cities.

It is about connecting the City to the Lake and bringing our city centre to life.

It is about developing Canberra into a major university town – a natural fit for the smart capital – and embracing the economic and cultural benefits that this brings.

It is about creating a truly digital city – and the government must lead by example.

It is about leading the way in energy generation and energy purchasing -already underway with Australia’s largest solar farm given approval this month

Now again I’m not going to sugar coat this and pretend that delivering all of these projects will be easy, but we will do it the right way:

•keeping the community informed and listening to what people tell us.

•doing the planning to make sure these projects are world class, and

•Striking a balance in the budget between new investments and existing services and infrastructure.

We have a strong budget plan and we have kept our budget in better shape than most governments, but no one should doubt the pressures that remain on our bottom line.

We have forecast budget deficits out to 2015-16, and we are negotiating public sector pay increases, in good faith, that the budget and the ACT economy can afford.

This is the approach the government has always taken when negotiating EBAs – an approach that has seen many Labor governments and many trade unions work together in difficult economic circumstances before.

We have not yet reached agreement over these priorities at this point in time.We can reach agreement, but it will require negotiation, discussion and dare I say it bargaining.

Some good progress has been made here in recent days and I thank union leaders for their preparedness to work with us to deliver an outcome to our hard working employees.

As I said when I began, the Labor Party is made great by the people it brings together, gives a voice, and works to represent in political office. But keeping the party strong is something we need to be vigilant about and the federal experience shows us we must look at reform.

Can I start by acknowledging and congratulating the steps Kevin Rudd has taken to ensure party reform is one of his early priorities on his return to the Prime Minister’s role.

I think many of us have been disheartened by the state of national political dialogue and the obvious deterioration in confidence in Labor’s political structure and operations – led primarily, but not exclusively, by the breakdowns in the NSW branch.

Locally, can I strongly endorse the work of the Administrative Committee in holding a participation review of our branch. This review was signed off in April, terms of reference have been circulated and any rule and platform changes will be debated and discussed at next year’s conference.

As an ACT Branch member I often reflect on why our own branch has remained so cohesive and scandal free as other branches have suffered.

Part of the answer is our small size, for sure, but it’s also about rules which have helped to ensure strong local involvement from the rank and file in all matters of operation of the branch.

We are ahead of other branches and the review underway gives us the opportunity to adopt reforms outlined in the Bracks, Carr, Faulkner review along with ideas generated by local party members

One of the strengths of our current rules is that during pre-selection, every eligible member has a vote and every vote is of equal value. Those who seek the honour of becoming a candidate for ACT Labor must work hard to win the support of all branch members.

This is different to other branches. It ensures no candidate gets an easy ride and no member gets taken for granted, and I think it establishes the benchmark for other branches to follow.

Under the way we operate, unions are an important part of our membership and our delegation at conference. Whilst unions are powerful within our party structures and indeed, – most specifically at conference where they make up50% of our conference delegation – history in the ACT will show that that power is used to influence but not control the party – an important difference to what we have seen around the country.

Our political party will always be the party of organised Labor.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change or evolve to ensure that it remains a vibrant community organisation which is respected, understood and relevant to the community it seeks to represent.

Change can occur – it has here in the ACT. Our branch stands as a shining example of how “one member one vote” can and does work.

But it is worth remembering that even this fundamental concept of democratic practice – that one member gets one vote, not two – is not accepted across the party.

The party has to be democratically controlled by the full membership. There is no place for weighted votes, making some voices louder than others and deterring rank and file membership of the ALP.

One of Prime Minister Rudd’s reforms – recently endorsed by the federal caucus – has been to give the rank and file a say in the election of the federal parliamentary leader.

This builds on reforms already made to give members a say on the party president – received warmly by the party membership when that occurred.

I believe that giving party members a say in their leader is a good reform and one we should seek to implement here locally.

Your ACT parliamentary caucus has discussed this and we have agreed that providing a greater say to rank and file members including a say in the operations of their ACT parliamentary party is a positive step that should be explored by the Admin review, including models that we could adopt here locally at next year’s conference.

Whilst we are actively exploring these issues as an ACT Branch I am firmly of the view that the party reform discussion must continue nationally and I have written to the Prime Minister asking him to convene a Special National Conference on party reform within 3 months of the federal election.

This is will provide a great opportunity to inform the party membership about implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Faulkner, Carr & Bracks report.

It will also enable outstanding recommendations from the review to be debated nationally and measures to improve rank and file involvement in party processes including pre-selection implemented.

I am convinced that we must look at ways to broaden the base of the ALP membership to be more inclusive and find ways to embrace and encourage supporters of progressive politics to get involved in our party structures and operations.

We need to look at new ways to engage with supporters and members. In my time in politics there has been a revolution in how people engage with government and with individual politicians.

Branch meetings, once a month, are an important way but not the only way, in a digital world, that we can be or should be engaging with members and supporters.

Virtual meetings, Twitter and Facebook open up exciting opportunities for party members to get involved with their elected officials.

We need to embrace new ways of member eligibility and engagement if we are to broaden our membership base and encourage more young people to get informed about the who, what and how of the ALP.

We all love the Labor Party for everything it has stood for and delivered to our nation and to this city.

We have recently witnessed some of the most tumultuous times our party has ever seen.

But through this turbulence comes with an opportunity to renew and refresh.

In order to secure the long term future of the Australian Labor Party we must be open to consider significant structural and administrative change to the way the party operates. There have been some good first steps but there is also more to be done.

We have not been Australia’s great reformist party for 120 years by yearning for the past when new challenges come our way, but by holding our values close as we embrace the future.

Delegates, I thank you for your time, for your support and for your guidance.

Most importantly I thank you for your continued belief in Labor values