Address to the international observers attending the ALP National Conference

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery


2 December 2011

This is the first International Observers program for many years and it is therefore with great pride as Foreign Minister that I welcome you to Australia.

And welcome you officially as friends of the Australian Labor Party.

I particularly pay tribute to the delegates here from Norway.

The AUF saw an act of horrific brutality earlier this year.

One that no political party should experience, let alone a youth wing.

So it is good for us to see our friends from Norway this evening.

This Conference occurs against the background of the darkest possible clouds gathering across the global economy.

And the future of foreign policy is directly impacted by the future of the global economy.

The situation in Europe is extremely serious – events continue to spiral out of control and threaten to drag the world economy into a second global recession in three years.

Spreads continue to rise on inter-bank lending.

Growth is slowing.

China's concern is reflected in its decision to effectively loosen monetary policy by reducing the capital adequacy ratios of their banks.

Decisive action is required to restore market confidence.

There is a critical requirement for Europe's leaders to act decisively when they meet on 9 December.

In the immediate term, to reinforce the capacity of the EFSF and the ECB to deal with the capital needs of European banks and of their sovereign holdings.

Longer term, there appear to be two alternative solutions to deal fundamentally with the European crisis.

Either by real, fiscal union.

Or by planning for the most orderly separation of the non-competitive economies that is possible.

Either way, a decision needs to be made by European leaders that deals with both the immediate and the fundamentals.

Central Banks worldwide have made major steps to increase liquidity in financial markets.

This European crisis has now direct consequences for Australia.

The cost and availability of inter-bank lending (that is, wholesale funding) in Australia directly impacts our real economy.

So the impact facing Australia is two-fold: the availability of finance plus the impact of this (and economic contraction abroad) on the real economy in Australia – and that means jobs.

The Australian Government has the experience through the first global financial crisis to deal with this new crisis.

And in dealing with it, the Government will draw on this experience and the strength of our economic fundamentals.

It would simply be unreal to engage in a foreign policy debate at this Conference disconnected with the underlying economic reality.

This is now the greatest challenge facing the Australian economy.

This Conference will be a reminder of the great things social democratic parties can achieve that often get ignored under other political philosophies.

I know that it was only because the Australian people chose Labor in 2007 that:

  • We avoided the worst of the Global Financial Crisis, because our opponents would have left the hard work to the same financial markets who got us into the mess in the first place;
  • We are leading the charge once again for a world free of nuclear weapons;
  • We are increasing our aid program to bring Australia into line with other OECD countries;
  • We have rebuilt our relations with the peoples of the Pacific on the basis of mutual respect and dignity;
  • We have strengthened our relations with the countries of Asia on the basis of partnership and shared interests;
  • We have put the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy back in its rightful place as a pillar of our wider diplomacy;
  • We have begun afresh our engagement with the Arab world, the wider Islamic world, with Africa, with Latin America – while at the same time deepening our traditional bonds with the countries of our region, the Unites States and Europe.

And I will talk about Australia and the world more on Sunday.

Being politically active

Tonight I wanted to say a few words about political activism, why we do it and what it is really like.

Because in the on-the-ground combat of winning elections, my work as the Federal Member for the electorate of Griffith is not much different to the work of our friends around the world.

I have seen electoral politics from every angle:

  • As a young man when I was an ordinary branch member of the Australian Labor Party;
  • As a Chief of Staff to a Labor state opposition leader;
  • As Chief of Staff to a Labor Premier;
  • As a candidate for the Federal Electorate of Griffith;
  • As a Government back bencher;
  • As Prime Minister;
  • Then back to a Government backbencher;
  • As Foreign Minister; and
  • One day, which I hope doesn't come too soon, I will again be an ordinary branch member of the Australian Labor Party.

So I know a bit about the different challenges each one of you face.

The first time I ran for my seat in Brisbane in 1996 I door-knocked 32,000 houses.

Is there anyone in the room who thinks they have done more than me?

And after door-knocking those 32,000 houses what happened?

I lost.

So after again convincing my wife and my children to go through it all again, I ran in 1998.

And some of the residents of those 32,000 houses remembered me.

And I won.

Then before I knew it in 2001 we were at another election.

Where the polls were not looking great.

And I am going to break the magicians' code and say that back then as a first term backbencher I was looking at the polls.

Because the polls were telling me I would be looking for a new job.

And I decided with my wife and my teenage daughter Jessica to change tack.

We left the national campaign message and went for a simple community message.

"Keep Kevin".

And for those of you here from party secretariats around the world, be assured this was not supported by the National Campaign HQ.

But again, the gamble paid off and we won, with more than a four per cent swing.

Why do we do it?

After hearing of my campaigning experience, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your own, and ask yourself the question:

"Why am I committing my life to this cause?"

Because if you know the answer to this question, everything else becomes easy.

Answering the political challenges.

Handling the ups.

And handling the downs.

What makes it worthwhile?

What makes it worthwhile is the conviction that our social democratic values are the best foundation for our societies – wherever we live in the world.

Social Democrats and Markets

Take our response to the rolling global economic crisis for example.

At times like these we are reminded more than ever the importance of the social democratic cause worldwide, and why it is parties like ours that make capitalism sustainable.

It is the responsibility of social democrats to save capitalism from itself: to recognise the great strengths of open, competitive markets while rejecting the extreme capitalism and unrestrained greed that have perverted so much of the global financial system in recent times.

It fell to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rebuild American capitalism after the Depression.

It also fell to the American Democrats, strongly influenced by John Maynard Keynes, to rebuild postwar domestic demand, to engineer the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and to set in place the Bretton Woods system to govern international economic engagement.

Conservatives believe that governments should play a minimal role – delivering fiscal balance and otherwise leaving the economy alone.

This conservative ideology has resulted in a disastrous abdication of responsibility both before and during the crisis.

It was the loose financial regulation of the Bush administration that led to the asset bubble that caused the financial crisis in the first place.

It was the ideologically-based tax cuts of that same administration that created the huge hole in the US budget balance.

Political parties that understand the strengths and weaknesses of the market, and how to manage them, have only become more necessary.

We understand that, at key moments, the involvement of government is vital to policy making.

In the global economic crisis, it was the intervention of government that allowed Australia to avoid recession.

The Government took strong, early, decisive action to guarantee banks deposits.

We feared the total collapse of bank lending to business, so sovereign guarantees were extended to Australian inter-bank lending to keep the arteries of finance flowing.

The result: in Australia, no single institution of consequence failed.

Government was also key in rebuilding the real economy.

We asked what we had to do to avoid recession – how we could compensate for the collapse in private demand.

We provided a well-crafted stimulus package worth around 4.8 per cent of GDP.

It included cash payments to support consumption, a trebling of the first home owners' grant to support construction and an increased business tax break for private investment.

Treasury estimates that without our stimulus package, unemployment would have risen to 8.25 per cent in 2010.

That means we saved 200,000 jobs, through targeted and effective action by Government in the economy.

Social democracy's continuing philosophical claim to political legitimacy is its capacity to balance the private and the public, profits and wages, the market and the state.

That philosophy once again speaks with clarity and cogency to the challenges of our time.

Labor's record since 2007

So how did we from Australian Labor in 2007 translate this clarity of social democrats into the specific interests of Australians?

We asked ourselves some pretty basic, but fundamental questions:

  • How do we help families get the best start in life for their kids?
  • How do we connect business, particularly small business, to the opportunities of the future?
  • How do we ensure that people can have a fair work life?
  • And how do we act on climate change, when the former government had done nothing for 12 years?

Our answers are equally ambitious:

  • An education revolution, with new investments in IT and skills;
  • A National Broadband Network to reach as far as possible across this wide brown land;
  • Abolish the most unfair industrial relations system seen in Australia; and
  • Sign Kyoto and work towards an Emissions Trading Scheme.

And in Government the ambition of these projects was matched by the day-to-day challenges of implementation.

But as a social democratic Party which meets here today to decide on our platform for the future, ambition remains strong to deliver on these promises.

And I am well aware that some of you are here to search for new ideas for your own social democratic platforms for the future.

So where do I recommend you start looking for these ideas?

Well, while this Government gets little credit for it, you should take a close look at our social, education and health policy platform.


Finally I will say a few words about democracy.

I have had a little to say recently about increased democracy in the Australian Labor Party, but I will spare you that.

This Government acknowledges that Australia, as a modern democracy with global interests, has a responsibility to address the global democratic deficit.

Freedom is not the universal reality for all humankind.

But this year we have started to see a shift.

The Arab Spring has meant that there is now hope that democracies will be built in countries where generations have never seen one.

We welcome this.

But we also acknowledge that some progress will be slow, that there will be set-backs and the risks of failure are real.

But fundamentally, the developments of the Arab Spring deserve our support.

We have seen people remove dictators and we cannot let them down.

The pages of history tell us that democracy is never assured, and that it is not always the natural order.

But once the principles of freedom that underpin democracy spread, it is hard to stop.

Global attention is increasingly focused on the alarming developments in Syria.

Syria is one of the world's newest and gravest human rights disasters.

It is a disaster that the United Nations says has cost the lives of at least 4,000 people.

It is a disaster that the regime in Damascus refuses to acknowledge.

But it also a disaster that the international community, including the countries of the immediate region itself, is no longer willing to accept.

President Assad has discredited himself – in front of his people – and in front of the international community.

He has now been disowned by the Arab family – and is completely isolated.

The action taken by the Arab League to suspend Syria from its membership and impose sanctions is historic and unprecedented.

It is a move that is redefining the Arab League and redefining the role it takes in the region.

The Australian Government has been calling for greater action in response to developments in Syria for some time.

We have in place our own regime of autonomous sanctions – sanctions that place specific financial and travel restrictions on key individuals we believe have a connection to these ongoing atrocities.

We also believe that it's critical that international monitors be allowed into Syria as soon as possible to verify events on the ground – and have been calling for this for a number of months now.

So where do we go from here on Syria?

The UN Human Rights Council will again consider Syria today – and this is another welcome step by the international community.

It is critical that the UN takes proper action – sanctions, monitors, and a referral to the International Criminal Court.

We in Australia believe that the UN and international aid organisations have an essential role to play in helping those affected by the crisis – and hence we have given $3 million to the ICRC to help their efforts there.

The Syrian people deserve our support – and cannot afford to wait any longer.

Meanwhile, the world continues to watch the story of the new Libya unfold.

As this audience would know, the Australian Government has been at the forefront of international efforts to address the Libyan crisis.

We were one of the first countries to call for a no-fly zone and proudly remain the third largest donor to the humanitarian effort that is helping those affected by the conflict.

Next week I will visit Tripoli to see first-hand what is being built on the ruins of the Qaddafi years.

I will meet Libya's senior leadership and will discuss how Australia can best assist Libya's ongoing transition.

Australia, our partners, and the Libyan people themselves are under no illusion about the scale and significance of the enormous challenges ahead.

This is why it is critical that we continue to help Libya build its democracy and rebuild its economy.

As we see the waves of liberation and democratisation wash across north Africa, we are reminded that it is not only governments, but fair and just political parties that make these democratic processes work.

And of course, the people who make up these parties.

That is where you come in.

Our political parties are one of the main channels between citizens and political decision-makers.

I am proud of the work that Labor has done in this area as we continue to build our links with developing political parties.

And importantly our links with the global community of ideas.


So with those few words I will start where I began.

Welcome to the Australian Labor Party, we have been around for more than 100 years so we are doing a few things right.

But it you have been reading what I have been saying recently, we also have a few challenges.

As does every political party.

And as someone who has been the beneficiary of friendships with the campaigners of political parties abroad, I hope you too make friendships that last and bring value to the important work that you do at home.


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