Check against delivery.
Ottawa; Saturday, March 29, 2014
Thank you Ed for that kind introduction and thanks to you, Rick, the Board and staff of the Broadbent Institute for the invitation to speak today.
In my home town in Australia, Adelaide, it is going to be 32 degrees today but the warmth of the welcome I have received has compensated for the difference between that and the freezing Ottawa air. So I am simply delighted to be here to join you for this important event.
While the weather is so starkly different, Australia and Canada share so much in common.
We are both vibrant liberal democracies in the Westminster tradition, with national and provincial level governments and we share our head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.
Our nations are rich in the resources the world needs and have large scale, efficient agriculture. Our economies are sophisticated and increasingly reliant on knowledge and service industries. We came out of the Global Financial Crisis, less damaged than many other nations in the world, in part because of the superior regulation of our banking and financial sectors.
The life expectancy of our people is more than 80 years, our GDP per capita is over $40,000 dollars and the World Bank puts us both in the top three best places to start a business. As a patriotic Australian please forgive me for pointing out we slightly beat you in each of these measures. All these indices are telling us that Canadians and Australians share the good fortune of living in two of the most prosperous places on the planet. We have the joy that comes with living not only in wealthy nations, but in peace and freedom.
Yet our work in combatting inequality is not finished. The OECD places Canada at 23 and Australia at 26 in a ranking of nations from those with the greatest equality to those with the least inequality. Yes you beat us but we are both outclassed by many others.
Both of our nations have more to do before we can also truly say that every child born in our lands gets a great education. Indeed both our nations have drifted backwards in international education rankings but yes you still beat us.
We also each have work to do to ensure we live sustainably upon our land and in this world.
Notably, both of us are home to some of the most carbon intensive economies in the world.
Getting on with this work of change and progress lies at the heart of this Conference.
So from my part of the world, through my eyes as a former Prime Minister, I want to share three thoughts with you about the prospects for and challenges of implementing progressive change. Let me start with this - first and foremost - back in your ability to be deliver change - we have done it before, we can do it again.
The old saying is that when conservatives lose they get mad, when progressives lose they get sad. And frankly, there is nothing more dispiriting than meeting a social democrat who is out of office and wandering around lamenting the relevance of his or her values to the modern world.
As a movement we have an unnerving tendency to conduct ourselves like a dinosaur in search of an ice age. Some of our colleagues are at their most contented when they are predicting our movement’s demise.
We need to get out of this mindset and entirely supplant it with one of celebrating our past successes, the very existence of which should give us optimism for the future.
The core historic mission of progressives, of social democrats, was to lift people from poverty and want. It was this impulse that brought trade union men together in the late 1800s to create a parliamentary party, the Australian Labor Party, that would represent working people in our nation’s young parliaments.
In my own nation and in much of the Western world, progressives with these values have succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of those first leaders. Today, working people live longer, healthier, wealthier lives with more industrial and social protections that our founders could ever have imagined.
We have not only shown the ability to change the world, but also to change ourselves. The Australian Labor Party’s founding fathers would not have envisaged a woman becoming the Party’s most senior figure and the nation’s Prime Minister. They also had as one of their central tenets the White Australia policy, reflecting both the racial prejudices of the time and a practical aversion to the bringing in of Pacific Island workers to undercut wages and conditions. Our party and progressive parties around the world have and are continuing to adapt to the lessons of feminism and today racial intolerance is rightly recognised as abhorrent. Our journey in overcoming prejudice of every kind is not yet over but progressive thought now spurns discrimination.
Having succeeded in both changing our world and changing ourselves, we should not be daunted by the need to continue to do both.
And we should reject out of hand the conservatives new tactic of using their media megaphones to try to nullify our victories by describing any progressive policy or political win as ‘illegitimate’.
But we must be clear about our purpose.
We live in a modern and cynical age. As I said to my political party when I was Prime Minister, when the Australian people look at the Labor Party they don’t doubt our ability to read a poll or analyse the results of a focus group of soft voters. What they aren’t clear about is our purpose, what we stand for in today’s world.
I set out by word and deed to define the Australian Labor Party’s modern mission, first, as a continuation of our historic mission of shielding people from risk.
Second, as more fairly sharing opportunity.
And third, being brave enough to shape the future, not just drift in to whatever future awaits us. Progressives in this room and beyond will no doubt debate my definition of modern social democratic purpose. That is as it should be.
But I did set out to inject my definition of purpose into my political party and the government I led. In one speech I cannot outline everything we did in pursuit of it. But let me give you a snapshot, including of how we embraced modern policy tools, beyond those in the traditional social democratic tool kit.
On sharing risk, we created an entirely new system for supporting Australians with a serious disability. We confronted the problem that in our nation the level of support you received if you had a disability entirely depended on how you acquired it.
If your disability stemmed from a workplace or transport accident then you would be covered by state based insurance schemes, which met the cost of all the reasonable supports you needed and allowed you to exercise choices about your care. But if a child was born into your family with cerebral palsy or you fell victim to one of the awful disabling diseases like Parkinsons or a sporting accident left you with an acquired brain injury, then you were thrown back on underfunded, capped, queued services.
We changed that by creating a national disability insurance scheme. Partially funded by an income tax levy, it will provide the same sort of support as provided by workers’ compensation and transport accident schemes to all Australians with a serious disability.
In creating such a scheme, we drew on our tradition of being the political party that created Australia’s public health care system, Medicare. But we did not set out to create a huge government monopoly service provider.
Like progressives around the world, in the last quarter of the 20th century, the Australia Labor Party recognised that big government was leading to big inflexibilities, a lack of choice and a lumbering inability to innovate.
We privatised some government monopolies that would thrive away from government. We have continued to work through the shape, limits, capacities and incapacities of government and the way other actors, such as not for profits and social ventures, can be empowered by well designed markets for social services.
In designing Disability Care, we adopted insurance principles. The person with disabilities will increasingly be able to exercise choices about the kind of care they want and the identity of the service providers. A market of service providers will mature encompassing both for profit and not for profit providers. Competition and appropriate market design and regulation, will work to ensure quality and innovation.
This is an example of using new tools to pursue old ideals. Of extending the reach of our beliefs in inclusion and all of society fairly sharing the burden of life’s risks, which fall by chance heavily on a few.
On the second, sharing opportunity, my driving passion was for reform in education at every level from early childhood to university but with a particular focus on schools.
The schools systems in Australia and Canada are differently constructed. Australia has a mix of government and non-government schools. Government schools are run by our equivalent of your provincial level of government, by our State and Territory Governments. Catholic schools educate almost twenty percent of children and independent schools, including those representing other religions, educate around ten percent.
Every school receives public funds. There has historically been huge competition between government and non government schools for money, with government schools looking primarily to State Governments for funding and non-government schools to the Federal Government.
In our system, the Federal Government is the best resourced level of government so the nation was on a path to increasing differentials in funding between government schools and non government schools teaching similar children.
Our solution was nothing sort of a revolution in education. I drove this deep change by embracing transparency so now any one in the world can get on an Australian website called My School and for every school in the country, government and non government, see sophisticated measures of achievement in literacy and numeracy based on national testing, a measure of the level of advantage and disadvantage of the children attending the school and the amount of money available at the school to teach the children.
A new funding system based on the needs of children, with increased funding for disadvantaged children, children with disabilities, non English speaking children and indigenous children is being implemented tied to a reform agenda focussed on teacher quality, parental engagement and principal empowerment. A new high quality national curriculum is being rolled out in every school around the country.
The driving impulse for all this change was my profound belief that demography is not destiny. That any child can get a great education if we are prepared to make the effort to ensure they do. It drove me through controversies like threatened teacher strikes, though ultimately the union of teachers in public schools became one of my greatest supporters.
The tools I used for achieving progressive change in school education are modern ones.
Transparency, choice, empowerment.
The third part of the mission I defined was to shape not just drift in to the future.
In this regard, I could tell you in detail about the way we newly confronted the the old challenge of ensuring fairness at work in a differently constructed economy, with no more jobs for life, obscenely greater rewards at the top and enforced casualisation of work at the bottom.
Or I could tell you in detail about the efforts we made to reshape our welfare system to confront the changing nature of disadvantage with, its capacity to be intergenerational and its intersection with drug addiction and mental illness.
Or our focus on innovation and jobs, as an historically high Australian dollar reshapes our economy and the opportunities stemming from this century of growth in Asia come to the fore. Or our battle to implement a profits based tax in mining.
But instead, I want to devote the time to our battle to introduce a price on carbon, because I think this issue is the one that speaks most loudly about the challenges to change we confront. In the lead up to the 2007 election, which under Kevin Rudd’s leadership Labor won, ending conservative Prime Minister John Howard’s eleven year run in office, both sides of politics, went to the election with a policy to put a price on carbon and create an emissions trading scheme. If you were a commentator on Australia politics at this time you would have been highly unlikely to author a piece predicting pricing carbon would be the flash point partisan issue for the decade starting in 2010.
But it is.
During the first term of the Labor Government, the politics of climate change and carbon pricing went from bipartisan to viciously contested, with the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, campaigning hard and effectively against what he referred to as ‘a great big new tax on everything’.
While I was Prime Minister leading a minority government, I secured through the Parliament legislation to put a price on carbon.
The carbon price started on the 1st July 2012. The design of the scheme is a fixed price for three years, with the starting price being $23 per tonne, moving to a full emissions trading scheme on the 1st July 2015.
The campaign against what was referred to ubiquitously in our domestic political debate as a ‘carbon tax’ was white hot and successful in moving public opinion in the lead up to the start of the tax. This campaign included protesters coming to Canberra to hear from the Leader of the Opposition amongst others, while holding placards that said ‘Ditch the Witch’. Of course, I was the witch. I was also referred to in a placard as the Greens Leader, Bob Brown’s bitch.
If you talked to voters in Australia at this time you would have been hard pressed to find a supporter of the carbon price. People did fear astronomical increases in living costs and the widespread destruction of jobs.
But a funny thing happened once the carbon price was introduced. People moved on. It went from being an emotional, absolute front of mind issue to being one in the background. Australians did not morph in to supporters of the price on carbon but the issue receded because the apocalyptic claims about its impact did not come true. The economy continued to grow. Jobs continued to be created. The cost of living impact was as predicted, less than one percent and overwhelming households were compensated through tax cuts and increases in social payments. Carbon emissions were significantly cut.
Lived experience beat fear.
The current government, which continued to campaign against carbon pricing is endeavouring to repeal the legislation, but has not been able to do so yet.
Much of the debate about climate change and carbon pricing turned on Australia specific matters, including political mishandling by me and by the Labor Government led by Kevin Rudd, electricity bills skyrocketing for other reasons which made people acutely sensitive to anything that could impact further on prices and the fact our bad drought broke, the impact of which had become equated to climate change in people’s minds.
But out of our experience, there are some broader lessons that can be drawn by progressives not only about pricing carbon but about the nature of modern campaigning.
First, we live in age where the facts lose out badly.
And second, this is not happening by accident, but because a hard conservative constituency has adopted a protest culture and come to dominate it.
Around the world the debate about climate change is being distorted by popular doubts about the science.
This is truly incredible when the normal reaction of people to scientific conclusions is to accept them. To give an Australian example, much research and public campaigning has been done about our high rates of skin cancer. Scientists tell us that sun exposure causes cancer. People wear hats, use sunscreen. Even those who like to be brown, do not justify their tanning by saying the science is wrong, they just accept the risk and play mental games with themselves to bolster their self belief cancer will never hit them.
But with climate science, sensible conduct has been overwhelmed by the campaigning of right wing eccentrics.
Issues like ‘Climategate’, the leaked release of 1,000 emails in the United Kingdom between climate scientists, have been distorted to buttress claims the science is wrong even though nothing in them actually shows it.
A number of corrections made to the 2007 Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change report have been used to attack the science as wrong. But, once again, the corrections do not debunk the science.
The campaigners against the science cannot even advance a credible theory about why scientists around the world and in huge numbers would all conspire together to try and persuade the world that climate change is real.
Why would they do that? To increase research funding? Can anyone really argue that? Particularly given the science of climate change has not somehow persuaded the governments of the world to create scientific nirvana where research funding is always in plentiful supply. Scientists continue to struggle for funding the way they always have.
How would they do that? Can anyone truly believe that across all the years, from the 1960s to now, a vast conspiracy has been knowingly faking data and falsifying results, and remained undetected for decades?
It is so ridiculous. Yet if one picks up the newspapers, listens to the radio, watches television, they find the views of non-scientists and conspiracy theorists arguing loudly against climate change. It is inconceivable that the same amount of space would be given to cranks who contend smoking is good for you or putting your child in direct sunlight for all the days of summer will help them grow. But on climate change, normal rules for the treatment and acceptance of science seem to have been thrown aside.
Here in Canada, Environics polling last October showed belief in the science of climate change is less than it was in 2007. In analysing all this we need to be cool and analytical about the degree of success being enjoyed by hard edge conservative campaigners against the science of climate change. It used to be that progressives were the people of protest, out on the streets marching, getting signatures on petitions, while conservatives stayed home and tut tutted at this conduct.
It used to be that a family would gather around the television for the six o’clock news and, while a spirited family argument might break out on the issues reported, everyone had been exposed to the same reporting and the facts contained within it. Now, in the new media environment there are so many sources of information that you can shop around for the version that gives you the ‘facts’ you prefer. At the same time commercial media companies have responded to this by no longer pitching their product to the widest possible audience but seeking deep engagement with a loyal audience by serving up the news complete with the bias they want.
It is my contention that progressives have not done enough to respond to the new protest culture activism on the right and to dominate campaigning in the new media environment.
Or put more simply, letting the facts speak for themselves is so last century.
Every complex public policy endeavour will only break through to public acceptance, including action on climate change, if the facts are trumpeted loudly.
I have every confidence that we, alongside others, who respect facts and reason can better find our voice.
I also have every confidence that we, people of progressive ideals, can be better persuaders and campaigners.
Being here today is one important step in becoming more enabled and empowered.
Once again, Ed, thanks to you and the Broadbent Institute for bringing us together and giving me the platform to say to those gathered here:
Back in your ability to deliver progressive change.
Be clear about your purpose and be prepared to embrace modern policy tools in its pursuit.
And raise your voice loudly, mobilise for progressive change, the world needs you.