13th Fraser Lecture - Delivered by Bill Shorten MP

On 26 August 2013, Bill Shorten delivered the 13th Fraser Lecture on the topic “The Battle of Ideas and the Good Society”. The video begins with an introduction from me, and concludes with Bill taking questions. A full transcript of the speech is over the fold.

Introducing Bill Shorten’s Fraser Lecture
Andrew Leigh MP
26 August 2013

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, on whose lands we meet today.

Thank you to our hosts for today: ANU Labor Students’ Club, and their president Charlotte Barclay.

One of the standard tropes you hear in election campaigns is that there’s no difference between the parties – that it’s a choice between the Popular People’s Front of Judea and the People’s Popular Front of Judea.

But elections do change history. Imagine if the Howard Government had remained in office for the past two terms.

We wouldn’t have DisabilityCare and a seat on the UN Security Council

We would not have apologised to the Stolen Generations, tripled Australia’s marine park network and raised universal superannuation.

Our economy would be smaller, and unemployment would be higher, as we recovered from the recession of 2009.

Perhaps no issue better illustrates the differences between us and the Coalition than parental leave.

We introduced parental leave – a fair and affordable scheme, which has been used by over 300,000 families. Every parent gets the same deal.

But the Coalition don’t want equal treatment.

When they see a kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth, their first thought is – what he really needs is a gold spoon to go with it.

And by the way, here’s a plastic one for the working class kids.

Last year, Joe Hockey lectured us from London about the need to end ‘the age of entitlement’.

Now, the Liberals tell us that millionaire families deserve $75,000 for having a child because ‘it’s not welfare – it’s an entitlement’.

It’s a window into their thinking.

When a minimum wage worker gets a hand up, it’s welfare.

But when a millionaire gets money from the government, it can’t possibly be welfare – it must be their ‘entitlement’.

* * * *

Now, to our speaker for today.

In 1940, George Orwell wrote an essay about Charles Dickens in which he points out that for all the discussion of working class life that you get in novels like Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens never really seemed to regard slum-dwellers, servants, criminals and agricultural labourers as equals.

Orwell makes the same criticism of Tolstoy – someone who seemed fascinated on the problems of poverty, yet averse to breaking bread with the poor.

I used to think this didn’t matter much. But now I do.

There’s a story that the people who clean the Prime Minister’s suite were not invited to the PM’s Christmas Party for 11 years from 1996. Then in Christmas 2007, they were invited, and have been ever since.

Here in my electorate of Fraser, I’ve seen Bill Shorten chat comfortably with people with disabilities – making them feel at ease immediately.

I’ve seen him speak to building workers in Belconnen, talking about the economic incidence of company taxes. Bill told me afterwards: ‘Andrew, don’t ever underestimate your audience’.

And I’ve been with him in Civic, at an event in the kitchen of a local hotel. We were there to talk with the chefs, but Bill immediately went over to introduce himself to the man washing the dishes.

Bill has been at the centre of many of the government’s big reforms.

He’s thoughtful, articulate and funny.

But what’s most important is that for him, progressive reform isn’t just about passing laws – it’s also about helping people.

Reaching out.

Hearing their stories.

And acting on them.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Shorten.

Minister for Education and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten




26 AUGUST 2013



I am honoured that Andrew Leigh has asked me to deliver the 2013 Fraser Lecture.

Andrew is a big ideas man and someone who advances those ideas in the public sphere.

Andrew is what I call a warrior for Labor on the great national battlefield of ideas.

Last Friday I had the honour to share a stage with another big ideas man.

One of the giants of the Australian Labor Party – Paul Keating - at my Maribyrnong campaign launch.

Keating was in vintage form: smart, funny, incisive.

Paul reminded us that Labor was on the side of the “angels”.

“The angels”, he described as “the men and women of Australia … who make the place what it is, the ones who've got nothing to sell but their labour, nothing to sell but their time. No capital, particularly, and who need the support of the political system to give them a better standard of living, a better way of life and a better future.”

How right he is.

Ask yourself: who made the reforms and investments necessary to ensure that the political system gave the men and women of Australia “a better standard of living, a better way of life and a better future” and did so by opening up the economy?

As Keating remarked, memorably, Australians moved up from the Commodore to the Audi.

We did of course.

The Australian Labor Party did.

We’re the dreamers, doers and fighters.

We have ideas, and we don’t just want to talk – we’re prepared to fight to make them a reality.

That’s what we do.

We don’t slavishly follow overseas fashions.

The Power of Ideas

That’s why Australia avoided the excesses of Thatcherism and what in America became known as Reaganism.

Ideas are powerful. They can change the world. But in the wrong hands, they can be dangerous.

When Sir Keith Joseph, the so-called power behind Margaret Thatcher’s throne, addressed the 1976 British Tory Conference he said:

‘Scorn not the vision; scorn not the idea. Power grows out of the barrel of a gun. A gun is certainly powerful, but who controls the man with the gun? A man with an idea.’

When he said those memorable words, Joseph was mocked, not least from within his own party.

But Joseph enjoyed the last laugh.

Thatcherism took the free-market theories of Hayek and Friedman from the eccentric fringe to mainstream reality.

I’m not anti-market by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, I’m pro-market, pro-competition, pro-innovation.

But I don’t think the economy has to be at the expense of society.

On the contrary, I believe the two are linked – that you can’t have a strong economy without a strong society.

Friends, make no mistake: we are at a crossroad.

Once again, people are telling us we have to prioritise either the economy or the society.

And the correct answer is not either / or, but both.

And that’s why – unless we want to risk the Australian way of life and end up with the lack of social mobility that we can see in Britain and America – Labor has to prevail in this battle of ideas.

The stakes are high. Our nation’s future is on the line.

Today I want to talk about four fronts of the battle of ideas.

First, I want to talk about why ideas are so important to our democracy.

Second, I want to talk about why ideas are so central to the labour movement we hold so dear and why our ideas are more often than not superior to those of our opponents.

Third, I want to talk about why the Labor Party was put on this earth: to build the Good Society.

And finally, I want you to know what this Rudd Labor Government has been doing to win the battle of ideas.

Because we need to clear about why our Labor ideas are right for Australia.

Because our ideas have a vision, an over-the-horizons purpose to build the Good Society.

We know, Margaret Thatcher declared there was no such thing as society.

Many of her Conservative Australian disciples still feel the same.

Labor feels differently. Always have, always will.

We pursued free-market reforms.

We led the way – floating the Australian dollar to financial deregulation and opening up the Australian economy.

But, unlike Thatcher, we didn’t declare war on working people.

Hawke working with Bill Kelty and the labour movement and business, built a consensus around his government’s policies.

Just like Kevin Rudd is doing with the BCA and ACTU now.

Labor introduced a ‘social wage’ – Medicare, superannuation, expanded higher education and cut tax.

Australian Labor invented what Bill Clinton and Tony Blair later called ‘the Third Way’.

As economist Tim Harcourt has recently argued, the Third Way is really the Australian Way.

And the Australian Way works.

Australia is the best performing economy in the OECD.

No recession for 22 years despite the global financial crisis which was really a global recession for many nations.

By contrast, Britain has an unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent, compared with our rate of 5.7 per cent.

In the United States, it’s 7.4 per cent.

In Spain, it is an astonishing 26.3 per cent.

Their youth unemployment comes in at 56 per cent.

We’ve retained our AAA rating.

Interest rates are at record lows.

Inflation is under control.

The other night Paul Keating reminded us about one of the enduring legacies of his government.

He reminded everyone about how much real wages have improved since 1991.

Real wages have gone up 36 per cent – at a time when they have stagnated or gone backwards in many other developing economies – including the United States and Britain.

We’ve got bigger profits, more cooperation and better productivity.

And who made all that possible?

Labor’s Australian Way.

It wasn’t about luck.

It’s about better ideas and people.

Labor ideas and people.

Australian Labor: A Movement of Ideas

From day one, in 1891, the Australian Labor Party has been a movement of ideas.

Simple but important ideas.

Like our belief in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

And bigger, sweeping nation-building ideas.

Like the National Broadband Network – lifting superannuation to 12 per cent – the Better Schools Plan – and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Like Gough Whitlam and the Family Law Act, bringing troops home from Vietnam and engagement with China.

Like the plans for industrial expansion drawn up by John Curtin and Ben Chifley during the dark days of World War Two.

Like Andy Fisher – one of Labor’s early and greatest Prime Ministers - building a transcontinental railway.

We’re the dreamers. The doers. The fighters.

William Kidston, then a humble Rockhampton bookseller who became the world’s first Labor treasurer, summed up our creed.

In 1891, he wrote a poem for the striking shearers gathered under the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine.

He urged them to shun extremism and seek ballot-box justice.

The title of his poem consisted of five simple words.

‘The ballot is the thing’.

Five simple words, one magnificent idea.

Claim your democratic rights.

Form a Labor party.

Win government.

Make Australia a better place.

Australia must be the Good Society.

Just eight years later, Queensland Labor stunned the world by forming the world’s first Labor government.

It only lasted a week but it whetted the appetite of our predecessors.

Five years on, Chris Watson formed the world’s first national Labor government, albeit a minority one.

In 1910, Andy Fisher’s party won government in its own right, another world first.

Then, as now, that year’s federal election was not simply the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

Of deciding who would form the next government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

William Spence, a fellow former AWU national secretary and Labor MP, boasted at the time:

“[t]he Labor movement in Australia has now become an almost dominant factor in the political life of the community.”

He argued that this coming triumph entailed more than churning out vote-winning policies.

Spence insisted that Labor was “a political as well as a propagandist movement.”

In other words, Labor had to have the better ideas and be able to communicate that to voters.

Labor must not aspire to be a party that merely reflects public opinion.

Voters needed to believe in our ideas.

It was ever thus.

And you know this belief – call it faith if you like – informs my political outlook.

I can think of three great causes in my life.

The first is my absolute conviction that we are born equal and unique. Each of us has something special within.

Our individual humanity deserves to be expressed fully, not stifled because of the postcodes and circumstances of one’s life.

And then there is my family. They give me my passion to look forward 10, 20, 30 years ahead.

Beyond the 24 hour media cycle.

My other cause is the Australian Labor Party. I joined at the age of 17.

I’ve devoted all of my entire adult life to serving the nation through this great Australian institution.

I joined because it was in my family’s DNA.

My Dad, a Geordie-born seafarer, had unionism and dockside politics pulsing through his veins.

My mum, the eldest daughter of a printer and trade unionist, was a freethinker who led an amazing career as a high school teacher and Supreme Court prize winner and historian.

So joining Labor was a gut feeling, a decision of the heart.

But my decision also came from the head because Labor was and remains the great Australian party of ideas.

From an early age I knew that elections weren’t just about power, or who gets what.

Or defending privilege and resisting change.

But about which side of politics has the ideas to confront the challenges that Australians faced.

Who has the ideas that can address the problems that Australia will confront in 10, 20 and even 50 years from now.

I was seduced by the Hawke-Keating-Kelty vision of consensus. By the length and depth and breadth – not to mention ambition – of their ideas.

Labor wanted the men and women of Australia to have a fair go.

A fair share.

A better future.

That was our ambition. Still is.

Labor wants Australians to get ahead in life.

And – unlike our opponents – we recognise that no one ever gets by just on their own.

We all need support.

We need strong families and strong communities if we’re going to have a strong economy.

And our opponents can’t beat that.

For them, it’s all about the individual.

For us, it’s all about the individual and the community.

Only Labor can do both. Only Labor.

Our values, our traditions, combine a belief in individual aspiration with the knowledge that we are all together in this life.

As the influential British Labour thinker Maurice Glasman recently said of his party: ‘Our tradition is our future.’

My favourite motto is the great Jesuit dictum, ‘be a man for others’.

It’s the ideal that I’ve always sought to live up to.

And it goes to the core of what I see as Labor’s enduring mission in political life.

What it was put on this earth for.

What the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments of the past five and a half years have pursued.

Building the Good Society.

It’s the reason I got into politics in the first place.

To leave this place a better place then we found it.

What is the Good Society?

First and foremost the Good Society is a prosperous, productive, competitive and diverse economy.

An economy where men and women are working in good jobs, treated decently, and are reasonably remunerated.

So that they can raise their children and lead long lives full of meaning.

Where well-being and resilience are central.

Where entrepreneurs and innovators can turn ideas into successful enterprises.

A Good Society means that people don’t merely work hard for their whole adult lives, only to retire poor.

A Good Society sees a cooperative relationship between business and unions as crucial to the creation of a competitive, dynamic Asia-focussed 21st century economy.

Housing should be affordable, whether people are buying their own homes or renting.

Our Good Society should have the best health system in the world, accessible to all, regardless of an individual’s wealth.

A Good Society must look out for those most in need –unemployed, Indigenous, pensioners and the disabled and their carers.

A Good Society means equal treatment of women.

A Good Society reveres education and the special role of teachers.

We also want our communities to be multicultural, tolerant and safe places sustained by respectful relationships, free from fear.

We want our communities to be well served by transport and infrastructure.

We want a clean environment so that our kids can one day dream of creating their own good society.

And not have to remedy problems their parents neglected to address.

Government cannot possibly ensure that nothing bad ever happens to people.

But we can help build resilient families and communities to get us through when life’s shafts of fate strike.

The Good Society is there to ensure that all are empowered to, lead meaningful lives.

Labor has played a leading role in building the Australian Good Society over 122 years.

And our mission is never finished.

We must continue to put ideas into action.

Ideas into Action: The Work of this Labor Government

There is a case to be made for the re-election of Labor on September 7.

Let’s look at education.

Labor legislated for Better Schools, initiated by Julia Gillard and Peter Garret, followed through by Kevin Rudd.

These are the most far-reaching educational reforms in decades.

It’s based on a simple idea – Labor believes in the transformative power of education.

Education has always been the door through which national and personal progress has been made.

For Australia to take advantage of its greatest opportunity since the Gold Rush – the Asian Century – education is the key.

So we believe that funding should be based on need for every student in every school.

We believe that education means that young people will:

Have a better job

Earn more

We know that the hourly wage gain from an additional year of schooling for Year 12 alone is around 11 per cent.

When participation effects are taken into account, annual earnings are 30 per cent higher.

But it’s not just the individual benefits that are profound.

A highly educated workforce is more productive which benefits all of us.  But it’s not all dollars and cents.

Investing in higher levels of education means our children are more likely to:

Be healthy

Live longer

And be more fully engaged in society.

Education is about discovery, friendship, excitement, pleasure, a sense of identity and cultural enrichment.

Education teaches us how to live together and to work together to build a better future.

In short, building the Good Society.

Now consider the National Disability Insurance Scheme known as DisabilityCare – an idea that I had the privilege to collaborate on.

Again built on a simple yet powerful idea – that all Australians deserve to be treated with dignity, to be full citizens and we are all worse off if their potential is wasted.

We’ve also introduced Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave Scheme.

Based upon the simple idea of equality for all women.

Then there’s the Labor invention of superannuation.

Based upon the simple idea that people should retire with dignity.

Oh and carbon pricing.

Based upon the simple idea that our planet is precious.

Our Prime Minister began the National Broadband Network.

Based upon the simple idea that our economy, and equality of opportunity, will flourish or wither on the vine of technology.

We put WorkChoices where it belonged – in the wheely-bin of Australian history.

We provided unfair dismissal protection for 7 million Australian workers.

The first ever national asbestos strategy.

Finally doing something about workplace bullying.

All based upon simple Labor ideas.

Because of the efforts of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan we saved 200,000 jobs during the GFC, and created nearly a million new jobs since coming to power in late 2007.

And we now have a plan to grow jobs, build up new industries and invest in our economy beyond the China mining boom.

By contrast here are the ideas that the Liberals believe in:

They believe in ending fundamental workplace rights.

They believe in stalling and taxing superannuation.

They hate the idea of reducing our carbon footprint.

They believe in a Labor-lite Better Schools Plan. Christopher Pyne calls it a ‘Conski’ but a few days later supports us.

They are threatened by ideas of change. And don’t have the plans or burning ambition to build the Good Society.

When you wake up, hung over or not, happy or not, on Sunday September 8.

Whoever has won, if even Clive Palmer or Christine Milne or Barnaby Joyce has won, in the world you wake up to, one thing won’t change.

Labor will still be the party of ideas fighting for the Good Society.


You know, conservative writers, and vested interests, shout we can’t win on September 7.

They cry out that Labor has had its day.

They attack unions as no longer relevant.

They say working people have nothing to worry about.

They allege that the Good Society is a given.

But they’re wrong.

I believe, and you believe, Labor’s best days are yet to come.

The work of a great progressive movement – such as ours – can never be done.

Must never be done.

Never forget William Kidston’s words:

‘The ballot is the thing’

Five simple words which tell us what Labor is all about.

Five simple words which tell you how Labor changed Australia.

Five simple words which, I hope, tell you what I am fighting for.

Friends, right now the fight before us is this federal election.

We have 11 days to go.

11 days to win another election that many consider unwinnable.

We have a conservative Coalition hungry for power – contradicting themselves with a bleak ‘cut at all costs’ philosophy, masked by a reject shop sale of slogans.

To abolish the mining tax.

Create an unfair, unaffordable paid parental leave scheme.

Pay cash for boats.

We must fight tooth and nail to explain what we as Labor women and men are doing and why we are right.

Because if anyone says that to fight doesn’t get you anywhere, that politics can’t make a difference, that all parties are the same.

Then let them look over what our great Australian Labor Party has achieved over 122 years.

And over the past five and a half years.

So we over next 11 days must win every argument, great and small, and win the greatest battle of them all.

The battle of ideas.

We’ve done it before. We can do it again.


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