The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Chris Bowen

Chris Bowen

Treasurer

27 June 2013 - 18 September 2013

Speech of 12/07/2013

NO.001

Hearts & Minds: A Blueprint for Modern Labor launch

Sydney

Friday, 12 July 2013

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It's wonderful to see so many friends here today. I'm not going to be able to acknowledge you all, but many of you have travelled some distance and many of you have been friends for some distance – I thank you all for coming.

I would like to thank Kim Williams for launching the book. A few friends and I did talk through who I should ask to launch the book and we decided to go for the eyebrow-raising moment, to get somebody who was perhaps a little unexpected.

It seemed to me after that discussion, that Kim Williams was an ideal candidate, bringing together a background of concern for social justice and progress in society, with a sharp business mind and a commitment to economic growth. Those of you who have read the book, or will read the book, will see themes there to the story that I'm seeking to tell.

I wasn't sure whether he would say yes or not. I remember calling him from my office in exile in the attic of Parliament House and saying, 'Kim I have an idea to put to you. It may or may not suit you, but I have written a book and I was wondering whether you'd like to launch it'. He, of course, said that he would, which I was deeply grateful for. So thank you Kim for launching the book today and thank you for your considered remarks.

I did say I wasn't going to acknowledge people in particular, but of course I'd like to acknowledge my ministerial colleagues and friends, Kim Carr and Jason Clare – thank you for coming.

I also acknowledge my chief-of-staff, James Cullen. It's his birthday today. I always buy James a book on his birthday. This year I wrote one. Of course James resigned along with me in March and turned up at my office in June, ready to go. So thank you James, happy birthday.

When I resigned from the Cabinet in March, I certainly didn't expect to be returning this term, and quite possibly not returning ever – that was my view in March. This is the context in which I was expecting to launch my book today.

As Louise said, I was wandering through the social centre of my electorate, Stockland Wetherill Park, a couple of days after I resigned – a little aimlessly, I admit – talking to local residents in my community, when I received a text message from Louise suggesting that I write a book with MUP about the future of the ALP.

Actually the full story is that Louise sent me a text having heard the news that my friend Tom Switzer had called and asked me to write a weekly column for The Spectator. She said, 'Well, The Spectator is okay but you should write a book. So I saw the text, thought about it for a bit and I didn't need much convincing.

Having already thought about some of these issues for some time, I had always had it in the back of my mind that a book might one day come, but I hadn't anticipated doing so just yet.

So I decided not to mope on the backbench, but to do a few things. I decided to lose some weight, to write a book, and to win my seat. Two out of three down so far, and I intend to knock off the third later in the year.

Of course, I did want to use my time on the backbench to make a contribution, come what may, to the discussion about the future of the Labor Party – and that's what I set out to do. Why? Because I do think politics is about ideas. It's about debates. It's about a contestable conversation.

It's tempting to avoid things like books when you're a politician, because you write things that can be used against you, if it is to be of any use. You write things which could be controversial. You write things which could be used against you now and in the future – and I'm sure that's the case.

Nevertheless, we should do it.

Politics without ideas is like a swimming pool without water. It simply doesn't work. We have to have ideas and we have to be generating debate. We have to be generating the debate about Labor and about Australia. And the debate this generates, I hope, is a good thing.

I know there are people – members of the Labor Party, friends, colleagues – who will disagree, sometimes vehemently, with some of the suggestions in the book. But I think the debate it generates is important.

Sound bites and one-liners are an important part of modern political communication. But we can't let them be the only part. Ideas and debate must be more important.

As I said, when I wrote the book I didn't expect to be launching it as Treasurer, but it is a great honour to have the capacity to put some of the ideas in the book into the debate in a different way.

The book asks the question, is Labor's project over? It's a valid question to ask. We were formed in 1891. Not many enterprises formed in 1891 are still with us; certainly not the same business model.

Of course, not many political parties around the world can claim that sort of vintage and certainly no other Australian political party can.

We were created to make society fairer, to give working people a voice in national decisions. We were created to provide fairness in the Australian political climate. Some have asked, with all our achievements over more than 100 years, is our job done? Have we done what we set out to do and should we now vacate the field?

The answer to that, to me, is very clear. No. Our task is not yet done, our project is not complete.

This book is an argument that Labor brings something special to Australian politics – a commitment to growth and to opportunity, which the Liberals to our right and the Greens to our left can never match.

Hearts & Minds makes the case that Australian needs Labor; that we still have much to contribute. But that we must modernise, we must adapt, we must respond to the changes in society. Society has changed, partly due to us, partly because of the reforms of Labor.

Partly, I argue, we are a victim of our own success. We've opened up society, we've provide opportunity to the sons of the blacksmiths and the daughters of the working class to now go to university, become professionals, and to live up to their full potential and be everything they can be, as it is reachable.

That means that our traditional base is more mobile. Our traditional base has other opportunities and may be tempted to vote for another political party. Thanking the Labor Party for enabling those opportunities, but finding other parties to represent their views.

Now I think, and I argue in Hearts & Minds, that Labor – if we do respond to these changes in society, if we do modernise, if we do have a crisp explanation of what we stand for – has so much to offer Australia.

As has been commonly commented on in the last day or so, I do make suggestions about party reform and changing our organisation. I make the point, however, that this alone is not enough.

We need to be crystal clear about what we believe in a modern society and we need to say it clearly. I make some suggestions in the book as to how that can be done.

One of the reforms suggested in the book is allowing Labor Party members 50 per cent of the say in who our leader should be. In effect, our most important decision that we make every so often. And I'm delighted that the Prime Minister has announced that very reform.

Some have suggested to me that it is the only book that has been implemented before it is even released, but I think the party is embracing this with gusto because it is the right thing to do and because of the leadership the Prime Minister has provided.

Now despite the fact that the book is subtitled, The Blueprint for Modern Labor, I regard it more as a book about Australia – about what sort of nation we should aspire to be and the role the Labor Party can provide in that nation.

A nation in which the rights of every individual, whether they be an Indigenous child from the outback, or a daughter of sole parent in western Melbourne, or the son of a merchant banker on the North Shore, where every child has the capacity to grow to be whatever they wish.

So that opportunities can be provided – opportunities through enabling the market to generate economic growth and opportunities created through government intervention to ensure that every individual can grow to be whatever they wish to be, to their full potential. This is what makes us the true liberal party of Australia, with our commitment to the individual.

A nation which embraces economic growth proudly, which doesn't shy away from economic growth being a mechanism which turns poverty into wealth and lets aspiration become a reality – that's Labor, Labor at its best, Labor in our best reforming traditions. It's what Labor has delivered in the past, and what we can deliver in the future.

A nation which believes in these things, needs Labor. It needs a strong Labor Party, a modern Labor Party, inclusive, open and welcoming to all.

A Labor Party which builds on its industrial heritage – doesn't walk away from it, but builds on it and opens up based on it.

A Labor Party which stands for the individual and doesn't let the other side of politics hold that ground.

A Labor Party which promotes growth here in Australia and around the world has a way to lift individuals out of poverty.

A Labor Party which is open for business and to business, promotes economic growth.

At this point I do have some people to thank. I thank MUP for being a publisher which does generate debates and ideas in Australia – a very good thing.

I thank of course, Bec and Grace and Max for their support. I decided not to mope when I was on the backbench, Bec wouldn't have let me if I tried. But I did decide to do something constructive with my time, spent over the laptop, with the family around.

It was on Grace's laptop because they took my ministerial laptop away – that's what happens. So I had to borrow Grace's laptop to the write the book and she was very patient as I did so.

I'm not going to read from the book, only the last sentence: "Labor has a good story to tell. We have a compelling case to make. It's up to us to make it."

The election is this year, and I believe we'll win if we make that case, and I believe we'll win into the future as well.

Thank you very much.