Launch of campaign for the federal seat of Batman. Martin Ferguson.
Comrades and Friends
Members of the ALP in Batman.
I am standing before you a little nervous, but extremely honoured.
I want to thank you for your generosity in being here with me today.
The people of Batman are my type of people.
They are of course the Battlers.
The Battlers who John Howard now tries to cynically co-opt to his side.
But when we talk about Battlers – it is a badge of honour.
These are the people who struggle to build better communities in the suburbs that we live in;
These are the people who struggle to build better workplaces at our places of employment;
These are the people who want to build hope and opportunities in the schools our children attend.
John Howard … the real Battlers know which party has stood by them in their daily struggles;
They know which party introduced universal health care, and then defended and extended Medicare in the face of a Tory onslaught;
They know which party has provided them and their children the education and training opportunities for good, well-paid jobs;
They know which party has provided the housing support needed to ensure that they have a secure roof over their head;
The great Aussie Battlers know that, year-in and year-out, the real party of hope and opportunity is the Australian Labor Party, our great party.
In times of change – and we have had to go through some massive changes over the last decade – it is only Labor who can be relied upon to implement policies which will make sure that the hard-edge of these changes are softened.
It is only Labor who can be relied on to create new opportunities for the people who have been at the forefront of the economic changes.
It is only Labor who can be relied on to ensure that the pain of these changes is shared by everybody – including the Toorak Toffs, not just the Batman Battlers.
Now, when John Howard talks about our people, the Battlers, it is in a cynical manner. He really has no respect for us.
He uses the word as part of a scare campaign.
When John Howard talks about Battlers he is a lot like John Hewson.
Remember John Hewson? He was the bloke who turned his nose up at renters in the last election – remember he said you could always tell the homes of renters, they were the people who didn’t mow their lawns.
For you and me the term Battler is part of a great Aussie tradition.
Battlers are the people like you who have created this great country of ours – a country of social justice, a country of the fair go, a country with a great democratic socialist tradition.
It is our role, the Labor role, to back the Battlers, to constantly argue and fight for them, and their neighbours, to make sure we all get a fair share of the cake.
We want to make sure the wonderful rich cake that is Australia is fairly distributed for all – for our neighbours, for overseas born Australians, for the young, for women, for the disabled and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
That struggle for a fair share of the cake never finishes.
In the eighteen years that Brian Howe represented this electorate he has always lived up to our party’s tradition of providing hope and opportunity for the great Aussie Battler.
Brian has always upheld that marvellous tradition of the Australian Labor Party… fighting for, and implementing, social justice policies which improve the lot of our people.
Brian, to follow you as the next member for Batman will be a hard act to follow. I am honoured.
But most of all I am filled with an acute sense of responsibility – responsibility to you the people of Batman.
A lot of people in this audience know me well.
After all I have worked with many of you at your workplaces at the nearby Kodak and at the Amcor site; or at one of the local textile and clothing factories.
I do know the problems of this electorate because I grew up with them.
My first home may have been in Guildford, in Sydney’s outer west, but the problems of Guildford mirror the problems of Northcote, Reservoir and Preston.
My father, Jack Ferguson, was a child of the Depression. A real Battler.
His father was a penniless Scottish immigrant.
My mother’s father was an English merchant seaman who came to Australia as a teenager.
Dad, with very little formal education and no real saleable skills, came back from the war and entered Ben Chifley’s civilian rehabilitation training program.
Thanks to that program dad got some skills; a trade as a bricklayer.
Fifty years ago – as it is till today – the ALP was the party of hope and opportunity.
Dad never forgot.
It was the main reason he joined the ALP – because he didn’t want to just help himself, he wanted to go on to help his neighbours and workmates.
Dad became a NSW State MP in 1959 – I was five years old at the time – and eventually served as Deputy Premier in the Wran Government from 1976 to 1983.
Not bad for the son of a Scottish migrant who left school barely a teenager.
That was thanks to our party, the party of hope and opportunity.
Brian Howe was also was the son of a Battler, a miner and tramway worker. Brian entered Federal Parliament in 1977 and eventually served as Deputy Prime Minister.
It was the ALP who gave hope and opportunity to my father, Jack, and to Brian, so that they could both rise to the second highest office in their respective parliaments.
Now, as the son of a local MP I know what it means to represent constituents.
In the early 60s the Tories pulled on a credit squeeze.
They didn’t care then what it would be like for the Battlers that my dad represented.
I remember the 1962 credit squeeze – even though I was only nine years old – because people were knocking at the door of their local MP, my dad.
People were knocking at the door at night asking for food and clothing.
This is where I learnt my Labor values.
This is where I learnt about the true Labor values, the true Battler values of helping out your neighbour, helping out your mate.
This is where I learnt the importance of having a Labor Party.
This is where I learnt the importance of having the Labor Party sitting on the government benches.
When we are in government we can do something about the social inequalities in our society.
We can give our people, people like you the citizens of Batman, opportunities which the Tories would deny you.
In government we can provide real, practical access to education and training for ordinary Australians.
We can provide security and dignity for older Australians.
We can provide real and practical health care for all Australians.
Just think about health care.
It is not that long ago that Australians were denied free, universal and quality health care because they couldn’t afford it.
That’s right. Think back. Free health, care was introduced by Labor in the 70’s – and then John Howard’s crew, the Liberals, ripped it off ordinary Australians.
It was a major reform by Gough Whitlam – and then the Party that now masquerades as the friend of the Battler came along and ripped it away.
It was only when we returned to government in the early 80s that we were able to restore Medicare – restore to Australians what is now a cherished right.
Free, universal, health care.
Over the last decade Australians – including the people of this electorate – have had to go through tough times as our economy has opened up to the international market place.
It is not much recompense to tell you that the changes we have had to go through are the same as has happened in most industrialised societies around the globe.
But, because over the same period we have had a Labor government in power, we have ensured that our social safety net works.
You know the social safety net – the income support, the assistance for low-income families, housing, Medicare, education and training programs and counselling services.
And soon we will have the new paid maternity leave.
They are all things we can be proud of. They are thanks to the Accord package negotiated between the union movement and the Labor government.
While there has been some media beat-ups about an underclass developing in Australia all the evidence shows that we have avoided the social ugliness that working people have suffered in the USA and the UK.
Thatcherism and Reaganism have been seen as failures. In the USA they rejected it. And in the UK – according to the polls – they are soon to throw out John Howard’s soul mates.
Why do you think John Howard is going through such a tortuous masquerade?
Why is he trying to pretend that all he has been saying over the last decade and a bit is suddenly not true?
Because he knows that the indecency of those political ideas are not acceptable to Australians.
It has been tough over the last decade.
When I visit the offices and the shopfloors of the Australian workplace, you and your workmates have told me how tough it has been.
Many of the working people most affected by these changes live in this electorate.
But our great achievement has been that we have managed these changes – forced on us by international marketplace pressures – in a positive, humanitarian way.
Again, because of my travels around Australia, I know that our policies have helped the unemployed, especially the young, to maintain their dreams, their strong notions of a work ethic and hopes for economic independence.
Working Nation has delivered to the young man I met in Cairns recently who after being out of work for eighteen months was able to get appropriate training and a job in the hospitality industry.
Working Nation has delivered to the young woman from the northern suburbs of Melbourne who, after two-and-a-half years of reading the job advertisements, got a job as a clerical trainee at the ACTU.
Working Nation has delivered to Joanna, a young woman I met in Brisbane who after two years of unemployment is now getting training and working as a gardener with the Brisbane City Council.
This is the great difference between us, the members of the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition.
The Liberals are not committed to managing – in the interests of all Australians – the social change caused by the economic revolution were are going through.
The ALP has invested in people; invested in training; invested in their futures.
We will continue to be the party of hope and opportunity for all Australians.
Remember Working Nation has been a success.
Working Nation recognises that with the massive world-wide economic restructuring has come massive changes to our labour market.
John Howard may scoff, may attempt to distort the figures, but we have created real training opportunities and real jobs.
We are still the party of hope and opportunity.
All of this has come about because the Labor Party was in power – because the party was committed to building a social security system that underpins every Australian’s right to a decent life.
At the same time we have re-positioned Australia so that we can be competitive in the world-market; so that we can continue to trade, and find new trading opportunities on the world-market.
That re-positioning has not been done at the cost of compromising either our social safety net, or the industrial safety net of the Award system.
It might sound like jargon but the Prime Minister is right when he says we now have the economic fundamentals in place.
We can be confident about a positive future under the next Labor Government.
I am convinced that in the next Labor Government we must come to grips about how we maintain, renew and build up our infrastructure needs.
Finding Budget dollars for infrastructure spending will not only create immediate jobs – but will have important spin-offs for private sector entrepeneurs to create even more work for Australians.
More importantly we must accept that we cannot hope to maintain our standard of living into the 21st Century if we do not build a vibrant infrastructure framework.
And I will tell you now I am not one who argues that the best, or only, people to provide this infrastructure is the private sector.
I believe the public sector must continue to play a strong and viable role in telecommunications, in transport, in health, in education, social security and in housing and community services.
We’ve seen what the privatisation policies of the Liberals have done in this state – the education system in Victoria is reeling from the changes; the sale of the electricity companies will mean higher prices for ordinary consumers.
And next Kennett will want to privatise Water – again hurting our people.
Jeff Kennett’s privatisation plans hurt the Battlers.
And John Howard’s privatisation plans will also hurt the Battlers.
I am convinced that Telstra must remain in public hands.
Telecommunications is a key infrastructure need into the 21st Century.
If our regions are to grow and compete they must be able to rely on a publicly-owned telecommunications company who will provide them cheap and equal access to the information super-highway.
John Howard’s plans to sell off Telstra will only beggar the regions – because they private sector won’t provide any subsidies to the regions.
And only through a publicly-owned Telstra can we hope to implement social justice policies which will ensure access to the information super-highway for all Australian – especially the people we represent.
But Telstra is not the only infrastructure concern I have.
We need a quality public hospital system to contribute to the overall well being of our community.
We need a public hospital system to provide a reliable cheap alternative health facility for our people.
If John Howard gets a chance to play around with our free universal health system, every dollar he re-directs to the private health sector will be a dollar stolen from public hospitals.
I am not encouraged by the fact that in the post-recession recovery long-term unemployment is falling and the most disadvantaged job seekers are gaining a much larger share of employment growth than they did during the eighties.
We are still the party of hope and opportunity.
All this could not have happened with John Howard and his mates in power.
The change would have occurred.
Yes it would.
But, it would have been managed in the slash and burn style we’ve seen in the UK and the USA.
There would have been no social safety net. There would have been no Award system delivering an industrial safety net.
Australia is a wealthy country.
But we can also boast – despite the international market pressures – of still being one of the most egalitarian societies in the world.
Yes some of the rich have got richer… but our Award safety net; our social safety net, our progressive tax system, has ensured that the people we represent are also better off.
According to one recent report, the after-tax disposable income of the people on the lowest rung has risen much faster than inflation, so that an income on the poverty line in 1990-91 bought 20 per cent more good and services than two decades ago.
And the level of poverty has actually decreased dramatically in the last five years, according to Professor Anne Harding of the University of Canberra’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling.
And the reason for this?
Harding suggests that the major reason is our social security payments have been improved in recent years to lift many welfare recipients on maximum benefits over the poverty threshold.
The people in this room know that these important social security reforms, these reforms which have done much to attack the poverty levels, are due to the current member for Batman, Brian Howe, who pushed through important changes in his six years as Social Security Minister.
All Australians applaud you, Brian.
Australians don’t want the excesses we see in the USSA. Our democratic socialist political culture won’t accept huge gaps between the rich and the poor.
As the member for Batman I will commit myself to one major objective for my electorate.
To create new jobs, more jobs, better jobs for our community.
The economic revolution has not been kind to this part of Melbourne.
I will personally work to use the training initiatives in Working Nation to give our people more job opportunities.
There is nothing worse than unemployment. It can be soul destroying. It saps self esteem and erodes your confidence.
We need to keep companies like Kodak, Amcor, the CSIRO, Howe leather and Flair suits viable in this electorate.
I will be visiting some of these companies tomorrow to talk to their workforce, and to talk to their management, about how I, s the next member for Batman, can work with them to create new jobs.
But we also need to develop new employment opportunities in Melbourne’s north in the education, health, hospitality, service and communication sectors.
During my time at the ACTU I have pushed a strong and pro-active industry policy. I am prepared to use these skills to work with any employer to get new jobs, new projects up and running in this electorate.
This week I chaired my last ACTU Congress as President.
I am proud of my time at the ACTU both as President, and before that as a member of the ACTU Executive.
I am proud of the fact that I have, all my working life, worked hard to represent the interests of the real Battlers.
The union I worked for represents the interests of probably the most marginalised, unskilled workers in this country.
This union successfully represents cleaners, security guards, paint workers, photographic workers, child care workers, and leather workers… to name a few.
Around 50 per cent of the union’s members are from non-english speaking backgrounds.
We had large memberships from the Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, Vietnamese, Italian and Spanish-speaking communities.
If their union, proudly known in shorthand as the Miscos, did not exist they would have been economically disenfranchised.
They would have been side-lined and marginalised by some unscrupulous employers who I had to face in the years I represented them at the Miscos.
It is the work for this union that has made me understand the importance of a strong, targeted social security safety net and a secure industrial safety net.
Our members needed Labor governments – both at the State level and the Federal level – to ensure that we not only had these safety nets but the were regularly reformed and improved.
I worked for this union first as a research officer, and I was honoured eventually to become its Federal Secretary.
It is through this work with my union that I first started working on national issues with the ACTU – especially in the areas of job creation, equal rights and equal opportunities, and social welfare.
All three are key issues to Miscos members.
All three are key issues to the voters of Batman.
And I am also aware that the growing issue with both Miscos members and the voters of Batman is the issue of the environment our people live and work in.
As your member I will support endeavours to improve and maintain green areas within our local community.
I pledge to work with the voters of Batman, and with the members of my party, to implement policies which will deliver opportunities for a better way of life for everyone. The Labor Party is about hope and opportunity for all Australians.
Speech by Martin Ferguson at the Launch Of Campaign For Batman. 11am, October 1, 1995