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It is a great honour to be invited to deliver the annual memorial lecture for John Curtin, one of the most distinguished prime ministers in the history of our nation.

It is appropriate that the venue should be Western Australia, the State which he represented in the House of Representatives for a total of 14 years.

John Curtin is remembered most as the prime minister who united Australia in time of war when the petty squabbling of conservative politicians had left the nation bereft of effective leadership.

Curtin's role as a wartime leader was an accident of history.

He was trapped by his time in a situation which denied him scope for the full exercise of his great reformist spirit.

Yet, despite the war, Curtin did preside over changes which have affected Australia and its people profoundly.

Curtin's Achievements

Probably the most significant was the Banking Act of 1945, which brought the banking system under the control of a central banking authority, allowing the development of a more effective system of monetary management after the dispiriting experiences of the Scullin Government in the Great Depression.

That legislation stands intact in its essentials even today. It is difficult to imagine how the national Government could discharge its responsibilities in economic management without it.

Curtin persuaded the States to surrender their income taxing powers-at that time the most far-reaching change in federal relationships since the Finance Agreement of 1928.

He initiated schemes for health, hospitals, unemployment and sickness benefits.

He introduced pensions for widows and pay-as-you-earn taxation.

The Curtin Government established a national airline, the Australian National University and the Joint Coal Board to modernise that industry.

It brought the national Government directly into education for the first time and paved the way for joint Commonwealth-State funding for housing.

If these proposals had survived beyond 1949, Australia would have had a full-scale urban and regional development program 25 years ago.

For good or ill, depending on one's outlook, Curtin introduced the broadcasting of Parliament--something the mother of Parliaments has grappled with only in recent months.

We can only guess at the further dimensions of greatness that might have been added to the record of John Curtin if fate had decreed that he led Australia in a time of peace.

But we should be fully conscious of the extent of his achievements in a period when, for the first time, the flames of war reached our own shores.

Curtin knew and understood the Australian people. He trusted them and that trust was reciprocated. He responded to the times and the people responded to him. That example is particularly relevant today.

National Leadership

The credibility of national leadership is critically, though understandably, low.

For more than a decade, conservative politics in Australia has been a battleground for personal ambition and ideological factionalism. Labor's period in Government was cut short by a manifestation of that conservative warfare; last year's election result can be seen in the same context.

The cynicism and ruthlessness with which the present Government and Prime Minister gulled the Australian people last year has been revealed by the subsequent actions, most notably the Budget.

If the leading figures in the public life of a nation like ours are inconstant in the application of standards of probity and integrity in the discharge of their responsibilities they place at risk the essential under-pinning of the system of Government. If they are to flaunt a blatant double standard, it must be expected that the coinage of proper conduct will become generally debased.

Stemming this tide must be a particular responsibility of the Australian Labor Party--the party of idealism and reform. If we lose our commitment to ideals and reformation, we have lost everything. But there is no such danger.

Notwithstanding the hammer blows of the past two and a half years, the spirit of the Labor Party is unimpaired.

The electorate is prepared to trust Labor; to listen to us; to support us.

We must live up to that trust.

The Labor Party is the only political force in Australia which stands genuinely for social and economic reform. And I have no hesitation in saying that we are as firmly committed as ever to our objectives of progressive reform. There will, however, have to be some new defining of priorities within those objectives. And it is that process I shall deal with tonight.

Social Infrastructure

Labor believes there are certain fundamental injustices embedded within our social system which must be eliminated before we can truly claim to have a free and fair society. We must place a heavy stress on the social infrastructure servicing our society.

We ought not to forget, in that regard, what was achieved in the three years of Labor Government. We must realise how much of that progress is being eroded by neglect, where it has not been reversed for ideological reasons.

Let me remind you of some of the achievements that are endangered, if not destroyed, either by neglect or more direct Government action.


The Labor Government transformed the outlook for education.

We established the Schools Commission, ended the long and bitter argument over so-called 'State aid' by almost doubling education funding and distributing it on the basis of need.

Need is no longer the basic criterion in education funding and the spectre of a revived and divisive 'State aid' debate is real.

Priority planning has been taken out of the hands of the Schools Commission, funding of schools has been slashed to a real growth rate of only 1 per cent, and in the pruning of Schools Commission recommendations, only the wealthier private schools emerged unscathed.

Labor established the Technical and Further Education Commission so that technical skills might find their proper place in a changing society.

We introduced legislation requiring impact statements for all proposals likely to affect the environment.

To a substantial degree, the present Government has sought to evade its responsibilities under this law by passing them over to the States.

We raised the standard rate of pension from 21 per cent of average weekly earnings to 25 per cent and introduced twice-yearly indexation.

As average weekly earnings tend to increase faster than the CPI, the announced change to once-a-year indexation means that pensioners will progressively become worse off.

Cutting back indexation to once a year will rob pensioners of another $100 million a year.

The means test was abolished for all those over seventy. We now see it creeping back.

Land Rights

We legislated for Aboriginal land rights and established the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission to acquire land. The Commission has never been allowed to function effectively and its latest allocation of funds is actually down 27 per cent from last financial year.

Labor legislated to override State laws which discriminated unfairly against Aborigines.

Yet look at the Queensland situation today.

We made great efforts to improve the level of Aboriginal housing throughout Australia, but in real terms the current Budget for that purpose is 28 per cent below that provided in 1975-76.

There is a similar story with the Aboriginal health programs.

Labor introduced universal health insurance through Medibank--a scheme which has been under constant threat from the time Labor left office.

We established the Industries Assistance Commission, the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal--all of them key instruments in equitable economic management, and all of them cut back in scope by subsequent Government action.

I don't intend this as an exercise in point-scoring. My purpose in mentioning these items, among many, is to illustrate an erosion of concern for social responsibilities, a downgrading of compassion.

Labor Achievements

Our opponents have sought to nurture memories of all that went wrong for the Labor Government and the impression that there was nothing else.

I am confident that, reminded of the specifics, the overwhelming majority of Australians would readily concede the achievements of the Labor years, whatever riders some of them might add. Moreover, the spirit of those measures is not a spirit of big government and big spending as if those things were virtues in themselves.

In its three years, Labor introduced schemes like the Australian Assistance Plan and the Area Improvement Program, which provided an unprecedented degree of decentralisation in decision-making, right down to a district and neighbourhood level.

But those schemes have gone.

Labor does not believe that good and effective Government is achieved merely by the spending of money. But neither does it believe that all spending of money by Government is bad, or at the least, suspect.

As we see neglect continuing to seep into so many areas of public policy, our commitment to progressive reform with maximum equity is reinforced. To fail in this regard would be not only to deny the deprived and the needy in our community.

It would be a failure to respond to the qualitative needs of our society as a whole--needs which are as much middle class as they are working class.

One of Labor's roles must be to inspire concern, to nurture issues of social conscience and morality against the pressures of self-interest and mere pragmatism.

Social Concerns

These are some of the reasons why the Labor movement has expressed such extreme hostility to the 1978-79 Budget. It is a Budget lacking social concern, unjust in its redistributive priorities and, in any event, inappropriate in its strategy.

The Labor Party cannot accept a situation where the health needs of the community are provided so unevenly, with the greatest advantage to the affluent and the greatest disadvantage to the needy.

It is appalling that the socially disadvantaged, by Government decision, must now convince a doctor in private practice of their condition before they can qualify for Government assistance.

For demographic reasons, some pressures on the education system will ease in the years ahead. But within the system, neglect and deprivation remain rampant in many areas. The victims are innocent children from less affluent families.

Yet the conservative priority in education is again to underwrite the privileged end of the system.

We cannot accept the perpetuation of deprivation and grossly unequal opportunity through official neglect.

I believe it is important to make these points in the present climate.

The expediencies of conservative politics have been fostering an alarming mood in sections of our society.

It is reflected in attitudes which vary from a refusal even to accept the existence of problems such as I have been describing to a flint-hearted assumption that the victims of social dislocation bring their condition upon themselves.

By these standards, social concern is passé.

Strong men claim to stand alone--they ask no favours, least of all from Government, they say, so why should they be expected to provide favours for others. Paradoxically, the people who take this 18th century view of the ideal in economic affairs are often the beneficiaries of substantial Government handouts--which are of course, 'different'.

A 'gentleman' farmer from the rich Western Districts of Victoria sees nothing strange about delivering homilies on how tough life must be while receiving substantial Government assistance for his farm by way of superphosphate subsidies.

Or he may be given to declaiming against a class of persons he calls 'dole bludgers', who are said to 'rip off' the taxpayers, even when given to patronising $600 a night hotels at public expense while travelling overseas.

Double standards and selective indignation are no basis for credible policy. They need to be recognised for what they are.

Government Assistance

Assistance to the unemployed, for example, is on nothing like the scale of assistance to industry.

According to the latest Budget figures, direct assistance to industry in the current financial year will be $536 million. Indirect assistance through the tax system--principally by way of the investment allowance and the trading stock valuation adjustment--will be worth $867 million. Assistance provided by way of protection is worth at least $6,000 million--a grant total of about $7,500 million a year, or about 7.5 per cent of this year's estimated gross domestic product.

The cost of paying a subsistence benefit, or less, to the unemployed will be $780 million.

In other words, the cost of assisting industry is nearly ten times greater than the cost of assisting the unemployed.

I am not trying to reverse the conservative argument.

It does not necessarily follow from what I have just said that all assistance to industry is unjustified or abused. Indeed, the next Labor Government will be committed to providing certain forms of assistance to industry to improve performance and help to revitalise the economy.

By the same yardstick, it is wrong to condemn all expenditure to improve social infrastructure or transfer payments for which there is a genuine need.

Government can assist in both directions.

In all cases, the rate at which it does so should be regulated by what the economy can bear and what the community wants.

Aboriginal Affairs

I mentioned earlier the erosion of concern for Aboriginal Australians in various areas of policy.

Consider the situation there.

The Commission of Enquiry into poverty had this to say:

... [Aboriginals] probably have the highest growth rate, the highest birth rate, the highest death rate, the worst health and housing, and the lowest educational, occupational, economic, social and legal status of any identifiable section of the Australian population.

Accurate measurement of Aboriginal unemployment is difficult because so many do not register, but well-based estimates put the figure at over 50 per cent.

The infant mortality rate for Aboriginals is 20 per cent; for white Australians it is 2 per cent.

Two per cent of Aboriginal children progress beyond third form at school; for white children the future is 23 per cent.

The black, the unemployed, the poor and the sick cannot be punished for their condition as if they chose it just to rip off the system.

The concept is barbarous.

It is unfortunate, but inevitable, that with every system of Government support there will be a minority who abuse it.

The Government has had to change its Special Youth Employment Training Program because of employer abuse.

Abuse is not confined to a few who don't wish to work but do wish to collect unemployment benefits. Far bigger money is made from tax avoidance and the milching of the health insurance scheme at the country's expense.

Yet the double standard tends to appear again in this type of comparison.

The outrage at social security abuses is of a totally different order of magnitude to the concern expressed at the other forms of cheating I have just cited. To the conservative eye, it would seem, crime committed in a white collar or a grey flannel suit, or with the sanctity of a stethoscope, is far less heinous, far more tolerable.

My point is this--the indignation and reaction to so-called 'dole bludging' exemplifies a pernicious trend in public debate and political decision-making.

It is based on spurious grounds, so far as comparisons are concerned it is directed at a powerless and unorganised section of the community, inflated out of proportion--and then used as the excuse for dismantling social infrastructure services in the community.

If we allow these attitudes to take root and grow we are inviting the failure of our system.

We cannot turn our backs on the real needs of Australians.

We cannot allow our sense of priorities to be directed obsessively to purely economic issues to the detriment of massive social and human questions.

These things have been happening, are happening now in Australia.

Economic Issues

In three successive budgets, there has been a redistribution of wealth and resources away from areas of need, away from the majority of the Australian people, to certain large corporate interests in our economy.

Can we claim to be better off, in any respect, as a result?

I find no evidence for such a claim; quite the reverse.

Inflation has been reduced by dint of deeper recession. The economy shows no sign of upturn, even though it has sunk into a deeper trough than other comparable countries.

Let me remind you, as a matter of fairness, of the situation during Labor's period of Government. Australia's growth rate then was higher than in these other countries; our level of unemployment was lower. Their problems became ours to a very large extent--though you will recall the scorn heaped on that thesis at the time.

Now, in a depressed situation, Australia continues to pursue contractionary policies despite the enormous social distress they are generating.

Alternatives are available. Sooner or later they must be adopted, as we have suggested in the weeks since the Budget.

A concern for the disadvantaged is not necessarily bad economics. The mix of measures available to Government can be properly balanced to generate activity as well as relieve suffering.

On our present course, by next year the loss of production caused by present policies could be estimated conservatively at some $8,000 million. When the social costs are added, it is surely obvious that the issue cannot continue to be ignored.

Yet to suggest alternatives is to invite again the spurious claims that Labor stands for big-spending, irresponsible government, while the conservative parties are small-spending and, therefore, responsible.

Our opponents have propagated the view that there is some intrinsic benefit in reducing the size of the public sector, that the private sector must expand as a result.

Again, I would suggest, there is no sound evidence for such a view.

The total Commonwealth sector in Labor's last Budget accounted for 29.5 per cent of GDP. The comparable figure last year was 31.1 per cent, and a reasonable estimate for this financial year is about 30.4 per cent.

In the virtual absence of economic growth, the public sector naturally accounts for a large share of contracted resources. The more the public sector is deliberately cut back in areas such as capital works--where the spending actually takes place in the private sector--the more the private sector will be undermined and overall economic activity diminished. A policy of cutting back and back on this part of the public sector thus intensifies the squeeze on the depressed private sector. In fact, public sector expenditure is essential to get the private sector out of recession.

It is also worth noting that last year's expenditure with the Budget deficit should discredit forever the ill-informed conservative sloganeering about the overwhelming evil of deficits.

The Government has been engaged on some substantial fiddling of the books, moving out large items which traditionally have been included in the Budget.

The point of that exercise is to reduce the size of the Budget and, so it is hoped, the level of the deficit, for the sake of appearances. If the bookkeeping had been carried out in the normal, proper way the deficit for last financial year would have been around $4,000 million.

It would have been the highest deficit in history.

Yet in spite of that huge deficit, inflation came down--contrary to all the principles the Government had argued previously. The simplistic notions of economic management which have been force-fed to the Australian people over these past few years are the products of a piggy-bank mentality. They are inappropriate and positively dangerous.

The core of the argument between Labor and the conservatives on economic management is not about big spending as against small spending; on the evidence, they are spenders on as big a scale as anyone before them.

The real question between us, however, is who gets the benefits.

There is nothing exceptional about the size of the public sector in the Australian economy. It is in the middle range, well below the highest and smaller than, for example, the United States and several other countries whose economic performances are rather more impressive than ours.

Does that prove anything?

One could argue, in fact, that some of the measures employed to encourage expansion of the private sector--measures like the investment allowance--have been counterproductive for their side-effects, particularly in employment.

Moreover, certain policies, such as the movement to world parity for crude oil pricing and the progressive withdrawal of the export levy on coal, have given substantial extra profits to some foreign-owned companies at the expense of the rest of the community.

Those companies have moved their windfall profits out of Australia, aggravating the balance of payments problem at a time when our current account trend is already a cause for uncertainty.

Labor believes strongly in the need for a redistribution of both wealth and power to the majority of the people.

Measures for Redistribution

I have recently outlined in some detail some of the redistributive measures we propose.

Changes in the tax scales to reduce the advantage created in recent times for those with the highest incomes, a capital gains tax, a resources rental tax to return more of the benefits from the exploitation of public resources to the public purse, and to clamp down on tax avoidance through such devices as family trusts.

We see the redistribution of power as a matter of establishing firm rights for the individual. The most basic individual rights should be spelled out in a Bill of Rights. I would hope that those who have opposed such a proposal on technical grounds in the past have been persuaded by the alarming growth of authoritarianism in recent years.

The statutory basis of Australian democracy is too slender for comfort in the light of examples we have seen in recent times.

Even the right to vote for a national Government can rest ultimately on the whim of a State Government.

Indeed, nowhere in Australia is there an inalienable right to vote. Essentially, the vote is a privilege, an indulgence that could be withdrawn or limited quite legally. That's a shaky basis for democracy to rest upon.

I acknowledge the constitutional difficulties of introducing a Bill of Rights on the American model. In Government, Labor was forced to acknowledge them but, nevertheless, strove always to be consistent with the relevant United Nations Conventions. The next Labor Government will seek to codify that spirit.

We will be prepared to make greater use of the external affairs power of the Constitution--one of the few openings through which the national Government can move in this area.

We will work for strong and effective freedom of information legislation rather than the pale shadow of that name which has finally emerged from the bureaucratic surgery after more than four years.

The scope of the current legislation has been restricted far beyond real need.

A guaranteed right for the citizen to know what is going on in Government is not one that appeals to entrenched authority such as the bureaucracy. It is essential, nonetheless. Politicians, the transient element of the system of government, should acknowledge the need for their own good.

Governments can be too easily 'snowed' by their public service advisers; they can too easily fall into comfortable tandem with those who run the power machine with the security of permanency and, largely, anonymity.

It will be interesting, incidentally, to see the fate of the present, attenuated freedom of information proposals in the light of Government-imposed staff ceilings throughout the public service. The legislation will impose new legal obligations on every section of Government but there has been no indication that the staffing resources will be provided to carry them out.

In this same general vein, Labor believes it essential to legislate for full disclosure of substantial donations to political parties. It is an essential part of the process of restoring credibility to politics.

Where Government decisions can mean additional corporate or individual profits of many millions a year, and where the tendency has been established to favour those sections of society above others, who could blame disillusioned voters for thinking that influence may be bought?

Open Government can be a reality, and a creative one.

Disclosure of political funding and genuine freedom of information would take us a lot closer to that ideal.

Just as we created an employee-elected commissioner on the ABC, we would look at worker representation on the Board of TAA, the Australian National Line and the Australian National Railways. The task ahead of us is not only to redistribute wealth but also power for a more just and humane society.

This year's Budget should have been the one to launch the Australian economy into the 1980s, but the impetus just wasn't there. We will have cause to regret that fact in the future. We needed the impetus now; its absence is a setback to national economic performance and will weaken our preparedness for the 1980s.

It is noteworthy even now that economic discussion is centred almost exclusively on the immediate problems besetting Australia. There appears to be almost total neglect of the difficulties ahead of us which have medium to long-term implications.

Already we know that about 4 per cent of the workforce, at least, is unemployed because of deep-seated structural changes taking place in the economy.

We are aware that they will remain unemployed and their numbers will grow in the absence of medium to long-term programs on the part of Government.

Our economic structure is in urgent need of revitalisation now and will need it more and more as the pace of change accelerates. We must give ourselves the time and the means to make the rate of change manageable.

We cannot resist change.

We cannot hope to deal with it by confrontation politics.

Changes for the Future

And as the Jackson Committee on manufacturing industry pointed out three years ago, major change cannot be left solely to market forces and the price mechanism; that approach is not acceptable in the Australian environment.

The Jackson Committee's Green Paper on manufacturing policy said this:

Governments should act to provide, so far as possible, a stable and predictable environment for industry to operate in.

But the Committee also warned:

Government concern for industry confidence and for the reduction of uncertainty should not be permitted to stifle necessary change or innovation. Government pronouncements should not mislead the public and industry about the likely future, nor understate the need for change.

That same Green Paper said bluntly that the traditional ad hoc approach to the management of the Australian economy was no longer good enough.

We have built up an enormous, ramshackle structure of subsidies for primary industry, assistance to secondary industry, tariffs which protect some manufacturers from imports while they simultaneously penalise, through added costs, farmers who rely on exporting--the list goes on.

Our future demands a more rational use of our limited resources than in the past. We need processes for genuine consultation aimed at genuine consensus.

We need very much the spirit, the understanding and the empathy that a leader like John Curtin brought to national political leadership.

Curtin's White Paper on full employment with rising living standards was a brilliant articulation of widely-shared but previously unstated aspirations of an Australian society which had been through depression and war. The longevity of that policy statement as the bipartisan expression of Australia's basic economic policy objectives was testimony enough to its power. The Labor party still believes in those basic objectives, the only major political party to do so. Their pursuit in these final two decades of the 20th century, however, will be more difficult and will have to be by different means from those defined in 1945.

They will require of us a constant, careful judgement between the demands of social infrastructure and productive infrastructure--though we should be careful not to regard the two as mutually antipathetic.

Spending in areas such as education, health services and the arts are not easily quantified in terms of strengthening the economy. Intangible though they may be, however, I hope nobody today would argue against the proposition that a better educated, healthier and more creative society must also be the more effective economically.

Judgements of this sort will be impossible unless we rid ourselves of the conservative shibboleths of recent years.

We will need a larger public sector; the Government's own advisers say as much.

The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations has warned that manufacturing industry can only provide modest growth in employment opportunities.

The rural and mining industries will contribute little.

Within the services sector, the prospects are uneven because of the development of labour-replacing technology as, for example, in the banks.

The community services sector will offer job expansion opportunities until the early 1980s, when its rate of job generation will decline from the influence of demographic change (as in education) and greater capital intensity (notably health care).

The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations estimate that something like 10 per cent of additional jobs will have to be provided from public administration. Let me quote the Department clearly because there has been a lot of ill-informed nonsense spoken and written recently which, if listened to, will lead the country deep into serious social problems. It says:

It seems likely that one of the main challenges in managing the economy to produce reasonably full employment in future years will involve some redistribution of income from the sectors strongly contributing to the nation's wealth to those which more readily employ people.

With major service areas like retail trade likely to contribute less to employment growth, the public sector may be increasingly required to generate jobs within the public sector or through the private sector via public expenditure.

Another sobering point needs to be borne in mind.

Because of improved productivity directly attributable to increased capital intensity in production and distribution and intensive labour saving innovations, a higher rate of economic growth than achieved through the two decades to the 1970s will be necessary to sustain a comparable performance in the provision of jobs. A daunting prospect!

Two years ago, a French Government report forecast that by the mid-1980s, 40 per cent of jobs in insurance companies and banks would be taken over by computers. The German firm Siemens says that by the 1990s, 30 per cent of all office jobs will be taken over by computers.

There is no evidence of any Government awareness in this country of the enormous social dislocation this sort of change will bring about. Quite clearly, there needs to be an informed understanding within the community of the nature of this change, its likely effects and Government responses, if further disruption of the recent Telecom type is to be averted.

We cannot blame people for reacting the way the Telecom workers did if they are frightened of the unknown and can detect neither sympathy nor awareness on the part of the Government.

Without delay, there needs to be started a major national inquiry into likely ramifications of technological change and the more efficient use of labour in the workforce. Insecurity and alienation in the workforce and society generally are not the building blocks this nation will need for the tasks of the 1980s and beyond. Propagation of the 'dole bludger' syndrome and others in that category can do nothing to relieve insecurity and end alienation.

To all these ends, we must devise and develop suitable machinery so that the social and economic development of the nation is mapped out in a way that the community can understand.

It is one of the more absurd conservative myths that respectable, free enterprise Governments cannot accept the concept of planned social and economic development, just as every well run business plans its affairs for three to five year periods. The need is for more openness at every stage of the process, including the conclusions, which in our present system, remain locked within the Treasury and, to a lesser extent, the Cabinet room.

In a discussion on the general subject of national economic planning not so long ago, the distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, Professor Melville Ulmer, commented that ... "There's nothing more authoritarian about economic regulations, in a democracy, than there is about traffic laws; they're to be judged exclusively by their results."

The point was rather whether planning could make a substantial and valuable difference.

And on that score Professor Ulmer had some pointed remarks about institutional outlooks in America which could apply with equal force to a good many conservative views in Australia. Let me quote him:

At present, government in America operates on the fundamental premise that the market, the free market, can do no wrong-in general, that is. Hence Government is thrust into an unchanging posture of constant surprise.

We are surprised that inflation occurs and accelerates every time business activity is expanding, even though it has been doing so repeatedly for 30 years.

We are even more surprised when inflation doesn't disappear as corrective recessions are invoked, even though prices have risen in every year but one since World War Two; and we're surprised about pollution and poverty, food and drug contamination, urban squalor, crime in inner cities and so on, even though all are equally predictable, and without the aid of econometric models. Surprise makes for hectic ineffectuality in government, a waste and proliferation of agencies, often operating at cross purposes.

And may I just offer you a final comment from Professor Ulmer:

In contrast, economic planning requires a pragmatic governmental attitude of readiness, the same alertness and forethought that any sensible person exercises in his own affairs. At a minimum, it would result in the coordination of what Government is trying to do now, in its displanned, disorganised way ...

I think Professor Ulmer's rather wry statement of the present situation and the alternative is unarguable on any objective view of our circumstances.

ALP Platform

The Australian Labor Party platform is quite specific about our commitment to the planned social and economic development of the nation on a number of essential principles.

The platform states that our economic objectives include full employment, greater economic independence, maintenance of a diversified industrial base, reduction in national and international inequalities in wealth and income, price stability and an improvement in living standards.

We believe in the same basic principles that were stated in 1945 by the Curtin Government's White Paper.

Market forces alone will not create the environment necessary to achieve these objectives. To create the environment necessary to achieve these objectives we need the clarity, the cooperation and the coordination that can only come from the collective definition of our goals and methods--from participation.

Perhaps we need to consider measures such as social and economic impact statements as well as environmental impact statements.

Certainly we need to ensure that future change does not bear any heavier on those already disadvantaged within society. And in that regard may I remind you that the disadvantaged are not all minority groups. The largest of all disadvantaged groups in the Australian community comprises fully half our people--and I refer, of course, to the women of Australia.

It is a sad reflection on the changed priorities of national Government that, after the efforts in the Labor years to redress the inequalities affecting Australian women, the only serious current action in that field is at the level of State Governments. All power to those States which have acted to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex. The Labor Party supports such progressive action wherever it is possible. We look forward particularly, however, to the time when it is possible nationally.

On an occasion dedicated to John Curtin there is one further area of policy that must be mentioned, that of international relations.

Curtin was responsible for the most decisive assertion of Australian independence that had been made at that time since Federation.

His decision that Australian interests--it may well have been Australian survival--could no longer be submerged by those of an Empire-oriented Government in London has had profound effects on our development as a nation.

It is true that a minority of ultra-conservative thought in Australia still misrepresents or misunderstands the significance of that decision.

By turning to the United States at a time of direct threat to this nation, Curtin was not seeking to replace one great power hegemony with another. It was a practical alliance based on mutual interests.

The United States did not seek client status from us--then or later. That was the idea of conservative Australian politicians.

The drama of Curtin's break with tradition may not have been fully appreciated at the time, though it certainly has been since. Great decisions in international affairs seem to have a special drama. They are still possible and, in some respects, necessary and overdue.

The future Australia must be less deferential in the presence of the great powers, more active in regional cooperation, where she must not only listen but be prepared, on occasions, to lead. Before long, the increasing emphasis on economic issues in international affairs will also force us to back words with actions, sometimes with the need for politically sensitive domestic adjustments as a consequence.

Tonight, I take pride in re-stating so many Labor commitments which have carried down from Curtin's period--and, indeed, from earlier times in some instances.

We do not believe our society can be socially and economically just without the continued pursuit of the objectives derived from these commitments.

We are not a party of 'big' government--too much Government intervention is stifling. But we cannot accept default and neglect. Too little government is an abdication of responsibility, a charter for the type of exploitation that belongs to the century past. Today, as much as ever before, the Labor Party is inspired by the ideals which guided John Curtin.

Curtin recognised and discharged a responsibility to attend to social reform, even at a time of great international and national disturbance and distraction.

I believe we face comparable conditions today.

Our great international and national disturbances and distractions are mostly economic rather than military, but they place the same demands on national leadership.

We assert unashamedly that at times like the present, where there is to be some sacrifice, it should be distributed according to a sense of equity and justice. The distribution should not be a matter of providing comfort and accommodation for the preferences of the privileged at the expense of the majority of people. Moreover, we assert an over-riding responsibility that must be acknowledged and discharged in responding to these great economic problems--it is that we do not lose sight of our equally important objective to look after the social needs of the community.

At times like the present we cannot respond as generously or as rapidly as we would in more suitable and more prosperous periods. But it is incontestable that there is room to attend to the more glaring areas of neglect and injustice. To ignore them because of some narrow-minded inadequate focus on economic affairs, is to sow seeds of social division and antagonisms in our society, which are both unnecessary and undesirable.

The most recent Budget exemplified all of these most undesirable traits. Equally alarming, it ignored totally the medium to long term social and economic problems they are creating in our nation.

We cannot expect a growing army of the young to accept the types of policies that treat them in some extravagant fashion as expendable pawns in an economic chess game poorly played by conservatives. There is very real evidence of growing alienation in the community--and no wonder! It is the main disturbing quality the conservatives have injected into our social system. We need a return to the great ideals that guided John Curtin and, indeed, Ben Chifley after him.

They were ideals based on a true sense of compassion, tempered by the sound commonsense of the average man, and influenced by the values of social and economic equality and justice.

Those ideals were attained within a clear vision of what Australia in the future should be. That is what we need again today.

Labor makes no apology for our scale of priorities.

They are headed by the demand for policies to assist the economy out of depression, policies to generate activity and jobs. Beyond that immediate need is the task of reshaping and revitalising the economy so that it is better equipped to cope with the many changes that are now approaching headlong.

On another level we would rather provide assistance for Aboriginal welfare than wealthy mining companies.

We see it as a priority to redistribute the untaxed capital gains of the wealthy so that the glaring social disadvantages of our education system can be overcome.

We do not hesitate to state our commitment to improving the urban environment in which we live.

We are clear in our determination to enhance the quality and distribution of health services by clamping down on tax avoidance from devices such as family trusts and by redistributing from the top 2 per cent of incomes. A vocal minority will stridently resist these changes. The Labor Party is confident in the justice of what it proposes, confident that the case for such redistribution can be argued persuasively and successfully.

We are clear in our message to those few who control so much of the wealth of the community--the needs of the great majority of the people cannot continue to be neglected so that the privilege of the wealthy minority may be preserved and enlarged. To argue otherwise is to invite something worse than social division. In difficult economic circumstances like the present it could be the genesis of a nasty rift in our society.

The Labor party today is the party of the future--a party determined that that future will be better and more just for all Australians.

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