To our political leaders: this is what vision looks like

Almost 30 years ago Bob Hawke delivered this campaign speech and it speaks volumes for how steeply our common political and policy language has declined. Compare this excerpt or the full speech with contemporary political language (here and here) and you’ll see the differences.

Nowadays there is a laundry list of policies with little detail, direct personal jibes against the opposition, a greater focus on the negative and a top-down appeal to voters: ‘elect us and we will do this for you’ – rather than ‘this is what we can achieve together.’

It is just one way of highlighting that, whatever their ideology or party affiliation, our politicians lack the language, policy nous and/or willpower to bring the electorate along with them. Instead, our votes are canvassed and sought in return for a mix of policies which are aimed to benefit their base directly and have primary impact in the short-term.

This speech reminds us of what kind of politics is possible, if we choose to pursue it.

An excerpt from a campaign speech delivered by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in Sydney, NSW, June 23rd, 1987


Photo: National Archives of Australia NAA: A6180, 31/5/83/1

Fellow Australians,

Never in peace-time has Australia’s future depended so much on a single decision – your decision on the 11th of July.

Never have you, the Australian people, been called upon to – make a more fundamental decision for yourselves, your families – your children – about the way you want your country to go – about what kind of a country you want Australia to be.

It is a decision about what kind of a people we are.

It is a decision about what kind of a nation we are going to be.

Are we to continue to unite together in the great task of national renewal, reconstruction and revitalisation, for which we have been working so hard together, and on which the success of our country depends?

Are we to go forward with strength and stability – stability in government, stability in our society?

Or are we to take the other course, the path of our opponents – inflicting upon the nation itself all their own divisions, all their own disunity, all their own instability?

On behalf of the Australian Labor Party I ask for a resounding decision, a decision that will show the world just what kind of a people we are –

  • a strong, united, stable, confident, forward-looking people
  • responding to the leadership of a strong, united, stable, confident, forward-looking government.

We come before you as one, united team.

We come before you with one pledge – that as one, united team, we will continue and intensify our undivided efforts in the task of national renewal and revitalisation of our economy, our industry, our society.

Fellow Australians,

This election is about our faith in Australia’s future. It is about our faith in ourselves.

And it is about our belief and faith – my faith, our government’s faith in the character and calibre of the Australian people. And it is a belief and faith based firmly upon experience.


This is what a Labor Government means for the next three years: genuine reductions in taxation, lower inflation, lower interest rates, higher pensions, more jobs.

Yet our opponents invite you to throw all this away, for a tax bribe nobody believes in – least of all, its discredited authors – and something which, if ever seriously attempted, would destroy the economy and rip apart the social fabric – the basis of the Australian ideal of a fair go for all.

They invite you to turn your backs on the meaning of everything we have been able to achieve together over the past four years.

They invite you to turn your backs on the real meaning of Australia’s future –

  • a future founded on the great ideals of fairness and justice in our society – a fair go for all.

Indeed, my friends, it is almost impossible to judge which is the more dangerous –

  • their economic vandalism,
  • or the wholesale vandalism they propose against the social framework of this nation.

They have long been the parties of social division.

Now they stand as the parties of social devastation.

The whole basis of our call to the Australian people at the election in 1983 and again in 1984 was an appeal to this great truth about the Australian community – the truth that the legitimate aspirations of the diverse groups and interests which go to make up the nation can best be achieved, not by fighting each other, not by setting group against group, Australians against Australians, but by working together, recognising and respecting each other’s rights, fair expectations and fair hopes and aspirations.

That was the basis on which we sought a mandate and that was the basis on which the mandate has been twice given.

And it is on that basis – the people’s response – the recognition of this great truth about Australia – that we have been able to fight back together against the huge difficulties imposed upon us by events abroad.

The toughness with fairness we have applied to the affairs of this nation and the response of the Australian people now enable us to set new goals – realistic, responsible achievable goals for Australia’s future.

We seek to create an Australia where there are no second class citizens.

And we will achieve that only by refusing to accept – as a Government, as a society, as a people – second rate policies.

In this highly competitive world we cannot settle for the second rate in industry, in technology, in education.

We must continue – now as a matter of urgency – the work of modernising and revitalising our economy and industry, so that we can compete with the world – on the world’s terms.

That is the only way we can restore and improve living standards for all.

The greatest resource in Australia is not something that we can grow or dig up from the soil. It is the capacity of its people, our great human resource. And above all – the resource of the future – the children of Australia.


We of the Labor Government have never believed that sound economic management and the economic growth we have been able to achieve as a result, was the supreme end in itself.

We have never believed that the only values in life – in the life of our nation, in the life of our families – are the ones with the dollar tag upon them.

The matchless beauty of our land has a value beyond dollars and cents. That’s why we stopped the Franklin Dam. That’s why we have made mining illegal in Kakadu. It’s why we are protecting the special forests in Tasmania. And that’s why we will save the Daintree.

The enrichment of the arts and culture and leisure opportunities of our people goes to the very heart of – our future together – our national identity – how we see ourselves, how the world sees us.

Above all, we of the great Australian Labor Party are deeply committed to our vision of a generous and open Australia, a fairer, more just Australia –

  • an Australia where true equality of opportunity for all is the reality for all – not just in education, job-training and the development of skills, but in all the opportunities life in this abundant country can offer.

There are people from something like 130 lands in our country – all capable of making their contribution to the common good – the future we can all share.

With this rich diversity, we have at the same time a deep underlying unity and stability.

If we make sure that we keep hold of that unity and stability, then that is what is going to make Australia a truly great and unique nation.

Fellow Australians:

We stand together on the threshold of the third century of one of the most remarkable experiments in nation-building ever attempted in the course of human history.

No beginning could have been more unpromising.

And sure, we have Australian achievements – splendid achievements – to celebrate.

But we Australians have mistakes to rectify, amends to make and wrongs to put right if Australia is to achieve its full promise of what it can be and should be – simply the best and fairest nation on earth.

So let’s use this election as a springboard to the future – towards the promise of the future.

It is a promise of what can be achieved in our time, for this generation and for the generations to come –

  • By a free, proud, independent, intensely individualistic, uniquely diverse people
  • Yet a united people
  • A people who want a fair go for themselves and their families
  • But just as much, a fair go for all their fellow citizens, for all their fellow Australians
  • For their own children, their own families – but for all Australian children, all Australian families
  • For all members of this great Australian family.

This is the promise of Australia.

This is the Australian vision.

This is the reality of the Australian dream.

Click here for the full speech.

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Summer Spoke, 3RRR FM: 2 February 2016

In our last Summer Spoke for a while, I joined Ben Eltham to talk about the first parliamentary sitting week in Canberra. The tax reform debate keeps moving along (now without a white paper process), Labor affirms its intention to fully fund Gonski, the Chief Scientist stakes his reputation on a ‘zero emissions’ economy and the same-sex marriage debate heats up – should there be a plebiscite or a free vote in parliament?

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Summer Spoke, 3RRR FM: 26 January 2016

I joined Ben Eltham on Australia Day to talk about 2016 Australian of the Year David Morrison AO, the chronic under-representation of women in the Australian Honours, Turnbull’s trip to the US, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Shorten’s dismal polling results and the (re)ascension of Abbott the Opposition Leader. It was great fun – I hope you join us.

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Summer Spoke, 3RRR FM: 19 January 2016

I joined Ben Eltham in the studio to talk all things tax reform, including multinational tax avoidance, our revenue problem (yes, it does exist) and whether cutting the company tax rate will actually create jobs. Other things covered include the innovation agenda, funding cuts to the CSIRO and the proposed regressive cuts to paid parental leave.

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Spoke, 3RRR FM: 15 December 2015

I came into the 3RRR studio to talk the year in federal politics with Ben Eltham. We also covered the Paris Climate Agreement, Australia’s ‘smoke and mirrors’ climate policy, and Turnbull’s precarious situation with the right faction of the Liberal Party.

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Spoke, 3RRR FM: 29 September 2015

Today I came into the studio to chat with Ben Eltham on 3RRR’s Spoke program. We examined Malcolm Turnbull’s relatively quiet first week as Prime Minister and the strategy behind his cabinet’s first policy announcements. We also discussed our new Treasurer Scott Morrison and his interesting take on the budget situation – that we, in fact, don’t have a revenue problem.

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Spoke, 3RRR FM: 22 September 2015

I came into the studio to talk federal politics with Ben Eltham on 3RRR’s Spoke program this week. We discussed our newly minted PM Malcolm Turnbull, the direction that the Turnbull government appears to be moving in regard to policy and communication style, as well as where on earth Tony Abbott went wrong.

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