23 October 2018
I honour the first Australians, on whose land we meet and whose culture we celebrate as the oldest continuing culture in human history.
Senator Claire Moore.
Professor Glyn Davis.
My parliamentary colleagues.
My friends from the public service.
Those still brave enough to call themselves friends from the fourth estate.
Friends, one and all.
Writing a book about the life as an Australian prime minister is always a hazardous business.
Some will be offended, either by being mentioned, or not being mentioned, as the case may be.
And many simply skeptical as to the accuracy of the account.
Prime ministerial autobiography is of course even more hazardous.
Those of us who seek to write the history of the times in which we live, and our role in them, will always do so through the prism of our own experience.
And however much we try, we can never be fully objective.
By definition autobiography is a subjective account.
But in putting this account together, I’ve grounded it on verifiable fact, rather than what is now called in the United States alternative facts.
And then I’ve assembled my argument based on these facts.
Indeed, across both volumes there are some 2500 endnotes – a feat not for the faint-hearted itself, even to read, let alone to have assembled.
Therefore my point is that this account is not simply a collection of possibly interesting opinions.
It is also the product of two years of intense research of the primary and secondary sources of the period by a team of researchers, including my own review of the cabinet record.
And I stand by the accuracy of the record presented here 100 percent.
So why have I written it?
There are a number of reasons.
The first is the most obvious. The historical record is of itself important. And this is a contribution to it. Of course there are others too.
Volume one deals extensively with the history of the Howard Government, including Howard’s much contested record on economic reform and financial discipline, the Tampa, “children overboard”, the collapse in the Indonesia relationship as a result of the Howard Doctrine of pre-emotive strikes, the Iraq War and the Wheat for Weapons scandal.
Apart from Howard’s own book, and Paul Kelly’s sympathetic account of Howard’s government, there are no other accounts of the period.
Mine represents in part an alternative history, particularly on the great political deception that underpinned the invasion of Iraq which remains a massive mark against John Howard’s legacy, particularly given the rolling geo-political and humanitarian consequences of that fateful invasion across Iraq, Iran, Syria and beyond some fifteen years later.
Volume two deals of course with the history of our government.
The government certainly made its mistakes. All governments do.
But our record of policy achievement, given the constraints of the Global Financial Crisis, is strong.
We successfully navigated the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression without losing a single bank or a single bank deposit, and without yielding the country to the devastating consequences of recession and the mass unemployment which accompanied the GFC in virtually all other developed economies around the world.
It’s rarely asked in this country, what would have happened had we not so acted.
And in doing so, we nonetheless delivered the lowest net debt across the OECD, while retaining Triple A credit ratings from all three international credit ratings agencies.
In addition to our economic achievements, we co-founded the G20, defeating a French diplomatic initiative at the time to have a smaller body in its place which would have excluded Australia.
As a result, Australia, through our concerted national diplomatic effort, for the first time in its history has a seat at the top global table.
The Defence White paper of 2009, identifying critical emerging security challenges in our region, and initiating the largest peace-time expansion of the Royal Australian Navy in our history, was ahead of its time.
Meanwhile at home, we defeated Howard’s extreme Workchoices regime and replaced it with the Fair Work Act which remains in force today, and which the conservatives simply do not have the guts to touch, so effective was out campaign on basic fairness for working families back in 2007.
Despite formidable opposition, we introduced the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2020, and which remains this country’s only effective climate change legislation in force a decade later.
We legislated for a carbon price twice, only to see the Liberals in opportunistic coalition with the Greens defeat it twice.
We implemented the biggest infrastructure build in the country’s history, including unprecedented investments in the nation’s urban and rural rail networks, our highways (such as the Pacific Highway) and our ports.
We delivered the single biggest capital program in Australian schools, building thousands of state of the art libraries across the poorest schools in the nation.
We established the country’s first National Organ and Tissue Authority which has radically increased the number of transplants nationwide.
We delivered the biggest single structural adjustment to the aged pension and carers benefit in a century, nearly doubled the child care rebate and introduced the country’s first ever paid parental leave scheme.
And we advanced along the long road to reconciliation by our National Apology, our Closing the Gap Strategy and annual requirement to report to the parliament on progress or regress on the same – including our success in the near elimination of childhood trachoma.
There are many other records of achievement as well – from regulatory reform for businesses operating across state boundaries, the addition of tens of thousands of units of social and emergency housing for the most vulnerable members of the community, the NDIS and many, many more.
These are achievements of which we are proud.
They are our achievements. Mine. Julia’s. Our’s. Labor’s
And delivered, remarkably, under the dark cloud of the global financial crisis.
The Problem of Rolling Coups
Another reason for the book is to set the record straight on the coup of June 2010.
Some have asked why bring this matter up now.
The truth is there is never a good time to do so.
But after sitting largely in silence as a series of accounts have emerged over the years by the perpetrators of the coup seeking to justify their actions in the noblest of terms, and to define a political narrative for that purpose, the time has well and truly come to exercise a right of reply.
I do not intend to summarise these accounts here. They are detailed and documented extensively in the book itself. And if you read the book, the case I advance is clear.
But there is of course now another reason for dealing with the coup of 2010.
And that is that the disease has spread.
On 24 June 2010 I said in my last address to the the Labor Party caucus that as a result of that coup, the cancer of rolling factional assassinations of the party’s leadership had now spread from the NSW Parliament of the national parliament.
I did not imagine then that this factional disease, all these years later, would have so contaminated the conservative parties as well. And it seems terminally so.
There are be many reasons for coup disease.
The political rise of the “young party apparatchik” generation, both from Young Labor and the Young Liberals, who have known nothing other than politics, and a culture within politics that to get ahead only requires you to kill the person ahead of you.
Then there is the explosion of factional power, and the power-broking culture within it, usually run by the most politically manipulative and most policy illiterate among us.
Then there is cult of the fortnightly opinion poll and the sense of rolling manufactured crisis it creates, and in Newspoll’s case, manipulates.
Then there is power of News Corp as the unelected prime ministerial king-maker and the king-killer of our country, depending on attitude of the publisher and sometimes its editors.
And most of all, perhaps, a set of party rules which made the midnight coup all so easy, as faction leaders could intimidate or stampede members of parliament into overnight leadership change, to demonstrate their factional power.
The good news is the the rule change I introduced into the Labor Party in 2013 on the future election of party leaders, as a precondition for returning to the leadership that year to save thefurniture in the 2013 election, has worked.
That rule, the first of its type in our part’s 113 year federal history, has created one giant speed-bump against sudden leadership change.
And as a result, Labor has had one leader over the last five years, enabling the party to focus on policy, rather than being totally preoccupied with its internals.
While over the same time, the Coalition have been through three prime ministers, two deputy prime ministers and two deputy leaders of the Liberal Party.
I spend a lot of time speaking around the world these days. Invariably about the rose of China.
But these days I am routinely asked, wherever I go, about Australia. In Beijing,Washington, London, Delhi and Jakarta. Its the same.
It has been appalling for our international standing.
It has also caused the current government to become utterly preoccupied with its own political internals rather than dealing with the large scale policy challenges facing the nation’s future.
And it is this monumental acts of rolling political self-indulgence that has caused the Australian people to become enraged. As demonstrated most recently on Saturday in Wentworth.
So what is to be done?
It’s pretty straightforward.
It’s now in the national interest for the Liberal Party to adopt a rule change on the election of their leader similar to my own.
In other words, a three month process, involving an electoral college including a vote from both parliamentary members and the entire national membership of the party.
As well as the other mechanisms contained in our rule designed to slow the entire process right down, and to act as a deterrent against the abuse of factional power.
So I say to my friends in the Liberal Party, it’s time to act.
We have the Rudd rule.
Julie Bishop could advance the Liberal’s equivalent in the Liberal Party party room.
It’s time for what we could call in time the Bishop Rule.
And what of a vision for our country’s future?
There is indeed a deep anxiety and palpable anger across the country concerning the state of our national politics.
They are angry because the people do not see the prime ministership of the nation as a political plaything.
The people are also angry because there is a sense of desperation about the absence of common national vision, despite the presence of monumental challenges nor threatening our national future.
The people want us to finally come together and agree on a comprehensive program of national and international action on climate change.
Our people are frightened, legitimately, by recent scientific reports of a step-change in the intensification of global warming and extreme weather events.
They are understandably worried for their children and their grandchildren.
They know action ultimately depends in actions by the big polluters, China and the US.
Which is why they want Australia to brokering deals between these two global giants, to lift their national ambitions on GHG reductions, which we can only credibly do if we ourselves have acted.
Our people are also anxious also about the growing cleavage between China and the United States that is starting to undermine the long-term security and stability of our own immediate region.
The people want Australia to be engaged in the hard business of bridging the gap between the two, if we still can.
Rather than just pouring fuel on the flames.
Australians also want us to become problem solvers, not problem shirkers, on the challenge that destabilising the internal politics of nearly all western democracies today – that is unprecedented unauthorised global people movements.
They are tired of us just playing domestic politics on it.
They instead want us to act globally to help forge a new global agreement encompassing source countries, neighbouring countries, transit countries and destination countries for asylum seekers – based on a principle of proportional global burden-sharing giving effect to our international legal and humanitarian obligations.
The people also want us to attend to our fracturing social contract who’s current state of disrepair is starting to damage the Australian democracy.
This fracturing will be compounded by the AI revolution and the quantum displacement of labor by technology at a pace and scale well beyond our normal capacity to adjust.
While at the same time, forging a high technology future for the country that broadens our economic base, secures our future international competitiveness and enables us to continue to realise strong and sustainable economic growth.
But for all these things to happen, we need a stability, maturity and intellectual capacity in our national politics that our current media arrangements simply do not permit.
Its hard for the nation to intelligently debate its future when the medium for conducting that debate remains largely controlled by one man, Murdoch.
Murdoch is a far-right ideologue who has written and re-written Australian, British and American politics as he sought to craft these in his own ideological image.
There would be no Trump without Fox.
There would be no Brexit without The Sun, The Times and Sky.
And here there would have been no Dutton challenge, no Turnbull demise and certainly no Morrison were it not for Murdoch and the 70% of the Australian print circulation he controls.
Murdoch’s abuse of media power across the Anglosphere is second to none.
In all three countries, but particularly here, people are afraid of him. Understandably so. If you challenge them ,they come after you.
Which is why I say to the political class in all three countries its time to reclaim our democracy from Citizen Murdoch.
That’s why we need here a Royal Commission to examine the extent to which Murdoch has abused his media power, together with other matters relevant to the future of media diversity in this country, and to recommend an optimal model for diversity of media ownership across all media platforms in the future.
Murdoch, given the dire state of the conservative parties here in Australia, is now likely to try and cosy up to Labor through his national daily, because they now conclude that Labor electoral win next year may well be inevitable.
While at the same time doing whatever they can though his tabloids to defenestrate Labor’s leadership though one confected scandal or another.
That’s what they did in 2007.
Labor should be deeply wary of this standard Murdoch strategy for the year ahead.
But Murdoch will always return to his fundamental, deeply conservative agenda, driven by both his ideological and commercial interests, and for whom the philosophy of the Labor Party is fundamentally anathema. At best to be tolerated for a season. But no more.
These too are the challenges addressed in this book as I also seek to look to the country’s future.
We should not be intimidated by them.
We should instead rise to them.
And on that score I am deeply encouraged ny the political ad policy resolve of the alternative government of Australia and its leadership.
Labor once again must take a big agenda to the people when next we must face them.
The next generation of Australians depends on it.