Janine Freeman MLALabor Member for Mirrabooka

Your local Labor MP

Eric Ripper's speech to the WA Labor State Conference

Tuesday 28 Jun 2011

Good morning and thank you for that warm welcome. Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Noongar people and pay my respects to their elders and their people.

As pensioners turn off their heaters in fear of their electricity bills - and fabrication workshops sit half empty in the middle of a resources boom, I want to talk to you about why we are Labor and why we need a Labor government in Western Australia.

Let me talk about our historic mission.

There are so many people in our society who rely on the labour movement to protect their interests. These are people without power in other respects, people who don't own or control media, people who don't have conservative commentators advancing their causes, people who are not represented by the interest groups which dominate our public debate, people who can't buy their way out of public services into the private sector.

We have a government now that simply doesn't care enough about Western Australians. We have a mean-spirited and hardhearted government.

Who represents Western Australian working people?

Who acts for Western Australian working families?

WE DO

We must never forget our historic responsibility. And in Western Australia now we have a special duty to protect working families - to make sure no-one gets left behind.

Resources booms bring huge rewards to some people but many people see no benefit at all.

Without proper management of this resources boom -- management in the interests of all our people - substantial numbers of Western Australians will simply go backwards. They will see only their cost of living subject to fierce increases and their opportunities curtailed.

Western Australia needs a Labor government to manage this resources boom for all of us. WA Labor has a special responsibility to deliver that state Labor government. We have a government now that simply doesn't care enough about Western Australians. We have a mean-spirited and hardhearted government.

Nowhere is this clearer than in their treatment of Labor's Redress scheme -- a scheme designed to provide a measure of long overdue help to people who as children were abused in the care of the state.I congratulate Sue Ellery who fought hard for this scheme.

No Labor minister in our government got to spend money wastefully. We had no Brendon Grylls or Colin Barnett in our government. Every spending proposal had to be properly justified. Sue provided the moral leadership, the social awareness, the political drive and the administrative competence to get our Redress scheme in place.

What a shocking thing in a rich state like Western Australia to see those people most seriously abused have their Redress payments slashed in half by Colin Barnett. What an arrogant, hardhearted and a mean thing for Mr Barnett to do! 3 | P a g e

But right across the State, working people learn that Mr Barnett is arrogant and hardhearted and mean-spirited every time they open their electricity bills -- every time they open their water bills -- every time they pay their local government rates.

A 57% increase in electricity bills while the government takes $1 billion from our electricity utilities into its Treasury shows no care for our people.

A 45% increase in water prices while the government takes $1.3 billion dollars from our water utility into its Treasury shows that this is a government that is not for all of us.

There is no care; there is no compensation in Mr Barnett's programme of savage increases to utility costs.

Year after year in budget after budget WA Labor gave priority to family budgets. We protected working people against huge increases in state government bills.

I speak today as the Western Australian Labor Leader. WA is not like the other states. The physical differences are obvious. We occupy a third of the country. WA has desert communities and vast red dirt expanses, old-growth Jarrah and Karri forests saved by Labor following a decision of State conference, mineral riches and crystal clear waters covering the spectacular Ningaloo Reef.

We are socially different to the rest of Australia. Our isolation has bred an independent frame of mind, a Western Australian way of doing things. Politically, we have taken our own journey.

We not only talked about protecting families, we delivered that protection in government and we will deliver that protection again.

Our small political community encourages us to work together. Within WA Labor we have formed strong internal bonds much stronger than our differences of opinion. John Curtin, after working for many years in Western Australia, came to know the special nature of WA Labor.

He wrote, in 1935 after becoming Federal Labor Leader, in a letter to WA State Secretary Percy Trainer:

The Western Australian Labour Movement has given me much and I have given it the best of which I was capable, yet I feel I am indeed its debtor and I have gained much more than I have given.

There is the same strong WA Labor teamwork still here today. Teamwork that saw our last Government:

  • Build 64 new schools;
  • Employ 2200 more teachers, 600 extra police and 2200 new nurses;
  • Upgrade 20 hospitals;
  • Build Australia's then biggest desalination plant;
  • Double the size of Perth's rail network;
  • Remove discrimination against gay and lesbian people;
  • Fight and win Western Australia's native title debate;
  • Save our magnificent old growth forests and Ningaloo Reef;
  • Invest $30billion in capital works; and
  • Reduce state debt by $900m.

 

Our Labor Government did good work and we should be proud of that record. But as members of the Labor Party we face a challenging situation -- far too many people see themselves as customers rather than owners of the Labor project and as customers too many are dissatisfied.

In this room we are the owners of the project. We are all leaders in our party and together we must take responsibility for Labor's political future. In the face of political challenges we have a tradition of questioning our rules and internal structures. It can't be wrong to think about these issues but our challenges are more external than internal. Our focus must be outward not inward.

Our first task is to connect not so much with ourselves as with our voters and potential voters. Federal Labor has taken on an historic but difficult task -- to cut carbon emissions by putting a price for emitting carbon into our economy.

Like many Labor reforms before, this will be a long and difficult fight. This struggle will not be without its political reverses. Even such a popular and settled policy as Medicare took two attempts, two Labor governments and more than a decade to become embedded in our system. Some of the political costs of this great debate will no doubt be borne by State Labor. So be it.

Of all the parties in Australian politics only Labor can be trusted to both implement a carbon price and in the process, to protect the living standards and job opportunities of working people.

Here in Western Australia we know that the South West of this state is a climate change hotspot and a climate change dry spot. Climate change is real, dangerous and caused in part by our accelerating carbon emissions. An economy-wide carbon price is the least costly way to reduce these carbon emissions.

Of all the parties in Australian politics only Labor can be trusted to both implement a carbon price and in the process, to protect the living standards and job opportunities of working people.

As Federal Labor seeks to balance these objectives, WA Labor must make a distinct contribution to the national debate because of the distinct nature of our economy and our concerns -- and we will make that contribution.

Not all states are the same -- not economically, not socially. WA Labor has a strong, Western Australian social agenda. The rest of this nation is institutionally, and in too many cases personally, addicted to poker machines. Western Australia has resisted. And while other States try to put the poker machine genie back into the bottle, Western Australia stands firm against the vested interests who want our poker machine ban lifted.

In Western Australian Labor we are different to the rest of the country and this is a good thing:

  • We fight privatisation - we know the pitfalls and do not seek short term gain at the expense of quality public services.
  • We recognise that retail workers and small businesses must be protected as trading hours change,
  • We don't have tolls on our roads,
  • We support our miners.
  • We do not overtax - In Government, I abolished 11 State taxes.

 

WA Labor knows that the wealth produced by Western Australians is ripped off through the GST deal signed by Liberals Richard Court and Peter Costello in 1999. WA Labor is distinct from Labor in the rest of Australia and I am proud of that distinction.

While Colin Barnett rifles our pockets, and our seniors huddle in the cold, he is racking up a massive $22.4 billion debt that will take years to pay off. That level of debt is approaching $10,000 for every single Western Australian.

And how do conservatives see WA's unique nature? For them, it is a convenient tool to distract our attention from their hardhearted misrule.

Colin Barnett has had three Budgets since he took power.

In those three Budgets he has increased:

  • Electricity prices by 57.3 per cent
  • Water prices by 45 per cent
  • The Emergency Services Levy by 31%
  • The landfill levy by 300%
  • Spending by 36% and
  • State debt by 270%

 

While Colin Barnett rifles our pockets, and our seniors huddle in the cold, he is racking up a massive $22.4 billion debt that will take years to pay off. That level of debt is approaching $10,000 for every single Western Australian.

And what's our money paying for?

  • More committees,
  • More consultants,
  • 11 new government departments,
  • $27 million on the Premier's new office - the Emperor's Palace
  • $350,000 salary packages for the Premier's staff.

WA Labor left this financially incompetent Government with record low debt and what have they done with it? Mr Barnett has been empire building and debt building. The interest payments alone are staggering - $1.7billion in interest every single year, enough to buy 1 Fiona Stanley Hospital, or 1 Mandurah rail project every year. All gone to pay for a Government that is drunk on debt.

Mr Barnett does not know when enough is enough, so we say to him,

  • Western Australians know that enough is enough,
  • Our pensioners cold in winter know that enough is enough
  • Parents seeing children sweltering through summer in steaming classrooms know enough is enough
  • The people who were abused in State care as children and had their Redress WA payments halved know enough is enough.
  • And the families who struggle to pay their electricity and water bills know enough is enough.

To Colin Barnett, an arrogant, hardhearted and uncaring Premier while West Australians hurt, WA Labor says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

How will Colin Barnett manage his huge debt? Make no mistake: if this man is re-elected in 2013 he will simply privatise State assets. This is what Liberal governments have done in the past. This is what Colin Barnett himself has done in those governments. We opposed his privatisations then, we refused to accept privatisation as an option in the last Labor government and we will not privatise in our next government.

The Liberal National government has started already -- privatising key services at the new Fiona Stanley Hospital to the detention centre operator SERCO. Essential workers like hospital cleaners and orderlies, teacher assistants, school cleaners and gardeners will have to fight alongside their union for fair wages and quality services - while the Liberals say - "it's not our problem. Take it up with your employer - the one we gave the business to."

WA Labor believes public hospitals and public schools must stay in public hands. In the next Labor government we will do what we did in 2001. Just as we did then, we will do everything possible to bring these services back in-house. We will not extend, expand or renew privatisation contracts. On the contrary we will negotiate to bring them to an end.

WA Labor believes public hospitals and public schools must stay in public hands.

Our WA Labor team has worked hard since the last election. My office has organised more than 100 major visits to 65 towns and suburbs. In addition caucus members have organised many visits through their own offices. We have visited communities across the length and breadth of the State. We have listened to Western Australians and we have learned from them. We have taken criticism and we have taken praise. We have heard the community's call for more care and compassion in government. Our WA Labor team is working hard to translate those experiences into policies for the 2013 election.

The beginnings of some of those policies you have already seen - discussion papers on early childhood health and education, on justice reinvestment and on light rail. Our shared Labor values, our Western Australian Labor values, will guide us through this process - and delegates, your role is vital.

We have a special responsibility to develop policy for working families but WA Labor governs for all of us. We govern for the public interest not for sectional interests We govern for city and country. We govern for workers and business. We govern for jobs and the environment. We govern for all Western Australians and all Western Australians deserve their fair share of our resources prosperity.

Delegates - it's not happening. $100 billion of resources project construction in this state and yet our workshops sit half empty. $100 billion of resources work and our engineers have to go to London, Yokohama or Houston for LNG design work. While Mr Barnett sleeps at the wheel the resources work flows overseas. In our multispeed economy too many businesses are in the slow lanes or just parked. WA resources must be managed to produce skilled jobs for Western Australians and that is Labor's commitment.

Our Skilled Local Jobs Bill will require a skilled work agreement to be negotiated by the government for every resources project valued at over $200 million -- and for that agreement and all progress reports to be made public. Our Labor voice on local jobs is a Western Australian voice - we know that some East Coast Federal colleagues do not agree with our Skilled Local Jobs Bill - but we also know what is good for our State - and WA Labor will always stand up for Western Australia. We will not pick a fight with Canberra as a political diversion, as Colin Barnett does every time the heat gets too much for him. We will do what is right for WA -even if that means a disagreement with Federal Labor.

In Western Australia as elsewhere the Labor Party was created by the union movement and that strong relationship endures today. It is this partnership working together that will keep WA hospitals and schools in public hands. It is this partnership, working with industry that will make sure skilled local jobs come out of the resources boom. It is this partnership working together that will say 'enough is enough' and will fight to protect West Australian working families against fierce cost of living pressures. And it is this partnership working together that will expose the heartless and mean-spirited character of the Barnett government.

I know that each and every one of you worked tirelessly during the last election and have continued working ever since. I thank you again for your efforts, for your support and for your passion for WA Labor. It is this tripartite unity - between our party members and supporters, the union movement and our Members of Parliament - that will carry us forward to election success in March 2013.

Election success that is absolutely vital because, to put our Labor values to work for Western Australia, to do good work in this State, we must be in Government. Without a Labor government many WA families have no protection against the economic and social stresses of a mismanaged resources boom. Without a Labor government Western Australian society will be more unequal and less fair. We know from our traditions and from recent research that a fairer more equal society has lower incidences of family dysfunction, crime, violence, mental illness, obesity and chronic disease.

Good Labor government can make a difference. Good Labor government can share the prosperity and make our community a more caring place for those in need.

In the letter I quoted earlier from John Curtin - he also wrote:

One thing is above all other things and that is the sense of mateship which marks the conduct of the men and women of the Western Australian movement towards each other: may this never be lost: on the contrary, may it grow in strength as a tie so powerful that no other power will be strong enough to even weaken it.

Today I challenge you to strengthen those bonds and to do more to spread the WA Labor message. Take your policy work beyond the conference and respond to our discussion papers, actively recruit new members, support our campaigns in whatever way you can.

Today's Western Australian Labor Party is strong - strong in character and strong in values. And strong in the belief that without a Labor Government, working families and those most in need have too little voice and too little opportunity. Through our unity we can succeed in 2013 and we can harness the prosperity of this rich state for the good of all of us.

Thank you delegates.