Below is the speech I made to the 2019 ACT Labor Conference today:
Thank you for being here today at the largest annual event in ACT politics.
The past twelve months have been tough for our movement. The return of the Coalition Government wasn’t the result any of us were hoping for.
I won’t sugar coat it: it’s a bad result for Canberra. But it makes our work here in the ACT even more important.
Canberrans sent a clear message that they didn’t support the Coalition’s small-minded, unfair and backwards-looking plans.
Instead, they voted for an inclusive, progressive government focused on making life better for everyone.
Now, more than ever, it is important that we all stand up proudly for these values, that we deliver on them through our work, and that every day we provide a strong alternative to the Federal Liberals – and their even more conservative local branch.
Today’s Conference is an opportunity to come together and develop our plans and priorities.
It is also a chance to say very clearly what we all stand for, what our guarantee as a Labor Government is to the Canberra community.
But before we get stuck into this work, I would like to acknowledge some important changes in our movement.
At the federal level we welcome Alicia Payne and David Smith as the ACT’s newest members of the House of Representatives.
Both will be strong advocates for their communities and make important contributions over the coming years.
We also helped to return Andrew Leigh as the Member for Fenner, and Katy Gallagher as a Senator for the ACT.
Both Andrew and Katy have already made significant contributions to the national political debate, and will be crucial in developing Labor policies over this term.
We may be a small jurisdiction, but when it comes to the calibre of our representation in the Federal Parliament, the ACT always outperforms.
We’ve also seen change in the Legislative Assembly.
Earlier this month, Meegan Fitzharris resigned from the Assembly.
Since first being elected, Meegan has been a passionate advocate for the people of Yerrabi and, through her portfolio responsibilities, for the wider Canberra community.
Under Meegan’s stewardship, we have undertaken significant reforms to Canberra’s public health system and made record investments in health infrastructure.
We have hired more doctors and nurses to help cut Emergency Department and elective surgery wait times.
Work is underway on the major expansion of the Canberra Hospital campus – our single-largest health investment ever, and a big step towards ensuring our health system meets our community’s needs over the next decade and beyond.
And we are delivering new Walk in Centres in Gungahlin, Weston Creek and Dickson – providing better access to free healthcare when people need it most.
Meegan also helped to deliver this Government’s key transport promise: getting Stage One of light rail from Gungahlin to the City up and running, under budget.
Thank you Meegan. We wish you and your family the very best.
And we also look forward to welcoming Deepak-Raj Gupta as Labor’s new member for Yerrabi.
Deepak, it will be great to have you as part of the ACT Labor team and we're all looking forward to working with you.
Delegates, we took a proudly Labor platform to the 2016 election, one which set out our vision for a more inclusive, progressive and connected Canberra.
We were clear about what we stood for, and how we’d make our community even better. Canberrans responded to our message.
And over the past three years we have made significant progress.
We have invested in health and transport, work which will continue under Rachel and Chris in their new portfolios.
Yvette is leading work on the future of education in this city, with a focus on early childhood to give every Canberra child the best possible start to their schooling life, and building new schools so that they can get a great ongoing education close to home.
This year, we opened Canberra’s newest primary school – the Margaret Hendry School in Gungahlin – and announced the construction of both a new primary school in Throsby and a new high school in Kenny, so that children in our fastest-growing region have the same access to world-class schooling as other Canberrans.
We are also making Canberra better connected.
This year, along with the start of light rail, we introduced more rapid buses and local routes.
And we more closely aligned weekend bus timetables with weekday options, reflecting a motion from last year’s Conference.
Thousands more Canberrans are leaving their car at home and using our public transport network, every week – since the end of the free travel period that launched our new transport network - total journeys across the network have increased by 11 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Total journeys on weekends alone have increased by 32 per cent.
Weekday and weekend, our light rail vehicles are busy. This month, and well ahead of schedule, light rail ticked over one million trips taken.
This is a great result, but it is just the start.
The success of Stage One of light rail shows our plan to deliver an integrated public transport network is the right one for Canberra.
So now we’re getting on with the job of taking light rail to Woden.
This month, we lodged referrals for Commonwealth approval of light rail in the City to Woden corridor in two phases.
This should mean we can extend light rail from the City to Commonwealth Park more quickly while we we proceed through the more complex process to secure planning approval for the route through the Parliamentary Zone.
We will work through this process because we are determined to bring light rail to Canberra’s southside.
Supporting our economy to generate more secure local jobs is a core priority for ACT Labor.
In the past year, 4,300 new jobs have been created, taking total employment to 232,500 and reducing our unemployment rate to just 3.4%, well below the national rate of 5.2%.
Earlier this year, we commenced the Secure Local Jobs Code, developed by Rachel in collaboration with many people in this room.
The Code ensures the ACT Government’s purchasing power is used to reward businesses that do the right thing by their workers, by meeting high standards on pay and conditions, insurance, tax, superannuation, OH&S, collective bargaining, and freedom of association rights.
So far over 900 businesses have received a Secure Local Jobs Code by the Secure Local Jobs Code Registrar, certifying that they meet the highest ethical and labour standards.
Reflecting calls from previous Labor Conferences, we have overseen the largest investment in public housing renewal in the ACT’s history.
Over the ten years to 2024, we will have invested more than $1 billion in public housing – renewing and rebuilding one in five of our entire public housing stock.
Canberra is one of the only places in the country that is growing public housing with $100 million committed in this year’s budget to build 200 additional homes for people in need. This is alongside our commitment to renew 1000 existing properties.
This is the biggest per capita investment in public housing in the country.
The Government has also increased homeless shelter funding and made more emergency beds and rooms available right now, whilst we build a new Common Ground in Dickson.
By this time next year, this city will be 100% powered by renewable electricity; an incredible body of work which started under Simon Corbell and shows the way for Australia and the world – it can be done.
Chris has started work on phasing out environmentally destructive single-use plastics that litter our waterways, parks and bushlands, reflecting last year’s Conference motion.
Reducing gambling harm
And Gordon has been tackling problem gambling harm by reducing the number of gaming machines from 5,000 to 4,000, while ensuring community clubs are supported to more sustainable revenue streams.
And Chris has started work on phasing out environmentally destructive single-use plastics that litter our waterways, parks and bushlands, reflecting last year’s Conference motion.
As we look back at these achievements, and ahead to the next election, I want to emphasise that good, progressive reform doesn’t just happen by chance.
The changes now being seen across Canberra – in our schools and hospitals, new public housing, better transport, our electricity generation, and more secure local jobs – haven’t just happened.
We made them happen.
Our movement and our government, working together, developed, campaigned for and delivered these reforms because we are the party that wants to make a difference in people’s lives.
We’re the party which never stops trying to make things better, when others say things are fine as they are.
This is a message we need to continue to advocate.
The 2020s won’t be a timid choice between Red and Blue management teams.
It will be a choice between people who want to make Canberra even better, and those who think they can freeze it in time.
It’s a choice between people who believe this city’s best days are still ahead, and those whose ambition for Canberra is small.
Our political opponents hold some of the most conservative views of any mainstream political party in this country.
The only leader of a major party in any state or territory to oppose marriage equality in 2017 was the Leader of the Canberra Liberals.
Delegates, the many gains of the past decade have been hard won by the people here today, in Government and the wider progressive community.
The changes we have fought for can’t be taken for granted; they can and will be wound back under a conservative government.
They would love nothing more than to take us back to the social policies of the 1950s.
Looking to the future, we have a lot to offer the Canberra community, in large part because of our capacity to renew our team and refresh our agenda, while holding true to our values.
Two thirds of our current Parliamentary team have joined us at or since the 2016 election.
It’s an incredible demonstration of the enthusiasm and dedication of our Labor caucus, and the strength of our shared values, that we have driven such a progressive agenda while undertaking such a renewal.
Tara, Suzanne, Michael, Bec, Rachel, Gordon, Chris and (soon) Deepak have come into the Legislative Assembly with big ideas and an enormous amount of energy to make Canberra better.
Together with Yvette, Mick, Joy and myself, our Government has a great mix of enthusiasm, energy and experience.
And that’s what Canberra needs right now.
A team with the drive and capability to deliver a better Canberra.
To create secure local jobs and more opportunity for Canberrans from all backgrounds – whether that means getting an apprenticeship, starting a new business or getting the right support to to turn a good idea into something more.
To keep investing in the free public services that make Canberra so liveable, and ensure people don’t fall behind just because they can’t pay for a private school or private doctor.
To give young Canberrans the best start in life by working towards free early childhood education from the age of three.
To ensure the Canberra Institute of Technology plays a key role in skilling our school-leavers, older workers and women returning to work, by always keeping it in public hands, and delivering a state-of-the-art campus.
To fight against Commonwealth public sector cuts and the Coalition’s radical decentralisation agenda.
And to step up to the challenge of tackling devastating climate change.
Our platform for the future will be squarely focused on these big priorities, and we want all of you to be part of shaping it – today and over the months to come.
Because while our Labor team may have many new faces, and the challenges of the future require many new policies, our Labor values remain the same.
Delegates, I conclude today by outlining Labor’s guarantee to the Canberra community – what we stand for, and what we will deliver.
As our city has grown, we have boosted the ACT Public Service by investing in more nurses, paramedics, doctors, firefighters and police to keep our community healthy and safe.
We have recruited more teachers and child support workers to give every child the best start in life; and more rangers to preserve our amazing open spaces and parks.
More transport workers to keep Canberrans moving; and more service staff to help Canberrans connect with their government.
Today I guarantee that we will keep growing our public sector as Canberra grows.
Now more than ever, we need to be investing for this community – we cannot take these essential services backwards.
That’s why I guarantee that a Labor Government will continue to invest in our public service workforce during the next term of Government, should we be given that opportunity.
We know that a growing city means more demand for our services – more people needing care in our hospitals, more students needing a place at our local schools and more call on services for our suburbs.
So we make this guarantee: we won’t let services fall behind by cutting the essential workers who deliver them.
There will be over 22,000 ACT public service workers on the job as we begin the 2020s, and this number will only increase under Labor.
We also guarantee that under ACT Labor essential public services will stay in public hands.
That means essential education and public transport services such as the CIT and ACTION will not be sold off, ‘outsourced’, put into ‘alternative management’ or any of the other weasel words that are used to dress up a harmful privatisation agenda.
That is the Guarantee of a re-elected ACT Labor Government: no cuts to the people who deliver our great public services; public services staying in public hands.
We can make this Guarantee because the ACT Labor Government has made the right decisions to focus on creating more secure jobs, investing in better infrastructure, and growing our economy.
We can make this Guarantee because we have done the hard work of putting the Territory’s finances on strong and responsible footing.
Delegates, this is what ACT Labor stands for.
It is why you contribute your time and energy to our cause. And it is a message we will be taking to the Canberra community each and every day from here to October 2020.