Humble, historic and a government with a Hayden-esque hue

10 November 2023

Fifth Hayden oration, Ipswich, Queensland

Fifth Hayden oration, Ipswich, Queensland

Humble, historic and a government with a Hayden-esque hue

I can’t thank you enough Jen for that welcome, and for this special, now solemn opportunity to pay tribute to Bill Hayden.

This Hayden Oration has become such an important night for the True Believers of Ipswich and beyond –

A night where we remember Bill by paying tribute to him, sharing stories and memories of him –

And drawing together the threads of his example, his inspiration, his legacy.

I embraced this opportunity before we lost him, but the timing now has become more poignant and purposeful since we gathered last week at Saint Mary’s, to lay him to rest here.

Bill was the selfless servant of the people and our Party.

He was humble and grounded, respected, renowned and remembered.

He was a wonderful Queenslander and a fine Australian.

But listening to the praise from the altar last week, and in the beautiful tributes written and spoken before then and since –

I think perhaps the biggest compliment of all is that he didn’t seem to ever forget where he came from.

This is the highest praise.

As Bill’s friend Dennis Atkins wrote in his characteristically thoughtful way, Bill was too self‑effacing to put himself forward as a role model but he was one, and remains so after his death.

As Wayne Swan expressed the day after Bill died, again getting right to the core of Bill’s character and calibre – he showed politics can be an honourable profession.

What a life he lived.

What a legacy he left.

What a loss for Dallas and their family, for our movement and our country.

Georgina put it so beautifully at the funeral; he was a wonderful father, full of love.

We are so grateful they shared him with us.

To borrow from Paul’s Keating eulogy, Bill amassed a big life.

Not only its length, 34 years of service, or its impact which was substantial, but in the way he accomplished what he did.

As Sister Angela Mary Doyle explained, Bill sought purpose not publicity; it was the necessity and the need that motivated him, he put heart and feeling in everything he did.

The notes he left for the funeral providing a powerful example.

One of his final wishes being that when we offer each other the sign of peace in the Catholic mass, we be sure to shake hands and not just exchange little nods.

When I was a kid growing up in the church that Bill left and then re‑joined, this was my favourite part of mass.

It signified we were getting nearer to the end of the service!

But I loved the handshakes, the new people, the smiles and warmth, I loved getting through as many peace‑be‑with‑yous as I could, as far as I could from my perch.

At St Peters, St Eddie’s, St Paul’s, St Max’s, St Bernardines – I love it still – and at St Mary’s it was a wonderful insistence.

It spoke to Bill’s warmth and to his belief in community – reaching out and connecting us even after he’s gone.

This Oration affords us a similar opportunity.

I pay tribute to Jen Howard for hosting us this evening and for establishing the wonderful tradition of this oration.

Because of your foresight Jen, your vision, Bill was witness to four beautiful orations from four incredible speakers.

Paul Keating, Neal Blewett, Susan Ryan, and David Hamill.

Thank you for including me in their company, and yours, and asking me to deliver the fifth.

I also want to acknowledge and salute Shayne Neumann –

Born and bred here in Ipswich like Jen, and like Bill he embodies this city and its surrounds –

And like the Speaker, Milton Dick, a terrific local MP, Queenslander, and friend – great to see you mate.

I think us Queenslanders feel the loss of Bill most profoundly.

We feel it tonight on the traditional lands of the Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul people –

And together, we pay our respects to their elders, customs and traditions.

The word ‘yakka’, from ‘hard yakka’, comes from the local Yuggera word ‘yaga’, meaning strenuous work.

How fitting that this ancient language can draw a line between this land and a tireless life.

Bill Hayden and Ipswich informed, developed and inspired each other for over 60 years.

One example I love:

Dr Donald Cameron, the man Bill defeated for the seat of Oxley in 1961, was the doctor who delivered Dallas, in 1935.

Cameron was there at the beginning of Dallas’ life –

And Bill ended his political one.

I’m told there were no hard feelings!

Bill grew up in a rented weatherboard cottage on stilts –

With a corrugated iron roof, outdoor bathroom, with chooks in a small backyard in Mabel Street, Highgate Hill.

He walked to St Ita’s Convent without shoes, it was a small parish school that looked across the Brisbane River.

On one side, shoeless Bill, and on the other the new Queensland University.

Only a short stretch of water, but a world away.

A world he would bridge, in time –

Not just with the economics degree he earned while in the parliament.

Not just with his command of a vast array of policy areas.

But the way his life and experiences shaped the policies for which he’s now best known –

The pension for single mums, Medibank, and more.

There is something so grounded, so real, that brings this together –

Bill united the humble and the historic.

As leader of the opposition, a man putting himself to the country as the alternative prime minister, he would head to his local Ipswich barber for a trim.

Dallas bought him his shirts at the local Ipswich shops, and Bill would show up on television looking like a true Queenslander.

Or as Paul Kelly described it, with a –

“Uniquely Queensland sense of colour contrast: open‑necked blue, white and pale blue sports outfits.”

I’m hoping those powder blue safari suits come back into style!

And I’m proud of his refusal to wear a top hat as Governor‑General – no self‑respecting Queenslander should or would.

Before he was the GG, he was of course the Minister for Social Security, Treasurer, Leader, and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

He was Australia’s 27th Treasurer, but his impact went well beyond the five months he served in that role in the dying days of the Whitlam government.

Perhaps that’s why in the teeming throng that gathered at St Mary’s last Friday one group was better represented than most.

Again, as Dennis wrote, this might have been the biggest gathering of treasurers current and former we’ve seen.

One laid to rest; one at the altar; three in the pews – with a couple of state treasurers for good measure.

Now, there are good reasons why prime ministers are brought together from time to time, ceremonial and other reasons.

But we treasurers are a bit shyer, a bit irreverent, and by the looks of it historically less likely to be spotted in groups.

That’s why it was unusual to see gathered there to celebrate the life of the 27th Treasurer, the 30th, Paul Keating, the 34th, John Dawkins, the 36th, Wayne Swan, and the incumbent, 41.

I mention this because Bill’s legacy was political and it was policy, and I’ll get to that, but it was also personal.

In a wonderful column yesterday, a must‑read, Niki Savva pointed to the talent and direction Hayden bequeathed Hawke.

As Troy Bramston agreed so perceptively, Bill’s “shrewd judge of character” was a key reason why his Shadow Cabinet was so strong, why so many of the people around him kicked‑on.

Wayne worked for Bill, he met Kim Williamson in Bill’s office and they’ve been together ever since, had three great kids.

Paul, as we heard in both his Oration and his eulogy, relied heavily on Bill – more than that he’s said, quite generously, that without Bill the momentous achievements of the reform burst of the 80s and 90s would not have been possible.

John Dawkins told me on the steps of the church that he’d been Bill’s advancer in the 1980 campaign, staffing him and travelling with him and establishing that bond that endured.

So I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we can trace direct lines between Treasurer 27 and Treasurer 41.

Without Bill’s contribution there might not have been Paul’s chance, or John’s or Wayne’s.

And without Paul and Wayne, I wouldn’t be here tonight.

Beyond the personal, Paul spoke of Bill’s broader impact in his Oration here.

He said the policy coherence that has given Australia it’s quarter of a century of uninterrupted growth began its long coalescence the day Bill Hayden convened his first shadow cabinet meeting –

That what Bill brought to the Labor Party and the parliament was a sense of scale, order and rationality lacking in public debate at that time.

And when Treasurer himself, Paul sought Bill’s leadership and support before cabinet decided on the float forty years ago next month.

A lot of us here this evening know Paul –

He can be a tough judge.

His words give us a sense of what Bill did and meant to the Labor party, not only during his time as leader, but long after.

Bill was the key transitional figure between Whitlam and Hawke, but he was transformational too.

To see him in transitional terms is to undersell his transformational impact.

After the 1977 election, the party was weary, bruised and confused.

Bill’s genius was to unite the competing tensions of the times.

Between warm hearts and hard heads.

Responsibility and reform.

Pragmatism and principle.

To see these things as complementary not at odds, the basis of a better way forward –

Towards a more compassionate society –

A better welfare system and fair wages –

Within and through a strong, dynamic economy – not in spite of one or at the cost of one.

As Paul said last week, Bill resuscitated the party as a national force – the crowning achievement of Bill’s public life.

Under Bill, Labor built more positive relationships with the business community, buoyed by new policy confidence –

Adopted policies that encompassed the American alliance –

And quotas of 30 per cent women in Parliament over ten years.

Its legacy evident in our government, the first with a majority of women in our ranks.

He knew how important it was to be a safe pair of hands when it came to the economy.

Because if you weren’t a responsible economic manager, to quote Bill, “the alternative can only be irresponsible economic management.”

And as Paul said, better than I could, in his Oration a few years back –

Bill’s leadership was the “turning point from Labor’s perpetual confusion between its post war political ends and its proffered policy means.

Bill made that turn and Labor has never looked back. And as it turned out, nor has the country.”

In paying tribute to Bill tonight I wanted to make an overarching point about his legacy, by saying this:

Ours is a government with a Hayden‑esque hue.

Coloured, by a deep and enduring legacy that remains as significant now as ever.

Decades ago, Bill set Labor up for long term success because he took a long‑term view, balancing the pressures of the here‑and‑now with the challenges and chances of the future.

We are called to the same task now –

To elevate above the day‑to‑day rough and tumble of politics, to see what’s ahead, and position our people as beneficiaries of change.

As well as this broader philosophical alignment with Bill –

There are three important ways we are following his example.

The first is recognising that economic credibility is the price of admission for anyone wanting to change the country.

Responsibility is the foundation of reform, not the alternative to reform.

As everyone here will well know, as Treasurer, Bill Hayden started the onerous task of getting the budget into better nick.

This allowed a shift in priorities toward economic growth, job security and improved living standards, with a focus on households.

This mirrors much of what is happening today ‑

We inherited a trillion dollars of debt, which we have started to pay down –

Making progress on budget repair.

This year, we’ve handed down the first budget surplus in 15 years.

And made the biggest nominal improvement in the fiscal position in Australian history.

But as Bill knew then, a stronger budget is not an end in itself –

It’s the basis upon which we can deliver the support people need and make critical investments in the future –

To sustain essential services –

Deliver cost‑of‑living relief when Australians need it most –

While also looking to our generational responsibilities –

Preparing for the major forces that will reshape our society and our economy in the decades to come –

Laying the foundations for broader long‑term success in our society and our economy.

The work we’ve been doing with the Employment White Paper and the Intergenerational Report is a big part of this.

The Intergenerational Report outlined the big shifts that will determine the shape of the future.

The transition from hydrocarbons to renewables –

The digital revolution and AI –

An ageing population, which places a bigger emphasis on the care economy –

The shift from globalisation to fragmentation.

And the Employment White Paper sets out our dynamic vision for the labour market in which more people have opportunities for secure, fairly paid work –

As beneficiaries, not victims of these big changes –

Setting out a big agenda for skills, education, lifelong learning –

So workers, employers and businesses can take advantage of these changes and thrive.

It’s through this work we reach out through the years in front of us and take hold of the future –

Shaping and defining and moulding it on our own terms.

This can only be done by taking a long‑term view of the challenges we face in the decades to come.

Working from a foundation of responsible economic management.

The second lesson we take from Bill is about unity and selflessness.

If the most well‑known moment in Labor party history is the Dismissal, surely one of its most important is Bill Hayden’s act of selflessness and humility that allowed him to stand aside for Bob Hawke.

He subsumed his own ambition for his ambitions for Australia.

Bill understood there was little difference from a policy point of view between himself and Bob Hawke.

That if he stood aside, the new direction of the party would not be diverted –

But its delivery might just be assured.

Some people say Bob was blessed by good fortune at each step on the way to being Prime Minister of Australia.

If that’s true, he received no better fortune than the Cabinet Bill Hayden built and gifted him.

Bill took the leadership of the Party after two of our worst ever drubbings, then he took us to the doorstep of victory in just three years.

He did this with discipline and rigour, he sought collaboration and cohesion and consensus.

He did it with humility and with selflessness.

This is the example he set for us, an example we’ve ignored at our peril, a lesson we’ve had to learn from, and re‑learn since.

Reflecting on his time in Parliament Bill said –

“There is no greater honour in public life in this country than to be Prime Minister… but things are done by a team, and particularly in the party of which I was a member.”

In this Albanese government we know we can’t achieve anything we want to achieve for the country without the same humility and respect and selflessness – and unity.

Without it we won’t get the budget into better shape –

Maximise the economic opportunities on our path to net zero –

Chart the future of our workforce –

Reform our economic institutions –

Or deepen and broaden our industrial base.

These things can only be achieved through close calibration, collaboration, and cooperation –

By working with and through our colleagues –

Bringing people together, engaging, listening, and leading –

Treating the big issues and big decisions with the seriousness they deserve –

And empowering everyone in the team to do their jobs.

These are as much now the hallmarks of Anthony’s leadership as they were of Bill’s.

So economic credibility, foundational.

Unity, crucial.

And thirdly, Queensland – central.

This is the birthplace of our Party, and it holds a special place in our history and in our national economy.

Not only because it is a place of big job creating industries like agriculture, tourism, mining, and education –

But also, a place where big things begin.

The second Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher was a Queenslander –

He established the old age and disability pensions, enshrined new workers’ rights, and formed the Commonwealth Bank.

Many years later, another Queenslander would introduce the first single mother’s pension while simultaneously building the countries first universal health insurance system, Medibank.

Subsequently, two Queenslanders in Kevin and Wayne saved Australia from the worst of the Global Financial Crisis.

Queensland can also be where Labor learns hard lessons.

After the 1975 election Queensland was a wasteland for Labor, only Bill remained.

He knew that to win an election against Fraser, you had to win Queensland.

To do so, he set about changing Queensland Labor.

So that the problem‑solving, pragmatism and practicality that we are known for became a defining feature of Queensland Labor and not just a defining feature of Queensland.

This helped define the victory of 1983, the seed of which was planted here, by Bill, in Ipswich.

Bill showed us we can do alright with a little Queensland contingent, and Anthony’s showing that too, but we do better with a bigger one – and we are working on that together, as well.

Friends, the PM began his tribute at last week's service saying: "Bill gave the Australian Labor Party the chance of a future."

Later, he quoted from Bill's speech to Labor's 1979 National Conference: “we will not find our future in the past.”

One of the privileges of belonging to Australia's oldest political party is that we can look to our history for inspiration.

We can seek lessons in the legacies of those who have gone before.

But we are not curators or custodians.

We are not the careful preservers of the status quo.

Serving in the Labor Party is not about minding the shop for those who come after us, or lighting a candle for those who've gone before.

Our business is the force of change.

Driving it. Harnessing it. Broadening it.

Making it work for more Australians.

That's the Labor tradition.

Bill Hayden knew that.

He lived it.

He did more than most to fulfil it.

Perhaps he understood that moments in political history are a bit like lines in a poem.

They are different in content and cadence but they can rhyme, they’re in conversation with one another –

Which is why Bill’s influence and legacy lives on in the current government.

He once said of the new generation of politicians entering the Parliament –

“A man or a woman is the product of their times, and their time is a different time from mine.”

That may be true, but no matter how different times may be, his lessons and legacies are as powerful today as ever.

What unites him –

All of you –

And your state and federal government is this:

He loved his community enough to want to serve it.

He loved his country enough to want to change it.

And we are so fortunate, and so grateful, that he did.

Thank you Bill, thank you Jen, and thank you all.