‘In my years of living, giving and serving our human family is the most rewarding achievement. When you walk down the street, the beauty of people’s eyes and faces give you so many rewards. Packer could never buy it with his millions.’ - Tom Uren.
It’s a great reminder of why we are all in politics.
In many respects, the progress of the Left of the NSW Labor Party can be tracked in three federal interventions.
The first was in 1956. You won’t be surprised to hear that the battle revolved around a Conference ballot rorted by the Right. The 1956 intervention removed key members of the Executive, but the Right remained united, their power unchecked.
The second intervention was in 1971 – driving proportional representation through the Party, creating the Left Assistant General Secretary role first filled by Labor Left legend Bruce Childs.
Then last year the third intervention occurred as Kevin Rudd returned to the Prime Ministership.
This last intervention provided the building blocks that give hope of a democratic future for NSW Labor. It offers the hope of a fair fight, albeit between unequal forces. That’s important, because for so much of our history we have faced an unfair fight, between unequal forces.
Sixty years on, we are still opposed to sharp practices, corruption and the NSW Right. And we are still fighting for these values: social justice, equality and democracy.
The story of the NSW Left is also the story of our people.
Tom Uren and Anthony Albanese. Both Deputy Labor leaders; the latter a Deputy Prime Minister.
Leadership roles are increasingly common for the Left. Nathan Rees became the first NSW Premier from the Left; one day after Carmel Tebbutt became Deputy Premier.
Nationally, in recent years we have Anna Bligh, Julia Gillard, Lara Giddings and now Bryan Green in Tasmania, Katy Gallagher, Jay Weatherill, and Daniel Andrews.
Our story is also the story of two Labor figures from the Sutherland Shire: Arthur Gietzelt and Tanya Plibersek. Like Arthur, many early activists were ex-service men. Now, our senior roles are held by remarkable women – Deputy Parliamentary Leaders Tanya Plibersek and Linda Burney; as well as faction President, Rita Mallia, and Secretary Rose Jackson.
Our story is the story of those deputy leaders of the state Party; Jack Ferguson and Linda Burney. Jack, a bricklayer and the quintessential blue collar union leader, and Linda, a proud Wiradjuri woman and total inspiration.
The NSW Left is no longer an almost secret organisation. You can find us on Twitter rather than in a pylon of the Harbour Bridge.
One thing hasn’t changed: our values. We will fight for these values next July at Labor’s National Conference.
- On marriage equality, on refugees, on integrity and democracy. I want to acknowledge the leadership of John Faulkner has played on those last issues.
- We will not accept a small government agenda as we return to government.
- We will not accept social liberalism being substituted for our Party’s philosophy.
The Left strives to imagine a better Party, a better world, a brighter politics – a politics unimaginable to the pragmatic, soy-stained, short-sighted elements of the NSW right.
We are for equality, against inequality. We are for social justice, against injustice. We are for democracy, and against one of the world’s last totalitarian political regimes: the NSW Right. A totalitarian regime whose command and control culture is so out of touch with the way politics happens in the 21st century that it will fail. Just like other totalitarian regimes, it will fall.
Our role is to bring that day forward. To fight and win. Not to advance the Left itself but to advance the better world that the Left imagines.
JOHN GRAHAM IS ASSISTANT GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE NSW BRANCH OF THE LABOR PARTY. THIS IS AN EDITED VERSION OF HIS SPEECH TO THE 60 YEARS OF THE LEFT DINNER.