“This egalitarian country with its larrikin embrace”

I’m honoured to be here today, a proud product of Adelaide, home for the first time to the city of my childhood as your Prime Minister.

I now call Melbourne my home and hopefully after the election, Canberra too but Adelaide has a special place in my heart and always will.This weekend I saw my mother and father in person for the first time since becoming Prime Minister.

It was a special moment.

A moment to be especially savoured coming on the same day as I shared time with the Palmer family as they mourned the loss of their son Scott, a brave soldier.

Our objective in Afghanistan is clear: to combat the threat of terrorism to prevent Afghanistan again becoming a safe-haven and training ground for terrorists to launch attacks against us and our allies.

The Australian Government and Australian Defence Forces are absolutely committed to maximising protection for our men and women serving overseas.

But there is no doubt that the war in Afghanistan is dangerous, and we may see further Australian casualties. Progress will be hard won and will take time. Across Australia and here in Adelaide we will need to maintain our resolve.

Adelaide is part of who I am. I grew up, went to school, took my first steps into work, university and adulthood here.

Whether it’s memories of the fruit trees in our back yard, playing at Brown Hill Creek, being taught to knit by the elderly women who lived at Sunset Lodge where my mother worked or having my favourite teacher, Mr Crowe, correct my grammar at primary school, my recollections of this place and its people are good.

I arrived here, aged four, the guest of a generous nation.

This country and this city, along with my parents, my sister, my teachers and my friends formed my outlook, my character, my philosophy and political purpose.

Today I want to use this occasion to tell you a little more about how I came to this moment in time and about my beliefs and how I intend to put them into practice as Prime Minister.

I mentioned my parents just now. Many of you will feel like you know them well given they have recently become TV stars. Indeed I meet people around the country who literally say to me I’m not sure about you yet but I love your parents’.

I’m standing before you today because of the brave decision they made in 1966 to migrate to Australia. Originally bound for Melbourne, they met and befriended a Welsh couple on the board the ship that brought us to Australia.

Knowing no-one else in Australia, it made sense to settle in Adelaide, the home town of their new friends, who became our Uncle Frank and Aunty Glad.

My parents’ story is important because they and millions of others have helped make this country what it is today. It wasn’t easy to leave their little Welsh town behind, just as it wasn’t easy for people from other countries like Greece and Italy and Vietnam to do the same, and arrive at Pennington Migrant Hostel, without family or friends to greet them and to carry their suitcases to the car.

Being British, it was easier for them than for others. They spoke English although I guess you could say with a strange accent. Some say their daughter still speaks with a strange accent!

But without higher education, obtaining even their moderate level of prosperity involved a lot of hard work. For my mother it meant cooking and scrubbing pots in a Salvation Army aged care home. And for my father it meant demanding work and frequent nightshifts, as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. Their experience has instilled in me clear beliefs about the importance and the value of work that I hold to this day.

As the daughter of these two fine people, I know what it’s like to have a dad who has to work two jobs and a mum who has to work the afternoon shift to buy a home and educate their kids.

My father’s two jobs helped me secure two university degrees, and I’ll never forget the sacrifices he and my mother made. And I say to all those parents doing the same thing now whether it’s to pay the mortgage, bills, or school fees and expenses I understand your sacrifices and I will do my best as Prime Minister to ease your burden.

My parents have thrived in this egalitarian country with its larrikin embrace of informality because they are egalitarian by instinct. They embraced the sense of opportunity and community that they found in Australia and the sense of future possibilities for their children that Australia so clearly offered them.

They always taught me that everyone is equal and worthy of respect. It’s wrong to view yourself as better than the person who waits on you in a restaurant. It’s wrong to believe that you should defer to anyone simply by dint of them having a title, occupation or background different from your own.

I was a shy child, who through the nurture of my family found the sense of self to face the world with confidence, to look others in the eye and greet them with a firm shake of the hand.

Though my parents never had the chance to go to university, they are to this day avid readers and my father is given to quoting poetry at the dinner table.

We hear a lot today from commentators that Australians can be sliced and diced into separate tribes with different values, tastes and ambitions, based on how long they stayed in education and where they live.

Those commentators divide us into elites, aspirationals and rednecks, and presume they can predict the views we have and the way we vote. Driven by my own family background, I consider this an insult.

I know that under every roof there are people who love going to art galleries and people who love going to the MCG and people who love both; people who go to church and people who go to protests and people who will do both in the one day; people whose talents lie in their heads and people whose talents lie in their hands and people who rely on different talents at different stages of their lives.

It’s true that there are ignorant and intolerant people in every society, but the overwhelming majority of Australians are far more thoughtful and tolerant and compassionate than the critics imagine.

I know this because they are my neighbours and friends.

As I said last week we’re better than the cynics believe us to be. We’re not elites, aspirationals and rednecks. We’re simply Australians and proud of it.

So we should be slow to judge and to stereotype each other.

My parents would put this far more simply they would say don’t judge a book by its cover.
Plain speaking is another one of their virtues which I strive to maintain.

You might say that, along with an apprenticeship in straight talking, I inherited two unshakeable beliefs from my upbringing.

First, I believe in the importance of hard work; the obligation that we all owe to ourselves and others, to earn our keep and do our best.

Life is given direction and purpose by work. Without work there is corrosive aimlessness. With the loss of work comes a loss of dignity.

Second, I believe in the transformative power of education. Education is the route to opportunity and self improvement; in today’s Australia more so than ever.

With my parents’ support and encouragement, I attended local schools, excellent schools here in South Australia. They were the places I discovered my love of learning, my enthusiasm for correct grammar and punctuation, my respect for discipline, even my liking for my school uniform! I think I still have my prefect’s tie to this day.

Whatever else young people may encounter in life, a sound foundation of excellent, rigorous education, ought to be their entitlement.

These beliefs are my inheritance. How I have pursued them throughout my adult life has been my own responsibility.

Moving from Unley High School to the University of Adelaide did open up a new world for me.

In those heady days of campus life and university politics I began my own journey. It has taken me on different paths and to different destinations than those of my parents. But it has been driven by the same values and aspirations.

Where my parents put the working effort of their lives into moving our family forward, my efforts have become focused on efforts to move our country forward.

My sister, Alison, chose her own path, devoting her care and skill to being a mother.

As my own career developed starting in the student union movement, through my years as a lawyer, then into my time in Parliament I increasingly became both an activist and an optimist. I became someone who believes that tomorrow can be better than today if you strive to make it so.

And as that attitude matured in me, it found its expression in a commitment, even a passion, for public service.

Australia’s history contains great moments and unrepeatable achievements. But that does not stop us from looking forward, or from having a positive obligation to make the future even brighter than the past.

We can be proud of our past. And we can be confident about moving forward. The best way to strengthen that confidence, to reduce fear and anxiety, is to recognise the need for change and take deliberate steps forward together.

And so, as I come here to my childhood home, I am reminded that at the core of so many of Australia’s problems and opportunities today is a fundamental choice.

It is really a variant of the age-old question every nation has faced: whether to resist change, or master it; whether to condemn new ways of thinking or welcome them; whether to defend the way things are, or to declare we can do better’.

In the simplest terms, it is a choice about whether we move forward or back.

I passionately believe that at our very core as Australians is an instinct to move forward—to summon our courage, think through our plans, and shape our future.

Going back is simply inconsistent with the Australian character.

We are a people who are descended overwhelmingly from newcomers; people who have lived in and settled a rugged land; people who constantly embraced innovation in order to build modern farms and cities.

Australia was not built by people who sat still, closed their eyes, or shied away from new terrain.

We are not a people who nourished our ambitions on a diet of nostalgia, indifference and denial.

My own life is rooted in that sense of forward motion that is at the core of our nation’s story.

It reflects that underlying promise that you can see in so many Australian life stories; that if you work hard, play by the rules, treat others with respect and do your best to contribute then you can move forward, but more important, so can our nation move forward.

As your Prime Minister, I intend to start and lead the discussions and debates that we must have to shape our future for the better.

I will speak plainly about the challenges, truthfully about the risks and methodically about the steps we need to take.

As I said on my first day as Prime Minister, there will be some days that I delight you and some days that I disappoint you.

But every day I will be working my hardest for you.

Some of the challenges that face our nation are daunting.

They will take a long time to overcome.

That is why I believe that, alongside the practical action that will be necessary, we must make the effort to have the honest conversation, to bring people with us, to make it clear what we actually have to do in order to get things right.

In the days to come I will be putting forward more detailed arguments about some of the biggest challenges facing our nation. I will be explaining the steps I think we need to take and asking for people’s consideration of those steps.

I will ask for the Australian people’s trust to move Australia forward.

Without listening respectfully to the public’s views, I do not believe it is possible for politicians to earn or hold the trust of the people who elect us. Leadership requires listening and persuading, understanding and bold action.

As I said, some of the challenges are daunting.

But my overwhelming sense in coming into this job is one of optimism.

Optimism because of what has already been achieved by the people who have made Australia what is today.

Optimism because of the capacity and decency of the millions of Australians who now contribute, in their own way, without thanks or praise, to making it a better place.

Australia is a wonderful country, the greatest country on earth.

We should not fear the future. The best days of our nation lie in front of us not behind us.

We are privileged to live here and we best respect that great privilege by working together, shaping a better future, going forward not back.

Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Download Whitepaper

Thank you for your interest. Please enter your email address to view the report.