My speech to the Canberra Progressive Summit

We are able to achieve things in Canberra impossible in most other places.  We are a community that values equality, community, and progress - and are willing to invest to make our shared vision a reality. 

I first acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

It is exciting to be here with a critical mass of energetic, forward-thinking people. Great things will come from today.

I thank UnionsACT and Fair Go for Canberra for making this summit a reality, and for attracting so many community and thought leaders.

And I want to thank you all for taking time from your busy lives to share, listen, debate and contribute.

It is essential to bring people together to develop, advocate and implement progressive ideas; but events such as this also serve as a welcome reminder that like-minded people live all around us.

Every day I count myself lucky to live and work in the most progressive city in Australia, and in one of the most vibrant, supportive and inclusive cities in the world.

We are able to achieve things in Canberra impossible in most other places. We are a community that values equality, community, and progress – and are willing to invest to make our shared vision a reality.

We have our challenges, of course – but a truly progressive vision for our city-state is always worth fighting for.

Achievements

And since self-government, working together as a community, we have achieved a lot.

We have grown from a big country town, completely reliant on the Federal Government, to standing on our own two feet, secure in our city’s identity and place in the world.

As our city continues to grow - and it will – a progressive government will guide sustainable development for the benefit of the people who live here.

Our education, health, and transport systems are all geared to focus on those who need and use them most.

In the ACT a quality education is for everyone, not just those whose parents can afford it – by giving the gift of learning, our highly qualified, well supported and properly remunerated teachers are transforming young lives and lifting kids out of the intergenerational poverty trap.

We’ve made a conscious choice to provide comprehensive health services to our community, rather than push people with more complex needs across the border. For that matter, we welcome those in our surrounding districts who most need care.

We will deliver a light rail network for Canberra, the mass transport system that our city needs to be sustainable, clean and uncongested for coming generations.

And we are improving our bus network, because we know that disadvantaged Canberrans are the most reliant on public transport to look for work, make vital health appointments, and connect with their community.

Just last month I confirmed that ACTION will stay in public hands under a Labor Government. That’s because we’re about improving public transport for everyone, not flogging off an essential community service.

Values based governing

Achievements and ambitions such as these are only possible when community and government share progressive values, and when governance is based on the fundamental principles of equality, inclusion and sustainability.

It’s true that we aren’t going to agree on everything all of the time.

Sometimes the pace of change is not fast enough for some.   And there can be disappointment when governments choose the good, over the perfect, outcome.

The size, reach and responsibilities of government are a perennial matter of debate.

But what I believe we can agree on, and what I hope will come from today’s work, is a charter setting out our shared progressive values and principles.

Our goal today is to agree what our next steps towards a truly progressive community must be, and how we can collectively overcome the challenges our city faces.

Social and LGBTIQ policy

A progressive community is an inclusive community – one that respects individual rights, but recognises the importance of cohesiveness and equality of opportunity for all its residents.

That’s why Canberra has been at the forefront of marriage equality and wider policy and social progress for our gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, intersex and queer community.

It’s rare that homophobia happens when we’re together. More often it happens when people are alone, when we are isolated - walking the street at night, confronted by a colleague at work, bullied at school.

And yes, this still happens, with unacceptable regularity in Canberra. It has an effect—a damaging and lasting affect, particularly for younger Canberrans.. 

Of course we are very lucky to live in a country where you can be openly gay and pursue a successful career  – something not available to people living in Egypt, or Russia, or numerous other countries around the world.

But that doesn’t mean we need to settle for close enough – nothing but full equality will ever be good enough. That’s what I stand for and what Canberra stands for, and I look forward to the day, soon, when Australian law reflects our fundamental rights as citizens.

Embracing diversity is essential – to challenge our thinking; to create warm, welcoming communities; and to show every member of our community that they are not barred from anything they want to achieve, just because of their sexuality, or race, or background.

A progressive community is a caring community, particularly to the most vulnerable. And there is no greater vulnerability than when suffering from terminal illness or a life of pain.

We are a community willing to have a rational, reasonable discussion about how best to care for people at the end of life or suffering from extreme pain. Death is a part of life, which we should be free to talk about without the debate being hijacked by religious or ideological interests. 

We also see members of our community suffering because the most effective medicine for them is a taboo. So we will consider how best to introduce a regulated, safe medicinal cannabis system for those who need it.

A progressive community is one that respects basic civil liberties. I use only one recent example of many: earlier this month, the ACT was the only jurisdiction to formally voice concern about the Federal Government’s proposal to introduce facial biometric scanning, and the only jurisdiction to bar the use of its drivers’ license photo database for this purpose.

We are willing to push back against the blanket argument of ‘national security’ when the intrusion of the state into our personal lives is unjustified.

A progressive and inclusive economy

I’ve long stood for a strong and independent ACT economy, because I believe that only by building a base of innovative industry, supported by a well-educated and empowered workforce, can we truly shape our society for the better.

We are the best-educated city in Australia, with one in nine of our residents studying or working in higher education. In a global economy, the best protection against rapidly-changing technology and disruptive market entrants, is to have a nimble, innovative, forward-thinking, organised workforce.

That’s why I have worked closely with our own university, the University of Canberra, to build a campus for the 21st century; and why I have supported the CBR Innovation Network to foster new Canberra enterprises to take on the world.

We’ve shown in Canberra that a strong climate action policy does not harm investment or jobs.

By 2025 we will be a city powered 100% by renewable energy.

We are truly leading the world when it comes to combating climate change, and I pay tribute to the vision and hard work of Simon Corbell in showing the rest of Australia and the world how it can be done.

An Australian Republic

To be a truly progressive nation, we must be a truly independent nation – no longer tied to the archaic hereditary rulers of a faded empire half a world away.

Just this week I laid a wreath and planted a tree with the future King of England. And he was a pleasant fellow. But pleasantness should not entitle you to rule our sovereign nation, and bar our sons and daughters from aspiring to lead it.

It’s well beyond time to ask the people directly whether Australia should move towards a republic – it makes more sense to spend money to hold a plebiscite on a republic, which requires constitutional change, than it does on marriage equality, which only requires a parliamentary vote.

Malcolm Turnbull once said that Howard’s 1999 referendum served only to break a nation’s heart. Well now he has a chance to mend that wound. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to be truly “agile and innovative”, to stare down the embittered rump of his own reactionary party, and hold a plebiscite on the question of whether we wish to become a republic.

No tricky or loaded questions - just a straightforward vote of all Australians. 

The choice

In Canberra, we are setting the course for where our country should be over the coming generation.

But in a true democracy there is always a choice – we can’t ignore that fact – so you’ll excuse me if I take a moment to lay out the choice facing Canberra over the next 11 months.

A progressive community doesn’t just materialise. It takes time to build, and progressive governance to maintain. It can also be lost when a community chooses a different path.

There is very little discussion of what a Liberal government both locally and federally would mean, but it is something that no progressive can be complacent about.

We’ve seen that over the past month with the Prime Minister floating a potential 50% increase to the regressive GST, to fund cuts to company and income taxes.

We just saw it earlier this week when the Federal Coalition floated moving towards a United States-style health system, as if that were a good thing!

The Canberra Liberals are, by a stretch, the most conservative wing of a major political party in Australia. They don’t believe in public transport and will tear up light rail contracts and sack Canberrans to prove it.

They don’t believe in communal obligations to the most disadvantaged, and will cut services like nurses, teachers and firefighters that don’t fit into their model of a user-pays society.

They will destroy penalty rates, just like they instinctively sided with employers when we moved to make Easter Sunday a gazetted public holiday, to ensure our hard working shift workers and retail employees get the pay they deserve.

Conclusion

But today is a day for positive thinking, about a Canberra of brilliant possibilities for today and over the next 10, 20, 30 years.

I hope you get much out of today, listening to some of Canberra’s and Australia’s best progressive thinkers talk about what we can achieve here. And I trust you will be able to contribute to a charter of progressive values that will shape our city for a generation.

Canberra is a community based on the strength of all its people. It is heartening to see so many of you here today, who are passionately committed to its progressive future.