Thank you very much, James, and firstly to Peter Tonkin, thank you to you and to your mum Prue and to your siblings, your family, for having shared your Dad with our grateful state. But of course, also for providing this outstanding platform for 20 years now, enabling the Young Liberals to bring together fellow Liberals and to celebrate, not just the life of David as we have tonight, but to think about his values, his philosophy, his contribution and how that shapes our outlook in this modern era.
To John and James, thank you for your contributions. To Aric and the Young Liberal leadership, thank you so much for keeping this flame alive right through the 20 years, especially to James Porter and those have gone before Aric, since John commenced this tradition. It is indeed a testament to each and every one of those Young Liberal presidents.
I want to take you back Monday, 16 October 1944. Legh Davis remembers it well! It was the day upon which the Liberal Party of Australia was born, following a three day meeting of 80 men and women whom Robert Menzies had gathered together in a small hall, not far from Parliament House in Canberra. Uniting many different political organisations they had settled on calling their new entity, the Liberal Party, motivated as they were by the nineteenth century ideals of classical liberalism.
It’s also highly likely that Menzies was inspired by the Commonwealth Liberal Party formed in 1907 and the final political home of Australia’s second prime minister, Alfred Deakin, who Menzies himself had described as the greatest prime minister our country had ever seen.
In his opening address to that history making meeting, Menzies laid out the values that have inspired Australian Liberals and Australian governments ever since, saying:
“What we must look for, and it is a matter of desperate importance to our society, is a true revival of liberal thought, which will work for social justice and security, for national power and national progress, and for the full development of the individual citizen.”
At that time in 1944, David Tonkin was 15 years of age. As you heard, his father had died 10 years earlier. Young David had won a scholarship at St Peter’s College and was headed towards a medicine degree and later specialisation in ophthalmology. David was already politically engaged, reportedly handing out his first how to vote cards for the South Australian based Liberal and Country League five years earlier. At that time, David could not have contemplated the success that Robert Menzies and the newly formed Liberal Party of Australia would go on to enjoy.
For up until 1944, non Labor politics in Australia had been incredibly fractious. When Labor was defeated unstable coalitions were formed. With indeed six different non Labor parties coming and going, providing different prime ministers throughout our nation’s first four decades, and many more such parties forming coalitions to prop up those others.
That Menzies went on to become Australia’s longest serving prime minister, serving for 16 years, is well known and is remarkable in and of itself. What people reflect on less is the remarkable and enduring success of the Liberal Party that he formed. From winning its first election in 1949, not that long after Menzies had gathered people together to form it, the Liberal Party of Australia has gone on to govern our great democracy for nearly 50 of the ensuing 71 years.
As the indefatigable Christopher Pyne might say, the Liberal Party has proven itself to be an election winning machine!
We have established ourselves, our great party, as the most successful political party in Australia’s history. The Liberal Party has governed Australia for 70 percent of its time since Menzies defeated, in his first successful election as Liberal Party leader, the then Labor prime minister Ben Chifley.
We don’t just win elections because we are good at politics. Indeed our political opponents like to propagate the myth that they are somehow better at politics than us.
We win elections because we deliver good policies, good government and offer sound values that connect with everyday Australians.
It’s no exaggeration to say that modern Australia is a reflection of the Liberal Party.
And our nation’s success is a testament to Liberal values and policies … five out of the last seven decades, essentially having been governed by our party.
We should be proud as Australia today stands tall in the face of global crisis and new geopolitical risks.
As Liberals we should stand tall and proud of the strong and resilient nation that we had helped to build. Our achievements have significantly defined what Australia is and have delivered very much for the Australian people.
Through that time, we have seen our nation grow from one of eight million people in 1949 to twenty five and a half million people today. In that time, Australia has become more prosperous, more equal and more responsible.
Back in 1949, Australia was the 16th largest economy in the world, with the 39th largest population. Since then while our population has slipped to be 55th largest in the world, our economy has grown to be the 13th largest in the world. We’ve elevated ourselves in the ranks of economic size, as part of the G20, even as other nations accumulated greater populations.
We’ve done this because we’ve expanded the opportunity, the dignity of work to so many more Australians. In 1949, the participation rate amongst working age Australians was around 56.9 per cent. Today, it stands at 66.1 per cent. In particular, through that time we have opened up the workforce in the economy for women to enjoy greater opportunity. Under our government, record female workforce participation has been achieved and continues to grow.
In creating a more prosperous society, we’ve given greater opportunity to individuals. Menzies is well known through his forgotten peoples speech for passionate advocacy of the crucial role of home ownership. And indeed, when his government was elected, only around 53 per cent of Australian households were owner occupied dwellings. People who owned their house, that they live in.
We as a party have grown that to some 67 per cent in this day and age. And although the last decade or two it has ebbed a little, I’m pleased to say that under our government in recent years, it’s started to climb once more, providing that very fundamental basis for people’s lives and families. And a solid economic base for them into their retirement years.
Those Australians, the proportion of whom were degree qualified, was less than three per cent at the time Menzies won his first election. Today, it’s more than 20 per cent of the Australian population.
But it’s not just in those economics spheres, or educational or health opportunities. Environmentally, in the years since Menzies took over, in those five out of the seven decades that we had government, we’ve seen a tripling of protected lands across Australia, the national parks and indigenous reserves that now span more than 150 million hectares.
We’ve done that also while making sure we keep Australia safe and secure.
The total number of people serving in our Defence Force, again, is close to double over the time since Menzies won that first election.
We as a party have delivered so much to be proud of.
So what are the policies that have achieved those types of incredible outcomes for our nation?
Well, of course, home ownership was driven by a party that ensured high levels of employment, lower taxes, supported families with the child endowment support of the Menzies era to the family benefits of the modern era. We opened up the Australian economy to other nations through trade, such as the remarkable steps that Menzies took in the post-war period to open trade with Japan.
Ours was the party that dismantled the White Australia policy and delivered the unifying 1967 referendum for Indigenous Australians.
Ours was the party that established the Office of Marine Science, that signed up to the protection of Antarctica. We passed the water act that facilitated the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for our state, and indeed has opened a National Space Agency right here in Adelaide.
Ours is the party of successful international engagement, that signed the ANZUS treaty. We signed Australia up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that recognises and respects the leadership role for Australia to play on the world stage.
From tax reform and the GST, to the legalisation of same sex marriage. From the response to the 9/11 terrorist atrocities and the rise of extremist terrorism to today’s response to a global pandemic that threatens our way of life. Ours is the party that has managed to keep Australians safe and secure through all of those challenges.
We went into the pandemic with some 29 years of uninterrupted economic growth that was shaped by the Howard-Costello years. Australia’s budget repair and ultimately strong fiscal position was the envy of the rest of the world. Notwithstanding Rudd and Gillard’s best efforts to the contrary, Liberal savings and budgets left Australia in a much better position to withstand the challenges of today.
We have so much to be proud of. There is not a piece of the Australian landscape that our party in government across Australia has not touched and shaped and overwhelmingly done so for the better.
Now, of course, our political opponents the Labor Party would say that some of those achievements or some of those outcomes – well, it happened because of us, it happened under our watch – and we should acknowledge the contributions that Labor has made in their shorter time of government.
We must particularly acknowledge the contributions that state and territory governments have made, contributions such as the Tonkin government we just saw delivering on everything from Aboriginal land rights through to the establishment of Olympic Dam, public transport reforms that Dean Brown was so crucial to driving at the time, through, of course, to environmental and economic reforms that gave us a modern tourism industry that started in this very hotel.
These are the types of changes that have ensured modern Australia is so much stronger. Just as modern Australia is a reflection of the Liberal Party it is incumbent upon all of us, especially Young Liberals, as the custodians of our party, to ensure that the Liberal Party remains a reflection of modern Australia. To be able to meet the challenges of our time. Of course, the first challenge are the challenges coming out of this pandemic and the economic rebuild that comes from that.
The challenges associated with technology have been in the news in these last couple of days, thanks to our friends at Facebook. John Gardner reflected on Jennifer Cashmore’s work and words that she said on her departure from parliament. John shared with me some quotes from Jennifer from years ago now, of which she said:
“Liberal thinkers must now consider how individual freedoms are at once potentially threatened and enhanced by new developments. These include:
- the emergence of global corporations with powers greater than those of sovereign states;
- the development of information technology that surpasses any single previous invention in its power to revolutionise economic, political and social ideas and practice;
- the development of biotechnology, which is already transforming human and animal reproduction and traditional notions of genetic relationships; and
- the influence of technology on the nature of work and, as Mill put it, on our capacity to ‘frame the plan of our lives, to suit our own characters’.”
How incredibly prescient was Jennifer decades ago in identifying those challenges, in thinking through how it is that as a country we respond. Today I’m proud to be alongside James, Andrew, the rest of our federal team as part of a government that is facing up to the reality that global tech companies may have enormous power, but this is still our country, a sovereign country in which we write rules not tech players, and in which we should all expect them to live by the same type of rules as we expect anybody else to do so.
Equally, we face a world challenged by environmental pressures, population growth, climate change, environmental degradation, and we confront now a new administration in the United States, one where I read some suggestions that their position on climate change is somehow a threat to Australia’s position.
But to the contrary, if you look at what President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, John Kerry, former secretary of state, has said, he has called:
“…for countries to cultivate advanced, clean technology industries. Across energy storage, advanced mobility, next-generation renewable and other clean power technologies, clean industrial processes, zero-carbon fuels, smart systems, carbon capture and more. We stand at the precipice of a rare opportunity to create new technologies and new markets. The countries that make it a strategic priority to foster these industries in the future will not only help reduce emissions both within and outside their borders, they will also reap the economic rewards of powering the global economic transformation.”
Those words could just as easily have been lifted from our climate change policies, focussed as they are on the technological changes that are required to make a net zero emissions future a reality, on the recognition that as a country we have enormous natural resources at our disposal, we have enormous technical and technological know-how. We have an incredibly highly educated population and all of that to give us the absolute confidence that we can, with the billions of support our government is delivering, achieve the breakthroughs, reduce emissions not just here in Australia, but provide the technology, the capability, the know-how for other countries to do so to solve this wicked global challenges that we face together, but also to create new industries and opportunities upon which Australia can stand tall.
And so it is friends that we must as Liberals, as we have done throughout five of the last seven decades, tackle the issues of our time and seek to reflect modern Australia. I reflect on the debates that State Parliament engaged in over the course of the last few days, of which Liberals, as is the custom of our party, had differing opinions and different perspectives.
I know that our party stood tall through those types of debates because we were reflecting the different perspectives of Australian Liberals in all of their different forms. We were doing, indeed just as the parliament had done slightly before David Tonkin arrived in it, when abortion law reform was first tackled and when, Steele Hall – Joan’s husband – was there taking steps to modernise our laws, to listen to communities and to seek to strike the balances that are required to reflect Australian values.
Because Australians are practical people who want balanced practical solutions, not ideological stances. The classical liberalism, that guided Menzies, that shaped the values of David Tonkin. These are the values that have served a political party like us so incredibly well throughout our history.
We stand for markets but we know there’s a role for government. We stand up for individual rights, but respect the role of society. We have so much to be proud of as a party, tonight I’ve spoken with pride because you as Liberals should feel pride in what we do and what we stand for and what we’ve achieved. We must also remain practical, practical in our approaches, understanding that at every step of the way, our responsibility is to reflect Australia and to bring Australians with us. And that is what stood us in such great stead for so long as a party and is indeed the type of approach that we celebrate tonight, in somebody like David Tonkin.
Thanks so very much.