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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 6734


Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 21/09/1985

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 6734

us ( L
Here, in the city of his birth one hundred years ago
tomorrow, we come together to honour the memory of
Joseph Benedict Chifley.
The great themes of Ben Chifley's career, the loves and
loyalties of his life, were clear and simple. First and
last, there was his love for and faith in Australia and
its people. Inseparable from this, was his love for and
faith in the Australian Labor movement, as the servant
of the Australian people so much so that he
specifically identified the Australian Labor Party as
his " real religion".
But throughout his life, and never more than when he was
leader of this nation, he always drew strength from his
roots here in Bathurst; and when he proudly identified
himself as " a child of the pavements, a boy from the
bush" he meant Bathurst.
He would never have boasted that he was a citizen of the
world, although his abiding faith in the,* essential
goodness of humanity and his service to the cause of
humanity would certainly have entitled him to that
description. Even as Prime Minister, he would have
eschewed the title of first citizen of Australia. But
he did allow himself one boast the boast that he was a
citizen of Bathurst, which to him was simply the best
place in Australia.
And who, in this room tonight, is going to challenge his
op i nion?
During his life and since his death, Ben Chifley was
often compared with Abraham Lincoln.

The comparisons have seized on the more obvious
similarities humble origins, the lack of formal
education, the love of humanity and the love of country,
the homespun humour, the laconic wit, the common touch,
the simplicity of style, the simple faith in the simple
virtues. But there was also a more profound similarity, which has
not been so often noticed.
For all their genuine simplicity, both Lincoln and
Chifley possessed, in the best sense, great
sophistication, subtlety and complexity of intellect.
Chifley of course, made no pretensions to being an
intellectual. But he brought to bear, on every task
during his great career, perhaps the most powerful
intellect of any Australian politician of his age and
He always expressed his regret at his lack of formal
education. That was the reason why he made such strong
efforts for his own self-education, particularly on
financial and economic subjects. It was also partly the
reason why he recruited around him, as Treasurer and
Prime Minister, some of the best qualified young men in
Australia of whom, in terms of the service they were
to give to Australia and to successive Australian
Governments, H. C. ( Nugget) Coombs may stand as an
example. And it is one of the reasons why he did so
much to broaden the opportunities for tertiary education
in Australia through such measures as the Commonwealth
scholarship scheme, the Commonwealth Reconstruction
Training Scheme and the establishment of the Australian
National University to ensure that new generations of
Australians would have the opportunities that he and
most of his generation never had.
Yet none of his peers, none of his contemporaries, none
of his opponents, were ever left in any doubt that, with
Chifley, they were dealing not only with ' a strong
personality but with a commanding intellect as well.
I mention this aspect only to redress the balance of
history as it is often received and perceived.
Full justice will not be done to Chifley if we fail to
recognise that, behind all his great qualities of heart,
soul and character, lay an extraordinary mind and an
extraordinarily powerful intellect.
I have said that I have dwelt upon this point to redress
the perceptions of history.

But I also do it to illuminate the text on which I am
called to address you tonight the text which will be
the theme of the series of lectures which my address
tonight inaugurates.
The theme is " The Light on the Hill".
And that is to be the title by which all the subsequent
lectures, endowed by the New South Wales Branch of the
Australian Labor Party, will be known.
It is a text taken, of course, from one of Chifley's
most famous speeches his address to the annual
conference of the New South Wales Branch of the Party at
the Sydney Town Hall in June 1949 six months before
our defeat by Menzies on 10 December 1949.
Few who heard him believed that his Government was on
the verge of defeat, and none could have conceived that
another twenty-three years would elapse before the
election of another Labor Government of Australia.
And perhaps of all the 1500 conference delegates in that
historic chamber thirty-six years ago, Chifley alone
sensed the full extent of the dangers and difficulties
ahead for the Party he loved so much and the waste and
the loss that was to follow, through disloyalty,
disunity, betrayal and, most of all, stupidity, in the
long barren years to come.
A very important point I wish to make tonight and
inaugurating these lectures I think it is absolutely
essential that I should establish this point at
their outset is this: when Chifley spoke of the light
on the hill, he was neither coining nor mouthing a
Far from being a mere slogan, it was the very
distillation of the essence of the beliefs, experiences,
ideals and goals of a lifetime.
Nor is " the light on the hill" a statement of narrow
ideology. It is, in its full context, a most practical
and precise statement of what the Australian Labor Party
and the Australian Labor movement is all about five
splendid words which sum up not only the meaning of
Chifley's lifetime of service to Australia, but sum up
the nature, meaning and purpose of this great political
and industrial movement the Australian Labor Party.
So let me put the words in their full context.

And, as you hear them, I ask you to put the words of Ben
Chifley thirty-six years ago in the context of
Australia's present and Australia's future.
It is a long quotation but I know the men and women of
Bathurst will, of all Australians, be most willing to
hear again and to understand the words and meaning of
their greatest fellow citizen.
And what Ben Chifley said to the annual conference of
the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party
on 12 June 1949, was this:
" I have had the privilege of leading the Labor Party for
nearly four years. It is a man-killing job and would be
impossible if it were not for the help of my colleagues
and members of the movement. No Labor Minister or
leader ever has an easy job. The urgency that rests
behind the Labor movement, pushing it on to do things,
to create new conditions, to reorganise the economy of
the country, always means that the people who work
within the Labor movement, people who lead, can never
have an easy job. The job of the evangelist is never
easy. But the strength of the movement cannot come from
US. We make plans and pass legislation to help and
direct the economy of the country. But the job of
getting the things the people of the country want comes
from the roots of the labor movement the people who
support it because they believe in a movement that has
been built up to bring better conditions to the people.
I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an
extra sixpence in somebody's pocket, or making somebody
Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing
something better to the people, better standards of
living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We
have a great objective the light on the hill which
we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind
not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.
It it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be
worth fighting for. If the movement can make someone
more comfortable, give to some father or. mother a
greater feeling of security for their children, a
feeling that if a depression comes there will be work,
that the Government is striving its hardest to do its
best, then the Labor movement will be completely
Those, my friends, are the principles which Ben Chifley
applied throughout his career of service to the Labor
movement and to Australia.
I suggest they are principles as relevant to our Party
and the conduct of the affairs of our nation, now, as
they were thirty-six years ago.

Implicit in everything that Chifley said not just in
the " light on the hill" speech but whenever he spoke
about his vision for Australia was the one fundamental
objective of building an Australia dedicated to
fairness, justice and genuine equality of opportunity
for all; where each Australian had an inalienable
entitlement to dignity and security and where all would
share fairly and fully in the abundance and
opportunities that Australia could offer.
And that remains the objective we strive for today.
I said before that the objective set by the light on the
hill was not an ideology, but a practical program; and
that will have become very clear to you as you listened
to the full quotation.
Its practical application, throughout his years as
Curtin's second-in-command during the war and as Prime
Minister from 1945 to 1949, transformed Australian
society. In the years between 1942 and 1949 Australian society
and the Australian economy were fundamentally re-shaped.
The Governments of Curtin and Chifley accepted the
Federal Government's overriding responsibility for the
management of the Australian economy, set the goal of
full employment, established the uniform tax system,
vastly expanded the manufacturing and heavy industry
base, transformed the social security system,
established the post-war immigration scheme, reformed
the banking system, accepted, for the first time, a
share of Commonwealth responsibility for education,
health, housing, power and transport in short,
established the framework of modern Australia.
It is a measure of the strength of those achievements
that they were not reversed or altered in any
fundamental way during nearly a quarter of a century of
conservative rule which followed.
The prosperity Australia enjoyed during most of those
years was built on the foundations which the Chifley
Government had laid.
Australia's tragedy is that successive conservative
governments from Menzies to McMahon wasted the Chifley
They failed to make the further changes necessary to
enable Australian industry to meet more adequately the
challenges of a highly competitive world. N.

During those years, conservative governments assumed,
and encouraged the public to assume, that with our
abundance of resources, growth would come naturally,
without real effort, and that the world would readily
buy our surplus production. And the result was that
opportunities were squandered to place our national
growth and the maintenance of our standards on an even
firmer footing than Chifley had established in the postwar
reconstruction years.
Chifley committed his Government firmly to economic
growth. He saw that the vigorous development of
Australian resources and industries was, as his
biographer, the late Professor Crisp wrote " the crucial
source for any substantial advance in material or
cultural wellbeing".
And as Crisp puts it:
" the power of his leadership lay not least
in the degree to which his own intense
convictions about national development prevailed
upon all his colleagues to subordinate much
current political advantage to measures which
could bear fruit only years ahead."
At the same time that he sought to establish the
conditions for economic growth he maintained
simultaneously the fight against inflation.
That was a daunting task in the post-war world a task
made doubly difficult in Australia by constitutional
limitations. But he was determined to follow policies to achieve
economic growth while holding inflation down.
He told the Parliament during the Budget debate in
September 1945:
" I have always stressed the disastrous
results which can overtake the people of any
country, particularly the workers, if the
government is unable to control inflationary
movements. If those movements gather impetus,
they affect the worker in receipt of the basic
wage and margins above it, and are absolutely
cruel to that section of the community which is
receiving a fixed income."
And that message remains very relevant for us, the Labor
movement and the Labor Government, today. That is why
our Government is so firmly committed to sustain growth
without renewed high inflation.

Chifley saw clearly, as we do today, that sustained
growth without inflation was the very basis and
condition for achieving the legitimate aspirations the
Australian people have for themselves and their families
for improved living standards, for secure employment,
for decent housing and for greater security and greater
dignity, in retirement and sickness or incapacity for
whatever reason. He saw, as we do today, that it is
growth which would enable us, as a nation, to improve
the lot of those who depended upon social security
payments for their entitlement to share in the
prosperity of their country.
Throughout my own Prime Ministership I have emphasised
my conviction that, fundamental as our commitment to
growth is, a society which dedicated itself, narrowly
and exclusively, to a single goal of economic growth,
would sow the seeds of its ultimate disintegration; and
that while growth should be pursued for the benefits it
produces for the direct participants in the process by
which that productive growth is achieved, it must
justify itself and be inspired by the recognition that
growth is the basis for ensuring that those of our
fellow Australians who are not its direct beneficiaries
receive from a compassionate society the opportunity to
share equitably in the fruits of growth.
And in making these three parallel commitments the
commitment to growth, the commitment to fighting
inflation, the commitment to social justice and equity
I believe we place ourselves firmly and faithfully in
the Chifley tradition.
I said before that the major achievements of the Chifley
Government had transformed the Australian society and
the Australian economy; and that the foundations then
laid were so strong that they substantially resisted
reversal under twenty-three years of conservative rule.
The conservatives were obliged to maintain the major
programs and indeed expand some of the most important of
them. They completed the Snowy Mountains project which
they had so bitterly derided in Opposition. They
accepted and expanded the role of the Commonwealth in
education, especially tertiary education. They
continued and expanded the immigration program. They
realised they could not vacate the fields of housing and

But even more fundamental, they accepted the permanence
of the five great pillars of economic management which
Chifley had built
the recognition of the primary role and
responsibility of the national government
for economic policy;
the central banking system;
the strong arbitration system with central
wage fixation;
a strong public sector ( including the
efficient public enterprises)
and the recognition of the interdependence of the
private and public sectors for the achievement
of growth, and the creation of jobs.
However incompetent and crass they may have been from
time to time in the application of these principles,
successive conservative
governments always recognised that these principles were
the imperatives of economic management in modern mixed
economies and in advanced industrial societies like
Australia. Apart from aberrations like the brief flirtation with
the so-called New Federalism, happily never consummated,
and the abandonment of effective central wage fixation
with the horrendous results still fresh in our memories
even the Fraser Government basically supported and
applied those five principles.
Yet now, for the first time for four decades, in a way
and on a scale none of their predecessors would ever
have contemplated, much less proclaimed, the diminished
figures who now claim to wear the mantle of Menzies
propose to take the axe to the very foundations of the
five pillars of our economy.
They propose to do this in the name of economic
That is as great a misnomer, as great an abuse of the
word " rational", as their misappropriation of the noble
word " liberal" to their cause of conservative reaction.
What is rational about destroying the Prices and Incomes
Accord, which has underpinned the recovery and will
continue to be the instrument for sustained noninflationary
growth for years to come?

What is rational about weakening the industrial system
and abandoning central wage fixation?
What in the name of reason, is the justification for
breaking up and selling off the great and efficient
national assets, like the Commonwealth Bank, Telecom,
TAA, Qantas?
The fact is that this recipe for disaster represents the
height of irrationality.
And it is irrationality of the most dangerous kind,
because it is based on a blind and mindless commitment
to a narrow, dogmatic and discredited ideology a
reactionary example of the very kind of ideological
self-imprisonment which Chifley never ceased to warn the 1
Labor Party against.
As far as the welfare of the people of Australia is
concerned, there is only one saving grace about this
lurch to the reactionary right by the so-called new
leadership of the opposition.
And not for the first time I quote some words of Ben
Chifley which are as true and relevant today as when he
used them. As he said:
" the opposition parties today wear a veneer
of unity, but it's always hard to know whom
to answer, because there is such a diversity
of opinion amongst their numbers"
But as the people of Australia come to realise the
extent of the economic and social vandalism proposed by
our opponents and indeed as part of the process of
promoting that awareness it will be necessary for us-
Ben Chifley's heirs and successors to keep fresh and
green the memory, the example and the experience of this
great Australian.
My friends,
I have the honour to announce tonight an important
decision by the New South Wales Branch of the Australian
Labor Party which will help significantly in ensuring
that Ben Chifley's life and work is remembered and is
honoured in this State and through~ out this nation.
The Branch proposes to establish the Chifley Foundation.
The Foundation will have a range of mutually consistent
objectives to benefit the Australian Labor Party itself,
the broader Labor movement, and above all, the
Australian community as a whole.

Its objectives will range from the creation of a Labor
Centre through to educational, historical and cultural
The Foundation will also be used as the vehicle for the
Party to acquire its own building in Sydney and to
establish the Labor Centre.
To finance the Foundation's establishment and growth,
donations will be sought not only from the Labor
movement, but from the wider Australian community.
I have been delighted and honoured to accept the
invitation from the New South W~ ales Branch to act as one
of the two patrons of the Foundation. The other patron
will be the Premier of New South Wales and National
President of the Party, Neville Wran.
Further, the New South Wales Branch has decided to offer
annual prizes set at $ 1,500, $ 1,000 and $ 500 for
excellence in scholarship by undergraduate students
writing on the history of the Australian Labor Party.
These prizes are to be named " The Chifley Prizes".
My friends,
I congratulate the New South Wales Branch on these
initiatives. Nothing could be more appropriate than
that this Branch should act in this way to honour the
memory of Ben Chifley.
Ben Chifley did more than anybody-else to save this
Branch from self-destruction in the desperate years of
the 1930s.
Sometimes it almost seemed he was fighting singlehandedly
to preserve New South Wales Labor as a force in
Federal politics.
But his courage, perseverence and patience was
ultimately rewarded by a Party, reunited and
reinvigorated in 1940, and the election in 1941 of the
McKell Labor Government which formed the great war-time
partnership with the Curtin and Chifley Governments.
My friends,
Ben Chifley's great achievement was based on two
impregnable rocks his faith and confidence in the
Australian Labor Party, and his faith and confidence in
the people of Australia.

And may I conclude with another brief quotation not,
this time, from Ben Chifley, but from the 1984 policy
speech I had the honour to deliver on behalf of the
Australian Labor Party, because I believe it expresses
faithfully, for a new age and a new generation, his
philosophy and his creed for Australia.
I said then:
" It is on the basis of confidence in ourselves that we
now have an unparalleled opportunity to build an even
better, fairer Australia.
" Never then was it so important that we should unite to
resist and reject those i-n our midst, whatever their
motives, whatever side or interest they purport to
represent, who would seek to undermine the very fabric
and foundation of our new national self-confidence and
national self-respect.
" And at the heart of national self-respect lies respect
for each other and for the rights of all.
" And that has been the principle behind the great truth
that the Australian community has come increasingly to
realise since March 1983 the truth that the legitimate
aspirations of each group can best be achieved, not by
fighting each other, not by contrived conflict, not by
setting group against group, Australians against
Australians, but by working together, recognising and
respecting each other's rights, reasonable expectations
and fair aspirations.
" That is the fundamental principle on which we can now
work together to build an Australia dedicated to
fairness, justice and genuine equality of opportunity
for all: so that we can truly say as we approach the
third century of this modern nation, that we are
building together a nation in which there are no secondclass
" A nation where each of us, irrespective of background,
origin, faith, age or sex, will have undiminished title
to the proud name of Australian;
" An inalienable entitlement for all to fairness,
justice, tolerance, dignity and security;
" A nation in which all can share fairly in the abundance
and all the opportunities offered by this great country
of ours, in the great years now within our grasp."

My friends,
In 1985, that is our light on the hill. It burns as
brightly as when our beloved Ben Chifley pointed,
nearly forty years ago, to his light on the hill.
May it always burn for us, and beckon us forward to an
even brighter future for all Australians.

Transcript 6734