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THE HON.

BILL SHORTEN
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
SPEECH
LAUNCH OF MATESHIP: A VERY AUSTRALIAN HISTORY
MELBOURNE
SUNDAY, 25 JANUARY 2015

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

Im here, in the true spirit of this book, to do a favour for a mate.


As Nick points out, mate is a much-loved and extremely versatile word
in our country and certainly in the Australian Labor party.
Ive got a simple rule when it comes to mates in politics - the more times
the letter A is used, the better.
If I pick up the phone and hear a long maaaaate its probably a vote
sought, good news or just a funny story.

But if its just one, short, crisp mateI tend to sit down and brace myself
for some constructive feedback.
In Mateship, Nick takes us on an affectionate romp through two centuries
of Australian history.
There is an easy flow to this book, a subtlety of argument that Nick has
always wielded with great effect.
Its a skill that puts Nick a cut-above the ordinary tenure-track professor or
the garden-variety palace intriguer.
And it was certainly a gift that served him well when we worked together.
I remember it clearly.
I would start out skeptical, sometimes even opposed to Nicks point of
view.
But steadily Nick builds up the evidence, he gets into his stride.
You find yourself throwing in a couple of nods here and there, just to keep
things moving.
And before you know it, youve been carried along by the momentum.
If youre not careful, Nick leaves the room not just with your grudging
respect but your firm support, in writing.

Im pleased to report though, that in Mateship, Nick uses his considerable


powers for good.
Nicks book is a celebration of our national character but its far from a
obsequious Labor hagiography.
The book acknowledges at every important turn that as much as we
extoll its virtues, Australian mateship has rarely included everyone.
For example, at the turn of the 20th Century, the Australian Workers Union
could urge: all men to become co-operators mates instead of
antagonists
And declare itself open to all workers: no matter what their occupation or
sex may be.
Yet at the same time say: No Chinese, Japanese, Kanakas, Afghans or
coloured aliens
Without seeing the hypocrisy at the heart of their call for universal
solidarity.
And of course, for a long time, mateship was very much a mans business.
It thrived in the front bar, the betting ring, the slip cordon and the
shearing shed - as well as the boardroom, the gentlemens club and the
cabinet table.

And even today mate as a term still retains something of that edge, a
sense of men giving a good bloke a better-than-fair go.
The fact is, mateship has not always been there when our nation, our
people needed it.
After all, where was mateship at Myall Creek?
Or at Lambing Flat?
Where was mateship when governments and institutions worked together
to take children from their mothers because the mother was unmarried,
or black?
And where was mateship when we denied these crimes?
Where was mateship when we turned our back on historical truth in favour
of the Great Australian Silence a silence that was neither great, nor
Australian.
This book asks these hard questions.
It casts a critical eye over one of the most widely invoked and least
thoroughly examined words in our national vocabulary.
But Mateship is analytical and incisive not disparaging.
After all, as Nick confesses in the books Afterword, he likes mateship, he
values it, he admires the comfort it has brought to Australians in tough
times never more than in times of war and natural disaster.

Mateship has endured through gunfire and bushfires, flood and drought
at Anzac Cove and on Black Saturday, on the Burma-Thai railway and in
Queensland floodwaters and Nick celebrates that.
His affection and optimism is ever-present in his work - and that adds to
the power of his argument.
It means that Mateship never wallows, or gets becalmed.
This is an important book, but the narrative never disappears up its own
sense of importance.
This book is not without controversy, but it never falls hostage to the
perception that the author is seeking sensationalism, rather than writing
history.
Why does this matter?
Well, I believe Australians have had our fill of polemics masquerading as
analysis.
Were tired of people claiming victory in the history wars - as if the
Australian story has to be fought to the last man and the last footnote.
I believe Australians are smart enough and generous enough to know that
our national story is not a choose-your-own adventure where we pick and
mix the chapters that portray us in the best light.

We gain nothing from boiling down our history to a bland mish-mash myth
of the Rum Rebellion and Burke and Wills, Bodyline and the stump-jump
plough, the Victa Mower and Olympic gold.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating those moments and
achievements but it is wrong to pretend that they represent the limit of
our national capabilities or our national ambitions.
It is wrong to imagine that we can only gain and grow from revelling in
past glory.
Nicks book also reminds us of the contradictions at the heart of mateship.
An egalitarian creed, enthusiastically promoted by the author of
WorkChoices.
A profound and unifying national value, with a lingering essential
maleness that makes it irrelevant or alienating to half the population.
And in the face of these contradictions, we must take on a dual role.
We should be sceptics and advocates.
Sceptics, alert to inherent silliness, empty jingoism and the potential for
hypocrisy.
And advocates, for the undeniable power of the idea in war and other
tough times.

In other words, if we are to say that mateship defines us, let us decide
what elements of the creed make sense and which ones are barmy or
moribund.
And let us think about what other notions of nationhood and Australianness are apt and useful: tolerance, openness, fairness, kindness and
respect.
Lets reflect on what makes for a good society in a modern world.
When he introduced the Racial Discrimination Act to Parliament in 1975,
Gough Whitlam reflected that, the main victims of social deprivation and
restricted opportunity have been the oldest Australians, and the newest.
In finding the courage to face this truth, modern Australia has enjoyed its
finest moments, we have built our greatest monuments.
Not monuments of marble or stone, not a statue in a park or a plaque on a
building but institutions of fairness, respect and progress.
Progress that fulfils the Australian promise, the guarantee of a fair go for
all.
Land rights, Native Title, a National Apology, a commitment to Closing the
Gap and ending more than two centuries of disadvantage thats
inclusion, thats real mateship.

Welcoming people from every culture and country on earth building a


society that celebrates difference and respects diversity thats real
mateship.
Medicare, a national declaration that the health of any one of us, matters
to all of us thats kindness in anothers trouble, thats real mateship.
Universal superannuation, ensuring Australians who work hard all their
lives dont retire poor thats the fair go in action, thats real mateship.
A National Disability Insurance Scheme, breaking down the apartheid of
disadvantage that exiled hundreds of thousands of Australians to a second
class life in their own country a success spurred by generations of
national failure, thats real mateship.
And, in the 21st Century, supporting the march of women through the
institutions of power striving for true gender equality: in pay, in
opportunity, in public and private sector leadership and in the elimination
of family violence.
For me, this is the real test of what it is to be an Australian.
And it is also the duty of progressive parties.
A mission that will endure as long as there are Australians denied the
opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Our Labor mission is a responsibility that brooks no delay, it is a calling
that allows for no complacency, no inaction.

Change in our society is never finished and the work of our movement is
never finished.
There are always new threats to our security, new competitors for our
economy and old unfairness emerging in new forms.
And there is always more to learn about the Australian story.
John Howard used to say, with no small measure of pride, that his time in
office put an end to the perpetual seminar on Australias national
identity.
In a speech welcoming UK Prime Minister David Cameron to our
Parliament last year, Tony Abbott declared that Howard had settled a
largely sterile debate over Australias place in the world.
But no leader can end a conversation about our nations sense of self.
No leader can settle the question of Australias global role and
responsibilities.
And no leader should take pride in trying.
Pulling up the drawbridge of our identity, of our place in the world, shuts
out the contribution of the next generation, the evolution of self that
every people has undergone with joy and trepidation, in every century,
and in most decades of that century.

There is no last word in this conversation and that is something we


should celebrate, not shrink from.
We are the product of our past but never its prisoners.
So, today, let us dispense with the idea that every time we talk about
national identity it is unproductive navel-gazing.
Let us put paid to the notion that all historical introspection is intrusion
and the exclusive preserve of cultural elites.
Let us have the confidence to examine the meaning behind the values we
so frequently invoke.
And let us have the courage to ask ourselves if we measure up to more
than just a grab-bag of clichs.
Let us be brave enough to demand Constitutional recognition for the First
Australians.
And let us breathe new life into the dream of an Australian head of state.
114 years ago, Australians found the courage and goodwill to transform
this continent into a Commonwealth.
In the 21st Century, let us live up to their example let us declare that our
head of state should be one of us.
Let us rally behind an Australian Republic a model that truly speaks for
who we are: our modern identity, our place in our region and our world.

This book reminds us of a timeless truth: real patriots dont try and justify
or excuse their nations flaws and failings and anachronisms they get on
and fix them.
Patriots dont shrink from historical truth they welcome it, they learn
from it.
Patriots know that until a nation includes everyone in its history, in its
society, in its economy then there is always more to do.
Thats our challenge, thats our mission, thats the patriotism of progress
we strive for.
Nick, it is my great pleasure to launch Mateship today.
Congratulations on your fine contribution to our national debate well
done, mate.
ENDS