Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Remarks to the Prime Ministers’ Corridor of Oaks Tree Planting Ceremony


KEVIN RUDD: Well thank you friends and all. Thank you Doug for those exceptionally warm remarks. To the Mayor, thank you for your friendly greeting this morning. To Doug himself, a friend over many, many years and we come from the same part of Scotland ... just joking. I often think when Doug speaks he needs the SBS interpreting but I understood every word of that. The local Federal Member, Louise Markus, Labor’s candidate Susan Templeman, to the former members Ross Free who I’ve known over a long period of time, Kerry Bartlett who I know as well, Alastair Webster.

Friends, ones and all, here in this beautiful part of Australia.

And I would begin by commenting on the First Australians, on whose land we meet, whose cultures we celebrate as the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

Many people in Australia and around the world thank me for the Apology. I am always a bit surprised by that. I’m just the guy who got up there and gave a speech. The people to whom we apologised are those who we should thank for receiving the Apology in the spirit in which it was extended.

I’d say to all of you who are gathered here today who, like myself, came as European settlers to these shores and in my case in chains, most of you respectable folk, I’m sure as free settlers to the Blue Mountains (inaudible) after that.

It is for me remarkable, that having done what we have done to Aboriginal Australians over a couple of centuries, this extraordinary people could stand up and accept an apology from those of us who frankly had ignored them for decades and centuries.

So frankly, I am moved by their humility, moved by their willingness to bind up the broken heart and their preparedness to shape something new out of this difficult covenant we have made here in Australia as a settled land.

So I thank you, for your presence with us today.

As I stand here in this beautiful part of Australia, I am just reminded of the wonderful country it is. This is a remarkable land; I’ve seen a few, this is remarkable. Thérèse, my wife and I and the kids, have holidayed up here many times before. It’s truly beautiful and you are blessed to call this your home.

I think the tradition you have shaped and formed here over many decades, now of honouring our leaders past, is a good tradition. It causes us to reflect in the hurly burly of day-to-day politics about what leadership is.

Leadership is a hard thing, it’s not easy, whether it’s leading a city, whether it’s being Premier of the State, Prime Minister of the nation, whether it’s President of the United States, President of the People’s Republic of China.

Leadership’s a difficult thing.

Anyone who says it’s not, is not being frank.

It’s difficult because you carry on your shoulders the expectations of the nation and daily you run headlong into the obstacles which make it difficult to take those expectations and turn them into the realties which change peoples’ lives.

***gap in audio***

As I reflect on those who are honoured on the Corridor of Oaks behind me, it is with a great deal of respect that I think of those who have occupied the position of Prime Minster before me.
I honour each of them. This is a challenging job. And if I think of those who gone before this time of ours, their challenges have been infinitely greater. Think of our founding fathers who shaped the Federation, a mention was made before of Sir Henry Parkes, who lies not long from here.  I doubt that Sir Henry would have been a member of the Australian Labor Party; I think the Labor Party was barely in formation by the time that Sir Henry shuffled off his mortal core. But when I think of the founders of our Federation, Parkes, Deakin, Barton, these were people of extraordinary vision who has to take these six contending, squabbling colonies and fashion out of them a nation. Convincing my mob of Queenslanders to come on board was nothing short of a remarkable. And as for the West Australians, that was a miracle. But they did. These were difficult things and leadership was necessary.
It’s often brushed aside in the telling of it, but if you read the history of the period, the struggles which they faced were formidable. I think of those like my Queensland forbearer, Andrew Fisher, who spoke English with the same lilting intonations as Senator Doug Cameron. We don’t have a voice recording of Andrew Fisher that I’m aware of but I’m told his brogue made Doug’s English appear to be BBC by similar standards.
(laughter)
DOUG CAMERON:  It’s my Aussie Accent.
(laughter)
KEVIN RUDD: Fisher becomes Prime Minister and he’s faced with the First World War within a month or so. What do you do? What do you do?  As he is a son of a coal miner and someone who worked in the pits in Scotland, as a twelve year old, knowing what it was like to see men and boys die in pits, now he is about to send them to trenches to die as well. Think of Andrew Fisher and the challenges of leading Australia through this extraordinary conflict on the other side of the world where we lost 60,000 of our own of the nearly half a million that we sent.
Think of Jim Scullin, who was Prime Minister, who became Prime Minister when the Greta Depression landed on our shores. A Labor reforming Prime Minister with talented people like Curtin in his cabinet saying we’re here as the people’s government to change the nation for the people of the nation and this avalanche of economic devastation arrives from around the world. Think of Jim Scullin, of Curtin, of Chifley, and the extraordinary challenges of the last World War when our very survival was at stake for a nation.
So for those of us who have come in the times since the last war, it’s been easier. Think of those who have gone before us because their challenges were great indeed.
For the future of our leadership I think it’s important also to reflect on the essential elements which make our nation. One of the difficult things about leadership is uniting a nation rather than dividing it.  The easiest thing to do in national political life is to divide us; to divide our country to divide our people. It’s an easy script, historically on grounds of race or even religion, sometimes in terms of class. But the task of leadership is to unite not to divide and that’s the more difficult road.
The task of leadership is to be positive not negative. The way forward not saying why that way doesn’t work. It’s very easy to tear down, it’s much harder to build up. Because the building takes time and people only see the house once its built, and sometimes those who have done the building have gone on to do other things. And so if we can’t in this country, if we can’t fashion a common vision for our nation’s future, we should, we should give it a good damn go. Because I think that’s what the people of Australia want. They want us to work together in the politics of our nation to shape a common vision, vision for where we want Australia to go in a highly uncertain 21st century.
If we can’t get there, because we do come from different political traditions, then let us at least have about us, a capacity for a policy discussion or a policy debate about where we differ in our vision for the country’s future and why. A discussion based not so much on values but partly on values, but certainly in terms of policy and where we would take the country differently. That, I believe, is the appetite of people in our country. Whether they are from the tip of Cape York or they are from the beautiful Blue Mountains or from the distant reaches of the Nullarbor, they all say the same thing wherever I go. They want us to shape the nation, build it, provide fresh opportunity, give expression to our two enduring values of freedom, that which Australians are passionate and a fair go, that which they are equally passionate. Freedom and a fair go it would sum up the Australian ethos it fits within those four or five words.
For Mr Mayor, Doug, others, I’m very pleased to look upon this plot.
(laughter)
It has a certain finality about it.
(laughter)
But as I look across this forest of oaks as the son of a couple of Queensland battlers, neither of my parents ever really went to high school. And as someone who owes his educational opportunities and what he’s been able to do in life to the work of earlier governments, most principally E.G Whitlam in enabling me to go to university , I am honoured to be among you today and I thank you.

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