Luke Foley's address to the 2015 Wran Lecture




"The likes of Reagan, Thatcher and Milton Friedman have imbued today’s conservatives with a clear sense of purpose. 

Labor needs a clear statement of its modern purpose and values. 

So I believe that our party—the party of Neville Wran—with courage and conviction must renew its central purpose. "

- Luke Foley - NSW Opposition Leader

 7 July, 2015 Wran Lecture


"Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. I

pay my respects to their elders past and present.


I want to acknowledge Jill Wran’s presence here this evening.


I sought Jill’s counsel in the earliest days of my leadership and I am

so grateful for the advice and encouragement she gives me.


The very first person I visited after I was sworn in as a Labor member

of Parliament in 2010 was Neville Wran in his office in Bligh Street.


I will not repeat the details of our discussion, but I can report that Paul

Keating was right when he said Neville had a ‘PhD in poetic





In May last year—along with many of Labor’s faithful and many of

this state’s citizens— I went to Sydney’s Town Hall to celebrate the

life and work of Neville Kenneth Wran.


It was a fitting tribute, in the right place. The Sydney Town Hall was,

after all, the political stage upon which Wran gave some of his most

memorable performances.


It was moving then.


It is an honour now to deliver this year’s Wran Lecture.




In 1976, the election of the Wran government came at a crucial

moment in Labor’s history when, in the wake of Whitlam’s dismissal,

some questioned Labor’s legitimacy.


But after the rancour and tumult of 1975 Wran soon showed that

Labor could still deliver ‘stable, steady, progressive government’.


Wran’s success was built on a belief in the power of government to

improve the lives of the people of New South Wales.


But he also understood that such power could not be exercised unless

Labor was elected.


Wran understood that Labor must have modern resonance and not be

a dull echo of past glories.


So Wran presented a contemporary alternative to the people of New

South Wales.


His government built vital parts of New South Wales’ infrastructure:

electrifying the railways from Wollongong to Newcastle; approving

extensions to the State Library and Art Gallery of New South Wales;

transforming Darling Harbour.


The Wran government preserved much of this state’s environment

and heritage: by conserving rainforests in northern NSW; by

introducing the Heritage Act; and by establishing the Land and

Environment Court.



Neville’s government defended civil liberties and protected human

rights: by passing the Anti-Discrimination Act; decriminalising

homosexuality and establishing a Department of Aboriginal Affairs.


The Wran government modernised the political processes of this state:

by democratising the Legislative Council; introducing a pecuniary

interests register and public funding for election campaigns.


He had an ambitious, restless vision but the member for Bass Hill

never forgot the concerns of everyday people.


He reached for the stars but always kept his feet firmly on the ground.


Or as Wran frequently put it when considering a proposal that had

come to his Cabinet; ‘What’s in this for Joe Blow and his missus?’


Neville Wran did all of these things with flair, with wit, with his

formidable intellect and with the aid of his best advisor, Jill Wran.


Wran did all of these things because he understood that Labor has

always been a party of historic principle and contemporary reform.


For Wran understood that a storied past does not guarantee Labor’s



Labor’s project always involves a necessary balance between

enduring principles and contemporary realities.


Labor’s history is a wellspring, which helps sustains us, but equally

each generation must renew Labor’s sense of purpose.


Tonight I want to speak to Labor’s future purpose in New South





Governments touch the lives of people each and every day. And state

governments deliver the services we all rely on—schools and

hospitals, roads and rail, police and emergency services.


In the 1940s, in response to the want of the Great Depression and the

desperation of the Second World War, state and federal Labor

 governments led by McKell, Curtin and Chifley created much of the

architecture, and many of the instruments, of the welfare state.


These Labor reformers sought to civilise capitalism, to lift people out

of poverty, to ensure that merit mattered more than privilege.


In the 1970s, it fell to Labor Governments led by Whitlam, Dunstan

and Wran to reinvigorate Labor’s purpose.


In New South Wales Neville Wran’s government looked to new ways

of delivering services, embracing non-government organisations as

partners in the delivery of community services.


Like the Wran government then, New South Wales Labor today

must think anew about the delivery of public services.


When I talk of public services I mean the core services that the public

requires and government provides, mandates or regulates, regardless

of whether they be delivered by the public, private or not-for-profit



For too long, we have been preoccupied with a tired debate about who

is best placed to provide these services—a debate which focuses too

intently on the quantity and origin of public services but not enough

on their quality and capacity.


The issue is not whether the public sector or private enterprise should

own assets and provide services, the issue is what is in the best

interests of the people of New South Wales.


I do not believe that private enterprise always does things better than

the public sector. Nor do I believe that private enterprise is incapable

of producing public benefits.


For me, what matters is what works.


I believe that those of us who value public sector services should be

the loudest and most articulate advocates of their modernisation.


We must protect Labor’s cherished legacy—as the party that looks

after people—and to do this we must ensure that public services

remain responsive to people’s needs.


As a social democratic party that cares about the sustainability of the

public sector, we have an obligation to pursue value for money, to

demonstrate to service users, taxpayers and staff, that they are

delivering high quality, cost effective public services.


Those of us who believe in the public sector have an obligation to

prove that our confidence in public delivery is justified.


To do so, we must create the conditions that enable excellence in the

delivery of public services.


We must become more effective at listening, and responding to the

people who rely on them.


I reject the proposition that, when it comes to the delivery of public

services, the private sector is inherently better than the public sector.


I believe that public services should be delivered by people who are

motivated by a desire to serve the public –wherever they may be.


And I do see a role for the private sector in the delivery of public

services in this state.


I am not ideologically opposed to the delivery of these services by

external providers.


But I do challenge the belief that privatisation at any time and on any

terms represents economic reform.


I believe it is right and proper for governments to ensure that

privatisation does not occur at the public’s expense.


A crude ideological approach to privatisation takes governments to

some very strange places.


Consider the proceedings currently underway in the Australian

Competition Tribunal.


The NSW Government is taking legal action to appeal the decision of

the Australian Energy Regulator to lower the charges the state’s

electricity companies can recover from consumers.


Electricity is a cost to every business and a cut in power prices makes

our entire economy more competitive.


Labor wants to save small businesses up to $528 on their yearly

power bills.


Labor wants to see each and every household save up to $313 on their

annual power bills.


Premier Baird does not.


He is taking legal action to keep electricity prices high – and is

prepared to hurt every household in order to do so.


It is an extraordinary situation.


Mike Baird is so focused on privatisation as an end in itself that he is

damaging the community and the economy.




The legal appeal is for one reason only—to fatten the pig for market



That is, to increase the sale price for the state’s electricity distribution



He has forgotten households and small businesses.


He has forgotten the users of this most essential of services—



Premier Baird should withdraw his legal challenge and let the price

cuts stand.


Under my leadership Labor’s primary focus is the individuals,

families and communities – particularly the vulnerable and the

disadvantaged – that our public services should always serve.


The public interest should guide a government’s agenda. What is

good for the people of this state should be our guiding principle.


The need for reform in the interests of the people of New South Wales

is clear when it comes to the provision of public housing.




At this year’s election, New South Wales Labor went from a rump to

a real alternative.


There are twenty new members of the State Parliamentary Labor



I was nourished by the inaugural speeches of Labor’s class of 2015.


I was energised by their enthusiasm, excited by how their dedication

and daring will be used for the public good.


But I was also struck by how many of them spoke of their frustration

at the state of public housing in their electorates.


Prue Car—the new member for Londonderry—spoke of a young

mother who found syringes in her backyard and when she contacted

the department, seeking help, was told to just pick them up.


Prue also spoke about the time tenants spent waiting for the most

basic of repairs—waiting a decade or more to fix a hole in the floor.


This is not acceptable. This is not dignified or decent, it diminishes

those delivering the service and disrespects those relying on it.


Neville Wran understood the importance of public housing.


He anticipated the problems of poorly serviced public housing estates

placed on Sydney’s urban fringe.


The Wran government was ahead of its time when in the 1980s it

began to make public housing a component of new mixed



In the process his government helped create a more cohesive and

inclusive urban form.


Housing policy is about more than providing additional stock. It must

be about the quality of that stock, its price, its proximity to

employment opportunities and public services—its place in the urban



Any new thinking on the delivery of public services must rethink

public housing.


The experience of so many tenants reminds us, that, at times, the

public sector can fail the people it is designed to serve.


The Auditor General has told us that public housing is ‘increasingly

not fit for purpose’— that current arrangements are not meeting

contemporary demands.


NSW currently has 140,000 social housing dwellings. Of these,

111,000 have the NSW Government as landlord, while not-for-profit

community housing associations act as landlords for the other 29,000.


These associations have proven records as providers of affordable



These organisations are closer to their communities they serve and

more responsive to their concerns.


A fortnight ago, in my budget reply, I announced that we should build

on their success and transfer more of the Government’s stock to the

community housing sector.


The transfer should include title to the properties. This will empower

the associations with the leverage they need to fund the construction

of new and additional affordable housing stock.


On that day, I called for 20,000 existing public housing dwellings to

be transferred from the government to community housing



It is my view that existing tenants, the users of social housing, will

benefit because the associations are closer to them; nimble and

responsive in ways that a distant and monolithic bureaucracy is not.


I am encouraged by the response of the community housing sector to

my proposal.


Many providers have contacted my office to signal that they stand

ready and willing to do more.


Over time, provided the outcomes are sound, all of the state’s public

housing should be transferred to not-for-profit community housing



To my mind, the not-for-profit sector is best placed to lift the quality

and quantity of social housing stock.


This is a clear example of how a future Labor government would

approach the provision of services in New South Wales.


Where it can be demonstrated that the not-for-profit sector will

deliver a better public service, they should be afforded that



When it comes to public services, ends must trump means.


The means of delivery matter less than the ends.



What matters is that our public services truly deliver for their users.




Our fresh thinking around service delivery must be framed within a

clear understanding of Labor’s purpose.


We must think carefully and deliberately, about what it means to be

Labor in the 21st century.


We live in a time of unparalleled connectivity and extraordinary

social and economic change.


Labor should be equipped—ideologically, structurally and

politically—to face the challenges and grasp the opportunities of this



Labor should undertake a clear headed and open-minded debate about

its central purpose. 


That debate must include the modernisation of the Party’s official



Part A of the ALP’s National Constitution sets out the Labor Party’s

‘objectives and principles’.


The so-called Socialist Objective appears at Clause 2. It reads today,


‘The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party

and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of

industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the

extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-

social features in these fields’.


The Socialist Objective, or more accurately, the Socialisation

Objective, was first adopted at the 1921 ALP Federal Conference in



But this eruption of socialist fervor must have startled the delegates

themselves for it was immediately tempered—two days later—by the

adoption of the Blackburn Declaration, which stated that the Party did



not seek to abolish private ownership of the instruments of production

where utilised by the owner in a socially useful manner and without



The 1955 Federal Conference incorporated the Blackburn Declaration

into the Party’s Objective.


The 1957 Conference added ‘democratic’ to the objective of



The 1981 National Conference saw the addition of a long statement—

twenty two sub paragraphs in length—that seeks to explain how the

objective of socialisation is to be applied in practice.


Today that statement, now 23 sub paragraphs in length, forms Clause

3 of the National Constitution of the ALP.


Do not fear, I won’t read the 23 sub paragraphs to you tonight.


The major weakness of the objective is that it confuses means and




The socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange is

a means, not an end.


The Party’s central objective should be concerned with ends—what

we are seeking to achieve—not the means of how we get there.


Labor does not exist to promote state ownership, but to ensure that the

state advances the interests of all people.


In its current form, the socialist objective is both confused and



Its defenders argue that it does not really mean what most readers

assume it does—namely support for the nationalisation of industry.


The best defence of the socialist objective—that it does not mean

what it seems to mean—is hardly a compelling case for its retention.


The fact that no one in the Party today argues that state ownership is

Labor’s central, defining purpose is a compelling case for its revision.



The central objective of the Party, as stated in its National

Constitution, is never used by the Party’s leaders, representatives or

members to win votes for Labor or to recruit people to our cause.


Why can’t the Labor Party adopt an objective that its true believers

actually believe in?


Surely it is not beyond our collective wit to come up with a statement

that captures what Labor wants to achieve.


The Party review that Neville Wran conducted, with Bob Hawke,

following the 2001 Federal Election recommended that:


‘The party should develop a statement that conveys modern

Labor’s objectives and aspirations in a form that can be

concisely and clearly communicated to our members and the

Australian community’.


I understand that many Party members retain a sentimental attachment

to the Socialist Objective. 


But this is less a fervor for state ownership and more an affinity with

the generations who built and sustained one of the world’s few

genuine labour parties.


I propose that the traditional language of the Socialist Objective form

part of the ALP’s statement of origins.


The ‘Origins’ statement draws on several strands of thought which

motivated the creation and early growth of a distinctly Australian

Labor Party. It reads:


 ‘The Australian Labor Party had its origins in:


  • The aspirations of the Australian people for a decent, secure, dignified and constructive way of life
  • The recognition by the trade union movement of the necessity for a political voice to take forward the struggle of the working class against the excesses, injustice and inequalities of capitalism
  • The commitment by the Australian people to the creation of an independent, free and enlightened Australia


Rather than airbrushing the socialist objective from history, National

Conference should incorporate it in the statement of the Labor Party’s

origins, in recognition of its historical importance to the Party.


This could be done by the simple addition of a fourth dot point that

would read:


the desire for the democratic socialisation of industry,

production, distribution and exchange’


Having done this the Conference should then turn its mind to a new



Tonight I announce that I will propose that the Party adopt the



‘The Australian Labor Party has as its objective the

achievement of a just and equitable society where every

person has the opportunity to realise their potential.


We believe in an active role for government, and the

operation of competitive markets, in order to create

opportunities for all Australians, so that every person will

have the freedom to pursue their well-being, in co-operation

with their fellow citizens, free from exploitation and



This is my suggestion. I look forward to discussing it with Labor

colleagues over the coming weeks.


This proposed new Objective for the Australian Labor Party in no

way departs from traditional Labor values.


State ownership is not the end.


The end is a just society.


Above all else, our Party stands for a just and equitable society.


A fair go for all.


A decent life for everyone.


That is what we work towards.


We seek the trust of the people to govern, and unlike our opponents,

we believe in government as a force for the common good.


The Labor Party believes in an essential public sector, and an

enterprising private sector, operating side by side.


We understand that competitive markets are best placed to deliver the

economic growth that the people we represent rely on.


We also know that regulation and redistribution are necessary to

correct market failures, to ensure dignity and opportunity for all



Modern Labor must say what we mean and mean what we say.




Friends, W.B. Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming, was

published in 1921, the same year Labor adopted the Socialist



It was his response to the brutality and chaos of the First World War

and the slaughter that was made possible by the industrial age.


That poem’s most famous line reads:


‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity’.


In Australia, and throughout the West, the right of politics is full of

passionate intensity.


The likes of Reagan, Thatcher and Milton Friedman have imbued

today’s conservatives with a clear sense of purpose.


Labor needs a clear statement of its modern purpose and values.


So I believe that our party—the party of Neville Wran—with courage

and conviction must renew its central purpose.


The forum for this debate is this month’s ALP National Conference.


We once held conferences where big ideas were expressed with

passionate intensity.


We were that party once.


We must be that party again."