Supporting the Worker

By Greg Warren
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Veterans and Western Sydney

My first memory of a political campaign was on the six o’clock news on Saturday 19 September, 1981. Neville Wran has just achieved a thumping election result delivering him a second consecutive "Wranslide" victory. It was a victory for the ages.

My first memory of a political campaign was on the six o’clock news on Saturday 19 September, 1981. Neville Wran has just achieved a thumping election result delivering him a second consecutive "Wranslide" victory. It was a victory for the ages. The Wran government increased their already impressive numbers in the House, winning an unprecedented majority of seats in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly with 69 out of 99 seats (69.7% of the chamber). To this day, it is still the largest winning margin in the NSW Legislative Assembly.

That year the Liberals suffered the double indignity of losing the seat contested by their leader Bruce McDonald to an independent and being reduced to the same number of seats in Parliament as their junior Coalition partner, the National Country Party. In fact, it was the second election in a row in which the sitting Liberal leader had failed to win a seat (Peter Coleman also lost his own seat in 1978). Both the Liberals and National Country Party finished with just 14 seats each: it was a crushing and humiliating defeat.

Graham Freudenberg reflected on the first "Wranslide" of 1978, saying it truly gave him the shivers; “not to have lived through 1978 is not to know the possibilities of politics.”

Importantly, Neville Wran and his government never forgot our most important purpose of supporting the worker. The dreams and aspirations of the working woman and man are just as relevant today as they were in 1981, and they must never be forgotten. Yes, our great party is much broader, with a range of diverse issues that continue to evolve in the modern age, but we must never be distracted from our core reason for being: to work for those that rely on us to drive the pursuit of their prosperity. Those are the same people who deliver us the privilege of government, and that must never be taken for granted.

There is an ever evolving range of progressive issues as well as other policy spaces Labor should occupy and must address in government – but if we fail to secure our base by focusing on the issues important to them, we simply won’t win government and will be unable to address any of them. Our issues must be those of working people in the cities, the suburbs and the regions. Neville never forgot the suburbs, he never forgot the regions - that’s why he won.

Those issues include fixing our existing schools and building ones for the future; creating and maintaining a sustainable, equitable and accessible health system for all; fostering an industrial relations system that promotes security, safety and protection for all workers; and having a vision for a bold infrastructure agenda that drives our economy, generates growth and creates jobs.

Education, health, infrastructure, industrial relations – these are all issues that are proud legacies of Labor governments that we should never shy away from.

Neville would frequently put a basic question to his Ministers – a considered yet simple question after a long debate on the merits and benefits of a particular policy.

Neville would ask: "That’s all very good, but tell me this – what's in this for Joe Blow and his missus?” It is a simple yet fundamental question that reminds us of our most basic purpose as elected representatives, and the importance of getting those basics right.

Rodney Cavalier, a Wran Government Minister, once asked the Premier “what is the most important element in political success, Neville?". Neville’s reply was swift and decisive. “Not hard, mate,” he said to Cavalier. “It is timing. Get the timing right and you can do anything."

When I reflect on that election in 1981, I recall being impressed. Yet, I didn’t truly realise the enormity of the result or exactly how and why it was achieved. I would finally come to understand its true significance over time, following a working class upbringing and after I entered the workforce – particularly during my time as a truck driver and member of the Transport Workers Union (TWU)

I have fond memories of my time behind the wheel, whether it was carting coal up and down the Appin Road, being at the Tarcutta turn around at midnight, pumping fuel at Sydney airport or standing shoulder to shoulder with my union brothers and sisters on the picket line fighting against the injustices imposed on workers during the demise of Ansett. Industrial relations and fighting for those who back us must always be at the forefront of all we do. That is a motivating principle that can never, and should never, be forgotten or neglected by us.

This was my strongest motivation to enter public life, and I feel it should be the most imperative element driving any Labor representative. A fair go for all and an unwavering and unconditional pursuit to make the lives of working people a little better tomorrow than they were today. It sounds simple – and it is. But if we stray from this solid, proven and well-trodden path, and allows ourselves to be diverted off course, we will not win government.

We must continue to pride ourselves on our fundamental belief in social justice, equality, compassion, liberty and enterprise to advance the lives and aspirations of working families, born from a collective struggle for better living conditions dating back to the late 19th century. It was those working families who laid the strong and unwavering foundation upon which the modern Labor Party is built.

We are the bricks and mortar – when we bind together nothing can break us. We are indestructible.

There before the grace of the worker go us.