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Assets for the next generation

By Mark Latham - posted Thursday, 28 November 2002

Some things never change in Australian politics. When Labor is in Opposition there is always a great debate about our direction and policies. This was true of the Curtin Opposition in the 1930s, Whitlam in the 1960s and Hayden in the 1980s.

In one respect, this is not surprising. People have high expectations about Labor, the party of reform and progressive ideas. No one ever expects the Coalition to do much, just to preside, to preen itself and to put the country to sleep.

The weight is always on Labor to do things. That’s why people are keen to know what we stand for. I believe the answer is straightforward: Labor is anti-establishment.


We want to break down the concentration of power in society. We want to disperse economic, social and political influence as widely as possible.

This is the new dividing line in public life. It is not a question of Left versus Right, but a struggle between insiders and outsiders.

Too much power in our society is concentrated in the hands of insiders. Labor’s historic mission is to empower the outsiders, to fight for the underdog. With the rise of globalisation, our role has become more important.

Too much economic power is concentrated in the hands of big corporations. In recent times, these companies have won many more rights, particularly the rights of free trade and investment.

But in return, they have been reluctant to discharge their proper social responsibilities. The obscene level of executive salaries in Australia is just one sign of corporate irresponsibility and greed.

Labor can be pro-market without necessarily being pro-business. We must impose higher levels of corporate social responsibility in this country.


We also need to reduce the shocking level of asset inequality. The top 20 percent of Australian households owns 65 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 20 percent owns nothing at all.

The Howard Government has no strategy or policies to end this imbalance. In fact, it never mentions poverty as an issue.

Concentration of economic power tends to be reinforced by a similar concentration of power in the cultural life of the nation. This is reflected by the political nature of the Government's appointments to Australia's major cultural institution, the ABC.

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This is an edited transcript of a speech given to the National Press Club, Canberra on 20 November 2002.

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About the Author

Mark Latham is the former Leader of the Opposition and former federal Labor Member for Werriwa (NSW).

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