Labor built the modern Australian economy, and the Labor Party should always be proud of that achievement. Competition and productivity are Labor words. They don't belong to the Tories, they belong to us - not as goals in their own right, but as the best way of producing jobs and investment for the Australian people.
We are a prosperous nation, but surely we can make better use of our prosperity.
Surely in a prosperous country we shouldn't have 370,000 Australians as long-term unemployed. Surely in a prosperous country we shouldn't have 500,000 Australians, most of them elderly, waiting to get their teeth fixed. Surely in a prosperous country we shouldn't be losing bulk-billing doctors and child-care workers. Surely in a prosperous country we shouldn't have tens of thousands of students who miss out on a university place every year.
That's the problem with the Howard government. It's a waiting-list government that's turned us into a waiting-list nation. It's wasting our prosperity instead of turning it into opportunity for all.
That's what I want for Australia: prosperity with a purpose - all Australians climbing the ladder of opportunity.
When I was young, my mum used to tell me there were two types of people in our street - the slackers and the hard workers. We had our troubles at home, sure, but we were hard workers.
If I wanted to get to university, I had to study hard. So I did. If we wanted to buy our first family home, we had to work hard and save hard. So we did. If I wanted to get into politics, I had to be a good servant of the local community and get stuck into local government. So I did.
That's where the expression "the ladder of opportunity" comes from. I believe in it because I've lived it.
I believe in ambition and aspiration. I believe in the powerful combination of hard work, good family and the civilising role of government services. I say that economic aspiration is good and social mobility is even better - all Australians climbing the ladder of opportunity. The problem is that the Howard Government has been taking out the rungs. I want to put them back in.
This is the paradox of our time. The economy has become more prosperous yet people feel more powerless.
I know of no more powerful institution in our society than a good government school. And I promise you this: as prime minister, I won't be sitting on the sidelines - a negative, whingeing, carping commentator - taking potshots at government schools. If there's a problem in our schools - public or private - I'll be getting stuck in to fix it. The education of our young people is too important for political potshots.
I want every school in this country to be a high-achieving school - good teachers, parents and students working together. That's why Labor will introduce a needs-based funding system: all schools - government and non-government - reaching a strong national standard for resources and results.
This is an edited extract from Mark Latham's speech to the ALP national conference in Sydney on January 29, as published in The Age on January 30.
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