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10 February 2023

Australian Labor is showing what progressives can achieve in power

Just as Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese changed his party, Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party here.

By Bridget Phillipson

The pioneering postwar Australian prime minister Ben Chifley said in 1949 that the labour movement’s great objective was not to put an extra sixpence in somebody’s pocket, nor to make someone prime minister. It was to reach the “light on the hill”: to bring better standards of living and happiness to the Australian people.

This week, I spoke at a conference in Canberra bearing his name and championing his legacy, to learn more about how today’s Labor Party is again reaching for that light on the hill.

After years in the political wilderness, Labor turned to face the public, winning the general election and defeating a discredited right-wing government that was clinging on to office after years in power. Sound familiar? 

At last year’s election, Anthony Albanese’s Labor put policies designed to boost living standards at the centre of its campaign, having shunned them for too long. And though it has been in power for less than a year, the Labor government has embarked on a programme of radical change and modernisation: implementing ambitious climate targets; introducing a higher minimum wage; acknowledging that the growth that matters is growth for everyone; strengthening the health and social care system; and, closest to my heart, making quality childcare more affordable for working families.

We in the UK’s Labour have begun our own journey to a modern childcare system that will endure for the long term, supporting families from the end of parental leave to the end of a child’s time at primary school, and integrating childcare fully into our education system to give children the best start in life.

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At last year’s Labour Party conference I unveiled the first steps we would take along this path, pledging universal free breakfast clubs for every primary school child. I’ve also announced reforms to allow local councils to offer new childcare provision to increase capacity and help meet local demand.

But that is only the first step on the road. We have further to go, and I have been looking at examples from around the world to inform our plan.

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That’s why I visited Estonia last year to see a childcare system that supports every family around every school. It’s why I’m learning from Ireland, where government and trade unions have together agreed an approach that delivers for children, delivers for families, delivers for the workforce, and delivers for the economy.

And it’s why I visited Australia, where Labor is expanding support for families with a childcare subsidy of up to 90 per cent, recognising that you cannot grow the economy without giving parents the choices and flexibility to get back into the workplace.

Delivering affordable, accessible childcare is the great challenge of our time, but it will not be achieved overnight. Or without reforms that offer value for money from our investment, and drive up standards and outcomes. We have shown, with our first steps towards a modern childcare system, that our plans will be fully costed and fully funded.

But we are determined that, as a modernising Labour government, we will define ourselves not against the government we replace, but through the future we deliver. We must look beyond merely fixing today’s system and towards the better answers we need for tomorrow.

We will only achieve that because, just as Albanese changed the Labor Party in Australia, Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party here.

Labour has turned a corner. A leadership, and a party, looking outwards for victory, not inwards for legitimacy. No longer a party of protest, but a party of public service. A party bold enough to tackle the issues we face today and the challenges of tomorrow.

We are a party not just ready to win, but ready to govern. A government-in-waiting, ready not just to take power, but to use it, with a mission for change that will take us from transforming our party to transforming our nation.

We will deliver in the way Labour governments across every generation, in Australia and Britain, have risen to the challenges not just of their time, but of the future. Because the light on the hill is always in front of us, never behind.

[See also: Keir Starmer interview: “Am I aiming to be just a one-term prime minister? No, of course not”]