This past Wednesday night, Shearer’s was host to the launch of For the True Believers. Edited by Troy Bramston, speechwriter and advisor to the Rudd government, For the True Believers is a collection of speeches from Labor leaders that have shaped not only the identity of the Australian Labor Party but Australia itself.
Byrne, the Mayor of Leichhardt, introduced the discussion by recalling
the power of Gough Whitlam's 1972 'It's Time' speech over his mother,
describing the way she burst into tears as Whitlam started “Men and
Women of Australia-”, the way it brought back memories of the power of
John Curtin’s wartime address and everything it entailed – the loss, and
the unity of the people of Australia.
shaped the tone of the rest of the night, an insightful and lively
discussion between Troy Bramston and Geoff Gallop, former Premier of
Western Australia, on the history and personality of Australian Labor
speeches, as well as the importance and art of speech-making.
Gallop kicked the discussion off by describing his ideas around the
makings of the perfect Labor speech. Contextualised by democracy, he
explained, Labor speeches must pass two tests: the 'True Believer Test',
winning over the 'mind and muscle' of party members, as well as the
'Marginal Voters Test', bringing the people at large together to form
the majority. He went on to explain that Us Vs Them must be addressed,
and throughout the discussion highlighted the importance of this idea
today. Class struggle is still relevant today, with Us representing the
people as 'workers, small business, farmers and professional types' and
Them 'the privileged, wealthy and conservative'. Though many Labor
targets have been achieved, such as fair wages, Medicare and
Occupational Health & Safety, with Work Choices more recently
overturned, there are still issues that affect the life chances of
people such as lack of dental care, disability wages and gaps in the
generally disagreed, explaining that to him a Labor speech was far more
characterised by seeking to uplift rather than to divide people, that
the Labor party seeks to represent everybody. He explained that the
power of classic Labor speeches is their the bringing together of
philosophy, policy and political stance. In his mind, the recent push of
Us Vs Them is an error, instead bringing forth images of George Black's
address at the birth of Labor party with men with pitchforks, farmers
hats and muddy clothes, that Labor should still seek to “represent those
who laid with mind or muscle, with hand and heart”. What is most
important, Bramston says, is a speech-maker with intellect, courage and
vision, with a solid argument and authenticity.
both agreed, however, that a great speech is a breakthrough speech, one
that presents a different understanding or interpretation of something
topics of the night included a comparison of the views (such as Hawke
and Keating's opposing views on the importance of speeches inside of
parliament to outside), as well as Gallop's breaks into interesting and
amusing anecdotes on the importance of build up, venues and even
translations in speeches (such as a slight mistranslation of Kim
Beazley's speech to repressed Papua New Guinea locals inciting them to
action thinking he was literally joining the fight, and causing Beazley
to have to flee the scene).
Bramston also explained the process in selecting the speeches featured in True Believers, leaning
on speeches that shaped the history of our country. As an example he
picked a speech that would lead to the building of the Sydney Opera
House – the transcription of which he had to dig through party achieves
to find. It was with this one speech that Premier Joe Cahill won the
people over, despite never seeing a symphony orchestra or opera himself.
He urged the public “to aspire to the finer things in life” and said
the cost would “only be a ripple in the ocean” - though in the end it
cost ten times what he estimated. And with that, an Australian icon was
the night drew to a close, the pair concluded with a discussion on the
direction Labor should take, and of where speeches go wrong. Troy
Bramston implored the Labor party to take Bob Carr's stance, to avoid
dead, stale language. He argued against the “diminishing art of the
oratory”, that the reliance on sound bites and recycled keylines is a
step backwards. A speech-maker instead should speak confidently and
freely to an audience because the public want a discussion, not a
hand with this, and regaining the Labor Party's focus and identity,
will ensure many more great Labor speeches in the future.
Watch: Troy Bramston looks at the greatest speeches by Labor leaders and asks if great political speeches are still possible.