The Australian Labor Party is Australia’s oldest political party. Our state branches are older than the nation; our Federal Parliamentary Labor Party was formed at a meeting the day before the Australian Commonwealth Parliament’s first ever meeting. Our history and the history of Australia’s democracy are inextricably intertwined.
Since the days when Australia was still a collection of colonies on the same continent, the labour movement has aimed, in the words of Gough Whitlam, to “promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land, and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.”
Or, in the words of another great Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, Labor stands “for humanity as against material gain and has more resilience, more decency and dignity, and the best of human qualities than any other political movement.”
Curtin felt Labor had a special responsibility as a result: because by expression of “solidarity, unity and selfless devotion to the ideas and ideals upon which the movement is founded the workers can show the world that a better and more decent way of life can be given to all.”
Labor has always stood firm by the belief that economic and industrial rights are as indispensable to a good society as civil and political rights. Working Australians need both freedom from want and freedom to speak to be full and equal citizens.
These values have been expressed in different ways and pursued through different policies, at a federal, state and local level, for more than a hundred years. The men and women of the labour movement and the Australian Labor Party who have worked tirelessly, at times thanklessly, in pursuit of that simple goal, ‘a better and more decent way of life for all’, have left their mark on Australia, and on Australia’s history. Their contribution is incalculable, but too often, their names are unknown.
It is my hope that this project will allow more Australians to know the names and the stories of the many men and women who, collectively, changed Australia – and allow more Australians to know and understand the enduring values that motivated them, and motivate us still.