Doug Cameron knows how to command an audience. The ingredients are all there: hugely popular (and undoubtedly Labor’s most likeable senator), that fabulous Scottish accent, the passion in his voice, and the fire in his belly.
Speaking at the North East Border Trades and Labour Council he had found another captivated audience. And all the ingredients were there.
Doug Cameron is among the last of a rare breed as far as politicians go. His working-class background sets him aside from the modern-day politician who was likely to have attended an elite school and graduated from university with a law degree, or something equally ‘prestigious.’
Unlike most of today’s politicians, he knows what it’s like to do it tough, and he knows that working-class Australians are now also doing it tough. That’s why he fights for them. Relentlessly. Tirelessly.
And Doug Cameron has dedicated his time in parliament – emulating his union background – for that one cause: “Looking after working people.”
This was the theme of his talk, and it was echoed throughout.
Here is what Doug Cameron had to say on a range of important issues:
Unions and the Working Class
“My job was to look after workers and see the good decent rate of pay and make sure they had safe working conditions.
Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? Wage stagnation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get exploitation. Without a strong trade union movement what do you get? You get workers maimed and killed on the job. If there’s any basic reasons why you need a strong union movement, it’s decent wages, decent conditions, and the right to go to work and come home safely.
We do need to change the rules in this country.
I know that workers need strong unions … to advance the interests of workers and their families.
I never thought I would see the day that the Arbitration Commission would end up taking penalty rates away from working-class people in this country. You’ve got the Liberals doing the boss’s bidding in the Senate and you get all these speeches that workers need to be more flexible. Bosses don’t need to be flexible. What a terrible word, ‘flexibility’. Workers have got to be more flexible, but bosses don’t. All they want is to put more and more money in their back pocket at the expense of working people. So this flexibility is all one-way at the moment, and that’s why it’s important that Parliament actually makes the changes that allow working people to rebuild the union movement in this country. We need the union movement out there lifting the standard of living in this country, because no-one else will do it.
[Some politicians] reach out to working-class people using fear and racism as their weapons to divide the working-class. And we need to organise against that. We need to educate against that. And we need to start controlling those outcomes … because we don’t want to go down the path of Donald Trump in this country, where workers get screwed every day when they go to work.
We need to make sure we get good people in the Senate – and in the House of Reps – that stand up for working-class people and make sure that the first and final position they take is the support of the working-class in this country.
A senior Labor politician once said to me, ‘Doug, you’re a politician now, not a unionist.’ I said, ‘I will always be a unionist. Because I wouldn’t be in Parliament if it wasn’t for my union. I wouldn’t be in Parliament if it wasn’t for unionists like Sally McManus, and I hope that I have paid back the support that I got’.”
His dislike for one of the biggest threats to the environment – coal – could not be hidden:
“There is no long-term future for coal.
There is no long-term position where we can continue to pollute the atmosphere because everyone here will either have kids in the future or have grandkids and what we have to do is leave an environment at least similar to what we’ve enjoyed in our life because it’s unfair not the look after the environment and give kids of the future a decent life.
I say this as someone who brought my family up off the back of steaming coal.”
Free Trade Agreement
“I have never once voted for a free trade agreement. I have argued for fair trade… not free trade. Because what we get now is certainly not about free trade, and certainly not about fair trade. It’s about giving big business more and more power, and giving American companies intellectual rights over the rights of companies in this country. It’s given the right for overseas companies to attack our wages and conditions. I just think that is wrong. I opposed the free trade agreement in the Caucus, I then moved a resolution that we bring it back to the Caucus to resubmit it, and I was done over twice. I am now bound by that Caucus decision, but that doesn’t mean to say that the Labor Party member can’t get out and point out the problems with these free trade agreements. And it’s good to see that Bill Shorten has been out saying that when we win government – and I think we will win government next election – we won’t be signing any agreements.”
A Shorten Government
“There are a range of issues that we need to deal with. We need a decent education system and a decent health system. We need workers to be able to buy or rent houses at a rate that isn’t putting them into poverty. We need to make sure that big business don’t get $80 billion in tax cuts. Because when you hear people talking about small government, small government means less tax for the rich, and less services for the working class. That’s the bottom line. And never let any of the Coalition tell you that they are better economic managers than Labor. Labor brought this country through the global recession which left workers around the world in poverty. We built 150,000 jobs during that period by investing in infrastructure.
I’ll ask this, “What was Tony Abbott’s economic policy?” He cut the education system, funding for health, the ABC and the SBS. Young unemployed people were told they could starve for six months, and family benefits were cut. That was his first economic strategy. Then when Malcolm Turnbull came in, what was his first economic policy? He increased the GST. Now who does that hurt most? It doesn’t hurt the rich … it hurts working class people. That policy lasted about a week, then his final policy was trickle-down economics: $80 billion of tax cuts to the big end of town, the multi-national corporations and the banks. That was his economic policy.
And look what they did to marriage equality. They did everything they possibly could to stop Australians who loved each other from ever getting the same rights as other Australians. It was an absolute disgrace.
We want a Shorten government … looking after health, looking after education, changing the rules on industrial relations, and looking after working-class people … to bring back the TAFE system in this country, to make sure that TAFE is the backbone of the vocational education system.
Labor has good policy on the environment, good policy on industrial relations, good policy on health, and good policy on education. We want to make this once again one of the great egalitarian countries in the world.”
For me personally, what came to mind most was Doug Cameron’s difference to the modern politician: he puts people first. He is the heart of what Labor stands for.
Doug Cameron has chosen to retire from politics at the next federal election. His rapport with the working classes will be sorely missed.