Plibersek delivers Mannix Lecture on Labor’s Catholic values

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Tanya Plibersek speaks at a February meeting of the Council of Catholic School Parents NSW/ACT. Photo: Giovanni Portelli/The Catholic Weekly

A failure to explain Labor’s values contributed to the party’s loss at the 2019 election, Federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek has said in her address at the 23rd Mannix Lecture,  hosted by Newman College at the University of Melbourne.

“I think sometimes, in the Labor Party, we forget that good leadership includes explaining our values and using them to persuade,” Ms Plibersek said on 23 March.

“Too often, including in the last federal election campaign, we go straight to the how: how will we fight climate change, how will we increase wages; how will we improve schools and hospitals.

“Our instinct should be to always start with why. Why does it matter to us; why it should matter to voters.”

Ms Plibersek said that while “values come from many different places” in contemporary society, “it’s clear to me that, even in our fractured world, the timeless lessons of Christ continue to inform progressive politics today.”

i think sometimes in the labor party, we forget that good leadership includes explaining our values and using them to persuade

She spoke about her own Catholic upbringing by devout Slovenian parents who migrated to Australia, in part, to escape religious repression in Communist Yugoslavia.

“There is no doubt in my mind that growing up Catholic has influenced my politics, as it has for so many in the Labor Party and the labour movement,” Ms Plibersek said.

“Economic justice has always been Labor’s mission; and it’s no coincidence that Catholic social teaching played an outsized role in our Party’s history,” she later added.

Ms Plibersek shied away from mentioning the Labor Split of the 1950s, brought on by Archbishop Daniel Mannix and B.A. Santamaria’s opposition to Marxist influence in the Labor Party, instead stressing the “enduring and unbreakable” links between Labor and the Church.

Dr Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, second from left in front row, at the 1937 Plenary Council. Photo: Archdiocese of Sydney

Voters have turned to minor parties and independents in recent years “because they don’t feel like major parties are listening to them. Or that we share their values. They feel we don’t understand or see them”, she said.

“Beyond “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom”, it’s difficult to identify what Prime Minister Craig Kelly would do in office.

“But people aren’t voting for him because of ‘detailed programmatic specificity’, as Kevin Rudd would call it. It’s more ‘the vibe’ described by Dennis Denuto [the lawyer from the film, The Castle].”

Ms Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training, and Shadow Minister for Women. She has served as the member for Sydney since 1998, and is a vocal supporter of pro-choice positions and LGBT rights.

The annual Mannix Lecture was established to honour Archbishop Daniel Mannix (1864-1963), who was installed as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1917 and quickly became—owing to his interventions on state aid for Catholic schools, conscription and Irish nationalism, and his support for workers— “arguably the most revered and reviled figure in Australian history”.

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