President’s Report 2015

Christopher Sheil

With great sadness, I note the passing of two major figures in the history of the Evatt Foundation since we last met, Faith Bandler and Tom Uren. Both were Life members of the Foundation, Faith being one of the speakers at the inaugural meeting in 1979, and Tom being the President from 1989 to 1997. Both were of course also major figures in the history of Australia. Vale Faith and Tom.

I’m otherwise pleased to be able to report that the Foundation was active over the year in pursuit of its aim of advancing the ideals of the labour movement. In both Australia and Evatt, the year can be characterised as one marked by leadership change. 

Australia’s leadership

Rarely do we see the Karmic principle of like deeds producing like effects work out so quickly and completely as in the case of Tony Abbott. In opposition, Abbott campaigned relentlessly on the basis of the Labor government’s alleged broken promise over carbon pricing, and then broke more promises outright than any new government in living memory; he never tired in accusing Julia Gillard of lying, and then never tired of lying in denial of his own pre-election promises; he promised an adult government, and then indulged adolescent nostalgia in restoring imperial honours; he objected to being called out for his sexism toward Gillard, and then accused his own colleagues of the same when they objected to his chief of staff; he absurdly decried Labor as providing the worst government in Australian history, and is now widely regarded by the country at large as having led exactly that; he pilloried Labor when the previous prime ministers were removed by their colleagues, only to be removed by his own colleagues in turn.

It would be difficult to imagine a prime minister who embodied a starker antithesis of all that the Evatt Foundation represents than Abbott, and his demise can be counted as a great victory for the ideals of the labour movement. His successor in Malcolm Turnbull represents a victory for the liberal wing of the conservative parties. Whether this amounts to a structural and historical defeat of the Liberal-National Party’s reactionary wing remains to be seen, as almost all the policies that Abbott managed to establish remain in place. The Turnbull government also presents a more difficult political challenge for the labour movement, fracturing the alliance between liberals and social-democrats against Abbott. Effectively, the onus is now on the labour movement to develop a social-democratic agenda with broad appeal in a national and global context where inequality, economic stagnation, war and terrorism are continuing to fuel extreme political reactions that threaten human rights and social tolerance.

Evatt’s leadership

On a distinctly more regrettable note, the past year also featured the resignation of two of Evatt’s key executive members, our Secretary Anna York and our Treasurer Sue Tracey. I mean no adverse reflection on the always excellent work of Anna in mentioning that Sue’s departure has been particularly keenly felt. This isn’t merely because she undertook many of the less glamourous duties involved in running the Foundation, but is mainly because she was an executive member prior to my election and an ever present voice. Following Sue’s departure, Evatt now seems like a different place.

Fortunately, Eamon Waterford agreed to put himself forward to take over from Anna, and was elected Secretary by the executive in June, bringing a good deal of experience in the community sector to Evatt. Likewise, Matt McGirr agreed to stand for Sue’s positon, and was elected Treasurer by the executive in September. In the meantime, executive member Alison Rahill was elected to the vacant position of Assistant Secretary in July. While the changes caused some disruption, it’s good to be able to report that Evatt ended the year with a full team of office bearers, all of whom are standing to be returned for next year, giving the Foundation a full executive as we look toward 2016.

Evatt’s activities

It will be recalled that Evatt’s central conc