By Judith Ireland
May 16, 2019 — 1.57pm
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Labor leader Bill Shorten has told supporters he wants to “change the nation forever” in his final major speech of the election campaign, vowing to start “from day one” if elected on Saturday.
Speaking at a rally in Sydney on Thursday, Mr Shorten said people should vote Labor so they could look their children and grandchildren “in the eye” on climate change. “This generation of parents … tell them that we decided to do the responsible thing for the environment,” he said.
The Labor leader used Bowman Hall in Blacktown in Sydney’s west, the site of former prime minister Gough Whitlam’s famous “It’s time” speech in 1972, to launch his final push for The Lodge.
Mr Shorten repeatedly referred to the slogan “vote for change” – encouraging the audience of supporters to chant along with him – while listing Labor’s policies to increase funding for cancer patients, childcare fees, hospitals and domestic violence.
“Never before has your decision and your vote been more important,” he said.
“It is why we seek government. Not for history’s sake. And not for our own. Not for the trappings or ornamentation of office, but to build things that last, to change the nation, to write Australia larger and better.”
Mr Shorten said his cabinet’s first item of business would be to develop a new government submission to the Fair Work Commission on the minimum wage. The first priorities in Parliament would be the reintroduction of Sunday penalty rates, tax cuts for low- and middle-income earnersand the expansion of the Clean Energy Finance Corp.
In 1972, Mr Whitlam gave a famous speech at the start of the election campaign that saw him defeat the Coalition for the first time in 23 years.
At the Blacktown Civic Centre, Mr Whitlam had pitched his campaign as “a choice between the past and the future”, while setting out policies such as free university education and universal healthcare. Mr Whitlam criticised “instability” in the Coalition ranks, which Mr Shorten has also done during the 2019 campaign.
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On Thursday, Mr Shorten used some of Mr Whitlam’s words when he said Australia had to choose between “the habits and fears of the past, or the demands and opportunities of the future”. In a play on Mr Whitlam’s famous introduction, “men and women of Australia”, Mr Shorten began with “women and men of Australia”.
Singer Patricia (Little Pattie) Amphlett was at the 1972 speech and sang on the It’s Time song. A life-long Labor member, she was at Bowman Hall in 1972 and on Thursday.
Ms Amphlett said the party had “a new generation of people to look after”.
The speech came after Mr Shorten campaigned briefly in the marginal seat of Reid on Thursday morning, which the Liberal Party nominally holds on 4.7 per cent. Both sides have been furiously campaigning in Reid this week – Mr Shorten has visited twice in two days. Prime Minister Scott Morrison campaigned at the Sydney Markets in the electorate early on Thursday, while Mr Shorten made dumplings at a local restaurant.
The seat, which has a high number of Chinese and Korean voters, was held by retiring Liberal MP and Malcolm Turnbull supporter Craig Laundy.
Political watchers expect the final days of the campaign to be intense, as many voters tune in for the first time.
Dr Kevin Brianton, a politics and public relations lecturer at La Trobe University, said after a lacklustre campaign, during which many voters had been disengaged, people would now be paying attention as they came to vote.
“In the next 48 hours, the game really begins.”