Ben Chifley: ‘The Light on the Hill’ (1949)

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Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley gave this speech to a meeting of the Australian Labour Party in 1949. The speech was voted one of the most important Australian speeches in a survey by the Australian ABC network.

He describes the reason for the Labour Party’s existence, not just in Australia but worldwide.

The complete transcript can be read on the Australian website. The recording is not the original, but a re-enactment from the series ‘Great Rural Speeches’ on ABC in 2007.

Ben Chifley: The Light on the Hill (extract)

Ben Chifley: When I sat at a Labour meeting in the country with only ten or fifteen men there, I found a man sitting beside me who had been working in the Labour movement for fifty-four years. I have no doubt that many of you have been doing the same, not hoping for any advantage from the movement, not hoping for any personal gain, but because you believe in a movement that has been built up to bring better conditions to the people. Therefore, the success of the Labour Party at the next elections depends entirely, as it always has done, on the people who work.

I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.

If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labour movement will be completely justified.

Ben Chifley, Australian Labour leader