By Tanya Plibersek

24 October 2023





Thank you for having me in your beautiful city.

I flew in yesterday afternoon from Sydney. ​

We took the Khe Sanh route – from the ocean to the Silver City. 

​It wasn't quite the last plane out of Sydney.

​But it was definitely the last one going to Broken Hill. 

​Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, the Wilyakali people, and pay my respect to elders past and present. 

​And can I thank everyone who has come out today for this special occasion.

​To the people of Broken Hill, all the trade unionists, who have led this campaign for many years now.  

​Equally, to all the trade unionists who have come before us, who made the history we are recognising today.  

​To Mayor Tom Kennedy and the Broken Hill Council for all your support and enthusiasm.

​And of course, I acknowledge the Barrier Industrial Council, in the year of your centenary. 

​One hundred years of leading the world in the cause of labour.

​One hundred years and still going strong. 

​It’s an honour to be here with you this morning, to announce our government’s support for the World Heritage Listing of Broken Hill Trades Hall. 

​An extraordinary building in a city with extraordinary history. 

​The first in Australia that was built and owned by trade unions. 

​A beautiful structure, a surviving example of Victorian architecture. 

​And the heart of soul of this town – this proud union town. 

​The first stone of Trades Hall was laid 125 years ago this year. 

​It was led by a procession of workers, stretching half a mile long.

​Six thousand people gathered here that day, marching with their union banners through town.

​And at the end of the procession, the honour of laying the first stone was given to Ben Tillett – a dockworker from London.

​Tillett had travelled all the way from England, to thank the people of Broken Hill for their financial support during the British strike of 1889.  

​As Tillett told the crowd that day: 

‘The thin red line of blood that binds us is stronger than any cord a politician could make for us’. 

​And that is what this building has always represented. 

​The ties that bind working people together. 

​The strength that comes from unity, the strength that comes from solidarity. 

​And no one has lived that message like the workers of Broken Hill. 

​Trades Hall carries the memory of some of Australia’s most significant moments in labour history.  

​The strike of 1892. The strike of 1915. 

​And the Big Strike – the strike of 1919 and 1920. 

​A strike that lasted eighteen months, with families surviving on a ration of potatoes and onions.  

​Back then, the mines were known as ‘widow makers’, because of the toxic dust and working conditions underground. 

​But that started to change after 1920. 

​When the workers of Broken Hill won the 35-hour week. 

​With better ventilation and compensation for injuries. 

​And afterwards, with a cut of the profits that came from their labour. 

​From these struggles was born an industrial culture like no other. 

​Where working people had a say in all matters that affected them. 

​And that power was channelled here – through Trades Hall. 

​When the New York Times came to Broken Hill in 1970, they were amazed at the influence of local workers. 

​Their headline said it all: 

‘In an Australian Mining Town, Labor is Boss’.  

​The power of workers went beyond wages and conditions.

​It touched on all significant questions of public life, from politics to housing to the media.

​It even extended to consumer matters. 

​In 1918, a newspaper article from Broken Hill recorded ‘the shortest strike on record’.

​A protest that began after a local publican decided to raise the price of beer at his establishment. 

​Big mistake. 

​People were quite worked up about it, understandably so, to the point where they surrounded the pub in question, laying siege to the front bar.  

​The episode lasted an hour, and as the article concluded: 

‘The strike was a complete success’. 

​The people of Broken Hill fought hard for their living standards. 

​And they have fought just as hard to protect and defend them. 

​It’s been a gutsy fight, an inspiring fight. 

​A fight for the principle of industrial democracy.

​For the idea that workers should have the same power as their bosses to determine the conditions of their life. 

​The world might have changed in the past century. 

​Broken Hill is still a strong mining town, a strong union town, but it’s expanded outwards, with a popular tourism sector, with a flourishing arts scene, and with a wider range of businesses and industry.    

​The world has changed, but the culture lives on. 

​It lives on in the people of Broken Hill.

​It lives on in the unions that continue to fight for workers and their interests.

​And it lives on in this building. 

​Broken Hill Trades Hall is already part of Australia’s national heritage. 

​And soon we hope it will be part of the world’s heritage too. 

​So thank you for coming today. 

​It’s an honour to stand with you in this wonderful cause.