THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
SPEECH TO BROKEN HILL TRADES HALL
TUESDAY 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.
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.