Labour Party (Malta) Leader Joseph Muscat said that while some are attempting to fight by raising the ghosts of the past, Labour is armed with “a hope in the future”.
Wrapping up the debate on the 'Future of Youth', Muscat said that while the Labour party is closing a series of debates which concern the future of the country, others are scaremongering by raising the fears and ghosts of the past.
"Fear is a powerful weapon," Muscat said. "The second-most powerful weapon in politics," he added, dismissing claims that Labour would abolish stipends, or overtime, or scholarships.Muscat however emphasised that Labour is armed with the most powerful weapon: "Hope in the future. Something that can never be beaten by fear."
He reiterated that a new government would mean five years of stability and peace of mind, and the "headlines will not deal with who fought with whom, but how the government fulfilled another of its promises."
Muscat said that the congress held over the previous days was characterized by the participation of many people, even those who are not normally part of the Labour portion of the population.
He said that this is proof that Labour's doors and open and waiting. "We're not interested in the past which divides us, but the future which unites us," Muscat said. He said that during the congress, "the party listened, while the population stood and spoke."
Muscat also emphasised that the more skepticism Labour faces over its optimistic pledges, "the more I am confident that we will be able to live up to our commitments."
He said that Labour is unafraid to face challenges, and that that those who were not willing to 'test' the limits of what is achievable will always lag behind. Muscat said that when Labour proposed lowering the voting age, "there were many who were scandalized."
He recalled that the same arguments were heard when it was proposed to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18. Despite this, Muscat confidently assured the assembled youth that they would be enjoying their right to vote in local council elections, affirming that "this will be only the start."
Responding to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's jabs during his speech on the Granaries just minutes earlier, Muscat aso said that Labour has no issue with celebrating the Independence feast, as it would celebrate any feast that affirms the Maltese identity.
He said that Labour had also "tested the limits on IVF", and said the government had hastily presented a law that was corrected only days later. "A sign that you've not done your homework correctly," he said, while pointing out that Labour had made its position clear on the subject.
"We surely won't be taking anyone for a ride," Muscat said, emphasizing that Labour won't be presenting hasty solutions. He said Labour's solution would strike a balance "between ethics and a realistic approach."
Regarding homosexual couples, Muscat said that politicians should not pontificate on what constitutes a family, dismissing the "postcard" notion of a mother, a father, and two children. He said that this is the "bigger" choice that must be made in the coming election.
Musca said that the choice before the electorate was whether it wants "to remain stuck in a situation of status quo, where we advance in millimeters and where the population has to pander to the politician."
Muscat urged those speaking in terms of the past to "get over it" and step into the present. He said that homosexual families are also families, and deserve the same rights as other families.
"There will be thorny issues that need to be tackled, such as adoption." On this, Muscat reiterated his position that above all other considerations the guiding principle should be the welfare of the children being adopted.
He said that Labour is committed to introducing civil unions if elected, because he believes that the electorate should be faced with a "what you see it what you get" choice, and not "a closed box".
He said that to a certain degree, he agreed that the PN is the party of change. "GonziPN certain changed the utility bills. He certainly changed the power station. But the biggest change was how he changed his own wage," Muscat said, as the crowd laughed and clapped.
Muscat recalled how the PN held a referendum on divorce, campaigned against divorce, and despite how the population spoke itself in favor of divorce, voted against it in parliament. In contrast, Muscat said that Labour campaigned in favor of divorce without needing a referendum to confirm its principles.
"The same Prime Minister who called the referendum voted against its result in parliament," Muscat said. "History will judge him. He was not on the right side of history when he took a stand against the people."
Turning to Labour's support for EU plans for the introduction of female representation quotas in the work place which was opposed by government, Muscat recalled that the PN had similarly opposed the extension of maternity leave, only to later change its mind.
"They'll join us on this as they once joined us on the maternity leave issue," Muscat said, reaffirming how a Labour government will be a "the most feminist government Malta has yet seen."
Throughout the debate, several youth, ranging from university graduates and prospective students, to young entrepreneurs stood to deliver their proposals.
One graduate called for better cooperation between employers and the educational sector to better allow students to transition from educational institutions to the work place.
Another called for the development of more opportunities in the educational and employment sectors in Gozo, given how Gozitan youths find themselves starved of such opportunities.
One graduate also called on the Labour Party to facilitate a society that is more understanding, more tolerant, and better suited to fostering the hopes of younger generations. The graduate hit out at, among things, the institutionalized narrow-minded approach of what families consist of, as well as the recently-unveiled IFV law that restrictively interferes with young couples looking to start families.
Another prospective university student hit out at the delays on IVF regulation, and called for the long-purchased medical equipment in Mater Dei to cease being left idle because of delays in the process behind the IVF draft bill.
One young social policy student also asked Muscat to be clear on whether the Labour Party would be in favor of allowing homosexual couples to have children of their own.
A University European Studies student asked what Labour's position on whether it would be interested in expanding parliamentary sittings from 'full-time' to 'part-time'. "Should managing the country remain a part-time job," he asked.
Another student said the time has come for a "humble political class" and slammed the government for giving itself a 500 EUR increase despite global austerity measures. He also criticized the manner government insisted on ignoring problems such as overcrowded hospital corridors in the face of evidence to the contrary.
He same student also called for a fresh approach on education which places student at centre of the system "and not demands that students go around the system" a system that "seeks to discover what students know and not what they do," and for a system that involves teachers and not sees them being "on the receiving end of people who never stepped into a class room."
He also called for a more comprehensive and developed policy on sexual health "which goes beyond a simple poster showing a girl wearing a crash helmet as if she were going off-roading."
Another student called "for an end to tribal politics" which he said serves only to alienate large swathes of youth away from democratic participation. He also said that despite holistic agreement that the voting age for local councils be lowered to 16, "four years later, nothing happened."
Also speaking during the debate Michelle Muscat welcomed the determination of those students willing to make their voices heard despite how "there are youngsters today, in this day and age, who are afraid to show their political ideology" because of repercussions and vindictiveness.
She said that if Malta is truly had a modern country, "this mentality cannot exist within our institutions."
Ms Muscat also reiterated Labour's pledge to safeguard the stipend system, and added that Labour is also committed to expanding the educational support system further.
Speaking about children, she said that those who truly love children would do anything to bring them into this world. She said that her personal experience "would not allow anyone to stop miracles" referring to achievements in contemporary fertility medical research."
She said that there were those trying to emulate Labour's commitments by rushing legislation through parliament. However, she said that the legislation which ultimately passed "needs to ensure that people who wish to have children are able to undertake those courses of action that present the best chances of success for these miracles to happen."
Guest speaker British Labour Party European Parliament Member Stephen Hughes said that the problem of the loss of employment among youth in particular is worrying given the real value that is being lost when highly trained and educate youth lie idle because they are unable to find work.
Hughes said that member states should provide 'youth guarantees' whereby youth are guaranteed employment or education options within four months of losing their jobs. He said that this youth guarantee could be enforced by penalties on those member states who fail to deliver such a guarantee. Hughes also pledged his support to Muscat and his party.