Just the other week in Perth I spoke at a conference about the pace of technological change.
We know that change can improve our lives and we know it frees us from certain kinds of labour.
But, of course, change has no conscience.
It does not care or even consider its impact on people.
And this is where we come in.
The fact is that governments, business leaders like you, and industry leaders such as Google have such an important role to play when it comes to making sure people continue to have access to the opportunities they need to stay ahead in a fast-paced world.
So congratulations for thinking ahead. I want to recognize the hard work of Google, the NSW Business Chamber, the Leichhardt & Annandale Business Chamber and the Balmain Rozelle Chamber of Commerce in organising today’s training session.
It is a pleasure to be here in Balmain – the old, industrial working heart of the inner west.
I grew up near here, in Camperdown.
Like many of you I have observed Balmain and Camperdown transform over the decades.
In many ways these suburbs are emblematic of our nation’s economic transformation from industrial to knowledge-intensive and skills-based.
Old workers cottages now sell for well over $1 million.
Warehouses have been filled in with designer apartments.
And our local businesses are increasingly diverse.
They reflect the assortment of needs each person in our community has.
But of course a number of local businesses have endured the test of time and I want to acknowledge one, in particular; the iconic Brays Books on Darling Street.
I remember the emergence of e-books. Many said then bookshops were dead.
However in the US independent booksellers are thriving and here, in Australia, book sales have picked up since 2015.
The simple fact is, reading an e-book isn’t the same as a physical book.
And that’s one of the reasons why bookshops are still here.
But it’s also because businesses like Brays Books adapt to change.
Brays today has Facebook, Twitter and a blog.
And I know the inner west is home to many businesses that have popped up inside people’s houses.
These business owners are creative. They are responsive to technological change and determined to succeed.
And with higher internet uptake in our area than any place in Australia, online presence and accessibility is crucial for our businesses.
What’s more, the benefits that come with the conversion of White Bay and Glebe Island into a technology hub must also not be lost.
I will continue to advocate for government action to achieve this.
ROLE OF THE COMMONWEALTH
The Commonwealth should be doing everything in its power to support the development of small business.
After all they underpin both the economy of places like Balmain, but also the nation.
We should be investing in creativity and leading the way internationally when it comes to small businesses.
But of course politics can get in the way of the basic realities that confront us and affect the way we live.
Let’s take the NBN for example.
Labor had a plan for high-speed, fibre-to-the-premise, broadband for Australia.
We were determined to do it once, do it right and do it with fibre.
We had funded it, and we were building it.
The Coalition, in contrast, always had another plan.
First Tony Abbott appointed Malcolm Turnbull as Shadow Minister for Communications saying, “Who better to hold the government to account here than Malcolm Turnbull … who has the technical expertise and business experience to entirely demolish the government on this issue.”
Then, after the Coalition was elected in 2013 it declared the NBN could not be funded off Budget.
Sometime after that the Coalition changed its rhetoric – adopting the principle, but none of the substance, abandoning fibre-to-the-premise for its significantly inferior hybrid model.
The result is Fraudband, not high speed Broadband.
And earlier this month it has been revealed that Malcolm Turnbull has purchased 15 million metres of copper wire for his second rate network.
Fifteen million metres.
Enough to wrap around Australia.
They have increased the cost and decreased the speed.
Our businesses need better than this from the Commonwealth.
They need reliable, fast broadband so that they can be connected to this increasingly technological world.
In some ways, today’s children are already being schooled to think differently from previous generations.
They are already experts in coping with change, because during their short lives, it has been a constant.
For example, anyone who uses a computer knows the software is constantly upgraded and updated, requiring us to amend our habits when it comes to simple functions like creating and sending documents.
While many older people find that frustrating, for young people it is a natural part of life.
In the future workforce, jobs will evolve in the same way.
The role you take on one year could evolve considerably in a very short time to something that looks quite different.
While today’s young people are already thinking in more flexible ways, I worry about older people losing their jobs now and in the next few years.
I worry about their ability to reskill, both in terms of personal mindset and in terms of the opportunities that will be available to them.
In particular, I worry about what will become of low-skilled workers who occupy the jobs that will be eliminated first.
And that’s why today’s Digital Skills Workshop is so critical.
It encourages business owners and leaders like you to not only continue to adapt, but also to come together and talk to each other about the change we face.
I look forward to continuing to work with you in my capacity as the Member for Grayndler and wish you all the best.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.