Sep 19, 2013

Address to Per Capita ‘Reform Agenda’ Series

Thanks Josh for that introduction and thanks to Per Capita for hosting me today – I know you’ve encouraged so much long-term thinking on the progressive side of politics over the past seven years.

A political party or movement can only truly call itself progressive if it is rich in ideas, steeped in debate, and full of passion for the future.

I know you’ve invited Bill Shorten to address you in coming days as well and I want to say that’s a good thing: this contest is a really exciting one for everyone who’s interested in politics and ideas.

So to Per Capita today, keep up the good work.

I draw my vision for our country in four, big brush strokes.

I want Australia to have a strong economy with more jobs, low unemployment and growth.

I want us to be a nation of opportunity – one which is environmentally sustainable – and Australia must always about the fair go.

Have no doubt: That is not a vision our conservative opponents share.

In office, they will hurt jobs and growth, limit our social mobility, damage our natural heritage, and disrespect the Australian tradition of a fair go.

They’ve already begun.

Cutbacks to infrastructure including the NBN, undermining the Better Schools Plan, cutting funding to the Murray-Darling Basin, rolling AusAID into the Foreign Affairs Department, sacking senior public servants, and just today shutting down the Climate Change Authority.

Most graphically, their step back in time has been demonstrated by the appointment of just one woman out of nineteen in the Cabinet.

They have entrenched this lack of representation by appointing just one woman out of twelve Parliamentary Secretaries – thereby ensuring a lack of women at the highest levels for a political generation.

These coming years are crucial.

Yes, we have to expose the broken promises and bad decisions the conservatives will commit over the next three years – that’s our democratic duty.

Yes, we have to change the way our Party manages our own affairs, so that we have a deeper connection to the community we represent.

But there is a bigger job, a harder job, ahead of us as well:

We have to generate new ideas.

We’re going to have to knock back some interviews and doorstops.

We’re going to have to pass up some opportunities to criticise and to attack – we’re going to have to lift our eyes from the affairs of our own Party and movement.

We might even have to turn off our phones for an hour at a time.

This period of Opposition must be used to encourage new thinking on our side.

What is the future of Australian jobs and industries as the global economy is transformed in the Asian Century?

How do we complete the great economic and social infrastructure we’ve begun in the past five years – like the national broadband network, like DisabilityCare Australia?

And beyond that – what is there at the new horizon for Government in Australia in 2016 and the years beyond?

What’s the next NBN?  The next Education Revolution?

What do we want Australia to look like in ten and twenty years’ time.

Labor must always be about the practical concerns of all Australians, in the living rooms, around the kitchen tables.

It’s not about us; it’s about the Australian people.

We must connect around four themes: Jobs and economic growth, creating opportunity, a sustainable natural and urban environment, and a fair go.

A strong economy must always be a first order issue.

Our conservative opponents say they want a strong economy but they mean something different.

We know a strong economy is one which is creating high-skilled, high-wage jobs, secure jobs in growing industries.

I see an Australia in the future where everyone can say “my job is secure with decent working conditions”.

One where every parent can confidently say “my kids will find jobs when they grow up – and their living standards will be better than mine”.

To achieve these objectives we can’t hide from change. I don’t want to retreat from openness.

Our future lies in succeeding in the world, not protecting ourselves from it.

We can never just defend existing industries – we also have to reach out to new innovation and new sources of growth and jobs.

There’s a world of change surrounding us.

The transformation of global production and demand in the Asian Century has only just begun.

That reaches beyond the current transition in China from investment-driven growth to a more sustainable consumption-driven growth.

It reaches to the steady and irreversible rise of India, a nation whose own best prospects are still there in openness and growth.

Our future lies in exports, our future lies in Asia, our future lies to the north.

Beyond the mining boom, we have to turn this into an opportunity for smart Australian exporters in every industry sector.

Our own economy is already changing.

Mining investment will continue to slow.

Domestically, there will be jobs in services, in health and aged care, in tourism and education.

In the retail and financial sector, in construction and transport, new jobs will be created.

Small business will be a major driver of job creation and Labor must reach out to contractors, sole traders, and other small businesses as part of a modern Labor constituency.

Modern agriculture will contribute, but be driven by new technology – such as the “Sense-T” initiative in Tasmania using the NBN.

This takes advantage of broadband technology to know when to harvest the crop, pick the grape, or farm the salmon, to maximize primary sector productivity.

We can do more – and we bring competitive advantages.

We’re a high-wage country, with an advanced financial and accounting sector, a well-developed legal structure and a society that respects the rule of law.

That creates export opportunities in itself, in those services and in related areas.

As Infrastructure Minister, I encouraged companies like Ghella from Italy to base themselves in Australia as their base for regional operations.

We must also create opportunities for our next generation of entrepreneurs in advanced manufacturing.

Be clear about this.  Manufacturing has a great future.

That future is in smart, advanced, innovative Australian firms – the CSLs and the ResMeds, the digital media companies, and many more.

These are crucial creators of skilled work over coming decades.

Companies like Thales, who are building our Defence Force’s Bushmasters in Bendigo.

Businesses like their Bendigo neighbours Keech Australia, who can’t wait for high-speed broadband so that their electronic plans and models can be shared with their global clients instantaneously – not on a CD which has to be posted to Kazakhstan.

So many of the jobs we want our kids to do rest on their innovation, their creativity, the change and diversification that firms like that drive.

Australia needs a balanced and diverse economy for the long-term – we must not mortgage our national future to any one commodity or industry or export destination.

Whilst I support an open economy, we must ensure that any trade agreements are truly in the national interest, and make decisions based not on ideology, but on hard-headed assessment.

The role of Government is fundamentally to make sure the regulatory environment is right for the private sector to do its job.

Productivity growth is critical. The reduction in national transport regulators from 23 down to 3 is a legacy of the Labor Government that will boost national income by $30 billion over the next 20 years.

Improving productivity means investing in infrastructure and skills.

Infrastructure is an area where we can either build a great competitive advantage or genuinely fall behind.

Unlike our natural resources, it’s not a given.

But we can control it if we look beyond the short term electoral cycle towards the long term.

I was the Transport Minister who completed the duplication of the Hume.

It’s done.  Drive from here up to Sydney today – you won’t go through a traffic light from Campbellfield to Campbelltown.

We must complete the duplication of the Pacific and transform the Bruce Highway.

We must break the back of urban congestion.

We must complete the National Broadband Network.

This will call for new ways of financing, new ways of planning, and new governance structures.

We must build not just roads but urban public transport and implement the national port strategy, and the national land freight strategy.

There is a critical role for the national government in our cities in promoting urban productivity, sustainability and liveability.

If I am elected leader, there will be a Shadow Minister for Cities, as well as a Shadow Minister for Regional Development.

These tasks are complementary, as the growth of regional cities can take pressure off the major capitals, as Victoria has shown.

When it comes to opportunity, education is the key.

We can be a nation where you know that the school your child goes to has the best standards, the best teachers, the best resources, no matter what suburb or town you live in, no matter what system you choose for your child.

Where if you want a trade, you can get a training place; where if you want to expand your small business, you can get finance and skilled staff; where if you want to go to uni, you can get the kind of course you want; and where you know that your work is rewarded and that you will get a fair go from your boss.

One of the many legacies of the Rudd and Gillard Governments is that we have done vital long-term policy development for universities and schools.

The Better Schools Plan based on the work done by David Gonski and his colleagues and our reforms to university funding based on the work done by Denise Bradley really do give us a blueprint for the future in these fields, grounded in careful and considered thought.

Where I believe the next big agenda lies is in training.

Our system today reflects a classic Australian compromise. It comprises public and private, employer, trainee and Government, state and Federal … and of course the engagement of teachers and trainers themselves.

We don’t need to simplify for its own sake but we do desperately need more workers to have better skills.

We also need to acknowledge that the hiving off of the most profitable areas of training has placed real pressure on the TAFE system.

Skills are the vital element in getting unemployment down and workforce participation up.

This is an area of the highest priority.

A commitment to a strong economy and creating opportunity must also be sustainable.

This is an important economic issue – this is about our economy not just our environment.

There are significant economic opportunities in investing in clean energy and decoupling economic growth from emissions growth.

To not do so is to risk an expensive and sudden economic transition in decades to come.

Australia must keep to a market-based system to cut our carbon pollution at the lowest cost and create new opportunities.

I see a future where every industry and every government is investing in a clean energy future, where we are building low-carbon and no-carbon power, smart grids and distributed co-generation, and where we export clean energy and clean technology to the world.

We have the plan – Labor’s task in the next three years is to fight for it like there’s no tomorrow.

If we don’t, there might not be one.

Climate change is a global challenge and we must play our part.

Part of being Australian is a commitment to the fair go.

Labor Governments are at our best when we take on inequality and discrimination.

Whether it be gender, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, or who people happen to love.

That means the Federal Parliament should legislate for marriage equality.

Marriage equality will happen.  When it does, people will wonder what the fuss was about.

For our vision of the nation in ten years’ time and beyond, there are new grounds of fairness we must secure.

In coming decades, I believe how we treat older Australians is going to be vital for the future of fairness.

Millions of Australians will want security and freedom in their retirement years.

That means adequate retirement income – a good life in retirement – something Labor has worked so hard for.

With two decades of universal super now behind us, a full-time worker on a median wage can retire today with a superannuation balance of around $130 000.

We can project more than that though – in another twenty years, people retiring will have a full working life of super behind them – and a full-time worker on a median wage will retire with a balance of $340 000 in today’s money.

This is a stunning achievement and it shows what can be done by a Labor Government with a long-term vision.

These are decisions made in Government twenty-five years ago, to create universal superannuation, which will be bearing new fruit in twenty-five years’ time.

Those kinds of long-term decisions lie ahead of us in the next decade as well.

Making sure older Australians aren’t discriminated against is going to be vital to creating the opportunity for millions of healthy, educated Australians to continue their contribution to our society.

Consider that Deloitte has found that an increase of five per cent in paid employment by Australians over the age of 55 would result in a $48 billion boost to our GDP – a lift of 2.4 per cent in national income.

Or think about it this way.

Five years ago there were five working age Australians to every one Australian over 65 – and in forty years’ time there’ll be three working age Australians to every one Australian over 65.

That change is familiar to us, even if the scale is still amazing.

But think about who those over-65s are going to be: they will be the people who are starting in the workforce this year.

The best educated, the best trained, the healthiest generation of Australians, ever.

If those Australians who want to participate, but are excluded from the workforce because too many employers are allergic to hiring white hair, or are too inflexible to create the kind of job that fits an older worker, we are not serving their interest or the national interest.

Today I’ve outlined a framework for Labor – jobs and economic growth, creating opportunity, sustainability, and a fair go.

The process of democratic input into the leadership must evolve into greater democratic input to policy development.

This must respect a broad range of progressive opinion, whilst articulating common core principles.

It is more difficult to build a Coalition based upon a positive agenda than a Noalition based upon negative slogans.

But because Labor Governments are about progressive change, not entrenching existing economic and power relationships, we will benefit from embracing this challenge.

Our capacity to mobilise support for Labor will be enhanced by this process.

I am standing for the leadership because I bring to that position vision, unity and strength.

Labor in Opposition needs to focus on ensuring that at the time of the next election we have a coherent and clearly articulated alternative vision for the nation.

If that means not worrying as much about the 24 hour news cycle, then so be it.

We must always remember that Labor Governments are not the end in itself, but what they can do for the Australian people.

It is only Labor that takes on the big reforms:

The Age Pension, nation building infrastructure – from the transcontinental railway to the Snowy Mountain Scheme to the National Broadband Network, Medicare, compulsory superannuation, and access to higher education.

We have a big challenge.

Labor must change and must do better.

But if we harness the ability of all of our caucus team, our existing members, but importantly our potential members and supporters, we will maximize our opportunity to achieve government in 2016.

When we do this we can build on the legacy of the major reforms of the Rudd and Gillard Governments.

We then can also develop the next wave of reforms to make Australia a more prosperous, just and sustainable society into the future.