ANTHONY ALBANESE – SPEECH – ADDRESS TO 2020 REMOTE FEDERAL LABOR BUSINESS EXCHANGE PROGRAM – VIA ZOOM – WEDNESDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ADDRESS TO 2020 REMOTE FEDERAL LABOR BUSINESS EXCHANGE PROGRAM
WEDNESDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2020
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I have a version of this speech that’s short enough to fit on Twitter, and it goes like this:
Without business, we are going nowhere. And without workers, business is going nowhere.
While the sentiment is right it could bear a bit of fleshing out. So here’s the longer version:
Just as the spirit of us all being in this together is what is getting us through the coronavirus pandemic, it is also what is going to power the recovery.
The silver lining of the pandemic is that it has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape a better future for Australia.
At the moment, as the country swings between travel bans, lockdowns and border closures, it would be understandable if people were to look back at the pre-pandemic period with nostalgia.
It would also be a mistake. As the pandemic turned everything upside down, it also exposed what was already going wrong in Australia.
Suddenly laid out for us in the stark light was the dangerously weakening economy, the degradation of workers’ conditions, and the policy paralysis that was so reprehensibly providing a handbrake on business.
We don’t have to settle for turning back the clock and crossing our fingers in the hope that it will all turn out better second time around.
We have the chance to create something better — if we pull together.
I want to work together with business. I want us to co-operate to confront the challenges facing our nation. We won’t always agree. But you will always have my respect — and my ear.
My colleagues and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we want to find them.
We should be co-operating in the knowledge that ultimately, we are all on the same side, striving for the same objectives.
This isn’t a sudden Road to Damascus moment for me. It’s a message I have been delivering for two decades in public life.
I’m proud that as Infrastructure Minister, I created Infrastructure Australia, which was designed to provide the regulatory certainty business requires to invest with confidence.
Partnerships are important. In common with most Australians, I have no interest in the rhetoric of division. Australians don’t want us wasting their time by pitting one group against another for confected political purposes.
Australians want us to aim higher than such base motives. They want us to find solutions to the challenges they face in their daily lives.
In the Whitlam Oration in 2018, I said this:
“Successful Labor Governments collaborate with unions, the business sector and civil society to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest.’’
During the pandemic we have acted constructively.
We have stuck to the fundamental truth that is all too often forgotten: that the job of an Opposition is not merely to oppose.
As the party that led Australia safely through the Global Financial Crisis, we understand that in the middle of an emergency, urgent action is the priority.
We have proposed many ideas — such as wage subsidies — and have been happy for the Government to adopt them, even if that acceptance has so often been bookended by resistance and poor
That is because our priority is to do everything we can to ensure that workers keep their livelihoods during this pandemic, and that businesses can stay afloat.
We are doing what we can to keep this recession short and as shallow, and to ensure the recovery is fast but enduring.
When Government policy has been flawed, the criticism we have offered has been constructive. And ultimately, we have been supportive.
We have not stood in the way of legislation that is going to make life easier for Australians during a time as challenging as this.
Just as we have been constructive with the Government, we want to be as constructive with business. Australians want us to work together to find the best way forward.
KEYS TO THE RECOVERY
As a political movement, Labor aspires for people to have good, secure jobs with decent pay and conditions.
For that to happen, business has to have the conditions and the policies that allow it to grow.
It’s a straightforward equation: successful businesses create jobs.
We understand that successful businesses and a vibrant economy are essential prerequisites for job growth.
Labor is proudly and resolutely pro-growth.
We recognise the particular importance of the contribution made by 2.2 million small businesses.
Until coronavirus, they employed 4.9 million Australians, nearly half of all private sector employees.
It is vital to our national prosperity that everything is done to ensure they survive the crisis and can thrive and flourish in the recovery.
Business, workers and unions have to work together — each in the recognition that both the ingredients and the fruits of success are shared.
When we look at successful Labor governments, we see that they brought that spirit of co-operation to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest.
Of course, the economic crisis we are in is different to previous ones, with governments at both state and federal levels shutting down the economy in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Nevertheless, as we look ahead to 2021 it is with a brighter hope of a vaccine against COVID-19.
And with that hope comes another — not just of a recovery, but the chance to reset and renew.
No one is under any illusion about the size of the task ahead of us. We can’t simply release the pause button and hope that after a year of upheaval, everything will just hum back to normal.
More than ever, business and industry are going to need the bedrock of certainty.
Unlike this Government, business cannot try to get by on announcements alone.
Labor understands that business needs those announcements to be backed by ambition and followed by delivery. As I made clear in my Budget in Reply last month, a good beginning would be to fill some of the obvious holes.
Let’s start with energy.
Now in their eighth year of power, this Government has so far delivered a conveyor belt of 22 energy policies.
If they maintain their current rate of production, we should have the 23rd in time for Christmas, only to see it discarded like wrapping paper not too far into the New Year.
A good measure of the seriousness with which they treat the portfolio is that in their rotating cast of Energy Ministers, the latest one is most famous for … waging a phoney war on the Lord Mayor of Sydney.
And yet if you turn away from them, you’ll see a consensus forming excluding the Morrison Government, one that is based on reality and not ideology.
There is an understanding that we could be a renewable energy superpower, with clean energy powering a new era of metal manufacturing and hydrogen production.
Labor has a clear target to tackle Climate Change — net zero carbon pollution by 2050. It’s a target supported by every State and Territory Government, regardless of their political hue.
The Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Energy Council and the National Farmers Federation agree on it.
Qantas and BHP and Santos are just some of the major companies that back it, too.
Of course, the incoming Biden Administration backs it.
And we see that support even from conservative governments overseas, not least the British Government, which has told the Morrison Government that its experience is that emissions reduction efforts leads to job creation and cheaper energy prices.
The odd one out is the Morrison Government, which is frozen in time while the world warms around it.
REWIRING THE NATION
Of course, there’s a lot more we can do right now to make energy more affordable.
Australia’s electricity network was designed for a different century.
The current network takes no account of the rise of renewables as the cheapest new energy source. It doesn’t help link these new sources up to the national grid.
A Labor Government will tackle this by establishing a new Rewiring the Nation Corporation to rebuild and modernise the national energy grid.
By using the Commonwealth’s ability to borrow at lower interest rates, it will be done at the lowest possible cost.
The projects needed to rebuild the grid have all been identified in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan.
The planning work is done.
If we follow through, thousands of jobs will be created and $40 billion of benefits delivered.
The resulting flow of cheaper, more reliable energy will be the key to safeguarding existing and fostering new manufacturing industries.
We would go from a country with a Government that goads industries into going offshore, to having a future made in Australia.
We could be a country that won’t be left high and dry the next time a crisis sweeps the world and knocks out global supply chains.
INVESTING IN PEOPLE
Childcare is another big policy gap that we could fix for the benefit of society, business and the economy alike.
At present, instead of childcare supporting families where both parents want to work, the costs and the tax system are catching families in a pincer movement.
And, as is too often the case, it is working mothers who bear the brunt.
For millions of working women, it’s simply not worth working more than three days a week.
This derails careers, depriving working women of opportunities they’ve earned.
And it costs workplaces — not just day-to-day productivity but years of valuable experience and knowledge and skills.
If Labor is given the privilege of forming Government, we will remove the annual cap on the childcare subsidy, eliminating the disincentive to work more hours.
And we will increase the maximum childcare subsidy to 90 per cent — cutting costs for 97 per cent of all families in the system.
Getting this right isn’t a welfare measure, it’s an economic one.
A real reform that will boost women’s workforce participation and get Australia working again.
Building a childcare system that works for families will also turbocharge productivity in workplaces, delivering a much-needed boost in economic growth of up to $4 billion a year.
It will give women greater choice than the existing flawed system that can make it pointless to work more than three days a week.
It will give families a greater say in figuring out their work/homelife balance.
It will unleash the talents, experience and wisdom of half the population.
And it will deliver the early education that is crucial in the early development of children.
It seems mad that this is a conversation we are still having two decades into the 21st century, but it’s one we urgently need to have, resolve and put behind us.
SKILLED AND ADAPTABLE
Another measure will be Jobs and Skills Australia, a partnership that the next Labor Government will forge to address the rampant skills shortages that are holding back workers and business.
It will work with business and unions to harness insights from industry to ensure that training is meeting not just today’s needs but anticipating how work is changing.
It will ensure that the Commonwealth works genuinely with the States and Territories to ensure that our VET system – with public TAFE at its core – delivers the trainees and apprentices that our country needs.
I see Jobs and Skills Australia as the basis of a new compact, a collaborative model to guide investment in human capital, just as Infrastructure Australia guides investment in physical capital.
People are our greatest asset. Jobs and Skills Australia will help ensure we don’t squander them.
WINNING BACK TRUST
There are some politicians who are not in business, but nonetheless deign to lecture businesses and tell them to stick to their knitting. This is nothing but triumph of opinion over fact, of arrogance over experience.
The most successful businesses reflect the values of their employees and their customers.
You are not just about profit and the bottom line. You see yourselves as part of the community.
Business’s recognition of its social role is important, because as we wrestle with the economic conditions, there’s another challenge waiting for politicians and business, and that is the slow but steady erosion of our standing in the eyes of the public.
We all have to work out how to solve this growing deficit of trust.
Business is working this out and is already working to address it.
We need to rebuild relationships. Business is showing a possible way forward.
2021 is fast approaching, and with it the possibility of a fresh start.
We need courage. We need tenacity. We need vision.
But the most solid foundation we can build on is respect.
Respect for people and the work they do, whether they’re miners or Uber drivers.
And respect for people who start businesses.
People who not only dare to dream, but believe in that dream so deeply they are willing to put everything on the line.
And unwilling to simply settle for repeating the past, but instead take the chance to build a better future.
People with such forward vision are ill-served by a Government that is continually looking backwards — a Government that clings to the belief you can grow a garden with fertiliser alone.
Every big business — like Santos — starts out small. Maybe as a dream, maybe as a lightning flash of inspiration or a stroke of good luck.
Labor sees all the good that can flow from that transition from initial spark to something so much bigger.
And that is why Labor is pro-aspiration.
We understand that when business does well, workers do well, and vice versa.
We all ultimately share the same goal, understanding that the forces that unite us are far greater than anything else.
And we can work together to ensure that no one is left behind in the pandemic, and no one held back in the recovery.
And I am confident that in the near future, when this pandemic has finally passed into history, we will be able to say:
We were in it together, we emerged from it together, and we stuck together.