MONDAY, 11 MAY 2020
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You learn a lot about character during a crisis.
During the Coronavirus pandemic and the bushfires which preceded it, we have been reminded of the character of Australia.
A nation where the concept of mateship is at its heart, measured by the simple value of looking out for each other.
It is true that being an island continent with a relatively small and sparse population has given us an advantage over many nations in recent months.
But our most important advantage and our greatest resource has been our people.
As ever, Australians have answered the call.
Our people have responded magnificently and have overwhelmingly engaged in social distancing, not through coercion, but cooperation.
Governments at all levels have acted and put aside differences.
And in the lead have been our health professionals, cleaners, teachers, aged care workers, public transport workers, truck drivers, shop assistants, police and emergency service workers and more, who have risked their own health to look after others.
Our wonderful health system with Medicare at its heart and universality as its spine has given us confidence to advance through this crisis.
By and large we have avoided the worst of the health consequences, as we have watched mass graves being dug in New York, or the convoys of coffins driven through Italian villages.
Yet the damage to the economy has been severe, and the threat of a prolonged impact is very real.
The pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness, security and the power of government to change lives were the right values in a crisis.
They are also the right values for the recovery.
The Prime Minister’s talk of “SnapBack” to what came before, foreshadows a return to the Liberals’ traditional agenda.
Marketing slogans won’t ease the ongoing burden of this pandemic, or hasten recovery.
That’s why this 5th Vision Statement is focussed on how Australia emerges from this crisis.
What we’ve learned, what our challenge is now, and how we meet that challenge.
It builds on previous Vision Statements, particularly the Future of Work and the Economy where I advanced support for productivity and the industries of the future, such as clean energy and smart manufacturing.
I spoke about the need for a skills revolution to rebuild TAFE and vocational education.
In my Statement on Valuing Older Australians, I emphasised the contribution they make to our labour market and society.
And in my Democracy statement I spoke of building trust in our institutions.
I have asked each and every member of my team to bring forward ideas that promote a strong and resilient recovery with job creation at its centre.
Policies like a compact on jobs and skills for those who need it, a safety net system that supports people and an infrastructure program that builds the nation.
Labor has taken a constructive approach throughout these testing times.
We have supported all the stimulus packages in the Parliament.
Where there have been gaps, we have looked for solutions, not arguments.
We have advocated for those who have been left behind, whether they be casuals and labour hire workers, small businesses, visa holders or those in the arts and entertainment sector.
Indeed, the Government has taken up many of our proposals including wage subsidies, better income tests for working families, support for students, Telehealth and mental health provision, support for tenants and increased testing.
We have continued to raise concerns about the structure of the Jobkeeper scheme, including the decision that some people would receive many times more than their ordinary earnings.
Better design could have reduced the economic burden now and the debt burden into the future.
What we have not done is allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
Our actions contrast with the negativity the Liberals and Nationals employed against the Labor Government during the Global Financial Crisis.
And - to the best of our ability - we have kept a straight face, while listening to recent converts Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg talk about the importance of economic stimulus.
And we have nodded politely when a Government that has ignored climate change, has told us we should follow science and listen to experts.
The fact is it should not have taken another global recession for the Liberals to acknowledge that Labor’s approach saved Australia from the last one.
It should not have taken a sudden crunch in global supply chains for the Liberals to appreciate the value of Australian manufacturing.
It should not have taken changing work practices mandated by social distancing, for the Liberals to realise the importance of fast, reliable broadband.
It should not have taken a massive surge in unemployment, for the Liberals to lift Newstart above the poverty line.
It should not have taken a huge disruption to the workforce, for the Liberals to see early childhood education as an essential service.
It should not have taken a pandemic to recognise the important role of the trade union movement and that unions and business share common interests.
It should be the norm that the Australian Government co-operates with States and Territories to take the country forward.
And it should not have required a pandemic for the Government to realise that an economy and society organised on the principle that “we’re all in this together”, is preferable to the law of the jungle and unfettered market forces.
Throughout the crisis, we’ve seen Australians at their best, looking out for each other.
This has been a time of shared sacrifice, for the greater good - fundamentally, to keep our family, friends and neighbours safe.
We’ve been getting through this together.
But it’s been a lot tougher for some than others.
For those still working, and able to work from home, in comfortable circumstances - well, that’s one thing.
It’s quite another for those Australians who have lost loved ones, made more painful when grieving happens in isolation from family and support networks.
It’s been tough for those who have lost their jobs. For those who have put their heart and soul into establishing a small business only to see their dreams shattered. And those who don’t own their homes, or even have a home. For those who’ve been putting themselves at risk to keep others safe and our society functioning. For those who have had to raid their superannuation to stay afloat, or worse, been affected by the fraud that has occurred under the Government’s poorly designed scheme.
Sharing the sacrifice to get through the crisis together has to mean working to secure a recovery in which no one is left behind.
We have to be clear in recognising that those with the least, have suffered the most through this crisis - something that must change.
It’s critical that we are still saying, “we’re all in this together”, after the lockdown has come to an end.
And not just saying it, living-up to that standard.
Because this experience has reminded us that there is such a thing as society - that we are all connected and the strength of this bond is what is pulling us through as Australians.
Our challenge must be to recover, stronger.
Not just to return to as we were.
Let’s not SnapBack to insecure work, to jobseekers stuck in poverty, to scientists being ignored.
We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it.
To secure a more resilient society, given just how quickly things can change, through no fault of anyone.
To better recognise the contributions of unsung heroes, like our cleaners, supermarket workers and delivery workers.
To honour our health and aged care workers.
To recognise that young people have done more than their share.
Young people deserve better than an economy and society that consigns them to a lifetime of low wages, job insecurity and unaffordable housing.
We must ensure that what emerges is a society that no longer seems stacked against them, or denies them the opportunity and economic security of older generations.
To our very core, Labor supports the aspiration of every Australian.
My own life story speaks to the power and the opportunity that comes from aspiration, in my case a single mother who wanted a better life for her son than she enjoyed.
This crisis has reminded us that Australians are prepared to aspire not just for themselves, but for their family, for their community and their nation.
This is a once-in-a-political lifetime event.
And it creates a once-in-a-century opportunity to renew and revitalise the Federation.
A once-in-a-generation chance to reshape our economy so it works for people and deepens the meaning of the fair go.
Curtin and Chifley once spoke of “Victory in War, Victory in Peace”.
They knew national leadership in times of crisis was about more than mere preservation, it was a question of vision, of courage.
The vision to imagine greater opportunity for all in peace, the courage to begin that work even in the midst of war.
We must show the same vision and courage now.
We should relish the prospect of looking back with pride at how we saw off this crisis and then emerged stronger.
That strength must be built on delivering more security for those who have work, and jobs and skills for those who don’t.
We must build more permanent jobs, an industrial relations system that promotes co-operation, productivity improvements and shared benefits.
The experience of working from home in recent months has given a practical insight into how many businesses could improve their cost structures and productivity by moving to regional cities and towns.
For many, the location and nature of their work will have changed forever, with the potential to increase productivity and decrease urban congestion.
We must revitalise high value Australian manufacturing using our clean energy resources.
With our abundant renewable resources, mining industry and industrial capability, we should be at the forefront of the global competition for jobs and industry.
Lower energy costs will deliver investment in energy intensive manufacturing like steel and aluminium and boost regional jobs and economic activity.
We must invest in nation building infrastructure including iconic projects like High Speed Rail and we should be building trains here. Government procurement policy in rail manufacturing has produced superior outcomes to imports, and created regional jobs in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
The Commonwealth can deliver coordinated procurement across States and Territories and the private sector to smooth out production, lower costs and build skills and capability.
An appropriate decentralisation strategy which boosts regional economic development and takes pressure off our capital cities should be at the heart of national economic development.
We could start by restoring public sector jobs in areas such as Centrelink, Medicare and Veterans Affairs that deliver services to regional communities.
The contracting out of essential public services is not in the national interest and must stop.
It’s time to put human beings and human dignity back into human services.
The basics of life such as early childhood education should be nurtured and made affordable.
As someone who grew up in Council Housing in Camperdown, I know how important having a secure roof over your head is.
Darryl Kerrigan said that his home next to Tullamarine Airport was his castle. Over the last two months our homes have been fortresses. They have helped shield us and protect us.
When the worst of this virus has gone, housing can also help our economy recover.
The pipeline for housing construction is drying up and will result in a sharp decline in work for small business and tradies unless action is taken.
Governments should be working with the private sector and superannuation funds to deliver significant investment in social and affordable housing.
This would help those in need and keep many tradespeople on the tools.
As I mentioned earlier, this crisis has also reminded us how important the people are who work in our supermarkets, who look after our sick, elderly and people with disabilities, who clean our buildings and keep our public transport moving.
People who don’t get to work from home. People who have kept us safe. And who don’t earn a lot of money.
A housing construction package should include funding to make it easier for essential workers to find affordable rental accommodation closer to work.
A well designed conservation program should also be implemented to boost regional employment targeting weed and pest control, river revitalisation, emissions reduction and bushfire restoration and resilience.
This would be supported by Landcare, agricultural and environmental groups and would provide economic support particularly for those regions devastated by bushfires.
Even before the bushfires and coronavirus pandemic, the economic indicators for Australia were heading in the wrong direction.
The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government had doubled the debt, economic growth was below trend, underemployment rising, wages stagnant, business investment in decline, household debt at record levels and productivity was actually going backwards.
The Reserve Bank responded by repeatedly cutting interest rates to unprecedented lows.
It called for serious infrastructure stimulus, but the Coalition seemed more interested in pork barrelling on an industrial scale exemplified by the Sports Rorts scandal.
It was as if this complacent government, which for the past seven years has been endlessly telling us how well our economy is doing, had absolutely no idea that millions of our people now rely on casual, insecure work to keep their heads above water from week to week.
Perhaps the most astonishing statement came from Christian Porter, who declared that casual workers wouldn’t need support during this crisis because of the loading they receive.
From “let them eat cake”, to “let them use their loading”.
A Minister bringing new meaning to the term, “out of touch”.
The Government has shown contempt for those in the arts and entertainment sector, who do so much to enrich our culture and our quality of life. This is a contribution that should be measured by much more than the $111 billion economic figure. The same people who donated their time and talent to run benefit concerts for bushfire victims, are being ignored in their time of need.
The fact is that too much of the risk in our economy has been shifted onto those with the least capacity to manage in tougher times.
The broadest burden has been put on the narrowest shoulders.
Our economy has become riskier, and we need to think through what that means for us all.
We need to realise that a good society can’t thrive when the balance between risk and security falls out of step.
If some good is to come out of this tragic episode, it’s that we must recapture the qualities that, for so long, made our country the envy of the world.
We need to point the country towards growth, because only inclusive economic growth can raise our living standards.
We need to put more emphasis on secure employment – especially for the next generation of younger workers who nowadays have little idea of the meaning of reliable income or holiday pay.
These Australians have been the victims of stagnant wages, shameful examples of wage theft and a government hell-bent on raiding and reducing their superannuation.
Our unions stepped up early to ensure measures were in place to make it possible for essential services to safely operate.
Indeed, the crucial role of unions in our society has been on constant display throughout this pandemic, demanding that the protection of workers’ rights - and their very jobs - be at the heart of the economic response.
And maybe, through that, we’ve realised how much we need to rediscover that great old-fashioned Australian value of egalitarianism.
In an era that worships celebrity, we need to regain our traditional respect for ordinary working people. And do right by them.
We are not just an economy, we are a society.
And one that works best when we look after everyone. Not just some of our people, but all of them.
The pandemic has exposed another inconvenient truth: we are living in uncertain times and maybe our economy isn’t as resilient as we like to think.
Together we can build a more resilient Australia. We know the benefits of engagement with the world and the Hawke/Keating reforms which delivered three decades of economic growth.
This pandemic reminds us that national resilience also requires Australian capability to secure critical supply chains in the face of global shocks.
We must continue to trade, taking advantage of our location in the fastest growing region of the world in human history and the growing demand for our mineral resources, food and agricultural products and education services. But we can’t “SnapBack” to the Liberals complacency when it comes to our own capabilities.
This downturn has been triggered by a disease. But it could just as easily have been triggered by a trade war, cyber event, or military stand-off.
The mad scramble for items as simple as personal protective equipment for our front-line medical staff, has demonstrated once and for all the folly of Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison ravaging Australian industry.
We are now seeing the lasting effects of the death of the Australian car manufacturing industry. The withdrawal of private capital from research and development. The depletion of critical skills.
The destruction of the viability of smaller manufacturers further down the supply chain.
To once again become a country that produces high tech manufacturing, we need to embrace science.
Right now Australia is one of the worst countries in the OECD at commercialising scientific research. We must turn this around, if we are to climb the technological ladder.
We should promote the study of science and celebrate our achievements like the Square Kilometre Array Telescope in Murchison to inspire those looking at future career options.
But instead the Government has slashed funding to the CSIRO, the very organisation now testing vaccines for the coronavirus.
They have slashed funding for the ABC, invaluable during the pandemic, and absolutely pivotal to keeping people safe during the bushfires.
At a time we need muscle, the Government has left us only bone.
This crisis has exposed a complacency about the underlying health of our economy and society that has deepened over the last seven years of Liberal Government.
With one million unemployed it’s no time for complacency.
It’s no time for a “SnapBack” to the Liberal agenda of cutting services, suppressing wages and undermining job security.
This pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness and security and our belief in the power of government to shape change to the advantage of working people are the right ones.
A constrained fiscal position does mean difficult choices. But a reform agenda that doesn’t work for all Australians isn’t one we should pursue.
We need investment in people, in technology, in infrastructure and in the capacity of government to do good, if we are to be better prepared not just for the next crisis, but for the challenges of the next decade.
We need an economy that works for people, not the other way around.
I said at the beginning that Australians had responded magnificently to this challenge.
Their selflessness and sacrifice deserves more than a “SnapBack” to what we had.
We owe Australians the vision and courage to imagine and create a better future.
A future that genuinely lives up to the phrase, “we’re all in this together”.
Labor will continue to engage in a deep conversation with individuals and organisations over coming months.
Our democracy is more than the 227 people who have the privilege of voting on legislation.
Here in Parliament, Labor has not and will not be obstructionist.
We will scrutinise and improve the Government’s plans.
We will continue to hold the Government to account on behalf of the people we represent.
The enormity of government expenditure approved in recent months, makes it an imperative. We owe future generations nothing less.
We have a once-in-a-century moment to rethink and renew. To propose and to listen. To continue what works and change what doesn’t. To look at the big picture.
Together, we’ll chart a way towards a strong economy that works for people.
Together, we’ll build a path towards a fair society where no one is held back, no one is left behind.
The pandemic has left many feeling alone.
But the recovery will bring us together to pursue the common good like never before.
The present situation is unprecedented. But as we look ahead it is our instincts - shaped by our past experience and underpinned by our enduring values - that will give us our best chance of getting the future right.
I firmly believe that Labor is best placed to learn the lessons of the recent past, and to build a better and fairer future.
A future where the benefits of inclusive economic growth are shared, where opportunity is created, where we continue the spirit of looking after each other as we have during the bushfires and the pandemic.
We are, after all, as Ben Lee sang, “all in this together”.