SPEECH TO THE MCKELL INSTITUTE
WEDNESDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER 2020
Australia is in a deep and painful recession. The Morrison Recession.
Nearly a million Australians are unemployed. And 400,000 more will join them by Christmas.
The Morrison Recession has hurt those in insecure work most, particularly women and young people.
Coronavirus support measures have created debt that will take generations to repay.
And let’s not forget: before anyone thought of Corona as anything but a beer, the Coalition had already doubled debt.
Economic growth was already below trend.
Wages were stagnant.
Productivity was already going backwards.
Business investment was already in decline.
Household debt was already at record levels.
No-one could have foreseen this pandemic.
But everyone could see the Australian economy was already struggling.
And next Tuesday, Scott Morrison — the man who first as Treasurer, then as Prime Minister, imposed his complacency on our nation — will have to chart a plan for recovery.
The Coalition will have to explain how it can argue that the $1 trillion debt is manageable, but the one quarter of that, which they inherited, was not.
They will have to explain why they want to push any recovery until well beyond the next election, whilst the cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker are immediate.
They will have to explain what comes next.
Beyond the carefully curated “previews” and “leaks”. Beyond the drip-feed of Government drops to sympathetic journalists.
The Budget figures will tell the cold hard truth.
The gap between what this Government says — and what it does.
The chasm between announcement and action.
The Morrison Government is always there for the photo op, never there for the follow up. Once the Nikon stops clicking, the Prime Minister nicks off.
For them announcements are the end game, not the start.
Their economic record is littered with errors, squandered opportunities and waste.
They can’t even add up. They overestimated the cost of JobKeeper by $60 billion.
That’s an accounting error so big you could see it from the moon.
They missed the economic reform opportunity of a lifetime by trashing the former Labor Government’s fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network.
For political convenience, they replaced the NBN with the second-rate, copper-based fibre-to-the-node model.
They bought enough copper to wrap around the entire planet.
50,000 kilometres of the stuff.
The Rudd Government’s original design would have revolutionised communications in this nation.
It would have boosted productivity by giving our businesses, particularly those in regional areas, access to the markets of the world.
Last week Scott Morrison finally admitted they got it wrong and allocated another $4.5 billon to clean up the mess and take fibre to some homes.
Their opportunism and stupidity in abandoning the original Labor model has acted as a handbrake on our nation’s economic and regional development for seven years.
Seven years of missed opportunities.
They are also wasteful and, even worse, often regard taxpayers’ money as if it were their own.
Consider sports rorts. Mr Morrison misused a scheme designed to improve sporting facilities across the nation by turning it into a pork-barrelling exercise.
The fund for women’s sporting facilities in regions was used to upgrade North Sydney pool.
Now we have learned of the great airport land rort. The Government paid $30 million for land associated with Sydney’s Badgerys Creek site that was valued at just $3 million.
And the Deputy Prime Minister described this as a “bargain”.
These are the people who bill themselves as “great economic managers”.
The gap between announcement and delivery has characterised the Government’s every move.
JobKeeper with casuals, artists, university staff, and so many more left behind.
The June announcement for the arts and entertainment sector where not a dollar has been spent.
The COVIDSafe App that was supposed to be the key to contact tracing, but hasn’t troubled the scorers.
The tourism funding that wasn’t used for tourism.
The so-called Homebuilder program that was meant to support 140,000 direct jobs, that in fact won’t reach 10,000.
The casual meeting of under an hour with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation that resulted in handing them a staggering $444 million.
The $10 million redesign of the Australian Made logo that looked like the coronavirus cell and had to be dropped.
The Government's infrastructure underspend was $1.7 billion over the last financial year alone, taking the total underspend over their first six budgets to $6.8 billion.
The failure to spend a single dollar of the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund established in the aftermath of the devastating bushfires.
And people are still living in caravans with their land uncleared of hazardous material. Good grief.
The chasm between announcement and delivery and the triumph of spin over substance that characterises this Government is evident in the response to the pandemic.
On so many instances, the Government said no before they said yes.
When Labor first proposed that the Government consider wage subsidies, the Prime Minister rejected it, complaining that it would be “very dangerous’’.
He later changed his mind, just as he did on other ideas put forward by Labor to help deal with these unprecedented health and economic challenges.
Support for renters. An eviction moratorium. Paid pandemic leave. Medicare rebates for Telehealth. Mental health care.
But even when they finally responded, they often failed on implementation.
JobKeeper was poorly targeted.
For example, students working a shift a week for pocket money were suddenly eligible for $1,500 a fortnight in JobKeeper assistance — while single mums who worked long hours as casuals and had children to feed were ineligible.
While the Liberals dithered on providing government support, they acted immediately to sponsor a ram-raid on the retirement savings of working people.
They used a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to fulfil a lifelong obsession of undermining universal superannuation.
They backed people into a corner of financial desperation.
Now 600,000 Australians have no super of their own.
Millionaires have received JobSeeker, while the threat of trying to survive on $40 a day hangs over people’s future.
This record of incompetence and economic mismanagement forms the backdrop to next week‘s Budget.
For me, there are three immediate priorities next Tuesday.
Jobs. Jobs. And jobs.
We’ve got to get this nation back to work. And fast.
To do that we must generate the economic activity that will create new jobs quickly while also boosting our productivity.
Here’s how we’d do it.
We should start by investing in roads and railways around the nation, particularly in regional areas.
This would create jobs and inject economic activity into sluggish local economies.
And if we invest in the right projects, we will make our transport system safer and more productive, creating efficiencies that will drive even more jobs growth.
One of the fastest ways to get money into the economy and tradies back on the tools is to invest in social housing.
We should boost social housing repair and maintenance programs. Bring forward planned new social housing projects.
The demand is there, the need is there.
With minimal lead time, we would create a national pipeline of work for plumbers, chippies and electricians, and their suppliers.
And create opportunities for Australian apprentices.
On top of this we’d be adding to the value of national social housing portfolio.
Every family deserves a decent roof over their heads. There is no reason why in Australia today we can’t aspire to have that.
Above all, the Budget must invest in our nation’s greatest resource — our people.
That should include attacking the skills crisis created by seven years of Coalition neglect and inaction.
As of today, there are more than 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than there were when Labor left office.
In fact, apprenticeship commencements have fallen to a two decade low.
Last week, the Reserve Bank said that in places where the economy was beginning to strengthen, it was being held back by skills shortages.
We’ve got to do something about this skills shortage now.
A Labor Government would create Jobs and Skills Australia.
As an independent body, it would better align training programs with the skills our businesses actually need in the 21st century.
The Government should also lift investment in early education and universities.
Since universities were excluded from JobKeeper, they’ve had to sack more than 10,000 Australians. These are our researchers, our teachers, some of our best and brightest.
But this Government looks the other way. It acts like a disinterested observer as the sector crumbles.
Access to education — learning a trade, gaining a degree — is a fundamental Labor value, and it is essential to getting the Australian economy back on its feet.
A Labor Government would revive the education and training sector and also improve labour market programs to support vulnerable job seekers.
We must also get behind manufacturing.
State governments will invest billions of dollars in new public transport projects over the next two decades, requiring hundreds of new rail carriages.
We should build them here. We have the facilities in Maryborough, Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle and Perth. We also have the skills.
What we need is a government prepared to back in Australian-made trains and Australian-based jobs.
This is just one example of how the government should use its purchasing power to create good, secure jobs while strengthening our sovereign industrial and research capabilities.
We can’t avoid the need to borrow money to get by until the economy recovers.
But we should be disciplined about it.
With record levels of debt, massive deficits and the economy in recession every dollar of new spending must be used to protect jobs, create secure jobs, train and up-skill Australians and support those who need help to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Any new spending is borrowed money. It can’t be wasted on mates, or rorts, or dodgy deals, or pork-barrelling.
The test for new projects in the Budget should be whether a spending proposal will have the effect of boosting our economic productivity, and drives growth.
In short, any dollar borrowed in the Budget must create or sustain jobs, or skill people up for those jobs.
NO-ONE LEFT BEHIND
The other critical test for the Budget is how it deals with the ongoing hardship of Australians as we transition out of the pandemic.
With 13 Australians applying for every job vacancy, it will take time for the business sector to generate enough jobs to get people back to work.
Yet Mr Morrison has scaled back assistance under JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
This is premature.
Mr Morrison is leaving people behind.
Worse than that, he’s kicking people while they are down.
By December, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians will have their payments cut when they can least afford it.
Mr Morrison should also use the Budget to reverse his freeze to the aged pension.
Leaving pensioners behind in this time of national crisis is unforgivable.
There are signs that the Government sees the Morrison Recession as a chance to pursue its ideological obsessions on superannuation and industrial relations.
For the Liberals industrial relations reform is usually code for making it easier for bosses to sack staff and undermine their pay and conditions.
When it comes to structural reform, the Budget also needs to heed one of the issues to emerge from the pandemic — job security.
Under this Government, creeping casualisation, contracting out, labour hire and historically high levels of temporary migration have all combined to rob Australians of secure, full-time work, instead leaving them with casual jobs with no holiday or sick pay.
Of course, some Australians like casual work, even prefer it. That’s fine.
But not everyone does.
So, let me be very clear as the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.
Labor will never allow industrial relations reform to be used as a Trojan horse to hurt working families by cutting wages and making it easier to sack people.
What this nation desperately needs is co-operation between business and unions to end the drift to casualisation.
We need a national reform project to increase job security for all Australians.
Think of the million casual workers excluded from JobKeeper by this Government.
A significant proportion of these people would be desperate for full-time, secure work.
Scott Morrison left them behind.
Australia needs leaders who are prepared to tackle the big challenges facing our nation and its people.
Yet Mr Morrison has no jobs plan. He has no plan for growth. No plan for skills training.
He seems to think that the economy will rebuild itself.
As if a continuation of the drift and waste and ideology that has characterised this Government in its eighth year will somehow get us out of it.
Nowhere is this more damning than the failure to have an energy policy.
The Prime Minister refuses to adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050, despite it being supported by the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers Federation and every State and Territory Government.
Industry is crying out for an energy policy to provide investment certainty.
Clean energy can power Australia’s economic recovery.
Action on climate change will create jobs, reduce power prices and lower emissions.
My ambition for our nation is for it to become a renewable energy superpower and I want our competitive advantage to be low energy prices.
Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent.
We also have some of the best wind and wave resources.
We can be the land of cheap and endless energy — energy that could power generations of metal manufacturing and other energy intensive manufacturing industries.
In addition, as the second largest producer of rare earth elements, the minerals that will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st century, we should invest in research and development to ensure we develop new export industries that take advantage of those resources.
Hydrogen alone has enormous potential as an export industry.
Scott Morrison not only leaves people behind, but he holds people back.
His obstruction on energy policy is holding back our entire nation.
Mr Morrison dislikes having to take responsibility unless it involves political gain.
During the bushfire season at the start of the year, he took weeks to step up, insisting the crisis was a responsibility of state governments.
When the pandemic hit, he created the so-called National Cabinet so he could claim the achievements of state governments as his own.
Then, when the second Coronavirus wave hit, he switched tactics and picked fights with state premiers.
While all this was happening he ignored areas for which he was directly responsible.
Mr Morrison’s Government is responsible for our national border and quarantine.
But 27,000 Australians are stranded overseas because Mr Morrison has been too slow to bring them home.
The Commonwealth is also responsible for aged care.
When Coronavirus hit nursing homes in Sydney in March, the alarm bells were ringing loud and clear about the need to ensure nursing homes around the nation were protected against outbreaks.
Mr Morrison wasn’t listening.
Tragically, in the pandemic more than 650 aged care residents have died.
The interim report of the Royal Commission last year was a damning indictment of the state of aged care under this Government summed up in its one-word title — “Neglect”.
A Labor Government would invest in aged care and the care economy workforce, including child care and disability care.
As with other pandemic-related issues Labor has not just identified problems, we have advanced constructive solutions.
Our plan for aged care includes minimum staffing levels, more home care, transparency of funding, public reporting, adequate personal protective equipment, better training and surge workforce strategy, and additional resources for the Royal Commission.
The test for next week’s Budget isn’t the quality of the slogans or marketing stunts.
It won’t matter what merchandise the Liberals have commissioned to replace the “Back in Black” mugs.
This moment is too big for the Prime Minister’s small-minded obsession with his own image.
The country needs more than the person who has devolved from being the Chair of the so-called National Cabinet, to being a commentator on its outcomes.
Far from accepting responsibility, Scott Morrison gave a big hint of what was to come with his declaration of “I don’t hold a hose, mate.”
Australia has been built on the core value of fairness and looking out for each other.
The pandemic has seen the best of these values as Australians have responded magnificently, and in the case of those on the frontline it has been nothing less than heroic.
Our is a country forged of mateship, not leaving people to fend for themselves.
Australia needs a real plan for recovery.
A plan for jobs, for productivity, for industry, for investment in Australia’s future.
A plan to help those hit hardest by the crisis, including women, young people, the aged and small business.
That’s what Labor is offering.
Under my leadership, Labor has spent the past 18 months working on a vision for our nation’s future.
I have outlined my ideas in a series of Vision Statements covering jobs and the future of work, the economy, democracy, older Australians, science and invigorating growth in regional Australia.
I have a plan to not only support Australians through the worst of this crisis, but to ensure the nation we all live in in the future is stronger and more resilient.
I want greater security for workers.
I want those providing the essential care our families rely upon rewarded and respected.
I want an end to waste and pork barrelling.
New jobs in manufacturing.
Steps to become a renewable energy superpower.
Labor’s vision extends into future decades.
Labor’s heritage is about vision — imagining a better Australia and then delivering the reforms necessary to create that better future.
I want to lead an Australia where aspiration is encouraged, but where those who need help can receive help, just like the elderly people who relied on their neighbours at the height of the COVID crisis.
I can sum it up as follows — no-one left behind, no-one held back.