A Budget for a Better Australia

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Speeches

Thursday, 6th May 2021

A Budget for a Better Australia

As we look ahead, our national challenge is to deal with some of the policy and economic weaknesses exposed by the crisis.

Introduction

Australia stands at a critical moment in our history.
 
We continue to face our worst health threat in a century. Coronavirus is raging across the globe with tragic human consequences.
 
While the emergency is thankfully less severe in Australia than many other nations, the Morrison Government’s bungling of the vaccine roll-out and its failure to run an effective quarantine system are acting as a handbrake on our recovery.  
 
As we look ahead, our national challenge is to deal with some of the policy and economic weaknesses exposed by the crisis.
 
We must ensure the next chapter of our national story is about building a nation where our economy works for all Australians and where all of our people, not just some of our people, have opportunities to thrive and prosper.
 
Creating a better future requires careful planning.
 
However, right now, this nation is saddled with an eight-year-old Government unable to plan anything beyond its next photo opportunity.
 
It is a government that has racked up huge debt without leaving a strong legacy.
 
It has failed to face up to serious barriers to economic growth and the prosperity of the Australian people.
 
Job insecurity. Wage stagnation. Declining productivity.
 
Today I want to give you my assessment of the state of the national economy and what is required in next week’s Budget.
 
I also want to talk to you about my values and how they shape my approach to the economy and the priorities Labor will pursue in government.
 
There’s a lot of work to do.
 
Four million Australians are in insecure, casual or gig work.
 
There are fewer people undergoing apprenticeships or traineeships today than when this government took office.
 
Over eight long years of Coalition rule, our once-proud manufacturing industry has shed 90,000 jobs.
 
In the same period, out-of-pocket health costs have risen by more than a third, child care costs have gone up by 36%, fees for some university degrees have doubled and households have taken on record levels of debt.
 
Despite this, we have a government without an agenda or a sense of purpose.
 
Over the past two weeks we’ve seen a steady stream of daily pre-budget leaks.  Overwhelmingly these have been reannouncements of funds previously allocated but not delivered – or attempts to deal with Labor setting the policy agenda on issues like child care.
 
Scott Morrison wants headline grabs to distract from the leadership crisis where he’s failing on the immediate issues of the vaccination rollout, hotel quarantine and stranded Australians.
 
And to distract from his failure to outline a future agenda.
 
In contrast, Labor has a plan to build a brighter, more optimistic future.
 
Embracing the potential of our abundance of natural resources.
 
Building things in this country by reviving manufacturing.
 
Turning the scientific breakthroughs of our brightest minds into the products and services that will generate economic and social benefits for current and future generations.
 
Initiating a national project to repair our VET system with public TAFE at its heart.
 
And above all, creating good, secure jobs across the economy. The sort of jobs you can raise a family on and save for a comfortable retirement.
 

An Atypical Recession

Next week’s Budget will reveal our economy is in better shape than economists feared during the darkest days of last year’s national lockdown.
 
There are several reasons for this.
 
First, Australians have been magnificent throughout the pandemic.
 
We’ve listened to the experts, we’ve followed instructions, embraced new ways of working and learning and, above all, looked after each other.
 
Second, State and Territory governments have shown remarkable adaptability, refining their strategies to douse fresh outbreaks and minimise the need for lockdowns and border closures.
 
But another factor is that, in economic terms, it wasn’t a typical recession.
 
The Global Financial Crisis, the recession of the early 1980s, even the Great Depression, came about because of economic imbalances.
 
They smashed asset values, destroyed jobs, and left lasting scars until a semblance of balance was restored. Recovery took years.
 
But this recession was different. The trigger was a health shock.
 
Its damage has not been evenly spread. While some parts of the economy have been devastated, others prospered.
 
When the virus emerged, governments around the world had no choice but to put economic activity on ice to protect human welfare.
 
They closed international borders, locked down communities and borrowed heavily to support people until the threat eased.
 
At the same time, central banks around the world undertook unprecedented monetary expansion, with our Reserve Bank delivering record low interest rates and embarking on quantitative easing for the first time in its history.
 
Our Government delivered $267 billion of direct fiscal support - some 14 per cent of GDP. This compares to $90 billion during the Global Financial Crisis.
 
And Commonwealth debt is rising from about $280 billion, which the Liberals described as a debt and deficit disaster when they took office, to more than $1 trillion.
 
COVID caused, and continues to cause, real damage to sectors like hospitality, international education, the arts and aviation.
 
But industries like construction and mining were largely unaffected. Some sectors, like retailing and housing, boomed.
 
Many Australians worked from home. But they kept their jobs. They continued to consume and generate economic activity.
 
Border closures also put a halt to temporary immigration, thereby resulting in the first population decline in decades.
 
But this has also shone a spotlight on just how reliant we are on temporary migrant workers when we should be investing in training Australians to fill skill shortages.
 
And now, as the freeze begins to thaw, our economy is awash with liquidity, some of which is predictably pouring into real estate.
 
We are not out of the woods yet.  We still don’t know how many Australians lost their job when JobKeeper was withdrawn in late March.
 
However, on balance, there is no doubt the unique nature of this recession has meant our economy is bouncing back more rapidly than some commentators suggested.
 
But that’s not enough. Not by a long shot.
 
Australians can’t afford to return to pre-pandemic conditions of stagnant wages, insecure jobs and increased debt.
 
The real test is whether next week’s Budget lays out a credible plan to help people get ahead and build a better future for themselves.
 
Or will this Government just tinker around the edges, hoping that throwing around some money and staging more photo ops will give them cover as they funnel more jobs to their mates, rort more grant schemes and refuse to invest in the renewable energy that all the world’s major economies are making a priority.


Government Response

This recession has proved once and for all that there are times when the public interest demands government intervention in the economy.
 
Just like the GFC, when the former Labor Government’s policy interventions kept Australia out of recession.
 
At the beginning of the pandemic, conservative leaders had to suspend their ideological distaste for government support.
 
In Australia, our Government initially baulked at the concept of wage subsidies when it was suggested by the Labor Party, unions and the business community.
 
Scott Morrison himself described wage subsidies as “very dangerous’’ until the spectre of long lines outside Centrelink made that politically inconvenient.
 
And now, even though the rollout of vaccinations has stalled, the rollback of support has continued.
 
And when corporations banked their JobKeeper payments or used them to pay out millions in big bonuses to executives, Mr Morrison turned a blind eye.  Contrast this with his creation of RoboDebt.
 
Strong against the weak, weak against the strong.
 
That’s the Liberals in a nutshell.
 
Mr Morrison has also failed to provide necessary support to sectors still struggling, such as tourism and the arts.
 
In next week’s Budget Mr Morrison must ensure that sectors that require continued support are not left behind.
 
The Budget must also address some serious immediate problems, starting with our quarantine system.

 

Quarantine

Section 51 of the Constitution says that quarantine is the responsibility of the Commonwealth. It is unambiguous. It is there in black and white.
 
But for the past year, Scott Morrison has pretended it is not his responsibility.
 
Instead, he has passed the buck to states to turn hotels in the middle of CBDs into quarantine centres, the last thing they were designed for.
 
In September last year the Prime Minister said that Australians trapped overseas would be home by Christmas – but more than 35,000 remain stranded.
 
That includes 9,000 Australian citizens stuck in India where Coronavirus is taking more than 3,000 lives each and every day.
 
Those Australians believed their Australian passport was worth something, and that they could rely on their Government at a time like this.
 
Instead, Mr Morrison said if they tried to return, they would be sent to jail.
 
Locked out or locked up.
 
Mr Morrison has had a year to deal with this serious issue, but all we’ve seen is smirk and mirrors.
 
A year of Mr Morrison claiming credit when things go well, but blaming states when anything goes wrong.
 
This must stop.
 
Mr Morrison must use next week’s Budget to finally step up and do his day job.
 
He should use appropriate existing facilities, like Howard Springs which is now nowhere near capacity, or build new fit-for-purpose quarantine centres across the nation.
 
Australians stranded overseas want to come home. They want to get out of harm’s way.
 
Locally, Australians want an end to Coronavirus breakouts in hotels.
 
And everyone wants an end to the blame game.
 
They want the economy to reopen and to stay open.
 
An investment in vaccination and quarantine now is an investment in the economy long term.
 
Indeed, the McKell Institute research calculates the slowness of the vaccination program is likely to cost the economy $16.8 billion due to the delay in international borders reopening.
 
On top of that is the continuing risk of additional economic costs from further local outbreaks.


Aged Care

The outcome of the Royal Commission into Aged Care was a shame on our nation – a national embarrassment.
 
The idea that our most vulnerable citizens are being neglected; of maggots crawling out from underneath bandages, and our own parents and grandparents being malnourished, is incomprehensible in 21st century Australia.
 
Even worse, the scale of the crisis was clear when the Royal Commission issued an interim report in October 2019.
 
The one-word title of that report summed up the problem - Neglect.
 
Scott Morrison could have acted earlier.
 
He deliberately and callously chose not to do so.
 
Indeed, this government has received 22 reports into aged care in the past eight years and done little beyond cutting the sector’s funding by $1.7 billion.
 
That’s why two thirds of aged care home residents are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. They are literally starving.
 
It’s why over the past two years, 26,000 older Australians died waiting for their approved home care packages.
 
The aged care system needs serious investment.
 
It needs better nutrition for residents.
 
It needs better pay, better training, and better conditions for overstretched and under-resourced staff.
 
As the Royal Commission recommended, it needs guaranteed minimum staffing levels and skills mix in residential aged care.
 
It needs a crackdown on unscrupulous providers who put their financial comfort above the interests of older Australians in their care.
 
It is time for comprehensive reform with ongoing transparency and a ratings system so all Australians can make informed decisions about where their loved ones go for care.

Labor sees dignity in our final years as a birthright, not just the subject of someone’s balance sheet.

Labor sees dignity in our final years as a birthright, not just the subject of someone’s balance sheet.
 
This issue doesn’t just disturb older Australians.  It concerns all of us. It worries all those families who have to wrestle with how to care for their ageing family members.
 
They need to know their relatives are safe and that they are looked after.
 
They need to know that, when their loved one needs a nurse, one is on hand.
 
A Labor Government under my leadership will rebuild our broken aged care sector.
 
Tackling the workforce challenges will be front and centre.
 
So too will be confronting one of the other key priorities identified by the Royal Commission: dementia management.


Dementia

About half a million Australians suffer from dementia.  That’s one in 50.
 
But it’s up to two out of three aged care residents.
 
The condition is difficult to manage. And resources are inadequate.
 
Next week’s Budget should ensure that dementia management is core business for aged care.
 
The key actions needed include:
 
Dementia care must be part of the formal training requirements for doctors, nurses and aged care workers.
 
Every person working in aged care must be equipped with the training and skills needed to deliver the care older Australians with dementia deserve.
 
Aged care providers must demonstrate they are competent and capable of caring for older Australians with dementia.
 
Providers must appoint Dementia Support Leaders to ensure each resident gets the care they need.
 
Working with states and territories, there is a need to update the National Building Code to ensure new aged care homes are dementia friendly.
 
There is a need to recruit Dementia Support Counsellors to help Australians with dementia and their families navigate the aged care system.
 
And we must expand existing dementia carer dog programs as a way to help more older Australians stay in their homes longer.


Jobs And Wages

I turn now to jobs and wages.
 
It used to be the case that workers received pay rises because of productivity gains.
 
But under this Liberal Government that nexus has been broken.
 
Between 2013 and 2020, wage growth has been stagnant.
 
You don’t need to be an economist to understand this problem.
 
You only have to ask yourself: When was the last time I had a real pay rise?
 
Wage growth has been half that achieved under the former Labor Government.
 
We should not be surprised.
 
In 2019, Mathias Cormann said low wage growth was a deliberate design feature of the Coalition’s economic policy.
 
Scott Morrison wants Australians to work harder to boost economic growth and increase business profits.
 
But he doesn’t want workers to get a piece of the action through a wage rise.
 
Australians just want to get ahead. But low wage growth is holding them back and it’s holding back our economy.
 
And at the same time, profits are rising.
 
Next week’s Budget must include genuine measures to boost productivity, including investment in skills.
 
This Liberal Government has spent eight long years running down training and ripping billions out of public TAFE. 
 
They would prefer high levels of temporary skilled migration to ensure an excess supply of labour and keep wages low.
 
Labor supports permanent migration as the preferred option, supplemented where necessary by temporary migration.
 
But what we won’t support is a government that deliberately denies its own citizens the reward and incentive that comes from a decent pay rise.
 
Next week we’ll hear a lot of job numbers from a government that is great at making grand announcements as the end in itself, but never worries about the delivery.
 
Let’s not forget this.
 
The centrepiece of last year’s Budget was the JobMaker Scheme and its hiring credits.
 
We were told JobMaker would create 450,000 new jobs without edging out those already in the workforce.
 
“New jobs,’’ the Prime Minister assured us. Nearly half a million.
 
He knew this wasn’t true when he said it.
 
At the time, Treasury officials told Senate Budget Estimates the real predicted figure was just one in 10.
 
And we now learn this botched scheme has created a mere 1,100 jobs – 449,000 short of last year’s target. A policy failure of epic proportions.
 
And if media reports are correct, the Government is now going to abolish it altogether. This epitomises the yawning gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the actual delivery.
 
This from the same Government that treated Australians like the mugs they printed ‘back in black’ on when they have not, and never will, deliver a Budget surplus.
 
A scheme which deliberately discriminates against older workers has failed miserably.


Labor's Plans and Values

My approach to governing will be based on the values and principles formed during my upbringing.
 
I was raised here in Sydney in council housing by my mother, a disability pensioner.
 
She taught me the value of hard work and good humour and instilled in me my great faith in the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
 
She also taught me about aspiration – to seek something better, not just for myself, but also for those around me – my neighbours, my community, and the nation as a whole.
 
Money was always tight at our place. So, Mum also taught me the value of a dollar.
 
That’s why, when it comes to thinking about government spending, I am cautious.
 
I understand the enormous change governments can make to people’s lives through education, health and the social safety net.
 
I have experienced it firsthand. I’ve lived it.
 
Labor will never leave behind those who need government support.
 
But it is also important to recognise that government investment can produce a return through economic growth.  That’s why investment in education and training spreads opportunity.
 
It is why investment in productivity enhancing infrastructure is sound.
 
It is also why I’m determined to move towards universal provision of affordable child care.
 
Good for the economy. Good for families. Good for children.  
 
Labor’s child care plan will make child care more affordable for 97 per cent of families.
 
The Government has released a pale imitation of Labor’s child care plan.  It will not commence until July 2022 and will help one quarter of those that will be assisted by our plan.
 
Having dismissed Labor’s policy, which I announced in last year’s Budget Reply, the Treasurer has now conceded, and I will quote him:
 
“These changes strengthen our economy and at the same time provide greater choice to parents who want to work an extra day or two a week.”
 
He also said that the investment would increase workforce participation and “boost the Australian economy by up to $1.5 billion per year”. 
 
There it is. The Treasurer announcing a solution for a problem he said last year didn’t exist. Applying the Treasurer’s own rhetoric means assisting more families would deliver even greater economic benefits.
 
The most effective government action not only drives economic growth and triggers job creation, it also lifts people up.


Conclusion

In the six years I served in the previous Labor Government, including as Deputy Prime Minister, I was privileged to have responsibility for building.
 
I was the nation’s first Minister for Infrastructure.
 
Before 2007 we didn’t even have an infrastructure department at the federal level.
 
Working with states, councils and the private sector, we built roads, bridges and railway lines.
 
Even today, I feel proud when I drive on roads that represent a legacy of my time in government.
 
They remind me that the honour of governing provides an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of our fellow Australians.
 
If I am honoured to be elected Prime Minister, I want to keep building.
 
I want to build a better Australia.
 
I want to build a stronger and more diverse economy that generates prosperity and jobs for Australians.
 
I want to build a dynamic education and training system – one that encourages people to follow their dreams and realise their aspirations for their own prosperity and that of their families and communities.
 
I want to rebuild Australian manufacturing.  Our National Reconstruction Fund will leverage investment into new ventures including the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines.
 
Above all, I want to build a strong and diverse Australian economy.
 
I want stronger economic growth.
 
Not for its own sake.
 
But to ensure every single Australian who aspires for something better has the means at their disposal to build their own dream.
 
But to build, you need a blueprint.
 
Scott Morrison has no blueprint. No agenda. No plan to help Australians get ahead.
 
Just a plan for the next media cycle.
 
He’s not prepared to invest in the services and industries that will ensure Australia’s economic future is secure and strong.
 
In the future, Australians will look back at the past eight years, shake their heads, and ask: What was the point of the Liberal Government that was in office for almost a decade?
 
What did it build?
 
What was its legacy?
 
The Australian Labor Party stands ready with a positive vision for a better Australia.
 
Our message to Australians is that we are on your side.
 
No-one held back, no-one left behind.

Read more about Labor's Vision for Australia:

Labor's Plan for the Economy
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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which our offices stand and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the sorrow of the Stolen Generations and the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We also recognise the resilience, strength and pride of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Authorised by Anthony Albanese. 334a Marrickville Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204.