A New Labor Playbook for National Productivity Reforms

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Speeches

Thursday, 5th May 2022

A New Labor Playbook for National Productivity Reforms

Address to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Australia’s need for economic reform is as clear as it is urgent.

I stand here today seeking the honour and the privilege of serving as Prime Minister of this great country because I know Australia needs a Labor government.

Because it is only Labor that does the big reforms.

And at this moment in history, it is imperative that we deliver the next set of national productivity reforms to secure our future for the coming decades.

Under this Government, Australia has seen a decade of inertia and policy division.

They have had no agenda for reform.

No appetite for setting Australia up for the challenges we know are coming, let alone the ones we face right now.

Instead, what we have seen is a doubling of debt before the pandemic even reached our shores.

Productivity going backwards.

Wages stagnant.

Business investment dropping 20 per cent since the Coalition came to office. Australia now ranks last in the OECD in manufacturing output.

In the Harvard Index of Global Economic Complexity, Australia ranks 86th, sandwiched between Paraguay and Uzbekistan.

And all of this before the recent news of the highest inflation rates in two decades, and an interest rate hike that sent jitters though Australia’s cities, suburbs and regions.

All this adds up to an economy where it is simply too hard for too many Australians to get ahead.

Australians who work hard, take responsibility, and do the right thing should get rewards for their work, but they know that the cost of everything is going up, but their pay isn’t.

They wonder how they’re going to achieve that better life they dream about.

This is an economy crying out for reform.

Real, meaningful reform.

If Labor is elected, this is the economy we will inherit, along with a trillion dollars of debt and not enough to show for it.

We are ready with real plans that will make a real difference to the lives of everyday Australians, and to the ongoing prosperity of our great country.

We are ready with real plans that will make a real difference to the lives of everyday Australians, and to the ongoing prosperity of our great country.

Because Labor governments have always changed Australia for the better.

Labor governments have always been determined to create a better life for people.

Like the people I grew up with down the road in Camperdown.

A better future for the Australians I meet all around the country.

Australians who recognise that our economic challenges are not some distant idea.

They are here now.

Cost of living, climate change, falling wages, unaffordable housing, economic security – these crises are here now.

And we can’t afford to waste another three years.

We can’t afford three more years of a Government that, when confronted with these challenges responds, “it’s not my job”.

Labor’s Proud History of Reform

As a young man, I witnessed the Hawke-Keating reforms. 

I contributed to the Rudd-Gillard reforms as a Minister.

I have learned and I have grown over the years, and have seen first-hand how the actions of these forward-thinking governments laid the foundations for economic growth and success for decades. 

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating showed Australia how the practical application of a Labor economic agenda reaps dividends for people.

Their Labor Government provided a blueprint for the doctrine that has been central to Labor’s modern agenda: that economic growth underwrites social opportunity. 

Hawke and Keating invented the Labor model for inclusive growth, based on convictions that were new and bracing for the Labor Party at the time. 

The conviction in private wealth and private reward, combined with a devotion to the social wage and public progress.

This was a new model. 

It was not the Reagan-Thatcher model of neo-liberalism that would take growth for a part without inclusion of the whole. 

It was not the free market model of private wealth and public squalor. 

It was a uniquely Australian model of economic reform combined with a social dividend for the public good.

Hawke-Keating built an Australian economy which delivered:

  • For the first time, a completely open competitive international economy with a full external orientation.
  • For the first time, completely open domestic financial markets.
  • For the first time, productivity driving enterprise bargaining that delivered real wage growth.
  • A National Superannuation scheme which remedied this country’s two centuries of capital paucity, while transforming retirement incomes.
  • A tax system which dramatically cut personal rates of taxation while removing the double taxation of equity and dividends.
  • A floating exchange rate which has acted efficiently as the nation’s income shock absorber since 1983, relentlessly protecting national competitiveness.

This is modern Labor’s proud record.

A transformation that underwrote the 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth Australia experienced from 1991. 

The Liberals shamelessly banked Labor’s structural reforms – nearly a decade and a half of tireless work – while devoting the last decade to simply spending the dividends of those economic improvements.

Yet they have the gall to disparage Labor’s policy innovation and our reform courage.

The Rudd and Gillard governments - which I was proud to serve as a Minister in portfolios including Infrastructure, Transport, Communications and Regional Development - kept the Labor reform agenda as the core task while dealing with the Global Financial Crisis.

Today in Sydney, it is easy to forget the shockwaves that the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in 2008 sent around the globe.

The cascading effects that upended some of the world’s largest and most robust economies.

Working people in many advanced economies paid a heavy price.

But under the Rudd and Gillard governments’ stewardship, Australia led the world.

Australia was one of the only advanced economies which continued to grow as the global economy shrunk.

And in pursuing this growth, Labor left a lasting legacy:

  • The National Broadband Network to enable Australian business to compete and drive the 21st century digital economy.
  • The National Disability Insurance Scheme to allow for the full participation of all of our citizens in our economy and society.
  • The creation of Infrastructure Australia to ensure capital investment was directed to the highest productivity boosting projects.
  • Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and promoting action on climate change through the Renewal Energy Target, creating the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
  • The creation of the Major Cities Unit to reengage with urban policy, and funding more urban public transport projects than all previous governments combined since Federation.
  • Paid Parental Leave to improve living standards and enhance productivity and workforce participation.
  • Moving to needs-based schools funding.

These achievements exemplified socially inclusive growth – the kind of growth that is only possible with economic reform that lifts productivity. 

Every Labor Prime Minister in my political lifetime has created a significant socially inclusive legacy.

​For Hawke, universal healthcare through Medicare.

For Keating, universal superannuation through compulsory employer contributions.

For Rudd, the NBN with all its productivity enhancing potential.

For Gillard, the NDIS with all its world-class provisioning for the needs of all Australians with disabilities.

All of these policies contributed to the nation’s productivity.

Because a people who can avail themselves of universal healthcare are a productive people. 

Because a people who can look forward to retirement savings that will enable them to retire with leisure and amenity, are a productive people.

Because a people who have the public infrastructure to connect in the digital age, are a productive people.

Because a people who know their loved ones who are disabled have the best care that our society can provide, are a productive people.

The Liberal and National Coalition opposed three of these universal policies. 

Only after more than two decades of opposition did the Liberal Party relent on their open opposition to Medicare.

But they continue make cuts and have foreshadowed the appointment of a Health Minister who believes Medicare is “not sustainable”.

Any chance they get to take the universal out of universal healthcare they will seize.

At every opportunity, the Liberals have delayed or resisted increases in the Superannuation Guarantee and are obsessive in their undermining of Industry Superannuation funds - even though they have consistently produced outstanding returns, and provide a source of capital which is the envy of the world.

They trashed the NBN by replacing the fibre model with a hybrid mess based upon last century’s copper technology…

…so that access to high-speed broadband was income based, reinforcing social inequality rather than enhancing opportunity.

And they blew out the cost by $29 billion in the process.

We know their mismanagement of the NDIS is having dire consequences.

Thousands of Australians have had cuts to their NDIS plans which make no sense and are undermining the foundations of the system.

The record is clear - Labor enlarges, the Liberals diminish.

The Next Chapter of Reform

These conditions have shaped the reform agenda Labor is taking to this election.

The fact is that the country has been drawing down on the sources of Labor’s productivity enhancing economic growth policies for three decades now. 

We now need new reforms to drive growth in the decades ahead. 

The sources of economic growth need to be replenished. 

A country cannot keep drawing from an old well, because the well eventually dries out. 

Economic policies that play around the edges don’t position the country for the long term. 

Australia needs a new playbook to seize the future.

My Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers and my Shadow Finance Minister Katy Gallagher have already put forward Labor’s economic statement.

It’s a comprehensive, responsible plan for growth.

A better economy. A better budget. A better future.

A growth strategy built on the recognition that as we emerge from the pandemic, Australia is unprepared for the triple whammy of rising inflation, falling real wages and interest rate rises - as we saw just this week.

The RBA Governor has made it clear that we should be bracing for further, and likely more significant, rate rises in the coming year.

This means Australia needs investments that ease the cost of living for families, help more Australians into work and into higher paid jobs, and grow the economy without adding to inflation.

Today I want to talk more about several elements of our plan that accomplish those goals.

Important and urgently needed economic reforms.

Reforms in the Labor tradition of inclusive growth.

  • Boosting wages through productivity.
  • Investing in skills and training and revitalising domestic manufacturing.
  • Promoting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Universal child care.
  • Climate change action that creates jobs, attracts investments, reduces costs for existing businesses, and boosts new and emerging industries.

I firmly believe the social dividends of growth need to extend to child care and aged care, and those seeking work or more secure work.

We will make secure jobs with good wages our focus.

Australia must lift the country’s productivity, for as the economist Paul Krugman once famously said, “productivity isn’t everything, but, in the long run, it is almost everything.”  

The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments of the past decade have dropped the ball on productivity.

As I’ve said before, nothing smacks of diminishing returns more than the phrase Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.

Infrastructure investment based upon colour-coded spreadsheets rather than productivity.

A deliberate suppression of wages.

Over reliance on temporary labour rather than skilling Australians.

No energy policy.

It all adds up to flatlining productivity. Worse outcomes for business and workers alike.

A New Wage-Productivity Deal

A Labor government will lift productivity and close the gap on wages and productivity.

We must return wages to the gain-sharing model - when a growing economy underpinned a first world wages model.

When the larger national income pie grew for the benefit of both workers and business.

It was Labor that brought business and unions together to pursue their common interests and grow national income.

It was Labor that broke inflation and guaranteed improvements in the social wage, thereby securing social inclusion as a necessary component of an economic growth agenda.

The economic reforms I am taking to this election will grow the national income and lift productivity.

Real wages have continued to decline over the last year. The Budget papers forecast a mere half a percentage point of growth each year over the next six years.

And the shocking fact is wage growth forecasts under this Government have been wrong on 52 of 55 occasions.

This is why cost of living is so central and so pressing in this election.

A Labor government I lead will reinvigorate Australia’s enterprise bargaining system to promote productivity.

We must rediscover the spirit of consensus that Bob Hawke used to bring together governments, trade unions, businesses and civil society around their shared aims of growth and job creation.

Bringing business and unions together at the enterprise bargaining table, with productivity gains as a focal point, is the only way we can increase both profits and wages without inflationary pressure.

Our ambition of a new consensus will extend to small businesses and the people who work in them too.

Labor is uniquely placed to back in the work already underway between the ACTU and COSBOA which will make workplace relations for small businesses simpler and more accessible, while also ensuring fairness.

If I am successful at this election, one of my first acts will be to convene an Employment Summit to bring employers and unions together to collaborate on secure work and to ensure enterprise bargaining works effectively.

We will commission a White Paper on the labour market to set out a plan for how we will promote secure work and higher wages.

This contrasts with the announcement that a re-elected Morrison Government will return to its discredited workplace legislation which had at its core the suspension of the Better Off Overall Test.

Revitalising Australian Industry

When the Liberals goaded the car industry offshore, Australia lost our most high-tech complex manufacturing industry.

Since then, this Government has overseen a continued loss of industrial and manufacturing capability.

A key part of our national productivity challenge is the need for Australian industry to climb the technological ladder.

We need to make things again, and we need to make high-value, high-tech products.

Australia produces science at a level commensurate with the size of our economy.

But under Scott Morrison’s Government, we commercialise that science as poorly as any country in the OECD.

One of the great microeconomic opportunities ahead of us is turning Australian-led science into Australian jobs.

A government I lead will do exactly this.

The National Reconstruction Fund is a transformative commitment that will ensure finance is available for investments in new high-tech industries.

We will back the tech sector and have already announced our goal of 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030.

We will recognise the value of young innovators and will encourage these entrepreneurs.

Younger firms are the ultimate problem solvers, pairing fresh eyes with technology to do things differently and improve the operations of established firms.

We recognise that skills and workforce shortages are currently plaguing businesses across the country, putting a handbrake on some companies’ ambitions for growth, and contributing to rising prices for others.

We will ensure Australians are trained for the jobs of today and of tomorrow through our investment in 465,000 fee-free TAFE places and 20,000 additional university places in areas of skill shortage.

And the creation of Jobs and Skills Australia will ensure that government policy across skills, training and education is directed to developing the workforce we need for the modern country we seek to be.

A government I lead will also proudly Buy Australian.

We’ll make sure the projects we commission bring benefits to Australian companies, and we’ll help small and medium businesses compete for contracts.

Because we should be using the power of government to back our own people and our own businesses.

These actions will revitalise Australian industry in a way which generates productive, secure and well-paid jobs.

Economic Opportunity for Women

One of our greatest untapped resources to build a vibrant and better future is the full and respectful economic participation of women.

Under the Liberals, Australia has fallen to 70th in the world for women’s economic participation and opportunity.

We have gone from being the 24th most equal country in the world for women and men, to 50th.

Women are under-utilised, undervalued and underpaid and too often disrespected.

Enhancing economic opportunity for women is the right thing to do. And it is in our national interest.

Labor has already committed to using all the tools in our power to close the gender pay gap.

At my campaign launch in Perth, I announced that Labor will make gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

We will set up Expert Panels on pay equity and the care and community sector to help improve pay and conditions for women in those sectors.

We need to fix the persistent, structural barriers that prevent so many women securing decent jobs and careers, and financial security over the course of their lives.

A Labor government will see economic opportunity for women as a key national project.

And part of that must be investment in social infrastructure to improve productivity and facilitate workforce participation.

Universal Child Care

This is where our child care policy will play such a crucial role.

One of most effective ways we can boost participation is by getting rid of the complicated mess of payments that put hurdles in the path of parents wanting to return to work.

This has been evident for some time.

And it’s why Labor’s plan to move toward universal provision of affordable child care was the centrepiece of my first Budget Reply back in 2020.

This remains the largest on-budget commitment of any policy we will take to the election.

We will increase the maximum childcare subsidy and make it cheaper for 96 per cent of families, and will ask the Productivity Commission to investigate moving to a universal 90 per cent subsidy.

This will provide immediate and lasting cost of living relief for families.

It is a critical reform for any modern economy, getting rid of the outdated, bizarre economic distortion that punishes mothers in particular for working more than three or four days a week.

It stops workplaces being deprived of the skills and knowledge and experience of those women – providing a boost to workforce participation and turbocharging productivity.

Early education is also an investment in our children’s future.

Together with Paid Parental Leave and the implementation of the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work Report, Labor will improve productivity through women’s workforce participation.

Our child care plan fits within Labor’s history of pursuing reforms that are good for the economy and that give people the confidence to pursue their aspirations and fulfil their potential.

We will proudly add it to Labor’s legacy of reliable, affordable, universal services.

Medicare.

Superannuation.

The NBN.

The NDIS.

And universal child care.

Climate Change Action

A fundamental chasm in the policy offering this election centres around climate change.

Only Labor recognises that the challenge of climate change represents a game-changing opportunity for the Australian economy.

We know that policies to deal with climate change represent an overdue economic reform.

The bushfires and floods have reminded us of the human, environmental and economic costs of this Government refusing to act.

We listened to the science on the pandemic. We must listen to the science on climate change.

We listened to the science on the pandemic. We must listen to the science on climate change.

Young Australians know that their future is at stake.

They have been let down by the vandalism of Abbott, the disappointments of Turnbull and the refusal of Morrison to accept any responsibility.

It was not just the Prime Minister’s failure to hold a hose when the bushfires raged.

It was not just the Prime Minister’s failure to show up when the floodwaters rose.

One of the lasting wounds of this Prime Minister’s failure to take responsibility is his failure to legislate policies that would tackle the driver of these fires and floods.

The driver, of course, is climate change.

Labor’s Powering Australia plan is a response to the science, but with a solution that is economic.

Dealing with the profound challenge of climate change will mean employing every capital resource - human, intellectual, research and development, and investment to produce and grow the technological innovations for a sustainable future.

Making climate change action an economic reform ensures that jobs will be front and centre of Labor’s plans.

The enterprise investment opportunities of climate change action will be the next source of productivity growth for the country.

Our National Reconstruction Fund will ensure finance is available for good investments and new industries.

Upgrading our energy grid to be fit for purpose and providing investment certainty has been the catch cry of the energy sector and business, frustrated at the hopeless mess of energy policies offered up by this Government.

Twenty two policies in all. Each one different and contradictory. Not a single one delivered.

Typical of a Government that loves posing for photos but disappears when there’s a job to be done.

Our policy was costed by leading energy economics firm, RepuTex - the most extensive modelling of a policy by any opposition.

It will create 604,000 jobs by 2030, with five out of every six in the regions.

It will generate $52 billion of private sector investment.

It will cut household power bills in the National Energy Market by $275 by 2025 – providing real cost of living relief.

It will reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030.

It has been welcomed by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers’ Federation and the ACTU.

And by our hosts today: the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Only the election of a Labor government can end the climate wars.

And in ending them, we’ll bring about a new era of growth, productivity and prosperity.

Conclusion

In a recent profile piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, my opponent declared he did not want to leave a legacy - and doesn’t it show?

I do. And that’s why I’m running for Prime Minister.

I want to add universal affordable child care to the list of universal provision of Medicare and superannuation of which Labor is proud.

I want to lift wages through productivity.

I want to increase economic opportunity for Australia’s women.

I want to seize the opportunity for growth and job creation by acting on climate change.

Labor’s model of inclusive growth will be consistent with our two declarations:

No one left behind, because Labor will always look after the disadvantaged.

And no one held back, because Labor is the Party of aspiration and opportunity.

Let me conclude where I began - growing up just down the road in Pyrmont Bridge Road in Camperdown.

To this day, I am driven by the memory of my mother.

She instilled in me the values of hard work, fairness and generosity that still shape my world view today.

Good government made my childhood possible, helping mum and I by giving us the secure roof over our heads.

We loved our church, our community and Saturday afternoons on the hill at Redfern Oval.

Surrounded by people just like us, who just want a fair go in life.

It’s their voices that motivate me still.

And the people I speak to every day around this country.

They don’t use words like reform or productivity.

But what they need from our nation’s leaders is what only economic reform and increased productivity can deliver.

They just want to get ahead. Be rewarded for their hard work. Live a good life. Set their kids up to fulfil their potential.

To make that possible, they need a better government.

A government with a better plan for economic reforms that make a positive difference.

We are the greatest country on earth.

And with a better government and real reform, Australia can have a better future.

Thank you.

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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

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