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Wednesday, 22nd February 2023

Address to the National Press Club

This year our focus as a government is on providing stability, confidence and security.

Greater security in the economy.

In energy and industry and jobs and wages.

Greater security in Medicare and child care and aged care.

In education and skills and housing.

In building and delivering the infrastructure and services Australians rely on.

And in defence and national security, investing in our sovereignty, strengthening Australia’s relationships in the region and securing our place in the world.

After 9 months in government, my colleagues and I are fully aware of the size and scale of the problems that we inherited.

Across portfolios, we are confronting a decade of national policy failures.

Failures which have been exposed and compounded by global shocks.

The cost-of-living pressures Australians are facing can be traced back to a global pandemic that constricted supply chains, making it more difficult and more expensive to bring things here but also a hollowing-out of local manufacturing that meant we weren't making enough things here.

Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine has pushed-up energy prices around the world and it comes on top of years spent attacking renewables and neglecting our energy grid, meaning energy prices were more vulnerable to international movements than they should have been.
In every advanced economy, central banks are responding to inflationary pressures with sharp rises in interest rates, meaning mortgage-holders pay more.

And having inherited a trillion dollars of national debt, every interest rate rise increases the cost of servicing that debt.

The natural disasters which have visited devastation on families and communities across our continent have also brought severe economic consequences, billions of dollars in damage to agriculture and infrastructure, and further spikes in the price of food.

In an interconnected world of rapid change, there will always be shocks. There will always be challenges to our prosperity and threats to our security.

The measure of a government’s performance and a nation’s strength is not whether these events occur.

It’s whether we are prepared.

It’s how effectively we respond.

It’s what we do to protect our people and our economy from the worst of the consequences.

It’s also what we learn.

And it’s how we adapt and reform and improve.

This is at the heart of our government’s agenda for the year ahead.

An economic agenda of relief, repair and restraint.

Doing everything we can to tackle inflation and help Australian families with the cost-of-living.

Building on everything we have delivered since May last year.

And implementing reforms to deal with the structural weaknesses inflicted on the nation by that wasted decade of denial, delay, neglect and a pathology of political conflict above and beyond everything else.

The very day I had the honour of being elected Labor Leader, I spoke about Australians suffering from ‘conflict fatigue’.

People were sick of the short-termism, the stunts and scares designed to whip up division or create a diversion.

More than that, they were tired of the government picking phoney fights instead of tackling real problems.

That political culture is corrosive for democracy.

It feeds those who cultivate cynicism and deal in misinformation.

The best way to push back against it is to demonstrate the capacity of government to deliver a real improvement in people’s lives.

That is why my team and I are determined to bring a greater sense of purpose to the work of government.

Lifting Australia out of the cycle of neglect and crisis and hurried announcement.

And instead, balancing urgent action with a focus on long-term reform and investment, delivering that lasting progress Australia needs.

Building greater security for our nation, greater confidence in our economy and greater stability in people’s daily lives.

This begins with the first priority – and the foremost responsibility – of every government, national security.

Last week, the Deputy Prime Minister and I received the final report of the Defence Strategic Review.

The former Chief of Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston has described this as ‘the most important’ work that he has done in Defence.

What an extraordinary statement for Sir Angus to make considering his contribution to this nation.

Our Government commissioned this review because we recognise we live in a time of profound geopolitical uncertainty, both in our region and around the world.

We wanted an independent, clear-eyed and expert assessment of the challenges we face, the capabilities we require and the tough decisions we need to make to keep Australia safe.

I can confirm today that before the Budget in May, we will be releasing an unclassified version of the report - as well as providing our formal response.

But I want to make two things clear right now.

First, as I said before the election at the Lowy Institute, I can promise all Australians that our Government will ensure that Defence has the resources it needs to defend our nation and deter potential aggressors.

Secondly, while there will inevitably be a focus on the capability gaps we need to fill, we should never lose sight of the extraordinary service performed by the men and women of our ADF.

And on that, I want to outline to you a section from the Review’s foreword.

“Australia has a strong and deep Alliance with the United States, a professional defence force and defence organisation, and an enviable international reputation as a capable country in military, peacekeeping and humanitarian and disaster relief”. 

All Australians can take pride in this – and we should take confidence from it.

Because with the right investments in our capability and our sovereignty, our defence force can be made ready for future challenges.

These investments include announcing, through AUKUS, the optimal pathway by which Australia will operate our nuclear-powered submarines.

This will be the single biggest leap in our defence capability in our history.

Yet AUKUS is about much more than nuclear submarines, or even technological inter-operability.

AUKUS is about the future.

It further formalises the common values and the shared interest that our three nations have in preserving peace and upholding the rules and institutions that secure our region and our world.

Australia has long understood that partnerships and alliances are key to our security – that’s still true today.

But we recognise that pursuing and defending our sovereign interests and contributing to regional stability requires us to build our sovereign defence capability, including advanced manufacturing.

As Richard Marles has said national security demands a whole-of-nation effort.

It also presents a whole-of-nation opportunity: for new jobs, new industries and new expertise in science and technology and cyber.

Our collective cyber capability is, of course, a critical asset for our national security. And, as if we needed a reminder, the data breaches of last year gave it to us.

It is vital to protect our economy, our businesses and our privacy.

That’s why next week in Sydney, I will be convening a Cyber Security Roundtable.

Clare O’Neil and I will be bringing together representatives from industry, civil society, security agencies and the public service to discuss the shared imperative we all have to uplift our cyber security.

This will be another important step ahead of the delivery of our National Cyber Security Strategy later this year.

Our government has shown its clear commitment to the three pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders and the important role of the Australian Border Force.

And we understand that keeping Australians safe also means supporting our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies to guard against threats abroad and here at home, whether that be foreign interference and espionage, or violent extremism in all of its forms.

The shocking events in Queensland, which claimed the lives of two young police officers and an innocent neighbour, were a terrible reminder of the dangers of violent extremism.

That devastating day also underscored the importance of continuing to upgrade our national co-operation on gun reform, something that was advanced at the last National Cabinet meeting.

Today I also want to make this point: Australia’s international engagement is an essential part of our Government’s approach to national security.

From day one, we have made it a priority to rebuild Australia’s standing and influence.

Emphasising that we work with our Pacific neighbours as partners and equals, with a shared interest and a shared responsibility to build a more secure and peaceful and prosperous region.

And in the months ahead, reflecting the focus our Government has placed on a family-first approach to regional security, we expect to sign our bilateral security agreement with Papua New Guinea and ratify our newly-signed Bilateral Security Agreement with Vanuatu.

Through APEC, ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, we have worked to deepen our connections and our strategic dialogue in South East Asia.

Making sure that Australian companies can seize the extraordinary chance we have to be a partner of choice to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

And towards the middle of the year, I’ll be hosting the Quad Leaders Summit.

I’m looking forward to welcoming the leaders of three of our Indo-Pacific partners: the United States, Japan and India here to Australia, to further our collaboration on regional security and prosperity.

Our Government has worked hard to stabilise Australia’s relationship with China, our major trading partner.

Recognising the value of direct dialogue, seeking to co-operate where we can while being prepared to disagree where we must, and always acting in our national interest and in support of regional stability.

In the best tradition of outward-looking, engaged Labor Governments, we are seeking to build security in the Indo-Pacific, not from it.

This is where Penny Wong has done such an outstanding job.

Demonstrating that Australia is back at the table; as a supporter of the rules-based order, as a constructive member of multilateral forums and as a trusted partner for regional co-operation and bilateral negotiations.

I don want to make this point. I have made it before, but it is worth repeating.

The entry ticket, the threshold credibility test for so many of these conversations is our commitment to act on climate change.

Upgrading our national emissions reduction target to 43 per cent by 2030 sent a message to the world about Australia returning to the ranks of responsible nations.

But the target, the number, is only the ‘what’.

The Safeguard Mechanism before the Parliament is a big part of the ‘how’.

It will empower business and industry with the certainty and confidence to invest in reducing their emissions.

Meaningful action on climate change is our environmental responsibility.

But it is also central to our diplomatic strategy – and it represents a transformative economic opportunity.

Energy security is national security – and Australia can be a renewable energy superpower.

Powering our industries here at home to produce low-emissions products like green steel and green aluminium and green ammonia.

And exporting clean energy, green hydrogen, critical minerals and value-added products.

Energy security is a pressing global challenge. We can make it a national economic strength if we get it right.

Already, 1 in 4 Australian jobs are related to international trade.

And jobs in export industries pay above the national average income.

We can create more of these jobs and grow our economy by diversifying our exports, moving up the global supply chain and revitalising local manufacturing.

Making our economy more resilient – and our nation more secure.

Securing the future of Australian manufacturing was a central purpose of the Energy Price Relief Plan that we negotiated with every state and territory in December.

The temporary price caps that the New South Wales, Queensland and Commonwealth governments have imposed on gas and coal are the most significant intervention in the energy market for a very long time.

But we were not going to stand by and watch Australian families, Australian businesses and, importantly, Australia's manufacturing industry be hammered by unchecked global price spikes.

Since the October Budget, when we first flagged the prospect of intervention, future prices of wholesale electricity in New South Wales and Queensland have nearly halved according to the energy regulator.

And as the Secretary of the Treasury, Dr Steven Kennedy, told Senate Estimates last week.

“Following the December announcement, National Electricity Market futures prices have declined significantly.”

Our government stood up for Australian manufacturers, we always will.

But we want to do more than just hold on to what we have.

This is where our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is so central.

The NRF – which the House of Representatives will be voting on next month – represents one of the biggest-ever investments in Australian manufacturing capacity.

And investment is the key word.

The NRF is modelled on the success of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation - a proven vehicle for driving an enhancement of private sector capital.

Through ten years now, every $1 invested by the CEFC has unlocked $2.60 in private sector investment and it produces a return.

The NRF will be independently run, on a commercial basis, with decisions taken in the national interest - not marginal seat politics. No colour coded spreadsheets here.

Its investment mandate will work across seven priority areas: 

  • renewables and low emission technologies
  • medical science
  • transport
  • value-adding in agriculture, forestry and fisheries 
  • value-adding in resources
  • defence capability
  • technologies that support new jobs in areas like manufacturing

In the early days of the pandemic, people were shocked that Australia couldn’t make enough masks or PPE for our population.

It showed the vulnerability of being the last link in the global supply chain.

But the National Reconstruction Fund is about more than helping us produce things at short notice in times of crisis.

It’s about building a more resilient and more diversified economy, with more jobs in regional Australia.

It’s about national security through economic sovereignty - our capacity to stand on our own two feet.

Our National Reconstruction Fund will help grow and create industries over the long-term.

Revitalising our traditional strengths but seeking out new ones.

Making sure that when our universities and researchers make a world-leading breakthrough there’s technology and industry here to commercialise that idea and workers with the right skills to make the product.

And the NRF will help protect our economy from inflationary pressures.

The Reserve Bank has made it clear that supply-side shocks account for at least half and as much as three-quarters of the inflation in our economy.

Our world-class universities have made Australia a higher education destination of choice.

But we can be a leader in skills and technology and manufacturing as well.

Put simply, as I said during the campaign: I want us to make things here again.

And I want products Made in Australia to be recognised and sought after around the world.

Recognised for their quality, their sustainability, their innovative design – and the skill of the workers who produce them.

Our National Reconstruction Fund will create new jobs.

And Jobs and Skills Australia will identify the skills in demand for today and tomorrow.

And our fee-free TAFE places will empower Australians with the skills to build a career in areas of vital national importance including nurses, disability workers, early educators and aged care.

Our New Energy Apprenticeships programme - which I launched this week in Perth - will support 10,000 new apprenticeships specifically targeted at the growing demand for skilled workers in our renewables sector.

And all this will be complemented by the work we are doing to clear the visa backlog and simplify our migration system, with greater emphasis on permanent residency and citizenship.

This is how it fits together: cleaner, cheaper energy driving advanced manufacturing and creating jobs - and skilling Australians for those jobs.

That's how the NRF is linked to Jobs and Skills Australia, is linked to fee-free TAFE, is linked to clean energy plans as well. It's a plan for the future growth of our economy.

For taking advantage of where we find ourselves in 2023. Shaping the future - not being scared of it.

These reforms boost economic security for business and industry.

Security for people in their daily lives means helping Australians with the cost-of-living and getting inflation under control.

That’s our plan: Relief. Repair. Restraint.

Relief for cost of living: 

  • Cheaper child care
  • Cheaper medicine 
  • Fee-free TAFE 
  • And energy price relief for households

Repairing our supply chains and our skills base.

And restraint – the responsible budget approach that saw us return 99 per cent of revenue upgrades to the budget across this year and next, when inflation is most acute.

As Treasurer Jim Chalmers has said, we remain hopeful that inflation peaked in the December quarter and will begin to ease.

Equally encouraging, wages are moving again.

The fastest rate of wages growth in a decade – confirmed today – alongside the fastest rate of jobs growth in the first six months of any government.

Good jobs and fair wages are fundamental to an economy that works for people, not the other way around.

And so too are quality, reliable and affordable services.

That’s why we’ve begun the work of strengthening Medicare, in co-operation with the states.

Our new Urgent Care Clinics will be 100 per cent bulk-billed, taking pressure off hospital emergency departments.

We’re putting people with disability back at the centre of the NDIS.

Our plan for universal affordable child care is an economic reform that will boost productivity, and increase workforce participation while taking pressure off family budgets.

Our new Housing Accord, our Housing Australia Future Fund, the Housing Supply and Affordability Council, our Regional First Home Buyers Guarantee and our Help-to-Buy scheme together represent the most comprehensive federal housing policy in decades.

Because we believe every Australian deserves the security of a roof over their head.

Confidence, stability and security for all Australians means a growing and a productive economy, where the people who contribute to our national prosperity share in its benefits.

And an economy that promotes the full, equal and respectful participation of women.

This is something our government – the first government in Australian history with a majority of women members, 54 out of 103 – has made a national priority. 

  • Cheaper child care 
  • Expanding Paid Parental Leave 
  • Implementing all 55 Respect@Work recommendations
  • 10 days Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave in place from the first of this month

And new measures to help close the Gender Pay Gap.

These are concrete steps toward gender equality – and these are economic reforms that boost productivity, participation and economic growth.

My colleagues and I understand that our nation faces significant challenges.

Families are having to make tough choices - and so are we, as anyone who attends our ERC meetings would be able to confirm.

Off the record. Without going into the detail, of course.

We’re being upfront with people about this.

Because we’ve seen the harm that has been done by a wasted decade of a government putting-off problems, or pretending they don’t exist.

Equally, we recognise there are very few quick fixes here.

We want to build to last – and that takes time.

And yet for every question facing the nation, our opponents offer the same answer: No.

For a decade in Government they created these problems – and now in Opposition they stand in the way of the solutions.

After a decade of inflicting low wages as a “deliberate design feature of their economic architecture”…

They said no to increasing the minimum wage.

No to Secure Jobs and Better Pay.

No to making gender equity and job security objectives of the Fair Work Act.

No to helping the heroes of the pandemic by increasing their wages.

After a decade of denial and delay on climate change, a decade of chaos and paralysis on energy policy…

They said no to the new jobs and opportunities of renewable energy.

They said no, in December, to helping families with their power bills.

No to energy security for Australian manufacturing.

No to the Safeguard Mechanism that they designed in government and that the Australian business community are crying out for them to support to give them the support they need.

After a decade of hollowing-out our skills base and driving manufacturing offshore…

They’re saying no to the National Reconstruction Fund.

No to making things here again.

No to 180,000 fee-free TAFE places.

And after a decade of ignoring Australia’s housing challenges…

They are saying no to the Housing Australia Future Fund.

No the Housing Supply and Affordability Council.

No to more crisis accommodation for women and children fleeing family violence.

And no to better housing for Veterans.

No alternatives. No compromise. No contribution.

Just the same relentless negativity that defined the No-alition under Tony Abbott.

Such a contrast with the constructive approach we took in Opposition during the pandemic.

Where – even if we disagreed with elements of various economic stimulus, even if we sought to move amendments – we gave an assurance that they would have our bipartisan support.

Because we understood that in tough times, we knew the responsibility we had, to the nation.

I want Australians to enjoy a more secure nation, with more secure industries and more secure jobs. To have a better future.

The Liberals want the next ten years, to look like the last ten years.

You can’t deliver for people if you’re trying to divide the nation.

In all its forms, our future security depends on engaging with the world and shaping change.

That’s what drives our government’s ambition for Australia.

Not division and fear and negativity - but optimism and purpose and urgency.

Because - as I said here at the National Press Club just three days before polling day - unless we shape the future, the future will shape us.

And I have no doubt that Australians can rise to this moment and make this decade and beyond our own.

We have enormous advantages if we are prepared to seize the opportunities that are right there before us.

And my government is working every day to build greater security – for the nation, in our economy and in people’s daily lives.

By engaging in our region.

By investing in our sovereignty, our self-reliance, our capacity to make things here again.

By seizing the opportunities of renewable energy.

By building an economy that embraces innovation and productivity, repays hard work and rewards initiative.

And by strengthening the services people rely on.

This is the better and more secure future we are determined to deliver.

A better future, made here in Australia.

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Rd
Marrickville NSW 2204

Phone: 02 9564 3588

Parliament House Office

Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 02 6277 7700

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734

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.

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