Since Federation, we have been united from our Pacific coast to the Indian Ocean.
To use Edmund Barton’s phrase – ‘a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation’.
On the eve of Australia Day, consider just how remarkable that is.
Some talk about Federation as a mere administrative change – but it was so much more than that.
It was fuelled by a belief that we could be more than the sum of our parts.
And an ambition to do things better – and differently.
When you consider how much we have achieved since Federation, that belief has been justified time and time again.
Yet, as we begin 2022 there is an obvious need to bring the nation back together again.
To treat the states with respect, rather than simply as objects of political opportunity or attack.
To be as concerned with the regions as with our biggest cities.
We cannot be complacent in our good fortune.
Even Australia is not immune to the forces of division, whether it’s ideology, political opportunism or cynical self-interest.
We have seen how this plays out across the world.
This is not the path I will take.
I choose the path built on the lessons that the pandemic made so clear to us: that we are stronger together.
More resilient together.
And that is a truth that guides me as someone who now puts himself forward to be Prime Minister.
It is why we need federation reform.
After decades of moving toward more national consistency - with technology helping us steadily overcome the distances on our vast continent - what we’ve seen in recent times is a reversal of that once inexorable trend.
More differences. Less cohesion.
I will change that. I will work with all state and territory leaders, to advance Australia’s common interest for the benefit of all.
Backbone of Public Health
As the pandemic has so forcefully reminded us, our togetherness is underpinned by our universal public health system.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from these last two years is what a grave mistake it would be to take our public health system and Medicare for granted.
Right now, our health workers are paying the price for some of the most serious public policy failures our country has seen.
They are overworked. They are exhausted.
We might roll our eyes about wearing a mask to the shops – they suit up in full PPE for 10 hour shifts.
Like firefighters during the Black Summer, they put their own wellbeing on the line for their fellow Australians.
They embody the best of the Australian spirit.
We owe it to them to study what the pandemic has revealed about the vulnerabilities of our public health system – and strengthen it for the future.
At the heart of it all is Medicare – a proud Australian achievement. Medicare is part of who we are. It makes our way of life possible.
With its green and gold, it is the most patriotic piece of plastic you can have in your wallet.
Medicare was established by the Hawke government, building on years of work by Bill Hayden.
Bob Hawke’s government never hid behind the cowardly pretence of ‘getting out of the way’ – they knew good governments made the way.
Bob’s first instinct was to bring Australians together. Under him, Labor built Medicare not just as a safety net but as a conscious act of nation building.
Right now, we could strengthen both the safety net and our sense that we are all in this together by making rapid antigen tests available free to every Australian through Medicare.
That is what a Labor government would have done at this moment.
Because Labor will always strengthen Medicare. We know there is nothing more central to our families, our communities, our schools and our economy than our health.
A Labor government will deal with the damage inflicted by nine long years of neglect from this Liberal Government.
Protecting the health of Australians will be a defining issue in the upcoming election. And a critical choice will be this: who do you trust to keep Medicare safe?
Australians know where Labor stands.
Labor built Medicare. Labor has always fought for Medicare. And only Labor will protect Medicare.
Back on Track
The past two years have been hard for all Australians, but I think all parents know that our children have done it especially tough.
Remote learning, exam chaos, cancelled sport, and now the delays in vaccine supply, have turned what should be some of the best years of their lives into a cascade of stress and uncertainty.
Some children have fallen behind academically, and many are struggling with their mental health. And so many are just missing their friends.
Parents are stressed from home schooling; anxious about the weight the pandemic has put on their children’s shoulders, as well as their own.
Over the past two years, time-starved parents put aside their own needs to support their children.
Homes have been reconfigured into classrooms, while parents sit with the quiet heartbreak of knowing this wasn’t the childhood they had hoped to give their precious children.
They want to do the right thing, to keep their children safe and make the best choice. They are looking for guidance from their federal government.
But they are waiting in vain for Mr Morrison to come good on his vows.
The man who stood before the country and promised a national plan for getting our children back to school – but didn’t deliver one.
He promised a national approach in which his government would work with the states – instead he did what he always does: he palmed off his share of the work on to the states.
The states have done a great job in picking up the slack from the slackest government in living memory.
But this is not how it is meant to be.
Like a heart that decided to give itself a bypass, this government has decided to outsource responsibiity for the fulfilment of its core obligations to the Australian people.
It has run from its responsibilities to schools for nine long years - since Tony Abbott’s horror first budget in 2014.
Education is fundamental and essential to the jobs, productivity and prosperity of the future.
And education is the biggest and most powerful weapon we have against disadvantage.
Labor sees education as about creating opportunity. Liberals see it as about entrenching privilege.
It’s why Labor remains committed, working with state and territory governments, to getting every school to 100 per cent of its fair funding level.
And it’s why today I‘m announcing Labor’s plan to help our schools and students bounce back.
Our plan starts with the Student Wellbeing Boost. It will provide funding for school activities that get children back on track.
This could mean more funding for school counsellors and psychologists, and for camps, excursions, sporting and social activities that improve children’s wellbeing.
Every Australian school stands to benefit from this investment. And the schools themselves will decide how to use the extra money to best help their students.
Our plan will fund a free mental health check tool. Schools could choose to use this to help quickly identify students who may need extra support.
Our plan will direct the Education Department to conduct an urgent review of the impact of COVID on students with disability, so they get the support they need.
These children have been among the most vulnerable during this pandemic, and they deserve a government that prioritises their protection along with their education.
The other element of our plan is a Schools Upgrade Fund, which will provide much needed support for improving ventilation in schools and creating outdoor learning areas.
Both are key to managing the spread of Covid. Just as they will be valuable for schools in a post-Covid world as well.
This is something the Morrison Government should have already been doing to make sure schools are safe for our kids and teachers to return to.
And not just for this term.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly tells us that Covid will be with us for some time, so we need to act and adapt.
That means making our schools safer and better prepared for what’s ahead.
Mr Morrison never thinks as far ahead as next week, but the very business of a Labor government is to plan for the future.
This is what good government does – it plans ahead instead of waiting for a crisis before acting, and then doing too little, too late.
It’s one more pandemic lesson Scott Morrison hasn’t learnt – but we have.
Plans for a Better Future
Throughout the pandemic, Labor has developed a series of plans that share a common spirit: to avoid repeating the mistakes of the present, and allow us to build the very best version of Australia possible.
To imagine a better future and then set about creating it.
Covid has made it clear that being at the end of a global supply chain is a precarious place to be. We must be a country that manufactures things here.
Our plan for a Future Made in Australia, with our National Reconstruction Fund at its heart, will propel our growing self-sufficiency.
It will work alongside our plans for Secure Australian Jobs and a Better Life for Working Families to give Australians the tools they need to shape the lives they want and deserve.
We’ve already announced a number of key policies that set us on this path:
- Our Buy Australian Plan – because government should back our businesses;
- Our creation of Jobs and Skills Australia and our Made in Australia Skills Plan offering free TAFE places in areas of skill shortages – because these shortages are hampering our recovery and wasting the potential of our people;
- Our plan for Secure Work – because casual jobs disappeared without warning during the pandemic, and it isn’t the Australian way to leave each other so vulnerable;
- Our Cheaper Childcare Plan – because working families need the support – especially women. It will give families more choice, it will strengthen the economy, and it will be good for future generations;
- Our longstanding plan for the NBN – because high speed internet, as originally conceived by Labor, is vital to work, school and family life.
- And our Disaster Ready Fund, because Australians deserve a government that looks forward and plans to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.
Our plans add up to a better future in which Australia stands on its own two feet, self-reliant and self-assured.
A country that embraces its place in Asia, the fastest growing region of the world in human history; forging deeper relationships in the region as the tyranny of distance gives way to the privilege of proximity.
A country that is smart, innovative, and adaptive, where businesses find a partner in a resolutely pro-growth, pro-employment, pro-investment government.
A country with secure, good-paying work – because a job is about so much more than a wage. It’s about identity, community, connection – and giving your family the standard of life that you aspire to.
A country with world class health care, education and child care – so that at every stage of life our people have all the opportunities and tools they need to succeed and thrive.
A country that treats its natural environment as a national asset to be protected – not only because it supports communities and local economies, but because of our moral obligation to preserve our land and water for future generations.
I also see us as a country that uses its abundant natural resources to drive new industries and become a renewable energy superpower, creating jobs as power prices fall, and writing a new chapter in Australia’s proud energy story.
Our Powering Australia plan will reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, putting us on track for net zero by 2050.
It’s a plan with economic growth at its heart: creating over 600,000 jobs, attracting $52 billion of private sector investment, spurring new industries and cutting power bills by $275 for the average family.
Unlike Mr Morrison’s glossy pamphlet, Powering Australia is underpinned by the most extensive independent expert modelling ever done for any policy by an Opposition.
Our plan has the backing of the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACTU, the National Farmers Federation, and a range of non-government organisations.
That is just one practical example of how I will bring Australians together, united by a common vision and a national partnership for progress.
We can – finally – put the climate wars behind us.
How We Do It
Setting Australia on a path to a better future is not just about what we do. It also matters how we do it.
It was here at the National Press Club that Paul Keating first said if you change the government, you change the country.
My team and I want to change the government – and we want to change the way government operates and the way government is perceived.
I don’t expect to make Australians fall in love with Question Time – but I do want more people to have greater faith in the integrity of our parliament and its representatives.
Australian democracy is a great national achievement.
But our system is no more immune to the threat of extremism and polarisation and the decaying, corrosive influence of corruption and cynicism than other democracies around the world – many of whom are grappling with these very challenges.
The best way to make democracy stronger is to make government work better.
That’s why I will advocate for federation reform, with greater co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States – to be true to that vision of Australia as so much more than the sum of its parts.
And we need a National Anti-Corruption Commission – to restore faith in government and trust in our public officials.
We will end this government’s culture of rorts – because public money should not be splashed around in cynical vote-buying exercises.
And just as I want to encourage the Commonwealth and state governments to work together better, I want to encourage business and unions to work together, because ultimately they share the same interests: a stronger economy, increased productivity, more good jobs.
We can create a better deal for workers and grow our economy at the same time, with leadership that brings both together.
For our country to advance together, as one, we must advance equality for women.
We need to respect women across all elements of our culture – at work, at home, in schools and in our community. Women’s safety must be an absolute national priority.
And on her final day as Australian of the Year, I’d like to take a moment to thank Grace Tame for her extraordinary courage and fierce advocacy.
Grace, you’ve inspired countless Australians and you’ve earned enormous respect.
The events in parliament that were revealed last year constituted a powerful wake-up call. But we have had so many wake-up calls. We have no excuse to wait for another.
Every time I look around our Caucus Room and see my colleagues such as those here today – Tanya Plibersek, Linda Burney, Katy Gallagher, Kristina Keneally, Michelle Rowland - I am reminded of a simple, powerful truth: that our country will be so much closer to what it should be when women enjoy true equality.
We cannot look to our future without also reflecting on the past, including injustice to First Nations’ people.
Until a nation acknowledges the full truth of its history, it will be burdened by its unspoken weight.
We must acknowledge the wrongs, learn from them, and look for ways of healing.
Truth-telling can be confronting – but it need not be grounds for conflict.
We should come to this process not armed for battle in culture war, but with an open mind – and far more importantly – an open heart.
With the lessons of our history and our enduring Australian values, we can forge an inclusive, sustainable, and fair social compact.