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Monday, 29th August 2022

Building for a better future - National Press Club

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

And I’m proud to lead a government advancing the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The great privilege, the great opportunity and the solemn responsibility of government is putting our ambition for the country into action.

Converting the promises of a campaign, into the progress of a nation.

Writing our vision for Australia’s future into the laws of the land.

Our government is only 100 days into this journey - but we are resolved on the destination of a better future.

We are focused on building a fair-wage, strong-growth, high-productivity economy.

An Australia where working hard means you can pay the bills, support your family, save for the future and achieve your aspirations.

An Australia where everyone can trust in quality services:

  • Strong Medicare
  • Affordable child care
  • Decent aged care
  • And a National Disability Insurance Scheme that fulfils its promise. 

An Australia where investments in education and training and skills and housing and infrastructure and technology mean the doors of opportunity are open to everyone, in every part of our country

I recognise we’re facing challenging times right now.

I know a lot of people are doing it tough.

But I’m optimistic about our country.

I believe in the Australian people and I’m energised by the work of building a better future.

And after a wasted decade, we are not wasting a day.

From the moment we were sworn in, we’ve been working to clear-away the mess and chaos of a government who dealt in short term political stitch-ups, not long-term solutions.

We’ve hit the ground running:

  • Restoring security to the national energy grid
  • Delivering support to flood-affected communities
  • Implementing the strongest-ever biosecurity measures to protect our agriculture sector from foot-and-mouth disease
  • Establishing the Defence Strategic Review to make sure that our defence force has the capability to meet our changing national security environment
  • Backing a pay rise for workers on the minimum wage
  • Lifting our climate change ambition
  • AND rebuilding Australia’s reputation in the region and in our international relations.

We’ve also moved to change the way that government functions.

Because we understand governing is bigger than cleaning-up after your predecessors and more than reacting to events.

Governing can’t just be an exercise in getting through – to the end of the day, to the other side of the story, to the next election.

Government has a responsibility to plan for the future, to build for the long-term, to implement the reforms that arm people with every chance to fulfil their potential.

Not change for the sake of it, reforms that help people lead better lives.

Central to all of this, fundamental to everything we seek to achieve, is a fairer, stronger, more resilient and more rewarding economy.

And getting there - building that high-productivity, strong-growth, fair wage future - depends on understanding where Australia is now and what’s brought us to this point.

I see it in phases.

We’ve been through the pandemic response.

We are in the middle of the recovery.

And reform will be the key to renewal.

From response and recovery – to reform and renewal.

The guiding focus of government action for the coming years.

If you think back to March 2020, virtually the sole priority of every level of government was containing the pandemic.

That meant border closures, lockdowns, restrictions, and billions of dollars in support to try to  take the edge off the economic consequences.

There’s plenty about those times we would happily forget - but there are vital lessons we have to learn.

It was a race – and in too many ways Australia wasn’t ready.

We were left vulnerable – not just by complacency and a failure to plan, but by years of cuts and wilful neglect to the very services and skills we needed most.

We found ourselves economically exposed, hanging on the end of the global supply chain.

And we saw the harm of petty partisanship – the damage done by the Federal Government stoking division with the States.

Now, whatever we might wish, Covid isn’t gone or forgotten.

Our health system, our hospitals – and our extraordinary health care workforce - are still under tremendous strain.

We continue to encourage all Australians to get their third and fourth dose of the vaccine.

And we’ve made it a priority to co-operate with State and Territory leaders and the health experts to provide support and resources where they are most needed.

But, clearly, no-one is going back to the ‘response’ phase.

Australia is already in the ‘recovery’ phase - and that’s presenting its own economic challenges.

Including significant and unpredictable supply and demand imbalances which are driving up costs, for businesses and families.

Our immediate priority as a Labor government is shoring up the economy to give families, households and businesses the security and certainty they need.

There are also many industries and small businesses that were effectively switched off at the wall and are struggling to re-boot.

We see that with hospitality and tourism and international education.

And then there are sectors that were already under pressure from cuts and neglect, which have been pushed to breaking point over the last two years.

Aged care. Child care. Schools. Hospitals.

Through hard times, Australians have been magnificent: resourceful, resilient, always looking out for others..

We saw small businesses innovate and evolve; investing in a decade’s worth of technological change in one year.

We saw workers adapt and thrive, proving flexibility and productivity can go together.

The success stories are a continuing inspiration.

But there were heavy sacrifices too.

Teachers reinventing learning for our children, practically overnight.

Health care and aged care workers being asked to carry on when so much about Covid was unknown.

It’s no wonder people are exhausted, it’s no surprise so many teachers and nurses and carers are thinking about leaving their vocation.

In the pressure cooker of the Covid response – educators and the care and community sector were hailed as ‘essential’ to the strength of our economy, to the wellbeing of our society.

But the fact is, this has always been true.

There’s nothing more important than educating our children, or caring for our family members when they are sick, or looking after our parents when they grow old.

A healthy economy depends on healthy people.

And education is our most powerful weapon against disadvantage, the best long-term generator of economic growth and productivity.

Over the next decade, we are going to need more educators and carers and nurses, in every part of our system. We won’t do that with broken institutions and burnt-out staff.

And whether it’s education or skills or health care or aged care we can’t just stem the bleeding and hope for the best.

We can’t return to business-as-usual, when we know business-as-usual was simply not good enough.

We have to aim higher than recovery. That’s why I say we need reform to achieve renewal.

To drive the change we need in the here and now, but always with a view to how we can shape the future.

This is the core of the economic plan we took to the election:

  • Cleaner and cheaper energy
  • Better skills and training
  • Cheaper child care
  • And a future made in Australia

My team and I are taking on the challenges of today – and we are building for the opportunities of tomorrow.

We are cleaning-up the mess of the last decade - and we are preparing Australia for success in the next decade.

Whether it’s wages or skills, national security or energy, we will act with urgency when it is required.

But we will never take our eyes off the big prize - the future. The chance to secure a new generation of prosperity and fairness for all Australians.

Good governments – reforming, Labor Governments - do both.

Face-up to the urgent problems of the here and now - and take Australia forward.

To not just imagine a better future, but set about creating one.

And the way we do that - the ‘how’ - matters too.

In my last speech at the National Press Club three days before the election, I said the best way to make progress is to bring people together.

And we are giving life to that statement this week.

I know there’s a school of political thought that views co-operation as capitulation, consensus as weakness.

I know there are those who think that everything has to be about conflict.

But Australians have conflict fatigue.

Australia has lost nearly a decade to the inertia that division produces.

We’ve seen the damage this does to the economy, the toll it takes on the country:

  • Skills and apprenticeships degraded by cuts to TAFE and training
  • National infrastructure consumed by political pork barrelling
  • Australia falling to 70th in the world for women’s economic participation and opportunity
  • Climate action and energy policy hostage to denial and delay

And a workplace relations system that’s not delivering productivity gains for business or pay rises for workers. These aren’t abstract problems. Australians are paying a real price.

Of course, there are international factors driving up the cost-of-living - but it’s also clearly the legacy of:

  • A decade of wage suppression and insecure work, and too many Australians being locked out of the labour force
  • Years of undercutting bulk-billing
  • Goading manufacturers into leaving the country, so we make less here
  • Supply chains neglected for a decade
  • And chaos on energy policy driving up power bills

Not only does a culture of division and dysfunction and conflict create these kind of urgent problems in the short-term, it stops our country building for the long term.

If your priority is scoring day-to-day political points, then the future loses out.

This is why our government is focused on solutions, not arguments.

The Jobs and Skills Summit we’re convening this week is evidence of this.

It signals we are willing to look at the hard questions, to face-up to the big challenges, to embrace the need for real reform.

To solve widespread skills shortages that act as a handbrake on our economy to remove the barriers that prevent people entering the workforce to make sure productivity gains translate into rising incomes for Australians.

And the Summit shows we’re determined to do it by bringing people together, getting everyone in the room:

  • Premiers and Chief Ministers
  • Business and industry leaders, union representatives.
  • A cross-section of civil society and community groups.

This week’s gathering will be the culmination of more than 100 pre-summit consultations that Ministers and government members have conducted all over the country, drawing on input from thousands of Australians looking at everything from improving economic participation for people with disability, to addressing our migration challenges, to boosting the numbers of Australians training in new technologies.

The Treasurer has published a clear set of ground rules, so we’re not starting with a blank of piece of paper, we’re working to a plan.

I’m hopeful there will be some immediate actions coming out of the Summit that we can work to implement – but Friday isn’t the end of the story.

The Government is preparing an Employment White Paper and this week’s discussions and ideas will feed into that important document.

For us, the principle is straightforward: we want every Australian to have the opportunity and skills to find a secure job, with fair pay, in a safe workplace.

Not a hand-to-mouth existence where bills chase you from shift to shift - but a job that helps you build a life and plan for the future.

The policies we took to the election were central to this:

  • Making job security – and gender pay equity - objectives of the Fair Work Act
  • Making wage theft a crime
  • Closing the loopholes that allow firms to use labour hire as a tool for driving down pay, rather than as a source of specialist skills
  • Investing in fee-free TAFE, additional university places, and creating new apprenticeships
  • And creating Expert Panels focused on pay equity for the care and community sector.

In our first 100 days we’ve argued for - and secured – a 5.2% pay rise for minimum wage workers, the heroes of the economic frontline.

We have made a submission to the Fair Work Commission in support of higher pay for aged care workers.

We’ve introduced legislation for 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave – because no woman should ever have to choose between their safety and their job.

But after a decade in which low wages were deployed as a ‘deliberate design feature’ – we want wages rising and productivity increasing across the board.

And after 30 years in which the gender gap has hardly budged, we need serious improvement in economic equality for women.

This is going to take more than legislative change, we need a culture change too: a revitalising of bargaining and negotiation and give-and-take, new leadership on respect and safety and fairness for working women.

This is why we’re bringing employers and employees to the table this week in Canberra, to elevate and accelerate these conversations.

Of course, none of us imagine that a two-day summit will entirely fix wages and job security.

I know that when we wrap up on Friday afternoon:

  • There will still be a trillion dollars of debt
  • Australian families will still be struggling with cost-of-living pressures
  • Businesses big and small will still need help with staff and skills

But for the first time in a long time, I believe we will be moving to agreement on how to solve these problems – rather than arguing over who is to blame for them.

So, yes, I want to see progress on skills and training, on wages and apprenticeships.

But the biggest single outcome I’m hoping for is the beginning of a new culture of co-operation.

A renewed understanding – between unions and industry and small business and government and community groups that building a stronger, fairer and more productive economy is our shared responsibility – and our common interest.

This is how we get employers and employees and small business negotiating for genuine win-win outcomes.

It’s how we make the Federation work better, lifting efficiency, improving services and boosting productivity.

This is how we sweep aside the persistent, structural barriers that prevent women from securing decent jobs and careers and enjoying financial security over their lives.

It’s how we change the way Australia looks at child care – as an economic reform which promotes inclusion and growth – not a babysitting service.

An economic reform that delivers benefits to two generations of Australians, simultaneously:

  • The best start in life for our children
  • Flexible support for modern families
  • And a multi-billion dollar boost to productivity and participation, without adding to inflation.

It’s how we seize the transformative opportunity of Australia as a clean energy superpower:

  • More affordable, more reliable renewable energy powering a new generation of advanced manufacturing and value-adding.
  • Australian workers, Australian technology, Australian research and Australian resources taking the world to net zero.

And it’s how we build the sense of ownership and common purpose our country needs to achieve real and lasting change – in everything from early education to aged care.

I’m not saying this will be easy, or come without compromise - but I want the Australian people to know that we are up for this challenge.

Put simply: we’ve having a crack, not just occupying the space.

Governments can build infrastructure, they can create institutions – and they can also draw on our national values.

Governments can foster a culture of reform and progress and co-operation, nourish a spirit of shared effort for fair reward.

Whether it’s the Summit, or the Parliament, or National Cabinet, or here with the Canberra Press Gallery, we’re never going to agree on everything.

We’re never going to have 100 per cent of people, 100 per cent happy with every decision and outcome.

But I know we’ll get more done – and we’ll do it better – if we disagree constructively, debate respectfully, look at the substance of issues rather than question motives, and together search for solutions.

Good government must drive this culture, to make the case for reforms.

In order to do that we need to rebuild trust in government.

My colleagues and I don’t share the strange self-loathing of our predecessors.

Raging against the role of government, while in government.

Obsessing over secrecy.

Having to be shamed into doing the bare minimum at the last possible moment.

An ideology that meant even as they made government bigger, the Liberals and Nationals showed no interest in making government work better.

One hundred days ago, on the 21st May, the Australian people voted for a better future.

Australians have placed their trust in our new Labor Government.

We are determined to repay that trust - by demonstrating a commitment to transparency and integrity.

Holding ourselves to a higher standard of behaviour than ‘it’s not illegal’.

Creating a National Anti-Corruption Commission, with real power and authority.

And examining brutal failures of government services, like Robodebt, to make sure that kind of betrayal of vulnerable people can never happen again.

Above all, we recognise that renewing people’s trust in government requires us to prove government can deliver for people.

I know good government can change lives.

But I understand that many Australians feel like government doesn’t work for them; that politics is obsessed with the short term.

And – frankly - the only way to change that, is to deliver on what matters to the Australian people.

That means taking action on cost-of-living:

  • Cheaper medicine
  • Cheaper child care
  • More affordable housing
  • More renewable energy to bring down power bills.

And it means implementing the reforms which create opportunities, lift living standards and include people in the benefits of our national progress.

We’ve been in government for 100 days.

But my colleagues and I are not here to mark time.

We’re here to build the strong-growth, fair-wage, high productivity economy that will deliver the next generation of prosperity for Australians.

Achieving this - moving beyond response and recovery to reform and renewal - will take hard work and tough decisions.

It will demand co-operation. It will require us to persevere in the face of tough times.

But I have unlimited faith in the people of Australia and their ability to rise to the challenge.

At the most basic level, three things got us through the pandemic.

One, closing our borders.

Two, our public health system and vaccinations.

And three, the resilience and resolve of Australians.

We can’t close our borders to the challenges we are facing now.

We can’t vaccinate ourselves against economic competition in our globalised world; we are not immune to evolving technology.

We can’t isolate ourselves from climate change, or the national security challenges in our region.

But our most powerful advantage, our greatest asset remains: the Australian people.

And investing in people is how we make economic reform work.

It’s the answer to the productivity question, and it’s the foundation for long-term renewal.

This the heart of our agenda – responding to the challenges of today, reforming for the opportunities of tomorrow:

  • More secure work and fair wages in safe workplaces
  • Proper funding for every stage of education and training and skills
  • Real action on equality for women
  • Backing the services which empower people to fulfil their potential – Medicare, the NDIS, aged care
  • And cleaner, cheaper energy which will power a new generation of jobs in communities across the country particularly in our regions.

This is how Labor Governments change the country: investing in people’s potential, rewarding their hard work, supporting their aspirations.

If we co-operate, if we work together, if we act with purpose and urgency and ambition then we won’t just ride-out these tough times, we will be well on our way to a better future.

That better future remains our light on the hill.

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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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