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Wednesday, 9th March 2022

Time to Advance

Australian Financial Review ‘New Platform for Growth’ Conference

A doubling of debt.

Stagnant wages.

Australians unable to find secure work.

Productivity going backwards.

The economy stalled.

And that’s before we even got to the COVID pandemic.

There’s a lot of rebuilding work to do as we move out from what has been a difficult 2 years.

We must put this nation on a growth trajectory that will lift living standards and underpin prosperity in coming decades.

After nearly a decade of division and policy inertia under the Liberals and Nationals, collaboration lights our way forward.

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

He brokered reforms that yielded benefits for all parties – not just better wages for workers, but stronger profits for businesses, along with the introduction of landmark reforms adding to the social dividend, such as Medicare and universal superannuation.

The result was three decades of continuous economic growth.

If Labor is successful in the coming Federal election, I will take my lead from Bob Hawke and his successor Paul Keating.

I want to bring Australians together to build a Better Future.

I’m optimistic about the opportunities we have as a nation. But we need to have the courage to seize them.

The current Coalition Government has taken the opposite approach.

Particularly under the current Prime Minister, their aim has been to sustain a sense of division that they have used to advance their partisan political agenda.

While promoting division, they have put all their faith in markets to drive progress, as if there is no legitimate role for government policy making to grow the economic pie.

This result has been a lost decade.

A decade of inertia.

Australia has failed to move forward at the very time when global shifts, including the rise of renewable energy, have offered us great opportunities to transform our economy, boost growth and create new jobs.

Standing still is the natural posture of the political conservative.

But in the words of that great American actress Lauren Bacall: Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world.

If Labor is successful in May, Australia will stop standing still.

We’ll bound forward, determined to shape the changes sweeping the global economy in ways that serve the Australian people.

Today I want to outline Labor’s plan for a Better Future for Australia to create the New Platform for Growth that is the focus of this important conference.

We aim to lift productivity, re-ignite economic and jobs growth and use cheap, renewable energy to transform our economy.

We aim to lift productivity, re-ignite economic and jobs growth and use cheap, renewable energy to transform our economy.

I’m not proposing revolution.

But I am looking for renewal – renewal of the dormant national project to create wealth in a way that produces benefits for all Australians.

We can do this.

And the first step is to put climate and culture wars behind us and focus on what matters – the national interest.

The Economy

This past decade of inertia and complacency has weakened our economy, even factoring in the unexpected challenges of the COVID pandemic.

We have a trillion dollars in national debt. But even before anyone had heard of COVID, debt had doubled under this government.

Tax as a proportion of the economy stands at 22.3 per cent – higher than at any time under the last Labor Government.

Business investment has dropped 20 per cent since the Coalition came to office in 2013.

Private new capital expenditure has dropped over 20 per cent over the same period.

While unemployment is low, you would expect it to be, given the scale of the economic stimulus washing through the economy and the abrupt halt in migration due to border closures.

The headline figures hide significant underemployment and a rise in unsecured work.

But the real problem is that productivity growth remains weak and went backwards in December.

This means many businesses, already on their knees because of COVID pandemic lockdowns, are not in a position to deliver pay increases.

That’s why real wages are falling, with wage growth at 2.3 per cent a year and inflation at 3.5 per cent.

Australians see the evidence of flat wage growth every time they go through a supermarket checkout or watch the bowser as they fill their fuel tanks.

It’s like a chill up the spine. People keep working hard, playing by the rules, but are going backwards.

Yet the Prime Minister and the Treasurer tell us the economy is in great shape.

Their claims simply do not reflect the lived experience of Australians, whether they are business owners trying to grow or individuals and families trying to get ahead.


Against that background, every element of Labor’s plan for a Better Future for Australia targets productivity, economic growth and jobs.

We’ll start by heeding the economic lessons of the COVID pandemic, which has exposed weaknesses in our economy that must be addressed.

The abrupt closure of international borders, for example, exposed our serious skills shortage, underinvestment in skills training and our resulting over-reliance on overseas workers.

Likewise, COVID laid bare the folly of allowing Australian manufacturing to decline to a point where we can’t even produce basic medical equipment and mRNA vaccines.

The post-pandemic economic rebuild must make our economy more diverse, more robust and more resilient.

Going back to the complacent pre-COVID norm is not good enough. We must build back stronger.

Powering Australia

Labor’s plan for stronger national growth has five pillars.

The first is our Powering Australian plan – a comprehensive blueprint for embracing the rise of cheap, renewable energy to cut power bills and lift productivity.

Our nation’s plentiful resources of sun and wind give us an opportunity to cut costs for existing businesses and build new industries that will underpin decades of growth.

Powering Australia includes legislating for net zero emission by 2050, supporting new renewable energy ventures through our National Reconstruction Fund, upgrading the electricity grid and establishing a Powering the Regions Fund to promote new renewable ventures and help existing businesses increase energy efficiency.

We’ll cut taxes on electric vehicles and roll out 85 solar banks and 400 community batteries across the country.

We’ve also adopted the Business Council of Australia’s recommendation for facilities already covered by the Government’s Safeguard Mechanism that emissions be reduced gradually and predictably over time, to support international competitiveness and economic growth – consistent with industry’s own commitment to net zero by 2050.

We will protect the competitiveness of Emissions Intensive Trade Exposed industries by ensuring they will not face a greater constraint than their competitors.

Powering Australia will create 604,000 jobs, with 5 out of 6 of them in regional Australia.

It will cut household power bills by $275 a year by 2025 and leverage $52 billion of private investment.

The plan has been comprehensively modelled by Reputex and has been supported by the BCA, ACCI, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers’ Federation and the ACTU.

These organisations accept the reality already factored in by markets – that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new energy.

They just want certainty in policy making so they can get on with business.

A Labor Government will provide that certainty – after the rollercoaster of 22 failed Coalition attempts to land an energy policy and their ongoing reluctance to embrace the future.

It is only three years ago that the Prime Minister declared electric vehicles would end the weekend.

Mr Morrison knew then and he knows now that the rise of electric vehicles is an opportunity for Australia, which has huge reserves of lithium, nickel and copper.

He chose politics over the national interest.

Australia can prosper in the new economy.

But not with a government that puts politics ahead of the national interest.

The election of a Labor Government will end the climate wars.

It’s time.

A Future Made in Australia

For many years, political leaders have spoken of the need for Australia to be a nation that makes things again.

In previous decades, high energy costs and the availability of cheap labour overseas have encouraged Australian manufacturers to move offshore.

But two important shifts are changing the equation.

First, increasing mechanisation means labour costs are not as significant a proportion of production costs as they have been in the past.

Second, clean energy can also be cheap energy.

Together, these changes make manufacturing here in Australia more attractive than it has been for many years.

Capitalising on these factors is the second pillar of Labor’s platform for growth – A Future Made in Australia and bringing manufacturing home.

We’ll establish a National Reconstruction Fund providing loans, equity and guarantees to companies recovering from the pandemic or building new enterprises.

The fund will target manufacturing, including value-adding to our bulk resources exports like food and minerals, as well as new ventures in advanced manufacturing and renewable energy, such as battery production.

I mentioned lithium earlier – with our vast supplies, it makes sense to make batteries here, rather than exporting our lithium in bulk to others who will add value then sell batteries back to us.

We have the resources and the know-how, not just to produce batteries, but a whole range of renewable energy products, from wind turbines to battery recharging stations.

Just as the Labor Governments of John Curtin and Ben Chifley laid the foundation for the post-war economic boom, the National Reconstruction Fund will lay the foundation for our nation’s prosperity for decades to come.

The age of renewable energy offers us a chance to build a better future – a future made in Australia by Australian companies employing Australian workers.

Buy Australian

As well as backing in Australian industry with the National Reconstruction Fund, the Government can provide further support by using the Commonwealth’s massive buying power to support Australian industry.

That’s the thinking behind our 10-point Buy Australia plan.

Wherever possible, a Labor Government will support Australian business.

We’ll develop a Defence Industry Development Strategy to maximise local involvement in defence purchases.

And with Australian states spending billions developing new public transport projects, our National Rail Manufacturing Plan will develop the already impressive capacity of our local train manufacturers.

Australia has train workshops in Maryborough, Newcastle, Dandenong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Perth.

But too often, conservative state governments buy cheap overseas rolling stock, which often arrives unfit for purpose.

We’ve seen trains too big for existing tunnels, ferries that can’t pass safely under bridges and trams that have developed cracks after just a few years of use.

And then we end up using Australian workers and Australian know-how to fix these problems. We should have built them here in the first place.

If we make our own trains and trams, we will get better quality and we will create secure jobs for Australians, particularly in regional Australia where they are needed most.


Pillar three of our growth platform is skills training.

Wherever I have travelled in the past few months, businesspeople have told me their biggest challenge is the labour shortage.

Australia has become too reliant on foreign workers on skilled work visas.

The closure of international borders threw a spotlight on years of government neglect of local skills training through the TAFE system.

Right now, there are about 70,000 fewer Australians undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships than when the Coalition took office.

At the same time, we have two million people who are unemployed or under-employed.
That’s not good enough.

Labor will deliver 465,000 free TAFE courses and 20,000 new university places in areas of demonstrated skills shortages.

I want businesses looking for skilled workers to find them here, not overseas.

But governments have learned in the past that investment in training is only half the job.

It is equally important that we ensure TAFE colleges are teaching the skills that are actually required by employers.

We can’t expect investors to risk their capital on new industries if the government is not doing its job and delivering the necessary skilled workers.

That’s why Labor will create Jobs and Skills Australia.

It will work with business and trade unions to match the skills curriculum to the needs of industry.

Jobs and Skills Australia will be modelled on Infrastructure Australia, which I created in 2008, to apply an evidence-based approach to investment decisions using cost-benefit analysis.

This plan is collaborative. It is practical. It is just common sense.

Child Care

Increasing workforce participation is a proven driver of productivity and is the fourth pillar in Labor’s plan. And child care is one of the policies that underpins it.

We’ll make child care more affordable for families.

Current arrangements penalise parents returning to the workforce by making it uneconomic for some to work more than three days a week.

That is neither fair nor sensible.

Making child care more affordable by changing caps and subsidy rates is an equity measure. It will allow parents, mainly women, to pursue their careers without being penalised by an out-of-date system.

But it is also an economic measure.

By allowing parents to work more hours if they so choose, workplaces will become more productive.

And fewer employers will face the discouraging prospect of losing incredibly talented staff who want to continue working but can’t because it is not to their financial advantage.


The fifth pillar of Labor’s platform for growth is one that is close to my heart – infrastructure.

Anyone who knows me knows I am an infrastructure nerd.

I am passionate about the way in which infrastructure investment can reduce the cost of doing business by facilitating more efficient movement of people and goods around our nation.

I was privileged to be the nation’s first Infrastructure Minister. We doubled the roads budget. We built or rebuilt 4000km of freight rail lines.

We created Infrastructure Australia, which reduced opportunities for pork barrelling by publicly documenting the relative benefits of competing road and trail proposals according to their potential to drive national productivity.

I am disappointed that the current government has allowed Infrastructure Australia to drift in recent years and that it just recently stacked the board with political appointees with questionable credentials.

We seem to have reverted to the system of previous decades where Coalition governments used scarce infrastructure investment to shore up Nationals seats in rural and regional Australia.

But they have recently also rorted infrastructure grant programs such as the car parks program to win favour in marginal city seats.

It is a sad turn of events when infrastructure grants are handed out on the basis of colour-coded spreadsheets.

This rorting and waste has to end. We need to restore trust in the integrity of our government – why is we Labor is committed to a National Anti-Corruption Commission.

But to me, this behaviour also highlights the lack of sophistication in the Coalition’s model of economic management.

Mr Morrison and his predecessors have never fully understood the critical link between infrastructure investment and productivity growth.

They have treated the portfolio as a convenient bucket of money with which to pacify their MPs.

Be in no doubt. Infrastructure is a critical economic portfolio. It’s the portfolio where you build the economy.

If we are successful in May, Catherine King will be a key player in my government’s approach to boosting productivity and economic growth.

We’ll also fix the Coalition’s National Broadband Network mess to give all premises access to fibre-based broadband instead of Mr Morrison’s 19th century copper model.

Better communications drive productivity gains. It means you can run a business from regional Australia and sell your product to the world.

In today’s world, good broadband isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s essential infrastructure. And for a country like ours, it renders the tyranny of distance meaningless.


This brings me to another productivity driver left on the shelf by the current government - regulatory reform through co-operative federalism.

It’s almost incomprehensible to me that over nearly a decade in office, the Government has had no explicit productivity agenda and no program of regulatory reform.

The great Labor reformist governments of the 1980 and 1990s used reform in areas like competition to deliver huge productivity gains.

But the current Prime Minister abolished the Council of Australian Governments, the key vehicle for reform.

And his engagement with state premiers has focused on blame-shifting and confrontation. There has been no national leadership.

This will end under a Labor Government. We’d move quickly to revive the process of regulatory reform.

It’s not something that will earn us frontpage newspaper coverage.

But it can make a real difference to the cost of doing business.

I know this from first-hand experience.

As Transport Minister in the former Labor Government, I worked with states to reduce the number of bodies regulating the transport sector from 23 to three.

This produced a productivity gain worth $30 billion over two decades – a gain that is still being delivered.



A former Liberal prime minister once said that in the race for economic reform, you would never reach the finish line because it was always advancing and there would always be something else to do to make our economy stronger and more productive.

I agree.

It’s always a race – the race for improvement.

But the current Liberal Government has abandoned the field.

The team leader has left the track. He is over in the grandstand looking for photo opportunities.
Over the past three years, Labor has been diligent.

My team and I have worked with the business community to hear your concerns, consider your suggestions and establish relationships based on trust and respect.

Following Bob Hawke’s example, I’ve ensured that all of our economic policies target issues that for government, business and trade unions, are shared interests. Productivity. Growth. Jobs.

I want to lead a government that works across the community to make our great nation even greater.

Business needs a government that facilitates private sector investment and activity.

The pandemic has reminded us there is a role for government intervention in the economy to advance the national interest.

This nation is at a critical juncture.

The global economy is changing. Renewables are on the rise and entire industries are having to readjust, while others that will dominate the 21st century are in their infancy.

At this moment in history, Australia needs a government ready to implement policies to shape these changes to the cause of economic growth.

After this lost decade, the Coalition is out of ideas, out of puff and out of time.

Labor stands ready to resume the great Australian reform project.

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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

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