Winning the Race

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Speeches

Thursday, 24th June 2021

Winning the Race

I believe, if we act with courage and clarity of purpose, we can capitalise on the opportunities of this moment – and harness them for the benefit of people and communities all over our country.

After 18 months none of us could have predicted – and none of us will ever forget – Australia has reached a crossroads.
 
I believe, if we act with courage and clarity of purpose, we can capitalise on the opportunities of this moment – and harness them for the benefit of people and communities all over our country.
 
If we make the right choices, we will one day be able to look back on the turbulence and turmoil of the past 18 months not just as an ordeal but as a transformative period.
 
But all of this depends on having the policies and the leadership to make this moment count.
 
That urgency, that ambition is at the heart of the agenda Labor will take to the next election.
 
Our plans and policies are organised around three fundamental principles:

  1. Building an economy that delivers for working families.
  2. Investing in Australia’s future.
  3. Ensuring everyone can get ahead.

Those are the clear values that drive our vision.
 
And – after 8 years – we know what the alternative looks like.
 
We’ve heard it directly from the Prime Minister.
 
It’s not my problem. It’s not my responsibility.
 
I don’t hold a hose. It’s not a race.
 
And now we have a new-old Deputy Prime Minister in Barnaby Joyce, spoiler alert here – he’s the spoiler.
 
And now we have a new-old Deputy Prime Minister in Barnaby Joyce, spoiler alert here – he’s the spoiler.
 
Laziness instead of leadership condemns us to emerge from this once-in-a-century crisis unchanged by the experience, uninterested in learning from it.
 
And that road leads only to another lost decade of policy paralysis, wage stagnation and economic drift.
 
Make no mistake – we are in a race.
 
A race to get vaccinated, a race to restore some security and normality to national life, a race to reopen international trade and revive export industries.
 
And above and beyond all that – a race for the jobs and industries and markets and opportunities of the future.
 
A race to secure Australia’s destiny:

  • as a renewable energy superpower;
  • as the skills and education capital of the Asia-Pacific;
  • as a leader in advanced manufacturing and the region’s pharmaceutical production hub.

To win a race you need to run forward into the future. But the current government is frightened of the present and terrified of the future.
 
And now, with Barnaby Joyce’s return to the Deputy Prime Ministership, we have a new element – they actually want to run backwards.
 
The problem isn’t just that he is stuck in the past – he wants the rest of Australia to go back there and keep him company.
 
I know Australia can win this race.
 
But we can’t sit back and wait for prosperity to land in our lap.

At gatherings like this CEDA conference, when we talk about the shape of Australia’s future, I also think we need to be mindful that for millions of Australians, the future has never seemed less certain.
 
The way Australians have risen to the challenges of the pandemic has been nothing short of magnificent.
 
When they have a government that backs them, the potential of our people is boundless. But this Government has turned its back on so many.  
 
There are whole sectors of our economy – tourism, travel agents, higher education the arts – practically switched off at the wall…
 
…with no clarity over what needs to happen for anything like business-as-usual to return and no idea when that will be.
 
Small businesses, restaurants and events suffering through lockdowns and restrictions and closures…
 
…because there can be no long-term security from Covid-19 while quarantine is run out of city hotels built for tourists and only 3% of us are vaccinated.
 
But the economic uncertainty gripping Australia goes beyond the urgent challenges posed by the pandemic.
 
In fact, much of it pre-dates the pandemic.
 
I’m talking about Australians who don’t know how many hours of work they’ll be offered from one week to the next - but who do know it won’t be enough to pay the bills.
 
Families who – every week – face the fact that child care costs absorb one parent’s entire wage.  
 
Older workers worried they will be passed over – and then discarded.
 
Worried they don’t have enough saved to retire – but may not find another job.
 
Worried about the quality of life they will have as they age – and the quality of care they will get when they need it.
 
Then there’s the millions of Australians who were rightly praised during the pandemic.

  • Retail workers.
  • Delivery drivers. 
  • Aged care workers.
  • Educators.
  • Cleaners.  
  • Frontline health workers.

We celebrated them for keeping the country going.
 
We can’t go back to asking carers and teachers and cleaners to do more with less – and do more for less.
 
We can’t say to the delivery drivers who kept hundreds of restaurants afloat that we value their job at $10 bucks an hour – and their safety at even less.
 
All this leads us back to where I began, that fundamental test: what are we going to learn from this crisis – and how are we going to change because of it?
 
The pandemic put a spotlight on a host of problems:
 
Everything from the hollowing-out of our manufacturing sector and the neglect of our skills and training system, to the perils of insecure work and the narrowness of our export base.
 
It’s time to decide if we are going to tackle those problems – or entrench them.
 
In a hundred different ways, the selflessness of Australians has saved our country from the worst of what we have seen elsewhere in the world.
 
And of course, our geography has helped too.
 
Virtually overnight, the tyranny of distance became the luxury of isolation.
 
Are we going to seize that advantage, or squander it?
 
Are we going to surge forward from our head-start, or drift back to what we had before: a low growth, low productivity, flat wage economy?
 
This is the fundamental choice for Australia: retreating to more of the same…
 
… or shape change so the recovery works for everyone.
 
As Prime Minister, I want our country to seize this once-in-a-century moment.
 
This is what Investing in Australia’s Future is all about:
 
Creating Jobs and Skills Australia to advise on the future work opportunities and to ensure Australians can benefit from them.
 
Establishing a National Reconstruction Fund to transform existing industries and jump-start investment in the industries of tomorrow.
 
Fostering partnerships with the private sector, to revive our ability to manufacture products and be more self-reliant.
 
Launching a “Start Up Year” program to drive innovation and increase links between our universities and entrepreneurs.
 
Start-up loans will be offered to students and new graduates with ventures attached to tertiary institutions and designated private accelerator.
 
That means the next generation of Australian breakthroughs will create the next generation of Australian jobs.
 
Labor understands that the world’s climate challenge is Australia’s jobs opportunity.  
 
When I say my vision is for Australia as a renewable energy superpower, I don’t mean just as a supplier of energy – but as a designer, manufacturer and exporter of technology to our region and the world.
 
But that won’t just happen of its own accord.
 
It needs a commitment to act on climate change, a pathway to Net Zero Emissions, an upgraded electricity grid that can accept and distribute renewable power, and a workforce ready to run with these opportunities.
 
A key part of this is Labor’s New Energy apprenticeships program, which will train 10,000 young people for the energy jobs of the future.
 
I want to build an economy that enables people to achieve their aspirations and fulfil their potential…
 
…an economy that delivers for working families, that repays people for their sacrifices, rewards people for their efforts.
 
An economy that works for people, not the other way around.
 
I grew up in a council house, raised by a single Mum on the disability pension.
 
I know the vital, transformative difference investments in health care, education and social housing can make to people in need – I’ve lived it.
 
But I wasn’t brought up believing Australia owed me a living.
 
I was raised to respect the dignity of work.
 
I was taught that if you worked hard, made sacrifices and saved where you could…
 
…you would have enough to pay the bills, keep a roof over your head, support a family.
 
And back then, that held pretty true.
 
The same certainty doesn’t exist today.
 
And it’s not our people who have changed.
 
Australians are still working hard.
 
But the aspirations of so many are being pushed beyond reach: a home, a family, a job that you can make a career, dignity and security in retirement…
 
And so much of that problem is exemplified by the wage stagnation that this 8 year long government has presided over.
 
A new report released by the McKell Institute this week, Stuck in Neutral, found that wages growth is wallowing at its slowest in a generation.
 
Between 2007 and 2013 the annual increase in Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings was 4.6 per cent.
 
Whereas between 2014 and 2020, it was 2.5 per cent.
 
Put another way, if this government had done nothing but sustain the same rate of wages growth as there was under Labor…
 
…the average worker would be $254 a week better off today. That’s $13,000 a year.
 
That’s the cost of wage suppression for ordinary Australians.
 
Now, after eight years of wages growth being stuck at historic lows, last month’s Budget forecast a cut in real wages.
 
So let’s be very clear: when my colleagues and I talk about Australians finding it harder to pay rent, make ends meet, put food on the table…
 
It’s not a question of feeling, it’s a matter of fact.
 
The struggles being put on everyday Australians are the result of this government’s choices.
 
Eight years of wage suppression:

  • Cutting penalty rates.
  • Allowing a surge in temporary work visas.
  • Refusing to act on wage theft and exploitation.
  • Arguing against increases to the minimum wage.
  • Freezing public sector pay.
  • And letting the gig economy explode whilst failing to protect gig workers.

It’s because of this, that average workers are $254 a week worse off. It’s a race being run in the wrong direction.
 
And – as so many of you understand – there’s a powerful flow-on effect as a result of this.
 
When Australians aren’t earning enough to pay for the essentials, the first thing they do is cut back.
 
When families go without, family businesses miss out.
 
Everyone gets hurt when wages stay too low for too long.
 
That’s why, earlier this year, I announced our plan to lift wages and make work more secure for more Australians.  This includes:

  • Properly defining casual work.
  • Cracking down on the abuse of cowboy labour hire firms to ensure people who do the same job get the same pay.
  • Closing the gender pay gap.
  • 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave.
  • And making wage theft a crime, because stealing from vulnerable workers should be met with the full force of the law.

Eight years of suppression have stifled economic growth.
 
And that problem has been compounded at every turn by the lack of a coherent plan to boost either productivity or participation.
 
When it comes to participation, the most effective and most obvious step we could take to boost participation in our economy and improve life for families is to reform child care.

That’s why Labor’s Cheaper Child Care Plan was one of the first policies I announced as Leader.
 
We’re going to simplify the system – and strip out the disincentives that discourage parents from working - and deprive workplaces of valuable, productive and experienced staff.
 
It will cut the cost of child care for 97 per cent of families.
 
Our reforms will see an 11% increase in the hours worked by women with young children – and a boost to economic growth of up to $4 billion dollars a year.
 
We will deliver an additional $6 billion investment, but we want to ensure this funding flows through to families.
 
Right now, there is little oversight or public reporting of how public funding in child care is spent.
 
Parents should have more transparency around what exactly they’re paying for, so they can decide which provider is right for their family.
 
So I am announcing today our child care package will include measures to improve transparency by requiring large providers to publish their child care revenue and profit results, and by publishing real-time child care fee data, so parents can see what their fees are funding.
 
Labor will also stop the practice of for-profit providers offering inducements, such as free iPads, to entice families to enrol. These are marketing gimmicks and are an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
 
We stand in stark contrast to the Coalition in our support for the childcare sector, knowing how vital it is for Australia’s families.
 
Even this week, we saw an astonishing display of the contempt some in the Coalition have for working families, with a member of the Government reportedly saying that women who use child care are, “outsourcing parenting”.
 
The level of disrespect in that statement is galling, and shows how out of touch they are with working families.
 
 
In September 2008, shockwaves from the United States plunged advanced economies around the world into recession.
 
Every advanced economy, that is, bar Australia.
 
Our businesses stayed open, our people stayed in work, our banking and lending systems stayed strong.
 
Australia actually grew, while every other nation went backwards.
 
That Labor Government, in which I was proud to serve, acted swiftly and decisively. Just as we know it’s a race now, we knew that it was a race then.
 
And we matched immediate recession-busting stimulus with long-term nation-building.
 
Job-creating, productivity-boosting infrastructure projects, including the NBN.
 
And life-changing social reforms, like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Paid Parental Leave, and lifting older Australians out of poverty with the biggest ever increase in the aged pension.
 
That Labor Government saw the opportunity that moment represented: a chance to build for the future, to set Australia up for success in the decade ahead.
 
But the hard truth is we didn’t stay in government long enough to see that job through to completion.
 
And too much of that good work has been undone in the eight years since – by cuts, by neglect, by a toxic partisan refusal of the new government to acknowledge the value of anything done by the old government.
 
That’s not the approach I will adopt as Prime Minister.
 
I’m a builder - and I believe government is about building to last.
 
My vision is for an Australia that emerges from this crisis with an economy that is stronger because it is more diverse, more adaptable, more focused on future growth opportunities.
 
An economy that is stronger because we invest in revitalizing our traditional industries and backing new innovations, an economy that invests in the productive capacity of our people, in skills and training and apprenticeships.
 
But also an economy that is stronger because it rewards the work of more Australians, more fairly.
 
An economy built on fair pay and secure work.
 
There is every reason to be optimistic about Australia’s future.
 
Every reason to be ambitious for what we can do to turn this once-in-a-century pandemic into a once-in-a-century moment of transformation.
 
Australia has reached the crossroads. All now depends on the path we take.
Let’s race up the path to a better future.

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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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