Sep 18, 2019

Speech – Partnerships in the National Interest – The Business Council of Australia – Wednesday, 18 September 2019





Thank you very much for inviting me to be here with you this morning.

Let me say it at the very outset – I want to work with you.

I want us to co-operate to confront the challenges facing our nation.

We won’t always agree.

But you will always have my respect.

I am not just saying this after the election.

It’s consistent with what I said before the election.

In the Whitlam Oration in Shellharbour last year I said:

“Successful Labor Governments collaborate with unions, the business sector and civil society to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest.’’

Just as I want to work with you, those of us in this building need to learn to work together.

And that is something Australians are telling us loud and clear.

After the election I went on a listening tour across Australia.

I wanted to hear directly from voters just where they thought that Labor went wrong and how we could succeed in 2022.

The people I met were frank. And I’m very happy to say that above all else they filled me a sense of hope for Labor’s future.

But there was another message I kept getting – and it was a broad one. It was a message that applied to all the parties.

And that message is that Australians are suffering from conflict fatigue. They are sick of politicians shouting at each other.

They are sick of this building getting bogged down in politicking, such as the Government’s emphasis on wedgeislation rather than addressing issues that affect people’s lives.

Australians want us to find solutions to the challenges they face in their daily lives.

They want us to work together to find the best way forward.

Labor wants to work with business.

As a political movement, Labor aspires for people to have good, stable jobs with decent pay.

We recognise that for that to happen, business has to have the conditions and the policies that allow it to grow.

It’s a straightforward equation: successful businesses create jobs.

Business, workers and unions have to work together – each in the recognition that both the ingredients and fruits of success are shared.

When we look at successful Labor Governments, we see that they brought that spirit of co-operation to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest.

For example, I’m proud that as Infrastructure Minister in the Rudd Government, I created Infrastructure Australia, designed to provide the regulatory certainty business requires to invest with confidence.

This was genuine collaboration in the national interest.

Partnerships are important.

Business and industry need certainty.

A political circus is not going to deliver certainty. Neither is political inactivity.

I don’t want to get bogged down in partisanship, but I remain surprised by the policy inertia of the current Government.

To get things done, you need to be in power.

Once you’re there, you have an opportunity to do all you can to help elevate Australia.

Yet the current Government, with its emphasis on politics and political wedges, behaves like an Opposition in exile on the Government benches.

It does not see Parliament as a place to build a better Australia.

It sees Parliament as a place to set political tests for Labor.

What a waste of an opportunity to make a difference.

I encourage the Government to lift its game and do better by all of us.

Despite a great run over a long period of time, Australia faces serious economic challenges.

The signs now are not encouraging.

Australia’s rate of economic growth is floundering.

National debt is climbing.

Consumer demand is feeble.

Interest rates are one third of what they were during the GFC.

Wages are stagnant.

We have skills shortages.

And that’s just for starters.

There are serious problems ahead, but this Government has no plan to deal with them.

It has no serious plan to deal with climate change.

And it has no plan to reduce energy prices that are squeezing Australian families and adding to the overheads of business, undermining their ability to compete.

No plan to address skills shortages by investing in education and training.

It is out of touch.

I note that in recent times the Government has been offering business unsolicited advice about how it should behave.

It believes that businesses should forget about values and “stick to their knitting”.

This ignores the reality of business today.

The most successful businesses operate in ways that reflect the values of their employees and their customers.

You are not just takers of profit. You see yourselves as part of the community.

Business’s recognition of its social role is important.

That’s a good thing.

Because as we wrestle with the economic conditions, there’s another, equally important challenge.

It’s one that is shared by politicians and business alike, and that is the slow but steady erosion of our standing in the eyes of the public.

Let’s not forget that in the election in May, one in four Australians did not vote for a major party that could form government.

We all have to work out how to solve this growing deficit of trust.

Business is working this out and is already working to address it.

The Government might not get it, but Labor does.

In the wake of the election, what we need to do now is rebuild relationships. Not least with business. As a former Infrastructure Minister, let me tell you: I am in the building business.

We are hastening slowly, but we aren’t standing still.

In the coming months and into next year I’ll be making major speeches.

One of the first will address the future of work and how we can ensure decent work, good jobs and financial security so our economy delivers for our society.

I want to reiterate that the creation of jobs and a strong economic foundation must be a first priority for any Labor Government.

Our focus needs to ensure appropriate skills development and that Australia maximises the competitive advantages we have in a globalised economy.

We can work together on this, just as we can work together on so very much. We are partners in a common cause:

A better Australia.

A more prosperous Australia.

A fairer Australia.

A stronger Australia.

I will keep engaging constructively with business, as I always have done so.

I am happy to meet with anyone who wants to engage with me.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers – but I do want to find them.