A FAIR AUSTRALIA – WORTH FIGHTING FOR
MELBOURNE PRESS CLUB
THURSDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2014
On Tuesday, I traveled to Point Henry to meet with employees and employers at Alcoa.
It’s a trip I’ve made many times.
As I looked out the car window, I started thinking about all the workplaces I used to visit in the Geelong region.
The Wool Scourers
All of them proud landmarks in Geelong’s manufacturing landscape.
All of them now closed.
In this time of change, on the one hand we need to move past the view that industry assistance should be motivated by a romantic attachment to manufacturing.
And on the other we must reject the idea that manufacturing somehow doesn’t matter anymore or is doomed.
Labor knows manufacturing has a future.
We also know that neither nostalgia nor fatalism is equal to the task of 21st Century economic reform.
Sometimes in the current debate on job losses and factory closures, we can fall into the trap of just referring to numbers in a column.
We need to remember these are real people and real communities for whom each closure is a devastating loss.
In the last five months, in Geelong, in Broadmeadows, in Gove and in Port Melbourne, I’ve met thousands of Australians facing the swift, sharp consequences of the economic change we are undergoing.
Australians don’t think the world owes them a living.
Australians are not looking for a hand-out.
But they are worried about what is happening.
Australians want to see a plan for their future, and for the Australia of 2020 and 2030.
The Australian people understand there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore, but several careers with constant learning and re-training.
Australians know that what matters is to have a diversified economy – one which includes advanced manufacturing.
An economy that is set up to benefit from the next wave of technological change.
One which promises to return manufacturing to our cities and to nurture a new generation of Australians enthusiastic about making things - whether that means computer games and robots or cars and houses.
Today I want to talk about what we have to do to help Australian employees, Australian industry and the Australian economy adapt and prosper in this time of change.
What Australia needs to do to meet the challenges of this decade - and the policies we need to guarantee our national prosperity beyond the next three years.
I am determined that Labor will be the party with positive ideas for the future.
Because we need new ideas in health.
New ideas in education.
New ideas for our economy.
I know when he was Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott used his political Ouija board to channel Randolph Churchill:
‘Oppose everything, propose nothing and turf the government out’.
The Abbott model worked once - I firmly believe it will never work again.
I prefer to take my inspiration from the New Year’s resolution of John Curtin when he was elected Opposition Leader.
‘to act and think helpfully’, and not play ‘faultfinder’
Throughout my working life, from when I was a lawyer, a union representative, a superannuation fund director, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and a Minister - I have always been a consensus-builder and a believer in the power of negotiation.
I know that there is always more than one side to an argument.
And no-one has a monopoly on good ideas.
And that will be my approach as Labor Leader.
It’s why Labor has reached out to cooperate with the Government on drought assistance for our farmers.
It’s why we’ve avoided opportunistic point-scoring on the deterioration of the Australia-Indonesia relationship.
It’s why we support the Government’s new Closing the Gap target on school attendance, and have offered three new targets of our own.
Under my leadership, Labor will be a constructive, alternative government that offers genuine policy choices, not simply empty criticism and three word slogans.
Our policies will be driven by Labor values, and supported by hard evidence and the best science.
I think this combination of principle and logic is evident in some of the reforms of the last six years.
We created the National Disability Insurance Scheme to empower a marginalised group of people with impairments, their carers and their loved ones.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme will deliver a productivity boost to the nation - and save money in the long run.
We resisted the call for harsh austerity measures and steered Australia through the Global Financial Crisis with a focus on keeping people in work and supporting growth with nation-building infrastructure investment.
We negotiated a fairer funding agreement for schools because we believe every child deserves the same opportunity for a great education and the best possible start in life.
We also know that a country’s education system is the decisive factor in its economic prosperity down the track.
Our objective is to deliver the best outcome for everyone– not to score political points or slavishly follow a hardline ideology.
People laud the Hawke-Keating generation, as a time when Labor took hard decisions that delivered long-term dividends.
These reforms to markets, regulation, trade and enterprise bargaining freed up the Australian economy.
Twenty years on, my generation needs to commit to real reform. In particular, a new national commitment to science and innovation.
This will mean making difficult decisions in order to set our nation up for the future.
We believe that government assistance for industries should be the exception, not the rule.
Provided only to industries that are willing to adapt to change and embrace innovation.
We believe government has a moral obligation to keep people in work.
But our view is not just based on our values.
The evidence is clear.
When government assists an industry in transition, the benefits are shared throughout the economy.
If we leave companies to wither, or seek to accelerate their demise– we are putting Australian jobs, skills, innovation and technology at risk of permanent and severe damage.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a misconception that manufacturing is an unprofitable sector that offers only
This is wrong.
In 2013, 21 of Australia’s 100 most profitable companies were in manufacturing – the highest representation of any one industry.
And there is no such thing as a low technology industry.
There are only industries that have invested in remaining at the cutting edge- and those that have not.
Some commentators have argued that the closure of Holden, and now Toyota, is proof of national economic progress.
In fact, the death of the Australian auto industry is a major backward step – a dangerous deindustrialisation.
Not only do we lose the valuable skills and highly specialised workers.
We lose an entire range of manufacturing capabilities.
Capabilities that could have underpinned more advanced and sophisticated forms of manufacturing.
The capability to manufacture fine instruments and gauges for the aerospace industry.
The capability to produce electrical systems for our navy's weapon systems.
All of those capabilities, all of that potential, all of that opportunity, will be lost to our nation – unless we act decisively.
Because with the right plan and policy settings, Australia can capitalise on this time of transition and change.
We can seize the opportunity to reimagine our manufacturing sector – and look after the thousands of Australians and hundreds of businesses that rely upon it.
But there has been no plan from the Abbott Government.
No evidence of a determination to seize the moment.
It is easy for Joe Hockey to lecture on the need for ‘heavy lifting’ – but the Abbott Government has to do more than demand this of others.
It needs to set the example – and lead the way.
In times of economic transition, a government’s first priority should be to keep people in work.
Because a fulfilling job brings dignity, self-confidence and independence.
Unemployment guarantees only misery.
As Labor leader, I will speak out about job losses and support for existing jobs.
As Labor leader, I shall focus on new jobs too.
The Small-Medium Enterprises, the High Tech, the Start Ups, be it in health, in agriculture, in defence or financial and education services.
I believe we need to shift from a policy of ‘managed decline’ to one that focuses on development, innovation and transition.
In the immediate context of the car industry, the Government needs to assist the component suppliers – the plastic, glass and metal manufacturers – to adjust their operations and find new markets for their products.
A success story is the Palm Products factory in Moorabbin, a business that originally produced high-quality car instrument lenses, brake parts and small mouldings for Ford vehicles.
Following Ford’s announced closure, Palm Products has reinvented itself as a producer of high-quality unbreakable drink and tableware– with export markets in Europe, the Middle East and North America.
The long lead time for the closure of Holden and Toyota gives their highly skilled workers time to plan their futures.
I believe government should support re-training.
People who suddenly find themselves unemployed often experience a massive loss of confidence and a loss of identity.
The longer their unemployment lasts, the greater their deterioration in work readiness.
Yet these are highly skilled problem solvers and team players.
I was genuinely surprised by the cold-blooded heartlessness the government displayed when pushed on their plans for jobs in the future.
And I am troubled that there has been no sense of urgency– no evidence of a passion for the jobs of the future.
Because on the one hand, the Government portrays the demise of the automotive industry as inevitable– long foreseen and unstoppable.
And yet, their reaction to the one-two punch of Holden and Toyota’s closure and their statement of ‘shock’ at the Alcoa announcement suggests that they have been caught entirely by surprise.
There has been no plan for structural assistance, no retraining options forthcoming, nothing but Orwellian doublespeak of the ‘liberation’ of unemployment queues.
To me, the Government’s gravest failing is not its lack of empathy, though that is confronting.
It is its lack of understanding, its lack of imagination, its lack of authenticity.
Its only impulse is to take Australians down a path of learned helplessness from a government that offers no ideas or effort.
The death of the car industry is a tragedy, but it can also be a defining moment for Australia.
A call to arms for politics, employees, business and community.
A chance to move past the old, constricting clichés of ‘picking winners’ and ‘corporate welfare’.
A time when Government, investors and business turn their energies to supporting a new generation of research, development and innovation.
A wave of Australian discovery and invention in areas like genomics, quantum computing, bionics and nanotechnology that can underpin a new era of national prosperity.
I believe we need to make science and innovation a first order national priority.
Not an enclave in the Department of Industry, without a Minister for Science.
But central to all our policies. And our prosperity.
We need an innovation-led growth plan.
- A plan that helps innovators commercialise their ideas.
- A plan that will ensure Australians benefit from all the amazing advances in health and medical research without bankrupting the country
- A plan that gets Australian kids interested in science and inspires the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs
- A plan that draws on scientific and technical applications to improve public and private sector work practices
This is something about which I am passionate, to the extent that I took responsibility for the Shadow Science portfolio myself.
And I know Our Shadow Minister for Industry, Kim Carr, is passionate about science too.
Smaller countries, with less national wealth, like Korea, Taiwan, Israel and Finland are all ahead of us on investment in research and development.
I believe Australia’s level of investment in research and development needs to significantly increase.
By 2030, global spending on research and development will increase by 250 per cent.
Driven by big investments from countries in our region – in China and India as well as emerging economic powers like Brazil.
Labor believes that making science and innovation a national policy and political priority is nothing less than an investment in Australian brainpower.
It will not be easy at a time of slowing growth and downgraded revenue - but there are no shortcuts.
Industries that invest in research and development are investing in their capacity for reinvention.
Compared to businesses that don’t innovate, innovative Australian businesses are 78 per cent more likely to report increases in productivity over the previous year.
Yet only around 25 per cent of Australian businesses collaborate on innovation.
So if Australia produces some of the finest research in the world – which we do - why don’t we have more collaboration between industries and the research sector?
Make no mistake, the science race, the race for the jobs of the future, is a race to the top – and it has begun.
If Australia is not careful we will be stuck on the blocks.
We do not have three or six years to waste.
At this very moment, too many Australian schoolchildren are being taught science by hardworking but underqualified teachers.
And there are too few Australians going on to study science - and mathematics - in our universities.
Our nation is at a crossroads: Australia can either get smarter or get poorer – we can choose to compete or give up.
And as with industry policy, success will not depend on government alone.
I do believe government can play an important role in covering investor risk, helping to create a climate of confidence and risk-taking that will encourage entrepreneurs to pursue the breakthroughs that will define this century.
As a passionate disciple of science and innovation – and a believer in Australian creativity and ingenuity –I want us to value ‘start-ups’.
And the hardest task for a start-up, or small firm is to raise the capital for initial research and development.
People in industry call it the ‘valley of death’.
Strategic government investment can bridge this valley – and I believe the benefits will be remarkable.
An innovation-led growth plan must support all budding industries, whether they have a focus on agriculture, or defence or the automotive industry, financial services or health and education services.
And if we are serious about turning Australian genius into wealth for our nation, why don’t we equip PhD students with the skills they need to commercialise their research?
Additional skills such as entrepreneurship, intellectual property management, project management and financial literacy?
So they can aspire to be business leaders, as well as professors.
This is a complex argument, and undoubtedly tougher to outline than ‘no free rides’ or ‘some jobs start, some jobs finish’.
But I believe the Australian people will embrace this debate, and that substance can triumph over slogans.
My work on the National Disability Insurance Scheme has given me confidence that Australians will give good ideas a fair hearing.
I think the Australian people know that this is a time for serious national debates about where Australia will be in 2020 and 2030.
That’s why my focus isn’t on Tony Abbott – it’s on the policy ideas of the future.
That’s why I want to start a conversation about an Australian economy with science, mathematics, technology and engineering at its core.
Mastering this moment of economic transition will require a national effort - one that must begin with government leadership.
Shoulder-shrugging fatalism about the death of industries is no prescription for our kid and grandkids.
Our world is changing quickly.
We can rage against the dying of the light.
Or we can reignite the light on the hill and embrace the opportunities that change offers.
Under my leadership, Labor is focused on fighting for Australian jobs – and driving innovation to create new jobs.
We will insist on a deeper, richer, political narrative about the importance of science.
We will fight for a prosperous and fair Australia, one with high-wage, high-skill jobs in profitable and globally competitive businesses.
Jobs that allow all Australians to provide for their family, fulfil their potential, and live a long and happy life full of meaning.
Fighting for jobs is Labor’s reason for being – it always has been.
And it will be our priority in the year ahead.
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