Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE ACTU CONGRESS 2018 - BRISBANE - TUESDAY, 17 JULY 2018

Good evening everybody.

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land upon which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. 

Now, I believe that at any gathering of the labour movement, when we give the acknowledgement to the traditional owners - these words of respect always carry with them a promise for action. 

And when you look at the history:

In the Pilbara in the 1940s, at Wave Hill in the 1960s and right through the journey to Reconciliation, unions have stood in solidarity with our First Australians. 

So I want to promise tonight that after the election, my first official meeting will be with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from across Australia to talk Constitutional Recognition, to talk about Closing the Gap and to talk Treaty.

Friends and representatives of the working people of Australia here tonight.

Did you know that tomorrow, July 18th, would be Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday?

Nelson Mandela is a hero for the labour movement, here and right around the world.

But did you know that he was first imprisoned for supporting strike action?

It’s to the eternal credit of the Australian Trade Union movement that our predecessors were calling for an end to Apartheid while the Conservatives were still calling Mandela a terrorist. 

But I begin with Mandela because not simply for the fact that his 100th birthday would have been tomorrow but because he was a champion for the rights of all people - not just even the rights of man, but of all people. 

And tonight, as I come here - this gathering of the ACTU Congress, at this gathering of the representatives of working people, I want to put to you tonight that Mandela embodied the spirit and the purpose of representation.

Did you know that in 1985 - 23 years after he was first imprisoned – the then South African Government offered him a ‘conditional release’.

They said he could walk free if he renounced the African National Congress and their methods.  

Mandela turned them down. 

And he wrote to the Congress, explaining why. He said and I quote:

“I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. 

I am in prison as the representative of the people, and of your organisation, the African National Congress, which was banned. 

And what freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned?”

Friends, as we gather here - as you gather here as representatives of working people - to me, that most amazing response from Mandela when offered personal freedom - he articulated what I believe is the essence of representation. 

And indeed, it is the common strand which links representation and progress from that man at that time right through to this time, right now.

It is that marvellous understanding that Mandela had - that it’s never about you, it’s not about the individual, it’s about the people you stand for and the cause you fight for. 

It is what I think is the magic and the special quality of this congress - It is what is about the importance of this great, democratic Congress.

I’m sure no-one here minds that I say that none of us even stands in the shadow of the great Nelson Mandela. 

But all delegates here, are inextricably linked because you are representatives. 

Representatives of working people and their families.

You are not here for yourselves or your own ambitions. 

You are here to represent the dreams, the aspirations, the experiences, the rights of the working people.

The rights of working people and their families - this is what you represent. 

My attendance here tonight is out of respect for the fact that you are representatives of working people in this country and their families.

It is indeed all of our responsibility - my parliamentary colleagues who are here in too greater number to list - but it is also, dare I say it, it’s our privilege. 

The greatest education in my life was not my schooling or university.

The greatest education in my life has come from being a unionist representing working people. 

And I know I am not alone in saying that - from Bill Kelty to Greg Combet, to all of the leaders here; to Dave Oliver and now to Sally McManus - I think all would say the same. 

The greatest education we have is to represent working people.

And every time my colleagues who are here - including and thank you for lending her to us, Ged Kearney -  every time we listen in the Parliament to lectures from the Conservatives about their background as investment bankers, as young Liberals, that somehow that is superior to our experience in the service of working people. 

They mock us because our parents had the temerity to send us to university - to not know our place.

They mock us because we insist on having equal representation in our Parliament with women as well as men.

They mock us because we do not forget where we come from.

But rest assured, we know the truth. 

We know that being a union representative teaches us lessons you cannot ever acquire in many other walks of life.

It teaches us about the real joys, the real losses.

It teaches us about real things.

It teaches us not only how the economy is structured and how things are made and delivered, and how services are provided.

It teaches us about people’s lives. 

It teaches us about people's dreams.

The pressures though that families can face, it teaches us that there are actual human consequences from those bloodless economist, corporate terms like ‘downsizing’, 'redundancy', 'contracting out' and 'offshoring'.

You learn about how our fellow Australians cope not only in the very best of times but in the very worst of times, the serious injuries, the industrial diseases, the deaths at work. 

You see the determination of everyday Australians fighting for what’s right.

You meet people like Dane Coleman and Troy Carter who’ve been locked out and on the picket at Esso for over a year. 

Being a representative of working people teaches you ability, modesty and respect for the courage and effort of our fellow working Australians - I wouldn’t trade any of that for Goldman Sachs or for a harbourside mansion or for pats on the back from the conservative anti-union media of this country. 

There’s another thing you learn as a representative of workers. 

You learn nothing has ever been given in the fashion of progress without it being fought for.

  • The minimum wage
  • Universal superannuation
  • Sick leave, holiday pay
  • Domestic violence leave
  • Medicare
  • Penalty rates
  • Paid parental leave

These weren’t gifts. 

They weren’t a present from an employer who woke up on a sunny morning in a generous mood. 

It was Australian unions who argued and organised and fought for them. 

Unions who turned radical ideas into universal rights. 

Not just for your members – but for every working Australian. 

It is the understanding that all of these things which we take for granted in Australian society, unions were integral in the creation and are integral in the sustenance of in the Australian way of life. 

So what I wanted and start tonight to say, acknowledging that you are representatives of other people's dreams is that you are also part of a great tradition.

And I use the word we - we believe in

  • a safe workplace 
  • fair pay 
  • good jobs 
  • decent conditions

Not just for some of us, but for all of us. 

Friends,

I’m very grateful for what the working people of this country have taught me.

I am fortunate to call you so many of you my friends and my colleagues.

But I’m not here tonight simply out of respect, or out of nostalgia or sentiment. 

I’m here because of the future that I want us to build together. 

Because it’s as simple as this my friends: if you want to change the rules, you first start by changing the Government. 

You know, so much of what this current government says and does is meaningless.

You know that when they talk about health, or education, it’s because they feel they need an alibi, they need to tick the box, they need to pretend that they care.

But the fact is that there are only, really, two things that the current government do care about, that make them excited and passionate.

There are two things which fire them up.

One is attacking the Labor party and vilifying unions for standing up for working people.

And I think it’s still early enough in the night for a bit of mathematics here.  

Question Time, if you’re trapped somewhere and you have to watch it, or you’re in parliament, it goes for about 70 minutes.

Questions are about 30 seconds long, answers are for three minutes.

The Opposition normally gets to ask about 10 questions, so that’s five minutes for Labor, 65 minutes for them.

Sixty-five minutes a day, four times in a week.

So, that’s about 260 minutes of Liberal and National MPs talking.

In the last week of Question Time – at the end of June – can you guess how many times this meaningless government spoke about unions, Labor and me?

418 times!

418 times, in 260 minutes.

They literally cannot go one minute without talking about us! Get a life.

But there is one other thing they get very excited about: they love giving tax cuts to multi-millionaires, to multinationals and the big banks, my goodness that fires them up.

But that’s really it.

They attack Labor, they attack unions to suppress the wages, to undermine the conditions of working people.

And then they cut the services that people really rely upon, the essential services people rely upon, so they can find the room in the budget to give it to their mates at the top end of town.

And whenever we dare to question why they are cutting monies from early years education, from schools, from universities, from TAFE, from pensioners, from the ABC – and they want to give it to the big four banks and multinationals.

The only argument this meaningless conservative government can offer us is:

“Oh well, President Trump has done it, so we should too.”

They are hell-bent on taking Australia down the American road.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to admire about America.

But I do not want an American-style health system for this country, where when you get sick, you go broke.

I do not want the $100,000 American university education system, excluding working-class kids from higher education.

And I do not want an American-style wages system where adults work for $8 an hour.

I do not want us to be a nation where adults and working people have to work two and three and four jobs, just to make ends meet, just to be above the poverty line.

I do not want creeping casualization and insecure work, the so-called ‘gig economy’ which means people and their labour are treated as mere commodities.  

And I do not want, in this country, people trapped on a treadmill of low wages, of uncertain hours, where you find out your next day’s shift at work by text the night before, where the protections are stripped away and there is no-one to speak up for these people.  

In our labour movement, in the Labor Party, we seek a different future for Australia.  

A future built on the labour movement’s founding promise: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  

So tonight, I want to tell you briefly of the some of the things a Labor Government will do.

One, in our first 100 days, we’re going to reverse the arbitrary cut to Sunday penalty rates for 700,000 workers.

And we’re going to legislate so penalty rates can never be arbitrarily reduced again.

And two, we’re going to reform the Fair Work Act, so we can put the bargain back into enterprise bargaining.

And we will end the use of sham agreements in other parts of the nation to do to workers what is being done to the Esso maintenance contractors.

And when we talk about fair pay, that means equal pay for the women of Australia.

And when I say equal pay, I don’t just mean equal pay for doing the same work, I mean equal pay for work of equal value, so feminised occupations get the same deal.  

We cannot simply leave equal pay to the invisible hand and the free market.

117 years on, we cannot simply wait until our great, great, great granddaughters see equal pay on the current trajectory in another 150 years. We will make equal pay an economic plan for this country.

And, as we have always said, we are not going to subject construction workers to two sets of laws, we will scrap the ABCC and reform the building code.

We will tackle sham contracting and dodgy ‘phoenixing’.

We will not allow $2 companies to run and hide and go into liquidation when they owe their workers compensation.

We will make every director in this country have a director’s number so if they rip off workers once, they don’t get that second chance.

We will call time on the exploitation of so-called ‘permanent casuals’.

There is no such thing, in a future Labor government, as a permanent casual. Once you’ve been in that job for a period of time, you are a permanent worker.

And in the same vein we will look at new action to stop the spread of the overuse of fixed-term contracts.

Not fixed-term contracts for three or four years, fixed-term contracts for our young teachers and staff in white-collar professions and other jobs where, month by month, they get their fixed-term contract rolled over with no rights for the employee.

We will lead a national crack-down on dodgy labour hire companies and the dodgy use and abuse of labour hire casuals.

We get, I’ve worked in a lot of workplaces, I understand there is a role for labour hire.

But what there is not a role for is using labour hire casuals with the same skill and experience to work in the same job as direct employees, at lower rates of pay.

We are going to legislate a long-overdue principle in Australian employment law: same job, same pay.

This spread of labour hire is a most serious challenge for our labour relations and the way people are treated in this country.

When you talk to some of the older men and women working on the civil construction sites, on the stop-go signs in their 60s.

And they’re a labour hire contractor paid less than other people working on the same construction site.

And they look at you, you can see in their eyes, they know have to work, they don’t have enough superannuation, but they do not understand what has happened to the Australian promise.

How is it, they say to me, that in our 60s we are on less pay and less job security and worse conditions than we were in our 40s?

We need to make sure that when it comes to labour hire across Australia’s worksites, it’s a very straightforward principle: if you do the same job, you get the same pay. That’s what we’ll do.

So tonight, and I know there’s plenty to do and plenty to catch-up on, what I wanted to do was tell you some of Labor’s workplace relations policies.

Some of our propositions to honour the labour movement’s oldest promise of a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

I’ve made it clear tonight what we will do.

Sure, I’ll call them promises. But what we will do is a plan for action. And we will work with you and good employers to make sure this plan for action comes to fruition.

But I also want to conclude by saying this to you all.

I do not come here tonight automatically expecting your vote.

I do not come here tonight thinking that somehow the Labor party is owed the support of the union movement.

But I do come here tonight expecting your judgement.

Representation comes with the responsibility of judgement.

You are the representatives of working people in this country, Labor seeks to govern for all people in this country.

What I seek tonight is your judgement.

There are plenty of people who will vie for your vote.

But when you have a look, from One Nation to the Liberal Party to the other parties – what will they actually do?  

It is your judgement I seek. And it is your judgement on these following questions that I seek you to exercise as representatives.

It is for you and the members you represent, whose interests you hold dear to answer:

Who is the best party to make sure that bargaining and wage rises start happening again?

Who is the best party to champion equal pay?

Who is the best party to fight for secure work?

Who is the best party to lift the wages of working Australians?

And I would submit to you that it is the Labor party who is the best party to champion these issues.

It is only Labor who seeks to govern for all, in the interests of all.

It is only Labor who seeks to put the unions, not in charge, but treated with respect in the decision-making forums of the nation.

It is only Labor, when we seek to govern for all, who invest in education from the early years through the school system to TAFE and university. 

It is Labor who wants to properly fund our hospitals, for all Australians.

It’s Labor who wants to restore apprenticeships, for all Australians.

It is Labor who wants to protect superannuation, for all Australians.

It is Labor who wants to boost wages, for all Australians.

It is Labor who wants to take real action on climate change, for all Australians.

It is Labor who wants to champion the cause of an Australian head of state, for all Australians.

It is Labor who wants to close the gap with our first Australians, for all Australians.

I do say this to you tonight: we will be a Labor government where the union movement always has its rightful and respected place as the advocate and champion of working people because that serves all Australians too.  

You know, the other fellow, the current Prime Minister.

I think for him, being Prime Minister has always just been a game, an exercise in service of his own ambition.

I understand because of the representative nature of what we are going to do, I understand because of the lessons that working people have taught me my whole life, I understand that it is not about me, or my colleagues.

We know, in fact, that it’s not about any of us in this room.

It is about values, it is about ideas, it is about the Australian people – all of them.

And it is about honouring the oldest promise of the Australian nation: a fair go, all round.

Good night and thank you very much.


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