Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL COUNTRY LABOR FORUM - ROCKHAMPTON - SATURDAY, 7 OCTOBER 2017

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Good morning, everybody. It's fantastic to see such a gathering, including so many of my Federal Parliamentary colleagues.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I should also probably acknowledge the great Labor leader who in fact opened this facility we are in now - Bob Hawke opened this facility in 1988.

It shows what Labor can do for the regions.

I'd also like to thank Joel for his very generous introduction.

The regions seriously couldn’t have a better champion in Canberra than Joel Fitzgibbon - you're doing a great job, Joel.

It’s fantastic to be back in Rocky, the beef capital of Australia - although this week, it's the Labor Party HQ of Australia.

It's a good week to be in Rocky.

And on that note, I do want to thank all of the people who have worked so hard to make the last week the success it has been.

A demonstration of Labor's intent to be a government for all Australians in all parts of Australia.

It was good last night to have a few beverages at the innovatively named Giddy Goat.

And it was good to be with a lot of great local state MPs and candidates and true believers, and I congratulate those who then went on to have a few more drinks at the Criterion.

Now as for myself at the Botanic Gardens in Rockhampton at 7am for the Rocky ParkRun. It was remarkable.

This Saturday was the 13th anniversary internationally of ParkRun, it is all over Australia.

But there's no doubt that Rockhampton, seeing it on the ground at that time - what a beautiful place people live in here.

Now, there were 200 people running this morning.

The bad news is, and this will not surprise some of my colleagues, I did not actually come first.

The good news is I definitely finished in the top 200.

As Joel touched upon in his generous introduction, I’m very lucky to lead a united Labor team.

A Labor team who’ve spent the week in the area talking with locals, businesses, workers, stakeholders, people who care about their community.

- Doug Cameron and Susan Lamb have been here with their jobs taskforce.

- Catherine King – talking Medicare, diagnostic imaging and how we tackle the terrible scourge of ice in our community.

- Stephen Jones, literally Labor's Duracell bunny, has been working hard drawing attention to the inadequate nature of the NBN. He's been meeting with small businesses and families who just deserve a better NBN than the one they're getting.

- Brendan O’Connor and Lisa Chesters up here fighting for decent jobs.

- Jim Chalmers and Jason Clare, focusing on new infrastructure projects to bring in more tourists.

And of course, we've now been joined by Albo who has been continuous champion of regional Queensland in our infrastructure policies, and talking again about Tourism.

Of course, there has been Joel Fitzgibbon. He has been here so long that he’s now complaining about the tourists.

We've got our great Queensland Senate team, Chris Ketter, Claire Moore, Anthony Chisholm and Murray Watt - doing a great job.

And I think when I do that brief roll call, and there could be many more who I speak about and some who I will, I think this conference and all of you, do our movement a great compliment.

Because it is the calibre of the people here, state and federal, true believers, union reps who show what sort of party we are at our heart.

That we are a party who doesn't just speak for South-East Queensland or the big cities of the east coast.

That we don’t treat regional Australia as some sort of fly-over country, as places that we fly over on our way to somewhere else.

We, in Labor, spend time on the ground, we talk to locals, we hear what needs to be done.

And, I have to say unlike the LNP we put our money where our mouth is.

When I came up here in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie – like everyone who has saw or was witness to the resilience of the people hit by that, I saw the courage and community on display.

There were the shop-owners and their staff coming in, rolling-up their sleeves, ripping up the damaged carpet, repairing the windows, mopping out the storm water and flood water.

I am in awe of what people can do when they're called upon to dig deep.

But I also think it is long past the hour for the LNP to do their bit too.

Queensland, led by Anastasia Palaszczuk has asked for $110 million to help with the clean-up.

The LNP has left Queensland $62 million short.

It is a disgrace that this Prime Minister can find $122 million to hold a postal survey so you can cast an opinion on the value someone else's relationship.

But he cannot find a portion of the taxes that Central Queensland pay to Canberra every year to help business, to help jobs, to help your community just get back on their feet a little bit quicker than they otherwise would.

Queenslanders are practical people; you all know that the best way to reduce the cost of flood damage is to prevent flood damage.

For every one dollar we spend on mitigation, we can save up to ten dollars from the rebuilding cost down the track.

That’s why a new Federal Labor Government – in conjunction with the Rockhampton Council and the Queensland State Government ­­­ will provide $25 million to build a new flood levee for Rocky and create local jobs on the way.

If we know it's going to flood, then not doing something about it seems to me to be a completely negligent public policy proposition.

Building the levee would protect an additional 1200 properties from flood – but it would also mean that the locals would pay about $400 less in their insurance every year.

In Roma, when a previous Labor Government worked with the Roma Council to build a levee, we've seen insurance premiums drop $3,000 for business to $700.

That's real benefit.

Now, it’s been six months since Labor made this entirely reasonable commitment based upon the best advice from locals.

And what have we heard from the missing Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry?

She’s having a survey to see what people think.

They love these surveys the Liberal Party. Why is it with this government, the answer to everything a survey?

They must have some arrangement with Australia Post - they're secretly on the commission.

But much more seriously than that, we know that the next cyclone season is on the way.

And I believe that Queenslanders are paying more than they should for insurance, for insurance premiums and their properties and yet the same properties are at risk again.

And this is all because you've got a government who can’t make a simple decision - a simple decision.

So my message to the LNP today is crystal clear: stop delaying, start delivering. Stop talking, start doing.

And I say to every local council in Queensland, to every council in regional Queensland.

Labor’s door is open to your good ideas about essential infrastructure which will prevent and mitigate flood and storm damage which will ultimately force down the cost of living and help business be able to do what it does best.

If you take a look at some of the commitments that we’ve already made in this term of opposition.

Look at what we’ve said in Townsville this year: $100 million for improved water security, a significant investment in addition to new hydro-power.

And do you know why we can do that?

Because when you elect strong Labor members – like Cathy O’Toole, helping guide the Federal Party in its policy, based upon the best advice from locals, then we can really get things done.

And we are doing this from opposition.

Imagine how much Rockhampton and the surrounding region could benefit if you had a fair-dinkum member of parliament putting forward fair-dinkum policies, standing up for the fair-dinkum needs in this region.

And that's why Labor has to win Capricornia at the next election.

Now an extraordinary thing happened yesterday, and no, I’m not talking about FM radio and rap battles.

The extraordinary event was that Turnbull had to clarify that – contrary to a recent study - he came out with full Turnbullian confidence, knowledge and experties and he declared that Australia’s internet isn’t as bad as Kenya's Internet.

Well, we can file that bit of news under ‘it’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian’.

It’s not just the NBN where the regions need a communications upgrade.

In this part of Australia, mobile phone black spots aren’t just an inconvenience which is resolved a minute later by where you drive – it’s a risk to community safety.

But 1 out of every 5 mobile-phone towers that the LNP have built don’t actually expand mobile coverage at all.

That takes some going.

And 80 per cent of the locations that have been selected for new towers are in LNP electorates.

So what is happening is that an inefficiently directed program with inefficient outcomes is being directed for photo opportunities to buttress an incompetent government rather than just the needs of the community.

I can tell you this that in the event Labor is elected nationally at the next election; our priority will be to assist people most in need.

We do not look at the lines drawn on a map and saying 'that is Labor' or 'this is Liberal'.

We look at the lines on a map and say 'where is the need?'

And that's the way any decent, self-respecting government should behave.

And I've got to talk about, when it comes to pork-barrelling; it brings me to the topic of the Dual-Nationals.

How many times have you heard about the National Party 'safe-seats' so called.

And one fact that marks a National’s safe seat is that they're most likely to be some of the poorest seats in Australia.

9 out of 10 of the most disadvantaged electorates in Australia are National Party seats.

And they’ve been boasting about this for years.

Now I know Labor, and you know Labor, and we know that we do not regard economic disadvantage as something to shrug our shoulders about as we collect our pay.

We do not regard it as a mark or a badge of honour to, for decades, represent disadvantaged electorates.

We regard that as a challenge.

When we see disadvantage, we don't shrug our shoulders, tap the stone along the road with our boot and say well that's the way it's always been.

We see disadvantage as a challenge.

We are far more ambitious for our voters than the National Party appear to be for theirs.

In Labor, we spend every minute of every day fighting disadvantage, fighting inequality, fighting for fairness.

But it seems to me that the Nationals basically have a policy for regional voters that it's pork at election time and it's poverty the rest of the time.

Pork and poverty describes the National Party view of their seats.

At election time, they're always out there, endlessly gasbagging they'll do this and they'll do that.

A bit of pork on the electoral table in return for voting for the Nats.

But as soon as that election is held, it all stops.

And if you want to have a look at what is being done in these seats, it's really the Nats turning up to announce our accomplishments from previous governments.

So it is poverty most of the time, and it is political pork-barrelling at election time.

The Nationals seem to think they have a lock on country Australia - they wear the hats and they get down to Canberra and talk the big game.

But they always just vote for the latest act of economic rationalism by their Liberal masters.

They're just happy to be there.

You've seen them - they're the people on the bus, on the school picnic - they're just happy to be on the bus.

They really don't want to tell anyone they are there in case they remind people of what they're doing.

But we want to be very clear. At the next election - we are chasing every vote.

We are chasing every vote in regional Australia.

Not because we deserve to be in power just for turning up - but because we think that our values are values long overdue to give the voice of country Australia the fair dinkum voice it's been denied under the LNP.

And at the top of any list of Labor priorities, it has to be jobs.

Creating jobs requires creating new opportunities:

- In agriculture with Joel.

- In infrastructure projects with Albo with Stephen Jones.

- In tourism, something which animates Labor.

We recognise that with our $1 billion tourism infrastructure fund for Northern Australia: upgrading regional airports, upgrading harbours, bringing good tour operators back.

We think there is a marvellous story to tell - but you've got to get on with it.

The Liberals have a $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. If you had a dollar for every time they mentioned it, you'd be a rich person.

The problem is they just haven't spent a cent.

My concern is that this government views the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund as a play to help big mining companies and do nothing else for anyone else.

We are deeply concerned that this fund hasn't delivered the promises which people signed up to.

We want to make this fund work for Queenslanders.

We want to make it work in terms of real jobs.

You just can't talk about jobs without talking about training - and you can't talk about training without talking about TAFE.

If we are elected, we will put public TAFE at the centre of vocational education.

That involves new money to reinvigorate and renovate regional campuses.

Go to Mackay, that can be a centre of engineering excellence.

You go to providing more tourism and hospitality training so tourism operators can get the staff they desperately need.

If we can put the money back into TAFE, then TAFE with local industry will generate the skilled workforce, building on the strengths which already exist.

And that can absolutely mean we can create jobs in regional Australia and in regional Queensland, so that the young ones don't have to leave and that families can come here, set up and establish themselves because they have got reliable work.

When we talk about work, we understand it's not just about the creation of jobs and the training of Australians - we believe in decent work, quality work.

Yesterday, Brendan O'Connor and I were in Mackay at an engineering workshop and a journalist said: What do you mean by a decent job? Don't you like casual work?

We said we like casual work, as far as it goes.

There are things like seasonal demand, we get that. It ebbs and flows, of course Labor understands that.

But I tell you what Labor thinks a decent job is.

It's a job with a plentiful number of hours.

It's a job where you have some say over the task at work.

It is a safe job; it is a job you are paid reasonably for.

It is a job that you find fulfilling.

It is a job which means you can have some hope and aspiration.

A decent job to Labor means having enough money and enough certainty and security in employment that maybe you can get a loan for a car if you're a young person.

Maybe you can get a loan to buy a house.

Maybe with a secure job and the proper hours and the proper remuneration, you're able to think about the relationships you form - the ability to start thinking about starting a family.

We understand that we live in a time where whilst there is some economic growth, this growth is not evenly distributed amongst all Australians.

Ever since the end of the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a divide open up between those who rely upon income and those who have a lot of property.

If you own a lot of property, you'll be doing pretty well.

But if you really solely or principally upon income, you are falling behind the pace.

We live in an unprecedented time where wages are stagnating - the lowest numbers in 50 years.

And when I say unprecedented, it is unprecedented for another reason this same set of circumstances.

Normally, it's the unions who want to see the workers' wages go up - fine.

Some employers, perhaps, are not as excited by that prospect.

But we now live in a time where employers, investment analysts and economists are all saying there is a problem - we need to see the wages lift.

But how on earth can wages lift in this country, even though there is increased growth when you have labour hire casuals everywhere lowering job security, lowering wages.

Now, that doesn't mean labour hire doesn't have its place - of course it does.

Buy when it becomes a strategy to lower the conditions of permanent workforce.

When it becomes a strategy to provide greater insecurity, then you stifle wages growth.

And also, when we see in our wages system, the relentless attack by this government upon unions, what they're actually doing is making it harder for workers to get a pay rise.

And when you make it harder for workers to get a pay rise that affects them, that affects their security, their well-being.

But it actually has a flow on to the whole economy.

What we are seeing is the division between growth and greater corporate profits and a lower share of national income going to workers.

What we see is that actually stifles the economy.

It is remarkable watching some of the geniuses who sit opposite in Question Time.

They say 'we've got growth'. Well, the wages aren't there.

There's explanation - and the explanation is if the safety net of workers is undermined, if the safety net has more holes and strands and people fall through it because:

- of casualisation

- of labour hire abuses

- of wage theft - the systemic under payment of tens of thousands of our fellow Australians

Well no wonder why people have no money to spend.

And all this government wants to do is increase the Medicare Levy of the less well-off and give millionaires a tax cut.

The fact of the matter is that working people in this country pretty much spend every dollar they earn.

And that's what actually drives the economy - that confidence.

But if working people are not getting a fair share of the economy, if they are seeing their household debt go up.

If they see their power bills rising and rising and rising, and then Turnbull has a meeting with the gas companies and their power bills are rising and rising and rising.

If they see health insurance premiums going up and up and up and their wages flat lining, you know there is a problem.

That this economy is not working in the interest of all Australians.

And regional Australia feels that brunt more than many in the city.

But if we cut penalty rates - that affects the money that people in Rocky and Central Queensland have to spend.

In this region alone, 60,000 people are affected.

So when our fellow Australians are doing it hard and when they see corporate profits up.

When they see the large companies paying down their debt.

When see CEO wages in millions of dollars.

When they see millionaires under Turnbull getting a tax reduction.

When they see a government fighting tooth and nail to give corporate tax cuts to large multinationals who are already not paying their fair share of tax in this country - people say what is going on.

But what I want to say to people in regional Queensland, what I want to say on behalf of all of you to our fellow Australians, is Labor gets it.

We are not out of touch like this current government.

We do not think this is the most exciting time.

Because in the house of Labor, we understand that when you take away the side shows which constitute much of Australian political debate that our mission comes down to a question.

And this is the question:

Are we going to hand on a better set of circumstances to the next generation than the one we received?

What will be our legacy if we reconvene here in 10 years’ time?

What will we be able to say to people in Rocky that we did between then and now?

This is the question.

One of the most marvellous experiences many of us have experienced is the birth of a child.

Now, you don't have to have that but it is a marvellous experience - it's sort of shakes you up.

I can't speak for others but it certainly straightened me out a little bit.

Some of you too by the way you are smiling.

But you realise that you're reasonable for more than just yourself.

I've got three kids; two teenagers, a little seven year old.

And I ask myself when we debate in parliament with the privilege that we have, what Australia will we give my seven year old when she's thirty?

Or I look at workers in their 40s and 50s who are contemplating retirement - how will they be going in 20 years’ time?

And I look at new retirees in their 60s - healthy now but have got to mind the money.

They've got the fixed income stream but have got to watch it. How will they go in their 80s?

The real test of politics, the universal question is what will be our legacy?

What will we do to hand on a better deal?

And there is no way in this country that you can claim to hand on a better deal unless you look after the regions.

The regions need the cities, and the cities need the regions.

And our party understands all of that - we were born in the bush as much as we were born in the city.

And we will not allow these conservatives to take our history and pretend it is theirs.

And we will not allow the tyranny of low LNP and Nationals’ expectations for the regions to govern our ambition.

We are ambitious to tackle disadvantage.

We are ambitious to give a voice to people in the regions.

If you live in the regions, you should be able to see a doctor and get quality health care.

If you live in the regions, you should be able to get proper NBN.

If you live in the regions, your kids should get a quality education.

If you live in the regions, you should get your fair share of infrastructure spending.

We have a view about the regions but we have a view about Australians - yes, we are multicultural.

Yes, we are passionate in Labor.

Yes, we do believe in pluralism.

Yes, we do believe in the safety net and unions being able to represent workers.

Yes, we do believe in the fair go all-round.

We do believe in the equality between men and women.

We do think our first Australians need to get the same deal as every other Australian.

We do believe that the regions matter.

Because we want to always answer that question.

If we can answer the question, what have we done to leave a better legacy for Australia than the one we inherited.

If we can pass that test then we are doing the job of our great movement.

It is now our Labor generation's question to answer.

It is now my team's question to answer.

And it is the question we will answer to the regions.

And I promise, if given the opportunity to form a government, we will leave the regions better than we found them.

Thank you very much.

ENDS


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