ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 24 AUGUST 2016
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I’d like to firstly acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.
And I’m proud to say those words of respect as the leader of a Labor party which now has more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as members of Caucus than ever before in the history of federation.
It is good to be back at the National Press Club, with friends and the media gallery.
I’d also, in particular, like to acknowledge a group of people who were far too busy campaigning to be here last time I spoke.
I’d like people to join me in welcoming to the Press Club, the Labor MPs of the class of 2016.
Reflecting on the election of some 8 weeks ago, I appreciate that we did a lot better than many of you esteemed commentators perhaps expected us to do.
And I know for all of my colleagues, what we learned through that long campaign has made us sharper, more focused, better at our jobs.
But because I also know how important the 45th Parliament is for the future of Australia, I take no comfort in a close second.
Right now, we’ve got a government content to settle for second-best.
It’s no secret that we are living through times of enormous change.
Some of you – in your quieter moments – might even wonder if the newspapers you write for will be here in a few years.
Whether the people who print, edit and deliver them will still have the same jobs.
We live in a world that talks of driverless cars, great connecting roads, bullet trains and transformative investments in education.
But what do the Liberals offer Australia?
- A second-rate NBN
- A third-tier rail network
- A fourth-rate roads system
- An under-funded education sector
- And a climate change policy that puts us at the back of the global pack.
There was a time when Australia aimed to be the best.
The world’s best health system.
The world’s best retirement savings system.
The world’s best minimum wage.
The world’s best way of empowering the lives of people with disability.
There was a time when we almost had a unity ticket on climate change.
When we opened our economy and our nation to the world.
This is the courage and the ambition that Australia requires of its politicians now.
I’m proud that Labor threw away the rulebook of opposition politics in the last election.
We broke the small-target mould - and we are not going back.
The task for us now is to demonstrate to more Australians that we are the party of the future.
Compassionate, constructive and competent.
And when I say constructive, I mean it.
Australia deserves a parliament that works and striving from opposition to make this parliament work is not a sign of weakness.
Where there is agreement, we should act on it.
Where there are areas where we can negotiate, we should.
But all those Australians who trusted us with their vote can rest assured that we will hold firm to our principles.
We will stand our ground.
Labor will not sign up to fixing the national budget by smashing the family budget.
We will never walk away from properly funding our schools or Medicare, we will never slash Australia’s safety net to provide tax cuts for big multinationals.
Our values would not allow it.
And Australia’s productivity, our prosperity, our security depends upon being an egalitarian, educated and healthy society.
Ever since Mr Turnbull’s memorable oration in the late hours of the election night - the Sunday actually - the Liberals have said a lot of different things about Medicare.
We’ve seen the full spectrum of emotions - from angry denial to faux contrition.
But there’s been no shift in the government’s plans to undermine and hollow-out Medicare.
The Prime Minister is very eager to claim a mandate from the election result – but he refuses to heed its warning.
Saving Medicare was the biggest issue of the election.
And protecting Medicare will be a priority for me, my Labor team and the 45th Parliament.
On the Tuesday after the election, the Prime Minister said:
“I would like Australians to believe that commitment to Medicare is completely bipartisan.”
I’m sure he would like that.
But it’s just not the case.
Mr Turnbull admitted that the Liberals have a problem with Medicare.
Once you concede you have a problem, you either fix it – or continue to have it – that’s the simple political reality.
But here we are, two months on and nothing has changed.
Not even a hint from the government that they intend to reverse their anti-bulk billing 6-year freeze to the GP rebate, a direct hit on the medical bills and the cost-of-living of every Australian family.
The AMA says GPs remain ‘at breaking point’.
The Liberals are sticking with their plans to push up the price of medicine.
And despite the rhetorical ripcord Mr Turnbull pulled halfway through the first election debate in Western Sydney vulnerable Australians will still be paying upfront fees and charges for mammograms, blood tests and melanoma treatments.
Just last week we learned that the $5 million privatisation taskforce Mr Turnbull claimed was a fiction of everyone else’s imagination, is still pressing ahead.
No wonder people don’t trust the Liberals with Medicare.
Mr Turnbull just doesn’t get it.
Until he stops undermining bulk-billing, stops the price-hike for prescription medicine, stops the new fees and charges for pathology and diagnostic imaging, properly funds our hospitals and abolishes the privatisation taskforce.
In other words, until the Liberals abandon their attacks on Medicare, they will continue to earn the mistrust, the anger of the Australian people.
But there is an even deeper conflict here, does Mr Turnbull have the courage to force his will on his Treasurer, Scott Morrison and the right-wing of his party or not?
Medicare is that test of the key question of the 45th Parliament.
For our part, Labor will continue to be a strong opposition and a bold, alternative government-in-waiting.
Because this is no time for dithering or drift.
In a host of very important ways, we know the forces which will define our future.
We know our region is growing.
Today around 500 million people are members of Asia’s burgeoning middle class.
In the next two decades, the figure will grow to over 3 billion.
China will go from mere economic superpower, to a force of economic nature.
Its economy and the real incomes of its people will continue to grow.
Its Belt-and-Road economic policies will be influential from Central Asia to Europe.
Australia needs an intelligent, nuanced foreign policy approach to China, a more engaged relationship with India - the fastest-growing major economy in the world.
We need to be more active within ASEAN, especially in Indonesia where 9 million people are entering the middle class each year.
And we need a renewed focus on PNG and the Pacific.
We know also the climate is changing.
2015 was the hottest year on record, July 2016 was the hottest July on record.
We know our population is ageing too.
Within a decade, 5 million Australians will be over 65.
And we know the internet and technology is radically transforming our society – at a faster and faster rate.
In this open-source environment, iconic brand names, even whole industries will disappear.
There will be no such thing as a job for life.
Intuitive software means if a job can be automated – it will be.
These scarifyingly rapid changes in work require much more than vapid slogans, or lectures about entrepreneurship.
They demand the right plans and right policies to make sure Australians are not left behind by change.
Ensuring our people are active decision-makers in securing their prosperity - not passive spectators watching opportunities pass them by.
We must begin by recognising a lot of Australians are close to giving up on politics and politicians – giving up on the major parties and on the system altogether.
This is one reason so many minor parties and fringe movements promise to turn back the clock.
Pretending that somehow we can go back to the old ways, rebuild the old walls and retreat to the familiar comfort of a vanished past.
The changes to our population, to our economy and to our climate cannot be denied, nor delayed.
And every day we waste arguing about the cause robs us of time to deal with the effects.
Mr Turnbull wanders around telling Australians not to hide under the doona – but he’s spent a year asleep at the wheel of the nation.
Inequality is worsening, 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line and 625,000 are children.
And yet the Liberals are still pushing the failed trickle-down economics of tax cuts for big business and the wealthy few.
Australia is the only advanced economy in the world that’s shedding jobs in renewable energy.
We have fallen from 30th to 60th in global internet speeds – despite billions of dollars in cost blow-outs.
Our schools are slipping in science, maths, reading and writing – yet the government is cutting billions from education.
Training a productive and skilled workforce has never been more important but apprenticeship places have fallen by 130,000 whilst dodgy private providers have ripped-off tens of thousands of Australians.
In 2014, the ten largest private training colleges in Australia received $900 million in taxpayer funding.
Yet less than 5 per cent of their students graduated.
These operators are loading Australians up with massive student debt, but not the qualifications they need to find a job.
And it’s costing taxpayers a fortune.
Labor’s plan to clean out these shonks by backing public TAFE will deliver $7.9 billion in budget savings.
And instead of the discredited plan to spend $50 billion of taxpayer money on:
- A tax cut for foreign companies
- And an additional $7.4 billion bonus for the big banks
The government’s priority should be working with the states to drive investment in public infrastructure projects.
This is the missing part of the national economic story going forward.
Ever since the end of the mining investment boom, and the massive withdrawal of record levels of capital expenditure from our GDP, residential and commercial construction – kicked along by historically low interest rates – have been left to take up the slack.
The economy has adjusted, in part.
But in a low interest rate, low investment return environment, we can’t rely on monetary policy to do all the heavy lifting.
What’s missing is a framework for the future – for more full-time jobs in new service industries, for real wages growth and for more investment.
That’s why Labor is focused on the drivers of productivity - skills, education, broadband and infrastructure.
We need national leadership to modernise our infrastructure and bring new projects to market.
Much of the investment can – and should - be privately funded, it’s up to the Commonwealth to work with the states to bring value-for-money projects forward.
There’s no shortage of capital, either here or from overseas.
We have a multi-trillion dollar national savings system that should be put to work.
And big dollars, all along the east coast, are required to supplement the efforts of Western Australia, regional Queensland and the Territory.
This is why we need an independent, empowered Infrastructure Australia – with its own $10 billion financing facility.
A ‘Concrete Bank’ driving a permanent program of construction as a long-term baseload for tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment and economic growth providing certainty for investors to get big, long-term builds like high-speed rail underway.
The same is true for large scale and long-term energy generation projects.
Some of Australia’s electricity plants are extremely old and highly polluting.
And building the energy capability of the future means more renewables, less coal-fired generation.
But without certainty on climate policy, we cannot and will not attract the investment certainty required for investment.
Labor has a plan for the Australian Energy Market Commission to establish an emissions reduction scheme for the electricity generating sector.
- help Australia meet our 2030 targets
- provide investors with long-term certainty
- mobilise the capital to create jobs
- and jump-start the process of renewing our electricity-generating assets.
Mr Turnbull has previously publicly supported this scheme.
So I say to him today, work with me to deliver it.
Use the great privilege you had been afforded by Australian people in being elected Prime Minister to do some good.
Don’t let the climate sceptics in your party hold Australia back.
In changing times, the great Australian safety net, the Australian model for inclusive growth, has never been more important.
A strong safety net, promoting fairness, is the ultimate protection against extremism.
But without policies that promote inclusion and extend opportunity – urging people to ‘make disruption their friend’ only breeds resentment.
It’s easy to say ‘take a risk’ from a position of great financial security.
But in twenty years of representing workers, I’ve seen the underbelly of economic change and unemployment.
The sudden dislocation that can come from a factory’s sudden closure or contracting-out previously permanent jobs.
Not just for the workers, but for their families, for the surrounding community and for the businesses along the supply-chain - both blue collar and white collar.
We see it as Arrium and its workers face price pressures from China, and a lack of support from Canberra.
We’ll see it on October 7 this year, when the last Ford Falcon and the last Holden Cruze roll off the line at Broadmeadows and Elizabeth. Who would have thought we would no longer make cars in this country.
For Australians in Northern Tassie, in regional Queensland, in Geelong and Altona and the suburbs of Perth, describing our economy as in ‘transition’ misses the point.
What’s happening to so many Australians isn’t an orderly process or a smooth and seamless exercise.
If you’re a 55 year-old machine operator whose factory is closing, that’s not a transition, that’s unemployment.
If you’re a small-business owner, funded by your mortgage, you don’t need to be told to ‘embrace failure’ – it’s what keeps you up at night.
If you’re a 7-eleven employee, paid half the minimum wage and no penalty rates – it is not the most exciting time to be working in Australia.
If you’re a welder, replaced by a 457 worker who’s being exploited, this is not the promise of the free trade agreements.
Around our country, there are Australians who have spent their whole life playing by the rules, who now believe the deck is stacked against them.
Who feel forgotten, let down and abandoned by a system that has outsourced, contracted-out and privatised their problems.
And before you dismiss this, come with me to a town hall meeting sometime.
In Nowra, or Gladstone, Beenleigh or Armadale.
You’ll hear from small business people who can’t access the capital they need to grow – yet are watching big banks collect record profits fuelled by unreasonable fees and charges.
Working mums whose weekly pay-packet is swallowed whole by childcare costs.
Dairy farmers locked-in to unfair contracts.
Breadwinners struggling with insecure work, casualization, under-employment or no certainty of hours.
Regional businesses missing out on local jobs promised by national governments contracts.
Parents worried that their daughter, bright enough to win a place in the course of her dreams, will be unfairly burdened with a lifetime of student debt.
A week ago, a young man asked me why he could get faster internet while he was in Cambodia than he does in Rockhampton.
And everywhere you go, you hear Australians grinding their teeth in frustration when job-creating infrastructure projects are held back by petty politics.
Inevitably, when people talk about improving the integrity of our democracy, we lean toward beard-stroking commentary about the behaviour in Question Time.
If we really want to prove our democracy is authentic, honest and acting in the interests of Australians, – we need more than better manners in the Question time.
We must demonstrate an ability to deliver practical solutions relevant to Australians’ daily lives.
We have to prove our party-based, adversarial system can also achieve consensus and co-operation in the national interest.
Recognising the difference between testing ideas to find solutions and pointless confrontation where your only objective is to defeat your opponent.
We see the latter playing out again, in that favourite Liberal obsession, the trade union movement.
Not one day in Mr Turnbull’s parliamentary career reveals any prior interest in the work of truck drivers, crane operators or the industrial arrangements of professional firefighters.
Instead, he's chasing the last retreat, the last bastion the Liberal Party have always clung to – that if they undo the union movement, they can shatter the Labor party.
If we want better for Australia, we have to be better than this.
For the good of the country, it’s time to cut off some of the confrontational toxins and work on getting things done.
Labor will take a proactive – and a constructive - approach to the 45th parliament.
We will work with the government to advance Constitutional Recognition – and I sincerely hope we can have a bipartisan push for action on Indigenous incarceration and community safety.
Labor will also re-introduce the simple but profoundly important legislation required to make marriage equality a reality.
We can achieve this – immediately - with a free vote.
This parliament can do its job and spare Australians a $160 million taxpayer-funded opinion poll, which will only provide a national platform for prejudice and hate.
Really, the question has to be asked - what is the point of a compulsory plebiscite when accepting the outcome is voluntary?
How can Mr Turnbull seriously fine Australians for not voting – when he cannot make his own Liberal MPs acknowledge the result.
Labor will continue our call for a Royal Commission into the banking system, because there have been far too many scandals followed by only empty apologies.
Australia’s banks are underwritten by security from the government and the taxpayer – but there is not enough accountability in return.
Excessive market power breeds arrogance.
Fees, charges, credit card rip-offs. ATM fees and a payment for paper statements.
Three months ago, Mr Turnbull said ASIC had all the authority necessary to keep the banks honest – nothing to see here.
Now he’s talking about an annual catch-up in Canberra with the big four, and a new banking tribunal.
But Australians don’t want Mr Turnbull’s excuses and thought bubbles to deal with banks ripping people off, they want Labor’s plan which means people don’t get ripped off in the first place.
I genuinely think there is an opportunity to work with the whole parliament on this.
Just as there is an opportunity to work together on budget repair.
Both major parties want a stronger bottom line for the country, the current disagreement is over how we get there.
Last week Mr Turnbull spoke of ‘reaching across the aisle’.
Yet all he did was demand Labor’s support, sight unseen, for his legislation.
We’ve said we will look constructively at Mr Turnbull’s Omnibus Bill – when the government finally draws up the legislation.
We’ve said our position will reflect our commitment to budget repair.
But let’s be frank – our budget and our economy need something a lot more serious and more substantial than Mr Turnbull’s stunt.
What I’m proposing to do is a genuine solution.
After three years of Liberals doubling the deficit and adding $100 billion in debt, Australia’s hard-won triple-A credit rating is at risk.
And if AAA goes to AA, it will be on the heads of Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison.
I’m prepared to step up and show the sort of leadership the nation has lacked, to get the budget back on track.
Today, my economic team and I are putting forward a genuine savings package.
A practical, achievable plan to deliver an immediate budget improvement of $8 billion over the forward estimates and over $80 billion over the next 10 years.
I say to Mr Turnbull, let’s put the nation ahead of partisan confrontation.
Join with me in locking-in these changes, with lasting benefit to our nation’s bottom line.
- Reforming negative gearing and capital gains, $37 billion
- Restoring integrity to vocational education and training, $7.9 billion
- Increasing the tobacco excise to stop kids smoking, $28 billion
- And there’s another $1 billion from cracking-down on PHI subsidies for natural therapies.
My message to the Prime Minister is simple: have the courage to lead your party.
Be big enough to stand up and say what you really think: ‘these are good policies, that will help the budget – let’s put the campaign aside and adopt them’.
Recognise that this is fair-dinkum fiscal repair that is both urgent and achievable in the 45th parliament.
The Liberals love lecturing Australians about fiscal responsibility, don’t they?
Yet they’re spending $50 billion on tax cuts for big multinationals.
$17 billion on a tax cut for the very highest income earners.
Scott Morrison talks about ‘excesses’ in negative gearing – but runs a mile from taking action when he sniffs a scare campaign.
They said increasing the tobacco excise was nothing but a grab for money, at least they banked it.
And yet, this $4.7 billion measure – with bipartisan support – wasn’t even included in Mr Turnbull’s little performance last week.
The party I lead is better than this.
We’re prepared to put the national interest ahead of our political interests.
And if the government supports our measures, you won’t hear me jeering about backflips and back-downs.
I’ll be there to vote for these changes, for the good of the country.
In that same spirit, I am prepared to offer the government a way forward on superannuation.
It’s clear to anyone following this issue, that there is no end in sight to the Coalition infighting over an obviously flawed superannuation policy, clearly drawn-up in haste.
And it might have been tempting, even politically advantageous, to sit back and watch the humiliating spectacle of Scott Morrison floundering.
But our superannuation system is too important for that, and that is not who we are.
Superannuation account-holders deserve certainty.
Today, I’m putting forward a better, fairer alternative that delivers a stronger budget improvement.
Unlike the government, our changes are prospective – not retrospective.
We will not tie the $500,000 lifetime contribution cap back to 2007.
Instead, our changes will apply from Budget night.
This means Australians who have invested for their retirement in good faith based on clear rules, no matter how generous, will not be punished after the fact.
Nor will they be put through the administrative headache of piecing-together financial decisions tracing back a decade when the law doesn't require them to keep these documents.
At the same time, I am proposing we lower the threshold for high-income super contributions from $250,000 to $200,000.
Together, our measures will improve the Budget over the forward estimates by $238 million and $4.4 billion over the decade.
More budget savings – but no retrospectivity.
In a time of budget pressures, the Government should be closing unsustainably generous high-income loopholes in superannuation; not opening new ones.
This is why Labor will oppose the Government’s plans to:
- Allow catch-up concessional superannuation contributions
- Harmonise contribution rules for those aged 65 to 74
- Allow tax deductions for personal superannuation contributions.
Despite the merit of some of those propositions, this new spending cannot be a priority, especially when it will set the Budget back $1.5 billion over the forward estimates and $14.7 billion over the next ten years.
Labor’s plan will preserve a strong tax incentive for Australians to contribute to their own retirement savings, while also ensuring the whole is sustainable and fair into the future.
This isn’t about a short-term fix – it is long-term budget reform.
In that spirit, I spoke briefly to the Prime Minister this morning and will be writing to him, urging him to accept Labor’s measures in the constructive spirit we offer them.
I say to Mr Turnbull, let’s forget about who owns the idea and focus on getting the best outcome for Australia.
With goodwill on both sides, perhaps we can make this kind of co-operation routine rather than revolutionary.
Australians deserve a parliament that works, and parties and leaders capable of working together.
My new team and I are up for that challenge.
So today we say, let the work begin.
Thank you very much.