Bill's Speeches

AUSTRALIAN SERVICES UNION MEETING - SYDNEY - THURSDAY, 8 DECEMBER 2016

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Thanks very much for that welcome. 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present. 

I would also like to acknowledge the work all of you do, standing up for people, standing up for women, standing up for a better deal in this country.  

We live in a time of political turbulence - you can't open a newspaper without being told that: 

Trump. Brexit. Two world leaders resigned on Monday – one of them a conservative investment banker 

Domestically   

-         We're seeing flat wages growth

-         Massive under-employment and insecure employment

-         Yesterday,  we discovered that the Australian economy shrunk in the last 3 months.

 

We're seeing the rise of third parties, offering simple solutions. 

We live in a time where working and middle class families feel overlooked and ignored - that their contribution to politics is irrelevant because the fix is in and the deal is already done. 

If you believe the prevailing view of conservative commentariate, the prevailing views in the business pages of our newspapers, everything is too hard. 

Everything is gridlocked, change is impossible, all is unsolvable. We should just go back to the tried-and-true answer of leaving it to the invisible hand and the free market to sort it all out. 

Sometimes, in modern age of the 24-hour media cycle, I feel like the establishment has a very short memory. Lots of information – but not much analysis, not much context. 

What I want to say to you today is not a message that it is all too hard, but rather, we can change things. 

My confidence springs from one inescapable fact of Australian history and Australian progress. 

There is one party which has been around for the whole of the modern history of Australia - the Labor party. 

In the labour movement, political and industrial, we have dealt with turbulent times. 

We fought fights which people said were unwinnable and too hard. 

There is one consistent political movement in this country and it's the labour movement. It's our movement. 

If you want a movement and a political party with a track record of making things happen, of starting things going, of making change work for people – then look to us, you and me - our cause. 

We understand the problems facing this country. 

-         Rising inequality – money and power being concentrated increasingly in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

-         People lack security at work – or they’re locked out of employment 

-         Increasingly, our industrial system is seeing workers treated as wage costs, as accounting units, not as people.

-         First-home buyers are shut out of the market

-         For the first time in generations, I believe Australians no longer take it for granted that they will hand on more to their kids than what they received. 

Or put another way, people in our country feel concerned that the economy is not working in the interests of all Australians. 

And we've seen Mr Turnbull's Coalition offer the weakest and worst possible response to this set of circumstances. 

Their answer to the legitimate concerns of Australians, and those problems I just outlined: 

Give large companies a tax cut - and reduce income tax paid by millionaires. 

Look after the few, sell out the rest, undermine the future. 

It is discredited trickle-down economics: 

-         Big business tax cuts

-         Attack the safety net, attack Medicare

-         Attack the unions who defend the workplace safety net

-         A ‘poor shaming’ agenda – dividing the community, blaming the most vulnerable for being the most vulnerable. 

And an attack on the future: 

-         Cutting TAFE, apprenticeships and making it harder for working-class kids to go to university

-         The absolute cowardly retreat on the environment, bowing and scraping to the climate sceptics

-         Stubbornly refusing to do anything about negative gearing

-         Attacking superannuation for workers 

These people always underestimate working people. 

These people carrying out these policies always underestimate the ability of unions and other forces for progress to win the argument. 

They don’t understand when they attack unions day after day in parliament that unions, your union, are irreplaceable actors in the story of making change work for people. 

It's just that they don't get the problem. 

It’s not second and third-generation migrants who are holding Australia back. 

It’s not the wage rates of crane drivers, riggers and scaffolders . 

It's not renewable energy, or protections against racist hate speech. 

It's not people on the disability pension, or pensioners generally who are holding this country back. 

It is the exact opposite. It is the rise and maintenance of unfair power structures, the rise and spread of inequality: 

-         Contractors using labour hire to undermine wages

-         Australians being ripped off by their banks – and farmers being evicted from their land

-         Multinationals not paying their fair share of tax

-         And most relevant to the gathering today - the lack of equality for the women of Australia is perpetuated not solved. 

Australians need a clear response to these challenges – to income inequality, to the stratification of power. 

Australians are hungry for the recognition from their parliamentarians that change isn’t working for them. 

Australians are hungry for a real economic plan, based on the interests of all people: 

-         Fair taxation

-         Accountable banks

-         A better safety net – with a quality NDIS workforce delivering quality care.

-         An understanding of the modern family in all its forms – and the need for work-life balance

-         A plan to help first home-buyers that is more than Mr Harbourside Manson just telling them to ‘get rich parents’

In 2017, Labor will offer and prepare our polices for a plan for change that works for everyone. 

And at the heart of that plan – for the social and economic improvement of this nation not just tomorrow and next year but the next number of years - has to be a plan for equality for the women of Australia. 

Equality for women is not an add-on, it shouldn't be the last line in a story or an afterthought in the footnotes of a national budget. 

After thousands of years, it is time for the century for women. 

We’ve never seen a society that has achieved true gender equality. 

Imagine what Australia could do, leave aside everything else, every other bridge we could build or every airport runway we could extend, every other proposition that could improve this nation.  

If we did nothing else in this country in the next 10 and 15 years but achieved genuine equality for women, we would be the richest, most prosperous, successful and hopeful nation in the world.  

What's wrong with being the first nation to have equality for women? Equality in pay, in leadership and in power. 

Equality for women is not just a proposition of fairness, it's an economic plan. 

When everyone in a society, and an economy, can participate equally, to the full expression of their potential and talents, there is no holding us back. 

We only have to look at wages: 

The gender pay gap is effectively unaltered since 1979.`

As I heard someone put it, and I relate it to my own family: why should my daughters, as opposed to my son – why should they effectively spend the first two months of every year working for nothing? 

Why is it that conservative fathers of these daughters can't work it out? 

We need to, and this is certainly where your union has been a leader, we need to get our priorities right with how we value emotional work, emotional labour. 

I was a union organiser. I stood on the boards of shearing sheds, on oil rigs, underground in deep gold mines. 

The members I represented, mainly men, they had to work psychically hard - no question of that. 

And then there’s others who have represented some of the finest scientists in Australia, the CSIRO for example, these people work very intellectually, as did my members. 

We've always been okay, relatively, at valuing physical labour or intellectual labour. 

But we've never been quite so good at valuing emotional labour and this is not some airy fairy term, ready to be ridiculed by the nation’s number one caveman, Scott Morrison. 

What I refer to in emotional labour is this, a teacher at school, a childcare worker, an early years educator, looking after our most valuable part of society, our kids. 

Or a nurse in a trauma ward. 

Or a aged care worker. 

Or a refuge worker looking after a woman surviving unacceptable battering and beating. 

All of these diverse and valuable occupations, these people go to work and they've got to be 'on' emotionally. 

My members, when they had a bad day at home could go to work and it really didn't matter their mood, within reason. 

But so many of oyur occupations you've got to be 'on'. 

Because people, vulnerable people take a cue from that worker, the teacher in the classroom, the early years educator, the nurse dealing with a grieving family and a recovering patient, someone in the last 12 months of their live in palliative care. 

You name it, you know what I mean. 

We are not a nation good at valuing emotional labour, and for whatever reason much of the emotional work done in this country is done by women at work. 

And so we have this unfair nexus we're not good at valuing the work done in feminised industries and when you combine that with a pre-existing discrimination, it creates a recipe for the unequal treatment of women and of certain callings. 

So that is why when I was Minister for Workplace Relations I was proud to work with so many of you, your leadership, you, the evidence you gave. Sally McManus amongst many others. 

And what you did is you ran an argument which said, in community services sector, the women were the recipients of unfair treatment because it was a heavily feminised industry. 

We were able to make the case - and the Labor government was also able to find the money. 

But it just can't stop at that achievement. 

Wages are a strong indicator of the genuine equal treatment of women in our society - and it is most definitely unfinished business. 

But there's another indicator. 

I said that the challenge in society is the unequal distribution of income and power. 

So let us talk about power. 

Equal treatment for women in our society means an equal role in leadership, in our society for women. 

I'm very pleased that Federal Labor set a policy of 50-50. 

50 per cent of our Parliamentarians by 2025 should be women. 

And I'm really pleased that we have the highest proportion of women in our federal parliamentary team that we've ever had - north of 41 per cent and we will do better. 

But the extent of our achievement is always remarkable if you inflict Question Time on yourself. Just look at row after row of the suit-wearing men in the Coalition. 

They haven't worked it out yet. 

I don't think any political party can truly claim to be representing the nation until we start promoting more women into more positions of leadership. 

It doesn't just go for the Parliament, it goes for the private sector.And it doesn't just go for the private sector at the top, it goes through all levels of organisations. 

Because our daughters have the right not just to be lectured and told they can do anything. 

They have the right to have the political leaders of this country delivering the role models and supporting it so they can see the adults of this country and the leaders of this country mean what they say. 

That's one example of power. 

There's another even more graphic example of a lack of power - and it's family violence. 

It's violence against women. 

Yes, I acknowledge, periodically, it might be violence against men. But let's not get distracted by that. 

Overwhelmingly the best single predictor of family violence is gender. 

I know there might be other matters which affect it, from addiction, to poverty. 

But we know that postcode and the club you belong to doesn't necessarily guarantee the safety of women in those postcodes. 

What primarily, fundamentally, drives family violence is violence against women by men. 

And there can be no more graphic demonstration of power imbalance in this country, than the fact that at least 67 women this year have died at the hands of someone who said at one point or another that they loved them. 

Inexcusable. Disgraceful. 

And I understand and I agree with the Government to the extent that changing attitudes and building respect is important, absolutely.

What's also important is the front line. 

The people who are damaged now, cannot wait for generations of respect to filter through. 

And I'm very conscious in talking to people from amongst your ranks who see the trauma of the survivors, the damage. I'm conscious you know far more about this than I. 

But I'm also conscious this morning as I flew up here from Melbourne, I'm conscious that there will be thousands of other Australians, kids and mums, wondering: 

 'Am I still able to go to that same school?' 

'Is he going to find out where I live?' 

'Will I have some crazy, 250th text messages?' 

'Do I have to fight with him about getting the school clothes dropped off when I've sent my child over there for a day or two?'   

When they play those power games and don’t return it. One runner, not two. The uniforms unwashed. 

Does this person - and there are thousands amongst us - in the coffee shop, or the supermarket aisle. Are they looking over their shoulder, just wondering, are they safe? 

And the mums, they don't want their kids to have to move school. 

In most cases they've had to leave home - the victim evicted, the abuser stays. 

Looking for accommodation. 

The child support system, time consuming beyond belief. 

The lies. 

Trying to get the income you know is there, just a little bit. Because some abuser wants to use the child as a weapon to get back at the mother. 

We know it happens. 

And that can't wait for respect, for attitudes changing, as important as that is. 

During the course of the day, thousands of our fellow Australians, will be trying to balance their job, search for accommodation, make sure their kids are ok, make sure that the legal system, they're keeping up with the paperwork, they've got to deal with different departments. 

It all takes time. 

And that is why when people say that the world is in turbulence and domestically the situations unsolvable, that is why I say to you that our case and our cause is as evergreen as it ever has been. 

There are always new fights to have. 

One of the best things, positively and hopefully we can do in this country is ensure that we tackle equality, income and power - and there's no better illustration of the optimistic case for Labor than the equal treatment of women. 

And within that, there is no more important argument to be having now, than the case for domestic violence leave in the workplace. 

I've got a bit of a roll-call on how you're going on it: 

•       QANTAS, Mission Australia and the Benevolent Society.

•       ACOSS, NCOSS and the Women’s Legal Service New South Wales.

•       Your very own Narelle Clay’s Southern Youth and Family Service.

 

These workplaces have family violence leave.

Not because it was simply given, but because it was asked for and argued for. 

It's the great story of our safety net. 

It wasn't just bestowed upon us miraculously by some patrician gentleman at the Melbourne Club.It was fought for. 

And I'll bet, when you initially asked for it, someone said: "this is not a good idea". 

You know the arguments, giving one of those thousands of women I spoke about, today, just a little less pressure on them. 

I've never met a survivor of family violence who says: "Well, I'm doing it for the leave".That is the truth. 

So when I hear, ill-informed, ignorant voices perpetuating the status quo and saying it's too prohibitive, it’s too controversial - I just sincerely hope that no-one in their family ever has to experience what some of the survivors you support go through. 

Now, I get that a lot of employers do the right thing, fine. 

But that's not the basis upon which we build a strong safety net in this country. 

And arguing for family violence leave is not some sort of repudiation of good employers. It's just a recognition that you don't change things without setting standards. 

You don’t change things without asking and pushing. 

Where you rely upon charity, you will never get the same equal treatment. 

Now I understand the battle surviving in violent relationships is about many different things. 

It's about properly funding legal services. 

It's about making sure that women do not get cross examined by unrepresented, angry, ex abusers in the court. 

It's about making sure that the refuges and the post-immediate trauma accommodation are there. 

I understand family violence is about respect. 

I understand it is about seeing strong women as role models right through society. It's about eliminating the demeaning and sexist commentary in our public forums and in our media. 

But it is also about relieving the pressure on survivors. 

And anyone who has ever had to try and work,  while sitting on the phone sorting out the child support. 

Anyone who has ever had to work through finding accommodation after the immediate crisis. 

Anyone who, as a child, ever lived at home and used to wait for the father to come home and you'd tell by the footsteps through the door what sort of state he was in. 

Was it a good night or a not so good night? 

Anyone who has ever had to unmake their childhood and forget what they've seen. 

Anyone who has seen that, knows that family violence leave is not a big ask. 

It's just another part of standing up and making sure that we provide a better future than the one we inherited.

Now I understand that there are many arguments in our community and many debates - I understand that different people follow different political persuasions or different ideas. 

What I also want to tell you is that my party, the only progressive party which can form a Government in this country... 

That we are committed to fulfilling the expectations of Australians. 

We think this country works best when people don't get left behind.

We do not take the complacent attitude that someone else's misfortune is another person’s responsibility. 

We don't think that having a strong safety net is un-Australian or uncompetitive. We think it's the whole story of this country. 

We don't see the equal treatment of women as something separate from economics. 

In fact, putting investment into people is at the core of the way we distribute and create wealth and distribute national income. 

But I also understand in speaking to you today that this country will not make the progress that it should make unless we recognise that unions have a role to help make the case for progress. 

Our movement, our party, works best when people know what we stand for. 

When we stand true to our values and we tell it as it is. 

When we set a destination, we can't be blown off course. 

I get that this nation doesn't have legislated standards of 10 days yet - I understand that. 

But unless the union asks, then there is not a chance we will ever get to that point. 

Unless the union presses the case with progressive employers, we will not get to that destination. 

You know, when people talk about nostalgia, when we talk about the Snowy Mountain Scheme or the Harbour Bridge, you'll sometimes hear commentators from right to left and everywhere in-between saying:"Wasn't it good then when Australia had a big vision?" 

Well, my view of this country is that a big vision is not just physical infrastructure, as important as that is. 

My view of a big vision of this country is the legitimate aspiration and hope that  this country has for the future. 

And one of the ways we take another step forward for that is by respecting and encouraging the union in its pursuit for making sure the survivors of family violence have some modest leave to help them get through the rest of what they're going through. 

Thank you very much.


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