Bill's Speeches

AWU ALUMINIMUM CONFERENCE - MACQUARIE HANNEL ROOM, CROWN PLAZA, NEWCASTLE - WEDNESDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2016

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

It’s great to be back in Newcastle, in the Hunter and among friends.

I don’t know how closely you’ve been following the US Presidential Election – depends what you look for in the way of reality TV I guess.

But I notice Hillary Clinton’s campaign is using the motto Stronger Together.

So there might be a chance for some royalties there.

My time with the AWU taught me so much – so much about our country and about the people who go to work every day to keep Australia ticking over.

Tens of thousands of modest people, team players, skilled problem-solvers.

Australians making sacrifices for their families, helping build their communities.

It still amazes me when I hear the Liberals have a go at me and some of my Labor colleagues for being union members – as if that’s breaking news.  

Me, my whole team, we are proud of every day we spend standing up for working people – in the union movement, in the parliament. 

Standing up for fair pay, decent conditions – and the right to come home safe to the people you love.

And we will never doubt the value of the work you do, the contribution you make to lives of your fellow Australians.

Friends

I know there is never an easy time to be a union rep, there are always different pressures, competing interests, new challenges to overcome.

But I appreciate it’s particularly hard right now.

Not just for the people whose livelihoods were so dramatically dislocated at Point Henry and Nhulunbuy.

But right across the whole sector.

The massive change underway in the Australian economy – and the negligent shoulder-shrugging attitude of this Liberal government –has been a one-two punch for blue collar jobs in this country.

Both these challenges are real – and ongoing.  

Australia needs new domestic economic growth – and we need it now.

And in this low interest rate, low-investment return environment, we cannot rely on the Reserve Bank and monetary policy to carry the can.

And we can’t just leave everything up to the market, or say the ‘invisible hand’ can take it from here.

It’s true, we are on our way to a world where work will be defined by the limits of automation and artificial intelligence.

And there is no such thing as a job for life any more. 

But that doesn’t mean government has a right to give up on people, to leave them behind, to wash its hands of responsibility.

Making economic change work for all people needs leadership – not just from you and your union, but from government too.

Australia needs a plan for targeted growth:

Growth that boosts the communities, regions, industries and people currently missing out.

A plan to help the people who are being left behind by change – and put them back in control of their futures.

The economic plan Labor took to this year’s election was about delivering for middle and working class families:

  • Investing in job creating infrastructure to boost productivity;
  • Giving small businesses a tax cut if they employ new workers under 25 or over 55;
  • Creating 15,000 new apprentice training places across Australia;
  • Fully funding schools and keeping university affordable
  • Introducing more rigorous requirements before employers can use 457 workers; and
  • Ensuring projects maximise the use of Australian content.

A good government, a responsible government, a government that cared about good jobs and fair growth would be working with the aluminium industry, the steel industry, unions and employers to support the skilled, hard-working Australians you represent every day.

That’s why – at the last election – Labor put forward a comprehensive plan for Australian Metals Manufacturing.

A stronger procurement system for steel – creating an Australian standard, and ensuring Australian certification requirements are upheld in Federal Government projects.

Better Australian Industry Participation Plans, so more local operations can compete for contracts on publicly and privately-funded projects.

And halving the cost thresholds for these participation plans – which means doubling the number of projects for Australian firms to bid on.

A National Advocate for the Australian Metal Manufacturing Sector, driving new commercial opportunities.

And if we’re serious about metal manufacturing jobs, we have to get serious about anti-dumping policies.

Australia has been making high quality aluminium at competitive prices for decades.

But I know there have been challenges.

China's rapid transformation to an urban society, fuelled a steel-intensive investment boom and a surge in commodity prices.

But for your sector, this was both an economic blessing and a curse. 

The competitiveness of our manufacturing and steel industries was weighed down by the Aussie dollar’s record highs.

While the dollar has come off a great deal since then, we’re still up against a global steel glut and sluggish domestic demand.

And on top of these macro-economic challenges - a report from the Anti-Dumping Commission released two weeks ago has found that overseas producers are being artificially propped up by foreign governments – leading to an oversupply which is depressing prices.

I understand that the aluminium industry isn’t asking for trade barriers or protection.

I’m not here to promise I’ll turn back the clock.

Nostalgia is not an economic plan - but Australian manufacturers reasonably just want the chance to compete with the world on a level playing field.

And I am very confident our people and our industries can outplay the competition when the game is fair.

That’s why Labor established the Anti-Dumping Commission in Government to monitor the behaviour of other nations and - where necessary - take action to penalise countries and companies that don’t play by the rules.

The report you’ve released today argues – plainly and powerfully – that Australia shouldn’t stand by and let our local producers be undercut by government-subsidised imports from overseas.

We agree.

There is no doubt that Australian workers and businesses have benefitted a great deal from increased global trade in recent decades – including with China.

But we must ensure that our rules and regulations continue to evolve, to keep up with the markets we’re competing in.

We are an island nation – but we don’t conduct our business in a vacuum.

Our policies and rules need to adapt and line up with other countries – otherwise we risk becoming a prime target for dumping and other anti-competitive actions.

Labor will work with you – and with other sectors like steel which are facing the same challenges – to ensure Australia has effective anti-dumping rules in place.

Labor supports free trade – but we believe free trade has to work in favour of all, not just some.

Free trade is not a matter of two magic words – it has to deliver real benefits for working people: good jobs, better pay, new opportunities.

We need to make sure local producers and businesses are getting the benefits of open markets – without Australian jobs falling victim to anti-competitive practices.

This is one of the big economic balancing acts that we have to get right.

But all Mr Turnbull does is go around telling Australians to ‘stop hiding under the doona’, while he’s using taxpayer money to put those ‘ideas boom’ ads at every bus stop.

You and I know the truth - for tens of thousands of apprentices, machine-operators, manufacturing workers…this is certainly not the most exciting time to be an Australian.

In his rare public appearances during the election campaign, Mr Turnbull spent most of his time saying ‘jobs and growth’.

Well it’s time we had an honest conversation about ‘jobs and growth’ in this country: 

A headline annual growth figure of 3.3 per cent, should not blind us to the soft underbelly of the Australian economy.

Two-thirds of Australia’s annual growth still comes from the contribution of net exports, propped up by mining production.

But the number of Australians working in the mining sector, represent less than 2 per cent of our total employment.

Ordinary Australians are feeling the pinch – and finding it harder to make ends meet.  

Living standards are a full 2 per cent lower than when the Liberals came to office. 

Of the 220,000 jobs created in the past year – just 30,000 were full time.

Or in other words, nearly nine in every ten jobs created in the past year – were part time.

The proportion of women in full time work is steadily falling - it is lower than at any time under the previous Labor government.

Now, there is nothing wrong with flexible work if that's what you choose.

But a lot of people don’t get to make this choice.

Under-employment is at near-record levels.

One million Australians would like to be working more hours than they can currently find.

The underemployment rate for women aged 35 to 44 is more than double the rate for men the same age.

More than double.

The proportion of working age men who are not in the labour force – who have given up looking for work altogether – is higher than at any point during the Global Financial Crisis.

And for Australians out of work, it’s taking longer to find a new job, the average length of unemployment has increased by 8 weeks since September 2013.

Over the next 12 months, as Holden, Ford and Toyota close their doors - between 28,000 and 40,000 jobs will be lost. 

In Elizabeth, Salisbury and Smithfield. 

In Port Melbourne, Campbellfield and Geelong and Altona.

And – as you know - those losses will impact further along the supply-chain too.

I never thought I would live to see the day when we didn’t make cars in this country.

But this was the first thing the Liberals did when they got into government– this was their number one priority - goading the car industry into leaving Australia’s shores, for good.

And then turned their backs on those workers, offering no assistance with training or transition.

When growth in other sectors is narrowly based upon export volumes in mining and increased government expenditure, Australia needs a government investing in training and creating infrastructure jobs – but the number of apprentices in this country has fallen by 128,000.

Instead of a comprehensive plan to prioritise Australian jobs – this government’s only idea is a $50 billion tax giveaway for multinational companies.

The Liberals believe the recipe for growth in this country is to put on a banquet for the biggest, richest and most powerful members of our society – and hope a few crumbs fall off the table for everyone else.

Looking after the very top and assuming everything else will look after itself is not a plan for Australia’s future. 

It’s not just fundamentally unfair – it’s fundamentally flawed.

$7.4 billion of this $50 billion splurge goes straight to the big banks – does anyone think that will mean a drop in fees and charges, or a cut in credit card interest rates?

Does anyone think making Westpac, NAB, ANZ and CommBank $7.4 billion richer will make them improve their behaviour?

The big banks don’t need a tax cut – they deserve a Royal Commission.

And another $30 billion of Mr Turnbull’s $50 billion cash splash will go straight overseas.

This is not a plan for Australian jobs – it is foreign aid for foreign companies.

A cash splash for big firms – while cutting the safety net, cutting skills, cutting education and cutting infrastructure – will only deliver anaemic growth, undermined by far greater and growing inequality.

It is a disgrace that this government is prepared to spending $200 million on an unnecessary, divisive and harmful plebiscite – that Australia doesn’t need.

But won’t spend $50 million to secure Arrium.

A $200 million straw poll, instead of thousands of steel jobs.

Government has to be something better, something more than a mechanism for transferring money from the working and middle class families of this country to vested interests.

In the Labor party and in the AWU, we have always understood that it’s not an either-or choice between fairness on one hand and growth on the other.

We know growth and fairness are not enemies, or opposites – they are twins, partners, each essential to the other.

We know a decent safety net and proper social security doesn’t suffocate individual initiative – it supports every individual to be their best.

A strong minimum wage, a 38 hour week and penalty rates are actually not the end of the world as we know it – they are essential to growing the middle class and fairly rewarding the people who go to work every day.

The rise of China and Asia doesn’t mean we go chasing our neighbours in a race to the bottom on wages.

Other countries in our region will always be able to pay more people less money.

We need to build our prosperity on our terms.

Australian standards, Australian conditions, Australian wages.

A fair wage, high-skill nation – that’s the future I believe in. 

But when it comes to workplace relations, the Liberals take a very different view – and they always talk in code.

You know the lines:

‘Flexibility’ means cutting pay and conditions.

The ‘7-day economy’ means abolishing penalty rates.

‘Law and order’ means changing the law to order unions out of workplaces.

And ‘reform’, reform always means dudding ordinary workers.

So instead of this covert message campaign, let’s have a real conversation about industrial relations.

Let’s talk about how we can do something to tackle industrial diseases in this country, and the continuing illegal importation of asbestos into Australia.

Every year, more Australians die from asbestos-related diseases than on our roads.

And yet, the Turnbull Liberals decided that this serious issue could be sorted out with a 4 week inquiry.

You can’t solve a problem of this magnitude in less time than the footy finals, it needs proper investigation – and real action.

Friends

If from time to time you open up the opinion pages of the conservative papers – maybe you’re at an airport with nothing to do, or cleaning out the bottom of your birdcage.

You’re odds-on to find someone in there condemning the unions and attacking the labour movement.

It’s over, they say.

All the big battles have been fought, all the great races won and run.

The sun has set on our purpose, the world has passed us by.

Of course, these are the same clairvoyants who said Tony Abbott would outlast Menzies.

The intellects who said Labor should pass the 2014 Budget, and lock-in behind a GP Tax, $100,000 degrees and massive cuts to families.

The experts who said a Royal Commission run by a part-time Liberal fundraiser would bring our movement to its knees.

And the visionaries who predicted the rise of Malcolm Turnbull would mean Australia could finally do away with two-party politics and bow before the new Philosopher King.

You and I know there are always cynics and critics ready to write us off.

And they are always wrong.

I refuse to submit to the bleak philosophy of those who say that fair pay doesn’t matter anymore, that metals and manufacturing don’t have a future in this country.

I don’t believe the world is too hard for Australia to compete in.

I put my faith in the skills and smarts of our people.

The Australians you represent are resilient, courageous and hard-working people.

And they deserve a government prepared to support their resilience, prepared to reward their courage, prepared to work as hard for these Australians as they do for our country.

My team and I get up every morning determined to fight for Australian jobs.

Blue collar jobs, white collar jobs.

Jobs in the regions, the suburbs, the cities and country towns.

Jobs that help ordinary Australians make the best of themselves.

That’s the Labor story, that’s the union story.

And together, we can write a new chapter.

That begins by backing in your work, by investing in your industries and by making Australian metal manufacturing a national priority.

There’s one three-word slogan my team and I want to see and hear a lot more in the future:

Made in Australia.

That’s the message we’ll keep hammering, that’s the goal we’ll keep striving for.

We look forward to working with you, to make Australia stronger, together.  

Thank you

ENDS


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