Bill's Speeches

ECONOMIC AND SECURITY STATEMENT - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA - MONDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2016

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I thank the Prime Minister for his address.

And I begin my response on the subject of national security – because upholding the safety of Australians is the shared mission of all of us who serve in this place.

Over the weekend, the world commemorated the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Australians cast their minds back to the wide-eyed horror of that fateful day.

The skies and streets of New York filled with the smoke and ash and dust of the World Trade Centre. The twin towers which starred in a thousand movies, reduced to rubble.

Nearly 3000 lives claimed in an act of unspeakable evil - and hundreds more cut short by a cancerous cloud.

And here at home - 15 years later – the face of terror showed itself again.

The attack at Minto was a sudden, vicious act of violence perpetrated against a 59-year old Australian.

Our whole parliament sends him and his family, our prayers for a speedy recovery.  

And we offer our gratitude to those neighbours who saw the danger and rushed to his aid, in the finest Australian tradition. 

Mr Speaker, the perpetrator at Minto was an individual known for his extreme views – but not flagged as a security threat.

This is the reality of the world we now live in.

A place where isolated youths are easy prey for the false promise of radical violence.

This is the threat we must continue to meet and master.

Both through rigorous counter-extremism programs – and strong law enforcement.

Our security agencies and our police are amongst the very best in the world at what they do.

Their determination, their professionalism, their courage keeps us safe.

In this parliament, we are united in our support for their work, and our admiration of their qualities. 

And the enemies of peace - the extremists who seek to spread hatred and inflict violence in some perverted, twisted concept of Islam – should know that we are united in our determination to defeat them. 

These lone wolves will be hunted and they will be caught.

Labor will continue our record of being constructive and co-operative, working with the government to make national security legislation as strong as possible.

Those efforts at home must be matched by greater co-operation abroad – especially with the nations in our region, especially through those multilateral forums where Australia’s voice is heard and respected.

I certainly find common ground with the Prime Minister on his goals for regional security.

In fact any Prime Minister who attends the G20, ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum – goes with the goodwill of the whole nation, because the continuing success of these international bodies is vital to our national success.

Mr Speaker, we are united on the fundamentals of national security – but we still see real difference in the economy, and who benefits.

Today, once again, the Prime Minister has preached his message of sunny zealous economic optimism, in his 20 minute report on his trip overseas last week.

I share his faith in the capacity, the courage and the resilience of Australians.

And I agree we need to see things as they are - not as we wish them to be.

So – unlike him - I see that a lot of our fellow Australians are under pressure and not feeling the security.

I recognise Australians need more than a lecture about digital disruption and those taxpayer-funded ads for an ‘ideas boom’ at our suburban bus stops.

I know that for tens of thousands of apprentices, machine-operators, carers, teachers, nurses, for these people this is far from the most exciting time to be an Australian.

It’s about time we had an honest conversation about ‘jobs and growth’ in this country.

Because a headline annual growth figure of 3.3 per cent, should not blind us to the soft underbelly of the domestic economy.

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

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

Meanwhile, private investment is still in retreat – having just experienced its largest decline in 16 years – and alarmingly, consumption growth halved in the June quarter.

Ordinary Australians are feeling the pinch.

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.

Just 30,000.

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 at 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.

It is taking Australians longer to find their next job after becoming unemployed, the average length of unemployment has increased by 8 weeks since September 2013.

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

In Elisabeth, Salisbury and Smithfield.  In Port Melbourne, Campbellfield and Geelong  and Altona.

And those losses will impact further along the supply-chain too.

Never forget that it  was the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s first achievement – goading the car industry into leaving Australia’s shores, for good.

And at time when we should be investing in training and creating infrastructure jobs - the number of apprentices in Australia has fallen by 128,000.

These are vital economic challenges this parliament needs to address and not gloss over:

  • Inequality is at a 75-year high
  • The middle class is being squeezed.
  • Dignity in retirement is uncertain.
  • The gender pay gap – effectively unaltered since 1979 - remains an affront to our national credo of the ‘fair go’.
  • Our great regions are too often experiencing second-class treatment.
  • Home ownership has fallen to its lowest-ever level among middle- and low-income families.
  • By next year homeowners will be in the minority in Australia, with more than 50 per cent of people renting because they cannot afford to get into the market.

Trickle-down economics is not the answer.

There is nothing for Australia to gain from the idea that you can look after the very top and everything else will look after itself. 

The last thing our economy needs right now is a $50 billion tax giveaway for multinational companies – and the big four banks.

This Treasurer has the nerve to talk about the ‘taxed and the taxed-nots’.

He had to be dragged kicking and screaming to take even modest action over multinational tax.

He is presiding over a system that allows Australia's highest earners to pay no income tax at all - not even the Medicare Levy.

In 2014, 55 Australians earned more than one million dollars, but they managed to quietly write their income down to below the tax-free threshold.

But 40 of these 55 paid their accountants more than $1 million – and then deducted this money from their tax the following year!

None of this is illegal - and this is the problem.

Our current system is biased in favour of the very fortunate few, who have sufficient wealth to opt out.

But the Treasurer would rather go after Australians on the pension, or the DSP.

The massive cash splash for big companies – at the expense of strong safety nets and targeted skills, education and infrastructure programs – is a recipe for nothing but anaemic growth, undermined by far greater and growing inequality.

What Australia needs for economic security is a plan for targeted growth.

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

Between 2006 and 2012, the mining investment boom delivered us 8 per cent capital expenditure of our GDP. 8 per cent of our GDP in capital expenditure and mining – up from a long-run average of 2 per cent.

$150 billion extra flowed into our economy.

It boosted our export incomes, which have buttressed us in recent times – but the billion dollar flows have stopped.

The national ATM has witnessed a massive withdrawal of capital expenditure.

Replacement income and growth is needed - now.

And in a low interest rate, low investment return environment, we cannot rely on monetary policy to do all the heavy lifting.

We need a targeted growth agenda:

A plan for:

-       Education and skills for new technologies

-       Renewable Energy

-       Promotion of our services sector

-       Publicly funded infrastructure – including a first class NBN

-       Harnessing the growth of China and more broadly, Asia

-       The fair dinkum march of women to equal treatment in our workplaces in our society

-       And budget repair that is fair

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 – we are determined to ensure people and industries are not left behind by economic change.

On this side of the house, we understand that inclusion is a plan for prosperity, not one of the benefits.

It is not an either-or calculus in the Australian economy that you either have fairness or you have growth.

And further more we do not believe that existence of the safety net of social security kills individual initiative and innovation.

Or that the strong minimum wage and the 38 hour week and penalty rates are causing the decline of Australian.

And it is not reckless to define an extra payment of a few dollars each week to unemployed Australians on NewStart, rather than reward multi-millionaires getting a $10,000 plus tax cut.

Good social policy is not just about maintaining a strong safety net – and it’s not a matter of charity.

It’s about investment in people: their skills, their education, their capacities.

Lifting people back into work, supporting their full participation in our economy and our society is good economics and it is good community building.

That’s the purpose of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Ever since the Liberals came to power, there has been a sustained campaign of leaks aimed at undermining the NDIS.

The Liberals talk about the expense, the cost, the price tag – but never the value.

PwC found the cost of disability services to the taxpayer - without the efficiency and consumer-centred model of the NDIS - would be two to three times greater.

Not to mention the massive economic and personal benefits of empowering 470,000 people with severe and profound disability and tens of thousands of carers to participate more fully in our economy.

The Productivity Commission estimates the NDIS will add a full percentage point to our GDP by 2050.

Fairness is a growth strategy.

The same is true for Medicare.

Our publicly-owned, universally-accessible system delivers health outcomes that are twice as good as the private, profit-based American model – and at half the cost.

Medicare keeps sick days at work down – and workplace productivity up.

It alleviates the cost-of-living pressure of healthcare bills, it is the foundation of a strong Australian middle class.

Yet – despite the wild-eyed rage of election night and the fake contrition of the following days.

Despite admitting that Australians don’t trust the Liberals with Medicare.

The Government and the Prime Minister are continuing:

-       The freeze on bulk-billing incentives for GPs.

-       The increase in the price of medicine by cutting the PBS

-       The new imposition of upfront fees on vulnerable Australians – new charges for mammograms, blood-tests, x-rays and melanoma treatments.

-       And of course his privatisation taskforce.

This government is determined to hollow-out Medicare, to push the price of healthcare back onto Australian families, undermining every Australians’ standard of living and the economic security of all Australians.

Fairness is the most powerful counter-argument to disempowerment and marginalisation.

It says to all the people who feel forgotten, left-out and left behind, that they have a stake in society.

That if you put in the effort, you will get a reward.

If you work hard – you can get ahead.

Fairness is therefore both an obligation and a necessity.

Because those who would make fairness too difficult, make the splintering of our society too easy.

Delivering greater progress, greater security and greater opportunity for all Australians, must begin by recognising the current insecurities and frustrations are not imagined or insignificant.

There is a very real alienation between the boosters of change – and those on the receiving end of change.

-             Cab drivers and Uber

-             CUB maintenance tradesmen and contracting-out

-             Australian printers and writers and parallel imports

-             Dairy farmers and milk processing

-             Ford and Holden workers and the preachers of ‘disruption’

-             Victims of shonky banking practices and bank CEOs

There is a disconnect matched by stalling wages – and a growing cost of living.

Australians hear the news of a growing economy – and they wonder when it will deliver for them.

Private household debt is at its highest level on record.

Consumer confidence is flat.

Purchasing power is falling.

Parents are genuinely worried about whether they will have enough to be able to pass on a better standard of living to their kids.

Few issues better illustrate this than housing affordability.

Yet this government is belligerently, obstinately refusing to change their negative gearing policies. 

They stubbornly defend a negative gearing policy that actively contributes to putting the price of houses beyond the reach of middle class and working class families.

When, Mr Speaker, did Australia become a nation that was happy to spend more taxpayer money subsidising property speculation – than we spend as a nation government on child care, infrastructure or higher education?

And telling a generation locked out of the housing market to ‘get rich parents’ is not good enough.

Dismissing legitimate frustrations with the uneven, hard-to-reach opportunities of the ‘new economy’ as ‘cynicism’ is the worst possible way forward.

And telling people who feel insecure about their futures, telling workers from the car industry who feel insecure about their futures to stop ‘hiding under the doona’ is breathtakingly out-of-touch.

It’s easy to sing the praises of free trade and condemn the evils of protectionism from the comfort of financial security.

As the party that built Australia’s modern, open, economy, Labor fully understands the benefits of free trade – from the multilateral processes to market-access agreements.

But we believe that free-trade should work in the interest of all, not just some.

We know that nothing damages the cause of free trade more than poor advocates with a flawed argument that costs local jobs, or puts those jobs in jeopardy.

Nothing hurts the argument for an international labour market more than a visa system where imported workers are exploited, or the visa process system is corrupted - and Australians miss out on the jobs that were promised. 

My party is determined to take a stand against insecure work, rampant casualization and the race to the bottom driven by contracting-out.

Our whole system of enterprise bargaining is flat. It’s going nowhere at the moment.

Employers who bargain are undercut by employers who don’t bother.

In too many workplaces, simply acquiescing with no bargaining is the new normal.

Whole sectors of industry have opted for a wages pause – and are simply not renegotiating.

Important sectors for future growth: retail, tourism and hospitality are focused on reducing wage costs - rather than boosting productivity.

Australians understand that the future of work is being defined by the limits of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics.

That is why people are legitimately worried about what comes next.

That’s why we need to be focusing on skills, on apprenticeships, on training and on TAFE.

It’s why we need to clean out the dodgy private providers who are ripping off Australians – but not preparing our workforce for what comes next.

I notice that John Howard has made another contribution to the national debate, this week – saying the Prime Minister should start talking about Industrial Relations.

Let’s have that debate.

Let’s talk about sham contracting, casualization and the exploitation of foreign and local workers.

Let’s talk about the 2.5 million Australians receiving no paid entitlements.

The 3 out of 4 people working today who don’t meet the ten-year requirement for long-service leave.

Let’s talk about how can we do more to reduce serious injuries and fatalities at work, including real action on industrial diseases, including asbestos, and mesothelioma which are a great cost to the economy.

Let’s talk about the twelve per cent of employers who don’t pay any superannuation at all.

And let’s acknowledge that penalty rates are an essential feature of industrial architecture and our workplace safety-net – particularly for workers in rural and regional Australia.

Mr Speaker, Australia’s economic future demands a lot more than the threadbare slogans of those opposite.

It was almost exactly a year ago, 364 days ago that the Member for Wentworth said of his predecessor:

"Ultimately, the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs”

After a so-called ‘year of great achievement’, that statement has never been more true.

Australia needs a new approach, new energy and real leadership.

Government is not perfect, it’s not infallible.

But it’s not good enough to argue that we just leave it all to the market and the invisible hand.

We are not afraid to challenge the existing distribution of wealth and power in this country.

We do not believe that saying ‘so far, so good’ is an adequate response to the challenges of this moment.

We know not all change is automatically good – or automatically fair.

However we do not believe that things are about as reasonably good as they’re going to be for the foreseeable future.

History never stands still and we must make our own luck.

We believe that the actions of government can improve the quality of lives and the job security and economic security of the Australian people.

This margin of benefit to our fellow Australians is worth the effort of this Parliament.

We are in this place to improve the quality of Australians’ lives, to protect Australians’ security, to invest in their capacities, to see every citizen fulfil their potential.

The people who benefit are worth the effort.

ENDS


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