Bill's Speeches

GROWING STRONG AND FAIR: LABOR’S VISION FOR THE MODERN ECONOMY

NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, CANBERRA 

TUESDAY, 15 MARCH 2016 

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

This is possibly our last full sitting week.

Because rather than face up to the problems confronting Australia, Mr Turnbull has obviously decided he is going to call an early election.

This will be an election fought on leadership.

On leadership, on ideas and on a real choice.

The failure of the Prime Minister to provide any leadership.

And a Labor party leading on:

-       Economic reform

-       A fairer tax system

-       Social policy

A choice between the leadership of a paid advocate of the Liberal party, co-joined with an erratic leader of the National party.

And the leadership and ideas of a united Labor team, who believe in:

-       Jobs

-       Education

-       Health

-       A fairer tax system

-       In renewable energy leading real action on climate change

These are the fundamental issues which will drive economic growth, productivity and living standards in the decade ahead. 

These are the issues which will define this year’s election.

On every one of these questions, Mr Turnbull has proven a massive disappointment to the people of Australia.

When Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister, I knew my task would be harder.

But in my heart of hearts, I also hoped – like many Australians - he might elevate politics, he might take the debate to a higher place.

Instead, we have watched this Prime Minister shrink into his job, selling-out his principles in exchange for power.

The Prime Minister’s betrayals:

-       climate change

-       marriage equality

-       the Republic

-       Safe Schools

…diminish him - and they diminish us all.

We should have legislated for marriage equality by now.

We should have finally put the environmental risks and economic waste of climate denialism behind us.

We should be surging forward on Recognition, on the Republic, on forging a new modern identity for Australia.

But Mr Turnbull is not just letting Australia down, he is holding us back.

I stand here today as the leader of a party with a clear, costed, responsible plan:

-       For housing affordability

-       For superannuation reform

-       For making multinationals pay their fair share 

A plan to repair our Budget, so we can invest in jobs, education and health.

And yet six months after Mr Turnbull was sworn in, promising new economic leadership – he can’t even tell Australians definitively when the Budget will be, let alone what will be in it. 

He has cut and run from the battle of ideas in Australian politics.

Instead of the ‘new respect’ he promised, he patronises our Parliament and our people.

Every day, we hear nothing from the Treasurer but scaremongering and sloganeering.

Nothing from the Prime Minister but empty platitudes, endless waffle and the same, tired, old union-bashing that was Tony Abbott’s trademark.

Right now, Labor and the trade unions are the only things Mr Turnbull can talk about, because they’re the only things the right wing of his party will let him talk about.

As Chris Uhlmann has observed, Labor has ripped up the rulebook of opposition politics.

Instead of playing small target – and relying on mistakes from the other side we’ve been setting the agenda.

I’m not here today with one specific new announcement, because Labor has already put forward 73 fully-costed, fully-funded proposals.

Our schools policy - Your Child, Our Future – goes beyond Gonski.

A ten-year investment so every child, in every school, gets every opportunity to have a great education.

On climate change – we have shunned the politics of fear and stood strong on the irrefutable science, the economics and our values.

-       50 per cent renewable energy by 2030

-       Net zero pollution by 2050

Mark Butler has led 46 consultations in the cities and regions with more than 250 representatives from across industry – as we prepare our 2030 target.

I will never run from the political risks of taking action on climate change.

Because I understand the economic and environmental risks of inaction are far greater.

My united team has staked out important markers on social policy too:

  • My first funding announcement, the first of our 73 so far, was a down-payment on better legal assistance for women fleeing Family Violence.
  • We’re putting a new priority on tackling the disgraceful incarceration rate among our first Australians.
  • And, in October last year, we backed the premier recommendation of the Royal Commission into institutional responses on child abuse, and backed a National Redress Scheme for the survivors of institutional child abuse.

We have been driven by ideas– not ideology.

Our agenda has been shaped by a vision for the next decade, not mollifying the radical right for another week.

Australians already know the forces which will define our nation’s economic future:

  • The world’s biggest consumer class, on our doorstep
  • New demand for our service industries
  • Surging technology re-defining work
  • A changing climate and more extreme weather
  • An ageing population
  • And the overdue march of women to equality in our country.

 

Australians understand these opportunities are within our grasp.

Yet right now, many people are feeling the rough edges of economic change.

Whole industries, and the communities built around them – have their backs to the wall.

Family budgets are feeling the strain of flat wages, rising living costs and harsh government cuts.

Despite a quarter-century of economic growth, inequality in Australia is at a 75 year high.

More and more Australians – from all walks of life and in every field of endeavour - lack security at work.

More and more of us worry about what our kids will do for a living.

In times such as these, it’s not enough to waffle about excitement and agility.

It’s inadequate to boil the whole economic debate down to shouting ‘tax and spend’ across the chamber.

We’d all like to do the policy shimmy – but it has to mean something.

It is incumbent on government to engage with the modern economy, constructively,  responsibly.

  • To maintain a strong and sustainable budget
  • To make smart investments in our people – in our human capital - improving our productivity and empowering our participation.
  • While protecting the decent safety net that is so much a part of who we are as Australians

 

And all three of those tasks are non-negotiable.  

I do not see Budget repair as an optional extra - it is part of the economy’s muscle.

As Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, Andrew Leigh and I have made clear many times: without responsible, appropriate savings, we cannot invest in people.

A stronger Budget will help us bring more Australians into work, and get the best out of Australians at work –through investments in productivity and skills.

Closing loopholes and curbing inefficiencies in our tax system – is vital for investing in jobs, growth and productivity.

And returning the Budget to a sustainable footing is essential for providing tax relief for the small businesses who create jobs for the Australians who work in them.

LABOR SAVINGS

This is why every one of our policy commitments has been fully-costed, is fully-funded - a rule we will continue to apply.

We have been rigorous and relentless in our planning for a stronger budget – identifying waste we can abolish.

We will not continue with the Abbott-Turnbull Direct Action plan.

This is a family timeslot, so I can’t repeat everything Mr Turnbull has said about Direct Action but the criticisms he made in his more courageous incarnation, as insurgent, were spot on.

Paying big polluters to keep polluting is a scandalous waste of taxpayer money, for poor environmental outcomes.

We won’t support the new ‘Baby Bonus’ Mr Turnbull promised the Nationals in exchange for the top job.

A late-night bargaining chip that will cost taxpayers $1.4 billion over the next decade.

Nor will we waste at least $160 million on a taxpayer-funded opinion poll designed to delay marriage equality. 

An individual’s sexuality is their personal business.  It’s their business.

The Australian electorate never got asked to judge anyone’s else right to get married – so why are we now subjecting personal relationships to mass plebiscite?

Just imagine the damage to a young person’s sense of self, when they read taxpayer-funded advertising painting them as a second-class citizen.

Imagine the effect on children who see Australian-government sponsored advertisements claiming their loving parents are not fit to marry.

I have to say, in all of the disappointments, it is appalling that Mr Turnbull is prepared to risk so much harm and waste so much money, on such a low tactic.

Now, my economic team have dedicated the last few months to examining every facet of government spending, and we are preparing a comprehensive package of new measures to cut this government’s waste.

But restoring the Commonwealth to a sustainable footing also demands a broader view of government spending.

Take tax subsidies.

There are two ways a government tries to encourage behaviour.

Either through direct investment – like funding the CSIRO; that doesn’t mean culling the jobs of scientists.

Or through tax subsidies, such as the tax concession for firms that invest in research and development.

Both cost the budget money – either through spending or foregone revenue.

On superannuation, negative gearing and capital gains, Labor has been prepared to give honest answers to the hard questions:

  • Are these subsidies working as intended?
  • Are they helping the right people?
  • And can Australian taxpayers afford them?

 

Our fully-funded plan to tighten unsustainably generous superannuation loopholes, which disproportionately benefit very high income earners already comfortable in retirement, will return $14 billion to the Budget bottom line – and it has been public since last April.  

NEGATIVE GEARING

This year, we took on a structural flaw in our tax system that governments and oppositions have been too scared to confront for thirty years.

Labor’s plan for housing affordability will reduce the upward pressure on housing prices, and this is a good thing. 

We have become a society that cannot house its own children.

But we cannot be a society that refuses to help our children.

That’s why we have we have to break the dismal cycle - and break it now.

Nothing will help first-home buyers more than levelling the playing field against property investors and speculators who currently have their interest costs subsidised by the taxpayer.

Our measures will:

-       lift investment in new housing

-       help increase supply

-       and help boost jobs in construction.

 

Over the last five years, every State and Territory Government – Liberal and Labor - have abolished First Homeowner Grants for buyers of established dwellings and redirected them for buyers of new dwellings.

Likewise, Australia’s foreign investment regime encourages buyers into new housing for the same reason – to boost supply and create jobs.

All of this is designed to reduce upward pressure on prices of established dwellings and increase supply.

And none of this has had the dire consequences foreshadowed by the Liberals’ fact-free scare campaign.

Where was Mr Morrison and Mr Turnbull when his own party was redirecting resources from established dwellings into new housing?

Where were their warnings about a stock market collapse and the collapse of the value of all houses?

They were silent, because they knew then, as they actually know now, that Labor's campaign will not have the consequences that Mr Turnbull says, it's actually good for the economy.

Our plan will also deliver Budget repair that is fair, returning $32.1 billion to the bottom line over the next ten years – and $7.3 billion a year by the end of this decade.

Our reforms are prospective, not retrospective.

No-one who has invested under the current arrangements will lose any deductibility, no-one will be left high and dry.

But currently, 93 cents in every dollar of investment goes to the purchase of existing housing stock.

This doesn’t create jobs, boost supply or help with housing affordability.

These subsidies are not working as intended.

And let’s be clear - neither negative gearing, nor the CGT discount are equity measures.

They are certainly not tax benefits for battlers.

Someone in top tax bracket is two-and-a half times more likely to be a negatively geared landlord than someone who is not in the top tax bracket.

The wealthiest 20 per cent of Australian households own 72 per cent of investment property – and 51 per cent of investment property debt.

The current system also enables aggressive tax minimisation for a fortunate few.

Last year, 64,000 Australians used negatively geared property to reduce their taxable income to zero. 

It’s just plain wrong.

This year, negative gearing and the CGT discount will cost the Budget over $10 billion. 

More than this government spends on higher education, or childcare.

It is not right that an investor looking to acquire their seventh or their tenth house receives more taxpayer assistance than an Australian seeking to buy their first home.

Our policy is about balance, fairness and giving working and middle class people to fulfil the great Australian dream of home ownership.

CUTS

Budgets also reveal a government’s priorities- we certainly saw the truth of that in 2014 and 2015.

For all the confusion of the Government’s economic story – the underlying drumbeat has been constant: cuts to those who can least afford it.

In the last six months, the Liberals have changed:

-       their rhetoric

-       their tactics

-       their leader

-       their Treasurer

-       and half their Cabinet

 

But they haven’t changed their minds.

Their hit-list remains intact

  • The sinister whispering campaign against the NDIS - dialled up.
  • The plan to sell-off Medicare - gathering steam.
  • Schools, hospitals, TAFE and universities- lined up for another round of slash-and-burn.
  • Working Mums face another year of insults and uncertainty.
  • Families face savage cuts to essential payments. 

 

And despite the vital contribution they make to our economy and our society, young people always seem to always bear the brunt of the Liberal Party’s attacks:

-       Trying to increase university fees

-       Stripping away their penalty rates

-       Slashing support for job-seekers and apprentices

-       Undermining their superannuation

-       Wrecking the environment, their future

-       And prioritising the interests of speculators ahead of first-home buyers.

 

What on earth have young people done to deserve this?

No generation has been asked to make a greater provision for their own future than this young Australians.

-       This generation enter the workforce in bigger numbers

-       They pay their Medicare long before most of them need it

-       Paying super to save over four decades of work.

-       And they make a greater contribution to the costs of their university than ever before.

 

The people who will build the next age of Australian prosperity, deserve better.

INVESTMENT

And every government always has a choice about how they allocate taxpayer resources.

They can choose to distribute them to people who already enjoy an advantaged position. 

Or they can use them to help disadvantaged people get an opportunity to better themselves.

Tackling inequality is a growth strategy, an economic strategy, a productivity strategy – a plan that grows our middle class and our national wealth.

This is why Labor invests in a decent social safety net, with carefully-targeted support for working class families, job-seekers and pensioners.

We will invest in essential economic building blocks like education, from the early years right through:

  • Needs-based funding for our schools.
  • Backing public TAFE, not dodgy private providers
  • And keeping university affordable.

 

Education is a growth strategy and no country in human history has gotten smarter by increasing the price its citizens pay for learning.

We will invest in primary care, keeping Australians healthy and productive.

Universal Medicare is not only a basic instrument of equality of opportunity.

It is also a productivity measure. It is a growth strategy.

Medicare:

-       increases participation

-       enhances our international competitiveness

-       it improves the fiscal sustainability of our health system.

 

Even more than that, Medicare is an Australian community standard.

Medicare talks to each of us about who we are as a society.

Under Labor, Medicare is not for sale.

We will invest in infrastructure to unlock the productive capacity of our cities and regions.

  • Turbo-charging Infrastructure Australia with a new $10 billion financing facility.
  • A new generational focus on decision-making – quarantined from petty political bickering.
  • And removing the hurdles which discourage superannuation funds from the infrastructure market.

 

It’s time to encourage some of Australia’s $2.3 trillion of national savings, into value-for-money nation-building projects.

-       Improving the liveability of our cities

-       Linking up our regional towns

-       Boosting amenity in our great suburbs.

 

And creating jobs and growth through a stable pipeline of construction, while guaranteeing superannuation savers a reliable and reasonable return.

On workplace relations, we have no time and no tolerance for corruption.

Not in the union movement, not in the boardroom.

That’s why we’ve pledged to improve governance standards by boosting the powers of ASIC and doubling penalties.

But we will never improve productivity and create good jobs through class war where one side is always the enemy and penalty rates are only a target.

We need more collaboration and co-operation on major projects.

But we don’t need an election fought on creating a second industrial bureaucracy. 

Governments must also help grow the wealth-creating private sector.

This means investing in technology – a first-rate, fibre NBN, giving Australia’s regional businesses the opportunity to engage with our region.

Revitalising our manufacturing sector – through investment in defence industries and renewables.

Building, maintaining and sustaining the next generation of Australian submarines in Australia.

Combining national security with new technology to create high-skill blue collar jobs.

We have also outlined plans to free-up business capital across the commercial life-cycle.

  • Better micro-financing for new companies. 
  • Tax incentives to get big investors backing start-ups.
  • And a $500 million Smart Investment Fund to help early stage, high-potential companies.  

 

Our Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland is championing the rights of small businesses – and easing the burden of litigation costs with a practical middle ground solution to the debate about an effects test.  

Then there is the massive economic opportunity of taking real action on climate change.

By 2030 – there will be $2.5 trillion of investment in renewable energy in our region alone.

Emissions trading will be the biggest market in the world.

The next three or four years are crucial in tackling climate change.

Only Labor’s renewable energy policy and our plan to build an internationally-linked emissions trading scheme will guarantee Australian firms engage with these opportunities.

Only Labor will put consumers back in charge of their power bills and attract leading-edge manufacturing jobs in renewables.

But by far the greatest contribution any government could make to our economy is greater equality for the women of Australia.

Equal recognition for paid and unpaid work.

Equality in leadership, and an equal right for every woman to be safe in her home, free from the evil of family violence.

Equality for women is a growth strategy – and it will be a first-order priority for the next Labor Government.

But by the greatest contribution any Government can make to our economy, and I acknowledge the power of education and the power of Medicare, and the power of productivity, but if Labor alone accomplishes this following task, we would be a much richer, more successful nation. I talk about greater equality for the women of Australia. Equal recognition for paid and unpaid work, equality in leadership and the equal right for every woman to be safe in her own home, free from the evil of family violence.

FULL EMPLOYMENT

I know the timing of the election and the Budget are hot topics.

Those things are out of my hands.

Only God and Mr Turnbull know – and at least one of them would probably consider the comparison unflattering.

What really matters is not when the election will be – it’s what it will be about. 

The choice confronting Australians is already clear:

More cuts under the Liberals, or more jobs under Labor.

A Liberal Party leaving people behind or a Labor party putting people at the centre of all of our decisions.

In that spirit, tomorrow evening Jenny Macklin will be launching a major report shaped by her two years of consultations with the business and social investment community.

It’s not a collection of ‘announceables’, nor an election manifesto – it stretches a bigger canvas and serves a higher purpose.

Jenny’s report is a prompt for new thinking on old questions: inequality, poverty, disadvantage and unemployment.

Among the recommendations is a commitment to ‘full employment’.

This is a phrase older than the light on the hill.

The meaning we apply in modern Labor is broader and deeper.

When Ben Chifley and his government spoke about ‘full employment’ as their great objective.

Their priority was finding work for the half-million Australians who’d come home from war.

Their fear was of another Great Depression, a second wave of mass unemployment.

Seven decades beyond Chifley, the social harm of high unemployment remains high, remains real.

And the benefits of empowering more people with the dignity of work will always be Labor bedrock.

But the employment challenges confronting us today are as radically different as the solutions we must offer.

In 2016, Wyong, Braybrook and Maryborough, double-digit unemployment is a devastating reality for many young Australians.

Whole regions of our country have been rocked by closures. 

In the past two and a half years as I have travelled around this country, I’ve witnessed it firsthand in Western Sydney, the Hunter, Geelong, North-West Tassie, North Queensland, and the suburbs of Adelaide and Perth. 

This roll-call reminds us that the march of new technology is not merely something to applaud.

It must also be a call to arms – a warning that Australians will need new skills and better training to win the jobs of the future.

Behind the monthly headline of the unemployment rate, there is a more complex story to tell about work in Australia.

Right now over one million Australians are under-employed.

  • People working part time who want to be working full time.
  • People employed as ‘full time’ who are only offered part-time hours and conditions.

 

And the rapidly increasing rate of casual employees presents challenges too, particularly for women and those in low-paid industries – where insecure work all too often leads to exploitation.

The media and the unions have played an important role in exposing the shameful practices of employers like 7-eleven, Pizza Hut and a slew of labour hire firms.

These are not backyard operators, this is not small time.

These are multinational companies – global brands.

In February, Brendan O’Connor, Lisa Chesters and I responded to these revelations with a strong policy to crack down on worker exploitation.

I recognise the importance of flexible, adaptive and productive workplaces – I worked with employees and management to achieve them for nearly twenty years.

But I will never accept an Australian economy where a vast underclass of Australians are trapped working for six dollars an hour.

For modern Labor, full employment means every Australian working to their full capacity.

We enhance Australia’s capacity with needs-based funding for schools and affordable, accessible higher education.

We lift capacity through the National Disability Insurance Scheme – boosting the participation opportunities of hundreds of thousands of people with disability, and their carers.

We broaden capacity with strong TAFEs, training young people and re-training adult workers.

We boost capacity by making smart investments, and attracting good investments: in infrastructure, renewables, defence manufacturing, biotechnology, tourism, food and fibre.

We secure capacity with the great Australian safety net: fair wages, decent pensions, universal healthcare and compulsory superannuation.

For Labor, full employment is a social and economic good.

When every Australian is given the opportunity to fulfil their potential – we are a stronger economy, and a better society.

Full employment is about prosperity for everyone who works - and prosperity which works for everyone.

CONCLUSION

After two and half years, Labor’s philosophy, our priorities and our policies are on the table for all to see.

We are not wasting our time deciding when to make a decision.

Instead we are offering the Australian people a schematic, a detailed, funded, positive plan.

A plan for the next decade, not just the next opinion poll.

A plan for:

-       Creating jobs – and training Australians to do them

-       Investing in education

-       Protecting Medicare

-       Making our tax system fair for all

-       Equality for women

-       And taking real action on climate change

 

We are the underdogs this year, there’s no doubt about that.

But as a wise man once said:

In the great race of politics - I'd always prefer to be one out, one back, coming into the straight, posed with position and momentum, ready to hit the line strong.

Thank you. 

ENDS


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