Bill's Speeches

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – THE NEED FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO ADDRESS RISING INEQUALITY AND DIVISION IN AUSTRALIA - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2016

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Thank you Mr Speaker 

There is indeed an urgent need for the government and the parliament to address rising inequality and division in Australia. 

And in that vein, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from the recent US election.

I appreciate that whilst our two nations’ share common values and shared ideals, we are not the United States. 

Three decades ago, we took a different economic direction - we went a different way. 

The United States chose Reaganism and trickle-down economics. 

Australia chose Hawke and Keating and the Accord. 

We believe, in Australia, in a minimum wage that is a living wage, that rises regularly, that prevents poverty – not sustains it. 

We believe a university education should be earned on merit, not determined by one's income or one's parents’ income. 

It’s why Labor governments keep university affordable. 

We believe Australians who work hard all their lives deserve dignity in retirement – that’s why Labor built universal superannuation and why we always fight for a fair go for pensioners. 

We believe the health of any one of us, matters to all of us – that’s why we created Medicare and why we will always fight protect it. 

And the numbers tell the story about addressing inequality and division. 

  • In 1985 the Australian minimum wage was $5.66 AUD.
  • In 2015 it had risen to $17.29 – an increase of 11.2 per cent in real terms.
  • In the USA the 1985 minimum wage was $3.35 USD an hour – and in 2015 it was $7.25 – a decrease in real terms of 21 per cent. 
  • In the last 20 years the proportion of the population aged 25 to 34 with a tertiary education grew by almost 90 per cent in Australia - but it increased by just 30 per cent in the USA.
  • Australia’s middle class holds 40 per cent of our national wealth – the American middle class, just 19 per cent. 

The Australian model is a decent safety net and a strong middle class and it steered Australia through the Global Financial Crisis. 

The Member for Lilley presided over an economy that didn’t just weather the world storm – it grew. 

This was not in spite of Labor’s belief in inclusive prosperity – but because of it.  

And after the GFC we re-invested in productivity and social equity, through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

Empowering an extra 470,000 Australians living with disability and their carers to participate in growing our economy. 

Mr Speaker 

The Australian model grows national wealth through productivity, skills, permanent migration, trade and investment – underpinned by a strong safety net: 

  • A fair minimum wage
  • Compulsory superannuation
  • Medicare
  • The NDIS
  • The pension. 

We can never be complacent, or arrogant about what we have built. 

We should acknowledge all sides of politics have previously made a contribution to the Australian story.  

But economic change is never even and it is always hard. 

We must recognise there are real challenges in our economy right now: 

  • Living Standards are two per cent lower than when Labor left office.
  • Most jobs being lost are full-time jobs
  • Most jobs being created are part-time jobs
  • Productivity is at a standstill.
  • Wages growth is flat lining.
  • Insecure work is on the rise, more and more Australians worry about being off-shored, outsourced, contracted out or downsized.
  • Income Inequality is at a disturbing 70 year high.
  • Child Care costs are devouring the wages of working parents.
  • Our tax system continues to disproportionately favour the multinational companies and wealthy individuals who can afford the advice to avoid paying their fair share.
  • And next year, for the first time ever, homeowners will be in the minority, because a generation have been locked out of the market by tax concessions for speculators. 

Our regions are all too often missing out on local jobs. 

People in Gladstone and Townsville and Mackay listen to this government talk about massive headline growth - and they wonder why it hasn’t delivered for them. 

People in Gove and Geelong, the Hunter and the suburbs of Perth work their last shift as their factories and refineries close, yet they hear this Prime Minister talk about ‘exciting times’. 

People in Elizabeth and Broadmeadows and North-Western Tasmania see this government beat its chest about ‘creating jobs’ – and they wonder why so many people in their community can’t find work. 

From mining towns, manufacturing suburbs and regional towns people are hungry for recognition. 

Hungry for Australia’s leaders to recognise the economy is not working in the interest of ordinary Australians. 

In this place we should never discount or dismiss the difficulties of people who are struggling: 

  • The more than 700,000 Australians who can’t find a single hour of paid work a week.
  • The more than a million Australians who regularly record they would like more hours, but simply can't obtain them.
  • There's 800,000 Australians on the DSP – marginalised and blamed, rather than supported into work.  

We shouldn’t be surprised that in our country, Australians doing it tough are furious when they see workers being brought in on 457s and exploited to undercut Australian wages. 

Dodgy operators, bringing people in to work as: 

  • Cabinetmakers
  • Cooks
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • And Motor Mechanics 

Paying them, in some cases, $10 an hour or less.  

We need to recognise that: 

  • Where economic change is fast and uncertain.
  • Where economic growth is concentrated in the hands of a few
  • Where there is a widening gap in the incomes and opportunities rewarding the top end and leaving the rest behind. 

These are the conditions for demagogues, the breeding ground for the politics of blame, for ‘us versus them’. 

We are not yet at the point of the United States but unless action is taken, it is the direction in which we are headed. 

This is no time to aggravate inequality and division with cuts to working and middle class families – and a $50 billion giveaway to multinational companies, with $17,000 tax cuts for millionaires thrown in for good measure. 

This is no time to appease those who peddle prejudice by giving in to their demands. 

Whenever there is a vacuum in leadership, it will be filled by extremism. 

But Labor will not be retreating. 

  • We will not lower ourselves to the politics of fear
  • We will not play the race card.
  • We will not weaken protections against hate speech
  • We will not marginalise the poor, the sick or the vulnerable for a grubby political dividend 

We give more credit to Australia than that. 

We think more of this country, what we can achieve and where we can go. 

This is not the time for weasel words, it is a time for policies that put people first. 

It is time to prioritise first home buyers. 

To put the great Australian dream of housing affordability back in reach of working and middle class families. 

It is time to stand up for Australian jobs. 

It is time to crack-down on employers using and abusing our visa system to import and exploit cheap labour. 

It is time to invest in schools. 

It is time to back public TAFE and Australian apprentices. 

It is time to get nation-building projects, like high speed rail, up and going - and to put to Australians to work on those projects.  

It is time to protect Medicare, because every Australian should be able to see a doctor when they are sick and able to afford the medicine to make them better. 

Labor does not believe in a world of trade agreements which don't deliver the blue collar jobs for those hurt by these agreements. 

We cannot be a parliament that protects the banks during the GFC – but denies a Royal Commission to the victims of banking scandals. 

We cannot allow corporate donors to exert their influence on election campaigns - without transparency or accountability and election funding reform. 

And this government should not and cannot subsidise private health providers exclusively while cutting Medicare and hospital funding. 

All this does is concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy few - and guarantee that more working people are left behind. 

My party will heed the lessons of: Detroit, Michigan and of Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

Labor will deliver an economy that serves and includes working and middle class people. 

Labor will: 

  • buy Australian
  • build Australian
  • and employ Australians 

We will never leave people behind.

ENDS


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