Bill's Speeches

SPEECH TO THE ACTU CONGRESS

SPEECH TO THE ACTU CONGRESS

 

MELBOURNE


WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2015



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I’ve come to this congress for nearly two decades as a delegate – and I’m honoured to be here as Labor leader.

 

The trade union movement has been a big part of my life and it always will be.

 

Modern Australian trade unionism is all about fairness, it is all about the future.

 

Modern Australian trade unionism is pragmatic and democratic, advocating and representing the best interests of its members.

 

All of you can be proud of your history, fighting for the best outcomes for people in their jobs, their conditions and working constructively with employers to ensure productive, competitive, successful and safe workplaces.

 

Like all of you, I believe in the creation of wealth – the pre-requisite to growth and fairness in Australia.

 

Like all of you, I believe in the fair distribution of national income, the creative, productive outcome of what working people contribute every day.

 

I understand, like you, the real heartbeat of the economy ticks over in the workplaces you represent.

 

I know you are criticised – periodically – for being a strong, sensible representative set of organisations.

 

But what unions do well, is they tell it how it really is.

 

The anti-union stereotype, the dog-whistling of this current government is running out of puff.

 

The people who hate the fair go at work are running out of credibility.

 

I’m a pluralist, that means I respect the role of unions, employer organisations, consumer groups and non-government organisations in our democracy.

 

Because our democracy is not defined by simple concurrence, by agreement alone.

 

Democracy depends upon the ability to generate different views and to settle, amicably and responsibly, those differences.

 

This is what you contribute, every day.

 

The ACTU, indeed the entire union movement, has always been led by people of character.

 

Pragmatic operators, who negotiate and make the hard decisions.

 

And when the leaders of the union movement have to stand up for fairness, for a better future, they certainly do stand up.

 

Good union leaders and delegates know that negotiating – in public life and in the workplace – isn’t about applying a theory, or a balance sheet - it’s about understanding people and respecting their contribution.

 

It’s about choosing ideas which see people do better than they otherwise would.

 

I will always defend independent, democratic unions because unions understand jobs, conditions, safety and the need for harmony and co-operation in the workplace.

 

And modern trade unions understand the economy too.

 

You know, and your members know, we are now facing a period of some great uncertainty and massive change.

 

The surge in investment in mining – something we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes, or any generation before – that surge is coming to an end.

 

Put it another way, if you imagine the Australian economy as a $1.6 trillion dollar account, with the energies of everyone contribution to that account, the contraction in mining investment is a $100 billion withdrawal.

 

There’s a fundamental shift – and it’s affecting people.

 

We also understand that Asia grows, and the marvellous rise of a new middle class provides opportunities for us.

 

But we need a plan.

 

We need a plan for this change, a plan to build beyond the mining boom.

 

We need a long-term plan to reinvigorate confidence, to help the transition underway in the cities and towns in our Australia.

 

A plan to prepare our workforce.

 

A plan to answer the question of parents everywhere:

 

‘Where are the jobs coming from for my kids?’

 

‘How do we compete, for the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future?’

 

I’m very proud that the Labor party stands alongside the ACTU against a race to the bottom on wages, conditions and our social condition – the safety net which makes us a great country.

 

And this year for the first time ever, Labor, from opposition, put in a submission to the Annual Wage Review in defence of a strong minimum wage.

 

Because we believe the minimum wage in this country is not too high. We believe it’s a fundamental driver of consumption and dignity for workers in this country.

 

There are some who say Australia cannot compete, some who want  the Liberal alternative: trying to compete with our neighbours on wages.

 

This is a poverty trap where millions of Australians are stuck on a treadmill…working long hours with no prospect of ever advancing.

 

We will never sign up to the exploitation of guest workers through the range of visas, which undermine Australian jobs.

 

We will never sign up for that, no matter what pressure comes from the conservatives.

 

We can overcomplicate things in politics sometimes.

 

The fact is there is the low road – the dead end.

 

And the high road, with a path to a better future.

 

The plan should be straightforward: equipping our people with the skills and knowledge to drive a new wave of advanced manufacturing, services, clean energy and construction.

 

The people who think we can’t compete with low wage nations have missed the great changes happening in the modern economy around the world.

 

Low wage jurisdictions will be replaced by automation.

 

We need to be the nation that builds the machines, designs the machines, operates the machines – that is our future.

 

It is all about jobs when it’s all said and done: the creation and maintenance of good jobs.

 

Innovation is going to transform every sector of our economy: farming, manufacturing, design, energy and services.

 

Three out of four jobs in the fastest growing industries will need knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths.

 

Labor’s plan for the future puts these skills front and centre.

 

We will get more kids studying coding, computational thinking in primary school, science in secondary school, technology at TAFE and engineering at university.

 

And we can no longer keep asking our teachers to do more, with the same.

 

We will get behind skilling and supporting our teachers – and paying them better.

 

We are all going to have learn new ways of working, and all of us are going to need help with training and re-training in the years ahead.

 

Labor will be there, we’ll be there every step of the way, not just for our young people but our existing workforce as we support them to re-train for the future.

 

We have a positive plan for the jobs and skills of the future, it’s what people expect of us.

 

I don’t subscribe to the ‘cycle’ view of politics, I don’t think it’s inevitable that political parties take turns to form a government.

 

Labor won’t just sit back and wait for this Government to collapse under its dodgy budgets and broken promises.

 

I don’t believe we can count on people just being disappointed with Tony Abbott…though I can understand why they might reach that conclusion.

 

I believe Australians are ready for positivity and optimism.

 

Ready to lose the disenchantment and cynicism and have some hope for the future.

 

I believe people are ready for a time when we, as a nation, come together. When we come together to solve the challenges of the future.

 

But Tony Abbott is not up to this task, being positive is simply beyond him.

 

He is most comfortable when he campaigns against something.

 

He is most comfortable making Australians fearful about the future and fearful of each other.

 

We saw that in this Budget.

 

The same old unfairness relabelled and repackaged for an election: $100,000 university degrees coming up again, $2 billion in hidden cuts to health.

 

The same abuse of bracket creep –  a high-taxing, high-spending government relying on the stealthy, invisible hand of inflation.  Even with modest wage growth, people move into higher tax brackets – and there’s Joe Hockey.Taking your wages with bracket creep.

 

The same lazy, dishonest attack on the States, $80 billion proposed to be cut from schools and hospitals last year, $80 billion definitely being cut from schools and hospitals this year.

 

This is less money to our schools, less money for our hospitals, cuts to healthcare, cuts to families and a healthy dose of bracket creep to cut your wages.

 

The same divisions and faultlines.

 

The current government is addicted to dividing our society, they’re never happy unless they’ve got to someone to blame.

 

Last year it was ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’…and we worked out soon enough who they meant.

 

The same Liberal attacks on:

 

Penalty rates and proper pay – they blame that.

 

Part pensioners are a problem, disability pensioners are a problem…in fact any pensioners are a problem for this government.

 

Our GPs, the AMA, nurses and hospitals

 

They don’t like schools, TAFE, universities or the Australian Council of the Arts.

 

They certainly don’t like the people who work for them in the public sector.

 

They’ve even given the cleaners in the Department of Foreign Affairs a $6000 pay cut.

 

They don’t like Australian seafarers and flight crews…especially north of the tropic of Capricorn.

 

They don’t like submarine construction workers, ship construction workers, car construction workers…in fact any construction workers.

 

And if you haven’t been caught in this first list of ‘leaners’, if you’re a working family…they don’t like you either.

 

The Prime Minister promised this Budget would be good for families…well we all know what a Tony Abbott promise is worth.

 

A family on $65,000 with two kids in school will be over $6000 worse off.

 

9 out of 10 families in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners, will be worse off as a result of this Budget.

 

The less you earn, the worse off you’ll be – this is how it works in Tony Abbott’s Australia.

 

And of course, working women.

 

Who on earth in the Government thought of using Mothers Day to attack working women who want to spend more time with their baby?

 

Once upon a time they said women of calibre deserved Tony Abbott’s rolled gold Paid Parental Leave scheme.

 

Now they say Woolies workers, the Federal Police, nurses, the people behind the counter at Medicare are rorters, fraudsters and double-dippers.

 

Poor old Joe Hockey was out there on Q&A on Monday saying ‘Oh saying double dippers is not right’.

 

Then why do you have the words in your budget, Joe?

 

We’ve spent our lives trying to smash the glass ceiling in workplaces…the Liberals are trying to install and lower a new glass ceiling in every Australian workplace – and we won’t let them get away with it.

 

We created Paid Parental Leave, you negotiated for it.

 

The idea of this government discouraging people from negotiating paid parental leave in the workplace beggars belief.

 

We know the real world – why would you negotiate new benefits if you’re going to be penalised for them?

 

You’ll simply negotiate something else.

 

Well done, Joe Hockey, you’ve discouraged people from spending more time with their kids and the Government won’t save a cent.

 

Only a hopelessly out of touch government could come up with that one.

 

We will stand up for your rights at work, be sure of that.

 

Friends, the Liberals think ‘fairness’ is some sort of domain name they can register on the internet.

 

They think it’s a catch-cry.

 

They think it’s a slogan they can beg, borrow or steal.

 

They think constant repetition, a sort of vaudeville hypnotist act: Look into my eyes, ‘fairness, fairness, fairness’ will fool the Australian people into thinking their interests are served by keeping Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey in their jobs.

 

They’re wrong.

 

Fairness is actually who we are, it’s what we fight for and it’s at the heart of our plan for the future.

 

But Tony Abbott is afraid of the future and obsessed with the past.

 

All we ever hear Tony Abbott say in the Parliament is “Labor will bring back the big carbon tax” – we will not.

 

We will take real action on climate change, Tony Abbott. And you will not.

 

Tony Abbott wants to re-fight the 2013 election, we will not.

 

He looks back on that as his glory time, when he was the most negative opposition leader in history.

 

He didn’t have to run anything, he could just attack Labor and blame everyone else.

 

Australians are better, smarter and braver than his brand of negativity.

 

This complacent government thinks because some people have what they need – they will tolerate cuts to schools, hospitals, services and the pension.

 

Australians, rightly, want more from their politics than they’re being offered by this government.

 

They want a reason to engage, a reason to hope for the future.

 

They sense, that our nation is on the threshold.

 

We’re there, waiting for the door to open, to be pushed through by the political debate.

 

We are waiting for the next moment to arrive.

 

Australians are hungry for a plan to define the future, for an Australia competing and succeed in the world on our terms.

 

This is what I, and the Labor Party, will offer you, your members and working Australians at the next election.

 

This is the challenge we accept.

 

We will ask Australians to support Labor not just because of the unfairness we have stood against or the lies we have exposed.

 

Not just because we’re not Tony Abbott.

 

We will ask Australians to judge me and Labor by the Labor values we believe in, the values you and I have fought for.

 

They say ‘what does Labor believe in’, well let me answer this question.

 

I believe in the equal treatment of women in our society: in pay, conditions, opportunity and leadership.

 

I believe in Medicare: universal, accessible and efficient.

 

A health system where it is your Medicare card, not your credit card, which determines the quality of care you receive.

 

A tax system that rewards hard work – and makes sure foreign multinationals pay their fair share.

 

A National Disability Insurance Scheme for all and indeed more…we must have a better deal for children with disability in our schools and a better deal for people with disability in our workplaces.

 

We believe in superannuation.

 

We believe Australians who’ve worked hard all their lives should be able to retire with decent superannuation savings, underwritten by a fair pension.

 

We should have the world’s best retirement savings system – not the world’s oldest retirement age.

 

I know your members are concerned about whether their kids will be able to afford a house.

 

Affordable housing will be at the core of Labor’s propositions for the future – a roof over the head of every Australian.

 

I want us to get on with nation-building infrastructure.

 

People are spending hours each day, weeks of their lives in their cars, going to and from work.

 

We need to bring energy back to the regions, our towns and our cities, we need to do that through infrastructure, which includes public transport in our cities.

 

And we know that the future belongs to the nations which invest in research and development.

 

We should set targets, we should seek to become a scientific nation.

 

That is within our control, the best resource this nation has – the ingenuity, capacity and creativity of the Australian people themselves.

 

And talking of jobs of the future, we believe in better schools, better TAFE and universities.

 

I believe in Australia as a good international citizen; strong in the region and safe at home.

 

And we should face our region and the world as a Republic, we should stop borrowing the head of state of another country, we’re old enough to do that.

 

We can lift our renewable energy mix, we can build a clean energy future, we can care for our national estate and we can take real action on climate change.

 

But I also believe we are a nation founded in social justice.

 

We should accept nothing less than the elimination of family violence in this country.

 

Every woman has the right to be safe in her home…and every woman has the right to be supported at work, with the right to claim leave if she is the victim of family violence.

 

And while I’m talking about equality.

 

I believe marriage equality should become a reality and next Monday, I will be bringing that legislation into the Parliament.

 

And my fantastic deputy leader Tanya Plibersek will be seconding this, because we believe the time is right.

 

The time is right for the Parliament to have a free vote on this overdue question of marriage equality.

 

The time is right for every Australian to be respected, to be included, to be equal in our society and under the law.

 

Friend, in Labor and in the unions, we’ve never been afraid of ideas – or ideals.

 

We have always been idealists, but we have never been naïve.

 

At our core, we are pragmatists too. Resourceful, creative, pragmatists – focused on solutions.

 

We know security comes when we free ourselves from ideology and stereotypes, when we roll up our sleeves and get to work.

 

We don’t seek power as an end in itself, but as a means to help others.

 

We measure ourselves by progress, not rhetoric - by deeds, not words.

 

The monument to our success is not a statue in a park, it’s not a plaque on a building…it’s an apprentice completing their training and getting a job.

 

It’s a person with disability getting a better deal.

 

It’s a mature-age worker made redundant in one line of work, re-training and finding a new opportunity.

 

We know this doesn’t just happen.

 

We understand that nothing is inevitable.

 

History is made by those who step up to match the moment.

 

We’ve done this before, the trade unions, the Labor party and we can step up again.

 

We admire the trophy cabinet of our past successes, but it falls to us, to this generation to renew and reinvigorate our accomplishments for the future.

 

This congress is a most important gathering, at a most important moment in our history.

 

Let us declare, right here, right now – we are ready for what lies ahead.

 

We are ready to serve and ready to lead.

 

We are ready to stand up and speak out for what matters most.

 

Despite our opponents…despite the conservative attacks that say the best days of Labor have come and gone, that the sun sets on the values I’ve spoken about today…I have no doubt we are ready to stand up for what matters to people.

 

We will speak up for jobs, for families, for fairness and we will fight for the future, because that’s what Australia wants.

 

Thank you very much.

 

ENDS

 

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