Bill's Speeches

SPEECH - ADDRESS TO QUEENSLAND LABOR’S STATE CONFERENCE - TOWNSVILLE - SATURDAY, 29 JULY 2017

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

Good morning.

Or, as Senator Canavan might say, buongiorno.

It’s so good to be here in Queensland, a great Labor state with a great Labor Premier – Anastacia Palaszczuk.  

And it’s a pleasure to be back here in Townsville where last year, Federal Labor won for the first time since 1993. 

Of course, I was jogging along here - Jim Chalmers and I went for a run along the Strand, lots of friendly people yelling out g’day and good luck. 

Jim turned to me and said ‘Geez, I don't know about you but I’m popular up here’.

This is the home of a terrific Federal MP Cathy O’Toole - she does a great job, doesn't she?  

Of course, you've got great state MPs – Coralee, Scott and Aaron - and a very hard working local Mayor, Jenny Hill. 

Labor is doing well in this area and they deserve to.  

As Cathy said, I spent a fair bit of time up here and since the election, I've been back plenty of times. 

  • Meeting with apprentices and teachers at Tech NQ, at the trade training centre at Bohle.

  • Talking to doctors and health care workers about how we deal with the scourge of ice, and

  • Holding town hall meetings, talking to people with all of their issues - at the Community Centre at Kirwan, Heatley Secondary College. 

In fact, this is what I and my Labor team are doing right around this marvellous country of ours.  

We're listening to local people about what matters to them. 

And when we hear a good idea, we're acting on it.  

That's why we led the way, both state Labor and federal Labor, on a new world class stadium for Townsville. 

I remember being lucky enough to have a ticket to the NRL Grand Final in 2015.  

And what a match that was.  

But after JT kicked that golden point, he got up to collect the trophy, and he said: 

We need a new stadium. 

This must be the only time in sporting history a premiership captain has made an infrastructure demand of hundreds of millions of dollars in his acceptance speech.  

But Labor has, Labor state and federal, has offered to match.  

We did the work and we put up the money, and we dragged the LNP nationally kicking and screaming to support this measure. 

Five minutes to midnight, they too supported the stadium.  

But that's what we have been doing, I think.  

We're leading the debate.  

The last time I was in town, I pledged $200 million for the construction of a new hydroelectric power station at the Burdekin Dam. 

This is backing another great initiative from Premier Palaszczuk, creating 150 jobs, generating enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.  

And federal Labor also has promised to invest a further $100 million to improve water security for Townsville and the region.  

Townsville's a go-ahead community, it just needs a little bit of backing and if we can sort the issue of water security, then there's nothing holding Townsville back.  

In fact, that analysis is what drives me everywhere.  

It's what drives my Labor team.  

How do we create good local jobs?  

We know that Queensland deserves a better deal from the Liberals nationally, when it comes to disaster relief and mitigation.  

In wake of cyclone Debbie, I had the privilege of visiting Bowen and Proserpine, Rocky, Emerald and Airlie Beach.  

The devastation was remarkable.  

But even more remarkable was the courage of the people doing the clean-up. 

These are people not looking to be called heroes.  

They just run their businesses, live in their homes, they just live in that community. 

It's what you do.  

The Queenslanders I met, they were getting on with cleaning up.  

They were getting on with rebuilding.  

It's one of the great qualities I think, of this state and dare I say it, the whole nation. 

When we hit hard times, we get up.  

When we fall down, we get up again - we bounce back. 

We roll up our sleeves, we get on with the job. 

So it's well past the time for the Federal Government to do its part, to show the same guts, the same heart, that the Queenslanders affected by this natural disaster are displaying. 

Queensland requested $110 million to repair the damage this state had suffered.  

Whilst that is a lot of money, it is actually not that much money, compared to the cost of the damage, compared to the need to get back on its feet.  

But the Liberal Nationals have left Queensland $81 million short. Shame, shame, shame.  

People on Hamilton Island, they are still living in the washed out basements, they are told they can't get a builder until Easter.  

How on earth can people get back on their feet if you have a government that is not interested in their plight?  

Who turns up in the military helicopters, full of the paraphernalia of government, has the photo opportunities and is not seen since. 

That is not leadership and it lets Queenslanders down.  

We need to back Anastacia and we're going to do that in Canberra.  

And as you know, it's not just about clean up and recovery, it's about prevention. 

Mitigation reduces damage.  

It lowers the cost of insurance premiums for families and businesses.

It's why, for example, a Labor government will deliver $25 million in conjunction with the Rockhampton Council and the State Government.

To build that flood levy, to create the local jobs, to protect over 1200 properties and cut insurance costs by about $4,000 a year.  

And where there are other good value-for-money job creating projects, a Federal Labor government will get behind you.  

Delegates.  

At the next election, Labor will be putting forward an economic and social program to tackle what I put to you today, is the biggest social and economic problem of our times.  

Inequality.  

This means, under a future Labor administration: 

  • More affordable housing so people can live close to where they work. 

  • A world class education from the early years to school, to TAFE and to university, to give our next generation the best start in life. 

  • Better public transport. 

And we want to close the digital divide, between the regions and the capitals, with better internet, and good jobs for young people outside of South East Queensland, so not everyone has to leave home to get a job.  

And we'll be closing the gap for our First Australians, and that includes enshrining their voice in our Constitution.

And because we are fair dinkum on climate change, we will ensure for our policies that we will have cleaner, cheaper, more reliable power for families and businesses. 

And don't worry, I haven't forgotten it.  

We'll protect Medicare against every conservative attack, because every Australian deserves quality affordable healthcare.  

But when you think about that list, from an equal go for our First Australians right through to climate change, energy prices, housing and jobs and education and healthcare, all of that can be summed up in Labor's approach which is a fair go all round. 

It is what unites everyone at this conference.  

And a fair go all round, tackling inequality, refusing to cross the road and ignore unfairness on the other side of the street, this is not a proposition that we borrowed from overseas, as some in the conservative media care to say. 

It's not something that we have recently discovered after the UK election. 

That idea was born in Queensland at Barcaldine over 100 years ago and we have never lost sight of it. 

Tackling inequality is a mission as old as our movement, it's about who we are, it's about where we've always been.  

We in the Labor Party have always been on the side of fairness, of progress, of not leaving people behind.  

And speaking of our identity, that sense of Australia, our sense of what we can be in the future, today I announce that a Shorten Labor Government will take the first real steps to have an Australian head of state in our first term in government. 

We will put a simple, a straightforward yes or no question to the Australian people.  

One question - do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?  

Yes or no.  

And we'll let the people decide.  

I believe the answer will probably be yes, but we'll let the people decide.  

And let me say this, it does not change our respect for the Queen, for her service.  

But we're not Elizabethan, we are Australians. Our head of state should be an Australian too. 

It's time we just got on with this and we will.  

Delegates 

Last year, I spoke at your conference, I said that federal Labor had three major economic priorities for Queensland: jobs, jobs, and jobs.  

And I'm here today to deliver on that promise. 

Queensland is on the door step of the fastest growing region in the world.  

You are a beautiful, marvellous welcoming state. 

You're a natural destination for a rising Asian middle class with new money to spend. 

And we can do this, and tourism better than anywhere else in the mind when we set our mind to it.  

Boosting tourism up and down the coast, in the regions and in Queensland's big regional cities.  

It's crucial to creating jobs and to growing the economy of Queensland and Australia.  

But it is not inevitable or certain that just because we're here, that we'll attract our fair share of tourists.  

We cannot rely on the luck of our geography or the beauty of our nation alone - we have make that luck work for us.  

We need to show a degree of foresight and planning and promotion.  

We need the best facilities, we need the best infrastructure, to showcase the wonders of your home, and bring people here.  

At the moment, Australia is number seven in the world for tourism competitiveness overall.  

But we're number 14 when it comes to infrastructure. 

  • Cruise tourism is growing at 20 per cent per year, demanding better access. 
  • Airports in the north are seeking to expand to cater for more traffic and more passengers.  

Without world class facilities and amenities, Queensland and Australia will miss out on these visitors and the opportunities for Australians that come with it.  

Yet in the last two years, the Federal LNP's $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund has sat idle.  

It has done nothing, helped no-one.  

And if that wasn't bad enough, as of this week, Barnaby Joyce is now in charge of it.  

Just when you thought you shipped him off to New South Wales, he's back.  

When businesses and communities are crying out for more support, more investment, more talk and delay isn't good enough.  

So today, I am pleased to announce at this conference that a Shorten Labor Government will put $1 billion of this fund, exclusively and specifically to work for tourism infrastructure in Northern Australia - a tourism boom.

And this is only the beginning, not the end for our plans for tourism and jobs in Queensland and the north.  

Anthony Albanese and Jason Clare will sit down with my Queensland team, with the State Government, with local communities and local businesses to identify the best projects.  

This is the future that Labor wants to build in partnership with Queensland for your whole state. 

  • High quality jobs
  • High quality training
  • High quality infrastructure 

New opportunities for businesses in regions, and businesses on the coast.  

We don't want to just be good enough in this country, we want the best in the world for our tourism industry.  

And when we have the best in the world for our tourism industry, then, that would only just be good enough for Queensland and Australia.  

Now as we've said, friends, we're the party of creating jobs.  

Creating them and maintaining them.  

But we're also a movement dedicated to good jobs, jobs you can build a life around.  

Secure jobs, with fair pay.  

Jobs that you can come home safe from at the end of your shift, to see the family you love.  

But right now, our economy is not working for working people.  

There's 3/4 of a million of our fellow Australians have learned this week, that are holding down two or three jobs just to make ends meet.  

There is more than a million Aussies who monthly record they would like more hours of work than they can find.  

There are three million plus of our fellow Australians in part-time, casualised, and insecure work, all too often, under represented - all too often, under paid and all too often, too afraid to complain.  

It's why, as for instance, our colleague Wayne Swan has been saying for so long, inequality is much more than a gap between the rich and the poor. 

It is about inequality in our system, in our tax system, we have a two-class tax system.  

Where most Australians fly economy, they claim their couple of vanilla deductions if they can, but beyond the curtail, there's a whole different tax menu available for those very lucky and wealthy Australians who can claim as much as they can, to opt out effectively out of paying tax.  

So inequality to me and to Labor, means tackling the unfairness.  

Having more than one tax system in this country is deeply unfair to all those millions of our fellow Australians who can't choose to opt out of paying tax.  

We want one set of rules in this country, clear, simple, and fair. 

Where access to the rules doesn't depend on how much money you bring to the party to begin with.  

Closing these loopholes, as we've been doing from superannuation for the high end, the unsustainable tax concessions. 

Closing these loopholes in negative gearing - unsustainable.  

Closing loopholes for accountant's deductions and closing more as we will unveil in coming days. 

It's based upon the premise, that why should a childcare worker, who may be fortunate enough to earn $50,000, pay more tax than a millionaire in this country.  

How can this be described as fair?  

Inequality as you know, goes beyond tax. 

You and I also know that inequality is about wages and conditions. 

Inequality in power and bargaining, in safety at work and security at work.  

Inequality in the pay gap between men and women. 

Inequality affects us all. 

And it erodes confidence, it erodes that sense of the fair go, it erodes that generational DNA proposition that we'll always hand on a better deal to our kids than the deal we inherited from our parents.

That generational contract that every Australian generation will always hand on something better than what they received.  

And it is why, with all of this inequality in the workplace, not just the tax system, but the workplace, the work of the trade union movement is never done. 

Changing technology and this new gig economy is not an excuse for stripping workers of their security, their wages, and their bargaining power at work. 

In our movement, we believe in making change work for everybody.  

Explaining to people where they fit in, not letting people be left behind.  

And there are new threats emerging to the fair go at work as we speak.  

As any of the union reps here know, there's been a massive and disturbing increase in the number of wage agreements being terminated at the Fair Work Commission.  

There were 156 terminated in 2014.  

There were 491 terminated in 2016.  

We have seen it in Queensland with Horizon but in April in 2015, 12 agreements covering 6,000, were terminated - putting them all back on award conditions. 

Wage cutting isn't just happening in penalty rates, it's happening across the board. 

These agreements for the record, included prohibitions on forced redundancies.  

These were agreements which worked had negotiated in good faith - they offset pay rises to get these other terms.  

They effectively paid for this condition.  

And then the system just cut them off at the knees with no compensation, with no 'how do you feel this?'  

This is not fair.  

When you look at this agreement, what happened with Horizon, let me unpack it further.  

Horizon then, once they got rid of the prohibition, they cut 300 positions in central and north Queensland, 181 workers in the maintenance work shops at Rocky, 126 train crew positions phased out in central Queensland, replaced by 70 contractors.  

And as bad as that is, it hasn't stopped there.  

This scenario we're seeing is played out right across the country now.  

It isn't just confined to one sector. 

The massive gap between award conditions and agreement wages creates a real incentive for employers to simply cut the agreement deals, or threaten the agreements, to extract an agreement which whilst is not the award, is far lower than the existing terms and conditions.  

In good faith for 20 years, Australian workers and their representatives have bargained.  

And in good faith, so have plenty of employers.  

But how on earth can a good employer who is happy to pay the conditions in the agreement keep doing that if an competitor down the road is having their wages and conditions cut? 

It's a system designed to lead to a race to the bottom.  

In the Griffin Coal decision, the termination of the agreement by the commissioner, reverting workers to the award had the effect of cutting workers' wages by up to 43 per cent.  

And let's not use percentages as dramatic as that number is, that doesn't tell the story.  

Imagine if all of you had a cut of $50,000.  

People set their lives up on certain propositions and amounts.  

You just can't simply cut people's conditions without causing remarkable harm and pressure. 

The pressure when the worker goes home to explain to the family that the kids can't do that to school, we'll have to send back the second car which mum drives- that we can't afford that holiday we were thinking of doing and it goes on.  

The mortgage payments.  

When you start cutting the wages of well paid workers, you just have that race to the bottom, not only in that workplace, not only in that worker's pay packet, not only in that family, but in the community. 

At the moment, it's simply too easy to terminate agreements when negotiations stall.  

Bad news for workers and as I said, bad news for all the good employers who try and to do the right thing.  

So where does this lead me to?  

A future Labor government will put the balance back into bargaining so we can get the wages up, get the productivity up and get the confidence humming in the community.  

It's why we'll reform the Fair Work Act. 

So that instead of making it easier to resort to the nuclear option of terminating agreements, employers and employees are encouraged to find resolution on a level playing field, not with a gun to your head. 

And of course, if we're talking about standing up for fair pay, it means fighting back against exploitation and wages theft.  

On Tuesday this week, a Brisbane 7-Eleven operator was found to have underpaid his staff, eight staff, by around $20,000.  

But it's not just 7-Eleven.  

We have seen wage theft in the Queensland ag-sector, from Ipswich to Innisfail, from the Lockyer Valley and Bundaberg.  

And when the Fair Work Ombudsmen audited 266 businesses in Cairns, Innisfail and Mission Beach, they found one in five businesses were not paying their employees correctly. 

And these are just the cases we know about.  

The people who have been caught.  

Wage theft is a widespread and growing problem in our nation.  

Not just for the employees being ripped off, but as I've said, families, communities, the broader economy, are all damaged by wage fraud.  

The Governor of the Reserve Bank himself has confirmed what the union movement has been saying for a long time - there is now a crisis in low pay in this country.  

It penalises the good employers, it drives down wages and conditions for everyone.  

It's why Labor will increase the fines, will impose new penalties on companies who rip off their employees and make sure the protectors of the safety net, the Fair Work Ombudsman and the unions have a better line of sight to be able to detect and prevent exploitation before it becomes the drastic calamity we're seeing all too often.  

And while we're at it about inequality, we'll apply the same tough approach to dodgy labour hire firms who exploit workers. 

Right now, Australia has one of the highest rates of labour hire employment in the OECD. 

A quarter of these businesses are based here in Queensland. 

Now, if you're in the fortunate position of supplying specialised skills, to be able to  choose when, where and how you work, that's fine.  

But for too many labour hire workers, it means an insecure job, unpredictable hours with rosters that can change at little notice, if any, it means worse conditions, it means less training, if any, and it means lower wages.  

How on earth can people in these industries make a decision about trying to hope to get a mortgage. 

Making a decision about being able to afford to finance the car. 

Make the sort of financial decisions which allow you to settle down and form families.  

How on earth if you're a person in your 50s or 60s, you've been made redundant, and you're forced to go hold the stop-go sign on the side of a big civil works job, and have no say.  

And I am sure you're like me when you talk to, especially but not exclusively, older workers in labour hire. 

There's a quiet desperation in their eyes.  

This is not what it was meant to be. 

It was not meant to be the case that when they're in 60s, they're doing more physically demanding work for less conditions - it was not the deal they were promised.  

Now we want people to be working but there must be dignity at work.  

So this is why we have such respect for what Queensland Labor's been doing in terms of labour hire and for all those companies who try to do the right thing, there are still too many predators out there, too many dodgy operators, using the legal protection of labour hire to minimise the workers comp, to avoid the consequences of unfair dismissal, to undermine the wage and bargains outcomes of in-house employees.

And then of course, there's the straight illegality:

  • massive under payment
  • poor safety
  • exploitation of low paid workers
  • and of course, sexual harassment in many of these cases.  

People dudded and intimidated, people injured at work. 

And the $2 companies who go into liquidation, as soon as workers or their representatives try to enforce their rights and entitlements, and had does my opponent do about this?  

He has a lot of to say about the CFMEU, but he's very, very quiet about the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of low paid workers.  

What a hypocrite. 

And I do think you should be proud of the way the Queensland Government has been leading in terms of labour hire licencing and we want to see nationally how we can introduce a national scheme, which reflects best practice, not a race to the bottom.  

And while I'm at it, talking about unfairness in the workplace and inequality, I want to give you a solemn promise today, a new Labor government will reverse the arbitrary penalty rates cuts of every award where the penalty rates are being cut in this recent decision, full stop. 

And we will legislate to protect the take home pay of Australians in the future, so it's protection for all. 

The Prime Minister tries to hide behind a whole lot of talk.  

He doesn't want to interfere with the independent umpire, he says, not his problem, not his decision.  

That's his philosophy. 

No care, no responsibility. 

"I'm only the Prime Minister, what do you expect me to do about is?"  

But last year, when the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal made a decision to back in safe rates for truckies, the Prime Minister didn't just overturn the decision, he abolished the whole tribunal.  

He is happy to interfere when it suits him.  

He just doesn't see the problems of everyday Australians or anything to do with his out-of-touch existence. 

And let's just talk about safe rates.  

It was not just unsafe, the rates, and it was not just unfair the decision they made, it's the pressure it puts on drivers to take risks, to cut corners, to make ends meet.  

Since this Government abolished safe rates, the rate of fatal crashes involving articulated trucks has increased by 7 per cent. 

A recent study by Macquarie University has found one in 10 truck drivers work over 80 hours a week.  

One in six owner drivers report that drivers cannot refuse an unsafe load. 

And 42 per cent of the owner drivers say the reason that drivers don't report safety breaches  is because they're just afraid of losing their job.  

This is not right. This is not fair.  

And I think that the first priority of industrial laws should be the safety of workers.  

But this is a government more interested in creating a second set of rules for construction

workers, rather than preventing deaths on construction sites.  

So for the sake of productivity, for the sake of fairness, the sake of safety, a Labor government will repeal the rotten ABCC. 

This government loves to attack unions.  

And when they do, they're actually attacking the ability of workers to be represented, to exercise freedom of association. 

But they're also attacking job security, they're attacking fair pay and they're attacking workplace safety.  

Whether it's industrial diseases like the dreadful asbestosis, or the unsafe cost-cutting like hazardous cladding on high-rise buildings or on nurses homes and shopping centres. 

And of course, there is the terrible story that we have seen right here in Queensland with the re-emergence of black lung. 

A committee has found that workers were repeatedly told that this disease was eradicated.  

But the many health checks were performed by under qualified people, who, more often than not, sent affected workers back to work.  

People were reluctant to speak up because they were afraid of losing their job.  

But Percy Verrall, the first Australian diagnosed with Black Lung in 30 years, simply said this and I quote him directly:   

“It has buggered my life.

[If I go outside ] I can walk for only about three houses and I am buggered and have to go back.

My lounge chair lies down like a bed and I go back and lie down on that.

It takes me over an hour to start feeling good again.”

But what did One Nation's Malcolm Roberts have to say about this?  

He blamed the union. He blamed the workers.  

That's the kind of people that Pauline Hanson picks for her party. 

That's the kind of viciousness that Mr Turnbull and the Liberal Nationals will give their preferences to over Labor. 

We are better than that, and a Labor government will work with your state, to improve industry standards to limit workers exposure to coal dust.  

This is all about inequality, friends. 

Today, I've outlined to you our commitment to jobs, our commitment in today's address to boost tourism, to make this the number one destination. 

But we can't advance this country and make the good plans unless we tackle inequality.  

Now, when we've been raising inequality, the Government sent out poor old ScoMo the Treasurer. 

The Treasurer said about six weeks ago, 'oh, I feel your pain', but six weeks later, he found that too hard to maintain.  

So he came out with a new line - 'no inequality to see here. Inequality is a lie'.  

Then of course, not to be outdone, your Member for Bowman, down in the south-east, Laming - he said this week that inequality was just another way of saying you don't have a jet ski when your neighbour does.  

The LNP complain about class war but they always miss the point, don't they? 

They're the one who believe in conflict. They believe in dividing the country and pitting one set of Australians against another.  

They think if you look after the top one per cent, if you look after the very wealthy, that the crumbs from that table will look after everyone else.  

We've got a different view.  

We think it's class war when you cut Medicare.  

We think it is class war when you cut education and make it more expensive to go to university.  

We think it's class war when you make it harder for workers to get a pay rise.  

We think it's class war when you casualise and you create insecurity and send jobs overseas.  

We have different economic story in Labor, we always have, and always will.  

Our story of Labor is a story of working and middle class Australians.  

We know that if you look after the regions as well as the city, if you help people in times of natural disaster, that if you spend a bit of government money to get people back on their feet, if you provide the best TAFE system, the best universities, the best options, if you give working and middle class people the opportunity, they will grab it. 

Oh, my word, they will grab it and do wonderful things.  

Mr Turnbull says because we won't decrease the top tax rate, the top 2 per cent of tax earners, he says we're taxing success.  

They introduced a new tax rate for a budget deficit levy - they haven't solved the deficit, they made it worse. 

But there's a more fundamental point here, and friends, this is the key distinction between my united team and that rabble in Canberra running the government momentarily. 

It is this - they say that if we don't want to give tax cuts to the top companies, if we think the very wealthy should pay their fair share of tax, they call it a tax on success.  

That the definition of success is  how much money you have. 

That somehow success is defined by your mansions, by your bloody jet skis, what they think that gets people up in the morning.  

But I and Labor have a different definition of success. 

If you're a police officer on a median wage of $65,000, you're still a success.  

If you're a childcare worker looking after my kids and everyone's kids, you're a success no matter what you earn. 

If you're a teacher in a secondary colleague in Townsville, making sure the kids from the troubled backgrounds get their chance to get an education, you're a success.  

If you're a truck driver on the Bruce doing the long shifts, you mightn't make a lot of money but you're a success - my goodness, you're a success.

The Labor Party knows where we stand.  

We know what we stand for. 

And we stand together.  

We stand together with the union reps and the community reps, we stand together with the people who pay their fair share of taxes and we stand with the people who are good neighbours.  

And we don't believe that the length of time you've been an Australian makes you a good Australian, by the way.  

We don't mind who you love and we're happy for you to marry anyone you want.  

We are a country and we're a movement - we have a sense of Australia, we're not tugging our forelock and calling ourselves Elizabethans on international trips.  

I'm more interested in jobs for Queenslanders, for quality education for Queenslanders, for proper Medicare for Queenslanders.  

We're interested in working and middle class Australians, and my goodness, we're going to do our best to look after them, after the next election. 

Thank you very much.

ENDS


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.