Bill's Speeches

SPEECH TO THE VICTORIAN LABOR PARTY CONFERENCE - MELBOURNE - SUNDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2016

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

It’s great to be here at the electorate of a fantastic local member… Danny Pearson.

And, I'd like to thank, also, all of the candidates who stood for Federal Labor at the last election, you did a fantastic job one and all.

And also to all of those who worked so hard on the Council Elections recently as last month – a strong set of a results,  a credit to everyone. 

…and speaking of elections, I wanted my address today to this conference to be about a week the world will never forget soon.

Already, a thousand journalists, they managed to put aside how wrong they were – and are busy telling us what it means and what we should do.

It’s true that the election of the President of the United States always has consequences – for their country, for the world and for Australia.

We saw that with George W. Bush in 2000, we saw it with Barack Obama in 2008 and we will see it with Donald Trump.

And already our conservative critics are trying to attack me for what I have said about Mr Trump’s views in the past.

I want say two things about that.

Firstly, the alliance between Australia and the United States is more significant than any individual, more powerful than personalities.

But that alliance does not mean changing who we are, or trading-away what we believe.

Let me be perfectly clear on behalf of the mighty Labor movement. It is never acceptable to mock people with a disability.

I will never support disrespecting women, nor will we ever support disrespecting the unemployed, migrants, veterans or Muslims.

And the day we accommodate that, just because someone, somewhere else has won an election – is the day that we surrender the mantle of leadership in this country.

Political victory never justifies treating people differently.

Power can never excuse discrimination.

Friends

The result in the United States shows that we live in a time when old certainties are shifting.

Where there are noisier voices on the extreme right – and the extreme left.

But this no cause for despondency or alarm.

It is a reason for us to believe in ourselves.

It is proof that Labor must continue and redouble our efforts to appeal to the centre, to appeal to the aspirations and dreams of the working and middle class of Australia.

It was about three decades ago that Australia and America chose  distinctly different economic paths, we went a different way.

Instead of Ronald Reagan and trickle-down tax cuts for the very top end - we chose Hawke and Keating. Kelty and the Accord, we chose to fight for a decent safety net.

But friends, we are not just believers in that safety net in the house of Labor – we created the safety net:

  • Medicare
  • Fair pensions
  • Superannuation
  • the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • and a strong minimum wage.

In the United States, they chose to drive unions out – we chose to worked with them and with business together.

We choose a university system where you earn your place through hard work and good marks – not your parents’ income.

It is why in the last 30 years, the number of young Australians with a tertiary qualification has gone up by 90 per cent.

But in the same period in the United States, it has only gone up by 20 per cent.

And the Labor story and the Australian story of the last 30 years has shown us, despite the critism of our conservative critics, to support a minimum wage which rises regularly, that keeps working people out of poverty – not that traps them in poverty.

Delegates should know, that 30 years ago the minimum adult wage in Australia was $5.60 (AUD) per hour – and now it’s $17.70.

Thirty years in the United States it was $3.35 (USD) an hour  - and now it is only $7.25 an hour.

Those numbers tell the story of the last three decades.

We have always chosen an egalitarian society, a multicultural community, an outward looking economy.

We did choose to engage with Asia.

And we also chose, and I acknowledge John Howard here, we chose to trust our security to our laws, to our police and defence forces – not to individual gun ownership.

More often than not in the last 30 years we've chosen to be a kinder, better place.

And to be straight, leaders from both sides of politics have previously made a contribution to this.

But in the Labor party, our Labor Party, we should be proud of the fact that have always been the best warriors for a progress and decency and the middle class and working class of this country – and we should never forget it.

But friends, we have to keep making the right choices.

That is why, for instance, we must always choose to fight for true equality for the women of Australia. No finer challenge for this movement.  

Equality in our party – and our parliament – through equal representation.

And at the other end of inequality, there is no more shameful measure of gender inequality than family violence.

All too often, dealing with family violence is an impoverishing, isolating experience for Australian women.

And these strong survivors should not have the added stress of missing work and all the financial uncertainty that creates.

They've already been injured, they've already suffered dislocation, and the upheaval that can flow from losing their job altogether.

This is why family violence leave should and will be under a Labor Government part of the National Employment Standards.

And I want to do something that the Prime Minister will never do. I want to thank and congratulate the heroes of the union movement who have made this cause their own. Thank you very much.

My word, we stand with you and my word, we will get this done.

And in our party, and in our movement, we choose to stand up for all those Australians who are experiencing and living through the rough edges of economic change.

Because for no better reason than the experience in the United States. What we have witnessed in the last 30 years in the United States is the long-term decline of the economic security of working people.

The squeezing of the middle class, the rise of the working poor.

A loss of hope and confidence in the prospects for their children’s future – and their own sustenance.

It is not correct that people go to work everyday and do not earn enough to be above the poverty line.

Now some of these changes are the result of technological changes and of course some of them results of trade agreements which did not deliver the promised replacement jobs for those dislocated from those agreements.

But it is also the result of having no appreciable social wage – and it is also the result in the last 30 years of attacking the union movement.

When you have 30 years of relentless attacks on the ability of workers to organise. When you have 30 years of a lack of a Medicare system ensuring affordable healthcare for all Australian's then you have the challenges you see in the United States.

But we are not there yet in Australia.

However, if we repeat those same sort of policies, we will invariably go the same way.

And unlike the Americans, Australia is not big enough to afford isolation.

We can’t cut ourselves off from globe – it would choke our agricultural and mining industries.

It would starve us of advanced new manufacturing opportunities, binding us tightly into global supply chains.

But we, in the house of Labor, must understand  that in mining towns, the manufacturing suburbs and regional communities of our country, our fellow Australians are hungry for recognition.

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

Living Standards are two per cent lower than they were when the Liberals were elected.

  • 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, and more and more Australians are worried about being off-shored and contracted-out and outsources and downsized.
  • There are almost 170,000 fewer apprentices in Australia now than five years ago.
  • 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 multinationals and the very wealthy. We have a bell shaped tax system in the country. At one end if you earn no money you pay no tax. But at the other end if you earn a great deal of money, you also pay no tax.
  • And next year, for the first time ever, homeowners will be in the minority, because a generation have been locked out of the housing market in preference of property speculators.

And understanding that whilst we are a different country, that some of the seeds of the disquiet we see overseas are present in growing in this country, although we are not there yet.

What has been the Governments response this week?

What exactly is the Government doing?

And what was Malcolm Turnbull’s priority this week?

In his watering-down the Racial Discrimination Act – weakening protections against hate speech. 

Friends

If there is anyone out there still holding out hope for the ‘old Malcolm Turnbull’, keeping that leather jacket ready for the ‘real Malcolm’.

This week has shown – if he ever existed – he’s not coming back.

Caving-in yet again to those bullies on his back bench.

Trading away protections against hate speech in return for protecting his own job

Messing around with the Racial Discrimination Act is one of those ideological obsessions of the right wing extremists of Australian political life.

I think it’s time we ask:

What exactly do they want to be able to say?

What hurtful words and phrases do they feel is missing from the national lexicon?

What offensive and humiliating vitriol do they think the government of Australia should be encouraging?

What is it that some of these powerful columnists feel they can’t say now that they can’t get the chance to say now?

Friends

We think safeguards against hate speech will not create one single new job.

Giving a green light to racism won’t support traffic jams on the south eastern freeway.

Softening the Racial Discrimination Act won’t help pensioners in Frankston pay their bills.

This is a vendetta driven by prejudice – aided and abetted by a leader too weak to say no.

Let’s call it how it is in the house of Labor,

We are a great immigration nation – a country enriched and enlarged by all those who have chosen to call Australia home.

Yet this is a government who wishes to make it easier to denigrate diversity.

To buy-in to the politics of fear and division.

But instead of cutting desperate deals to try and save his own job – the Prime Minister should be focused on fighting for Australian jobs.

This is a tough time for blue-collar workers, engineering workers, manufacturing workers, in this state and this country – people in Broadmeadows, in Geelong and the Latrobe Valley are doing it tough.

Yet, on the Governments watch, employers are using and abusing temporary work visas to bring in cheap labour.

Manipulating the visa system to import and exploit overseas guest workers.

Rogue companies are ripping off guest workers, so they can avoid paying Australian wages.

We see that with 7-11 and Pizza Hut.

Multinational companies, paying less than half the minimum wage.

We saw it at Bendigo Hospital.

Labourers, carpenters, plasterers brought in – chosen ahead of local cubbies and tradies.

And paid nothing for months of work.

This was not an oversight in the paperwork, or an accident - this is the business model.

This is the kind of industrial scale exploitation being practised by shonky labour hire firms and unscrupulous companies all over Australia.

These operators laugh about a ‘one for two’ deal, where tradies on-site share one set of qualifications.

Swapping as they clock-on and off.

They preside over sites where visa-holders work for less than half the award rate.

Sometimes less than $10 dollars an hour.

And when was the last time you ever heard a Liberal complain about this? The next time will be the first time.

We understand that when people are brought in to work in worse conditions, for less money.

Good employers, good companies, good enterprises, who do the right thing are at a competitive disadvantage.

Local people – in the cities and the regions – miss out on jobs they could be doing.

  • Nurses
  • Carpenters
  • Cooks
  • Early childhood educators
  • Electricians
  • Motor Mechanics

Is Mr Turnbull really asking us to believe that we can’t find Australians to do these jobs?

457 visas were created to fill a gap and we will always need people with special skills from overseas.

But right now too often these visas and others are being used to undermine Australian pay and conditions.

Because when guest workers are exploited, the wages of working Australians are undercut.

But the Liberals and Nationals, they don’t care about this – and they won’t act.

Exploiting guest workers suits their ultimate goal, their dream of a future Australian society: an easy-to-hire, easy-to-fire, low wage Australian society.

A race to the bottom on pay, conditions and of course safety.

This isn’t about protectionism – it’s about standing up for the Australian story.

A modern market, with fair wages.

A modern economy, working in the interests of all Australians, secure jobs, good conditions, fair dinkum safety net.

The Australian story is a rising tide that lifts all tides, not just the yachts.

As iI said in my opening, this has been a tumultuous week. But the model I describe, our economic story of acting in the interests of all.

It is a story which Labor has written and only Labor can defend.

It’s the battle our movement was born for.

It’s what our forebears marched more in the streets of Melbourne, more than a century ago.

It is the reason why we do what we do.

A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

When we look back on the great history of our movement, sometimes I think, we look at the struggle, and we look at the arguments and the fights and the debates and we think how did they do it, the giants of our history.

But we should understand that this fight is now our generations fight. No longer can we rely on the trophy ware of progress and silverware in the Labor cupboard.

But now we become part of this story.

We acknowledge the work of guest workers in this country and they are right to be treated properly.

But there are other people who need recognition in our story in 2016.

  • The over 700,000 Australians who can’t find a job – not even one hour of paid work each week.
  • More than a million Australians, who regularly record their desire to work more hours than they get
  • And 800,000 members of our society on the disability pension, people with impairment who would gladly swap impairment rather than receive the pension they are excluded and locked out of our society  

All of these people ignored by this current government. It’s time that our fellow Australians locked out of the dignity of work receive the opportunity to be let in and have equal citizenship. It is time to

  • Build Australian first.
  • Buy Australian first in our contracts 
  • And employ Australians first.

And it is Labor who always gets on with the job.

At the end of this tumultuous week, I’ve referred to, yesterday I was driving through St Albans.

For as long as I’ve lived in my electorate, those level crossings in St Albans, have not just been a traffic nightmare.

On too many tragic occasions, they cost lives.

Now we have two quality new stations and crossings for the people of the West.

That’s the mark of a good Labor Government, that is the mark of Daniel Andrews and the state Labor Government.

Delivering infrastructure, creating jobs, saving lives.

It is the mark of Labor government not to leave people behind. Just as Frank Maguire for example not leaving people behind in Broadmeadows. Just as what this Government is starting to do down in Hazelwood.

This is the Labor way – we manage change, we manage a just transition, to deliver fairness all around.

And at the end of this very tumultuous week,

Friends

Rest assured, our National Federal party will heed the lessons from the mines and mills and factories of Detroit, of Ohio, of Pennsylvania.

We know this is not a time to aggravate inequality with cuts to the services of working and middle class families and a $50 billion giveaway to largest multinationals in Australia.

This is not the time to ignore the dreams of first home buyers to get their first home and instead subsidise the property investments on their third and fifth and tenth house.

This is not a time to on one hand, appropriately support our banks through the global financial crisis, but on the other hand, ignore the legitimate cries of tens of thousands of our fellow Australians ripped of by the banks who want a banking Royal Commission.

This is not a time to simply subsidise the large private health insurance companies – but turn a blind eye to the dreadful cuts to Medicare.

And this is not a time to ignore the consequences of climate change and pass the problem onto future generations.

And this is not the time to simply rubber stamp free trade agreements if they mean trading away old jobs without creating comparable new jobs for Australians dislocated by these agreements.

And it is certainly not the time to ignore the calls for election funding reform. Where upon vested interests and wealthy individuals are able to donate to the conservative political forces in this country, relatively invisibly. Not the time to keep this system going. 

Of perhaps, put simple, it is not a time for putting more money and more power in the hands of the wealthy few. To the neglect of the very many.

And it is not the time and it is never the time for the low road of change.

Where leaders instead of dealing with the issues, simply scapegoat minorities, give into extremists, appease the powerful at the expense of our values. Labor knows that Australians are better than that.

We give Australians more credit.

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

We will deliver an economy that serves and includes working and middle class Australians.

We will deliver an economy that works in the interests of everyone. Building and protecting what matters for Australians.

Jobs.

Medicare.

Education.

We will not leave people behind.

Thank you very much.

ENDS         


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