MEDIA RELEASE - Lecture on Australia-India Relations in a Changing World

coats arms














Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, Tanya Plibersek, gave a lecture today on ‘the Australia-India Relationship in a Changing World’ at the Menzies Research Centre, in partnership with the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the University of Tasmania.

“With the visit of Narendra Modi to Australia last week, Australia’s relationship with the world’s largest democracy has been at the centre of national discussion” said the Deputy Opposition Leader.

“Only two months ago I visited India with Senator Singh to meet with political leaders, senior officials, academics and non-government organisations in New Delhi.

“Today I talked about the possibilities for the growth in the Australia-India relationship, building on our shared democratic values and the special connection that goes with the more than 400,000 people of Indian origin who live in Australia.

“The election of Modi has galvanized India and turned its focus out to the world” said Labor Senator Singh.

“The strength of our current relationship builds on the past work done by Labor Governments, including the pivotal visit by Julia Gillard to India in 2012.

“Prime Minister Modi visit to Australia this week marks another important milestone in our relationship.

“Mr Modi's visionary speech to the Australian Parliament highlighted his commitment to lift India out of poverty through social and economic development. Australia can play a key role in that vision," Senator Singh said.

“As two nations we share strong connections through democratic values, multiculturalism and of course cricketing culture. We can continue to grow our relationship into the future in trade, education, infrastructure development and tourism.”

Add your reaction Share

SPEECH - The Australia-India relationship in a changing world

coats arms

The Australia-India relationship in a changing world

Co-hosted by the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the University of Tasmania

Hobart, TAS

Thursday 20 November 2014





In September, Senator Lisa Singh and I went to New Delhi and met with political leaders, Members of Parliament, NGOs, academics, and experts.

It was particularly great to be able to take Lisa Singh with me.  She has received a very high honour from the Government of India.  She was in correspondence with Prime Minister Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, so I got to trail on her coattails a little bit on this visit to India.

It’s one of the wonderful things about Australian multiculturalism – it gives us so many links with so many countries that are deep and sincere links because they are people to people links.  We have a profound understanding of the many nations that make up the backgrounds of our people, remembering that about a quarter of Australians are born overseas and about half of all Australians have at least one parent born overseas.

Having Lisa there as one of the 400,000 people of Indian origin in Australia, was really a great demonstration of the very special bond between India and Australia and the very special characteristics of Australia as a multicultural society.

That visit was a visit designed to build on the good work that Labor in government had done.  I was going to talk about the Rudd/Gillard years, but of course as far back as an Australian Labor Government supporting Indian independence, and being one of the first countries to do so.


Our visit coincided with a very special event.  We were there on the 24th of September and the Indian Mars Orbiter spacecraft successfully moved into its Mars orbit at that time.

The Indian Space Research Organisation is the fourth space agency to reach Mars, and India is the first nation to achieve it on its first attempt.

This remarkable mission is not an end in itself – it is a demonstrator project to support technologies for India’s future interplanetary missions.  The mission tells the story of a nation that takes thoughtful and deliberate steps to secure its future.

India has also been able to deliver its Mars mission at a lower cost than any other mission to date, with a total cost of around US$73 million.  It has done this through a skilled domestic workforce, lower worker costs, home-grown technologies, simpler design, and significantly less complicated payload than other missions.

In an opinion piece in the English language daily The Hindu it was pointed out that the cost was equivalent to less than a single bus ride for each of India's population of 1.2 billion.

The Mars mission is reflective of the economic miracle of modern India.

Since the late 1980s the world's largest democracy and second most populous country has opened itself to the outside world, encouraging economic reform and foreign investment.

India’s position as a fast-growing and powerful economy has been recently reinforced by the recent election campaign of Narendra Modi.  His commitments to speed government decision-making and remove the bureaucratic hurdles that have slowed development will give some confidence to foreign investors.

India is now on the radar of the world's leading economic and political powers, governments and private investors alike.

The thing that was striking about that Mars mission is that the announcement was made on the same day that Lisa and I were visiting one of the slums in Delhi, and so we saw first-hand the capacity of India and the constraint.

Despite an economic miracle that supports a burgeoning middle class and remarkable technological strides, many Indians remain impoverished, and inequality in fact is on the rise.  According to the World Bank, 22 per cent of India’s population lives in poverty.

Economic growth rates in India averaged around 7 per cent between 1993 and 2010 and the benefits of that growth were shared more broadly than ever before in India.  It enabled large numbers of people to be lifted out of poverty.

But at the same time, the gap between the very rich and the very poor continued to grow, and the gap between rich and poor regions in India also grew.

This sort of inequality is now accepted by the World Bank, the IMF, the G20, and even the most conservative of economic analysis, as causing an overall drag on growth.

These same institutions have accepted that the previous orthodoxy of “trickle-down economics” – that notion that unbridled capitalism is all it takes to lift people out of poverty, doesn’t bear too much scrutiny.

India is expected to overtake China in terms of population by 2028 according to UN projections, but the real capacity of India comes with the development of its people, not just the numbers, but the investment in those people.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia, which we have watched so closely this week, generated phenomenal excitement – I know that Lisa was one of the fan girls at the Allphones stadium in Western Sydney.

16,000 people – a rapturous welcome for Prime Minister Modi.  Many of my colleagues were there.  There was singing, and there was dancing.  It was a very big deal.

In fact, the Victorians chartered a special train from Melbourne to Sydney – they called it the “Modi Express”.

I can tell you it’s not very often that we greet political leaders this way.  I don’t know the last time an Australian Prime Minister got that sort of greeting.

This excitement, that was so very tangible this week in Australia, was not just about Prime Minister Modi as a person, although I am sure some of it was that very focused political support for him and for his agenda, but it was about a vision he has expressed for India, which is about both unlocking the full economic potential of the country, but also the full human potential of its people.

In his address to Parliament he said: “we have moved forward, thinking with ambition, acting with speed; seeking growth not just for growth, but to transform the quality of life of every Indian.”

The Prime Minister is reforming his country not just through continued reduction in poverty, but also through efforts to increase equality.  He knows that the country’s population overtaking that of China is not going to be as meaningful in 2028 if 25 per cent of his people are still living without electricity.

Mr Modi says he will change this.  Public investments in infrastructure and in national endowments are part of the solution he has laid out.

The IMF has found that government expenditures - particularly social expenditures - are closely linked to inclusive growth outcomes.  It found that Indian states that boosted spending on education and attainment rates have experienced better growth outcomes.  The virtuous growth circle is investment in education; better jobs; higher incomes; more investment in education ……and so it goes on.

This brings me back to another reflection on my visit to India – when I met with women who were participating in the Shikhar Microfinance project.  This project gives more than 30,000 families in the slums of Delhi a chance at escaping poverty.  And despite the incredible poverty, and the desperate situations in which people were living, the small amounts of money that were being earned by these women were prioritised almost universally on one thing – and that was the education of their children.

Of course, India has a public education system but many of these mothers were either taking the small amount they had to send their children to religious-based schools, in some cases not the religion that they were practicing at home, but they thought they would get a better quality of education, and if they couldn’t afford full-time school fees, they were paying for tutors, an afternoon a week or two afternoons a week.

These are people living in one room, maybe two rooms, maybe twice the size of this desk here. Some of them still without electricity, often without any plumbing, sorting through junkyards for little piece of fabric that they were washing and processing for recycling, making tiny little dolls clothes for a dollar a day. These are people who are really just surviving but their priority is educating their children and a great outcome for their kids is a job in a hotel, for example. Something that gives them inside work, security in the formal employment sector, that is what they wanted for their children.

I was so inspired by that commitment to education I saw from those women.  They were from different part of India, different religions, and different castes, and all of them expressed that desire for their children to go to school, receive an education, and get jobs.   They recognised the importance of education to giving their children the best chance of living a better life.

India is now a nation which can send an explorer to Mars but it still has millions of people to lift out of poverty, and there are immense expectations that Prime Minister Modi will do this, that he’ll use his electoral mandate and support to make economic reforms that will give greater prosperity to allow the social investment in people and to generate economic growth that actually benefits the vast number of people still to be lifted out of poverty.

The rise of India is also an enormous opportunity for us and for the world. Prime Minister Modi’s promised new markets to open as India's emerging middle class achieves a higher standard of living. He has promised increased trade and international cooperation and more importantly, he’s talked about the role that India will play in shaping the region for the future. As Australians, we are a tiny nation in terms of population, but we think of ourselves as playing a role internationally in shaping not just our region but the way our globe operates, the way that countries relate to one another, and I think that this is a terrifically important partnership for Australia into the future.

Under Prime Minister Gillard, two major steps were taken which lay a framework for Australia’s vision.  The “Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement” between Australia and India which launched negotiations in May 2011 under Prime Minister Gillard’s administration, upgrading our partnership with India.  This followed a joint statement signed by former Prime Ministers Rudd and Singh upgrading bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership” level.

If you look at that work with India and also compare the strategic partnership secured by former Prime Minister Gillard with China, you see that Australia as a country has these two great opportunities as our neighbours grow to engage economically and strategically in our region. Both of these agreements deepen our previous relationships and indeed Prime Minister Modi made a particular point of telling Bill Shorten and I when we met this week that the agreements signed on social security, combating narcotics, transfer of sentenced persons, cooperation in the field of arts and tourism are all things that came out of that work that had been done previously by our government and he thanked us for our work.

In August, I spoke at the Confucius Institute at UNSW about how the growth of China brought with it not just great opportunities to us and for China but also great responsibilities.

I think it is very true to talk about India in these terms as well, that economic growth is a terrific opportunity for the people of India, it is a terrific opportunity for our businesses engaging with this growing middle class but it also brings with it expectations and responsibilities. It brings with it the domestic expectations of Indian citizens, of their quality of life and how it will change, but it also brings with it global expectations as well about the role that India will play in the globe.

Just as China will be a more significant participant in the global economy and in global institutions, India too will take its place on the world stage as an increasingly influential member of the global community.

Prime Minister Modi also spoke about this in his address to our Parliament.  He called for greater cooperation between India and Australia in this “moment of enormous opportunity and great responsibility”.  He said “Since my Government entered office, no region has seen more intense engagement on India's part than the Asia Pacific region - because we understand how deeply our future is linked to this region.”

So it is going to be very interesting over the next years and decades to watch what that greater engagement, that Prime Minister Modi acknowledges India will need to engage in, what that will look like, what form it will take, what structures will be used.


The world is watching the rise of India in the context of a changing region.  Alongside India’s rise, we have been focused on the major political and economic shifts which are occurring in China.

As the world’s two most populous countries, both have immense opportunities and challenges.  They are also the largest emerging economies in the world, and have growing middle classes with changing expectations.

And there is also a very interesting - I think it is fascinating for people who watch foreign affairs - evolving relationship between India and China.

When Xi Jinping visited Prime Minister Modi it was considered a very important visit, all eyes were on it.  There is the longest contested land border in the world between India and China. There was an advance of Chinese troops into India while Xi Jinping was in India. People have been struggling to understand: what is the symbolism, why then, why pick this moment? The reason that there was so much fascination with that one event is because people are holding onto their breaths to find out what will the relationship between India and China be like. We sometimes as Australians always think about how we relate to India, how we relate to China, how we relate to the United States, how we relate to Japan, and forget that the intricacy between the relationship of our friends and neighbours are as significant an effect on our future as our own efforts to engage with each of those nations.

Both Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi in their visits have talked about their own determination to increase economic growth within the countries that have also talked about what that growth will look like and what it is designed to deliver for their people.

Xi Jinping’s China Dream speech at his government's third plenum talk about the reasons for growth in China is to continue to deliver an improved standard of living for Chinese people and as that standard of living increases of course the expectations of the middle-class change. You’ve got an increasing number of Chinese students studying overseas, you’ve got more tourists coming and going, China's leadership are wondering how they will continue to respond to those demands for a cleaner environment, better social services, more freedom of expression.

Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for economic growth including the ambitious targets for infrastructure and sanitation also give an enormous hope to the people of India about what growth will mean in terms of transforming their everyday lives.

The first meeting between these two new leaders was also closely watched.  During the state visit Prime Minister Modi said of his relationship with President Xi: “we can reinforce each other's economic growth. We can contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in our region. And, we can give new direction and energy to the global economy.”


Prime Minister Modi has staked part of his reform agenda on India as a robust, well-functioning democracy in the region.

He has talked about India’s 3Ds: “Democracy, Demography and Demand” as taking a significant role in his “Make in India” campaign to attract more foreign investment.

When he talks about demographics, he is talking about a very young country that will be a driving force in the Asian labour market in the 21st century and the demand of a rising middle class with a higher disposable income.

And of course the response of neighbours like China, Japan and the US have meant that they have wasted no time in courting Prime Minister Modi since his election.

We have also prioritised our relationship with India, not just since the election, but before that as well.

Australia’s interaction with India is also a part of this - we need to take account of this juggle of suitors that India is experiencing with China, Japan and the United States – each of them vying for the affection of Prime Minister Modi and India.


One of the things that this will effect is how India relates to the existing international infrastructure that we use to make decisions as countries in our region and globally.

I would like to raise a couple of areas where this will be of particular interest.

One of them obviously is climate change.  We’ve got a global agreement that we are heading for, we hope, in Paris next year.  We’ve had some very important statements from the G20 about the necessity for countries to decarbonise their economies. And we’ve had very significantly both China and the United States, the world’s two largest polluters, sign up to an agreement that nobody thought possible just two weeks ago.

So what will happen? What role will India take when it comes to multilateral action on climate change? And the second question of course is how will India change its role as it grows in prosperity in multilateral fora, including the two new investment banks. The BRICS investment bank and the Chinese backed investment bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. So watching those very important issues of how India will engage in these great challenges of the future I think will be of enormous interest to Australia and other countries as well.

India is the third largest carbon dioxide emitter after the United States and China, and it was very significant that Prime Minister Modi said in his address to the Australian Parliament that yes, he wants to keep buying Australian coal, and yes, he wants to keep buying Australian uranium, but he included in that statement about meeting the energy needs of the hundreds of millions of Indians that have no access even to basic electricity in their homes. He said we have to find fuel sources that don’t melt our glaciers. Now I think that is pretty significant because as I say, India, fast-growing, third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, if India takes a path of looking for energy use sources from low carbon emission technologies, compared with if it takes a path of not caring whether its energy comes from low carbon or high carbon sources, compared with if India prioritises energy from renewable sources, that will make a huge difference to the global economics of energy supply.

The other area that will be very important to observe and work with India on is the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which both give India a huge opportunity to have investment within India from the New Development Bank which of course is set up by the BRICS country and India is going to be its inaugural president for the first six years. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, India of course is also a founding member.

Both of those banks, potentially huge investors in Indian infrastructure, but both of those banks also with India as a founding member and guiding president for the first six years with the New Development Bank will be setting the agenda for the type of infrastructure that gets built, for the type of transparency in government arrangements around these banks as well. This is a response that comes from the emerging economies really being shut out of the institutions that were set up after the Second World War that don’t reflect the fact that China and India and these other emerging countries are now very significant economic players and a question for us has to be how much will we change international arrangements that are 50 years old, sometimes older, actually take account of the fact that economic power is changing. Instead of being part of the IMF, China set up its own bank. It has done that because the IMF does not recognise China's weight in the international community and has up til now been incapable of amending its own governance to recognise China as a growing power. Will the same happen for India or will we manage to change our global infrastructure or global architecture to take account of these changing shifts in power?

For us, it is a reminder of what happens when international organisations do not adapt to a changing world, and for India it’s a reminder of what changing architecture means for their own economy and their potential for global leadership.  Prime Minister Modi said in our Parliament this week: “we do not have to rely on borrowed architecture of the past. Nor do we have the luxury to choose who we work with and who we won't.”[9]

So there are a couple of challenges and a couple of opportunities that I’ve laid out for you. India has enormous capacity; we see it in its growing economy, fast-growing middle class, growing demographics and its capacity. The Mars expedition is a colourful way of describing the capacity but you see it in so many areas, yet it still has this demand from its own people, this great challenge of poverty and how it will take economic growth and spread the benefit of that so that it benefits not just for moral reasons the vast majority of people, but for its own continued economic strength, those benefits have to be shared and investment has to be made into lifting people out of poverty, investing in health and education, and our own place in the world, our own relationship with India and how India sits in our region. Can our architecture accommodate these rising powers? Do we need to do more to understand that the world is a changing place and that the organisations that have served us very well for many decades need to take account of those changing power relationships?


Add your reaction Share

MEDIA RELEASE - Abbott Government Embarrasses Australia on the World Stage, Again

coats arms













In an extraordinary attack on our close friend and ally, the United States, the Abbott Government says it has “an issue” with a plea from President Obama to protect our beautiful Great Barrier Reef.

In a speech at University of Queensland during the G20 last weekend, President Obama pointed to the impact of climate change on the reef saying:


”I have not had time ... to go to the Great Barrier Reef and I want to come back and I want my daughters to be able to come back and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit. And I want that there 50 years from now.”


The Abbott Government has criticised President Obama’s remarks, despite the fact they are consistent with the views of the World Heritage Committee.

Just this year, the World Heritage Committee “noted with concern” the Abbott Government’s lack of action to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and went on to recommend the reef for consideration on the list of “world heritage in danger” sites in 2015.

It seems it’s only the Abbott Government that fails to accept that climate change is going to take a significant toll on our Great Barrier Reef, unless we act now.  It is embarrassing.

The Abbott Government’s criticism of President Obama follows a similar attack from Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman.

Everyone knows Campbell Newman is no diplomat, but Australians expect better from their national government, especially the Foreign Minister.

World leaders, including Australia's largest trading partners, are taking action against climate change, but Tony Abbott would rather pay polluters to pollute.

While the rest of the world looks to a clean energy future, an economic advantage that could present jobs and investment for Australia, the Abbott Government continues to drag its feet on taking serious climate action.

Labor recently announced that, if re-elected, it would ban capital dredge spoil being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

We did this because we want to protect this vital heritage area from further degradation.


Add your reaction Share

TRANSCRIPT - Sky News, Saturday 15 November 2014

coats arms










Subject/s: G20; Climate change; Inclusive growth.

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Joining me now is the Deputy Labor leader and the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who was there watching Barack Obama’s speech and is still there at Queensland University. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Can I ask, on this climate change announcement from President Obama, do you think Australia should now also be making a commitment to this green climate fund?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well of course Labor supported a commitment to helping developing countries with climate change mitigation  when we were in government. Of course Australia should be part of this. It’s extraordinary that Tony Abbott in his opening remarks to world leaders today was boasting about the fact that Australia is the only country going backwards on climate change. We now have the United States and China, two of the world’s largest polluters and largest economies talking about the action that they will take, deeper cuts, faster cuts to carbon emissions and today’s announcement of course saying that developing countries won’t have to choose between economic development and climate change mitigation, or reducing their carbon footprint, they’ll be able to do both, of course Australia should be part of that.

SPEERS: Alright, but to what extent are you able to put a dollar figure or as some have suggested, a percentage figure? I think there are some suggesting Australia should make up 2.7% of this international $10 billion fund. Are you able to put any sort of ballpark figure on where you think Australia should land here?

PLIBERSEK:  Oh no, that would be something that would need to be thought through, discussed, I don’t have a particular number in mind. But here we- the very reason that Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd promoted the G20 as the premiere economic decision making body in the world was because there are some problems that are too big for any one country on its own to fix. At the time, the Global Financial Crisis required coordinated international action. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue and today President Obama said the world should act together to reduce the effect of dangerous climate change on countries that are bearing the worst brunt of it. Poorer countries, particularly in our region. He mentioned Asia and the Pacific region in particular as areas that are feeling the effects of climate change and will feel the effects of climate change in the future. This is an issue where global cooperation is absolutely vital and Australia has to be part of that global cooperation instead of being as we are now, an outlier. Not just behind the pack, but heading in completely the wrong direction.

SPEERS: Alright, but as you know, many have pointed out that China’s commitment here allows them to keep increasing emissions for another 16 years, in the meantime that could well and truly not just surpass entire Australian emissions but entire American emissions as well in that period. Is that good enough from the world’s biggest emitter?

PLIBERSEK: China is a country of well over a billion people, it’s not surprising that their emissions are higher in total than Australia’s. But Australia is one of the highest emitters per person in the world of carbon pollution. We can’t get away with doing nothing. Yes, of course China should act. They’re sourcing a greater proportion of their energy from renewables, they’ve made further commitments, they’ve gone further than any international observers expected. Now it’s time for Australia to do the same.

SPEERS: Well when it comes to doing the same, and you did refer to Australia as falling behind the pack, do you think we should match at least what the Americans have committed to now in terms of a post 2020 emissions reduction.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think our goals and targets should be a matter for discussion but at the moment we’ve got a government that has thrown out the window an emissions trading system that was working, a price on carbon that was working to bring down our carbon pollution. And they’re also trying to trash our renewable energy target and what we’re seeing because of that is job losses in renewables, we’ve slipped in terms of attractiveness as a destination for investment in companies that focus on renewable energy. We are going backwards as a nation on climate change mitigation and carbon pollution reduction, completely out of step with the rest of the world.

SPEERS: Okay, but let me ask you this, is it important to you that countries, when they make commitments like we’ve seen here, show how they’re going to deliver it? Because at the moment it is unknown how the Americans, how President Obama will be able to deliver on that commitment he’s made for 2025.

PLIBERSEK: Well can I say I’ve got an awful lot of faith in both the United States and China to be able to do what they say they are going to do. Unfortunately, what Australia says it is going to do is go backwards on climate change. I mean we’ve got the two largest economies in the world saying that they will take decisive action to cut pollution deeper and faster than anyone imagined. Today we’ve got an additional commitment that countries will help our region to reduce the effects of climate change and reduce carbon pollution in our region, that’s unequivocally a good thing.

SPEERS: Let me turn to some of the other elements of President Obama’s speech there today, he’s talked about an even deeper American military commitment in this region, the majority of its navy and air force will be in the Pacific by the end of the decade, do you welcome that?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it was a very good opportunity for President Obama to reemphasise that the United States has a long and strong bond with Australia and with other countries in our region too. The President also talked about the areas of commonality with China and the work they’ve done for example on climate change more recently. I think the other very important message from today’s speech was the importance of inclusive growth, of aid and development, making sure that other countries in the region, poorer countries, have the opportunity to develop their people by investing in health, investing in education, investing in more productive agriculture. This was a speech that of course talked about US foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions but spoke about so much more, spoke about growth, but the quality of growth, saying that growth should be both environmentally sustainable but also inclusive and really that’s the bar that we set for this G20 meeting. We hoped that climate change would be on the agenda and President Obama has put it firmly on the agenda. We hoped that inclusive growth would be on the agenda and again President Obama has put it firmly on the agenda.

SPEERS: But he did talk about the need for the security, order of this region not to be based on spheres of influence, coercion or intimidation where big nations bully small and he talked about the need for international law norms to be upheld, peaceful resolution of disputes. Do you share all of those views? And are you concerned about China’s behaviour when it comes to some of these disputes?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s always worth emphasising that we need to uphold international laws and norms. Of course all countries should expect to be held to account in that way. But I was also very, very pleased during the week that the United States and China could come to this agreement on climate change because it shows that the channels of communication are very open, that there is a lot of room for constructive negotiation and coming to agreement on the issues that matter to all of us.

SPEERS: Final question Tanya Plibersek, when you talk about growth and I hear that you share, and certainly the President does as well, the need for inclusive growth in this region and around the world. Do you give the Abbott Government a tick for at least being able to drive on this G20 agenda this two percent target to boost growth adding two trillion dollars to the global economy?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think everybody would agree that economic growth is good.  But economic growth has to be environmentally and socially sustainable and inclusive as well. What we’ve heard recently from the IMF, from the OECD, from economists like Joseph Stiglitz is the firm evidence that countries that have a smaller gap between the richest and the poorest have longer and stronger and more durable economic growth. The proof is there in the numbers that inequality is bad for growth. Inequality within countries and inequality between countries is bad for growth. So it’s terrific that the G20 is talking about growth but from the President’s speech today, from the comments of other world leaders including people like Christine Lagard from the IMF we know that it’s also the quality of growth. Not just the number in front of the percentage point.

SPEERS: Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us from Queensland University, we appreciate that.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you very much.


Add your reaction Share

MEDIA RELEASE - President Obama Calls for More Action on Climate Change

coats arms













The President of the United States Barack Obama has today issued a strong call for Australia and the international community to lift its game on climate change.

President Obama’s speech clearly laid out the case for why Australian action is urgent:

“Nobody [Australia] has more at stake when it comes to thinking about and then acting on climate change. Here a climate that increases in temperature will mean more extreme and frequent storms, more flooding, rising seas that submerge Pacific Islands. Here in Australia it means longer droughts, more wildfires. The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened.”

Barack Obama, address at University of Queensland, 15 November 2014


In his address at the University of Queensland, President Obama said the world needs to work together to tackle climate change.


" No nation is immune and every nation has a responsibility to do its part…..we’ve got to step up”

Barack Obama, address at University of Queensland, 15 November 2014


We welcome President Obama's announcement today of $3 billion for the United Nations Green Climate Fund to help developing nations deal with climate change.

President Obama’s intervention today follows his announcement on Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping about an ambitious climate deal on Wednesday and interventions in recent days from other world leaders.

Adding his voice to the deafening chorus of calls to deal with climate change, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon, noted:


“Climate change is the defining issue of our times, therefore it's only natural that G20 leaders should focus much more on this as part of making this world sustainable in three dimensions - economic, social and environmental”

Ban-Ki Moon, Press Conference, 15 November 2014


Tony Abbott is the only person at G20 who doesn't want to talk about action on climate change.

Tony Abbott’s stubborn isolationism is not only costing Australia our economic competitiveness but also our international reputation.



Add your reaction Share

TRANSCRIPT - The Today Show, Friday 14 November 2014

coats arms










Subject/s: Russia; Putin; Climate change deal; Palmer United.


KARL STEFANOVIC, PRESENTER: Joining us now is Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you two, thank you for being with us.



STEFANOVIC: Malcolm, it doesn't look like you are sweating bullets.

TURNBULL: No, and I think that we want to be careful about using words like "intercept". I mean, you know, navies, countries have navies for many reasons and one of them is to project force and in the case of Russia, clearly force and grandeur and the Russian navy is in our part of the world as part of an international relations exercise showing that Russia’s still on the map and still a powerful country and-

STEFANOVIC: So it is provocative? It is a show of force then? We should be worried?

TURNBULL: Well, no we shouldn’t.


TURNBULL: We should not be worried at all. But I mean, the navy is part of every country's defence force and when like you send it out to sea in a group like this, you are projecting force and saying "Here I am, I am still on the map, I am still strong and important."

STEFANOVIC: Like we didn't know that anyway.

PLIBERSEK: Karl, I think it is very important, Karl, that we don't overreact to this incident because of course the Russian ships are in international waters, they’ve got every right to be where they are, it’s not unusual that they are where they are. It would be a lot more unusual if they were sitting in the Brisbane River. At this stage I think people just need to take a chill pill, just as Malcolm has.

STEFANOVIC: Alright okay, Malcolm, we all need to take a chill pill but you’re sending a third ship out there, just to what, observe?

TURNBULL: Well, of course, this is all part of the - I mean, I am not privy to the latest naval maneuvers. But Karl, as Tanya says, this is all very normal. This is what navies do - join the navy, see the world and they get around. And I don't think this is you know – despite the desire to beat it up, I'm surprised frankly that up there in Brisbane the Courier Mail isn't promoting some good fishing spots on the Brisbane River, inviting the Russians to come in and throw a line in.

STEFANOVIC: Well they do that anyway, the Courier Mail, it is a fine publication.


STEFANOVIC: Just on the Courier Mail, it is asking for an apology this morning. Tanya, should we get an apology from Vladimir Putin?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the families of those who lost their lives when MH17 was shot down certainly deserve an explanation and an apology. It is not about what the Australian Government needs, it is about what the families of those who lost their lives need. And they need someone to be held accountable for what happened. And they need answers why this happened. And of course, for those nine people whose bodies have not yet been recovered, those families in particular need access to the crash site for authorities to recover those remains. So there is still a great deal that should happen and we believe that Vladimir Putin has the key to many of those things.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, next up, China and the US –

TURNBULL: Can I just say that is absolutely correct. I mean the one person who knows exactly what happened is Vladimir Putin. So he is in a position to set out the facts, clearly, cogently and accept responsibility for the actions of a group of rebels, insurgents, whatever you want to call them, who were being supported by Russia operating within the Ukraine as part of a separatist movement there. I mean he really - he should set out those facts, take responsibility, express his compassion and condolences and apologise for this terrible event. And Tanya and I are unusually in complete agreement on this.

STEFANOVIC: Let's talk about something that you don't agree on, and that is China and the US have made a climate change pact to agree to work together on reducing emissions. Malcolm, you can't be happy with where we are sitting given that potential deal for China and also the US to cut emissions?

TURNBULL: Well, the Government has welcomed this agreement, number one. Number two, Australia does have an ambitious emission reduction target. The- our reduction by 2020 is comparable to the targets described by China and America. Can I say, it is very, very encouraging, in fact something of a relief to see at long last agreement between China and America. It is early days yet, but China is making a very concerted move against burning coal. It is determined to reduce emissions in China, not just for climate change reasons but because of general atmospheric pollution, as anyone who has been to a big Chinese city recently would know. That is- environmental issues are becoming a very, very important topic and agenda in China. That is one country in the world that is able to move quickly.

PLIBERSEK: Karl, can I –

STEFANOVIC: Just quickly, Tanya. Very, very quickly.

PLIBERSEK: Well I’ve got to say, our excuse- the Liberals’ excuse was always that the rest of world wasn't acting, Australia shouldn’t act. You have now got the world’s two largest economies, two largest polluters taking substantial action on climate change. Malcolm always said that the Liberals’ policy was just a fig leaf to cover up a determination to do nothing, he is right then. Australia needs to be part of this world move. We have already lost, for example, 100 jobs of people who were creating the towers for wind farms just recently because we have taken this step backwards when it comes to tackling climate change. We are losing those clean green jobs and we are being left behind.

STEFANOVIC: Alright, we do have to go. Malcolm, unfortunately I can’t ask about the impending divorce between Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie. I really wanted to find out from you how Clive is, I’ve been worried.

TURNBULL: I didn’t even know they were married, actually. That’s a –

PLIBERSEK: They can probably speak for themselves I think, Karl. They’re doing a pretty good job.

STEFANOVIC: Well, Malcolm’s stuck in the middle!

TURNBULL: I’m not going to offer a - sort of a reconciliation meeting at the Wild Duck. But if Tanya wants to do so, there’s a booth there that I’m sure is available.

STEFANOVIC: Nice. I love the maneuverings. Thank you, you two. We’ll see you very soon.


Add your reaction Share

OPINION PIECE - Why I'm a Feminist

coats arms









I am a feminist. Not because I'm a whinger, or a victim, but because I understand how very fortunate I am. And I'm grateful to the women (and men) who've made that possible.

If a footballer runs onto the field to a barrage of racist abuse, should he ignore it?  Or should he call it out as unacceptable?  What is the braver thing to do?

Ignoring racism or sexism doesn't make it go away.

I am a feminist because I am grateful to be able to combine motherhood with a career that is intellectually and emotionally rewarding.

I am a feminist because I understand that the 18 per cent gender pay gap is not there because women are less competent at work than men.

I am a feminist because I know that the number of older women retiring with less superannuation than men is not because they are worse savers.

I am a feminist because I know it's unacceptable that one in every five Australian women will experience sexual assault and one in every three Australian women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.

I am a feminist because I want my daughter to be safe walking home; because I want her to feel any profession is open to her, and that she is valuable for her intellect, her kindness, her sense of humour – not her looks.

I am a feminist because I want my sons to know the deep rewards of an equal relationship with their life partner, the satisfaction of being a hands-on father, and the limitless opportunity of rejecting unhealthy stereotypes.

I am a feminist because I recognise that it is the struggle of previous generations that have given me the opportunities I have.  Bella Guerin, who back in 1883 became the first woman to graduate from an Australian university; Edna Ryan who fought for equal pay for men and women; Vida Goldstein who fought for women to be allowed to vote and stand for Parliament; and Jeannette McHugh, the first Labor woman to be elected to the House of Representatives from NSW.

I am a feminist because I know that having so much joy and satisfaction at home and at work, it would be completely unacceptable to say to other women, the young women I meet, so full of potential,  "you're on your own".

If you don't see the structural problems in society, you can't fix them.

This was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, 13 November, 2014

Add your reaction Share

TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Monday 10 November 2014

coats arms










Subject/s: Wayne Goss, Ebola.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, thank you for coming out this afternoon.  I want to start by saying a few words about Wayne Goss. Of course, a very sad loss of a man still in the prime of his life. Wayne Goss made a huge contribution to the state of Queensland. He took a state that had been moribund after 32 years of corrupt, conservative rule and he brought it into the modern age. He reformed the electoral system, he increased the role of women in the state, the first female cabinet minister, the first female governor, he decriminalised homosexuality, he made a number of enormous changes responding to the findings of the police royal commission. So he will be sadly missed no doubt by his family but also sadly missed by our Labor family and by the people of the State of Queensland. I wanted to say a few words too about the continuing Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Today we hear that the US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has criticised Australia for not doing enough. This of course accords with what Labor has been saying, that the small efforts that the Government has made are of course welcome, but that a country like Australia could do much more. The place to fight Ebola is in West Africa. The people to fight Ebola are our skilled health professionals, volunteers who want to go and use their skills for the benefit of the people of West Africa and to contain this disease where it started. The time to do that is right now. We know on the- at the beginning of October we were told by the World Health Organisation that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days there was no plan for what would happen after that. This is a virus that is spreading quickly, that is- has infected about 13,000 people so far. On some reports, the number of people infected is doubling every 15 to 20 days. This is a virus that is spreading quickly and that is lethal. We know that many Australians have volunteered. The Nurses and Midwives Federation told us that in 12 hours they had more than 350 nurses ring up to say that they would be willing to go to fight Ebola in West Africa. We know from the Australian Medical Association that many doctors are also willing to go. We have Australian Medical Assistance Teams, AUSMAT teams, there’s no indication about why those AUSMAT teams have not been deployed and we hear from the Government that the hiring of private firms discharges our responsibilities. Well of course any contribution is welcome but as we hear from Susan Rice, Australia is not doing its fair share, it is not doing enough. We have skilled personnel that have trained all of their professional careers to treat people when they’re sick, to train others in very important measures like infection control - these people are willing to go, they want to go, and our Government is not assisting them or facilitating that in any serious way. To be told off by the United States, our great friend and ally, for not doing enough in West Africa is particularly embarrassing. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, other European nations are all making a substantial contribution when Australia's contribution is limited at best.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything else they should do other than allowing these volunteers to go over?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the Government should be facilitating those volunteers, should be helping them do what they can do best which is treat people who are sick, train health workers locally, construct health facilities, engage transport and logistics. It is also I think important for the Government to explain now why AUSMAT teams, Australian Medical Assistance Teams, have not been engaged. We know that these are people who volunteer to work in these teams at times of crisis. They have been deployed on a number of occasions in the past into crisis zones. They would be, have all of the skills that would be most useful at a time like this in the countries that are worst affected. It is up to the Government to explain why they haven’t engaged AUSMAT teams to do this work. It is also I think, very worth looking at what the Government said about the reasons that Australians haven’t been sent. They said that it was just a matter of working out good evacuation protocols for Australians. Well, we now find out, we found out in the last few days that the European Union and the United States offered to help with treatment of Australian personnel and evacuation if that should become necessary and that offer was made several weeks ago. So it’s really unclear why the Government has sat on its hands in this way and why they continue to not support Australians who want to travel to West Africa to fight the virus there. We have heard indeed from the Prime Minister that it is possible that even with this new arrangement with Aspen Medical it’s possible that no Australians will be engaged to do this very difficult work. It is a very curious thing that when, for example, in a country like Sierra Leone, you’ve got only 100 doctors to treat 6 million people before this crisis, the idea that they will be able to engage all of these staff over there is farfetched.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think the Government is holding back from helping?

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s really a question for the Government and it’s clear that we’ve been asked to help by our great friend and ally, the United States, by our great friend, the United Kingdom, by other countries including France and Germany, the countries that are worst affected, their Prime Ministers and Presidents have written to Australia, we’ve been asked by the World Health Organisation, by the International Crisis Group, by our own Australian Medical Association, by our own Australian Public Health Association, the Nurses and Midwives Federation. I mean, so many countries, so many organisations saying to Australia please help, saying please do more, and still very little movement from the Government. It’s really up to them to explain why that is.

JOURNALIST: What do you think it’s doing to our international reputation?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s certainly not good for our international reputation. Australia thinks of itself as playing an important role internationally and we do. We were very quick to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We were very quick to agree to send Australian troops in a train and assist role in Iraq. It’s incomprehensible why we were so quick to respond to one humanitarian disaster and why we’ve been so very slow to respond to another.


Add your reaction Share

MEDIA RELEASE - Ebola Crisis

coats arms













The United States has again called on the Abbott Government to do more to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

This latest plea has come from the highest levels of the US Government through its national security adviser, Susan Rice.


"We look to Australia and other partners that we'll have the opportunity to meet with at the G20 to fulfil the commitments they've made and do more, frankly."

"Because at this stage, there are many needs that remain unmet in the West African region, whether it's financial resources, particularly for the United Nations appeal, healthcare workers, beds, and medical supplies."

"We continue to look to capable partners like Australia to do their part"

Susan Rice, US National Security Adviser, Australian Financial Review, 10 November, 2014


It is reported US President Barack Obama will push for Australia to step up its efforts when he meets with Prime Minister Abbott in China today.

The United States is a great friend to Australia.  We must take requests from them to do more very seriously.

When Ms Plibersek was in the United States recently, officials from the State Department, the White House, and the United Nations told her again and again how important it was to get more skilled personnel to West Africa.

That's what Labor has been urging for many weeks now.

Though long overdue, Labor welcomed the additional measures to help fight Ebola, announced by the Government last week.  But by Mr Abbott's own admission, those measures may not see many Australian volunteer healthcare workers supported to go to West Africa.

We know there is a need for Australian healthcare workers in West Africa.  Our close friend and ally, the United States, is telling us so too - and they're asking for our help.

There are hundreds of Australian doctors and nurses willing and able to help fight Ebola in West Africa. The Abbott Government needs to do more to support them to go.



Add your reaction Share

SPEECH - McKell Institute Address - Inclusive Growth

coats arms








5 NOVEMBER, 2014


When William McKell started as a student at Bourke Street Public School in the late 1890’s, the school was about a decade old - part of the relatively new public school system here in New South Wales.

This revolutionary investment in public education allowed a young child, the son of a butcher, to embark upon a journey that would see him become first a boiler maker and trade unionist, then state member for Redfern, NSW Premier, and finally Governor-General.

His story is part of Labor’s great tradition of the pursuit of opportunity and egalitarianism.

Like many of you, I was at Sydney Town Hall this morning to celebrate that great Labor tradition as we farewelled our dearly loved comrade, Gough Whitlam.

Tony Whitlam told us that his father chose the music today – indeed, he joked his father would have liked to speak today, but the rules of the game prevent that.

Gough chose the great socialist hymn, Jerusalem and Paul Kelly’s Australian classic From Little Things Big Things Grow, about the Wave Hill walk off: two songs that remind us that our struggle is long, but that our dreams for a better, fairer society can be realised.

As Gough said in 1972 Labor has a mission to “liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people”.

It is a task that is never complete, and a duty that will not abide idleness.

For Gough the pursuit of equality was “not an attempt to accomplish everything overnight, but to move steadily towards our social goals, ensuring that the areas of greatest human need have the first claim on the community’s resources”.

He was both pragmatic and idealistic: campaigning for roads and sewers for the young families in new suburbs of Western Sydney - at the same time championing the University that would educate its people.

He knew that idealism was not enough on its own – that it had to be partnered with the power to make change. (Only the impotent are pure, he told us.)

And he knew that power shouldn’t be wasted: the status quo is not good enough. We should aim higher as a nation.

This is what Labor believes in – a strong economy and a fair society, change which benefits us all; improvements today which are an investment in our future.

As a teenager amongst my favourite books were the dystopian / utopian novels often prompted by social and economic turmoil like the Great War and the great depression.

I particularly liked Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It described a peaceful society, every element practical and beautiful, with teaching considered the highest calling. It was a civilisation of women only, with no war, no want, and no violence.

These utopian novels, rising out of the struggle and idealism of the great socialist movements of the nineteenth century may seem quaint today, and there’s plenty of people who are quick to accuse us of being the authors of utopian fiction ourselves.

But it turns out the idealists were right all along.

The Case for Inclusive Growth

And it turns out that the new expression of this vision for a more equal and more just society, “inclusive growth” is able to unite some pretty diverse people.

Who would have thought, for example, that the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the International Labor Organisation would be on a unity ticket with the Governor of the Bank of England and Lady Rothschild? Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and the Pope? Economists and civil society? It seems agreement is breaking out everywhere that inequality is bad for us all.

Beyond the moral imperative, the argument goes, we can’t afford to waste the talents of our people; we don’t want the political, financial and social instability that comes from division; the crime, violence and poverty; and, what’s more, the numbers tell the story: more equal societies have stronger and longer growth.

The IMF is not generally thought of as a hot bed of progressive idealism, but it recently looked at 173 countries over 50 years and concluded that inequality is a drag on growth. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has said 'put simply, a severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term”.

Not only does reduced inequality support stronger and longer periods of economic growth, the research finds against the old chestnut that redistribution is bad for growth.

Even stranger, is the activism of a group of institutional investors, asset managers, corporations, sovereign wealth funds and financial institutions calling themselves the Inclusive Capitalism Initiative. ICI was established in 2011 to seek “practical ways to renew capitalism to make it an engine of economic opportunity and shared prosperity”.

When Mark Carney, Governor of Bank of England, addressed an ICI meeting chaired by Lady Rothschild in May this year, he said “few would disagree that a society that provides opportunity to all of its citizens is more likely to thrive than one which favours an elite”.

He said that equality of opportunity has fallen, social mobility has declined and that this has undercut a sense of fairness; a basic social contract is breaking down. He laments the loss of a “sense of society”. IMF director Christine Lagarde explained at that same meeting why the IMF has taken an interest in inequality: “Our mandate is financial stability. Anything that is likely to rock the boat financially and macroeconomically is within our mandate”.

Like the IMF and ICI, the World Bank is not a radical organisation. It too argues that a “rapid pace of growth is unquestionably necessary for substantial poverty reduction, but for this growth to be sustainable in the long run, it should be broad-based across sectors, and inclusive of a large part of a country's labour force.” The World Bank also says systematic inequality of opportunity is “toxic” to growth.

We even have pretty convincing data about how much growing inequality slows growth.

In a report jointly submitted by the OECD, International Labour Organisation and World Bank Group to the G20 Employment Minister's meeting, they put a solid number on the link between inequality and slower growth, using the Gini co-efficient, the most commonly used measure of income inequality. A 5 point gap in the Gini co-efficient is the equivalent to a one percent difference in GDP per capita growth.

This argument for inclusive growth has struck a chord, with two rock star economists becoming household names arguing the case.

Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz observes that “We can no longer talk about rising inequality and sluggish economic recovery as separate phenomena… they are in fact intertwined - inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth”.

He demonstrates how top-heavy income distribution lessens aggregate demand – the rich tend to spend a smaller fraction of their income than the poor – and he shows how this slows economic growth.

But Stiglitz concludes that perhaps the worst dimension of inequality is inequality of opportunity, where large numbers of individuals are not able to live up to their potential. As well as undermining social cohesion, the waste of talent prevents those same people from contributing to our collective good through productive work.

French economist Thomas Picketty has published a 700 page book which has become an unlikely best-seller. He argues that internationally we are heading back to levels of inequality not seen since the 'Gilded Age' of the late 19th century - and that we should do something about it.

There is something about this particular work, at this particular time, which has struck a chord around the world.

As Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics at Berkeley put it: “society today is largely failing…its majority, in that for all of our cheap electronic toys, life is no easier than it was a generation ago.”

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett also look at the impact of inequality on society - the erosion of trust, increased anxiety and illness. They examine eleven different health and social issues, like  drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility and community life, violence, teen pregnancy, and child well-being and show that (predictably) all the outcomes are worse in more unequal countries.

What’s significant, though, is the outcomes aren’t just worse for the poorest people in those countries, they’re worse for the average person, and even for the rich.

The effects of a more divided society are economically and socially pernicious, and unfortunately they’re getting worse not better.

Piketty, like Stiglitz, points to extensive evidence of growing inequality since the 1970s with high incomes earners taking an unprecedented share of global income.

Recent work by Oxfam shows that half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

The bottom half of the world’s population – about three and a half billion people - owns the same as the richest 85 individuals in the world.

Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.

And as Picketty points out, without determined intervention, these gaps will continue to grow.

My colleague Andrew Leigh has looked at Australian figures, and found since the mid 1970s real earnings for the top tenth cent have risen by 59 percent while for the bottom tenth they have risen by just 15 per cent.

Today the three richest Australians have more wealth than the million poorest.

The Gini co-efficient – that most common measure of income inequality – has been getting worse overall for decades in Australia, with a notable improvement during the Rudd/Gillard years – thank you world’s best Treasurer Wayne Swan.

I won’t run through all the evidence and arguments tonight, but I’ll share with you the words of my favourite Pope: Francis I. He has said: “Some people continue to defend trickle down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion … has never been confirmed by the facts, and expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacrilized workings of the prevailing economic system”.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s now pretty widely accepted that poverty and inequality are a drag on growth and leech away economic as well as human potential: that there is an economic as well as a moral case for tackling inequality.

So how are we doing in Australia?

My dear friend Tom Uren was a Prisoner of War on the Thai-Burma railway. He has spoken many times of the survival rate of Australian POWs compared with the POWs of other nations.

Australians survived those harsh times better, he says, because under the leadership of men like Weary Dunlop, the strong looked after the weak, the prisoners shared what little food and medicine there was, with priority to those who needed it most.

Conservatives like to claim for themselves the pride of Australia’s war service, and the cloak of mateship, but what mateship really means is the strong looking after the weak; it means offering a helping hand when you can and accepting one when you need to; it’s solidarity.

But in the same way they are prepared to ignore the evidence on climate change, the same conservatives are determined to ignore the growing body of evidence that inequality is bad for us all.

In fact, when the Abbott Government took over the presidency of the G20, they deliberately removed the word “inclusive” from the growth target in the G20 outcomes.  They want growth, they have signaled, but not inclusive growth.

And it’s not just on the international stage that the Government has turned its back on inclusive growth: domestically everything this government does undermines equality and promotes division.

Joseph Stiglitz was bemused and alarmed on his most recent visit to Australia to see us deregulating university education and increasing health costs, and arguing for more market fundamentalism. He urged Australia to reject a prescription which has led to faster growth in inequality in the US.

Australia’s economic fundamentals are strong by international standards. We came through the Global Financial Crisis better than just about any advanced economy.

When Labor came to office there were 16 countries that could claim three AAA credit ratings with a stable outlook, and Australia wasn’t one of them.  When we left office we were one of only eight countries in the world with a AAA credit rating with a stable outlook from all three major credit ratings agencies.  Something the Liberals never achieved.

  • We started the GFC with an unemployment rate similar to the United States. The US rate peaked at 10 per cent in 2009. Australia’s rate peaked at 5.9 per cent.  In fact, unemployment is higher now, after the global crisis, and is now, under the Liberals, at the highest level in more than a decade.

We saw the creation of almost a million jobs during Labor’s time in office, compared with about 31 million jobs lost around the world.

Labor’s budgets shaped our nation.

The Abbott Government’s most recent budget is a clear illustration of the difference between Labor and the conservatives in this country.

You only need to hear Joe Hockey’s rhetoric about “lifters and leaners” and the “end of the age of entitlement” to understand the thinking behind the cuts to health, education, pensions, science, the ABC and so on.

Mr Hockey is following the discredited austerity-budgeting approach which has seen growth slow internationally to “mediocre” – a state that Christine Lagarde fears is a new normal.

We know the Liberals budget-crisis rhetoric is false because they doubled have the deficit since coming to office, and are determined to pursue untargeted, unproductive spending like:

  • a $20 billion Paid Parental Leave scheme, that pays the biggest benefit to those with the highest income;  and
  • an $8.8 billion injection to the Reserve Bank – a fiddle designed to blow out the deficit in the short term and pay dividends to improve the bottom line in subsequent years (a fiddle that’s just paid $1.2 billion).

We also know that the budget emergency is false because the Government has been prepared to forgo billions of dollars from charging big polluters for the rubbish they put into the atmosphere, and instead will give $2.5 billion of tax payers’ hard-earned to big polluters with no guarantee of an overall fall in carbon emissions;

If it was a real budget emergency, the government would have kept a minerals resource rent tax, wouldn’t have reversed Labor’s measures to prevent multinational companies shifting their profits offshore, and our sensible moves to reduce high income earners claiming tax breaks on very high superannuation balances.

Of course, money invested in keeping Australians working during the GFC has to be repaid, and the budget brought back to surplus as our economy returns to normal.

But the government is using the excuse of this false budget emergency to cut social investment, and they are doing it for ideological reasons.

They see health, education, science and innovation, disability support, pensions and other supports only in terms of cost. They miss the benefits of these long term investments.

The Abbott Government’s Budget savings fall disproportionately on Australia’s poorest and will contribute to increased inequality.  For example, an unemployed 26 year old earning about $13,000 is around $7000 a year worse off, while someone earning $250,000 is just $1500 worse off. A family with 2 kids will be about $6,000 a year worse off.

Instead of seeing social investment as a cost, the government should pursue well designed programs that increase workforce participation and productivity. I’m pleased my colleague Jenny Macklin, is leading a national conversation about such measures now.

Our whole history as a party has seen us working to design and implement the clever investments that unlock the potential of our people:

From Medibank and more accessible university education in the Whitlam years, to universal access to pre-school, Gonski school education funding reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme more recently.

Our great social reforms have also been great economic reforms:

Increased workforce participation for women, for example, gives women individual freedom and autonomy, but it’s also good for the nation.

If Australian women had as much access to paid work as women in Canada – implying an extra 6 per cent of women in the workforce — Australia’s GDP would be about $25 billion higher.

Our Gonski school education funding reform is about making sure every Australian child in every Australian school has a great education.

Kids were getting left behind. While Australia was doing well overall in international surveys of educational attainment, the gap between students from wealthy and poorer backgrounds was one of the worst in the world. So we decided to reform school funding to give the greatest support to those with the greatest need. To give them, as Gough would have said, “first claim on the community’s resources”.

As well as the individual benefit that a great education brings to each child, we benefit as a nation.

The Business Council of Australia estimates that an increase of about 55 days in the average level of schooling of the workforce would result in a 1.1 per cent increase in GDP by 2040 or about $16 billion in today’s dollars.

The same principle is also true of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  Disabled Australians made a compelling case that they deserve the same right to participate in society and the economy as any Australian, but as well as this incontrovertible rights-based argument, done right the NDIS will lead to greater workforce participation: an economic good too.

And, of course, a progressive taxation system that reduces the burden on those who spend most of their income on day to day living, and taxes instead those who can afford to pay is a vital part of the picture.

Just as conservatives focus on economy at the expense of society, progressives can’t afford to focus on social investment without thinking about national prosperity.

To prepare for the future we need to focus on both fairness and growth and understand their indivisibility.

Jobs – the key to inclusive growth

The best way to achieve inclusive growth is for Australians who can, to be working, and to have decent pay and conditions.

We can’t afford the sort of jobs growth they’ve had in US where there is a growing number of low-wage jobs supplemented with food stamps.  17 per cent of households that rely on food stamps are now headed by a person in full time work and President Obama still can’t get Congress to increase the $7.25 minimum wage.

We need to see strong jobs growth and a workforce capable of doing the jobs of the future.

Our challenge is to create meaningful work in the face of technological change (“tech disruption”) globalization, and shifting demographics.

We can’t predict exactly what these changes will be, or where the jobs of the future are coming from.

But we can prepare for them.

Ken Henry has recently written persuasively about what he calls the responsibility of public policy in the nurturing of national endowments that support human capability, like education, health, infrastructure, innovation and strong public and private institutions.

It is investment in the capability of our people and the strength of our institutions that will ready Australia for the jobs and economic opportunities and challenges of the future.

That’s what will make us competitive internationally.

Australia in the World

Just as inequality is bad for us domestically, more equal growth is good for us internationally.

We want other nations to do well.

We want their people to prosper.

It’s a foundational principle of the Labor Party, captured by Chifley’s ‘light on the hill’ – that we should bring “better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people … not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand”.

We want other nations to do well because we don’t want anyone to live with poverty and insecurity anywhere, but we should also acknowledge that most often their success is our success. The stunning growth of countries like Japan, Korea and China has underpinned our prosperity, especially through the Australian mining boom.

Economic growth has enabled hundreds of millions of people to escape poverty.

China, for example, is estimated to have lifted 500 million of its own citizens out of poverty.

But again, the type of growth matters.

China has aggressively lifted minimum wages and is looking to an increase in domestic demand to underpin a larger share of its future growth. Growing wealth has increased the expectations of China’s citizens for a stronger safety net, better education and a cleaner environment.

The quality of growth is increasingly important to Chinese citizens and their government.

And it hasn’t been growth alone which has done the job of lifting millions out of poverty across the developing world.

For more than a decade, the Millennium Development Goals, targets agreed on by world leaders in 2000, have, mostly successfully, worked to reduce the amount of extreme poverty worldwide.

In his 2008 address to the UN General Assembly, the philanthropist Bill Gates called the eight goals "the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen."

As a result, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day has reduced dramatically – with 600 million fewer people living in extreme poverty.

The likelihood of a child dying before the age of five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children’s lives saved every day.

The rate of maternal mortality dropped by 45 per cent.

Antiretroviral therapy for HIV-infected people has saved 6.6 million lives; TB treatments - 22 million and 3.3 million deaths from malaria have been avoided with simple measures like insecticide treated bed nets.

Just as “trickle down economics” has been debunked in developed economies, the notion that unbridled capitalism is all it takes to lift nations out of poverty doesn’t bear too much scrutiny.

Growth is good, but the way countries grow matters too.

Joe Hockey has used Australia’s Presidency of the G20 to pursue the goal of lifting global growth by an additional 2 per cent by 2018 – or a staggering $2 trillion US dollars over the next five years.

Unfortunately Australia is not arguing about the characteristics of this growth, but merely, simplistically, for a number.

Director of Equity Economics Amanda Robbins argues that real leadership at the G20 would also involve Australia seeking to build on the 2 per cent growth target by including a measure of inclusive growth.

She suggests that one option would be to commit to a target, in each G20 country, of lifting the incomes of the poorest 20 per cent by at least 2 per cent above trend in real terms by 2018 – It’s a simple, measurable, achievable and proportionate target. It also reflects the language of past G20 summits, before the ideologues got in the way.


It is the impulse of Labor people to fight for fairness. It’s in our guts.

What we saw today, as our tribe gathered, was a celebration of a great man: a pragmatist, not afraid of fighting for and wielding power; an idealist, determined to use that power to “uplift the horizons of the Australian people”.

And we saw a celebration of the fight for fairness.

We’ve learnt that our impulses may be idealistic, even utopian, but they deliver the goods when it comes to stronger economic growth too.

We now see that our best interests and our better angels align.



Add your reaction Share