SPEECH: INTERNATIONAL LABOR CONFERENCE

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY


INTERNATIONAL LABOR CONFERENCE

OPENING ADDRESS

SYDNEY

SATURDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2018

** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY**

I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation who are the traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to elders past and present.

Thank you to Kaila Murnain for her welcome. 

Acknowledgments

Can I start by welcoming you all to the electorate of Sydney, whether you have come from a neighbouring suburb, another part of the country or from the other side of the world.

In particular can I welcome our international friends.

The decade has not been kind to many of our sister parties which have faced electoral challenges from both the Left and the Right, which has seeing some of them all but wiped out.

Today gives us the opportunity to discuss these international experiences as well as our own. 

Inclusive Prosperity

Australia has an open, market orientated economy which is the 13th largest in the world.

We are a multicultural nation home to the oldest continuous cultures on earth, proud of our ethnic and racial diversity and part of the world’s fastest growing region.

We have strong democratic institutions, good governance with a Western, liberal “live and let live” culture.

We are relatively safe from international conflicts.

We have a long life expectancy and high levels of education.

We have so much going for us.

But we have challenges too.

After 26 years of continuous growth, our society is less equal than it’s been in 75 years.

We have 1.8 million people either unemployed or underemployed.

We have experienced the lowest wages growth on record.

Under current tax policies, we are on our way to becoming a nation divided into property oligarchs and renters; a nation that can no longer house our own children.

Australians are working harder than ever, but they are not getting ahead.

Household income has grown by about $3 per year over the last decade yet corporate profits continue to soar and executive salaries have ballooned.

The link between increased productivity and improved standards of living for workers has been severed.

We’re at a cross roads. 

Most people agree we want to see continued strong economic growth to drive job creation. 

Our opponents’ solution is $65 billion dollars’ worth of big business tax cuts, which they assure us will “trickle down” to ordinary wage and salary earners.

This this is despite the fact that one in five of Australia's largest companies have paid no tax for at least the past three years.

On top of their $65 billion big business tax cut the Liberals want to:

-           give millionaires a tax cut of $16,400 a year costing the budget $19 billion;

-           jack up income taxes for 7 million working and middle income Australians to the tune of $44 billion dollars; and 

-           slash payments to essential social services by billions of dollars.

All of which will further blow out government debt.

Labor has a different vision.

We want inclusive prosperity – full employment and a strong safety net. 

We, here in Australia, should set ourselves the objective of being the first country to get inclusive prosperity right.

We need a new growth story, a new way to deliver an economy that works for everyone. 

That means reclaiming our industrial relations system as a key redistributive mechanism of our economy.

It means ensuring increased productivity and increased profitability, benefit a business’ workforce as well as its shareholders.

We know that when those workers see job security and pay rises they have the confidence to spend – creating jobs for others.

It means reinstating our commitment to full employment in good, secure and rewarding jobs, including through investing in public benefit infrastructure like better public transport.

It means significantly increasing our investment in education and ensuring that the most money gets to the neediest kids in the fastest time and utilising world’s best pedagogical practice.

Some people say there is no silver bullet when tackling intergenerational poverty: actually there is. 

It’s a first class education system from early childhood education and care, through school, TAFE and university.

It means confronting the existential threat of climate change and ensuring our energy system reduces pollution, creates jobs, reduces price and increases reliability.

And of course it means restoring, improving and extending the social safety net – decent income support, protecting and building Medicare and our world class health system and ensuring the NDIS does what it was designed to do.

Of course part of our discussion this weekend will focus on what goes on to, or comes off this list.

What are the building blocks of our plan for inclusive prosperity?

Our international visitors will have unique insights from their own successes – and from their challenges too.

I’m sure we’ll have a lot in common, but I hope we don’t spend the whole weekend agreeing with each other. It’s often the arguments that challenge our thinking, that leave the most lasting impression.

Australia as the social laboratory

There is no better place to have that discussion – or those arguments - than in Australia.

At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century Australia and New Zealand were known as the “social laboratory”.

It was a time of social, economic and political experimentation when our countries led the world in progressive reforms.

So many world firsts occurred:

-           the eight hour day;

-           female suffrage;

-           industrial arbitration;

-           workers compensation;

-           the minimum wage; 

-           pensions for widows and the aged.

Australia and New Zealand attracted the admiration of progressive writers and intellectuals from Europe and the Americas and rightly so – these were landmark achievements of which we can still be proud today.

As we seek to become the first nation on earth to get inclusive prosperity right and to reverse the trend towards inequality, we need to recapture the bold spirit which motivated those Australian pioneers over a century ago and which has driven progressive Labor governments ever since.

Why do we do need inclusive prosperity?

Why does it matter?

This week I was in Tasmania, campaigning for Bec White and Tasmanian Labor.

In Devonport I met Judy, who is just a few years older than me but cannot walk and cannot look after herself.

She has gone from being fit and strong - a mother of six, a grandmother to six with number seven on the way - and an active member of her community - to being mostly bed ridden.

She has constant migraines, she’s on painkillers and her balance is gone.

Judy’s condition is treatable by surgery, which her doctor recommended in May last year.

He said it should happen within three months.

Yet when Judy rang the hospital in August to see where she was on the waiting list, they told her she would need to wait another 18 months to two years.

Judy continues to suffer today, not for medical reasons but for political ones.

Political decisions by State and Federal Liberal governments to cut health funding.

Judy is the reason we’re here today; she and millions like her is the reason we do what we do.

My guess is that most of the people in this room, most of the people who join social democratic parties, do it for the simplest of reasons.

We know that the wolf of poverty lurks just beyond the front door. 

In our childhoods many of us felt that unsaid fear in our parents, just as surely as we felt their love.

As adults we know how easily ruin can come. 

One job lost, one illness, one accident. 

We know that our best protection lies in a decent, secure job and a strong safety net.

We listen to and share the stories of people like Judy to remind us and motivate us about why we’re here. 

We’re not here for ourselves; or for the vested interests; or the big end of town.

And as moving and inspiring as the stories of individual resilience are, on their own they are not enough, because we’re not interested in fixing only one problem at a time.

However engaged our hearts are in the lives of the people we fight for, its meaningless unless we engage our brains at the same time.

We are here this weekend because we know that systemic inequality can only be fixed with systemic change. 

This conference is the chance to argue out what those systemic changes should be, how to design them, how to deliver them and how to win government so we can implement them.

Campaigning

The other benefit of having such a wide range of international guests with us today is to talk about how we best communicate our ideas and campaign for them.

How do we reassure people that we have a way of dealing with the huge and disruptive change before us and sharing the benefits?

How do we best work with our allies, particularly in the trade union movement, and also with civil society?

How do we use grassroots organising and engage with supporters and potential supporters to counteract the big money of our political opponents?

What do we do in an increasingly concentrated media ownership environment where the economics of journalism see more and more journalists lose their jobs? 

After all, we can’t rely on Russian troll factories for all our news.

This is an opportunity to share our experiences: both what works and what doesn’t.

Wayne Swan

We have a very distinguished panel opening this conference on day one but you’ll forgive me if there is one in particular that I single out.

Wayne Swan will be remembered as one of the greatest Treasurers in our nation’s history.  

He dedicated his significant intellect, and his compassionate heart, to making life better for ordinary people.  

Wayne’s stewardship of the Australian economy throughout the Global Financial Crisis was the envy of the world.  

As other developed countries fell into recession, Wayne’s management kept hundreds of thousands of Australians in work, and our economy strong.  

One of the strongest motivators for Wayne was the recession of 1990 and 91, which saw hundreds of thousands join the dole queues and many of them never work again; men Wayne knew from school. 

He was determined that destruction would not be visited on another generation.

Despite the enormous challenge of the Global Financial Crisis, during Wayne’s time as Treasurer, around one million jobs were created, the economy grew by more than 13 percent, and for the first time ever Australia won three AAA credit ratings.  

And for the first time in decades, the gap between the rich and poor actually got smaller.

Wayne was making the case for, and was delivering on, inclusive prosperity long before the IMF or the World Bank adopted it as orthodoxy. 

He has done as much to put inclusive prosperity on the national and international agenda as anyone anywhere.

As you all know, Wayne has recently announced he is retiring from parliament but thankfully not from politics.

He has promised that he will keep being an activist on the issue of inequality.

And he has stated that he will remain involved with organisations inside and outside the labour movement, both nationally and globally, to argue for new ways of creating jobs and preventing the dangerous concentration of wealth and political power.

Australia has been lucky to have Wayne, we in Labor have been lucky to have Wayne and we are all very fortunate to have Wayne here to open this first plenary session of this Conference.

Please welcome my good friend Wayne Swan to the podium.

ENDS