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Speech: EMILY’S List Oration, Canberra, Wednesday 16 August 2017










Thank you to Catherine for the introduction. One of the reasons I’ll fight so hard to see Labor elected federally is so we can have a fantastic woman like Catherine King as our health minister.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunawal People, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’d also like to acknowledge all of my wonderful Labor colleagues here tonight:

-  MLAs: Tara Cheyne, Rachel Stephen-Smith, Suzanne Orr, Bec Cody

-  Federal colleagues: Claire Moore, Sue Lines, Sharon Claydon, Malarndirri McCarthy, Gai Brodtmann

Thank you to the Emily’s List Action Group Members who organised the event tonight: Eleanor, Lisa, Carol, Meredith and Liz.

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SPEECH: Address to the Sydney Institute, Sydney, 8 June 2017









I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’m a person who is pretty big on new experiences.

I like trying new places to eat, reading new authors, listening to new music.

But I found myself a little surprised - and maybe a little alarmed - by a new experience I had recently.

I agreed with Scott Morrison.

In February, the Treasurer said that the biggest challenge for the Australian economy at the moment is low wages growth.

I agree.

While there are plenty of challenges to choose from, low wages growth is right up there.

Of course it’s bad for individuals, but it’s also bad for our society and our economy.

Low wages growth, and the increasing inequality that comes with it, is creating a society in which too many people feel like outsiders…

…let down by our democracy.

And an economy saddled with sluggish wages will struggle to create demand and to grow.

It’s one thing to identify a problem.

It’s another to fix it in a way that is fair and efficient.

I’d say there are two very different strategies being promoted at the moment.

The government is sticking with trickle-down economics. 

The one card trick of a big business tax cut.

Labor, on the other hand, is working towards inclusive prosperity.

A strong and growing economy where the benefits of growth are more equally distributed – underpinning further growth.

A virtuous circle.

Some commentators like to say Labor believes in redistribution but not growth.

Inevitably, they talk about growing pies and cutting them up.

This misunderstands our position.

For Labor, fairer distribution is part of our growth strategy.

Full employment, decent pay and conditions, money in your pocket and the confidence to spend it – these aren’t nostalgic throw backs…

….they are necessary preconditions for a strong growing economy.

What is happening to wages?

In Australia right now we have lowest wages growth since records began.

Over the last year wages rose by just 1.9 per cent: below the level of the consumer price index.

Real wages are contracting.

This is, incidentally, the opposite of the prediction made at this very lectern by then Employment Minister Eric Abetz when he addressed you in 2014 and warned of an “imminent wages explosion”.

He stood here, lit the fuse, put his fingers in his ears…and he’s still waiting.

This week the Fair Work Commission announced an increase in the minimum wage of 3.3 per cent.

A full time worker on the minimum wage will earn about $36,134 per year.

This was met with predictable howls of outrage from the business lobby.

Justice Ross acknowledged that the panel’s past assessments of what a “modest” wage increase looked like might have been overly cautious.

I would have to agree - when the minimum wage and the awards that depend on it have grown by just 4.3 per cent in real terms over the last five years – less than half the rate of labour productivity growth.

Why is low wage growth a problem?

Why should we care about low wage growth?

Well obviously if you’re someone watching the bills race ahead of your pay packet – you know and you care.

But I believe this is an issue for all Australians – even the high income earners who are bucking the trend and continuing to see their own incomes grow.

We all want to see Australian businesses succeed, to earn export dollars and generate jobs.

Business needs stable government, they need good governance, simple and fit for purpose regulation, low levels of corruption.

They need a healthy, educated, Asia-literate, multi-lingual, high productivity workforce.

The ‘human capital’ produced by world-class schools, TAFEs and universities.

A workforce that graduates with the knowledge to succeed now – but also the capacity to adapt to a working world defined by rapid change.

Businesses  need quality modern infrastructure: road, rail, ports, airports…

…and digital infrastructure - high speed broadband.

If we get these things right, we are a fair way along the road to creating the environment in which businesses can thrive.

But unless the customers are there - with money in their pockets and the confidence to spend it - businesses will struggle.

Endemic low wage growth, and the low consumer confidence that partners it, is increasingly recognised as a handbrake on growth.

Business profits in Australia are at an all-time high and increased by     40 per cent last year.

That’s good news.

I want Australian businesses to be profitable.

But businesses won’t stay profitable if potential customers hang onto their hard-earned.

Short-term profit that comes off the back of low wages or a shrinking workforce might help the CEO or CFO’s bonus this year…

…but it damages our broader economy in the long run.

Low wages and growing inequality - and the drag on growth that they represent - are on the radar of the OECD and the IMF.

They have found that economies with more equal distributions of income and wealth have stronger and more stable growth than those with greater inequality and that redistributive policies which reduce inequality have a positive impact on growth.

Increasing wages at the bottom supports spending.

People on low incomes tend to spend a larger proportion of their income than those at the top.

An economy where real wages are contracting faces declining living standards for households around the country, higher levels of inequality and insecurity and consequent lower economic growth.

Even Scott Morrison gets that.

Why is this happening?

It’s a fact that wages are stagnant or falling.

But why?

Judith Sloan writing in May spoke for the Treasury and the Reserve Bank as well as most domestic and international economists when she said: “The truth is we really don’t understand why wages are growing so slowly”.

A paper in March of this year by the Reserve Bank entitled “Insights into Low Wage Growth in Australia” attempted to understand the situation better.

In particular the Bank looked at two aspects of low wage growth, its puzzling relationship to the unemployment rate and the possibility of it being affected by structural changes to the labour market.

The Bank looked at unemployment because the orthodox model suggests that wages should be rising with unemployment at current levels.

In Australia unemployment currently sits at 5.7 per cent, around GFC levels.

It has been stable at roughly this level for about 18 months.

However, the headline rate masks the true nature of unemployment particularly hidden unemployment - those who have given up looking for work…

…and under-employment - those who are working but wish for more hours.

The part-time share of employment currently sits at just 31.9 per cent -

0.1 per cent below its historic high set in November last year.

This is one of the highest part-time rates of any developed country.

Around one-third of part time workers say they want more hours.

That is 1.1 million people.

The under-utilisation of labour means that increased demand for labour is first absorbed by those looking for more work or those re-entering the job market instead of increasing the price of labour.

The Reserve Board paper also noted that international literature has argued that “low wage growth may reflect a decline in workers’ bargaining power.”

You don’t say.

I would go further and argue that there is a clear link between the fall in union membership, the lowering of workers’ bargaining power and today’s low wage growth.

This is not a radical position.

The IMF - historically no great supporter of labour unions - has acknowledged the links between low levels of unionisation on the one hand and low wages, inequality and increasing incomes for those at the top on the other.

Australia shows the truth of that.

We’ve moved from centralised wage fixing – to workplace agreements underpinned by a safety net of minimum conditions.

Union membership has fallen from 40 per cent of the workforce to around 15.

And yet inequality is at a 75-year high.

If we’re going to get wages going in the right direction, we need a new look at old assumptions.

Take productivity.

The assumption has always been that increased labour productivity is shared by businesses with their workforce through higher wages.

John Fraser, Secretary to the Treasury, is among those who’ve pointed out recently that there has been a shift from wages to profits.

Productivity is improving – but the dividend isn’t being shared with the employees. 

The link between hard work and reward has been severed.

So with:

-       unemployment around GFC levels,

-       historically high underemployment,

-       low rates of unionisation,

-       big structural shifts in the labour market, such as the decline in mining sector and manufacturing jobs

-       tech disruption…

The result is reduced bargaining power for employees – and smaller pay-packets for workers.

It’s particularly true of wages at the bottom end.

Real wages for the top 10 per cent of income earners have grown by    72 per cent over the last four decades…

….that’s more than three times the rate of increase for incomes for the bottom 10 per cent of income earners.

What is the answer?

If low wages growth is the problemwhat’s the solution?

The Liberals think it’s a tax cut for multinationals, a tax cut for millionaires and a tax hike for working class and middle class people.

It’s a tax and spend plan – but they’re taxing working people and spending it on the top end of town.

We take a different view.

We believe in a strong growing economy creating well-paid secure work:

-       a tax and transfer system that supports growth and fairness,

-       a strong social safety net,

-       growth which is environmentally and socially sustainable.

We support investment in productivity enhancing infrastructure, selected on the basis of sensible business plans – not where the marginal seats are, or where a dart lands when Barnaby Joyce throws it at a map on his wall.

The choice before us is as stark as it has ever been, and the challenge is, in many ways, as large.

The Hawke-Keating Government inherited a stale and sluggish economy, locked in a vicious wage-inflation spiral where the pathway to continuing growth was uncertain.

Wayne Swan, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard fought off a global shock that saw Australia as almost the only developed nation to continue to grow during the global financial crisis.

As the successors of these reforming governments we are ready to rise to the challenge once more.

But I’m not sure the Coalition is.

Let’s talk about the 2017 Budget.

If the deficit levy paid by those on incomes over $180,000 was designed to help address the deficit, now is not the time to get rid of it.

The deficit is ten times greater now than when the levy was first introduced in 2014 and net debt is headed for three quarters of a trillion dollars.

In its last Budget the government also announced an increase in the Medicare levy.

The smokescreen for this is the so-called ‘NDIS emergency’.

Labor fully funded the National Disability Insurance Scheme when we were in government.

In reality, the new Medicare levy increase is to help pay for the Liberals big business tax cut…

…now revealed to cost $65 billion over ten years.

The tax increases – combined with other changes such as the lowering of the repayment threshold for university debt to $42,000 – will impact hardest on those on the lowest incomes.

Analysis quoted by Peter Martin in the Sydney Morning Herald shows that for a couple renting, where one partner has left uni and the other is still studying, the effective marginal tax rate is over 97 per cent once they clear an income of $37,000 a year.

And it stays in the high nineties until $50,000.

Budget analysis from the National Foundation for Australian Women found that women on around $50,000 a year could face an effective marginal tax rate of more than 100 per cent.

A woman graduate, working and relying on child care, earning $51,000 a year and receiving family payments will actually have less disposable income than a man earning $32,000 a year.

Under Malcolm Turnbull’s plan – a millionaire gets a tax cut of $16,400 while someone earning $60,000 a year pays $300 more tax.

If wages growth for low and middle income earners is the issue – it’s hard to see how a tax cut for those earning over $180,000 and a tax increase for everyone else does anything but make the problem worse.

Because the government is not only relying on wage growth for economic growth but also for fiscal consolidation and to meet budget projections.

The 2017 budget depends on a bracket creep led recovery.

The Budget forecast of a return to surplus in 2021 is based on the somewhat heroic assumption that wage growth will nearly double over the next four years from 1.9 per cent per annum to 3.75 per cent, resulting a 16 per cent increase in income tax receipts over two years.

I am yet to read an economic commentator outside Treasury who regards those numbers as credible…

…especially as the government is doing everything it can to depress wages growth with its support for low increases to the minimum wage and cuts to penalty rates.

It’s the same story with the $65 billion company tax cut.

Treasury's own modelling shows an employment increase of just 0.1 per cent by 2026-27.

And the $2 a day wage increase Treasury predicts – again, a decade down the track - depends on that old, frayed link between productivity and wages.

As for the idea that Australia’s current rate puts us out of step with the global pack…

…well few companies in Australia are currently paying the 30 per cent statutory rate.

The average tax rate is 24 per cent for public companies and 19 per cent for private companies.

One in three private companies and one in four public companies pay no tax at all. 

Australian companies also have a history of high dividend payments – in 2015, 81 per cent of earnings were paid in dividends, an historic high.

The outcome of a lower business tax rate will be increased profits and dividend payments, particularly to foreign shareholders.

When I was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, I spent a lot of time saying the Government should increase the amount of money it spends on Foreign Aid.

But billion-dollar giveaways to international companies and overseas shareholders isn’t what I had in mind.

So the government is giving up $65 billion in corporate tax revenue and $19.4 billion in the deficit levy and partially replacing it with an increase to the Medicare Levy…

…which hits every working Australian earning more than $21,335.

Labor’s Plan

Our alternative focusses on inclusive economic growth.

A modern tax policy - a foundation for strong growth - keeps tax rates as low as possible, but ensures that businesses and individuals pay their fair share.

We took policies to the last election to wind back negative gearing on existing housing and halve capital gains tax discounts.

Since the election, we have promised to cap deductions for managing tax affairs to $3,000 per annum and we’ve made a number of announcements designed to minimise corporate tax avoidance….

….because the tax system shouldn’t redistribute from the bottom and middle to the top.

It should ensure a low rate, fairly spread.

In his Budget reply, Bill announced that we will protect 80 per cent of Australian taxpayers from the government’s Medicare Levy increase.

Our alternative tax policy raises more money more fairly - by retaining the deficit levy and by applying the increased Medicare Levy only on those in the top two tax brackets.

By taking a progressive approach which protects Australians on low and middle incomes we protect the spending power of those most likely to spend.

In three weeks’ time, 700,000 people in retail, hospitality, pharmacy and fast food will begin to have their penalty rates cut.

The Fair Work Commission announced this week that the cuts will be phased in over time however people will be asked to do the same work for less pay, for four years in a row.

The industries affected are already low paid, and have had very slow wage growth in recent years.

Aside from the unfairness of asking workers to do the same work for less money, the effect of taking these wages away from low and middle income earners - who are likely to spend them - comes at just the wrong time in our economic cycle.

The combined effect of higher taxes and lower wages for low and middle income earners is likely to further contract demand.

Especially in regional centres, where more people rely on penalty rates and more small businesses rely on their spending.

A fair go at work begins with being paid fairly for your time.

But it’s broader than that – it always has been. 

The Fair Work Act was introduced into Parliament in 2008.

In 2008 there was no Uber, Airtasker or Airbnb.

Today we see widespread evidence of systematic exploitation of workers in examples like 7-Eleven, Domino’s and Caltex.

The labour market of today is very different to that of 2008 – and that of 2028 will be different again.

We have to ensure that our workplace relations system provides workers and their unions sufficient bargaining power and that they are – at the very least - able to restore what seems to be the broken link between labour productivity and wages.

Labor’s Shadow Minister Brendan O’Connor has started the process of making sure our industrial relations environment is modern and fit for purpose, with policy announcements on:

-       the regulation of labour hire companies,

-       cracking down on dodgy directors who engage in ‘phoenix activity’, where they deliberately burn companies in an attempt to avoid their obligations to employees,

-       preventing the exploitation of vulnerable workers and modern slavery,

-       examining the use of casual and insecure work, and

-       preventing companies forcing employees back on substandard Awards during enterprise bargaining negotiations.

But the big changes in the labour market have only just begun.

And fairness in the workplace also depends on creating jobs in the future.

Right now, manufacturing and mining are shedding jobs.

Policy uncertainty around climate change and the talking-down of renewable energy is creating a missed opportunity for investment that will create jobs and reduce energy prices.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is another great reform for our society.

The NDIS is good social policy.

It’s also good economic policy.

Of course the NDIS is critical in achieving what Australians with a disability have been demanding – helping them fully participate in the workforce and our community life.

It helps family members who are carers return to paid work too.

But the NDIS is also one of the biggest source of new jobs in this country right now.

It will create more than 70,000 new jobs in every part of Australia by 2019.

We have a choice as to what kind of jobs these new jobs will be.

The default position – typical for feminised caring work – is that they will be marginal, insecure, low paid jobs.

We cannot let this happen.

We must ensure that these are good, well paid jobs with a career path and job security.

There should be a pathway into the sector for the long term unemployed while skilled, experienced carers have the opportunity to progress their careers through more complex work.

The creation of good jobs ensures that these workers are part of our growth story.


Whilst we’re all proud that our economy has been growing for such a long time we would all like to see that current rate of growth higher.

We cannot fall into the trap of just patting ourselves on the back every time we get a positive quarterly number and assuming everything is ticking along nicely.

If we duck the hard questions or gloss over the real story…then we’ll be handing on bigger problems and harder challenges to those who come next.

The choices we make today will shape the lives and living standards of the next generation.

So we need to be able to answer these questions:

Do we have the policy settings right for our rapidly changing labour market?

Are we ensuring that our tax policies encourage growth where it’s needed?

Is our workplace relations system fit for purpose?

And do we have a plan to reward people for their time – to re-build the link between hard work and fair pay?

These aren’t diversions from the economic story – they are the economic story.

These aren’t the dividends of economic growth – they are the preconditions for it.

I started tonight by talking about new experiences.

After four years of the Liberals, I think Australians need some new experiences:

-       a decent pay rise,

-       a fairer tax system,

-       real action on climate change, and

-       proper investment in schools, skills and universities.

New experiences – built on the oldest Australian idea of them all.

A fair go all round.

Thank you very much.



SPEECH: Address to the Australian Council of State School Organisations, 5 June 2017




ADDRESS TO THE Australian Council of State School Organisations

MONDAY, 5 JUNE 2017 



Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your board meeting.

Labor’s key objective in our schools reform has always been to ensure that Australia’s public schools are properly and fairly funded.

We understand that this is where the funding is needed most. The public sector educates most of Australia’s disadvantaged kids. We also know that the Commonwealth hadn’t pulled its weight in funding public schools in the past.

Labor’s policy was about getting the most money to the neediest kids.

It’s not just about the dollars, but what the dollars represent in those kids lives.

That funding means extra help in the early years, speech pathology and occupational therapy so kids are ready to learn, and more support for teaching literacy and numeracy.

Labor values the role of public education in ensuring every child in Australia can grow up with the skills they need to access a lifetime of opportunity.

That’s why when we introduced the Australian Education Act, Labor enshrined our values upfront, setting clear objectives and targets. That:

-       All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education.

-       That the quality of a student’s education should not be limited by where they live, the income of their family, or the school they attend.

-       The first object of our Act was to ‘ensure that the Australian schooling system provides a high quality and highly equitable education for all students’.

You won’t be able to find those objects in the Government’s Bill.

Because they’re not there.


Recommendations from the Gonski review

The original Review of Funding for Schooling found:

-       “Australia needs effective arrangements for funding schools across all levels of government – arrangements that ensure resources are being provided where they are needed… and where the Australian Government and state and territory governments work in partnership to meet the schooling needs of all Australian children.”

The Review also acknowledged that “not all states and systems have the same capacity to fund their school systems adequately”.

The Commonwealth needed to work together with states to make sure that all students received the Schooling Resource Standard – the amount, based on evidence, needed for a student to get a high quality education.

That’s what we did.

Our fundamental principle was that every student, no matter where they lived in Australia, got the resources they needed for a high quality education – a fair proportion of the Schooling Resource Standard.

That’s why Labor’s school funding package ensured that all underfunded schools would receive 95 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard by 2019 (by 2022 for Victorian schools).

What matters most for kids in public schools is their total public resourcing.

Parents aren’t concerned about how much of their school’s funding comes from the state government and how much comes from the Commonwealth, because they know that what really matters, is how much their school gets and what they can deliver with those dollars.

The Turnbull Government’s plan is a fundamental departure from the principles driving the original Gonski review.

Labor’s plan guaranteed that all schools would be funded to their fair share of the SRS. The Liberals’ plan does not.

At the Senate Inquiry on Friday, ACSSO said we need to lock in states and territories to increase their funding and choose a level of total SRS funding that states and territories can afford and make sure we can get there.

That’s what Labor’s plan did.

We locked in states and territories to increase their funding.

We set a target level of funding at 95 per cent of the SRS and ensured all states and territories were on track to get there.

It is the Government that has scrapped those requirements.

And the schools that are most likely to miss out are public schools.

The end point of the Labor model was that all underfunded schools would receive their fair SRS share from total public funding by 2019.

The new end point is for underfunded public schools to receive just 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard in Commonwealth funding, with no guarantee of their state or territory government making up the difference.

Public schools won’t even reach this 20 per cent until 2027.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth will provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools.

Even Minister Birmingham gave evidence at Senate Estimates on Thursday that the Government’s plan to provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools and 20 per cent to public schools is in no way a recommendation of the original Gonski review.

The 80:20 shares are arbitrary figures decided on by the Government, which reflect the Commonwealth’s historic high funding of non-government schools and significantly lower funding share for public schools.

This contradicts the Gonski review recommendation that the Commonwealth Government assume a greater role in funding government schools and states in relation to non-government schools.

The Government’s proposal will firmly lock into legislation that the Commonwealth will provide 80 per cent of the SRS to private schools.

And just 20 per cent to public schools.

Some people in your organisation have welcomed the Government’s move to cut funding from 24 over-funded private schools.

Labor will support that move and support any measures that improve transparency.

But what this really means is that there are only 24 private schools in the country who will get negative funding growth. Other private schools will maintain their funding level or get even more because of the Government’s commitment that all private schools will receive 80 per cent of the SRS from Commonwealth funding alone.

There are a number of elite private schools who already receive well above the Schooling Resource Standard – they’re over-funded – who will receive windfalls under the government’s package.

Christ Church Grammar School, an elite private school in WA, currently gets total public funded equal to 141 per cent of the SRS, but only 75 per cent comes from the Commonwealth. So to meet the Government’s plan to provide 80 per cent Commonwealth funding to private schools, they’ll receive a funding increase of $6.8 million.

To make matters worse, the Government’s policy enshrines a $22 billion cut to the current legislation and arrangements in place.

This is not political spin.

This is what the Government’s own briefings said.

And I quote, in a confidential document mistakenly given to journalists by the Prime Minister’s office – this is what they don’t want to admit to you – “compared to Labor’s arrangements, this represents a savings of…$22.3 billion…”

Public school providers around the country agree.

-       New South Wales confirmed their public schools will lose $846 million in 2018 and 2019.

-       Victorian public schools $630 million

-       $265 million from South Australian schools

-       $730 million from Queensland public schools

-       $20 million from the ACT

The 2014 Budget papers show the Government’s $30 billion cut to schools funding.

Now they want a pat on the back for not cutting quite as much.

The money they cut?  80 per cent of it was going to public schools.

The smaller amount of money that they’re now putting back in – less than half goes to the public sector.

The means public school students lose.

Public school students are the losers in this equation.

ACSSO’s media release from 2 May said ‘Government funding of education must go where there is true need.’

The elite Lauriston Girls School charges fees of more than $25,000 a year. They’ll get a funding increase of $4,085 per student over ten years.

Tennant Creek High School, which has three quarters of its students in the bottom SES quartile will get an increase of just $1,300 per student over ten years.

That’s not funding true need.

Wanguri Primary School, with around one quarter Indigenous kids, gets an increase of just $565 per student, yet Geelong Grammar with 70 per cent of its kids in the upper quartile, gets an increase of $2,309 per student.

That’s not funding true need.

The two school systems that have the highest concentration of educational disadvantage, the Northern Territory Government sector and Tasmanian Government sector – will receive the lowest level of funding growth under the government’s plan.

That’s not funding true need.

Evidence provided by the Grattan Institute to the Senate Inquiry into the proposed Bill showed that by 2027, public schools in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory will all still be underfunded.

85 per cent of public schools will still be funded below the SRS in ten years’ time.

Whereas pretty much all private schools will be at or above their SRS.

The Government has abdicated responsibility for making sure all students get the SRS and instead, we’ll see a return to the blame game between the Commonwealth and the states. Meanwhile, students – particularly students in public schools – will miss out.

When Labor negotiated our schools funding package, we had to deal with 24 different school systems across Australia which all had different levels of educational achievement and disadvantage, different starting points, and different capacity to fund their schools.

We consulted and worked with stakeholders to build a needs-based, sector blind funding model that placed student need at its centre.

It was a hard-fought, hard-won consensus.

But this doesn’t detract from the fact that the highest priority, the fundamental principle of our model, was that every student, in every school, no matter which state or sector, should receive their fair level of SRS funding so they could have an education that opened up a life of opportunity.

Instead of fairness, the Government has chosen consistency. Consistently funding public schools at just a fifth of the level needed for a child to get a high quality education.

Not only does the Government’s package strip $22 billion from schools…

… it distributes that money in a way that entrenches inequality between the public and private systems.

Some claim the Government’s model is ‘sector blind’.

How is it sector blind when you fund the non-government sector to 80 per cent of the SRS and public schools to just 20 per cent?

How is it sector blind when your model means that after 10 years, 85 per cent of public schools will still be underfunded and virtually every non-government school will have reached the SRS or be over funded?

It is beyond me how anyone can think that this is a fair and good deal for public school students.

Some might be pleased on ideological grounds that 24 elite private schools will lose some funding. But under the Government’s model there are other elite private schools that get millions of dollars in extra funding.

And none of that changes the fact that public schools students will lose much, much more.

I know public school parents and students around the country care about that.

All Australian students have the right to a quality education. We must do everything we can to defend it.



SPEECH: Address to the Universities Australia Conference, Canberra, 2 March 2017






I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of this land on which we are meeting and pay respect to the Elders of the Ngunnawal Nation both past and present.

I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate UA and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education Consortium (NATSIHEC) on the release of your Indigenous Strategy last night.

Thank you Professor Peter Buckskin, Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Professor Steve Larkin and Dr Leanne Holt for your work on this strategy.

Giving more Indigenous Australians the opportunity to go to university and get a decent, well-paid job is fundamental to breaking the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage and closing the gap.

Thank you to all of you for doing your part.

I would like to acknowledge:

  • Professor Barney Glover, Chair of Universities Australia
  • Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Chair-elect of Universities Australia
  • Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia
  • Vice-Chancellors
  • University staff
  • Students from across Australia.

I want to congratulate Belinda and the UA team for all their hard work in putting together this significant event.




I have had a warm welcome from you all as Shadow Minister

Starting with my first discussion with Vice-Chancellors back in August last year.

I have very much enjoyed the many campus visits I’ve made, and I’m looking forward to many more.

It’s inspiring to see the transformative power of universities at work – transforming the lives of individual students, our communities and regions, and our economy as a whole.

For individual students, we know a university education usually means a lifetime of higher earnings [OECD Education at a Glance Report]. It usually also means exposure to the other things which make life rich – friendship, mobility, creative thinking, and lifelong learning.

And society is richer because you challenge us with new ideas, you shape debates, and you foster creativity.

It’s a tribute to so many of you in this room that we have an international education sector which is the envy of the world. The export value of the sector is a testament to the quality of the education Australian universities offer.

Regional cities are seeing a new generation of urban renewal through the economic benefits of higher education delivery and the infrastructure investment this supports.

Take for example the city of Launceston, one of my favourite cities in Australia - which will be transformed with a $260 million development of their Inveresk campus.

To Launceston, this project means:

  • $965 million in direct and indirect economic impact during construction;
  • 2,760 new jobs; and
  • $362 million in additional ongoing annual economic benefit.

In addition to the economic impact, the campus will also see 16,000 staff and students bringing energy and creativity to an already fantastic city.

Universities are transforming many more of our cities.

Regional cities like Newcastle and Wollongong which were once reliant on heavy industries are being revitalized through the presence of university campuses.

I know you will have Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, authors of The Smartest Place on Earth - Why Rustbelts are Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation, presenting this morning. 

Their research on the revival of cities and regions once in decline is fascinating.

The message is very clear – the future doesn’t lie in the rearview mirror. 

If we want to be a leading edge competitive economy, we need to have a vision for that future and drive the creation of new high-tech manufacturing and the decent, well paid jobs that go with it.

And it can’t just be wishful thinking.  We must have new and practical approaches that forge connections and collaboration between universities, governments, companies and industry.

Not the least because the important breakthroughs in technology and innovation will almost certainly “occur at the intersection of various disciplines”.




This is why the theme of this year’s conference, Gen Next is so important.

I remember when it was my generation – Generation X – that was perplexing policy makers with our poor job prospects and the likelihood of a future of insecure work.

And we continue to live in interesting and uncertain times.

Gen Next will have the task of steering us through a new industrial revolution – a technology revolution that many fear will cost jobs – and will make sure that instead we use new technologies to create new industries and new jobs.

It’s fair to say that many people are anxious about the future.

Parents and grandparents wonder what type of work their kids and grandkids will do, and how they will succeed.

Universities are at the frontier of our future success: to ensure that our nation has the skills and knowledge it needs to be competitive and resilient.

As Professor Glover said yesterday:

As institutions for the public good, we exist to pursue the frontiers of knowledge.

Knowledge is ballast against the insecurity many people feel. Knowledge is also essential for policy makers and for governments to govern well.

If we’re very clever, we have the opportunity to deal well with some of the great problems of our time.

Climate change, for example.

Australian universities are facing the challenge head on.

Research at UNSW is just one example. The University’s Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics recently set a new world-record in solar energy efficiency.

Breakthroughs like this can underpin our future prosperity – if we work out how to harness them.

But unless we look more broadly to reform it’s not all bright for Australia’s economic mix.

We have to face the facts.

The construction phase of the mining boom is over and our economy is in transition. Growth is slow. Wages are low. Underemployment is high.

Parts of Australia are suffering more than others and policy makers have a responsibility to include all Australians in our plans for future prosperity.

So, after 25 years of record growth – are we up for this challenge?

Can we transition from the resources boom to a knowledge-based, services economy?

Will we leverage our knowledge, creativity and innovation into new ideas for new products, new services and growing industries?

To do this successfully, we will need:

  • Continuous upgrading of skills for the changing nature of work, and
  • And to boost our nation’s research outcomes to capture greater value of our creativity and innovation.




The Australian Labor Party supports full employment.

But we know that’s easier said than done.

Australia lost 56,000 full time jobs last year.

Wages are stagnant or falling: down 0.5% in the last quarter of 2016.

Underemployment is at record highs and the gap between rich and poor is the worst it’s been in 75 years.

Over the coming decades, many jobs will go, new ones will emerge and existing occupations will require new skills.

In 2015, CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – reported that up to 40% of Australian jobs – more than five million – could be gone in 10 to 15 years.

Most of this will be because of technological change.

It is also said that each year more than a million workers – about a tenth of the workforce – change jobs [CEDA – the Future of Work].

Of these million workers, 600,000 change industry and around 450,000 change occupation.

And it’s not just individual workers – more than half a million businesses will enter or exit the market.

In the decade to 2013-14, Australian manufacturing jobs decreased by around 92,000 while employment in health care and social services increased by 462,000. [CEDA – the Future of Work].

Our economy’s skills-base has and will continue to change significantly.

Unless we have a plan to make it otherwise there is a genuine risk that these new jobs will be of a lower quality than the ones they have replaced.

In a potentially more volatile labour market, will our post-secondary system – both universities and TAFE - adapt to this change?

Governments can’t come up with the answers to these issues alone.

Universities also need to wrestle with these questions.




When the previous Labor Government introduced the demand-driven funding system for undergraduate places, we gave universities a new level of freedom.

This has seen the sector innovate – delivering to more Australians – many of whom are first in family to attend university or from an indigenous or disadvantaged background.

Labor’s demand-driven funding allowed unmet demand from the Howard years to be filled, but the initial spike in demand is now levelling out.

Data from the Department of Education suggests that the demand for university places from school leavers has begun to plateau. [2016 Undergraduate Applications Offers and Acceptance Publication, Department of Education].

But the reform of the demand-driven system is probably at best, only half done.

I envisage a more mature demand-driven system able to increase participation by people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You know we have more work to do.

That’s why I welcome UA’s commitment to accelerating indigenous student enrolments by 50 per cent above overall growth as part of your Indigenous Strategy.

And that’s why I have been so critical of the Turnbull Government’s decision to slash the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) by 40 per cent with the remainder of the funding ‘under consideration’.

At the core of the demand-driven system has been flexibility.

I want you to have it.

I want our universities to have the funding and regulatory settings that allow you to deliver education which meets people’s life goals and enhances their life experience.

But we have to look at how a mature demand-driven system adapts to the change we’re seeing in the economy and the labour market.

With a tenth of the workforce changing jobs each year, and 40 per cent of current jobs predicted to be gone within 10 to 15 years.

It’s no good educating young Australians for yesterday’s labour market, for jobs which won’t exist.

What new programs of university and vocational education will we need?

Consider a mid-career worker, trying to renew their skills for a new or emerging industry.

What kind of higher education options do they need and will they be on offer?

Will universities recognise previous work experience or TAFE qualifications?

Universities and VET providers will have to increase collaboration with each other and with industry so that there are the right opportunities for high quality work-integrated learning and job placements.

I am also interested in the changing way that people engage with higher education throughout their working lives.

The debate we’ve seen about attainment rates often fails to recognise the way our lives have changed.

Labor absolutely wants to see more students graduating.

We don’t want people dropping out because the course they are studying turns out to be irrelevant, or is not what they want or need.

But we also don’t want to penalise students who are taking a non-traditional approach to acquiring the skills they need.

The evidence tells us that there is value in having successfully completed some higher education – even where students don’t graduate.

A recent study on employment trends in the EU published in the Higher Education Quarterly showed that even a small amount of higher education may improve a learner’s life chances and increase their opportunity for employment.

We should look at how we all – government, industry and universities – are better able to respond to students, who, for a variety of reasons, choose to step in and out of higher education throughout their working lives.

Our system should become more flexible in order to allow students to build their knowledge and skills-base through a greater mix of educational offerings that fit the needs of their careers.

But this doesn’t mean a system where every child gets a prize.

Labor expects accountability in our system:

  • To students.
  • To your local communities
  • And to the Australian tax payer.

A more flexible system must continue to be a high quality one.




Last month, Bill Shorten outlined that jobs and skills will be a major focus for Labor this year and beyond.

He also announced that Labor will be hosting a Skills Summit on 17th March here in Canberra.

I’m very much looking forward to working closely with business representatives, unions and educators – including Universities Australia – at this important Summit.

It’s also right that Bill acknowledged that our colleagues in the TAFE sector are going through a period of sustained stress and anxiety about their future.

The Turnbull Government has ripped away $2.5 billion from skills and training.

An astonishing 128,000 apprenticeships have now disappeared.

Funding for vocational education has gone backwards by 4% in real terms over ten years [Mitchell Institute Expenditure on Education Report 2016].

At the same ten year period, universities have had relative stability – supported by Labor’s policy settings – with funding increases of around 45 per cent.

Universities can’t be aloof from this crisis facing TAFE.

It’s a national issue.

We all know that our economy needs decent, high-quality skills delivered at vocational and higher education levels.

I am determined, as is Bill and the rest of the Labor team, to ensure that universities continue to grow and be strong with predictable and sustainable funding.

But we want to work with the states and territories to ensure that similar stability is afforded to the TAFE and vocational sector.

We also want to ensure that business and unions work collaboratively with educators, and play their part.




As the Shadow Minister responsible for university research, I’m keenly focused on ensuring that policy settings – both current and future – facilitate a robust and growing research portfolio in our universities.

In a mature and strong democracy, we need researchers, thought leaders and ideas generators.

We should not be afraid of agitators or those who challenge the status quo.

The late, great Gough Whitlam said that:

Academic freedom is the first requirement, the essential property of a free society. More than trade, more than strategic interests, more even than common systems of law or social or political structures, free and flourishing universities provide the true foundation of our western kinship, and define the true commonality of the democratic order. [Gough Whitlam at the Harvard Club of Australia, 1973]

It is with the same spirit that I applaud the work of our researchers.

It wasn’t until I had the Medical Research portfolio that I fully appreciated the power of research to improve lives and underpin economic growth.

There is a tendency to see research value in dollar terms of Intellectual Property or patents lodged. That’s important, but the value of research is much greater than that.

Research that develops a less intrusive, less costly way to deliver a medical intervention won’t make money for a drug company, but it can be better for patients and better for the health budget.

Like the work of SPACE project (Single Pill to Avert Cardiovascular Events) led by researchers at the George Institute for Global Health.

These researchers developed a polypill – a fixed dose combining commonly-used blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medication, along with aspirin – which is transforming approaches to treating cardiovascular disease.

Of course we should be doing research like this, for the public benefit alone.

But we also should be doing much better at using our research investment to create new jobs and opportunities.

It is not good enough that Australia’s research collaboration with business is almost at the bottom of the OECD average [Universities Australia]

It is the case that collaboration between industry and universities on research and development is too low for an advanced economy.

Globally, Australia is missing out because of a lack of government-backed research collaboration funds.

If we are to truly take part in developing the global products of the future, Australia must be at the table with the US, the UK and the EU.

It’s important, if not the key, that industry plays a greater role in our overall research effort.

But I know that university research cannot continue to flourish if funding continues to be cut.

That is why Labor strongly opposes the short-sighted decision to abolish the Education Investment Fund - EIF.

EIF was set up to ensure that we have the necessary capital to renew, refurbish and update our university, vocational and research institutions.

But it’s now been abandoned.

I’m sure all of you will have examples of the transformative impact that EIF has had on your campuses and communities.

As part of Labor’s policy development on enhancing our research in universities, I will continue my discussions with the sector, including meeting with the Deputy Vice-Chancellors’ (Research) forum tomorrow.




I am optimistic about our capacity to meet Australia’s future skills and research challenges.

I am determined to work with you to prepare our people for the secure jobs of the future.

Developing skills for a changing workforce through to encouraging new scientific breakthroughs.

Universities are going to be a central part of that, but we need to continue a healthy process of connecting the elements of our education system better, feeding our economy with new discoveries and innovation.

Thank you again for your time today.  I wish you all the very best for the rest of your conference.




SPEECH: Opening of Australian Young Labor Conference, Saturday 4 February 2017






4 FEBRUARY 2017 



I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting and pay respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal Nation both past and present.

I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.

It is with great pleasure that I stand before you to open the 2017 Australian Young Labor National Conference.

I congratulate all of you on being elected as delegates from your states or territories to this national conference.

Try and have some fun over the next couple of days.

You should enjoy this chance to test yourself:

- to argue

- to debate 

- and even to socialise.

We in Labor are never afraid of a healthy debate.

If you doubt that for a moment I urge you to come along to Sydney Town Hall and watch the NSW annual conference in full flight.

In Labor, we accept that good people can disagree on matters close to their hearts.

It will be a better conference if you:

- engage genuinely, 

- wrestle intellectually,

- listen closely, 

- encourage the shy ones to speak up, and

- behave with honour and kindness to each other.

Come with open minds.

I know that factions are important to the running of this conference but do not dismiss an idea or thought out of hand because it comes out of the mouth of someone from the other side of the room.

I urge you to take the time now, to look around you at your fellow delegates.

The women and men in this room may go on to great things in our Party.

In this room are future union leaders and Ministers, potential Premiers and even Prime Ministers.

And, of course, the ballast of our party – the true believers, who never hold office, but sustain us in easy times and hard ones.

The fate of our Party and our country will one day lie in your hands.

We need Young Labor to work, now more than ever, as the task before us is a great one.

For we are subject to that ancient - and probably apocryphal - Chinese curse, memorably captured by Robert F. Kennedy in a speech given to the National Union of South African Students in 1966…

…we live in interesting times.

Two fundamental events mean the political certainties that have carried us through recent decades no longer hold.

The first was the invasion of Iraq by a US-led and Australian supported military coalition in 2003…

…a move opposed by Labor at the time.

The fallout from this ill-judged act continues.

The second world-changing event, of course, was the Great Recession of 2008.

This event - and its ongoing repercussions –fundamentally shook the blind belief in unfettered markets which had become orthodoxy for so many.

It is probably too early to say what the events of 2003 and 2008 mean in the long term for our Party, our country and our world.

For example, it would not have been believable had I opened your 2015 conference with a prediction that by the time of your 2017 conference Donald Trump would be in the White House.

While it's becoming harder than ever to predict the future, there are a few trends I wanted to examine with you today:

These are:

- first, the decline in the fortunes of social democratic parties, 

- second, an increase in economic uncertainty and inequality, and 

- third, an increasing changeability in the Australian electorate.

The first trend is particular relevant to our Party. 

It has brought many sister parties of the ALP to their knees.

These parties are our fellow members of the International Progressive Alliance – a global network of labour, social democratic and socialist parties.

Their fate is instructive.

I’ll start in Greece.

The Greek political party PASOK ruled Greece from 1981 through to 2012 interrupted by only two short separate terms in opposition.

As recently as 2009 it won an election with around 44 per cent of the vote.

By 2015 its share of the vote had dropped to five per cent with most of its traditional supporters transferring their allegiance to the left wing Syriza Party.

Spain provides another example.

As does the  decline of the French Socialists and the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

In the UK, the British Labour Party saw a backlash that first benefitted the Liberal Democrats…

…and then saw Labour’s wipe out in Scotland by the anti-austerity SNP…

…followed by a hostile take-over of the Party by Jeremy Corbyn.

In the US, of course, we’ve seen a Democrat administration that rebuilt the US after the GFC, and introduced life changing health reforms, defeated by a candidate who no credible commentator initially thought could even win the Republican primary.

What all these parties have in common is that they are social democratic parties who have faced their own mortality in the face of increasing uncertainty and inequality.

Sometimes the threat has been from the left, sometimes from the right…

….sometimes internal, sometimes external.

But the trend is undeniable and sobering.

And it leads to the second development I wish to explore: increasing economic uncertainty and inequality.

Their impact is different in Australia than in the countries I just mentioned.

We suffered less from the GFC – largely due to the actions of the Labor government – and in particular my good friend Wayne Swan.

And while inequality has grown it has not grown to the extent of some other nations.

But people feel insecure. 

They are worried about their jobs, and what kind of jobs their kids will do. 

The global economy remains in a state of high volatility and technology is disrupting our labour market and the way we work.

Were another economic shock to occur we no longer have the weapons in the arsenal we used in 2008 – either in Australia or abroad - with interest rates in most countries either near zero or negative and public debt significantly higher.

The Turnbull Government has no credible economic plan to deal with any of these issues.

Indeed under their stewardship:

- the economy contracted by half a per cent in the September quarter, 

- there are 35,000 fewer full time jobs, 

- wages growth is at historic lows, 

- underemployment is at historic highs, 

- the deficit has triple, and 

- $100 billion has been added to net debt. 

Inflation is well below a healthy rate and the RBA’s target range.

The AAA rating that Labor won from the three major credit agencies for the first time in history is now at risk….

…threatening to push up borrowing costs, including mortgage repayments.

And inequality is at 75 year highs.

Labor has supported increases to the minimum wage, while the Coalition has argued against those increases and right now many of its members are on record supporting a cut to the penalty rates that low paid workers rely on.

We also delivered the biggest pension increases in Australian history while the Liberals cut income support.

Inequality may not yet be as acute as in the US, for example, but it's growing. 

And that's bad for us all.

The third trend regards the Australian electorate.

We are witnessing a detachment of voters from traditional political allegiances.

Analysis of voting intention and behaviour carried out by the Whitlam Institute in 2013 found that the modern electorate was not so much swinging as fluid. 

By this they meant that Party loyalties have broken down and that votes of large groups may switch rapidly from one party to another based on major incidents or political moments.

This was particularly true of younger voters who form about a third of the electorate and - in the Whitlam Institute’s view – had determined the outcomes of most recent elections.

So what does all this mean for our Party?

I believe a few lessons can be drawn.

First, while we have to be alive to the risk of right wing populism we should not overstate its appeal in this country and we should not for a moment cosy up to this ideology.

We will not win support by going quiet on the things we disagree with.

We must resolutely confront the racism, sexism and religious intolerance of the right.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation do not yet enjoy the same level of support in Australia as say Brexit in the UK or Trump in the US.

We should not conflate her with those phenomena as it affords her a legitimacy that she does not deserve.

Over 95 per cent of Australians did not vote for One Nation at the last election, while about half of all American and British voters selected Donald Trump and Brexit respectively.

Of course, for us to win in the upcoming WA and Queensland state elections, fighting One Nation as well as the Coalition parties will be vital. 

Malcolm Turnbull has gone weak on One Nation preferences. 

We never will.

This leads me to my second point which is that, for the Labor Party, the threat from the extreme left is as real as the threat from the extreme right.

Recent weeks have shown us the Greens political Party are a rabble…

…riven by a factionalism which they refuse to acknowledge and are incapable of resolving.

The threat from the Greens is not that they will form government, but that they fracture the progressive vote and prevent Labor forming government.

Their real threat is to just a few inner city seats and maybe one or two regional seats….

…just enough to keep us out of government in close parliaments like the one we have at the moment.

So my third observation is that we must be prepared to meet the challenge from the left by embracing a sensible progressive agenda.

Again, not by being dragged here or there by others…

… but by defending our progressive record and values.

The fourth lesson is that we have to be up for the tough stuff, but we have to be able to demonstrate the benefits for all.

Labor has always been up for the tough economic reforms. 

We want a strong economy, because a strong economy drives the creation of good jobs. 

And it means we can afford the great social reforms like the NDIS.

But economic reform has to have at its heart the intention to provide a better standard of living for all, not just higher profits for a few.

That means, for example, an approach to privatisation based on merit, efficiency and public benefit - not on ideology.

That means standing up for organised labour.

That means maintaining and enhancing a social safety net and investing in health and education as essentials.

Understanding that these investments are not just for the benefit of individuals, but critical investments in the productivity and future wealth of our nation.

It means taking action on climate change.

These are all steps Labor has taken under the leadership of Bill Shorten.

We took 100 positive policies to the last election, including some that the commentators thought were suicidal:

- a reduction in the capital gains discount on housing and restricting negative gearing to new homes,

- a full commitment to needs based funding in education and implementation of the Gonski model,

- marriage equality for LGBTI Australians, and 

- support for penalty rates.

And we argued – and continued to argue – for a 50 per cent renewable energy target and the introduction of an Emissions Trading Scheme.

We do so because we recognise that action on climate change is urgent and necessary.

In contrast, the Coalition think a $50 billion tax giveaway to multinational companies is reform.

They must be the last adherents of trickle-down economics. 

Like those soldiers lost in the jungle 50 years after the war has ended – no one told them the battle is lost.

So we have already set out a progressive agenda which we took to the last election….

….but we won't rest. 

We will continue to refine our thinking and our arguments over coming years and at our next Party conference.

By 2019 - at the latest - Bill Shorten will be our Prime Minister and Labor will be the Party of government.

We have a Labor platform we can be proud of:

- ambitious and financially sustainable, and

- deliverable through our parliamentary system.

The final thought I want to leave you with today, is that we must examine our structures and processes to ensure that they are truly reflective of the spirt of the times in which we live.

We have to embrace democracy. 

We have to continue to offer a place to people who are frustrated by politics. 

The left wing challengers to social democratic parties I talked about earlier had their genesis in grassroots organising and networked individuals.

We have to reach out to those people and learn from their ability to mobilise - just look at the recent Women’s Marches that shook the globe on Donald Trump’s inauguration.

We must convince the fluid or disaffected voter – the activist angry at the injustice and inequality of their world - that their place is in the Labor Party where they can drive real change, rather than just shout into the void.

This push will need to come from a younger generation of Labor members and supporters - including you in this room.

So – with that – I urge you to embrace the spirit of debate and discussion that is core to our culture.

Be open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

Be prepared to push yourselves and others – to challenge conventions and hierarchies.

In one final plug can I remind you that we’re continuing our campaign to put pressure on the government with our “100% Against $100,000 Degrees” campaign on campus.

As new students arrive on campus it’s a chance to remind them that the Liberals want to saddle students with $100,000 of debt and Labor will fight to stop them. 

It is with great pleasure that I now invite you to commence the 2017 Australian Young Labor national conference. 



SPEECH: Australian Financial Review Higher Education Conference, Wednesday 16 November 2016







16 NOVEMBER 2016



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SPEECH: Plebiscite (Same Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 Debate, Tuesday 11 October 1016









In 2004, I received a letter from a man called John Challis.

The letter was about superannuation.

It called on the then Howard Government to give same-sex couples the same legal rights to inherit superannuation as married and de-facto heterosexual couples.

John was concerned that if he died his partner Arthur wouldn’t be able to inherit his superannuation.

John and I lobbied the Howard Government for years for a change. Of course, our calls fell largely on deaf ears.

It wasn’t until 2007 when Labor was elected that changes around superannuation, taxation, family law, Medicare, pharmaceuticals, immigration, a whole range of other – more than 80 pieces of discriminatory legislation were changed for same-sex couples and their children.

A couple of weeks ago in Sydney, I caught up with John for a coffee.

John is now 88 years old.

His partner, Arthur, is 84.

They have been together for 49 years.

More than a decade after John first wrote to me about equal rights for him and for his partner Arthur, we talked about this campaign for one last, great change. One piece of unfinished business: marriage equality.

But while John and Arthur have already waited nearly half a century to have their relationship properly recognised by the community they’ve given so much to, they said that they could not support a plebiscite.

They are so concerned about the harm that a divisive debate would do to the gay and lesbian community, to same-sex couples, to same-sex parents and their children that they were prepared to wait.

They were also deeply concerned about how a plebiscite subverts our usual democratic processes.

Frankly, it tells you all you need to know about how serious the damage a plebiscite on marriage equality would be that a same-sex couple in their 80s, that have waited almost half a century, are saying that they would rather wait than take this path.

For John, for Arthur, I will not, and Labor will not support a plebiscite.

For the same-sex couples who would hear their relationships are second-rate, I will not, and Labor will not support a plebiscite.

For the children of same-sex couples who hear there’s something wrong with their family, I will not, and Labor will not support this plebiscite.

For young gay and lesbian people, who might be struggling with their sexuality, or are just thinking about coming out, I will not, and Labor will not support a plebiscite.

And that is why I am proud to have seconded the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment today that this Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to legislate now, today, in this Parliament for marriage equality. That would see a free vote. That would see this Parliament do its job.

For 14 months (August 2015), since Tony Abbott and the right wing of the Liberal party first proposed the plebiscite as a way of indefinitely delaying marriage equality – we have been debating this proposal.

To be fair, we haven’t been debating the legislation – we’ve only just seen that.

But the more closely we have examined the proposal, the worse it has looked.

I have received literally thousands of emails and letters about marriage equality, and I have spoken to many, many people who are deeply concerned about the plebiscite.

  • Leighton, who was deeply affected by homophobic hate speech as a young person, and who turned to substance abuse and self-harm.
    • He says that “children struggling with their identity…need to be protected and spared the hateful debate that this plebiscite will incite”.
  • Roberta, who fears for her 19 year old gay granddaughter and the impact that a publicly financed “No” campaign will have on her.
  • Damien who asks why the LGBTIQ community needs to have this unprecedented approach: it’s “as if we must reach a certain quota of suffering as a community before we are granted this fundamental right ….one last humiliating hurdle.”
  • Shauna, who is heterosexual but who finds the “concept of my ‘giving permission’ for equal access to the law to be disgusting”.


Last week the Leader of the Opposition and I met with marriage equality advocates in Sydney. The Leader of the Opposition has been doing a terrific job of consulting on this, as has the Shadow Attorney General, as has the Member for Griffith, as has the Member for Franklin who has been working very hard with mental health organisations, as have all of the Members on this side. And we have heard again and again from advocates saying “not this way”.

Geoff Thomas from PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) told the Leader of the Opposition and I, as a Vietnam veteran, who fought for democracy because his country asked him to, he could not understand why his son should not expect the same legal rights and obligations as any other Australian.

“That’s not the democracy and freedom I fought for”  he said.

That’s the question at the heart of this debate:   Why should some Australians face discrimination, or even vilification, because of who they are and who they love?

Every day it becomes more apparent that this plebiscite is a delaying tactic – a tactic designed by the opponents of marriage equality, in the hope they can take the majority support for marriage equality which unquestionably exists in the Australian community - as the previous speaker said - and twist and obfuscate this issue in the same way they did when it came to the Republic debate, and frighten people off voting for it.

There is a simple way to settle this:  The Marriage Act could be changed by the Parliament this week.

The Liberals are advancing this simplistic argument that somehow it is more democratic to have a plebiscite than for the Parliament to vote.

And yet Michael Kirby, a very distinguished jurist, has pointed out that three Prime Ministers – Menzies, Whitlam and Howard - who loved and respected this parliament and its processes, they didn’t choose to settle difficult social questions by using plebiscites.

Kirby recalls that Gough Whitlam always upheld the idea that Parliament itself should be the great institution of equality. 

Whitlam said “Parliament has been our great liberating force.  There is no freedom without equality.  To redistribute and equalise liberty has been one of the principal functions of Parliament”. 

John Howard didn’t have a plebiscite when he last changed the Marriage Act last time, nor, incidentally, when he overturned the NT Voluntary Euthanasia legislation, to my mind a more controversial proposition than the one that is before us. It is our day job – it is what we do in this Parliament – it’s what we’re paid to do.

Unless it is constitutionally required, these matters should be resolved through the usual channels of responsible parliamentary democracy. Particularly when the High Court has already said it’s the job of this Parliament to legislate

Now the member for Goldstein was in here earlier and as a former Human Rights Commissioner, he provided exactly this evidence to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee in 2015.

In his advice he said that a plebiscite is not an appropriate method of addressing matters related to marriage, and will do nothing to resolve in a substantive way this issue.

And in fact, Solicitor General Justin Gleeson probably could have told the Government that for free if they has bothered to ask him.

No doubt he would have some very instructive views about the novelty of such an approach.

It’s also why Aboriginal leaders are advising Malcolm Turnbull to abandon the plebiscite, convinced that an ugly campaign will actually set back the real referendum before us at the moment: the proper updating of our constitution to recognise our First Australians.

Marcia Langton has said that a divisive campaign against marriage equality could "unleash the dogs" on Aboriginal Australia.

We will have a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition because the constitution requires us to update it in this proper way, not because Cory Bernardi tells Malcolm Turnbull, “your job depends on it”.

We know that this pointless plebiscite will be fantastically expensive.  $200 million by the Government’s own estimate. You would really think that the people who said we had a debt and deficit disaster would worry about that.

When we had a projected deficit of $4.7 billion for the 2015-16 year, that was a “debt and deficit disaster”. That has blown out under this mob eight-fold; it’s almost $40 billion, but they can’t think of something better to do with $200 million. Maybe pay down debt? Maybe properly fund our schools? Maybe properly fund our hospitals? Maybe build some transport infrastructure?

Do the Liberals really think that running this plebiscite is more important, and more valuable, than properly funding aged care? Or properly funding childcare? Yes, apparently they do.

But the most compelling argument is the harm the debate will do to the LGBTI community, their families and supporters.

Mental health experts including Professor Patrick McGorry, Frank Quinlan, suicide prevention expert Dr Jo Robinson, they’ve all said that the potential for harm here is real - we know that it will happen.

Two weeks ago I visited Twenty 10, a gay and lesbian youth counselling service in my electorate – they have already noticed an increase in demand on their counselling line.

Gay and Lesbian rights advocates have told me about physical confrontations that they have already experienced, even death threats, because they have been speaking out in favour of marriage equality.

Rainbow Families – again visiting our Parliament today talking about how difficult it is to tell their children that there are people they have never met who think there is something wrong with their family.

These families will not be “created” by marriage equality, despite what some of the most pernicious propaganda is already suggesting. These families exist now. They always have existed. And they have a right to the same protections and responsibilities that other families enjoy.

Why should the children of these families be told by complete strangers that their parents’ relationship is second rate and that is does not deserve the recognition that we accord other relationships?

The Liberals have said that our concerns are unwarranted – that we are somehow suggesting that Australians can’t have a civilized debate. There is nothing further from the truth.

I absolutely know that the vast majority of Australians first of all support marriage equality, and secondly that the vast majority of Australians can and will engage in this debate in a civilized way – if they engage at all.

But such a debate will undoubtedly hand the megaphone to the extremists in any discussion. And in this instance the government proposes to subsidies this to the tune of $15 million.

Of course, I’ve also met with constituents who oppose marriage equality, including representatives of the Greek Orthodox community and Catholic churches and a range of people across the community.

I truly want to reassure them once again that there is nothing in what Labor proposes that would require their churches to solemnize any relationship between a same-sex couple. There is nothing in this proposition that suggests that.  

They are completely entitled to live their lives and worship as they choose.  

But the simple fact is that we live in a society that separates church and state.

For many people marriage is a religious sacrament. But not for everyone. For others, however, it is still an important legal and social recognition of deep love and commitment – and that is something that really, most of us want in our lives.

I’d like to say to my colleagues in this place: none of us should assume that because someone has deeply held religious views that they are automatically opposed to marriage equality.

Indeed, there are many people of deep faith who make a strong Christian case in favour of marriage equality. Great leaders and compassionate leaders like the Reverend Dr Keith Mascord, who I have known for decades now.

I am surely not the only person in this place who comes from a devout family whose motto may as well be, “judge not lest ye be judged”, or my personal favourite, “take the splinter out of your own eye before you reach for the speck in your brother’s eye”

When I asked my Mum about this years ago, she said to me – just so simple - “there’s not enough love in the world – why would we want to deny it to anyone who has found it?”.

I want to finish with this –

One of my favourite poems is a love poem by W H Auden from 1937 – it’s called Lullaby.

A poem written by a gay man in a time, and from a country where being gay was illegal. It speaks of “universal love and hope”.

Marriage equality is a fundamental recognition of the universal character of love - that the way each of us love is not so very different. Our hopes and dreams for ourselves, for our families, and for our children are not so very different.

And our laws should not discriminate.