Speech to the Transport Workers Union National Council

18 May 2023

Thank you for having me here this morning, on the home of the Gadigal people.

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

And I also note, very happily, that the TWU will be campaigning loudly for a yes vote later this year. 

That’s what solidarity looks like. 

It’s always being there – through the ’67 referendum, through the Wave Hill walkout, through the fight for land rights and native title.  

Reconciliation will always be union business. 

Because a lack of voice hasn’t just held back First Nations people in our parliament and political life.  

It’s hurt Indigenous Australians in their working lives too. 

Too often in our history, Indigenous people have been forced to work for less than the minimum wage. 

They’ve had their pay stolen and their superannuation stripped.  

They’ve been exploited and harassed and disrespected on the job. 

Which is one of the many reasons Labor is fighting for a resounding yes vote this year. 

And it’s why I’m so glad the TWU is joining that fight – with your members, with your resources, and with the power of your solidarity. 

In a crowd of old friends and familiar faces, can I also acknowledge the executive members joining us: 

Richard Olsen, the National President.

Michael Kaine, the National Secretary.

Nick McIntosh, the Assistant National Secretary. 

All the council members and observers here today. 

As well as two of my parliamentary colleagues: Senator Tony Sheldon and Senator Glenn Sterle. 

Friends, delegates, comrades. 

It’s great to be back with the Transport Workers Union this morning.

I always feel at home in this crowd.

As some of you might know, my dad worked at Qantas for more than twenty years.

He was a plumber and a gas fitter at the jet base at Mascot. 

Dad took enormous pride in his work at Qantas.

He loved being a transport worker.

And he loved the life it gave our family.

We always knew there would be a pay check at the end of the week.

It was secure, it was predictable, it was reliable.

It was the kind of job you could build a life on.

And it was a testament to the strength of the union.

And for me, that’s what the TWU is all about. 

Your legacy is measured in the lives of your members. 

It’s the mortgages you help pay off.

It’s the family holidays you make possible. 

It’s the accidents you prevent and the parents you get home safely. 

It’s the futures you allow people to plan out with confidence. 

That’s why you all work so hard.

And that’s why I’ve been so eager to stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, over many years. 

We stood together during pandemic, as the aviation industry imploded, and while some people sought to use COVID as an opportunity to attack your job security and conditions.

We’ve stood together Virgin workers, who’ve shown an incredible resilience since the company went into administration.

We’ve stood together with truck drivers, who’ve been fighting for minimum standards in their industry, while keeping Australia moving.

And we’ve stood together with gig workers, who’ve been treated as disposable, cycling around our busy streets without any of the conditions we rightly expect in this country.

Those campaigns will continue.

They will continue under Labor, as fiercely and relentlessly as before.

We don’t expect any special treatment, or an easy run.

But this is the first national council since the federal election.

And I think it’s worth reflecting on what a difference a year makes.

First things first, I want to thank everyone from the union who helped on the federal campaign.

Everyone who knocked on a door, or donated their time and money, or talked to their neighbours and friends.

Everyone who did their bit to change the course of our country.

That was a year ago, this Sunday.

It’s a bit of a cliché at this point – to say that when you change the government, you change the country.

But if you look at the big picture – if you compare Australia to what it looked like a year ago – I think it’s undeniably true.

We now have a government that supports a growing minimum wage, instead of fighting against it in the courts.

We have a government that introduced multi-employer bargaining, after a decade of state sponsored wage stagnation.

We have a government that is giving aged care workers a raise.

We have a government that abolished the ABCC.

We have a government that meets with trade unions as equals.

And with Tony Burke, we have an Industrial Relations Minister who understands the needs of transport workers.

He’s speaking at the dinner tonight, so I won’t steal his thunder.

But I know that Tony is currently working on reforms to the sector.

He has already committed to extending the power of Fair Work, to include employee like forms of work, including in the gig economy.

The TWU has been making this argument for a long time now.

That just because someone is in flexible work, doesn’t mean they should automatically give up all their workplace rights. 

It’s always been a powerful argument.

The difference is – you now have a Minister who is listening.

And that’s what kind of difference a year can make.

We can get lost a bit, in the daily cut and thrust of politics.

In all the headlines and the hot takes.

But if you take a step back – there’s been a fundamental change in attitude and policy settings over the past twelve months.

And it’s not just industrial relations and workers rights.

We’re making childcare more affordable for your members. 

We’re providing an extra 480,000 free TAFE places.

We’re investing serious money into Medicare, to make it easier to see the doctor. 

We’re giving single parents and jobseekers more help.  

We’ve put a cap on gas prices.

We’re approving twice as many renewable energy projects as before. 

And we’re working, across the board, to protect our precious environment and the places Australians hold dear. 

That’s where I come in.

Twelve months ago, I can’t say I expected to be here in this portfolio.

It’s been a learning process, getting across the detail, and then setting up our long-term agenda. 

But for all that – it’s been a blessing.

Because I’ve always cared deeply about the natural world. 

And I don’t think that makes me rare in this country. 

There’s this stereotype, about the environment. 

That it only matters to a certain class of Australian.

That’s it’s an issue for people in inner city, but not the outer suburbs.

But I just don’t think it’s true – any of it.

Not in my experience.

In this job, I’ve travelled just about everywhere you can go in Australia.

And almost everyone I meet, to a person, cares about nature.

So many of the things we cherish in life – so many of the things we value as Australians – depend on a healthy environment. 

Think about our choice of recreation in this country. 

The annual summer camping trips.

The surf clubs and the ocean swims.

The bushwalks. The fishing trips.

The big holidays, which people save up for, to the top end and the red centre and the Great Barrier Reef.

These pastimes are all deeply Australian.

And as Minister for the Environment and Water, I see my mission as a patriotic one.

To protect more of what’s precious.

To restore more of what’s damaged.

And to manage nature better for our kids and grandkids.

The writer Tim Winton has been in the news lately, talking about his campaign to protect Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

He had a good line on this theme.

‘I believe in patriotism, but patriotism doesn’t always involve waving a flag or firing a gun. It means defending your home place’

And I think we all feel this.

This desire to defend our home – and to pass it on to our kids. 

That’s what I felt coming into this job.

And as I’ve learned more – as I’ve learned how vulnerable some of these animals and places are – I’ve felt no choice but to act.

You can’t sit still when you learn that koalas might be extinct in New South Wales by 2050.

You can’t sit by while you see our beaches eroding, or our soil losing its fertility, or our fish literally choking to death in our rivers.

You have to do something about it. 

And that’s what our government is doing.

We’re changing our national environmental laws, so they finally work to protect what matters.

We’re establishing a new Environment Protection Agency.

We’re doubling the funding of our national parks, like Uluru and Kakadu.

We’re investing over $1.2 billion to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef.

We’re campaigning on the world stage, to deal with the growing problem of plastics, and to protect our beautiful oceans.

We’re reforming our energy grid, to get renewables into the system, and give Australians access to cheaper and cleaner power.

And we’re doing it the right way, by establishing the National Transition Authority – to make sure no worker is left behind by these changes.

It’s a big task, after a decade of neglect on the environment.

It’s not something we can solve in our first year in office, or even a single term of government.

But we can start putting the most important building blocks in place.

And that’s what we’re trying to do across the government.

In workplaces and industrial relations.

In health and Medicare.

In economic policy and housing.

In women’s rights and social inclusion.

In climate change and education.

We are determined to build a competent government, a trustworthy government.

A progressive government that lasts the distance – long enough to cement the policies we all believe are necessary.

We want to be a government that makes Labor voters proud.

And that includes union members and affiliated organisations.

We’re called the Labor Party for a reason.

We will always serve the interests of working people.

And more than that – we will always work in close partnership with the representatives of working people, every step of the way.

So thank you for having me today.

And thank you for everything you’ve done over the past year.

I’ll see you again soon.