ETU/CEPU BIENNIAL CONFERENCE

18 Feb 2019

I appreciate the opportunity to address the ETU NSW conference.
I’d like to acknowledge your State Secretary Justin Page, Assistant Secretary Ben Lister, organisers, officers and delegates.

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, sends his apology as the House of Representatives is sitting and he is unable to attend your conference.

I’m looking forward to Senate Estimates this week to again expose the lack of policy, incompetence and division that epitomises the Coalition rabble masquerading as a federal government.

This is a government with no policy agenda – other than attacking the union movement, shoring up the banks and promoting the free movement of labour through so-called free trade agreements.
 
This government sought to avoid a Royal Commission into the banks while attempting to legislate for $80 billion of tax cuts to the banks and big business.
Morrison on 26 occasions refused to support a banking Royal Commission.
 
Morrison has also been the chief proponent of trickle-down economics claiming business tax cuts will deliver for working people in this country.
 
How the Coalition ever got a reputation as good economic managers beggars belief.
 
You have asked the party to address the issues of industrial relations and skills at this conference.
 
I will come to that shortly, but in the meantime I would ask you to bear with me as I address some of the key political issues facing Australia at the next election.

In my view, one of the key issues facing Australian society and business is the need for a cohesive government that can provide policy certainty in all aspects of government.

Cost of living issues, wage stagnation, impediments to effective bargaining, climate change, education, health, skills, TAFE are amongst the issues that need to be addressed.

We also need a government that is prepared to stand up against the extremism of the Liberal right and the racism of One Nation and their former member Fraser Anning.

Bill Shorten has provided leadership, stability and policy development in contrast to the chaos division and disunity in the Coalition.

Labor’s policies on the economy, climate change, intergenerational inequality, health, education, housing and homelessness, industrial relations, the VET system and TAFE to name a few are a demonstration that in opposition you can be politically and intellectually constructive as distinct from the wrecking ball approach of the Coalition.

Labor’s hard work, dedication to policy development and the effectiveness of our opposition to the socially and economically destructive policies of the Coalition has put us in a position to be extremely competitive at the next election.

Our stability and focus on policy is in direct contrast to the disunity and dysfunction in the Coalition, as they change leaders in a desperate attempt to cling onto power.

We have witnessed chaos in the Liberal party leadership.

From the wrecking ball, climate change denying, austerity-driven Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull who became transfixed and impotent in the face of the extreme right of his party.

We now have Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, a vacuous politician, a defender of the banks, the Treasurer who promoted trickle-down economics and has now resorted to lies and fear campaigns on refugees.

This Antipodean Donald Trump, a multimillionaire from the Eastern suburbs who pretends to be a working class dad, mimics Donald Trump with his rhetoric and baseball caps.

This is a Prime Minister who professes spiritual adherence but shows no compassion or moral compass when it comes to treating refugees in a humane manner.

This nonsense that we hear that treating asylum seekers humanely will lead to rapist and murderers being foisted upon the Australian community is over the top lies.

As Malcolm Turnbull said in 2017:

“We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru and Manus for over 3 years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by aeroplane and with a tourist Visa then they would be here… It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product”

Morrison has only one driver, a desperate desire to cling to power at the expense of truth, compassion and our duty of care to refugees.

This is a man who demonstrates no leadership, no understanding of the Westminster system or the concept of ministerial accountability.
If he did he would sack Michaela Cash.

I have been a member of the Labor Party since my time as a delegate at Liddell power station in the mid-70s.

Following the privatisation of the power industry, the lack of investment in alternative energy as a result of political uncertainty has left our nation with high energy costs.

We have an overreliance on thermal coal and little prospect under a Liberal government of decarbonising the economy.

There will be many employment opportunities for ETU members in renewable energy across the country.

I joined the Muswellbrook branch of the party, not because I agreed with every policy position, but I knew that if I did not engage then I could not influence policies that may have been of concern to me and my fellow workers.

As a result of the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 we have seen neoliberal, laissez-faire economic policies dominating the political landscape in English-speaking countries.

Even under the Hawke and Keating governments, privatisation, competition policy, free trade and the reduction of union rights have been evident.
As Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said recently:

“Apple, Google, Starbucks and companies like them all claim to be socially responsible, but the first element of social responsibility should be paying your fair share of tax.
 
Instead globalisation has enabled multinationals to encourage a race to the bottom, threatening the revenues that governments need to function properly.”

I’m pleased that the Shorten opposition understands the inequality and poverty faced by many of our fellow Australians and the need to ensure multinationals pay their fair share.

The Shorten opposition understands that wage stagnation is a huge challenge for working class families.

We have already announced that we will restore penalty rates that were cut following a campaign by business and Coalition MPs and senators.

We have committed to abolishing those tools of the Liberal Party, the ABCC and the Registered Organisations Commission.

It is bizarre that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions could not find enough evidence to charge coalition political advisers who admitted to breaking the law by tipping off the media about raids on the AWU offices.

The Coalition has placed former advisers, former coalition politicians, and those with Conservative political views in a number of so-called independent Commonwealth authorities.
 
This is designed to ensure a web of influence in these independent bodies.
It has even got to the stage that former Justice Minister, Michael Keenan’s media adviser, Michael Tetlow, who was accused of leaking the AWU raids to television journalists is now a night-time presenter on ABC Perth.
 
This, in my view, is another example of the Coalition seeking to influence the ABC.
 
This country needs a change of government. We cannot continue to have a rabble of a government incapable of addressing the real issues for Australian workers and their families.
 
I am absolutely committed to lifting skills, and vocational education opportunities for working class Australians.
 
I have been fortunate to have been appointed Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships along with the portfolio of Housing and Homelessness.
 
Under the Coalition the vocational education system has been decimated by funding cuts, privatisation, excessive competition policy and poor regulation.

This includes:

  • $3 billion in cuts to vocational education
  • 140,000 fewer apprenticeships and traineeships
  • TAFE enrolments plummeting by 24.5%
  • Thousands of students accruing bad debts
  • $24 million loss on a failed Australian Apprenticeship Management System
  • Dodgy training providers flourishing
  • Handing over $2 million to the pet project of former Family 1st Senator Bob Day, to train 20 “student builders” who will have no contract of employment, no contract for training and will only undertake work experience while being paid the student allowance. The government claims that these young people will have a builder’s license following their training.

I certainly wouldn’t want them to build my house!

After 5 years and a revolving door of ministers, the Coalition appointed the failed, demoted and discredited Michaela Cash to the portfolio.

In July last year, the then Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews, in a prepared speech, expressed the view that the Australian vocational education and training system, and I quote “is actually better than the German system”.

Michaela Cash recently said that we have a world-class vocational education system.

How out of touch could these ministers be?

I think this says everything about the Coalition’s approach to vocational education and skills.

The Government’s own key economic adviser, the Productivity Commission, has called the system “a mess”

The OECD has found Australia doesn’t have the skills needed to engage effectively in global value chains.

A recent independent report authored by Terry Moran, one of the original architects of the national system, says it is fragmented and devalued, that there is no effective governance, and the funding arrangements are chaotic, and there is no national strategy.

The Government has commissioned Steven Joyce, a former NZ Tory to conduct the world’s shallowest review of a profoundly complex system. They are paying $218 500 in consultancy fees for four months work to the man that undermined the New Zealand VET system to such an extent that public colleges are teetering on the edge of collapse, compelling the Ardern Government to undertake emergency reforms.

In contrast, Labor will commit to:

  • Two thirds of all Commonwealth vocational education funding to TAFE, with only quality private RTOs having access to government funding.
  • Working with the states and territories to reinstate TAFE as the anchor institution for vocational education.
  • Ensuring a proper role for the trade union movement in vocational education.
  • Investing $100 million in TAFE colleges across the country.
  • Establishing the first national vocational education and TAFE review since Kangan more than 40 years ago.
  • One in 10 jobs on Commonwealth priority projects going to an Australian apprentice.
  • Creating 10,000 pre-apprenticeships for young people wanting to learn a trade.
  • Establishing 20,000 advanced entry adult apprenticeships for older workers who want or need to retrain.
  • Appoint an apprenticeship Advocate to improve the quality of apprenticeships, addressed exploitation and improve apprentice safety.

Labor will work with the trade union movement, employers, governments and quality RTOs to lift the standards of vocational education across the country.

I want to close by going to some policy initiatives in my other portfolio area housing and homelessness.

Back in March 2018 the Sydney Alliance Coalition conducted 628 face-to-face conversations with Penrith residents and visitors.

  • 82% were concerned about the lack of affordable rental housing in Western Sydney
  • 97% agreed everyone has a right to affordable rental housing
  • 98% agreed everyone has a right to secure housing
  • 70% disagree that it is easy for low income people to find rental housing
  • 87% said new housing developments in Western Sydney should include units that lower income people can afford to rent
  • 82% disagree that landlords should be able to evict tenants without giving any good reason
  • 72% disagree that the New South Wales Liberal government is doing enough to make housing more affordable

Professor Duncan MacLennan, an internationally renowned housing economist said that housing is one of the largest contributors to intergenerational inequality.

Young Australians are not receiving a fair go when their taxes are subsidising wealthy investors to purchase their 5th 6th or 7th investment property while outbidding young couples attempting to purchase their first home.
 
Labor is committed to:
 

  • Reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions
  • Facilitating a COAG process to introduce a uniform vacant property tax across all major cities
  • Limiting direct borrowing by self-managed superannuation funds as recommended by the 2014 financial system’s inquiry
  • Increasing foreign investor fees and penalties
  • Boosting homelessness support for vulnerable Australians
  • Committing to achieve better results from the National Housing and homelessness agreement
  • Re-establishing the National Housing Supply Council
  • Appointing a Minister for Housing and Homelessness
  • Funding the investment gap for community housing providers and facilitate the building of 250,000, energy efficient social housing homes over the first 10 years of a Labor government.

 
Delegates, as you can see, Labor is committed to building a better society.
Labor wants a society where working class kids can undertake an apprenticeship, not be exploited and have access to quality training both on and off the job.
 
Labor wants a society where inequality is reduced and young Australians can put a roof over their head at a reasonable rent, save for a home deposit if they want to, and bring up a family with a stable and affordable roof over their heads.
 
Delegates, I would ask for your commitment and support to elect a state Labor government in New South Wales and a Shorten Labor Government in Canberra.
 
We must, for the sake of future generations, elect Labor governments that build a good society, address climate change, treats asylum seekers with dignity, ensures business and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
It is only Labor that will deliver workplace rights, a decent health, education and vocational education system.
 
Over the next few months let’s dedicate ourselves to ridding the nation of the Morrison Government and all its disunity, dysfunction and economic incompetence.

ENDS
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.