WESTERN AUSTRALIA CAMPAIGN KICK-OFF EVENT
FRIDAY, 6 MAY 2016
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I am delighted be here in Perth, at this kick-off event for the 2016 election. And I'm excited by the coming campaign, because it will be Australia’s chance to answer the big question: what is the difference between the two major parties, and where do they want to take Australia?
In the light of Malcolm Turnbull’s budget for big business, the difference between Labor and the Coalition could not be clearer and therefore this election campaign presents an opportunity to actually talk about the future of our nation: about how Australia should pursue and achieve equality, innovation, and growth.
But before I continue, I'd like to say how very happy I am be here at the beginning of Labor’s campaign in the great state of Western Australia.
Since 1899, when that Trade Union Congress in Coolgardie established this branch to protect the interests of workers, Western Australia has contributed so much to the story of the Australian Labor Party.
Foremost is your gift of a previous Member for Fremantle - John Curtin - to the Australian Labor Party, and to the nation. Fred Daly, who learned a thing or ten about what makes a good leader during his nearly 40 years in Parliament, rated Curtin Australia’s greatest Prime Minister. When Paul Keating doubted Curtin's greatness, it famously precipitated the first leadership contest with then Prime Minister Bob Hawke. You won't find me questioning Curtin's talents tonight.
At the moment of Australia’s greatest menace since white settlement, Curtin – whom the late, lamented Bob Ellis described as “Our Churchill” – guided us through it, at great cost to his health.
In Goodbye Jerusalem, his 1997 paean about the previous year’s election loss, Ellis recounted a story about Curtin.
"Jack Curtin lived in Cottesloe and one day he gave his driver a day off. Then he found he needed to go to Perth, so he went out on the road and hitchhiked. And a truck pulled up.
‘Can you give me a lift into Perth?’
‘Sure,’ said the driver, then looked at him startled. ‘Aren’t you the Prime Minister?’ he asked.
‘That’s right,’ Jack said. ‘Do I still get the lift?’"
This is a story, Bob thought, that deserved to be better known. I agree, but I also think it is good evidence for my belief that the nature of John Curtin is an analogy for the nature of the Western Australian Labor Party itself – capable and determined to do great things, but never losing sight of what it is, and who it represents.
Witness Kim Beazley, member for Swan, and then Brand, one of Labor’s most respected leaders – in fact, the last Labor leader to lead the party for a full parliamentary term prior to Bill Shorten. After the major election loss in 1996, Kim brought the party together and led it to win a majority of the popular vote after just a single term in Opposition. Like Kim, Bill Shorten has unified the party and I believe he can win a majority of the votes on July 2. We just need to go one better than Kim's great effort in 1998, and get our majority in the right seats, like Burt here in Western Australia.
Your great ALP branch also gave Australia our first female premier in 1990, when Carmen Lawrence broke through that thick glass ceiling and set a precedent for the 10 female Labor Premiers, Chief Ministers and a Prime Minister who have followed her (and the one Liberal).
My personal political connection to Western Australia began many years ago when I had the privilege to work briefly as trade adviser to Peter Cook, the late Senator for Western Australia. Peter believed in ideas, enthusiastically working to persuade colleagues that anyone who cared about poverty should believe in free trade. Peter passed away in 2005 - far too early. I wish he were with us today.
My immediate predecessor in the seat of Fraser in the ACT is Bob McMullan. A proud Perth man who was this branch’s state secretary from 1975 to 1981, Bob is the only parliamentarian to have represented the ACT in both houses of parliament.
It is thanks to vigorous branches like yours that everyone in Australia understands the Labor Party believes in egalitarianism, the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions, and the government’s role in protecting the rights of minorities.
We are a party, as Bill Shorten made clear last night in his budget reply, that puts people first. We put the battlers before big business. We always have. We always will.
Labor’s plan for budget repair is fair, with substantial and sustainable savings. We will tighten tax concessions and make responsible cuts to spending.
The Government's budget demonstrates the way the Liberals think about the world - that if you're poor, it's because you didn't work hard enough. It's a harsh, Ayn Rand style view of society.
And it's a budget which fails two tests: their own and Labor's.
In the first instance, this Liberal budget fails the Coalition's test. Before the 2013 election, they spoke about a 'budget emergency', and said they would make debt and deficits their priority. Maybe they did - but not reducing them. In the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the deficit for 2013-14 was set out as $30 billion. In the 2016 budget, the deficit for 2016-17 was set out as $37 billion. Three years of Coalition government, and the gap between what the federal government raises and what it spends has grown, not shrunk.
And then there's debt. Over the past three years, Australia's net debt is up $123 billion. That's equivalent to an increase of more than $5000 per Australian. In 2009, opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull drove a debt truck around Australia, protesting debt levels that were half as large as those that Prime Minister Turnbull presides over today. If he were truly a straight-talker, he'd trade in that old Liberal Party debt truck for a debt road train.
Debt and deficits matter, but most economists wouldn't rank them as the top economic tests for a nation. Instead, most economists would point to the importance of boosting economic growth, reducing inequality and increasing innovation.
When it comes to growth, the period since 2013 has seen a 4 percent drop in living standards, as measured by real net national disposable income per person. We know that growth depends partly on infrastructure, and yet public sector infrastructure investment is down 20 percent since 2013. Worse yet, this budget pulls a further $1 billion out of infrastructure, fails to invest in needs-based school funding, and neglects the growth opportunities from renewable energy.
On inequality, we've had a generation in which earnings have grown three times as fast for the top tenth as for the bottom tenth. And yet this budget takes $4,700 - every year - from a working mum on $65,000 with two children in high-school.
On innovation, one measure of the challenge Australia faces is that only 6 percent of ASX300 firms describe themselves as 'highly innovative'. Yet this budget fails to deliver the vocational training and university systems that a 'clever country' deserves.
The Liberals are so quick to forget how privileged they are. When they give a $17,000 tax cut to people with million-dollar incomes, I'm reminded of that baseball saying "some people are born on third base, thinking they hit a triple".
This was on full display when Malcolm Turnbull told John Faine this week that the solution to housing affordability is to buy your kids a house.
Poor Malcolm. He really was born with a silver foot in his mouth.
Labor's plan does include savings. Tens of billions of dollars in savings to the bottom line over ten years – including cuts to spending and locking-in Labor’s opposition to the Government’s unaffordable and unfair tax cuts for big businesses and the highest income earners.
We will save $1.4 billion by repealing the Nationals’ new Baby Bonus. And another $1 billion by abolishing the discredited Direct Action plan. Australia's recently acquired bad habit of paying big polluters to keep polluting will be ended by a Shorten Labor Government.
Labor will not spend $160 million of your money on a divisive, needless plebiscite on marriage equality. This underlines the fact that Labor's plan is not just about savings. Our plan is overwhelmingly positive, for Western Australia and the nation.
Rather than waste money on a plebiscite - the result of which some in the Coalition will refuse to accept - Labor will have the Parliament do its job. Within our first 100 days of government the Parliament of Australia will vote to make marriage equality a reality.
When it comes to health funding, Labor is not obsessed with privatising Medicare to make it “sustainable”. We will sustain Medicare, by legislating to keep it in public hands within 100 days of a Shorten Labor Government.
The Labor Government will also deliver 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and will turbo-charge Infrastructure Australia with a new $10 billion funding facility to boost productivity and create a stable pipeline of 26,000 jobs.
A Labor Government will invest directly in public infrastructure like the Perth Metronet, as well as the most important piece of infrastructure to any 21st Century economy - a first-rate, optic-fibre National Broadband Network.
Labor's next budget will fully-fund our commitments to schools, universities and vocational education. It is focused on creating jobs through infrastructure and renewable energy.
It is a plan clearly founded on Labor values and a plan that answers the question about the difference between us and our opponents. We prioritise battlers over billionaires.
It is Labor, and only Labor, that will put the pieces in place to secure a better, fairer, more prosperous and more just future for our great nation.
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