THE BUSINESS CASE FOR LABOR
SPEECH TO BUSINESS SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 23 MARCH 2022
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Epictetus wisely noted that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. As a Stoic, I’m keen to put this into practice tonight by keeping my opening remarks short, and spend most of the time learning about your businesses, your ideas, and your vision for the economy.
But with less than two months before polling day, I would be remiss if I didn’t use the chance to make the case for my party. The business case for Labor, you might say.
Let me put it as crisply as I can, by outlining ten reasons that every businessperson should vote Labor.
- Cheaper energy. From speaking with hundreds of businesspeople over recent years, I know that one of the main impediments to growth is the cost of energy. Business is as sick of the climate wars as the Australian people. Our plan – ‘Powering Australia’ – will cut emissions, cut power bills, and create jobs. That’s why it’s backed by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
- Cheaper childcare. Despite making up 51 percent of the population, women are still underrepresented in most workplaces, particularly in senior management. Women earn less, and the pay gap widens dramatically when families have children. Labor’s early childhood policy aims to create more opportunities for talented women to combine work and family. That’s good for gender equity, and it’s great for national productivity.
- A more skilled workforce. When a quarter of firms are constrained by a lack of skilled workers, yet two million Australians are unemployed or seeking more hours, you know the country has a skills problem. That’s why Labor has announced 465,000 Free TAFE places (including 45,000 new TAFE places) and up to 20,000 new university places – because we want Australians to have more opportunities, and businesses to be more productive. Labor seeks to build back better after the pandemic, and we don’t have a person to waste.
- Better broadband. Virtually every Australian business is a digital business. Yet under the Coalition, Australia’s ranking for our fixed broadband network has slipped to 65th place. Labor will expand full-fibre NBN to 1.5 million premises; offering gigabit speeds by 2025. Australians who currently rely on the copper network will have the choice of having fibre connected if they want a faster speed than the current NBN can deliver. Superfast broadband is essential to teleworking, online training, and cloud computing services. Increasingly, Australia’s inadequate NBN is becoming a drag on economic growth. Households and businesses deserve a network that ensures access.
- Infrastructure without the pork. As a new Grattan Institute report this week has noted, infrastructure pork-barrelling by the Coalition has led to massive mis-allocation of funding. For example, discretionary spending from the Urban Congestion Fund has gone mostly to marginal seats and safe Coalition seats. One consequence of this is an underspend in our most congested areas – capital cities – because they do not tend to be politically marginal. Under the Coalition, public transport networks have been systematically neglected. As Infrastructure Minister in the last Labor Government, Anthony Albanese created Infrastructure Australia. A government led by Anthony Albanese will replace political pork with economic analysis in allocating infrastructure spending.
- A national anti-corruption commission. Labor will create one. The Morrison-Joyce Government will not. Need I say more?
- Multinational tax reform. A strong economy is characterised by healthy competition between firms, based on who can deliver the best products and services at the cheapest price. A weak economy, by contrast, is one where firms aim to get an edge by exploiting loopholes in the tax system and trying to find a lurk to park money in tax havens. None of you got into business to find a way of exploiting loopholes. You’re builders. Creators. Innovators. Yet if you’re up against companies that are avoiding tax by using tax havens, you can’t be expected to grow and succeed. Closing multinational tax loopholes is fundamentally about fairness. It’s not just good for the budget, it’s good for business, because it allows firms to focus on serving their customers, not worrying about their competition pulling a swiftie.
- National consensus. In 1979, Bob Hawke gave the Boyer Lectures on the theme ‘The Resolution of Conflict’. Four years later, the Hawke Government began life with a National Economic Summit that brought together in Parliament House state government, local government, large employers, small employers, trade unions, churches, and welfare organisations. The aim was to form a national consensus on economic policy. In the end, every attendee except Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen signed the communiqué. Under Anthony Albanese’s leadership, we intend to take the same approach, with a national economic summit that aims to forge unity in an increasingly divided nation.
- Global engagement. Never in Australia’s history has our nation had to navigate the challenges of a fraught relationship with our leading trading partner. Yet there is no circumstance in which Australia can disconnect ourselves from our region. These are testing times for our diplomats and national security experts. While Teddy Roosevelt counselled that countries should ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’, I fear that the current government is doing the reverse. Australia’s national interests demand that we stand firm to our values, find common ground where we can, and build stronger relationships across the Asia-Pacific, where eight years of cuts to aid and diplomacy have left us in a weakened position to advance our strategic and economic interests. Labor will never play politics with national security, and will re-engage with the region through activist multilateral diplomacy of the kind that saw past Labor Governments create the APEC leaders’ forum, bring the G20 meetings to Australia, and win us a seat on the UN Security Council.
- Economic expertise. Our economic team is as qualified as any team that an opposition has put forward. Jim Chalmers worked with Wayne Swan to bring Australia through the Global Financial Crisis without going into recession. Katy Gallagher served as ACT Treasurer and Chief Minister, helping to initiate the transition from stamp duty to land taxes. Stephen Jones has headed one of Australia’s largest unions, and is especially engaged in issues around superannuation and taxation. Matt Thistlethwaite brings his qualifications as a lawyer and an economist to issues around financial services and insurance, and has led Labor’s response on a recent parliamentary housing inquiry. I’d put my own economic credentials up against any minister ever to have served in an economic portfolio. Our doors have been open to you during our time in opposition, and we will continue to engage constructively with you if we are fortunate enough to form government.
Thank you, and I look forward to our conversation.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.