Address to the United Services Union Conference
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.
I am so proud to lead a Government committed to Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through a Voice.
And I am grateful to be in the presence of a union that has thrown its considerable weight behind the Yes vote. Behind this chance of a fairer, more united Australia.
It’s an honour to be here with you all tonight. I particularly want to acknowledge the leadership of Graeme Kelly.
There were a lot of good moments during Labor’s national conference last week. Graeme, I definitely number your election to the National Executive of the ALP as one of them.
Your long career of service has been distinguished by your dedication, your energy and your integrity, all devoted to improving and protecting the rights and conditions of the very workers who do so much to keep our communities strong and thriving.
I also want to acknowledge your State President, Sharon Sewell, and the entire USU executive.
What everyone here tonight shares is one the core elements of the Australian spirit – that willingness to put your hand up, to get involved. To make a positive difference in the lives of working Australians. To walk the talk. That is at the very heart of why we’re all a part of the greater labour movement.
The USU has led from the front. You had the backs of so many of the heroes of the pandemic. Your successful negotiations during COVID kept councils running, preserving jobs and ensuring that essential services continued.
Without the USU, that profoundly challenging time would have been so much harder for so many Australians.
I also want to acknowledge the success of your campaigns against the privatisation and outsourcing of council services such as childcare centres, swimming pools, and garbage collection.
Your members truly appreciate the value of these services should not be measured in just dollars and cents. So often, they are the glue that holds communities together.
During the time of the previous Labor government, I was hugely proud when I was made Minister for Local Government. I got to see the difference an entirely new generation of local government made to millions of people.
I was even prouder when I established the Australian Council of Local Governments. At the first meeting 15 years ago, I said:
“Local government has evolved into the third tier of this federation, the level of government closest to the community … We have much to work together on.”
Since the Australian people entrusted Labor with the privilege of forming government, one of our big tasks has been repairing the damage done by our predecessors.
Re-establishing the ACLG and bringing local government back to the table was a commitment we took to the election. In June, we delivered on it. It’s important we bring the levels of decision-making in government closer.
It’s why we’re including the Australian Local Government Association in meetings of National Cabinet and the Council on Federal Financial Relations. It’s why we’ve reinvigorated the Local Government Ministers Forum.
And it’s why we have two outstanding ministers with shared responsibility for local government issues. Infrastructure Minister Catherine King and Local Government Minister Kristy McBain – a former mayor – are passionate advocates for your sector.
The work that local governments do, and the work that so many of your members do, is a public good – so it should be in public hands.
That is why my Government is systematically overturning the Coalition’s cult of outsourcing. There are times when outsourcing is necessary, but with them it was an addiction, just one more time they let ideology trump reality.
There should be good, secure, well-paid jobs in local government, and they should be publicly funded. These are important jobs – jobs that add to the health of communities in so many ways – and they should be done by local government workers.
There are also gaps that need to be filled and skills shortages that have to be addressed if we are going to be able to build the better future that Australians deserve.
Just one example is the shortage of planners. Solving that will make us better positioned to deliver the homes Australians need, in the places they want to live.
And it should all be done with the care and transparency that should characterise any spending of public money. As with everything, how we do something is every bit as important as what we do.
I very much believe that public service is a noble calling. To become part of it is to serve the community at a very fundamental level.
What we saw under the previous government was an ideology that was diametrically opposed to the whole concept of public service. Over the wasted decade that they occupied the government benches, they presided over a calculated and unrelenting hollowing out of the public service at all levels.
Their compulsion to privatise services saw them taking more and more out of public hands because to them, serving the public never mattered as much.
As a Labor Government, the rights of working Australians will always be a central focus.
For those of your members who are covered in the federal sphere, our Secure Jobs Better Pay legislation is about raising the bar raising the bar on awards, raising the bar on enterprise agreements, raising the bar on bargaining and lifting the floor for workers.
It is about getting wages moving and closing the gender pay gap. Employers are back at the bargaining table and the gender pay gap is narrowing.
As we head into spring, we are closing four major loopholes that some employers use to undercut workers’ pay and conditions. We are criminalising wage theft.
Our ‘closing labour hire loopholes’ proposal aims to ensure that labour hire workers are paid at least what they would be paid if they were directly employed by a host employer and paid under the host’s enterprise agreement.
We will extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards for employee-like workers, including those in the gig economy.
And we will legislate a fair, objective test to determine when an employee can be classified as casual and ensure eligible employees can choose permanent employment if they want it.
Working constructively with unions, we’ve delivered on our promises over the past year. We’ve tackled the challenges of today while never losing sight of the long term.
And when you step back and look at the broader economic picture after our first 15 months in office, you can see the results.
An unemployment rate with a 3 in front of it. Half a million new jobs created. The gender pay gap at an all-time low. Wages growing at their fastest rate in a decade. Business investment ticking up. Days lost to industrial disputes down 20 per cent compared to our predecessors
A weight of evidence that inflation has passed its peak: good news for cost-of-living and good signs for the health of our economy. And we are well on track to delivering Australia’s first Budget surplus in 15 years.
These are the sturdy foundations built by a grown-up government, a Labor Government that understands that all possibility flows first and foremost from a robust, healthy economy.
When it comes to making Australia an even stronger, fairer country, there is no stronger combination than the union movement and a Labor government.
Together, we have already shown what this Labor Government and this union can achieve. Together, we recognise what is important, and what is right.
We recognise the challenges that face us, and the importance of shaping the future rather than sitting back and letting it shape us.
We understand that when it comes to tackling cost of living pressures, it’s essential that Australians have access to good, secure, well-paid jobs and that the source of so many of those jobs that we’re talking about tonight either remain in public hands, or are returned to public hands.
Better wages, reliable and more affordable services, all bound together by the recognition that Australia’s greater potential rides on the health of its communities.
And who better to strengthen the health of our communities than the members of the USU? There is a better future for Australia – and we can build it together.