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The doors of opportunity | Prime Minister of Australia

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Gala

It’s an honour to be here with all of you this evening to celebrate the hard work and success of the Australian job-creators, employers and entrepreneurs you represent.

I’m grateful for this chance to reflect on the last six months of co-operation and collaboration between our government and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Working together, here and overseas.

ACCI were key representatives of Australian business at the B20 in Indonesia.

A forum that brought together influential business leaders from the G20 economies.

President Widodo very generously invited me to address that gathering, which gave me a chance to discuss the shared economic challenges the global economy is facing.

If the Global Financial Crisis was principally a global demand shock, the economic challenge we are dealing with now is primarily a global supply shock.

The long tail of the pandemic is constricting supply chains and stretching workforces.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is inflicting severe, ongoing disruption to food, fuel and energy markets.

And central banks around the world are responding to rising inflation with the most severe and synchronised tightening of monetary policy in decades.

By and large, this is the difficult set of circumstances every advanced economy is grappling with.

But what I took away from the B20 and G20 discussions – and indeed the bilateral conversations – was a shared sense of genuine optimism.

A common determination to find solutions and seek out opportunities.

It was fitting that Australian business brought the largest delegation to Indonesia, because in a very real sense, we have some of the biggest opportunities in front of us here in our region in the years ahead.

Now more than ever, Australia’s international engagement matters to our national prosperity:

  • 1 in 4 Australian jobs are related to international trade.
  • Jobs in export industries pay above the national average income
  • And our APEC economy partners make up more than 75 per cent of Australia’s total trade in goods and services.

This is why our government has worked hard to rehabilitate our reputation in the region, to engage constructively in multilateral forums…

…and to rebuild our national credibility on the entry ticket for modern international dialogue: a commitment to act on climate change.

Because if you want to be taken seriously on the world stage, you need to show you take climate change seriously.

All of this is central to our government’s efforts to bring down tariff walls and build trade bridges.

Including, last week, passing two significant trade agreements with India and the United Kingdom.

And the initial steps we have taken to stabilise our relationship with China, with the first leader-level meeting for six years.

I went into that meeting with President Xi with no preconditions, taking the attitude that dialogue is always good.

And that it’s always better – for security in our region as well as trade between our nations – if we can talk directly to each other.

I’ve said before, it’s clearly in Australia’s best interests to export our high-quality products to China.

Our barley, our wine, our meat, our seafood, our mineral resources, lots more.

It is also in China’s best interests to receive these products.

So, there’s a win-win available.

Our government will continue to take a mature and responsible approach to Australia’s relationship with China.

We will co-operate where we can, disagree where we must and engage – always – in Australia’s national interest.

This commitment to co-operation and dialogue and good faith collaboration holds true at home as well.

In the last six months, ACCI’s constructive engagement has played a key part in the delivery of our government’s commitments to the Australian people. 

You’ve helped lift the nation’s ambitions on climate change and you understand we need to seize the opportunities of clean energy.

You were there, representing Australian industry and Australian jobs, when we updated our Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

And you backed that same target when we wrote it into legislation.

Your credibility and your advocacy helped move past a decade of denial and delay and dysfunction in climate and energy policy that have held Australia back.

Of course, its legacy lingers.

The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on energy bills is magnified here in Australia because a decade of government opposing investment in renewables and neglecting key energy infrastructure has left us more exposed.

I fully appreciate that rising energy costs are putting significant pressure on your businesses, as well as family budgets around Australia.

I can assure you that while our government didn’t create this problem – we are working around the clock to deliver a solution.

And just as we brought state and territory governments together to take urgent action to keep the lights on in our first month in office…

…I’m confident we will be able to reach agreement on a plan that delivers for every part of Australia.

At the same time, the government I lead is determined to take Australia’s national energy market and our national energy grid beyond this pattern of crisis and intervention. 

That’s why our October Budget delivered $24 billion in funding for cleaner, cheaper energy, including the first of our Rewiring the Nation projects.

The Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria – talked about for 6 years, funded in our first 6 months in office.

As well as the Battery of the Nation hydro project, an offshore wind industry and new renewable energy zones across Victoria.

This will work alongside our Powering Australia plan:

  • To create jobs in regional Australia
  • To secure affordable and reliable energy for existing manufacturers
  • And to open the way for a new generation of value-adding in industry, including in battery and storage technology.

Exporting resources will always be a key part of our national economic success.

But there is a transformational opportunity before us to do more, here, with the critical minerals that will help power the world’s transition to net zero.

This is a fundamental part of our Future Made in Australia plan and the vision we took to the Australian people – for this to be a country that makes things. 

Of course, this also depends on a workforce with the right skills and the right training.

We want to keep working with you and the employers you represent, to create more opportunities for more Australians to upskill and reskill.

Your leadership and advocacy on this issue at the Jobs and Skills Summit helped deliver an agreement between every state and territory government and the Commonwealth to create 180,000 fee-free TAFE places for 2023, in areas of national priority.

More broadly, I know that a key point that ACCI and others have often made is that there needs to be better co-ordination between the vocational education system and industry – and better forward planning as well.

That’s the core mission of Jobs and Skills Australia – the agency we created with the first piece of legislation we brought into parliament.

Preventing future shortages by looking ahead, identifying growth areas and potential pressure points  – and prioritising training opportunities in those sectors.

So employers like you can have greater confidence to build and invest, knowing you have access to a national talent pool suited to your needs.

Of course, migration also has an important role to play in broadening and strengthening our national skills base and resolving staff shortages.

I understand that many of you in this room have suffered the consequences of the decision of the previous government to effectively tell an entire cohort of people on skills visas to ‘go home’ in the early days of the pandemic.

What’s more, one of the really shocking things we found on coming to government was that there were nearly one million visa applications waiting to be processed.

We are working to right these wrongs.

We’ve hired 300 more staff to process visas and cut the backlog.

As well as upping the permanent migration intake to 195,000 this financial year.

Getting away from the revolving door approach, where a worker comes in on a skills visa, the company puts time into their induction and workplace training, they build relationships and really start to click in the role…and then the visa expires and the whole process starts again.

I guarantee, in any room like this, full of succesful Australian businesses, employers, wealth-creators – there are first and second generation migrants.

People whose work ethic, determination and aspiration has enriched our entire nation.

Our skilled migration system should encourage a new generation of migrants to build a career – and to put down roots, to join the community, to own a stake in the success of our nation.

Another really clear point of consensus at that Jobs and Skills Summit was that the enterprise bargaining system is not working.

It’s a one-size-fits-all system – that is no longer fit for purpose.

It’s not attuned to the way we work in Australia in 2022.

It’s not delivering the productivity gains employers need.

It’s not delivering the wage rises that workers deserve.

We are modernising the system, so that it reflects the reality of work in Australia in the 2020s. 

And – just as importantly – building a relevant and practical framework that enables employers and employees to negotiate in good faith, to agree on win-win outcomes.

It’s the same principle behind the changes we’re making to the Better Off Overall Test, where we are removing red tape relating to the approval of enterprise agreements.

Rather than weighing every hypothetical scenario under which a new agreement might adversely affect a hypothetical employee…

…the Commission will now be able to base its decision on realistic scenarios, giving particular weight to the views of the bargaining representatives.

In other words, we are trusting in the capacity of employers and the employees to find common ground.

And there are a whole host of other important initiatives in the legislation:

  • Making gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act
  • Boosting pay transparency
  • Establishing Expert Panels to better support the Community and Care sector
  • And, in line with the Respect@Work Report, creating a new positive duty for employers to prevent sexual harassment.

It’s fair to say I’m aware that there are elements of our plan with which you disagree.

No significant economic reform has ever enjoyed 100 per cent support.

And I’ve always said that while I believe in the value of consensus, I certainly don’t expect every one to agree on every single element of every single issue.

More broadly, I don’t think one point of disagreement needs to define our every interaction.

Our relationship is bigger than that, more important than that.

Consensus, in the end, depends on a common goal.

And the last six months have proved to me that we share common goals.

If I go back to the joint ‘statement of ambition’ that ACCI, the BCA and AiG released at the Jobs and Skills Summit.

It spoke about:

The interrelated objectives of strong employment growth, higher incomes growth, improved productivity and enhanced social inclusion

The Government I lead shares your ambition for a growing, fair, productive and inclusive economy.

And we agree on so many of the key drivers to achieve this goal:

  • Better vocational education
  • Cheaper child care
  • Backing Australian manufacturing
  • Deeper trade links with our region
  • And Cleaner and Cheaper Energy.

Already, by engaging in dialogue, by working together, we have achieved substantial progress in all these areas.

We will continue to seek your co-operation, your insights and your expertise as we confront emerging challenges.

In particular, I think there is more that the private sector and every level of government need to do to guard against cybersecurity threats.

Clearly, our national capacity isn’t where it needs to be – and that’s a serious issue for any business or government that holds people’s private information.

I think the more we can do to co-ordinate and co-operate on that, the better.

Whether it’s cybersecurity or energy or skills or infrastructure or international trade, I know there is so much we can achieve if we work together.

I’m proud of what we’ve delivered over the past six months – and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

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