Business Council of Australia Annual Dinner
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I am proud to lead a Government committed to Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through a Voice.
And I want to thank the Business Council of Australia for your longstanding support of this cause.
For making the very straightforward point that Australia needs to do better in Indigenous health and housing and employment and education.
And that we always do better when we listen.
That’s what the Voice is about: listening in order to get better results.
I’m delighted to be here tonight, to congratulate Bran Black on his appointment as Chief Executive.
And to pay tribute to Jennifer Westacott for her leadership.
At the end of the last year, Jennifer and I had the privilege of attending the opening of the newly-restored Whitlam family home in Cabramatta.
The modest house in the suburbs that informed so much of Gough’s passion for infrastructure and urban renewal.
Jennifer gave a quite extraordinary speech that day, a speech about how those policies had changed her life.
But also the power of ambition and vision and ideas to change a nation.
That’s the spirit that has defined Jennifer’s time with the BCA.
A willingness to champion ideas, to advance the public policy debate and to advocate for an agenda bigger than any collection of individual interests – in the service of the national interest.
Jennifer, congratulations and thank you.
Tomorrow, the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers will be releasing the Intergenerational Report.
It speaks to the defining challenges – and the transformative opportunities of the decades ahead.
The five big shifts already underway:
- The move to clean energy
- The step-change in technology
- The centrality of the care and support economy
- Our population growing older
- And Australia’s place in a region shaped by historic economic growth – but also ongoing strategic competition.
And how we need to plan and build for these changes, to ensure the future growth of our economy and the future health of our society.
A great deal of this is reflected in the BCA’s Seize the Moment report published earlier this week.
It’s genuinely heartening to see such strong overlap between the priorities of the Business Council and the agenda of our Government.
And not just in a big picture sense of seeking greater prosperity, stronger productivity, higher growth and better living standards.
Because in many ways, agreement on that, consensus on the destination is the easy bit.
What’s been lacking for too long is a consensus on how we get there.
Getting beyond agreements in principle – to achieve greater agreement on process.
This is where our Government has been focused on working with the employers and job-creators and leaders in this room, across a whole range of policies.
This is where the Government will work with the business community in a structured way – with a regular forum for dialogue and constructive discussion.
Focusing on those long-term objectives and realities – but also taking action together, here and now.
Already, this co-operation has provided us with a strong economic foundation:
- 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% compared to our predecessors
- And 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.
We can all take pride in this – and we should take confidence from it, knowing we can meet the challenges ahead.
Take climate change and clean energy.
We’ve agreed on an upgraded emissions reduction target.
More importantly, we are working together to achieve that target.
Through our new Safeguards Mechanism, an incentive for business and industry to invest in the technology and equipment that reduces their emissions.
And through programs like Hydrogen Headstart.
Because our vision for Australia as a renewable energy superpower is about more than simply increasing the mix of renewable energy in our national energy grid.
It’s about vastly reducing input costs for manufacturing, with cheaper power.
And using clean energy – such as green hydrogen – to sustain and grow large-scale, energy-intensive industry and transport.
So that Australia is producing and exporting green steel, green aluminium and green ammonia.
Not only meeting our own Net Zero target, helping our neighbours meet theirs.
And adding a new dimension to trade relationships where sustainability will matter, more and more.
I mentioned the Business Council’s place in the public debate earlier – and I was reminded of that earlier this month, with your principled defence of skilled migration and the vital contribution it makes to growing our economy and bolstering our skills base.
From our first days in Government we have been working together with business and unions to move away from a system that treats skilled migration as a temporary stop-gap and – instead – focuses on providing a pathway to citizenship.
Encouraging people to make a life in Australia, to be part of the community.
And also rewarding the many businesses who do the right thing and invest in their staff, their skills and their corporate knowledge so they don’t have to start all over again when a person’s visa expires.
That same integrated, co-operative approach is true for Jobs and Skills Australia as well.
Jobs and Skills Australia was the first policy I announced as Labor Leader and the first piece of legislation we introduced to Parliament.
It’s also the missing piece of the vocational education system aligning TAFE and training to the immediate priorities of employers and the future demands of our economy.
We are delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE places this year – and we are rolling-out 300,000 fee-free TAFE places next year.
As well as 20,000 new university places – aimed at people in the regions and outer suburbs.
Yes, we want to make the opportunity of education available to more Australians – we also want to make sure that these courses lead to good jobs and provide businesses with skilled workers.
Another important point of consensus over the past 15 months has been the clear understanding that making economic equality for women a priority is not just the right thing to do and the fair thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.
Which is why so many businesses in this room have backed our reforms to child care.
Recognising their value as productivity and participation measures, effectively a retention strategy for talented staff.
The same is true for our expansion of Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks – with greater flexibility, so that both parents are encouraged and supported to be involved in those precious early months.
And I’m very pleased to see that Seize the Moment puts a strong emphasis on maximising the strategic value of our National Reconstruction Fund.
Because the great strength of the NRF, modelled on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is that as well as returning value-for-money for taxpayers, it enables and unlocks private capital.
Seeking out new fields of competitive advantage, driving new investments in growth areas, moving Australia up the international value chain.
Striving for greater diversity in what we trade – and diversity in who we trade with.
Yes, this is about learning the lessons of the pandemic – and guarding against inflationary pressures into the future.
But it’s so much more than an exercise in risk mitigation.
It’s about investing in the long-term resilience and diversity of our economy.
Supporting a broader range of Australian products and services, catering to a wider set of markets.
Underpinning a new wave of sustained growth and secure jobs here at home.
I know that so many of you in this room are out there realising this vision: engaging in India and Vietnam and Indonesia.
Building business-to-business connections and building Australia’s reputation as a provider of high-quality services – as well as high-value resources.
And supporting our Government’s continuing efforts to stabilise the relationship with China – in the best interests of both our nations.
Across all these areas: energy policy or migration reform, skills, trade – what we decide matters, for the decade ahead.
And so does the way we decide it, the how.
I can assure you, my colleagues and I don’t seek your input for the sake of appearances.
We do it because we want you involved in the design and detail.
Because that’s how we will get the best out of these programs and policies.
And that’s how we make change that lasts, that endures, that becomes embedded as a driver of success in our economy.
In particular – that’s true for productivity.
Boosting productivity is essential to locking-in our national prosperity and securing long-term improvements in our living-standards.
It’s how a middle power like Australia can compete and win in the world, on economic ground of our own choosing.
But there is no single lever to pull.
There is no one decision of Government – or business – that will revitalise national productivity on its own and overnight.
It is, necessarily, an incremental process and a cumulative one.
It’s one where we all need to be prepared to take the long view – and the broad view.
Building a modern industrial relations framework that achieves the right balance of flexibility and security.
A bargaining system that enables employers and employees to negotiate improvements in productivity and pay, with respect for each other’s common interests.
A pro-business, pro-worker system that delivers win-win outcomes.
And I’m grateful to the business community for the constructive input they’ve provided on this issue.
Of course, technology also has a huge role to play in our future productivity growth.
Embracing technology can be every bit as transformative over the next forty years, as the Hawke and Keating reforms have proven over the last forty years.
There is a role and a responsibility for Government here:
- Investing in digital skills
- Driving a responsible approach to Artificial Intelligence
- Supporting research and commercialisation and innovation
- Upgrading the NBN
- And strengthening our national cyber security capability.
We are taking action on all these fronts.
But in so many ways, the big productivity gains in technology will be led by the innovation and enterprise of the firms represented in this room.
The era of Artificial Intelligence is going to present all of us with complexities and opportunities that we cannot foresee.
And we are going to need to work with each other and learn from each other to get the best out of this technology for our citizens and our customers, while safeguarding our people and firms from its potential risks.
The Productivity Commission has made it clear that maximising productivity in this space doesn’t depend on every Australian company making a world-changing breakthrough.
There are big and broad productivity gains that can be secured by businesses embracing technology that already exists, re-designing the way they work and trade and communicate to get the most out of it driving a climate where companies are competing with each other to set new standards.
And fostering a culture of innovation where Government has the opportunity to learn and adapt from businesses that are leading the way.
There’s one final point of agreement that I want to conclude with tonight.
Whenever our government, your organisation and your firms talk about the big challenges facing the economy – and the big opportunities ahead of our country it’s never in a passive way, never in a sense that this is a list of things that will happen to us, a survey of predetermined outcomes.
There’s an optimism, an urgency, a determination to shape the future – rather than allowing the future shape us.
I know that when our Government and your businesses work together, we can make change work for us.
We can secure the extraordinary opportunities in our region, in clean energy, in new technology and better skills.
Seizing the moment.
Building to last.
Shaping the future, in the best interests of all Australians.