Sky News Economic Conference | Prime Minister of Australia
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. And I thank Marni for beginning us off so constructively and well this morning.
I am proud to lead a Government that will give every Australian the opportunity to vote for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the last quarter of this year.
I’m grateful to Sky News and the Australian for this opportunity to talk about the Budget that we handed down last month and to share our Government’s vision for the future of the Australian economy.
In all the discussions that my colleagues and I had when we were putting together the Budget, I think the phrase we used the most was ‘getting the balance right’.
The balance between taking pressure off families, without putting pressure on inflation.
The balance between providing meaningful help for people doing it really tough, while also ensuring that we made the responsible choices to bank the bulk of revenue upgrades and be able to forecast the first surplus in 15 years.
And the big, overarching, ever-present balance that you have to get right in government.
Dealing with the pressing challenges of the here-and-now, while never losing sight of the future.
Providing support in the immediate term, in a way that builds for the long term.
Through this approach, we are providing a substantial cost-of-living package:
- Tripling the Medicare bulk-billing incentive to help 11 million Australians see their GP for free.
- Cutting the costs of medicines for up to 6 million people.
- Energy Bill Relief for over 5 million households and 1 million small businesses
- And more help for Australians with increases to Jobseeker, increases to rent assistance and something dear to my heart, improvements to the Single Parenting Payment.
These measures build on the actions of our first year in government.
In particular, they complement the savings we are delivering for around 1.2 million families, through Child Care changes which starts in 3 weeks’ time, and the first round of our Cheaper Medicines plan that took effect on the 1st of January this year.
All of this makes a difference – and just as importantly – as the Governor of the Reserve Bank said just last week, our Budget:
“Is actually reducing inflation in the next financial year”.
In the two Budgets that we have delivered, our Government has focused on making sure that fiscal policy works with monetary policy – not against it.
Because we know that interest rate rises put pressure on mortgage holders and small business.
And we know inflation is regressive. It hurts those with the least, the most.
So the best thing we can do to help working Australians is to take the pressure off inflation, create jobs and get wages moving again.
I’m proud that during our first year in office we have:
- The most jobs created in the first year of any government in Australian history.
- Record levels of workforce participation, including importantly a record number of women in full time work.
- Wages growing at the fastest rate in a decade – and real wages growth forecast for next year.
We are not in Government to simply occupy the space.
Our purpose and our focus is to support people through adversity while building for Australia’s long-term prosperity.
We approach this task with optimism and with urgency.
Optimism born of the belief that if we act with purpose and determination, Australia can shape the future.
And urgency driven by the understanding that if we drag our feet or turn our backs, the future will shape us.
As I get around the country, I sense that same optimism and urgency from the business community too.
The clear understanding that there is a moment here that we cannot afford to miss.
And the real sense that for the first time in a long time, the Australian economy is breaking new ground.
- Attracting record new levels of international investment in clean energy projects.
- Diversifying our future exports.
- Building greater resilience in our supply chains.
- Moving more of our businesses up the international value chain.
- And – at long last – supporting the full, equal and respectful participation of women in work.
In many of these fields – business has been ahead of government over the past decade.
And I think a big part of the reason that we’re making new national progress is because finally government is working with business, rather than holding it back.
Because the Commonwealth is looking for ways to work with the states and territories, not looking to pick fights with them.
We won’t always agree on every aspect of every issue but our starting point is always the understanding that all of us have a common interest in building a stronger economy.
This is especially important at a time when the global economic outlook remains highly uncertain.
The combination of high inflation and rising interest rates will see the weakest two years for the global economy in over two decades, outside the GFC and pandemic.
Tight financial conditions following recent bank collapses abroad are adding to the risks.
Australia is not immune to any of these challenges – but we are extremely well placed to navigate them.
We have both natural advantages and, under this government, the plans to capitalise on them.
Central to this is our vision for Australia as a renewable energy superpower.
It’s an investment in our energy sovereignty, our economic self-reliance and our security.
And the clean energy transformation is also the biggest element of our economic growth plan:
- Reducing input costs for existing businesses
- Powering a new generation of advanced manufacturing jobs in our regions and suburbs.
- Creating new export markets for valued-added renewable technologies.
And through our new Hydrogen Headstart program we announced in the Budget, ensuring that we can not only sustain but grow large-scale, energy-intensive industry and transport while still cutting emissions and achieving Net Zero.
Exporting green hydrogen but also using it to produce and export green steel, green aluminium, green ammonia.
All of this is critical to our future economic growth.
And in order to ensure this growth is sustained and shared over the long term, Australia needs to lift our game on productivity – something the Reserve Bank Governor mentioned this week.
When we came to Government, not only did we inherit a trillion dollars in debt, we also inherited the worst decade of productivity performance on record.
So our economic task is not just to clear away the waste and strengthen the Budget, it’s to modernise the economy so we can maximise our natural competitive advantages.
This is where, as a country, we need a smarter and a more strategic approach to productivity than the self-defeating model that says workers should be expected to do more with less – or work longer for less.
That’s especially important in the context of labour-intensive sectors like the caring economy, which already represents 10 per cent of our workforce and is set to double in size before 2050.
Too often, the economic debate about boosting productivity is conducted only in the very narrow terms of things that governments should be abolishing or eliminating or undoing.
Now, of course, we should always be looking for efficiencies, we should always be mindful of unnecessary barriers or overlap.
But in the decade ahead all of us need to think much bigger than this.
Because the economic change underway is far bigger than this.
Above all, the way we use, apply and share technology will be absolutely critical.
Not just in the big firms but in millions of small and medium businesses and in the care and support economy.
We need to think about ways technology can empower workers.
Freeing people up from the routine parts of their job: basic data entry, record-keeping, paperwork – and giving them back that time to focus on producing and innovating and caring and educating.
There are substantial productivity gains we can achieve if businesses have the confidence to adopt new technologies earlier and more widely and Australian workers have the skills to use technologies more strategically and effectively.
I’m sure the business community will – as it always does – show leadership here, through competition and innovation and best-practice.
But Government has a key role to play in maximising the potential benefits and guarding against possible risks.
Firstly, investing in education and training.
On coming to Government we set a target of 1.2 million technology-related jobs by 2030.
The tech workforce has grown by 8 per cent in the past year, meaning that we are on track to hit that target.
We’re working to make sure that from the early years right through school and TAFE and university, Australians are learning the digital and data and technology skills that will prepare them for these jobs.
And through our establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia, the first announcement that I made as Labor leader, and our reforms to the skilled migration system, we’re making sure businesses have access to a workforce that’s ready to seize these opportunities, right now.
Secondly, Government needs to support the growth and uptake of the technologies themselves.
Which means investing in infrastructure, capabilities and future industries.
This is why we’re upgrading the NBN: expanding the full-fibre network to an additional 1.5 million homes and businesses – 660,000 of those will be in regional areas.
We’re ensuring Australia is in the race on quantum and artificial intelligence and other enabling technologies.
With significant investments in the Budget – and $1 billion in our National Reconstruction Fund targeted towards critical technologies.
Thirdly, we need to focus on safety.
This includes the work Clare O’Neil is leading to improve cybersecurity, including with our business roundtable which is working on it as well.
Making sure there’s guidance and support to help every business protect their systems, their intellectual property, their commercially-sensitive information as well as their customers’ privacy.
All of which is particularly important for time-poor small businesses without big IT departments.
Then there is the action that my Minister for Industry, Ed Husic is taking to improve community trust and confidence in the use of artificial intelligence.
There is huge potential here for productivity gains across the economy, for transformative advances in everything from medical research to manufacturing.
But, of course, there is an element of risk as well.
And given the pace of change underway, we need to co-operate across business and government to ensure our rules and regulatory frameworks are up to the task.
Before we move to the question and answer session, I want to conclude by saying that when I think about the three big changes underway in our economy that I’ve touched on briefly today,
- The Clean Energy transformation
- Breakthroughs in technology
- Growth in the Care and Support Economy
I see cause for urgency and reason for optimism.
These three elements are central to our future prosperity – and our future productivity.
And they are driving and informing so much of the work our government is doing – from our draft National Strategy for the Care and Support Economy to the upcoming Employment White Paper.
Consulting and co-operating, recognising that the ‘how’ matters, that enduring economic reform depends on bringing people along on the journey.
Because for us, as a Labor Government, strengthening productivity isn’t an end in itself or a box to be ticked.
What counts is returning the benefits of the productivity gains to the employers, but also the workers whose efforts makes them possible.
Through improved living standards.
Stronger skills and services.
More dynamic markets.
And a better quality of life.
This is how we create a growing, productive economy that works for people – not the other way around.
And when I think about those three big shifts underway in our economy and around the world – I feel great confidence in our nation.
Because these are three opportunities uniquely suited to where Australia is at in 2023.
Our competitive advantage in natural resources, our chance to be a clean energy superpower.
An adaptable workforce with the skills and smarts to embrace technology and modernise our economy.
And the compassion and respect and instinctive care for one another that makes this the greatest country on earth.
These are the strengths that our Budget builds on, they are the values our Government seeks to uphold.
They are the reasons for our optimism and our urgency.
Because I’ve always believed that Australians have what it takes to shape the future.
And I know if we act now – working together across business and government – we not only can, we will.