National Press Club Address

26 March 2014









Twenty portraits hang on the wall of our Caucus Room in Parliament House.

The twenty leaders of Australia’s oldest political party.

Each with a story of passion, controversy and ideas.

Each involved in a great contest for shaping the future of our country.

The great political contest of ideas.

For decades, the National Press Club has been an important forum in this contest.

A forum for ideas.

For discussion.

For learning.

For laying out the choices and priorities that define our political debate.

I’m here as a passionate Labor person – a hard worker who respects Labor’s legacy of reform.

But I’m not driven by the portraits, the faces on the wall – or the place in history.

I’m driven by the faces in the street, the people whom Labor has always worked for, and cared about.

The people in Australian factories, in our small businesses, our hospitals, the children in our childcare centres and schools.

Today I seek to talk plainly about:

-       The Labor Party

-       Our ideas

-       The choices ahead in the political contest

And I shall be here again and again to debate reforms and ideas.

I’m here today as the Leader of a party that believes in economic growth.

Labor knows that economic growth creates jobs - we know it raises living standards.

We believe in migration.

We believe in multiculturalism.

We believe that, for the most part, unions do a good and important job.

We believe in making choices that add value – that empower Australians to fulfil their potential.

We believe in ideas – not in hate and division.

We don’t believe making a profit is a bad thing.

We don’t see employers as a class enemy.

We believe in using a strong economy to build a fair society – and to raise living standards.

This is the Labor story.

This is the story of Australia.

Delivering prosperity with fairness.

I am ambitious for Australia’s future.

But I have also seen the consequences of people being left stranded by change.

Too often these are the people who can least afford to lose out: older Australians, Australians on a fixed income, Australians with fewer transferrable skills and Australians with disabilities. Governments cannot turn back the tide – but they can choose whether they make change work for people.

A government’s priorities can determine whether people are the victims of change – or its beneficiaries.

That is why the choices the Government must make in its upcoming Budget are so important.

There is a bleak, hopeless brand of Darwinism that argues adapting to economic change requires deep cuts to services, longer unemployment queues, lower wages and lower levels of government support.

We utterly reject this.

We do not believe the world is too hard for Australia to compete, and flourish in.

We look at the future and see opportunities.

Opportunities for our small businesses to find new markets in Asia.

Opportunities for Australians to develop new skills and find new, fulfilling jobs.

Opportunities for Australian innovation in tourism, the digital economy, international education, agribusiness and financial services to become accelerators of our prosperity.

In 2013 – many people believed Labor was more absorbed in its own problems than their interests - and these challenges.

We paid the price for this distraction and disunity on election day.

In 2014, I want to be a new leader, for a renewed Labor party.

I want Labor to be a more open and democratic party, with a broader base.


Because Labor needs to be part of the world in which we live.

For Labor to build a modern, outward-looking, confident and democratic Australia.

We have to build a modern, outward-looking, confident and democratic party.

I want Labor in every state and territory to discuss new ideas, to hear new voices and to welcome new members.

I want to build on the energy and optimism of our leadership ballot – and bring more people to the party.

In 2014 Labor has 44,000 members.

We should have 100,000.

To deliver Labor’s vision for a modern Australia, we must reach out to new constituencies to represent the diversity of modern Australia and deliver the reforms of the future.

I want us to write the country big.

That’s why I want our party to be:

-       The champion of small business

-       The champion of science and innovation

-       The champion of equal pay for women

-       The champion of the regions

I want all these Australians, and more, to be prominently involved in our decision-making and policy development process.

I believe that we need to adopt science and innovation as a great Labor cause.

Because innovation is central to the productivity of big business – and essential to the prosperity of small business.

We know that nearly 5 million Australians own and work in small businesses – and we want to make it easier for small business to do business.

We want to make sure that they spend their time growing their business, producing new products and pursuing new markets.

As a Parliamentary Secretary and a Minister, I always enjoyed a constructive dialogue with small business.

And I am continuing this as Labor Leader.

We should be looking at new ways to reduce the compliance time burden and let entrepreneurs, small business and employers focus on building their business and our prosperity.

One of the issues that frequently gets raised with me is why can't small businesses pay their BAS instalments on an annual basis?

This would ease cash flow concerns and reduce the regulatory burden.

Another common question I’m asked is why can't tax reporting for small businesses be simplified?

These are just two areas where I know small business wants to engage with Labor.

We’re up for that discussion.

We’re willing to work through the merits of these concrete proposals to assist small business.

I do not look at policy through the prism of left-wing or right-wing ideology – I’m interested in what works, I am interested in what will help Australia in the future.

I get that we live in a time of change.

I get that our world is moving faster and faster.

My focus is on where people fit in this changing world – on empowering Australians to make the most of their potential.

Our ability to create the jobs of the future depends on our commitment to innovation.

We need to be an Australia that values research, entrepreneurs and risk-takers.

I want us to take a new look at removing barriers to innovation.

Right now, too many scientists and start-ups struggle to commercialise their ideas.

I believe we should reconsider whether changes to the employee share scheme announced in 2009 best support these outcomes.

We can do more to encourage entrepreneurs to do what they do best.

By better aligning the tax burden with the likely realisation of equity stakes in a company, we can remove a significant drag on innovation.

If you’re an Australian with a good idea, I want it to be easy for you to attract talented employees, and for those employees to have buy-in and incentives to grow your business, to commercialise your innovation and to take your products to market – here and overseas.

We have to help our innovators capitalise on their genius.

Labor wants Australian discoveries, Australian brainpower to underpin our next wave of prosperity.

All this is characteristic of the policy approach I shall bring to economic change – supporting innovation and helping to create new jobs.

Because the way a government responds to change - and anticipates change - is the best measure of its values, and conclusive proof of its priorities.

In the last six months – Tony Abbott has failed to show leadership on how to handle change for all.

He has confused inaction with determination.

He has mistaken bullying for strength.

Leadership isn’t about whittling away the Australian standard of living.

This moment requires more than the same old Liberal agenda of nasty, penny-pinching politics of fear and division.

The Liberal agenda of kicking the vulnerable, picking on the unemployed and the disabled.

The Liberal agenda of undermining the minimum wage, undervaluing working women and undercutting universal superannuation.

A Liberal agenda that has never understood Medicare.

Medicare is a measure of what Labor does.

It is a national safety net that delivers the best healthcare at a much lower price than a American style system.

It brings no cost to Australian employers.

Medicare is a source of competitive national advantage. It provides economic and social benefit that ensures no-one is left behind.

Tony Abbott’s GP Tax is a giant mistake - one that will create new costs and new problems for a world-class system.

Tony Abbott has got it wrong on Medicare.

I say to Tony Abbott, there are no circumstances under which Labor will pass the GP tax.

We will never, never compromise on Medicare.

Prime Minister, give up the fight on the GP tax – you will lose.

On Budget night, if we take the Liberals’ low road - Australia will pay the price.

Because our growth will be lower – and our future horizons will be diminished.

We can do better.

I want an Australia that shares the benefits of change with everyone.

An Australia where economic transformation is not seen as an inevitable cause of unemployment and social dislocation but an agent of opportunity.

An Australia where we work together across business, universities, employees, small business, unions and government to find solutions to Australia’s big challenges.

An Australia with a stronger and larger middle class.

An Australia where no-one is forgotten, or held back by disability, disadvantage or isolation.

I’m not interested in picking fights or identifying ‘enemies’.

I’m not a hater.

That’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m about.

I don’t turn my back on business because some business leaders advocate for Tony Abbott.

I don’t dismiss people because they’re not traditional Labor voters.

I do not seek to reinforce class barriers – I want to break them down.

I admire the politics of hope and optimism.

I want to be a leader who unites Australians, not one who divides them.

I do have respect for conservatives.

I admire the sheer persistence of John Howard.

And I do have respect for Tony Abbott – of course I do.

But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with him – or imitate his idea of leadership.

Tony Abbott has always been a political brawler.

It’s his strength – I acknowledge that.

He’s an ideological bruiser who relentlessly crusades to divide Australian society into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’.

That’s what makes his recent attempts to claim the Hawke-Keating tradition so fraudulent.


Because the great lesson of that Labor era is that enduring reforms come from consensus, not conflict.

Progress is forged in a crucible of consultation, not division.

Take the creation of the national superannuation scheme – a passion of mine.

Employees agreed to forgo increases in take-home pay in exchange for employers making an agreed contribution to their superannuation funds.

And Australia got a national superannuation scheme that provides a massive national capital base.

A pool of savings that permanently relieves pressure on demand for pensions and other support.

Retirement income that individuals control – not governments.

In this we see the unifying spirit, the policy vision, the leadership that Australians are looking for in this time of economic change.

Contrast this with Mr Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme – or his rapidly unravelling Direct Action ‘policy’.

Both involve extravagant rewards for a small segment of the community – whether it’s paying big polluters to pollute, or paying high income earners an extra $75,000 to have a baby.

Both policies were conceived purely as a political fix.

One to rehabilitate Mr Abbott’s vote with Australian women, the other to give a veneer of credibility to the Coalition’s book-burning climate-change denialism.

And both policies will put unsustainable pressure on the Budget bottom line at a time when so many hard-working Australians are being told that their services will be cut.

The Liberals see the 2014 Budget as a political opportunity to tip a bucket on Labor’s economic record and to falsify the past.

I will not let this go unchallenged.

Avoiding the worst effects of the Global Financial Crisis is an achievement of which the previous Labor Government was rightly proud.

The Australian economy weathered the storm - and grew - in a period where other countries experienced deep recession and high unemployment.

The Liberals deny this.

But consider where we would be in 2014 had Labor not acted?

What about the road not taken – what if we had opted for the Liberal policy of inaction and austerity?

If Labor hadn’t acted, private sector output would have retreated.

If Labor hadn’t acted, the economy would have come to a standstill.

Credit would have been withdrawn, loan applications denied and collateral called.

If Labor hadn’t acted, hundreds of thousands of Australians would have been condemned to dreadful unemployment.

Older Australians, and those with lower skill bases, would have become a forgotten generation of employees exiled from the workforce.

All this should be kept in mind in the lead-up to the 2014 Budget.

Because it is true.

It is also a cautionary tale for a Prime Minister and a Treasurer planning deep cuts to combat their fictional budget emergency.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that if the Government follows through on its austerity rhetoric, it will severely jeopardise growth prospects in the near term and the long term.

I want to place this warning, and this evidence, on the record because the facts do not often feature in government propaganda.

On economic matters, as with everything else, their Pavlovian response is the same: play politics, blame Labor and never let the facts get in the way of the slogan.

Their motives are transparent: lying about the budget situation to justify their agenda of cruel cuts.

The Treasurer has dodged repeated questions in Parliament on whether the debt and deficit projections in December’s MYEFO were exaggerated to support the pre-election scare of a ‘budget emergency’.

Independent analysis from the Parliamentary Budget Office released by Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen earlier today shines a light on this deception.

It shows Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have tried to doctor the debt and deficit figures to set the scene for severe cuts and broken election promises.

This Government has made a mockery of Peter Costello’s Charter of Budget Honesty.

Only the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (the PEFO) is framed by the expert advice of Treasury and the Department of Finance – without political manipulation.

Framing a Budget requires more than a partisan passion for rewriting economic history, more than fudged figures and accounting trickery.

Every Budget is a window onto a government’s soul.

It is the sign and signal of its priorities.

The 2014 Budget will be a most serious test for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

It will measure their actions against their rhetoric.

Their performance against their promises.

The criteria are clear:

-       Australia must remain in the world’s ten wealthiest countries

-       They must deliver the one million new jobs they promised

-       Australia must retain our AAA credit rating

-       Taxes must not increase, that is, taxation as a percentage of GDP must not increase

But a Budget is not only about numbers – it is a test of leadership as well as economic management.

A test for Tony Abbott as well as Joe Hockey.

Today my message to the Prime Minister is clear.

If your Budget message is nothing but bellow and bluster about a manufactured ‘budget emergency’, then you will have failed the honesty test.

If you continue to talk more about the former Labor Government than you do about the Australian people…

…If you talk more about the past than the future…

…If you talk more about what has gone before than the road ahead…

You will have failed the vision test.

If you cut more funding to schools, to hospitals, as well as to pensions, to family support, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, you will have again broken your solemn promises to the Australian people.

If your Budget seeks to make middle class Australians who already do the heavy lifting carry a bigger burden then it will be defining proof that you are not the Prime Minister you promised to be.

If your Budget takes money from education, from science, from trades training and from research and development then it will confirm that you have no ideas for the future.

If your Budget cuts support for people with a disability and carers, if it cuts payments to the children of war veterans and yet pays the wealthiest Australians $75,000 extra to have a baby it will confirm that you are a Prime Minister with the most twisted priorities.

Prime Minister, these are your battlelines.

The test you have set for yourself.

These are the promises you have made.

These are the standards to which all Australians – and the Labor Party - will hold you responsible.

From the outside – politics can sometimes seem like the pantomime of professional wrestling.

It is much more serious – and more important than that.

Politics is always a rugged contest – sometimes brutally so.

It’s a tough contest because we are debating the choices, the priorities that affect Australians’ lives.

This Budget debate – and the years ahead - will be a contest of ideas.

A contest about Medicare.

A contest about hospitals and schools.

A contest about the science of climate change.

A contest about superannuation.

A contest about our place in Asia.

A choice between jobs – and cuts.

A choice between making change work for everyone – or leaving people behind.

We will ask Australians to choose between a government that empowers the many – or a government that looks after the few.

I’m up for it, Labor is up for it.

We’re ready for the contest ahead.