06 April 2016

It’s no secret Western Australia is going through a tough time at the moment.

The end of the mining investment boom has hit this state harder than anywhere else: unemployment has jumped to 6 per cent. Since the last election, 21,600 Western Australians have joined the back of the jobless queue.

Western Australians are resilient people, but a rise in unemployment always takes a toll on the community.

Small businesses take a hit, local property values suffer, school enrolments fall. On top of all this there’s the loss of confidence, the gnawing uncertainty.

It’s true, technology is re-defining the way all of us work and live. Yet as I travel around the country, I meet a lot of people for whom it’s not all smooth sailing and exciting times.

Plenty of Australians – here in Western Australia and all across the nation – are feeling the rough edges of change in the workplace.

More and more Australians lack security at work, more and more of us worry about what our kids will do for living.

Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people working part time who want to be working full time. 

Hundreds of thousands of people listed on the books as ‘full time’ who can only get part-time hours and pay. 

More and more Australians are classed as casual employees, making it harder to get a home loan, or plan for a stable financial future.

For women and casual workers in low-paid industries – insecurity at work can often lead to exploitation.

We’ve all been appalled by the stories of employees being taken for a ride by 7-Eleven, Pizza Hut and a whole heap of labour hire firms.

These are not backyard operators, this is not small time. These are multinational companies and global brands.

Labor has a strong policy to crack down on worker exploitation. I’m all in favour of modern workplaces being able to adapt – but ‘flexibility’ can’t just be code for stripping away penalty rates and paying people half the minimum wage.

I will never accept the bleak trickle-down theory that creating jobs depends on engineering a vast underclass of Australians trapped working for six dollars an hour.

Labor is committed to ‘full employment’, this means every Australian working at their full capacity. Full employment means a smarter, more skilful workforce.

This starts in our schools, with Labor’s Your Child, Our Future policy to lock in Gonski-levels of needs-based funding for the next ten years.

Labor will help build people’s capacity by keeping university affordable for everyone, not $100,000 degrees which will lock working-class kids out of higher education.

We’ll get Australians skilled-up by backing public TAFE, not letting dodgy private providers undermine the quality of training in this country.

We’ll keep Australians healthy and productive in the workplace and at home, by protecting universal Medicare and properly funding our public hospitals.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is another important way of boosting capacity. Only Labor is fully committed to rolling-out the NDIS, so hundreds of thousands of people with disability and their carers get the chance to participate in the workforce.

As the country’s biggest investor, the Commonwealth Government also needs to get behind good projects that create jobs.

This is why Labor will set up a new $10 billion infrastructure bank, to kick-start the rail, roads, bridges and ports which will cut commuter times in cities and bring more jobs and better services to the regions.

Perth is a world-class city which deserves first-rate public transport. Our plans to turbocharge Infrastructure Australia will help achieve this.

Digital infrastructure is just as important. Australians deserve a first-rate, fast, fibre NBN – so our regional businesses can engage with Asia, the world’s fastest growing marketplace.

Manufacturing can still have a great future in this country, it just needs a government that believes in supporting our people and their skills. This is why Labor will help revitalise our manufacturing sector by investing in defence, renewable energy and biotechnology.

All our plans are fully funded, and fully costed.

We will repair the budget by cracking down on government waste, like the Abbott-Turnbull plan to pay big polluters to keep polluting.

Labor will also take overdue action to make big multinationals pay their fair share of tax, and to close loopholes and tighten-up tax subsidies that favour property speculators and multimillionaires over ordinary Australians.

Nothing matters to more to me and to the Labor party I lead than giving every Australian the chance to fulfil their potential.

The race for the jobs of the future is underway and only Labor has the positive plans and policies to make sure Western Australians are in it to win it.

This opinion piece was first publish in the West Australian on Wednesday, 6 April 2016