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Good morning and thank you for the invitation to join you here today.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I know Anthony is speaking at the dinner tonight.
His passion for our nation’s transport infrastructure is one I share.
It is such a privilege to take on the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio after his decade long commitment to the role in both government and opposition.
Can I also acknowledge your new National Secretary Mark Diamond and outgoing National Secretary Bob Nanva.
Bob served this union with distinction for nine years, and it was a pleasure to meet Mark last week to begin discussions on how we can worker together.
To you and your members, my door is always open.
I thank everyone in this room who supported Labor candidates and the ACTU’s campaign at this year’s election.
It wasn’t the result the Labor Party had hoped.
I share the pain many of you felt on election night.
In not getting over the line, we let down the millions of Australians who rely on Labor Governments to deliver a fair and productive economy.
This week here in Canberra, we’re seeing the very worst of the conservatives.
Scott Morrison is in the House of Representatives refusing to stand down a senior Minister under police investigation for allegedly falsifying documents.
While over in the Senate, his colleagues are seeking to pass laws that would see unions de-registered for paperwork errors.
Meanwhile, at the Press Club the head of the Business Council was telling Australians not to embark on a “bank-bashing bonanza” following the discovery of Westpac’s 23 million money laundering breaches.
We know that working Australians need a Federal Government that will back them in by creating new opportunities for work and improving job security and conditions for workers.
That understands that governments have a significant role to play in growing opportunities, adapting to changing technology and changing economic circumstances.
Labor will put forward a framework based on our values with good jobs at the core.
In the transport sector, we all know greater infrastructure investment is a critical way for the Federal Government to:
- Improve the connectedness and liveability of our cities and regions;
- Drive productivity gains and improve safety; and
- Provide a secure pipeline of work for good jobs right across the country – both in construction and operation.
It should be used to leverage better investment in workforce training and new technology.
What is often overlooked is the impact of new investment on the workforce.
The pace of change can be confronting.
That’s why we see the Government’s role as adapting to change.
And in doing so, Labor’s priority is advancing the interests of people.
- Workers in our transport network.
- Commuters facing ever more crowded buses, trams and trains.
- And those Australians in the outer suburbs and in our regions not yet reached by public transport or whose transport options are limited.
We can’t stop change.
Indeed, technology can be our ally in achieving greater productivity.
But introducing new technology does not always have to come at a cost to jobs.
I spoke yesterday with a major freight rail operator who is using real time condition monitoring to better forecast maintenance to reduce breakdowns.
While that has replaced the task of physically walking the line inspecting trains in sidings.
It has seen new jobs created in big data analytics, as well as increases in the maintenance schedule and maintenance jobs.
But transitioning jobs in industries like transport does not just happen.
It has to be planned.
People must always be at the heart of our transport system.
Industry, governments and unions together are best placed to work together to achieve what can and should be the dual outcomes of increased productivity and better jobs.
When workers are left out of the conversation, your members miss out and we don’t get the best outcomes for passengers or the economy.
Where transitions in industries are occurring, government, unions and industry must step up to ensure that opportunities are realised across the workforce.
That’s why last month, Anthony announced Labor in Government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia.
Jobs and Skills Australia will be a genuine partnership across all sectors, supporting investment in human capital.
- Undertake workforce and skills analysis;
- Prepare capacity studies, including for emerging, growing and transitory industries;
- Deliver plans for targets groups such as the regions, workers over-55, and youth; and
- Review the adequacy of the training and vocational system.
It will also have a unique obligation to undertake workforce forecasting and assessing skills requirements for services where government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change.
This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network.
Jobs and Skills Australia will use a similar model to Infrastructure Australia.
Labor established Infrastructure Australia to break the nexus between the political cycle and infrastructure investment.
Jobs and Skills Australia will be assigned to do the same.
When we were last in Government, Labor lifted infrastructure investment to record levels.
On a per capita basis we boosted investment from $132 per Australian to $265.
We committed more funding to urban public transport than all previous federal governments combined since Federation.
With investments such as –
- The $3 billion Regional Rail Link in Victoria – that realised benefits in Melbourne’s west as well as in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.
- The $750 million Moreton Bay Link in Queensland – after more than a century of inaction.
- The $300 million Seaford Rail Extension in South Australia – that delivered new rail, new stations, new park and ride facilities and a new bus interchange.
We rebuilt a third of the interstate rail network, or 4,000 kilometres of track.
We invested almost $1 billion in planning and track upgrades for the Inland Rail project.
We began the work for the visionary High Speed Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Unfortunately, the past six years are best characterised by inaction, underinvestment and missed opportunities on infrastructure.
On coming to Government in 2013, Tony Abbott infamously cancelled funding for major infrastructure projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail.
Then despite a lot of self-promotion on public transport, Malcolm Turnbull failed to turn around this malaise.
Scott Morrison’s approach is no better.
He makes continued claims of a new $100 billion infrastructure plan.
I want to unpick that a bit as much of the funding is not new money.
It is comprised of many longstanding bipartisan programs, like the roads component of financial assistance grants to local government and roads to recovery.
It contains projects with insufficient funds allocated to meet the total cost – like the Geelong rail.
And it includes projects not supported by state governments and local communities like Melbourne’s East West Link and the Perth Freight Link.
You would have probably heard Scott Morrison spruiking how his infrastructure program will “bust congestion”.
Our cities are facing unprecedented traffic and public transport congestion.
Infrastructure Australia predicts road congestion costs to our major cities will more than double over the next decade.
Over the same period, the cost of public transport overcrowding will increase fivefold to almost a billion dollars in lost activity.
Yet, Scott Morrison uses infrastructure as a political opportunity and not an economic lever.
Time and again projects are delayed, and funding pushed on the never-never.
Over its first five budgets, the Coalition over-promised and under-delivered on transport infrastructure by over five billion dollars.
That’s over a billion dollars more than they recently announced to bring forward over the next four years.
And almost three times what they’ve promised to bring forward in the next eighteen months.
The announcement last week appears more a sop to ongoing calls to bring forward funding than a meaningful stimulus.
Of note with this Government’s infrastructure package is often what is excluded.
Last week’s announcement included no new strategic investment in public transport and our cities.
Just a handful of public transport projects had their funding brought forward.
Investing in both rail and road infrastructure must be a first order priority of government.
Leveraging the investment of the Commonwealth to get the best outcomes for local jobs, training, workforce development, and increasing economic productivity, must be at the heart any government agenda on infrastructure and transport.
That is what good strong progressive Labor Government can and should do.
Again, thank you again for the invitation to speak to you here today.
It’s a critical week in Canberra for our broader labour movement.
And an important time for those of us engaged in infrastructure and public transport policy.
Our transport networks are coming under great stress.
The Federal Government needs to do much more.
New technologies are emerging that can deliver efficiencies and improve safety.
Governments can be powerful actors in helping industries adapt to change.
Ensuring the best outcomes for people and their jobs.
We know that when workers are left out, passengers lose out, and the economy misses out.
Thanks again for the opportunity to be here today.
I look forward to working with your union in coming months as we review the National Platform ahead of next year’s Labor National Conference and to develop our policies in the lead up to the next general election.