Anthony Albanese says Australia must use the pandemic experience to move to a more resilient society, creating more permanent jobs and revitalising high value manufacturing.
In his fifth “vision statement”, delivered against the background of the government foreshadowing an extensive post-crisis reform agenda, Albanese is giving a broad outline of Labor’s priorities for change.
The Monday speech, issued ahead of delivery, comes a day before parliament resumes for a three-day sitting expected to be more combative than the previous two one-day sittings. It also precedes Josh Frydenberg’s economic update on Tuesday - the day the treasurer was, pre-pandemic, due to deliver the budget, now delayed until October.
Referring to the government’s “SnapBack” terminology, Albanese says: “Let’s not SnapBack to insecure work, to jobseekers stuck in poverty, to scientists being ignored.”
“It’s no time for a ‘SnapBack’ to the Liberal agenda of cutting services, suppressing wages and undermining job security.
"This pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness and security and our belief in the power of government to shape change to the advantage of working people are the right ones.
"A constrained fiscal position does mean difficult choices. But a reform agenda that doesn’t work for all Australians isn’t one we should pursue”.
Albanese says Labor has been constructive during the crisis, not allowing “the perfect to be the enemy of the good”; he contrasts its approach with the Coalition’s negativity against the Labor government during the global financial crisis.
While Australians have been getting through the crisis together, it has been tougher for some than others, including those who have lost jobs and businesses, he says.
“Sharing the sacrifice to get through the crisis together has to mean working to secure a recovery in which no one is left behind.
"We have to be clear in recognising that those with the least, have suffered the most through this crisis – something that must change.
"It’s critical that we are still saying , ‘we’re all in this together’, after the lockdown has come to an end,” Albanese says.
“We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it.
"To secure a more resilient society, given just how quickly things can change, through no fault of anyone.
"To better recognise the contributions of unsung heroes, like our cleaners, supermarket workers and delivery workers. To honour our health and aged care workers.
"To recognise that young people have done more than their share.
"Young people deserve better than an economy and society that consigns them to a lifetime of low wages, job insecurity, and unaffordable housing.
"We must ensure that what emerges is a society that no longer seems stacked against them, or denies them the opportunity and economic security of older generations”.
Albanese says this is a once-in-a-political lifetime event that “creates once-in-a-century opportunity to renew and revitalise the federation” and “a once-in-a-generation chance to shape our economy so it works for people and deepens the meaning of a fair go”.
“We must build more permanent jobs, an industrial relations system that promotes co-operation, productivity improvements and shared benefits,” he says.
“We must revitalise high value Australian manufacturing using our clean energy resources.”
He also urges nation building infrastructure including high speed rail and the local construction of trains; a decentralisation strategy including restoring public service jobs in agencies such as Centrelink that deliver services to regional areas; a conservation program to boost regional employment; and governments working with the private sector and superannuation funds to deliver investment in social and affordable housing.
“A housing construction package should include funding to make it easier for essential workers to find affordable rental accommodation closer to work.”
Albanese says that “too much of the risk in our economy has been shifted onto those with the least capacity to manage in tougher times.
"The broadest burden has been put on the narrowest shoulders.
"Our economy has become riskier, and we need to think through what that means for us all.
"We need to realise that a good society can’t thrive when the balance between risk and security falls out of step.”
Albanese says there needs to be an emphasis on growth, “because only inclusive economic growth can raise our living standards.
"We need to put more emphasis on secure employment - especially for the next generation of younger workers who nowadays have little idea of the meaning of reliable income or holiday pay”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra