ASU 2010 National Conference
Brisbane Exhibition & Convention Centre
9 November 2010
Thank you for that kind introduction.
And thank you Paul Slape, ASU National Secretary, for inviting me to address this national conference.
You are, of course, my friends from the Labor movement.
These days I am no longer a union organiser, but I will always be indebted to that time in my life 14 great years, and I still love the work you do today.
Whatever political tribe we belong to, whatever our background, voting intention, expertise or professional priorities – I really believe union organising deserves an enduring and level headed respect in this great country of ours.
It deserves this respect wherever one sits in the broader political debates. Because union work is not theoretical.
And it's not nostalgic, it can't be. It's only ever realistic, it has to be.
Because it deals with real lives. Because union reps deal with real world, real economy, real issues.
With mortgages lapsing, houses lost, with marriages breaking up for want of an income once thought guaranteed and now in a court case that's not going well.
The union movement is my suburb, my postcode, and in my heart. Being a union rep was my oxygen, my food, my beer at the end of the day.
It was where I made literally thousands of friends, not too many of them always well off. And I heard in those years with them, the heartbeat of Australia.
Historically the Australian union movement is rural, and regional, hard scrabble and seat-of-its-pants.
Much like the constituencies Oakeshott and Katter and Windsor represent today.
Our proud movement came out of shearers and farm workers, meat workers and fruit pickers and shearers' cooks. Council depots and new clerical callings.
We grew out of the Shearers' Strike of 1891, which is more than just a song, it is the root and branch of the Labor Party. It was a response to the WorkChoices of the day.
Some of you may not know that I became a father for the first time not so long ago – and that experience has taught me things I thought I already knew.
I knew about progress, for instance.
I knew the history of the Australian Labor Party.
I knew that the social and economic gains achieved since Federation were not the work of one generation, but many.
Becoming a dad, though, has made me feel in my heart what I had previously felt in my head.
And what I feel is this:
That the way politicians should look at the their role in the future of this country, is with the same commitment and the same passion as parents look to the future of their children, their nieces and nephews and their neighbours children.
Looking 20 or 30 years into the future to see the kind of world they want that child to live in.
To ensure that the progress that was handed to them by previous generations is continued and expanded for their children.
That progress is not given, it must be earned.
Progress is not a right, it is a fight. We, my friends, must be the fighters and the believers.
If we want the men and women of Australia to have a fair go at work.
If we want our children or our nephews or nieces to receive the education they need, to go after the job they want.
If we want our loved ones to be looked after when they are ill.
If we want Australians with a disability to be brought in from the cold.
If we want to find sustainable ways to protect our way of life.
If we want lasting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
If we want a fairer, safer, stronger Australia for ourselves and our neighbours.
If we want to retire in security and comfort.
If we want a confident and prosperous economy.
Then we have to fight for it.
In my ministerial portfolio, we need to be prepared to fight for an increase in compulsory superannuation from 9 to 12 percent.
Many of you here will be aware of the Gillard Government's 12 percent commitment.
Most of you here – indeed probably all of you – will be supportive of it.
But what we all need to be fully seized of – in this room, in the city, this state, this country – is that 12 percent is by no means guaranteed.
To be delivered we need a minimum of 75 votes in the House of Representatives. And then of course the support and passing of the legislation in the Senate.
And in today's unique Parliamentary circumstances – this cannot be taken for granted.
As I said, we have to fight for the reforms we believe in. Present the evidence, put the case, build the consensus and deliver the outcome.
When we're talking about a more comfortable and secure retirement – through an increase to the Superannuation Guarantee – we're talking about fighting for the future.
We have a responsibility – both to those that have come before us and to those that will follow us – to fight for change because, friends, progress cannot be taken for granted.
We cannot afford to be complacent – as a Party or as a nation.
Progress has to be campaigned for and won.
The bottom line is that we have the best superannuation system in the world.
The resilience of the Australian economy - and the massive $1.2 trillion super savings pool that helps underpin this economy – this is recent and tangible proof of how good our system is.
Australia has the fourth largest set of funds under management in the world – and we're the fastest growing of the top 5.
We're the envy of the world here.
I suppose my message to you all as motivated, strong and even brave representatives, in your varied and important industries, is this: we instinctively know that when you're ahead this is not the time for complacency.
No this is the time to keep advancing and building on gains.
We must remember that the world does not owe Australia a living.
But we must also remember that the Labor Party has a great Australian story to tell.
After all, ever since the founding of the ALP under a tree in Barcaldine, we have, as Paul Keating said, been 'Part of a big story, which is also the story of our country.'
The challenge we face today is to live up to our big story.
Not in spite of the new, tight political dynamic. But because of it.
Because now is the time for consensus. Now is the time to lift up a reform like 12 percent compulsory superannuation – and its concessional tax treatment – now is the time to highlight the national good this reform will do.
And to persistently and consistently encourage people to get on board. Get on board the superannuation locomotive, and let's steam ahead.
I'm talking about economic reforms here that will not just make a headline this week, but make a difference for decades to come.
I'm talking about reforms that cannot afford to wait.
Because the next generation of Australians will face challenges Ben Chifley could not have imagined when he spoke of the light on the hill.
Challenges like an ageing population. This in so many ways is a blessing – the 21st Century gift of longer life. But it does present its challenges.
By 2050 there will only be 27 working aged people for every 10 of our citizens aged 65 and over. This compares to 50 workers for every 10 retirees today.
And as we live longer, we will need more social and economic assistance and in doing so become a bigger draw on the country's financial reserves.
This is the type of generational challenge that our opponents were intensely unprepared for on August 21st and they are still profoundly unprepared today.
So if you live in Nambour – ask the Member for Fairfax why he doesn't want you and your children to have a more adequate retirement savings nest egg.
If you life in Toowoomba – ask the Member for Groom why he doesn't want to protect taxpayers in the decades ahead from a pension system liability that can be moderated by mandating greater private savings.
And if you happen to live down in Redland Bay – seriously, ask the Member for Bowman why he would get in the way of seeing Australia build up an even bigger national savings pool – a savings pool that can help build the infrastructure. Infrastructure that will help secure the next wave of prosperity.
These questions need to be asked.
These questions deserve answers.
As many ASU members well know. The superannuation industry is a major employer.
According to the Johnson Report, in 2009 insurance and superannuation directly accounted for a total of 80,000 jobs.
Indirectly, the sector employed a substantially larger number of people, through outsourced legal, accounting, technology, administration, processing and other services.
Many of these jobs are of course right here in Brisbane.
Raising the Superannuation Guarantee from 9 to 12 per cent is a great Labor reform.
This is something we should fight for because it ticks all the socially and economically progressive boxes.
Securing the future retirements of millions of working men and women,
And securing the future sustainability of our economy by creating a bigger pool of super funding for nation-building projects.
There's no doubt we came through the Global Financial Crisis in remarkable shape, and that's something we can all be proud of.
But I think there's a tendency to forget - amid our national success - that we're still a very capital hungry economy.
There is a massive pipeline of investment already in place. And beyond that there are new projects stretching to the horizon which will require capital from global markets to fund them.
That is why we came to tax reform with a plan to broaden and strengthen our economy to preserve our reputation as a great place to invest.
Like cutting the company tax rate to keep all sectors of our economy competitive in their own global markets.
We should never forget that we are just one option for international investors - we have to make sure we offer the most compelling value.
And in addition, we've got a plan to boost our national savings so we can fund more of the investment we need from domestic sources.
Right now Australia's super funds roughly match our $1.3 trillion economy.
The Labor reform of upping super to 12 percent – this will turbo charge our superannuation assets over the next 20 years to 2.5 times our GDP.
This one Labor reform will give us the competitive edge we need to be more sustainable at home and more competitive abroad.
This particular Labor reform will create a multi-trillion dollar investment engine for social and economic progress.
I know that many of you here today have taken some interest in the Cooper Review and share our desire to make the superannuation product simpler and perform more effectively for the investor.
You will welcome the fact the Government has announced that from 1 July 2013 superannuation funds will be able to offer a new low cost, simple default fund called MySuper. This will see investors get more out of what they put in.
We will also introduce legislation to ensure that from 1 July 2011 an individual's tax file number will be the primary identifier of member accounts.
Keeping super simple is a powerfully practical way to re-energise people's support for it as an investment tool.
While it's clear most Australians instinctively like superannuation, I do think we need to rebuild confidence in it as a financial product after quite a rough period due to the GFC.
And we can re-energise the employee-employer settlement that Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Bill Kelty and others reached some 18 years ago when the super guarantee was first introduced.
The role of unions in helping to build this consensus, to help advocate the benefits of taking super to 12 percent, the role of people like you gathered here today – this is an essential role.
And it is one where you at the ASU have a proven track record.
The ASU helped build a cross community consensus about the wisdom in diversifying the Australian economy away from the traditional farm, port and quarry into the modern services strong economy that we see today.
The ASU helped build a cross community consensus about the non-negotiable need for fairness in the workplace – whether protection of entitlements and conditions or protection from unfair dismissal or bullying or poor workplace safety.
And let me be clear that once again the ASU must again push hard for better retirement for its members. We need to build a cross community consensus about raising the super guarantee and raising understanding of the role a trillion dollar national savings pool plays in securing the waves of prosperity in the years ahead.
Of course, strong unions like the ASU also have an essential role in advocating to and advocating alongside Government on entirely different public policies that tackle generational, social and economic challenges.
And I encourage you to keep doing this to and with my ministerial colleagues.
Delegates, let me conclude today by summarising the unique set of political circumstances we now have in this country.
First, we have a Government led by the once-in-a-generation Julia Gillard.
And this is a 2nd term administration that has been undoubtedly reminded, right down to its bones, of the need to be bold and demonstrate real conviction in delivering economic reform.
Don't over promise and under deliver but under promise and over deliver.
We have been given a second chance and we don't want to waste it.
Yes there is inevitably a staged process in properly delivering such reforms: from the policy conceptualisation, to the stakeholder discussions, then to the legislative confirmation and then actual implementation and delivery – or mass take up.
But be in no doubt this Government has the will, and importantly this Government has the leader, with the capacity to deliver.
Second, we find ourselves in a fresh political climate at the national level - given the elevated place of the independents – this requires genuine collaboration and looking beyond short term political point scoring.
Much of the early news headlines after Labor were returned to Government were dominated by our opponents' reckless abandonment.
Abandonment of the 5 minute in-good-faith sunshine that seemed to warm the political spectrum only so briefly and immediately before the Independent MPs historic decision.
While these disappointing headlines have been plentiful, the Gillard Government's recognition that we are operating in a new and different democratic paradigm – this has not wavered.
In summary let me say that Mr Abbott can be the political wrecking ball that he so evidently wants to be. He evidently won't be breaking the habit of a lifetime, despite the message the electorate has given all politicians.
But we on the progressive side of politics know instinctively that there must be a different way. That modest, ordinary Australians – wherever they're from – want to see a new approach. A less cynical cycle of point scoring.
Like you I come from the Labor bonfire that is fuelled by the enduring faith of strength in numbers.
What we can achieve together will always be more than what we can achieve alone.
Australians everywhere and the union movement in particular will see an approach from me that is underlined again, and again and again by a deep commitment to building bridges, to getting people together, to crossing divides, to reaching out, to building consensus.
Sure, I am out here today to persuade, but I think the best way for any government to effect change is by bringing people with us.
It will of course sometimes involve reaching out in an appeal to the better angels residing in disparate parts of our competitive economy.
Sometimes it will involve building better bridges between employers and employees.
At times it will mean getting banks or other big corporate players around the table and congratulating them on the substantial community contribution they already make - and then asking them to do more.
At times it will mean using the bully pulpit to tell banks when they are behaving like nitwits and that they should know better.
And sometimes it will involve the Federal level of Government working ever more closely with the state levels of Government to build consensus around an important public policy issue through COAG partnerships and agreements.
The COAG process now in place to address problem gambling is a good example of this and one with which I am already substantially involved.
Bill Kelty – in the inaugural John Button Oration – said:
'Labor Governments have a special responsibility as reformers and catalysts for change. Labor Governments must be the great investors in the social democratic model. They must also be the great protectors.'
Let me assure you, the Labor Government that I am a part of takes its responsibilities very seriously.
We are the Party of bleeding social hearts and hard financial heads.
We are the Party of action – rather than re-action.
We are the Party of progress – and we do not take progress for granted.
We are the Party of hope not fear. The future not the past. Fairness not inequality.
We want to make it happen.
We want to make a difference.
We want to build a better Australia.
Together we are the fighters and believers.
We must keep fighting and keep believing each and every day.
We are fighting for the promise of progress in this great country of ours.
Thanks for your time today. And my best wishes to each of you and your families for the times ahead.