Speech

11 May 2009
Speech at Illawarra Jobs Forum
Wollongong Town Hall

It’s great to be back in Wollongong, great to be back in the Illawarra and thank you all for coming out to talk with us today.

To Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, Jennie George the member for Throsby, Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Employment Participation, Jason Clare the Member for Blaxland, David Farmer, City Council General Manager, state ministers, state parliamentary colleagues, local councillors, ladies and gentlemen. And those of you have a passion for this region and its future.

That’s why we are here, to talk about that and see what together we can do about that, given the extraordinary circumstances which the global economy has presented to us all.

I’ve just come with Sharon and with Jennie from BlueScope and good news today, we the Australian Government announced that the air warfare destroyers, the steel which will be necessary for their construction, will be provided by BlueScope.

Australian warships, made in Australia, with Australian steel and made here, in this, your local community. Good for the nation, good for the Illawarra, good for Australia’s defence, good for the Navy. But you know what was great about the story of BlueScope is that they won that contract with the Royal Australian Navy against world competition because BlueScope are world class and they beat all comers from around the world.

This will be a very important project. They are rolling out thousands of tonnes of quality steel for those ships as they come off the line. These will be called a Hobart Class of destroyers.
The two previous HMAS Hobarts were not built in Australia - one laid in the ’30s in the United Kingdom, the other laid down I think in the ’60s in the United States.

The first HMAS Hobart to be manufactured, built, constructed here in Australia and using Australian steel. Good story.

We are here today to talk about jobs, right now. And what we do to confront the challenges which we are confronted with from this global recession. As I look here in the local area, the jobless rate in the Illawarra has jumped to 8.3 and the rate for Wollongong even higher at 9.1.

And my attitude to these sorts of challenges is very, very basic. The global recession is not discriminating against, or between I should say, countries or economies or between industries. It is affecting all countries, all economies, all industries, at the same time, everywhere in the world.
That’s why this is such a fundamental problem and challenge for all of us. But the message also for the countries and economies of the world, but also our national response here in Australia, is a very basic principle.

It is as follows: we are all in this together, each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter where you come from in Australia, what level of government, whether you are from the state government, federal government, local authorities, whether you are from beyond government, working in the key businesses of this region, or whether you are working in the unions.

Whether you are from the church sector, the community sector, the charitable sector, the not-for-profit sector, out there at the coal face helping people who need help because of the impact of this recession on unemployment, and its impact therefore on people’s lives and their ability to get through the day and the week and the month ahead.

Or whether you are from our great local university, the University of Wollongong. We are all in this together. And together you can make a difference.

There is no point standing up here as a political leader and saying, ‘you can stop the global recession, it will happen tomorrow morning at 1.45 AM’. I mean it is just nonsense.

Because the factors at work in this global recession to do with unrestrained greed and unregulated financial markets across the world have caused consequences for real working people everywhere.

Now the practical response, and the practical responsibility is to say, how can we take this thing, how can we take its impact on unemployment and how can we reduce it, how can we cushion the blow. How can we take those unemployment numbers for this region and make them a bit less. How can we make that possible.

And for those for whom unemployment is a reality, how do we make that experience of unemployment somewhat better in terms of training opportunities, or in terms of the decency of support we provide as a local and national community for people who lose their jobs for no fault of their own.

So what we’re here to talk about today is briefly to tell you what we’ve been doing globally, briefly to tell you about what we’re doing nationally, to talk about the framework we’re seeking to apply locally and then to hear from you about what you can do in partnership with us to make those numbers on unemployment better than they would otherwise be here in the Illawarra.

As you know, we are in the worst recession, the worst global recession since the Great Depression. This is the worst set of global economic circumstances in three quarters of a century. That makes the challenge before us even greater.

Treasury’s advice to be published in the Budget tomorrow is that the measures that we have put in place will support Australian jobs and significantly reduce the length of the Australian unemployment queues. This Treasury advice finds that if the Government had done nothing, national unemployment in Australia would have been forecast to reach 10 per cent.

However, due to Government action, unemployment forecasts for the country in tomorrow’s Budget will be significantly lower. This Treasury analysis calculates the stark human cost of doing nothing.

This advice is the final nail in the coffin for those who argue that governments should do nothing to support jobs during a global recession. That is why tomorrow’s Budget will support the jobs of today by investing in the infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

I said before that we are embarked on a program of global action, national action and local action. The causes of the global recession by definition lie beyond our shores. The good news is that we’ve been working together in partnership with the governments of the world to bring about a coordinated global response.

Australia does so through the G20, the group of 20 major industrial economies in the world. And that’s the meeting which I attended and represented Australia at in London most recently and Washington at the end of last year.

The good news is this: governments around the world, whether it’s communist China, capitalist America or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, all have concluded that unless we act together then the consequences for us all will be disastrous.

That’s why they agreed on an unprecedented $5 trillion investment in global economic stimulus; that’s a large number when you consider that total global production each year is about $63 trillion, involving all the economies in the world.

They agreed to provide proper resources to the International Monetary Fund to guard against any future systemic collapse in the banking system, $1 trillion investment in the IMF guarding against future problems in fundamental financial institutions of regional and prospectively global significance in places like Central and Eastern Europe.

We also acted together to ensure that we would develop and agree a common framework for what’s called toxic asset management. That is, restoring the world’s major private banks to health, stripping them of toxic assets, recapitalising those banks in a globally consistent fashion so that private credit flows can commence again.

Because until that occurs, frankly, stimulus only can do so much. You need a restoration of normal credit flows, at normal prices through banks across the world in order for the private economy and the jobs that it generates to come back to normal.

We also agreed that we need to reform the rules for the financial system for the future. These days of unrestrained greed and unregulated financial markets, unfettered free markets, have come to a close. We actually need proper regulation. We need a proper balance in the way in which we do these things in the future.

And whether it’s to do with prudential standards, other regulatory standards, the role of credit rating agencies and the rest, these now have formed a core part of the ongoing regulatory work of the Financial Stability Forum, commissioned by the G20 heads of government and reporting progressively in the months and years ahead. Step by step, inch by inch, returning to a properly regulated financial market worldwide.

And finally drawing a line under global protectionism. Those of you who are school students among us may have studied at school the history of the Great Depression, and what happened in the 1930s.

One of the things that happened in the 1930s is that the governments around the world got together and they failed to agree. There was a very important conference in London in 1933 where in fact they got together, decided there was a huge problem, and then had a barney.

That didn’t get us very far. What it did is it actually deepened and lengthened the recession. Because what happened is they all then began to resort to acts of national protectionism, one against the other, which then contracted the size of the global market, contracted export markets for everyone else and the jobs depending on those exports.

People need to bear that in mind in the debate today as well. But the good news out of London is that all those Governments and all those economies representing 85 per cent of the global economy - the 20 of them together - decided to draw a line under that and not to engage in protectionist actions inconsistent with their legal obligations to the World Trade Organisation.

That’s a few words about what work we have been doing together globally. Nationally, you will be familiar with what we have done.

Firstly, stabilising our financial markets, providing a guarantee to each and every depositor in an Australian financial institution. That is, a bank, a credit union, a building society. Something we did last October, never done before by an Australian Government in the history of the Commonwealth, absolutely necessary to underpin confidence and stability in the Australian financial system.

On top of that we’ve been engaged in an economic stimulus strategy designed to fill the gap to the greatest extent possible in our economy, while the private sector is in retreat, because of what’s happening in private credit markets around the world and the contraction of global demand.

So what have we been doing? Firstly, short term stimulus, payments to pensioners, carers, families, to provide support for the 1.5 million Australians who work in Australia’s retail sector. That is about 15 per cent of our workforce, really important stuff.

Secondly, medium term stimulus, by investing in the biggest school modernisation program the country has ever seen. The flow through here in terms of projects which have been launched in this local area in recent times, I was talking to both Jennie and Sharon about that just before. Good stuff.

State of the art 21st century libraries popping up in local primary schools, multipurpose halls, classroom modernisation, secondary schools able to compete for state of the art science centres and language centres.

And guess what, it is not just here. In every one of the 7,500 primary schools across our country, our unapologetic ambition is to turn it into a construction site for the next year or two ahead.

And the reason is, building jobs, apprenticeships and traineeships today while constructing the infrastructure we need for tomorrow. So that we have got the best schools and the best learning environment for our kids for the future.

(Applause)

There must be a principal up the back there. (Laughter) I hope a lot goes to your school sir.

Secondly, the social housing. It is just wrong that we have got in this country today such high numbers of people who are homeless according to the Census data. How do we make a difference? Well, you are about to see the biggest single national investment in social housing the country has ever seen - 20,000 units of social housing being built right across the country.

What are we doing? Creating jobs, apprenticeships and traineeship opportunities today while building the social infrastructure we need for tomorrow, to bring down that level of homelessness.

Similarly, we have got a $4 billion investment in energy efficiency, what is our objective? To ensure that every owner occupied dwelling in the country has ceiling insulation in order to create job opportunities today and bring down greenhouse gas emissions for tomorrow.

That is our overarching principle. That is medium term stimulus.

Longer term stimulus you have seen us already announce one large project which is a National Broadband Network. We are serious about this. How can we be in 21st century Australia and have a broadband network which is one of the slowest, least accessible, and most expensive anywhere in the western world?

It’s just wrong, it’s retarding growth. If you’re a small business operating in the Illawarra, why shouldn’t you have the access to at least 100 megabytes per second to link you up with customers right around the world, at speed, or to a new supply chain for the businesses which you operate?

If you’re teaching out at the University of Wollongong, why shouldn’t you have access to at-speed, maximum bandwidth, maximum band speed to the delivery of your courses to anywhere and everywhere without impediment?
And similarly, why can’t you be using that platform to do so with the delivery of courses right around the world?

I am sure they are doing so at present, but this bandwidth and band speed that we provide simply turbocharges that, makes the platforms for delivery much better and much more efficient, much more rapid and makes it therefore more possible and more profitable.

Delivering e-health services. If you’re dependent on health services from one of the big teaching hospitals in Sydney, how do we get that down the tube to you in the local GP clinic? Well, we need bandwidth in order to do that.

Similarly with our schools, similar to the way in which governments can put services online. We don’t have the platform to do that.

Twelve years our predecessors were in office and I can’t find any evidence of our national broadband network being built anywhere. I just can’t. It’s time to get on with it.

What again is the organising principle concerning our challenge for this great global recession? It’s creating jobs, apprenticeships and traineeships now with an investment of up to $43 billion in building a National Broadband Network and creating the infrastructure, the nation building infrastructure we need for our businesses and for our health system and for our education system for tomorrow - that’s the organising principle.

I talked about global action, national action; let’s talk a little bit about local action. Here in this local area we have been injecting quite a lot of activity.

If I looked at the figures that I was handed before, and have carefully now left behind in my other folder - I stand to be corrected on these numbers therefore - we’re injecting something like, through the National Stimulus Strategy, $633 million into this regional economy, the Illawarra. That is a lot of investment.

I was asked just before at the press conference ‘what are you doing in terms of infrastructure?’, to which my answer was $374 million. That’s actually quite a sizeable answer to that question.

If you go through what’s happening in schools, what’s happening with social housing and the local application of what I have just been describing, this is all being funnelled through to what is happening on the ground here. So that if you’re a tradie, if you’re a sparkie, if you’re a person that is working in 20 to 25 separate trades, then you have got an opportunity to get access to jobs which are going to crop up through these local building programs operating in local schools.

That’s why we are doing it. That’s the difference, so whether it’s in the schools, whether it’s what we are rolling out in terms of the roads system, whether it’s what we are doing as far as our TAFE and our universities as well.

The members reminded me this morning about the injection that we have just made in the University of Wollongong, some $38 million into a state of the art infrastructure planning facility. This is a really good investment in your local economy.

So what I have just been describing nationally flows through locally to the tune of $633 million. That is investment which would not otherwise be in this regional economy had this government not decided to step up to the plate and say there is a global recession on, how can we make a difference

And I simply again repeat the question, had we not done so, unemployment queues in this country would be much, much worse. Look at the international data. For what we achieved in terms of the unemployment data which was released just last week, one of the few economies in the world, at least for that month, which has shown unemployment come down a notch. Of course it will go up in the future, but what we are determined to do is to act globally, nationally and locally to reduce the problem to the greatest extent possible.

Of course here in the local area, there have been a number of job cuts and we know that we are going to have to act even more decisively in what we do locally in order to make further of a difference.
Of course another area in which we seek to make differences is what we do in the area of planning and in the area of apprenticeships and traineeships. Jennie for example has chaired the Illawarra Apprenticeship Pilot Program that’s aimed at disadvantaged unemployed people and that has helped over 400 young people in this region through a pre-vocational course and into an apprenticeship with local business.

That’s good local practical work. It’s an example of how a government can work together along with businesses and local unions with the Commonwealth funding a coordinator for the project, the State Government funding a range of pre-vocational courses and the Illawarra Business Chamber now carrying the program forward. Good local practical work.

Jennie has also been involved with the Beacon Foundation’s No Dole program in six local schools in the Shellharbour area. This is a program in which year 9 and 10 students make a public commitment to stay in education, training or employment with support from the local community and local businesses. It’s consistent with what we are now doing nationally. Our approach for anyone under 25 is summed up in a single phrase; you are either earning or learning.

We are making a universal entitlement of an educational training place for anyone under the age of 25. Whether it’s at universities, whether it’s at TAFEs or whether it’s at school. Because we need to make sure that our young people in this time of global economic downturn are seizing this opportunity to take those skills, to take them to a different level with a new set of skills. To enhance what they’ve got, so that when the global economic recovery comes they are in harness and ready to go. And I would commend Jennie on her local work in these areas

Also on the local front, we intend today to do some work with our local employment coordinators. And today we have with us Linda Mortimer. Where is Linda? This is Linda Mortimer. She is now your Local Employment Coordinator, for the period immediately ahead.

What is all this about? What we have done nationwide is look at those regions of Australia where unemployment is tipping up fastest and hardest. It’s not just here, it’s other parts of Australia as well. Last week I spent three days in south western Sydney , in Liverpool, in Bankstown and in Campbelltown. Talking to groups such as this about we can make a difference on the ground. Prior to that I was at similar meetings in the City of Casey in Melbourne, in Ulverstone in north western Tasmania. In the city of Mawson Lakes I think in the north western suburbs of Adelaide and then of course in the City of Stirling in the southern part of Perth on the way to Fremantle.

The challenges in these communities are similar and the reason I am coming out to speak with each of these communities is with one simple question - ‘How can we make a further difference locally?’ We have appointed Priority Employment Coordinators in each of these regions. Secondly we’re backing them up with the Local Jobs Fund of some $650 million. And we need to make sure that she is able to draw upon local good ideas about what we can do here locally to make even more of a difference.

But you know something? It won’t work unless you the community pile in with your ideas, with your suggestions and wherever possible, with your co-investment of talent, time and where possible cash. We want to be partners with you. What I know from my own experiences in government is that these things work best when locals come up with an idea, get in there with you in a partnership and see it through.

My experience of having worked in Canberra as Prime Minister for a little more than a year now, is that not all wisdom proceeds from Parliament House Canberra. You may be surprised to learn that. I’ve discovered it quite recently. Not exactly.

But you know stuff works if you the community, who know your community, you’re passionate about community, you love living here, that’s why you’re here. You have therefore got a deep emotional and practical engagement about how you can take what is currently on offer in this community and make it better. And that’s what we are here to do, to be partners with you.

So we want to see social enterprise initiatives, we want to see good local business initiatives, we want to see what the local chamber of commerce has to say and to suggest, we want to see what your not-for-profits have to say and suggest.

And so when I turn this discussion over to your contributions soon, it is with an idea of harnessing your best positive ideas about ‘here we are now, what can we do in the immediate term to make it better’.

It’s not just an open discussion which leads nowhere, no one has got time for that. You’re all busy people and so are we. That’s we have a Priority Employment Coordinator, that’s why we have allocated $650 million to a national fund to support activities in local areas. But we won’t do that unless you come forward with stuff which is actually going to work and have an effect.

How can you build your local social infrastructure? How can you build local micro-businesses? How do people who are currently out there unemployed who might be able to assist, into running their own enterprises? How can we got out there and augment some of the programs already being supported by the University of Wollongong?

How can we augment some of the good project work being done by BlueScope? How can we augment what is being done by your local authorities in this area? How can we build up jobs, apprenticeship and traineeships?

One final thought from me, before we go to your contributions from the floor.

And it goes to how we go to about planning for our infrastructure long term. I have spoken about national action, I have spoken about global action, I have spoken about local action. But also the whole question of how we plan better for our cities in the future.

And when I was recently in Hobart at our meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, bringing together all the Premiers and the Chief Ministers and myself and their treasurers, one of the things that we were discussing is how do we make sure that our major metropolitan centres are planned best for the future.

Our major cities must have better planning for the future so that we can plan better for their infrastructure for the long term. Our capital cities must have the best planning possible for the long term, including for the provision of infrastructure.

For example in NSW, Sydney must have better planning for the future - better metropolitan planning arrangements will help ensure consistent decision making, improve the efficiency of infrastructure investment and further contribute to productivity and economic growth.

If we do that, it means that infrastructure would be better planned, better connected: our roads; our railways; our ports; our airports; energy; water; broadband; universities; hospitals. We need to be planning better.

It would make certainly Sydney work much better. It would make it easier to get around between work, home and the shops. I know we have got to do better when it comes to the planning of our major cities, our capital cities in particular.

That’s why in April I charged the Council of Australian Governments with tackling this challenge for the future. From my own experience in government, I know for example that Sydney’s planning arrangements must include better coordination between all levels of government.

I understand this, which is why last year when we came to government we established the Major Cities Unit inside the Commonwealth Government. And I believe that the federal sphere of government does have a role to play in shaping our major cities and our capital cities in the future.

Big cities like Sydney may need an overarching body responsible for long term planning and infrastructure.

So how can we go about making all this work? We’ve used before the great planning and success stories for our nation and for this state and for the city of Sydney itself, during the Sydney Olympics.

SOCOG, the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, had three levels of Australian government and bipartisan representation and structure. How do we best deploy the best business brains, the best industry brains, the best brains from across the entire community to make that bipartisan mission best for the future?

I think it is time for us all to work together on the planning challenges which lie ahead for the future - for our major cities, for our capital cities, but in particular, for Australia’s principal international gateway, Sydney.

Finally, on a very local point, I also spoke, I have been speaking with Sharon and the other local members about the delivery of Medicare services here in this community as well.

Jennie has reminded me to mention one matter of special interest to people in Warrawong. At the last election, we undertook that Warrawong residents would have better access to Government services. Ahead of tomorrow night’s Budget I confirm that we are going to meet that commitment.

From January the 1st 2010, Medicare Australia services such as claiming Medicare rebates will be available from the existing Warrawong Centrelink office in the King Street shopping centre. And this is a precursor to a purpose-built centre for both Medicare and Centrelink offices.

As you as members of this local community, can I say we have a long hard road ahead of us, but you are a tough people down here. You have been through difficult times in the past and I believe in partnership with you and your passion for this community, we are going to achieve great things together in the future.

I conclude with where I began. The thing for us all to remember as we confront the reality of this global economic recession is that we are all in this together.

And if we tackle this thing together, with compassion and some commitment and some practical commonsense, with positive ideas on what can bring us together and make a difference for the local community, it is far better than simply having an acrimonious debate about those things which might divide us.

So the forum is very much now open to you.