01 May 2009
Speech to a Community Jobs Summit
Fitzroy Town Hall - Melbourne

This Community Jobs Summit is my crazy idea, okay? I’m to blame for it, if it works that’s great, if it doesn’t I’m responsible. I’ve sat down with Brendan the other day, the Minister, and Julia the Deputy Prime Minister and said how can we pool together the best brains, the best ideas, the best innovations across the country to make a difference at the local level to the challenge which now confronts us all with the global recession. A recession which now washes across Australia’s shores as well and which then has a direct impact on local jobs in local communities across our country.

Therefore the purpose of today is simply to get our sleeves rolled up and have a go and see what ideas come out of this, how we learn from the past and how we innovate for the future.

As Tony has just indicated, I intend to be here for most of the day and I’m going to be in listening mode; I want to hear what you’ve got to say. Because a lot of you have a bucket load of experience in things that work and things that don’t. And I have one central organising principle which is: I am all for positive ideas, and I’m all for positive ideas which work and which have some prospect of delivering a real result on the ground.

I’m not faintly interested in elaborate bureaucracies, I’m not faintly interested in new systems of government, at least in terms of today’s conversation. What I am interested in is what works at the local community to make a difference in terms of local jobs and local training. Very practical stuff, each community and their circumstances are different but you know something? There are principles and there are lessons to be learned from the experience of valuable organisations such as yours. And the single purpose of today is to harness that. And then to go out to the fields and multiply. That’s our intention. So thank you for spending this time with us today on a bright and a little frosty morning here in Melbourne.

The other reason that I wanted everyone here today is because I wanted to underline one core principle of the Government’s response to the global recession and its impact on Australia and it is this: we are all in this together. Every one of us. Governments, unions, businesses, the community sector – every one of us. Governments at all level, federal, State, local. Businesses, big, medium and small. Unions, right across the country. The community sector, the church and charitable sector, the not-for-profit sector, the social enterprise sector. We are all in this together.

And the great thing about this country of ours Australia is that when we do things together in response to external adversity, we’re absolutely fantastic. We do make a difference and if there’s one difference I see emerging in this country compared with what I see in other parts of the world it is that in other parts of the world when you see duress, when you see stress coming off the back of deep economic challenges, many of those communities, many of those societies and in fact many of those nations fracture right down the middle.

The stuff of this nation is quite different. We’re different to that because we do have an instinct that when there is a big, big challenge out there that if we team up and work with each other we can make a power of difference. And when I look at all you good folk from the community and social enterprise sector from across Australia, I see people who are deeply committed and deeply intelligent in their engagement about how to make a difference.

So one, we’re all in this together. Two, I want to know what works at the local level and therefore I am going to be listening very carefully to contributions through the day and I’ll be here for a large slice of it and Julia later on.

The Government has been upfront with the Australian people that the unemployment forecasts in the Budget will be revised up. There is absolutely no point in sugar coating this fact. The global recession is costing jobs in Australia, which will be reflected in significantly increased unemployment forecasts on Budget night.

The exact forecasts will be finalised and published in the Budget, which means they cannot be released until Budget night. But Australia is actively working, actively seeking to address the impact of the global recession on Australia and independent assessments so far of the Australian Government’s response to the financial crisis, be it through the International Monetary Fund, through the OECD or through Access Economics have been strongly positive in relation to the actions we’ve taken so far.

But our purpose as a Government and as a nation must be absolutely clear cut. We must resolve together not to let this recession steal the future of a generation of Australians. And in particular, we won’t let it condemn a generation of young Australians to chronic long-term unemployment. That must be our mission statement and working together we can make a huge impact on it.

I’ve welcomed already today our co-hosts, the Brotherhood, the Salvation Army, The Society of St Vincent de Paul and Mission Australia. These are good organisations, doing good work. I also want to welcome our seven temporary Local Employment Co-ordinators, who we have appointed in the areas of most intense unemployment across the country now. And they are already on the job getting on with the task of making a difference in those communities.

Furthermore, we are here today to work out how best we deploy the resources of our $650 million Jobs Fund and in partnership with our highly innovative and committed community sector, how we make the best use of those funds. And as I said we have the input also of the likes of Lindsay Fox and Bill Kelty to draw from their experience in times past but also critically, their ideas about how we address these challenges for the immediate future.

A word or two about the size of the sectors represented in this room today. The community sector is huge. It’s a vibrant part of not just our society but a vibrant part of our economy. It has a lot to teach Government. According to our ABN records we have 41,000 not-for-profit organisations in Australia - 41,000. They employ 850,000 people and nearly two and a half million volunteers. That is a truckload of Australians, that is a huge number of our national community doing good work for the country.

Many more community sector organisations are among the 650,000 organisations that are set up as registered incorporated bodies or as trusts or similar structures. Most people in this hall today are part of this sector, and many of you work with disadvantaged communities. That means that puts all you in the front line of the work in which we are now collaboratively engaged in responding to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression three quarters of a century ago.

The Government in its response to the crisis has sought to deal with it at multiple levels; global action, national action, local action. Local action you’ll be familiar with through the work that we have done in the G20. Work on global economic stimulus, $5 trillion worth of investment into the global economy by the governments representing the 20 largest economies in the world.

Combined action to also provide resources for the International Monetary Fund to make sure that it can intervene effectively should there be systemic collapse in the economies or financial systems of emerging economies around the world.

Collaborative action also to deal with the restoration of the health of the world’s leading private financial institutions, the extraction of toxic assets, the re-capitalisation of the world’s biggest banks in order to restore the normal flow of private credit in the global economy.

Action also collaboratively to design new rules for the global financial system because the old rules have plainly failed and failed miserably.

And finally action collaboratively to draw a line under protectionism because protectionism, if we’re mindful of the lessons of the 1930s, is what took that extraordinary economic crisis and turned it into an even worse crisis culminating in the appalling events of 1939. Global action.

National action, you’re equally familiar with. The work that we are doing to prosecute a national economic stimulus strategy to make a difference in this economy. There are two broad approaches. You either simply let the free market rip under these circumstances, that’s the ideology which has landed us in large part in the mess we’ve got ourselves into across the world. Or Government stepping up to the plate and stepping in to make a difference.

Government can’t solve all the problems which have been created by the mistakes made in financial markets but we can make a difference. Governments cannot prevent a global economic recession impacting directly on Australia but we can reduce the impact and that’s what we’re doing. This national economic stimulus strategy of ours is clear cut, it’s about one central organising principle: how do we provide jobs and training now and at the same time build the infrastructure that we need for tomorrow? That’s it. That’s what we’re trying to do.

How are we going about it? Short term stimulus, providing direct incentives by trebling the first home owners’ grant to assist the private residential construction industry. Look at the data around the world, our residential construction sector against those in most other OECD economies, we’re doing a lot better.

Also we’re providing temporary and short term stimulus to pensioners, carers, veterans, through direct payments to support the one and a half million Australians who work in the Australian retail sector and again compare and contrast the growth in Australian retail sales here relative to what has occurred in retail sales in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. It’s a direct consequence of government policy in both areas.

That’s short term stimulus.

Medium term stimulus. We’re now investing in the single largest school modernisation program the country has ever seen. We’re investing the equivalent of 1.5 per cent of GDP, about $15 billion, in building state-of-the-art libraries, multipurpose halls, state-of-the-art science centres, state-of-the-art language centres in the schools of Australia with one objective - to turn every primary school in the country into a construction site. To provide jobs for tradies and for others here and now and build the schools we want for tomorrow for our kids.

The same in social housing and the same also in our investment in energy efficiency.

And then long term infrastructure. Short term stimulus, medium term stimulus by building infrastructure like schools, long term stimulus by investing in much needed infrastructure such as the National Broadband Network - investment of up to $43 billion, more than 4 per cent of GDP, in order to provide the infrastructure we need for tomorrow, but a massive injection in providing jobs and training-related opportunities in the here and now.

That’s our strategy in a nutshell but that’s national action.

Local action is equally important. Local action, which has as its organising principle how do we take all these government stimulus measures, how do we take the Government’s provision of training programs and make a difference with the community sector from the ground up?

The day after I got off the plane in London from the G20 Summit about a month ago, I went to the City of Casey here in Melbourne here in Melbourne and gave a speech. And the Brotherhood was with us on that occasion as well. It was about this: a Jobs and Training Compact with Australia. Three parts to it. A Jobs and Training Compact with Young Australians, how do we make a difference? Secondly, a Jobs and Training Compact with Australians who have been retrenched through no fault of their own and thirdly, a Compact with local communities.

With young Australians, the principle is this - I do not want to see a generation of our young people saddled with unemployment and saddled with the impact of unemployment which causes them to become a lost generation. I do not want that to happen. I want us to take every creative measure possible to make a difference now on the way through. And that’s why we’ve been absolutely clear cut about our earn or learn policy for people under the age of 25.

We want kids to make sure that they have a year 12 or year 12 equivalent qualification. If they’re under 20, if they are without a year 12 graduation or an equivalent qualification, to go back and get one. If you’re under 25 and you’re out of work, to use that opportunity to go and find and obtain a local training place. And the Government providing a universal entitlement for those under 25 to give effect to that in order to make a difference with young Australians.

Secondly, our Compact with Australians who’ve been retrenched with no fault of their own. How do we make a difference there? And obviously that’s where our priority employment coordinators come into effect as well.

But we’ve sat down with the banks for example and sought to organise an arrangement with them whereby if you are retrenched and you are in possession of a mortgage or a personal loan for a car, the banks subject to circumstances will engage in a negotiation with retrenched Australians in order to provide a better and more flexible arrangement for the repayment of mortgages and car loans over time. In order to provide some support at a time when families are at their most concerned for the loss of a job, particularly if it’s the principle bread-winner.

Other measures as well that we’ve announced to support those Australians who’ve been retrenched through no fault of their own.

Third element, our Compact with Local Communities and this is where you the good people in this room come so much directly into focus. How do we make a difference from the ground up? How do we make a difference in terms of social enterprises tailored to the circumstances of each community across the country?

We’re not just here to make fine sounding speeches, we’re not just here to say “here’s a bucket of money of the $650 million Local Jobs Fund, off you go”. We actually want to make sure that we do make a real difference and I’ve listened very carefully to what various of our leaders from the church and charitable sector have said in the past about the importance of not-for-profit initiatives. I’ve listened very carefully to that.

And so what we want to do is generally work in partnership, not just with a fine sounding speech saying “okay let’s get together because we’re concerned about this and you go off into the fields and have a go”. No. Us being partners with you. Partners with you by providing a fund which can be drawn upon. Partners with you by providing a network of priority employment coordinators and through them an ability to access the existing national training programs and other infrastructure initiatives which inject funds, capital and money into local communities which are under duress.

And that brings us right back to the purpose of being here today and that is to listen to what you folk have got to say and to present. When we talk about unemployment, when we talk about the impact of this recession, there is always a tendency in the national economic debate to talk about this in terms purely of statistics. Each one of those statistics, as you know well from your own life and commitment, is a human family, a human face, a human person possessed of an intrinsic dignity and our job is to make a difference to them.

Already the Government has sought to make a difference in some of these areas. Our investment in schools, much of it in the poorer schools of the country. Our investment in a new national healthcare agreement including additional funding for our public hospitals to help those Australians of limited means, our investment also in social housing to reduce the blight of homelessness in our community both through the new national housing strategy, our new strategy on homelessness, together with the $6 billion plus investment in social housing which I referred to before. Also our $4 billion plus investment in closing the gap with indigenous Australians.

These are measures we’re taking nationally. They are being implemented. But what we are here to talk about is how do we make most advantage of these national programs to make a difference locally.

I do not come here as Prime Minister of Australia with a set of prescriptions or a set piece set of announcements to make after today’s deliberations are done. I look carefully at this agenda, I am interested in it. I am interested in what you have to say in each element on this agenda. And if I’m not here for all of it, I want to hear a report back on what’s been concluded.

Because the central purpose of this is to distill the deliberations in which we’re engaged today and the principles which we can apply in priority unemployment communities right across the country and to give effect to that through our priority employment coordinators in partnership with you, the community sector.

So ladies and gentlemen, thanks for being here. I think it’s time for us all to roll up our sleeves and in the best Australian tradition, have a go. Have a damned, darn good go at making a difference here in communities right across Australia. With your effort, your participation and your ideas, I believe we can do just that. I thank you.