SPEECH - It's time to build a better future for all Australians

08 February 2022

Australians are hard workers, and they deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. But, for nearly a decade now, the Liberals have put the needs of Australian families and workers way back on the backburner. Families are now stuck on an economic treadmill, where the cost of living is skyrocketing while, all the time, their wages are going backwards. Australians see it when they visit the supermarket, when they're filling up their cars with petrol and when they're paying those monthly bills. The structural cracks that existed prior to the pandemic are becoming huge chasms for all to bear witness to. As we confront the third year of this pandemic, Australia needs a plan to build back better, a plan to create a country that is fairer, stronger and more resilient, one that leaves no-one behind.

In the coming months, Australians will have an important decision to make. We have two choices. We can choose to re-elect a tired and incompetent government engulfed in almost a decade of disunity, dysfunction and dishonesty, or we can choose to elect a Labor government led by Anthony Albanese, a government that is unified and deeply committed to ensuring a better future for all Australians. For me the choice is clear because there is so much worth fighting for, like fighting for secure, well-paid jobs, jobs that give you a sense of security that the rug won't be ripped out from underneath you.

Right now there are about four million Australians who do not have secure work. Labor wants to fix that. We'll make job security a core focus of the Fair Work Act. We'll legislate to make wage theft a crime. We'll extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission to secure a better deal for the gig workers and ensure that, if you work the same job, you get the same pay.

Of course, for us to move forward, we also need to address the structural inequalities that have been exacerbated by this government's incompetence. Australians pay some of the highest childcare costs in the world. It's because the system has been designed in a way that punishes parents, often women, for working that fourth or fifth day in the working week. The system isn't working, but Labor will fix it. We'll abolish the cap on the rebate, making child care cheaper for 97 per cent of Australian families and making sure that no family is ever left worse off.

But child care isn't the only system that's broken. I have spoken to aged-care providers, workers and families in my electorate, who tell me that they have never seen anything remotely as bad as the situation we find today. Older Australians and their families should be able to expect high-quality care in any residential aged-care facility, but we know that the aged-care sector has been screaming out for increased support, since well before the pandemic, which the Morrison government has chosen to ignore time and time again.

Aged-care workers tell me that the situation is dire. We have reports that these highly skilled aged-care workers are at times supplying their own PPE and rapid antigen tests. These workers do an extraordinary job looking after our most vulnerable, but they are grossly undervalued and underpaid. Labor believes they should be paid a better wage.

If Labor is elected to form government, we will present a case to the Fair Work Commission for those aged-care workers to have their wages re-evaluated at an appropriate rate—no ifs or buts—because it is not right that you can earn more packing shelves at night at your local supermarket then you can delivering critical care for our parents, our grandparents and the most vulnerable in our communities.

The same mistakes that we see the Morrison Liberal government make in aged care are also being made in our domestic and family violence sector. The frontline workers who support children fleeing violence are exhausted. They are burnt out and demoralised. The increased pressure from this pandemic has been unrelenting. It is an awful fact, but there are not enough caseworkers to support the number of women who need to escape violence. Even worse, there's nowhere for these women and children to go if they do escape. Refuges are full, and there's not enough safe and affordable housing for women to move into in the longer term.

Leaving an abusive relationship is exactly the time when a woman and her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner. Tragically, women and children who flee violence are now increasingly living out of cars, pitching tents under bridges and couch surfing with friends and families. These are far from acceptable or safe options for women who are at risk of harm.

In the last 12 months rent has increased by nearly $5,000 in some suburbs in Newcastle. Labor has a commitment to tackle this housing crisis. We will build 20,000 new affordable homes, 4,000 of them allocated expressly to women who are escaping violence and to older women who are at risk of homelessness. We'll expand the number of workers in the domestic violence sector by investing an additional 500 workers to help women and children fleeing violence and to provide much-needed relief to the staff in these services who are already doing it tough. Importantly, at least half of those 500 workers will be placed in rural and regional centres like Newcastle.

Finally, we understand that women's economic security makes all the difference, and for that reason we support 10 days paid domestic violence leave because retaining a connection to your workplace when you're leaving violence is important.

When it comes to health services, the Morrison government has too often abandoned Novocastrians. Despite having COVID within our own community, our vaccines were diverted, pharmacists were left completely in the dark as to what was happening with the programs they were meant to be leading and our critical after-hours GP access service has been gutted. This is on top of the callous cuts to bulk-billing incentives, Medicare rebates and losing our classification as an area of doctor shortage. Families are struggling to get a GP appointment, exacerbating health inequalities even further.

We believe Australians deserve access to the best health care where possible. We know that there is nothing more central to families, to our communities, to our schools and to our economy than our health. Labor will save our GP Access After Hours service. We will restore this funding to ensure that Novocastrians can access the health care they need and deserve. Labor will also unlock the new energy opportunities that lie ahead for regions like Newcastle and the Hunter. Newcastle should be at the centre of our ambition for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower. Our Powering Australia plan will unleash opportunities for new traineeships and apprenticeships for our local manufacturing and supply chains, for our seafarers and for those currently working in traditional resource industries. You can't find many places in the world where you have the rail infrastructure, the manufacturing capacity and the deepwater port to produce and export electricity offshore.

Newcastle in particular has the energy smarts, the industrial experience and the infrastructure needed to be a key player, but first the policy settings have to be right. Australia has a severe skills shortage that is holding back the growth of our businesses, which have been forced to become overreliant on overseas workers and temporary visas. At the same time two million Australians are unemployed or underemployed and there are 85,000 fewer Australians in apprenticeships or traineeships than when the coalition took office. That's why Labor will invest in 465,000 free TAFE places and create up to 20,000 new university places. This investment will mean secure, well-paid jobs and will deliver the pipeline of skills in industries like resources, digital and advanced manufacturing and early childhood education. It will provide the registered nurses, teachers and aged-care and disability professionals that we need today.