Address to Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress, Sydney
TUE 15 MAY 2012
Thank you so very much, and thank you to Ged for that kind introduction.
I'm so proud to be here today as a Labor Prime Minister, so proud to stand before you, and for me this has a real sense of homecoming.
Not to this place, but to the people who are gathered in it, a real sense of homecoming to the great Australian trade union movement, the trade union movement that gave birth to our political party. It's good to be home with you.
A sense of homecoming too, because I learnt my trade union values in my family home.
My parents, John and Moira, taught me many things, but of all of them, first and foremost, they taught me to cherish family, they taught me to study and to work hard, they taught me to respect other people and they taught me to always, always, always carry your union membership card.
They taught me the value of trade unionism.
My parents always valued trade unions because, as working people, they didn't view themselves as being particularly at risk in the workplace.
They knew that with hard work and with thrift, with effort, that they would get ahead. They didn't overestimate or underestimate their position in Australian society, but they did know that whilst workplaces are overwhelmingly full of decent bosses and decent working people, that sometimes things can go wrong, and that's when you need your trade union.
And my parents understood, too, that even if nothing ever went wrong for them, it was a question of respect for their fellow workers that they were members of the union, and that they were there able to lend their strength to others should it be needed.
My parents always understood the value of joining with others in their workplace, bringing their strength together in the trade union, and they were proud union members all of their lives.
I've taken those values with me. And just like my parents taught me about Labor's vision of workplaces, they taught me about the broader Labor vision for society.
They taught me about the benefits of opportunity for all, that everyone, everyone should have the opportunity to get ahead.
They taught me about the great enabler which is education, the thing that enables people to realise their dreams. They taught me that a decent society doesn't ask people to beg, a decent society makes sure that people do not miss out on the things that go to help make a reasonable life for them and their families.
They taught me that Labor vision, and they also taught me that this great country, their adopted home, never ever needed to be afraid of the future.
All of my life I've taken those values with me and their values with me and there has never been a moment in my adult life where I've doubted their wisdom or their morality.
Those Labor values, my values, your values, they are the values that have guided the Labor Government I lead.
And I’m proud to be able to report to you today that driven by those Labor values, we have protected and enhanced the rights of people at work. I'm proud to be able to report to you today that we've dumped WorkChoices because it was dumping on working people.
That we have acted to recognise the valuable work of social and community services workers, undervalued for too long, mainly because they were women. We've acted to correct that.
And we're acting now to recognise the valuable work of people in aged care, of those who care for the elderly in our society, once again under-recognised for far too long.
And we’ve moved to protect the rights of cleaners. We've moved to improve the laws for outworkers. We've moved so that a truck-driving cabin being a workplace can be a workplace can be a safer workplace, so that truck driver gets back home that evening.
We've worked, too, to ensure that our building workers get a fairer go. And for every worker, we've moved to increase superannuation from 9% to 12% so people can see a decent retirement. The actions of your Labor Government driven by Labor values.
Friends, you understand, as I understand, that having fairness and decency at work is the foundation stone for fairness and decency throughout our society. It is what the Liberals never understood when they introduced WorkChoices, that if you take away rights at work, then you are taking away so much from working people.
That the values that make you take away rights from work are the values which show in everything else that you do.
Friends, I'm proud to be able to report to you today as your Labor Prime Minister that we have protected your rights at work and in doing so, we have eradicated the days of fear in Australian workplaces that Mr Abbott and his friends brought.
The days of fear when people would go to work not knowing if that was the day that they would be unfairly dismissed, not knowing if that was the day that they would lose their job unfairly and not be able to even complain about it. We have ended those days of fear.
I'm proud that we have been able to do that. We have moved from Mr Abbott's days of fear at work to days of decency and respect by protecting rights at work.
And we've done that as a foundation stone of a broader Labor vision for our society.
I am proud of the achievements of our government, whether it's the National Broadband Network or our health reforms, whether it's putting a price on carbon or an historic increase in the pension.
I am proud of those great Labor reforms. But the two that are closest to my heart, the work we have done to protect and save jobs and the work we have done to give Australia's children a better education.
When the worst economic catastrophe the world has faced since the Great Depression threatened, we acted to save jobs.
And because we acted, hundreds of thousands of Australians , your members, are in work today, still in their own homes, their kids able to get an apprenticeship because the party of work acted to save jobs.
And as the party of work acted to save jobs, your Labor Party, your Labor Government has also been working to transform opportunity by ensuring that Australian kids get a better education.
We’ve moved to improve schools, we’ve increased apprenticeships and we are expanding university places.
I only stand here before you today because I was a beneficiary of Gough Whitlam's dream that university gates should be opened to the many, not the few.
And that dream of education, that dream of education as the great agent of change, it has been there since been there since Chifley's light on the hill, it's been there since Gough Whitlam's lamp on a child's desk.
And that dream is being built on by this Labor Government today, making it a reality for young Australians.
I am so proud to be able to report to you that today more Australians from poorer homes are going to university than ever before, and I am absolutely convinced that in the decades to come, there will be people who stand on this stage and who are able to say that they are only standing here because of our education revolution, your education revolution, what your Labor Government is achieving today.
Friends, we're rightly proud of these achievements, these Labor achievements. We're rightly proud of what we have done as the party of work, as the party of a fair go, as the party of opportunity.
But, friends, we are also the party of realism and we gather today in what are not easy days for the Labor Movement or for the Labor Party itself.
I know you realise that and I realise it, too. Australia’s trade union movement is a proud, free, democratic, accountable trade union movement.
Your reputation of being professional and hard-working on behalf of your members has been hard-fought for and hard-won, and so I know it distresses you the way that it distresses me, that the conduct, the very poor conduct of some parts of one union risk tarnishing that great reputation.
I know that that dismays you and it dismays me as well, and whatever the ultimate findings of the courts and tribunals are about all of this, we know that in some parts of a union, members have been let down very badly.
Instead of the sole focus of those union officials being on benefiting those members, those members have been let down.
That disgusts me and I know that it disgusts you, too, and we will work together for change to right this wrong because we all believe that a dollar taken from a worker is a precious thing, and a dollar taken from a worker as part of their union dues should always be used for their benefit.
So we will work together, for new reforms on transparency and new stiffer penalties.
That will be our way of saying loudly and proudly that what has happened here is not good enough and we, the Labor Party and the Labor movement, will be saying to union members around the country that we're getting on with the job in their interests, having drawn a line under this and acted for change, and we will work together to do that.
Friends, this too is not an easy set of days for the Labor Party itself.
I'm not ever going to succumb to government by opinion poll. We don't do the things we do because we're looking for a headline or looking for a poll bounce.
We didn't step up and save jobs because we were looking for a headline or a poll bounce.
We don't transform education for those political ends either. We don't do the things we do because of those political motives.
We do them because they're right.
We do them because they're in the Labor cause.
We do them in the interests of working people.
We do them because we're the party of hard work and the party of a fair go.
But, friends, whilst I will never succumb to government by opinion polls, I can read the opinion polls and I'm under no illusions about the depths of the political challenges that confront our Government. I understand that, I get that.
I understand that Australians have been screamed at now by the Opposition for more than a year.
They've been told that they need to be very afraid, they've been screamed at relentlessly and we all know a good fear campaign when we see one.
We also know that so many Australians have looked at this minority Parliament, the Parliament that they elected, and they have wondered to themselves whether something that is so unusual at the national level in Australia's political history, something the subject of so much dramatic reporting, is working in their interests.
And Australians, too, are still feeling anxious from the days of the Global Financial Crisis.
Australians recognised that something very big happened in the world and to our economy, and many Australians are worried what that means for themselves and their families and their future.
You know so many of your members are feeling like that, that sense of anxiety.
Well, here today I want to say to you, so you can say to your members, that there is nothing to fear when we look at each of these events, nothing to fear at all.
Your members have been told that their cost of living is going to skyrocket and their jobs are going to be at risk on 1 July when carbon pricing comes in.
And today I want to say through you, to your members, to the Australian people, that there is nothing to fear when carbon pricing starts.
I understand that so many Australian people are feeling under cost-of-living pressure; that they would come to you in their workplaces and say to you that they're wondering whether the Government understands the pressure that they're under.
Well, I'm here to say to you today we do understand that pressure and we will be working with Australian families on the cost-of-living pressures that they feel.
That's why we delivered a Labor budget, a battlers' budget, a fair-go budget to make a difference to working Australians around the country.
And so please, tell your members who are worried about cost-of-living pressure, that from next week people will start to see the money that is for compensating for carbon pricing start to flow.
Before 30 June, they will see a Schoolkids Bonus. $410 for primary school students, $820 for secondary school students.
On 1 July, people earning less than $80,000 a year will see a tax cut. Next January people will see the first instalment of that year's Schoolkids Bonus.
In March, some of the poorest and neediest, like people on Newstart, will see a new allowance to help them through. In July, people will see the second instalment of that year's Schoolkids Bonus.
They will see an increase in will see an increase in family payments and they will see further increases in family payments and in pensions as a result of carbon pricing.
Please tell your members that there is nothing to fear, that we will keep working with them, as a Labor government, focused on them and their families' needs to help them make ends meet.
Now, what's the Liberal answer to all of this?
Well, it was no surprise to me that a Labor budget, a budget for working people, a budget for battlers, was so attacked by the Liberal Party last week.
Let me just use some of the words that Mr Abbott spoke about our cost-of-living support for Australian families. About family payments he said and I quote,
I'm not saying this particular measure is there forever.
It's Mr Abbott's way of saying under him family payments and their increases would be taken away.
Or when Mr Abbott said,
This Schoolkids Bonus doesn't have to be spent on school. I mean, you can go and blow it on the pokies.
That Mr Abbott's way of saying he doesn't trust working Australian families to look after their kids. What an insult.
Or when Mr Abbott said,
This is just $400 or $800 emerging in people's bank accounts.
That's Mr Abbott's way of saying he is so out of touch that he doesn’t understand that for so many families around the country, $400 or $800 makes a real difference.
Friends, you know differently from your members in your workplaces how families are experiencing cost-of-living pressures, and you know that they need our assistance, they deserve our assistance, they don't deserve Mr Abbott's cheap politics or even cheaper insults.
Friends, when it comes to the minority Parliament, I know that so many Australians, through the dramatic reporting have been concerned about what a minority Parliament means for this country.
Today I want to say to you and through you to your members that this minority Parliament, so unusual in Australia's history, is working.
As Bismarck said, politics is not a pretty business, and that's always been true. And making a minority Parliament work was never going to be easy, whether it was me or whether it was Mr Abbott. But in the days that followed the last election, when Australians had determined that they would vote for this minority Parliament, Mr Abbott and I took a very different approach to the future.
Mr Abbott did try to woo the Independents that he now scorns and insults. He did that by offering things like a billion dollars for the Royal Hobart Hospital. He thought that bribes would make the difference.
Well I took a different approach, a more purposeful approach, and I said to myself that in government you can make a difference to this nation's future, and there is no excuse for not ensuring that even with a minority Parliament, we work to secure our nation's future.
And this minority Parliament has.
300 pieces of legislation passed, not one defeat for the Government in a vote in the House of Representatives. This minority Parliament has been working through the too-hard basket for the nation.
Difficult reforms like putting a price on carbon, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the structural separation of Telstra, making sure that people are being encouraged to move from welfare to work. This minority Parliament is working to make a difference for the future of all Australians.
And friends, that is the measure for the Parliament, for the Labor Government. What you do that makes a difference for working people and their families, this Parliament is working to make that difference. That's the measure of what we have been seeking to achieve.
But I do understand, as I'm sure you understand as well, the frustration that can come from the headlines in the daily newspapers where, when you look at those headlines, with all of their horror, the schlock and horror that modern media reporting runs to, that the achievements of this minority Parliament aren't seen for what they are.
I understand that frustration as you understand it, too.
Yes, there are some days of frustration around, but for us, as we respond to that frustration, I want to say this to you: We are working and we are achieving for Australians around the nation.
We are working as a Labor government to deliver Labor reforms. This minority Parliament is working. Your Labor Government is working, and our economy, the economy that your Labor Government has worked with you to achieve, is the envy of the world, providing jobs to Australians around the country, even in these days of structural change.
So friends, let me say this to you about the achievements of your Labor Government and the work that we have to do together.
We could, in these days of political pressure, we could succumb to that political pressure, or we could do what I am urging you to do today. When you focus on what more needs to be achieved, when you focus on what we can achieve in the days to come as a Labor Government, I ask you to think of this:
We have a plan for the country.
We are getting on with the job.
I am determined that we deliver that plan because it will make a difference for all Australians.
We should not allow days of political pressure to become a counsel of despair. Rather than that, we should ensure that we stiffen our spine and we get on with the work that working Australians want us to do, the work that means such a difference to them and their families, the work that Labor people around the country rely on us to achieve.
I am absolutely determined to do that and prepared to take all of my energy and all of my vigour into the next 500 days as we move towards the election campaign and beyond, to keep striving for the Labor cause, and I know that you will be doing that with me.
Friends, to give you just one story about how I feel about all of this. Recently, a colleague gave me a postcard. It was from a friend of his who is serving in Afghanistan. It was actually a postcard that had been distributed to German army officers, to those from Germany who fight in Afghanistan.
And the postcard said on the back “I fight for Merkel”. And the Australian soldier who had given it to my colleague had crossed out Merkel and put Gillard: “I fight for Gillard”.
Friends, that’s very flattering, very flattering indeed, but it’s not right. I don’t ask anybody to fight for me. I fight for Australia.
I fight for the Australian values we hold dear, I fight for the Australian way.
No matter how tough, I fight for Australia because of my belief in this great country. I’ve loved this country all of my life. I came here as a small child, the daughter of migrants who came to this place to seek a better opportunity. And they found it.
They found a beautiful nation, a sunny place, a welcoming nation which has given them and their children opportunities they could not have dreamed of when they first stepped off that boat in 1966.
This is a fantastic country. A fantastic country of hope, a fantastic country of opportunity. And as Prime Minister in these days where Australians are so frequently invited to be afraid, to be afraid of carbon pricing, to be afraid about managing their cost-of-living, to be afraid about their jobs, to be afraid about the future. As your Prime Minister, I will move the Australian people from these days of fear to days of hope.
This is a great country, and in this great country I will be guided by what I learned in my family home. My parents, with their great Labor values, taught me you’ve always got to give something back, you’ve got to give it a go, you’ve got to do everything you can to help others. That’s what’s driving me. I know that’s what’s driving you. And I know we’re going to keep having that fight together.
Thank you very much.