2022 Lachlan Macquarie Lecture - Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Sydney

Speech
07 Oct 2022
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Sharing this ancient continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture is a source of great national pride.

And I know Western Sydney is proud to be home to the largest urban population of Aboriginal people. 

The latest generation of those who have cared for these lands and waters for 60,000 years.

Including Pemulwuy, who led a resistance against British settlers during the Frontier Wars, including a significant confrontation in Parramatta.

It’s fitting you remember him today with the Pemulwuy Prize.

Friends, I’m delighted to be back at the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, to join in celebrating a great part of our country and the people who contribute to its strength and success.

And I’m always happy to be back here at Accor Stadium – a place where some of our nation’s most memorable sporting moments have taken place, like the Rabbitohs’ epic Grand Final victory in 2014.

Preparing for this speech today got me thinking about the many ways Western Sydney and Greater Western Sydney have grown and changed in my lifetime.

‘Singh’ has replaced ‘Smith’ as the most common surname in areas like Blacktown and Campbelltown.

Shops selling bubble tea and sugar-cane juice have joined the delis run by Greek and Italian migrants.

And Western Sydney residents are among the most likely to speak a language other than English.

This is one of the reasons our Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, has commissioned a feasibility study into moving the headquarters of SBS to Western Sydney.

We’ll wait and see what the study says, but it certainly makes sense for such a fast-growing, multicultural community to be the home of the broadcaster that celebrates and serves Australia’s diversity.

It would be an important cultural investment in Western Sydney and a creator of construction jobs.

The diversity of Western Sydney is a local treasure – and it is also a national asset.

It enriches our cultural life – and it drives our economic growth.

One of the great things about this area, through the generations, is the culture of aspiration and entrepreneurship and innovation.

The willingness to work hard and take risks, to start businesses and create jobs.

We all benefit from that.

Western Sydney is diverse. It’s young. It’s talented. It’s aspirational.

And it’s growing at an extraordinary rate – more people live here in the Greater Western Sydney area than in Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin combined.

We can and should celebrate this growth – but we also need to respond to it, to plan for it, to seize the economic opportunities it represents.

Good infrastructure is absolutely central to this.

And investing in infrastructure has always been core business for reforming Labor Governments.

I’ve said many times that one of the most rewarding experiences of my life was serving as Minister for Infrastructure under Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard.

And one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed engaging with this group is because you share an understanding that infrastructure is not an end in itself.

We don’t build it for the sake of it, for the chance to turn a sod or cut a ribbon.

We build to last, for the long term.

We invest in infrastructure because we know it powers productivity, it supports growing communities, it creates jobs, it rewards aspiration.

It boosts access to services and it improves quality of life.

For me, infrastructure is never just about roads and railways and runways – it’s about living standards and job opportunities and community pride and quality of life.

Look at Western Sydney Airport, a long-standing passion of mine and a transformational infrastructure project.

It will be a catalyst for economic activity in Western Sydney.

The best drivers of regional economic activity are a university – or an airport.

Western Sydney airport will have a significant economic multiplier effect.

And it will create fair-wage, secure jobs, closer to where people live.

I’m pleased to say the project is tracking very well.

It’s more than a third complete and on schedule to start operating in late 2026.

It’s not only a great project in itself. It’s a great project that’s being done well.

It’s creating local jobs.

It’s being constructed sustainably. The project has used almost no potable water and has used more than five million tonnes of crushed sandstone from the Sydney Metro and WestConnex tunnelling projects.

And it will operate sustainably. The final airport precinct will be gas-free, it will use solar panels, and will use less electricity, water and liquid fuels.

Of course, there’s no point building a new airport without making it easy for people to get there.

That’s why I’ve always been a big supporter of the Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport rail line, which we’re delivering as part of the Western Sydney City Deal.

This will be a game-changer for the new Western Parkland City and the Aerotropolis surrounding the airport – connecting residents with jobs, education and training, services, goods and markets.

I’m proud our Federal Government is contributing $5.25 billion to the Metro.

My colleagues – particularly those who have the privilege to represent this area - see the Western Sydney Airport as a generator of prosperity across a range of sectors including research, tourism, education, advanced manufacturing, logistics and residential development.

I think we can all agree that one of the key lessons of the pandemic, is the importance of resilient supply chains.

Strong and reliable freight infrastructure are central to this – and the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Precinct is a national success in this regard.

The Import-Export Terminal has been operating since 2019. And we expect the Interstate Terminal to be complete in 2025.

By moving more container freight by rail, the Moorebank Terminal will save around 3,000 truck journeys each day.

That’s a big impact on traffic on key arterial roads like the M5.

And it will provide a net save of around 110,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

We need to better plan our infrastructure.

That’s why – at the last election – we committed to investing in planning and preparatory works for the Castlereagh Connection.

A project I know the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue has championed for a long time. 

This is a long-term project that recognises a long-term reality: we need to take flood and other extreme weather events into account when planning infrastructure investments.

We’ve also announced further investment for better planning on other key road projects, including Bandon Road and Richmond Road.

And to guide future decision making and to take the politics out of planning we will establish a Western Sydney Expert Panel to review and report on Western Sydney’s infrastructure needs.

Getting transport links right is vital – but the businesses that this infrastructure will help to serve also need human capital to grow and thrive.

I understand at the Western Sydney Jobs Summit in August, nearly one in three businesses reported difficulty finding suitable staff, and most cited a lack of experience or skills as a major factor.

That’s a common story right around Australia – and addressing these skills shortages was one of the key priorities for the national Jobs and Skills Summit we held in Canberra last month. 

We brought together businesses, unions, community leaders and state and local government – and we agreed on some immediate actions to help address critical skills shortages.

Including:

  • A skills and training blitz, so that we can offer more fee-free places in TAFE, creating a larger pool of skilled workers locally, and
  • Increasing the number of people in our permanent Migration Program and investing additional funds to process visas and deal with the visa backlog.

As I said at the time, we don’t see migration as a narrow exercise in importing workers to fill workforce gaps.

And I think people in Western Sydney instinctively understand that reforming the migration program is about so much more than that.

It’s about helping people put down roots.

Making a home. Raising a family. Starting a business.

Buying-in, joining-up.

Making a life in our suburbs – and adding to the life of the community.

The Government is supporting smaller infrastructure in local communities too.

I remember growing up how much it meant to have a place to play outside.

And one of the really basic lessons from the harshest and hardest days of the Covid lockdowns was how important safe and accessible public spaces are to our physical health and our mental health.

That’s one of the reasons we made a series of election commitments right across the Greater Western Sydney area for infrastructure that makes life more enjoyable and fulfilling for families and individuals.

  • A new water play area for Schofields.
  • New walking trails for Grantham Farm.
  • Synthetic footy fields for Cook Park in St Marys, so if it rains on a Friday night, you can still play on a Saturday.
  • Building new change rooms and improving disability access in the grandstand for the Mount Druitt Town Rangers Football Club.

 

Projects like these may not make headlines, but they can make a powerful difference to quality of life.

Just as we invest in roads and rail and runways and public spaces with the goal of lifting living standards in the immediate term and delivering productivity gains and economic benefit over the long term.

We are investing in policies that help with the cost-of-living here and now, while also delivering long-term economic dividends.

Child care is the perfect example.  

Child care costs have gone up by 41 per cent over the past eight years.

This is a significant burden to many Australian families who are already battling to make ends meet – particularly in parts of Western Sydney.

And costs and distortions in the system mean that too many parents – particularly women - are effectively penalised if they want to work more than 3 days a week.

In other words, the child care you need to work, costs more than you earn.

It’s just wrong.

Child care benefits two generations of Australians simultaneously.

  • Early education for children
  • Help with the cost of living for working families
  • And greater economic opportunity for Australian women

 

This is why Cheaper Child Care was at the heart of our election campaign – and is a key economic priority for us in government.

Last week, we introduced legislation to the parliament that will reduce the cost of child care for over 1.2 million families.

Including around 11,000 families in the Parramatta local government area, and about 10,000 in the Penrith LGA.

Child care is economic reform.

It takes pressure off family budgets, without adding to inflation.

And it boosts participation and productivity, making it easier for employers to retain great staff – and easier for working parents to pick up extra hours, extra days, or take on a new job.

Our reforms to child care and our plans for cheaper medicine are central to our plan to help families with the cost of living.

We understand as well that this week’s decision by the independent Reserve Bank board to increase interest rates will make things harder for households.

These consecutive rate increases began under the former Coalition Government and are occurring in the context of global economic uncertainty, driven by inflationary pressures.

Right now, advanced economies are seeing the steepest and most synchronised global monetary policy tightening in decades.

This only reinforces how important it is for fiscal policy to complement monetary policy - so as not to provide an incentive for monetary policy to be even more contractionary.   

Our priority is an economy that works for people, not the other way around.

And this is why my colleagues and I are approaching the upcoming Budget responsibly and methodically.

Taking full account of the increasingly uncertain global economic outlook.

And recognising the long-term fiscal pressures of funding vital programs such as aged care, the NDIS, hospitals and defence and national security. As well as the growing costs of servicing a record national debt, when interest rates are rising.

We will make sure we do what we can to help families with their cost of living, in a way that doesn’t push up inflation or add pressure to demand.

And – as I’ve said before - we are prepared to make difficult decisions, to get Australia through hard times and to ensure our fiscal policy provides a sustainable path forward in the immediate circumstances, as well as the longer term.

Our Budget will be responsible.

It will be focused on strengthening Australia’s economic resilience, so we can protect and enhance people’s living standards. 

The final point I want to touch on is climate change.

Since July 2019, Western Sydney has felt the brunt of five natural disasters, including storms and severe floods – two of them earlier this year.

You understand the urgency of responding to the challenge of climate change, because communities like yours are already living with its consequences.

Yet for the last decade, instead of working with you on solutions – government in Canberra has been part of the problem.

From our first day in office, we have been working to fix that.

Our Powering Australia plan will support a clean energy transformation that will increase access to cheap and reliable energy and drive down costs.

The 400 community batteries we’ll install across the country, including in Cabramatta and Bidwill, will enable homes with solar to store excess energy produced during the day for use in the evening or share the power they generate with other homes in the community.

These community batteries will be complemented by the solar banks we have committed to rolling out across Australia to ensure more households can benefit from rooftop solar.

And we’re also establishing a new Urban Rivers and Catchments Program to help restore habitats for native species.

It’s not just birds and frogs who benefit from these projects.

Healthy river and creek vegetation corridors provide cooler spaces that lower urban temperatures and improve air quality.

Just as we have moved beyond the false choice between acting on climate change and growing the economy.

We need to embrace the fact that a focus on sustainability is not the enemy of development – rather it is fundamental to its success.

I’ve been grateful for the opportunity today to talk to you about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.

But I’d like to end by emphasising ‘how’ we’re doing it.

By being collaborative.

By consulting and co-operating.

By bringing people together and really listening to communities – like we did at the Jobs and Skills Summit and we continue to do with the airport development.

I’ve always believed that when you get people involved in a dialogue, you get better ideas at the beginning and better results at the end.

When everyone helps lay a strong foundation, you can build to last.

And in the uncertain times the world is facing, working together is more important than ever.

Australia is not immune from international economic pressures – uncertainty overseas always applies pressure to the Budget here at home.

But – at heart – I’ve always been an optimist about our country’s future.

I have faith in the smarts and skills and potential of our people, their ability to rise to any challenge.

And whenever I’m in Western Sydney, that faith is renewed.

I see every reason to be optimistic for the future of Western Sydney and for our nation.

Thank you for inviting me today.

And thank you for the work you do, for the benefit of this great community.