Address to the Federal Labor Caucus

25 Jul 2022
Prime Minister

Thank you very much.

Firstly, I will begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging and commit on behalf of the government to the Uluru Statement From The Heart in full. We will have more to say about that at the Garma Festival that I will be attending along with members of the team on Friday and Saturday. That will be an important event.

Welcome to Fatima and to Linda: our new Senators. To get a third Senator from WA – I spoke to Fatima during the campaign and I did say I was confident about three in WA; you could feel the sense of change that was there throughout that great state. But it took a significant campaign, including a Senate campaign, to get that third seat across the line.

And in Linda, I am so pleased that I have a dear friend of mine for decades, we’re both very young but we met very young. Linda has been an extraordinary contributor through the ASU, particularly for women's work and for equity and social justice issues. She also has, of course, been a member of the ALP National Executive of long standing and has done great work with Chifley – in terms of getting some of our think tanks to play a leading role. In Linda and Fatima we have two outstanding additions to the team – so, welcome.

But, indeed, I think we have a great team and I welcome all of you here the day before Parliament begins. It will be a big deal tomorrow, there are many people who have been here for a while without having sat on a different side of the chamber. And, believe me, as somebody who has done both, one is a lot better than the other. But it is also an enormous privilege and one that we should never take for granted and we should cherish each and every day.

We have an incredible responsibility, as the political party in Australia that seeks positive change in the interest of working people, that seeks to change existing power relationships in society in favour of more equality and in favour of fairness, to make a difference in the way that we legislate and the way that the government acts each and every day. And the government has, fair to say, in its first two months that we celebrated on the 21st, we have certainly hit the ground running. And we have hit the ground running because Labor governments are passionate about changing things for the better.

We were elected with a very significant platform, one in which you will be reminded of with the Governor General’s speech before the Parliament tomorrow when Parliament opens. That Governor General’s speech will outline a government of ambition, a government which sees it has a responsibility to break Australia out of the inertia that the former government was stuck in. We often came to the Parliament without much to do in terms of an agenda before the Parliament. This Labor Government will not be like that and we will hit the ground running.

Already we have made the changes that we made to the minimum wage. I said during the election campaign – I held up my $1 coin – that people on $20.33 deserve an extra $1 an hour. And, indeed, the Fair Work Commission granted them $1.05 an hour, with a 5.2% increase. There is no doubt that that would not have occurred had the change of government not happened on May 21.

We have already submitted our nationally determined contribution – our changed climate change target – to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 43%, consistent with what we took to the election. That has meant we have been able to walk through the door of international discussions, not just about climate but about trade and economic relationships, about our social relationships – whether that be at the Quad leaders meeting, whether it be with Indonesia, whether it be the NATO summit, where European countries welcomed the change in our position and where we've restarted negotiations for a European trade agreement that's very much in the interests of Australia. That change has made an enormous difference.

Climate change is a national security issue. That is well understood throughout the world, but nowhere more so than with our Pacific neighbours. And when we met at the Pacific Islands Forum just a couple of weeks ago, our changed position was included in the communique and it was very much welcomed going forward. It is made an enormous difference.

We have dealt with the challenges that come to government. One of those is, of course, the consequences of having a decade of inaction on energy policy means we've had a decade of a failure of investment in new, clean energy. How can you invest, if you’re a business, when you don't have any certainty going forward, when there is no policy framework? Business has been crying out for that framework. But we've had to deal with the consequences of that inaction and Chris Bowen has done a remarkable job in dealing with that challenge.

In addition, we have the ongoing challenge of dealing with COVID and Mark Butler has been working with the health authorities and I've been working with states and territories to deal with the consequences of COVID: making sure that we get those messages out there, making sure that people continue to do the right thing, get their boosters if they are eligible, making sure that support is available and that's why we've extended support for the hospital network beyond that which was envisaged by the former government.

We have also had to deal with natural disasters. All of these things are not unrelated. The floods, where many people in Susan Templeman's electorate have been hit with three floods and a bushfire in the last few years. We were there providing support earlier than ever before, the earlier deployment of the ADF, earlier deployment of state support, the support that goes from the two levels of government – but also, earlier engagement of support that is provided by the Commonwealth with those payments, and Bill Shorten was straight onto the government services to make sure that that support was available really early.

And Murray Watt has had an enormous amount to deal with – between that and dealing with, responsibly, the foot-and-mouth disease issue that we know is affecting Indonesia. We were there up on the ground and making a difference here, not trying to create opportunistic positions like our opponents, but working with the National Farmers' Federation, the Northern Cattleman’s Association, the sector that were directly affected and doing action in consultation with them.

Labor governments don't just occupy the space; we are here to make a difference. This week we will have legislation, at least 18 pieces of legislation, including legislation for our climate change targets, legislation for ten days paid domestic and family violence leave – something we've spoken about for a long period of time – legislation to respond to the Aged Care Royal Commission. Why do you have a royal commission and then sit on the recommendations? That's what the former government did. And legislation to create Jobs and Skills Australia which is important in the lead-up to the jobs and skills summit that will be held in a little over one month's time here in the Parliament. In addition to that, in coming weeks we will have child care legislation. We will be acting on our urgent care clinics, putting them in place. We will, by the end of the year, have legislation on the anti-corruption commission. We will be advancing a Voice to Parliament enshrined in our Constitution.

All of this is the what, and the how is also important. We want to change the tone of politics in this country. We want to be more inclusive. We want to make sure there's less shouting and more delivery. The former government sat around and talked about how to wedge the other side of politics. We're not really interested in that. What we are interested in is getting solutions to people for the challenges that are there and we will be doing that.

We will also be dealing with the legacy that we've inherited. $1 trillion of debt with not much to show for it is a real challenge. The people that we represent are suffering under cost of living pressures, we know that that is the case. But we know as well that you can't continue to spend money without having consequences. We want value for money, which is why we will be going through the budget line by line, getting rid of the waste and the rorts that we have seen that cost us so much, not just in terms financially but has cost in our humanity as well. Schemes like Robodebt have cost us as a society – as well as sports rorts and all of these things that were baked into the budget. We will be going through those going forward.

I think if we needed a final reminder of the legacy that we inherit, it's come out on the weekend with the report into what occurred on May 21. An action by a government breaching all convention, breaching all principles and breaching everything that is decent. Trying to scare people into a vote on polling day and trying to trash the separation that is there between government and the independent public service during caretaker convention periods. This is unprecedented for a government to act like that on polling day. What we know now is that the then-Prime Minister gave a statement before any public statement had been given by the department. This is a guy who used to say that he would not give answers to anything about these issues – that they were on-water matters. And here we have an unprincipled action by a government that was desperate and was prepared to do anything whatsoever to try to retain power. It was an appalling act and they should be held to account for that appalling act on the final day. That crushing of convention – which is the way the politics has to operate if we're going to have faith in the political processes.

But it was one last example of a government that will be defined by its seeking of division in society. Our task is very different. Our task is to unite people. To look for common ground and common purpose. That's something I want this caucus to do. This caucus has such a critical role to play. 103 members strong; that makes an extraordinary difference. We have a great responsibility to the people who have sent us here: people who need a Labor government to make a difference to their lives. I'm very confident that over coming weeks, months and years that is precisely what we will be doing.

So, welcome to Canberra. Welcome back. And enjoy tomorrow. This is the fourth time since the Second World War and the fifth time in a hundred years that Labor has formed government from Opposition. We are only able to do that because of your hard work, because of your commitment, because of your principles, because of the people, the party members and volunteers and union members, who have sent you here, who do so much work and will never be interested in appearing in a public forum.

We have a great responsibility to those people to really be the best government that we can possibly be and to make them proud. I'm very proud to lead this party and to lead this government. And I hope that we make the people who have sent us here collectively proud each and every day. Thanks a lot.