CEDA: State of the Nation Conference, Parliament House, Canberra

Speech
08 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

CEDA has always been an organisation which looks to the future, advocating for reform based on a broad base of evidence, not the narrow view or noisy voices of vested interest.

That same approach was behind our Jobs and Skills Summit, this time last week, in this very room.

Bringing together people from state and local government, business and industry, unions and the community sector.

People came in good faith – and participated in a spirit of genuine respect.

Of course, not all the attendees reached agreement on every element of every issue.

But it did become very clear, very quickly that across the broad sweep of employers and union representatives and policy advocates there was substantial common ground, more than perhaps any of us expected.

  1. On skills and TAFE and a better pathway to permanent migration.
  2. On increasing participation, boosting productivity and lifting wages.
  3. On technology and innovation and research – and I know CEDA has been doing important work in this space and I will touch on that this morning.

One of the clearest threads running through the two days of conversations was how absolutely critical it is for Australia to remove the structural barriers that have denied women equal participation in the economy for far too long.

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To me, that felt like a bit of a breakthrough moment in the public debate.

Not because it was a particularly new point but because all these smart, passionate, accomplished people looked around and realised they weren’t making the case on their own, or having their arguments go unheard.

Instead, we heard speaker after speaker – policy experts, business leaders, workers representatives - reinforce that equality for women is not an add-on, or a ‘nice-to-have’.

Equality for women – in participation, in pay, in leadership opportunities, in financial security – is an essential precondition for Australia’s future economic growth.

The challenge now is to convert that affirming moment of consensus and goodwill into lasting change and progress.

A key part of this is re-framing the national conversation about child care, recognising its power and value as an economic reform.

An investment that benefits two generations of Australians, simultaneously:

  1. Early education for a great start in life
  2. Flexible support for modern families
  3. And a multi-billion dollar boost to productivity and participation – without adding to inflation.

The plan for cheaper child care we took to the election takes effect on 1 July 2023, delivering cost of living relief for over a million families.

And we are also tasking the Productivity Commission to investigate affordable, universal child care – in the great tradition of universal Medicare and universal superannuation.

Reliable, affordable, accessible early education, for every Australian family.

Of course, when we talk about expanding economic opportunity for women, it doesn’t begin and end with the parents of young children.

Closing the gender pay gap is a key economic priority for our government.

Before this year is over, we will introduce legislation to make pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

We will create expert panels to give special attention to improving pay in the care and community sector…

…alongside the submission we have made to the Fair Work Commission, calling for a significant pay rise for Aged Care workers and committing to fund it.

These are all important initiatives on their own.

But we also need to recognise a simple reality: the workplace bargaining system in this country is broken.

It’s not delivering productivity gains for business – or wage rises for workers.

And the inescapable, uncomfortable reality is that the workforces with the most women are the ones with the least bargaining power – and, as a result, the lowest pay.

Aged care. Child care. Disability care.

Heroes of the pandemic.

Workers we celebrate as essential, people who give expression to our Australian values:

  1. looking after our loved ones when they grow older
  2. educating our children
  3. empowering Australians with disability to fulfil their potential.

The Australians doing these jobs are among the best of us – but they are getting the worst of the deal.

So whenever we talk about closing the gender pay gap, we should acknowledge that getting bargaining back on track is central to the task.

Industry, small business and big employers will all benefit from a bargaining framework that’s more flexible, more straightforward and more attuned to the realities of work in Australia in the 2020s.

Better bargaining will mean stronger wages growth, helping people with rising living costs.

But the biggest winners from a better bargaining system will be working women.

Over the next five years, the National Skills Commission estimates that around 1 in 4 new jobs will be in the health care and social assistance sector.

The occupations expected to see the largest increases are aged care, disability care and registered nurses.

If we want to attract – and retain – the people to do this vital work, we need to pay them properly and treat them with respect.

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Equality for women is at the heart of our vision for a better future.

It’s also one of the forces that will shape the economy over the coming decade.

Technology is another.

The great economic reforms of the Hawke and Keating Governments faced Australia to the world.

Breaking down tariff walls and building trade bridges to connect us with our region.

I believe technology can be as transformational for our generation, as trade was for theirs.

Helping us compete with – and sell to – the fastest-growing, most dynamic region in the world.

We took a target of 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030 to the last election.

And – as a result of discussions with business and unions at last week’s Summit:

We are implementing a Digital and Tech Skills Compact, to deliver Digital Apprenticeships which will support workers to earn while they learn in entry-level tech roles.

And the Australian Public Service will help lead by example, with 1000 new digital traineeships over the next four years.

This is an investment in the skills of those individuals and the digital literacy of the public service.

Harnessing the opportunities of technology requires us to look at the whole picture – from research and development to manufacture and export.

I see this as building on one strength – and correcting another weakness.

As CEDA’s new report notes, while Australia represents only 0.34% of the world’s population - we produce 2.7% of its scientific breakthroughs.

We punch way above our weight in innovation, we always have. Not the least in renewables.

Every solar panel in the world would contain some form of intellectual property driven by Australian research, developed by Australian scientists yet we haven't commercialised that opportunity, we haven’t translated breakthroughs in that technology into advanced manufacturing jobs.

Instead, 85% of the world's solar panels are made in one country.

If nothing changes over the next decade, this will rise to 95%.

We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where at the same time as the world is becoming more and more reliant on renewable energy technology, that technology is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of one country.

I’ve spoken at CEDA before about lessons Australia has to learn from the pandemic.

One of the fundamental lessons from this time of international instability is how important it is for Australia to invest in our economic self-reliance, in our ability to stand on our own two feet.

Our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is driven by this understanding - and we know science and research are central to its success.

Central to our energy security, our cyber security, our food and fibre security – and our manufacturing sovereignty.

I want Australia to be so much more than the last link in the global supply chain, or the springboard for an idea that makes another nation rich.

My vision is for a country that makes things here again.

Where Australian research, innovation, design and technology is commercialised here, creates jobs here, boosts productivity here and is exported to the world.

Of course, government can’t be in the business of dictating breakthroughs or directing research but it does have a vital responsibility to invest in our research agencies and universities and to support the field of smart and skilled Australians who will lead this work.

Our Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic has announced a review this week to look at how we can widen the pipeline of talent, so we see more women, more First Nations people and more young Australians in the regions studying science, technology, engineering and maths.

Beyond that, I believe there’s also a cultural contribution government can make:

  1. Signalling a respect for science, evidence and research.
  2. Valuing foundational work - as well as commercial applications.
  3. Creating a sense of certainty and support for long-term projects, so researchers and scientists can do their work without looking over their shoulder, or spending their time re-applying for funding.

Your report talks about ‘captaincy’ – I firmly believe good captains trust their team and empower their teammates.

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At the last election, my team and I ran on the promise of a better future.

In Government, we are now seeking to convert the pledges of our campaign into the progress of our country.

We recognise that Australia faces significant challenges – but just as importantly we can see the extraordinary opportunities.

The disadvantage, discrimination and disrespect faced by the women of Australia has been a handbrake on our national success for decades.

If we can accelerate progress to equality, then the whole country will benefit.

In a climate of cuts and neglect, Australian research has achieved remarkable things.

If we can empower and celebrate our innovators and scientists, we will enrich the whole nation.

Taking on the big challenges is an urgent responsibility - it is also a powerful opportunity.

If we work together, if we co-operate, if we seek out the common ground.

We can all play a role in building the better future Australians deserve.

Thank you very much.