Closing Remarks: Jobs and Skills Summit, Parliament House, Canberra

02 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

Friends, I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting and pay my respect to elders past and present, and thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are here with us today who have contributed and made this forum just so much better through your input.

I do want to now return the favour and ask everyone to thank Jim Chalmers.

This has been an event which has been far more successful than we could have hoped, and to Jim and your team, to all of my ministerial colleagues who’ve done so much hard work, to your staff and to all of the dedicated public servants.

I said at the Press Club this week, being a public servant is an honourable profession. And one of the things that we have to do as a new government is to rebuild the public service. Rebuild it as a body that can give frank and fearless advice.

Rebuild it as a body that is given respect and ensure that it can deliver the sort of advice and delivery of services that Australians expect.

And it is one of the things that I believe has characterised the first 100 days of the government I’m proud to lead is Ministers going to their Departments and talking to their people and the people in those departments on the ground, and engaging with them and encouraging them to be the best that they can be.

And all of those people are deserving of our thanks. But most importantly I want to thank all of you – the participants at the summit.

For attending in good faith.

For leaving old disagreements behind.

For contributing and presenting with conviction and depth.

For challenging our assumptions, pushing us to think.

And for engaging and listening with that respect.

Respect for one another and respect for the people you represent.

The people this Summit was designed to serve are the everyday Australians whose courage and initiative and hard-work help power our national prosperity.

I believe that people will look back on this summit, and they mightn’t remember all of the 36 points that have come out of this two day process and the lead up to it, as outcomes.

But I tell you what, they’ll remember the first time there was a national gathering of this sort that had 50% representation of men and 50% representation of women.

Not just as people who were here participating and listening to debate but as presenters and chairs as contributes.

They’ll look back and remember the diversity that was there. The fact that the group represented, by having working people talk about their experience, people with disabilities talking about their own experience, as people did in that remarkable discussion this morning.

Having people that are incredibility successful business people.

It’s a big deal to come and give a presentation if that is not the thing that you do for a living like myself and my colleagues, in front of not only the Cabinet but CEOs of major global and Australian based companies, of people they see on TV from time to time.

I thank the courage of those people who came and spoke out of their usual comfort zone, because you enriched these two days by your contributions.

There has been a great diversity of perspectives, but I think also, a striking sense of unity. Of common purpose.

When we had the discussion before about workers in the AG sector, I think it’s fair to say that Daniel Walton and David Littleproud haven’t always been on the same page, but essentially they were on the same page about what was needed. 

A great example, I think, of the good will that’s been here. That sense of common purpose.

I was talking with my colleagues a bit earlier – we were saying that across every panel, every presenter in every session was totally clear about the scale of the challenges we are facing.

No-one sought to downplay, or explain away the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

And yet the prevailing atmosphere over the past two days has not been one of dejection or frustration or resignation.

Instead, there has been a powerful sense of hope and optimism – a belief in the transformative opportunities this moment presents for our country.

And above all, a determination to seize these opportunities, to make change work for everyone across our country. 

We owe it to each other – and we owe it to the Australian people – to carry that spirit forward.

The discussions, the engagement, the shared principles – all of this is greatly encouraging, of course it is.

But the real test, the true measure of these days, will be if we can look back and say that as a result of what we agreed here:

  • More young Australians found apprenticeships, or enrolled in TAFE
  • More small businesses could find and keep the staff they need to grow
  • More people turned good ideas into successful companies
  • More workers were able to sit down with their employers and negotiate for better pay and greater security
  • And more Australians who have been locked-out of the economy, were given a way in.

If we can look back and say that these conversations helped open the doors of opportunity:

  • for people with disability
  • for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
  • for First Australians
  • for Veterans
  • for older Australians
  • for people who have suffered the dislocation of long-term unemployment

Then this Summit will have done more than exceed our expectations - it will have helped change the country for the better. 

I can promise you, the government is determined to see these discussions make a difference.

I want to draw attention to three areas giving proof to that:

Firstly: we are boosting our national skills – with 180,000 fee-free TAFE places to launch a training blitz from 1 January 2023.

More Australians learning the skills they need, for the jobs they want.

Helping more young people learn a trade and build a rewarding career.

And alongside that, tackling the immediate shortages across the country, with an increase in the skilled migration intake to 195,000. But something in which there is clear consensus from people in this room,  that we need a more straightforward and certain pathway to permanent residency.

And I believe there’s a very important and genuine consensus in this room and around our country that migration should not simply be about bringing in workers in to fill gaps, it should be about helping people put down roots, to join in the life of our country towns and suburbs.

To make a home, to raise a family, to join our Australian family – strengthening our economy and our great multicultural society.

Secondly, I’m very pleased we will be making up to $575 million available within the National Housing Infrastructure Facility to invest in social and affordable housing and to attract more investment from private capital – such as superannuation funds – into housing. 

Because so many opportunities in life, depend on having a secure roof over your head.

And thirdly, picking up on the very good discussions we’ve had around increasing workforce participation for older Australians.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Government will act to provide age pensioners with a new $4000 Work Bonus income bank credit.

This will mean older Australians who want to work can earn more income before their pension is reduced.

And we will move quickly to change the law, so that instead of pensioners having their payments cancelled after 12 weeks if they exceed the income limit, they won’t have to reapply for payments for up to two years.

And they will retain the Pensioner Concession Card for two years as well.

Some older Australians stay in the workforce longer because they have to – and some do it because they want to.

Because they love what they do – because their job is part of their identity, a source of friendship and stimulation and pride.

It’s been another great point of agreement to emerge from this Summit.

All of us – federal and state and local government, employers, unions -  we can all do better at valuing older Australians for their wisdom, their experience and the contribution they make to our country. 

A final point I want to make, before we conclude.

Michelle O’Neil noted yesterday that at the 1983 Economic Summit, 96 out of the 97 participants were men.

Just think about how far we have come as a nation, the steps that have been fought for. Let’s be clear – the doors that have been kicked down in order to advance gender equality in this country.

We of course have more to do, but I do hope that the participation and the coverage that this Summit has received will mean that when other gathering are held from now on – you don’t have to get 50% but you have to come close – we exceeded it this time.

If there are unrepresentative bodies, people will ask why.

If the National Jobs and Skills Summit could do it, why couldn’t you? And I think that will not really be needed as a sort of pressure because the participants that I have spoken to over the last two days and last night’s dinner have all spoken about what a difference it has made.

How it uplifted the very basis and culture in the room over the last couple of days.

Friends, we came here to find agreement. We have. Perhaps across a greater range of areas than we might have imagined or hoped.

Let us leave here resolved to build on this foundation.

And let the legacy of this gathering, be a stronger economy that works better:

For workers and business.

For the regions and the suburbs.

For women and men.

For young and old.

For all Australians, for the years to come.

This is how we turn what was a theme of my election campaign of ‘a better future’ into not an objective for a political party, but into a reality for a nation. A nation that can have a better future.

That the prospect of achieving that is far greater if we’ve got everyone heading in one direction. Or where we’re not completely in agreement about heading in that direction, we’re at least respectful and not questioning the motives.

Engaging, talking through differences, coming up with solutions rather than arguments.

If we continue that then we can realise the enormous potential we have as a nation.

The potential I spoke about yesterday when I opened the Summit and what I conclude with as it closes here.

Thank you.