Opening of National Jobs and Skills Summit

01 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

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

We are here over the next two days striving for agreement, for the good of our country.
And I hope we can begin by agreeing that there is so much for our country to gain from answering the generous, patient call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Sometime, together we will all be lifted up as a nation. Thirty years ago this wouldn’t have happened, now it happens as a matter of course. And we will with a Voice to Parliament enshrined in our constitution we will all wonder why it hadn’t happened thirty years ago as well.

To the Premiers and Chief Ministers, welcome.

To my colleagues, parliamentary colleagues from across the spectrum, welcome as well.

To all of our friends who are here from all of Australian society, welcome.

Friends, colleagues, fellow Australians.

Welcome to Parliament House.

Thank you for bringing your energy, your ideas and your leadership to this National Jobs and Skills Summit.

The two days ahead of us have been shaped by more than 100 different roundtables and consultations, undertaken by Ministers and government members, across every portfolio, involving thousands of Australians.

And I also want to acknowledge all the conversations that businesses and industry and unions and community groups have engaged in, and led themselves, working to bring shared principles and concrete proposals to this gathering.

I thank you for the spirit but also the substance of your contribution.

And - in the same vein - I am very pleased to announce that yesterday at National Cabinet, we reached an agreement between the Commonwealth and every State and Territory Government to create an additional 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, for 2023.

This is a $1.1 billion package – and we’ve agreed to share the costs between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.

We will continue to co-operate on the design of a long-term National Skills Agreement, and indeed we have agreed to the principles that will shape it.

But in recognition of the urgent challenges facing our nation, we are taking action now – with a billion-dollar training blitz, driven by public TAFE.

We want to see more Australians gaining the skills they need to find good jobs, in areas of national priority.

And I want this to be the beginning – not the end – of the progress that we see on skills and training over the next two days.

Because it’s my great hope that this Jobs and Skills Summit marks the beginning of a new culture of co-operation.

A new focus on working together, to deal with the urgent challenges our economy is facing.

And new efforts to build together for the long-term, so Australians can seize and own the opportunities of the next decade.

The Summit’s agenda reflects the challenges that the industries and businesses and people you represent are dealing with every day.

  • Staff and skill shortages
  • Missing links in supply chains
  • Growing demand on our caring and community sector
  • An energy grid past its use by date
  • Structural barriers that deny women equality - in opportunity, in pay and in financial security
  • And the squeeze of stagnant wages and rising living costs.
  • These challenges are significant – but more than that, they are urgent.

In a few moments, the Treasurer will speak to the combined pressure that these forces are placing on the Budget and the economy. 

And, once Jim has done that, I respectfully ask that all of us take the context as read and assume that our respective starting positions – our opening bids if you like - are known and understood.

We’ve got a bit under two days.

Let’s promise each other that we won’t spend them playing our greatest hits, re-hashing the same arguments or re-heating old conflicts.

We have not gathered here to dig deeper trenches on the same old battlefield.

Our goal and indeed our responsibility – all of us – is to carry the conversation to the common ground, where the work is done and the progress is made.

Building a stronger, fairer economy – on the broadest possible foundation.

Of course, I don’t expect us to solve every problem and fix every issue before tomorrow afternoon.

Nor do I imagine everyone will be happy with every outcome.

Compromises will need to be negotiated, sacrifices will need to be made.

But if we can get it right, if we can seek out the points of consensus rather than reasons for disagreement the results will certainly be worth it. I’ve said before, Australians have conflict fatigue, it’s is one of the reasons I’m standing here as Prime Minister in a new government. They want politics to operate differently and we intend to lead in that regard. And I must say that the way the National Cabinet is functioning with agreement across the political spectrum is an example of what we are searching for and what is being achieved already. Increased productivity, we need stronger wages, we need a workforce ready with the skills and smarts and support to succeed in the years ahead.

This is the opportunity that is in front of us – but more than that it is our responsibility as leaders.

The responsibility we owe to the people who don’t have a seat in this room:

  • Nurses on their way home from the night shift.
  • Farmers up before the sun
  • Small business owners, there long before opening, staying well after close. 
  • Child care workers, not only doing a vital job in the face of pressures and shortages – but making it possible for millions of other people to do their jobs too.
  • The workers in this very building who are making this event possible, the cleaners and caterers and security staff.
  • All those Australians stacking shelves, cleaning offices, building homes, moving freight around the country – these are the heroes of the pandemic they deserve more than our thanks, they deserve us putting our shoulder to the wheel to make sure they have the opportunity that is this great country’s promise.

The Australian economy is not some abstract concept, removed from people’s lives. It is about them. 

Australians, Australian workers are our economy. 

Educators and carers, miners and producers and farmers and tradies, tourism operators and hospitality workers, entrepreneurs and innovators, start-ups and small business owners.

Every Australian holds a stake in the outcome of our discussions.

Every Australian deserves our very best efforts to seek consensus, to achieve progress.

And when we work together to unlock the new growth and broader opportunity and productivity gains our nation needs – every Australian should share in the benefits.

Including people who have been trapped in long-term unemployment or held back by disadvantage.

Including older Australians, who want to get back into work and have a great deal to give.

Including people with disability, being empowered to fully participate in careers in every part of Australian society.

Including our Veterans, people of extraordinary capacity, looking for someone to recognise their potential.

Because the work of building a stronger economy should include everyone it should lift everyone up.

Now - we’ve all got work to do - so I will finish with this.

When Bob Hawke brought the National Economic Summit to the old building down the hill in 1983, he concluded his opening remarks with a quote from John Curtin, summoning ‘the inherent quality’ of the Australian people to face the crisis ahead.

That summit of 1983 is as many years removed from us, as the Second World War was from them - just think about that.

Time, trade and technology mean we confront a very different set of challenges in our globalised world, the world has been transformed.

We don’t have the same levers to pull.

But the ‘inherent quality’ of the Australian people remains a constant.

Through all the hardship and heartache and uncertainty and disaster of the past few years, Australians have been magnificent.

Australians have shown – time and again - they can rise to any challenge.

Businesses did it. Unions did it. Australians did it. They got us through the pandemic. 

So, let all of us, as leaders and representatives, rise to this moment.

Let’s work together.

Let’s listen to each other.

Let’s make every effort to turn agreement into action, for the benefit of all Australians.

Thank you very much.