MOVING FORWARD to a Stronger AND FAIRER Economy
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, CANBERRA
15 JULY 2010
I’m delighted to be at the National Press Club, my third appearance this year and my first as Prime Minister, and today I come with a clear message about what I believe and what is driving me as Prime Minister.
I believe a strong economy is the foundation of everything else that I as Prime Minister want for Australia. It’s the foundation because I believe that lives are given shape and purpose by the benefits and dignity of work.
For Australians and their families, work gives economic security and enables life time choices. For individuals, work that is appreciated and respected gives personal dignity.
So, for me as Prime Minister, I will make my economic judgements based on what gives Australians the best opportunity for access to work.
Getting a job, holding a job, developing skills and experience, getting the next, better job or starting your own business is what propels an individual’s life forward and gives families security and choices.
For the nation, supporting jobs today as we embrace the changes needed to build for the jobs of tomorrow, is what propels the nation forward to increased prosperity and fairness.
For both individuals and the nation, going forward requires hard work, determination and smart choices. It tests you, and in the last few years this nation has been tested by the global financial crisis and global recession.
The good news is that together we passed the test and we kept Australians in work. Australia’s economy has come through the global financial crisis in better shape than any major advanced economy. In 2009 the Australian economy grew by 1.3 per cent. In contrast, the world’s advanced economies contracted by 3.2 per cent.
When the global crisis struck, the Government did what we had to do, and Australia avoided the recession that hit most advanced economies.
Australia has come through that global recession with an unemployment rate lower than any of the world’s major advanced economies – yet we are still being tested.
We live in a challenging time for many Australian families, who are still doing it tough. Cost of living pressures, the cost of housing, job security, worries about affording education and retirement – these are all on the minds of many hard-working Australians.
Today, guided by my values, I want to share with you how I intend to move Australia forward to a stronger economy, with sustainable growth that delivers for hard-working Australians.
I believe that prudent and disciplined economic management is the foundation of good government. The good-quality, essential services that Australians expect can only be sustained by a Government when our public finances are sound.
That’s why I believe in strong budget surpluses.
The Government I lead will return the budget to surplus in just three years’ time. As the Treasurer announced yesterday, we are now on track for a surplus of more than 3 billion dollars in 2013.
This means Australia will be in surplus before every single major advanced economy in the world, and throughout the coming election campaign, the Government will sustain the discipline that has brought the budget back to surplus.
Those expecting an old-style, spend-up-big campaign can forget it. Any commitments made in the upcoming campaign will not add a single cent – not a cent – to the budget bottom line. Any and all commitments we make will be fully costed and funded.
Yes, the upcoming campaign will have strong elements of ‘clean’ and ‘green’ but above all else it will be very lean. There will be hard choices and some unpopular cutbacks but I am determined to offset new spending and ensure our return to surplus in 2013, and all our policies will be submitted to Treasury and Finance for independent costing under the Charter of Budget Honesty – and I challenge Mr Abbott to do the same.
I also believe that to maximise jobs today and tomorrow, governments must be a force for confidence and certainty in the economy. That is why I moved immediately to end the uncertainty in the mining industry and mining communities across Australia, and that’s why I can say with confidence that a re-elected Gillard Government will cut company tax, give small business an extra helping hand, invest in infrastructure and increase national savings and retirement incomes for hardworking Australians through our support for increased superannuation – more balanced economic development that is good for jobs right around the country and good for national savings.
Remarkably, my opponent would deny Australians these benefits because he is refusing to accept the tax that our biggest mining companies have agreed to pay.
Not only is he spurning the mining tax arrangements around which I have sought to build consensus, but he actually wants to increase company tax. He wants to deny small businesses the early start in reducing company tax and the instant tax write down on assets which the Government has committed to give them.
I want to take Australia forward. Mr Abbott wants to take it back.
Today, I say to Australians let’s talk about the challenges and complexities; let’s move on from yesterday’s debates to the debates of tomorrow; let’s move forward together.
Today, I want talk Australians about my approach to economic management and to economic reform.
We are living through a time of heightened global uncertainty. The global financial crisis severely dented confidence in economies across the world, and left many of them with years of work ahead to restore jobs and confidence.
There remains a brisk trade in doomsday scenarios across the globe. Faith in global institutions and global markets was shaken, and now, debt burdens are weighing heavily on Europe. Recovery shows promise but is still tentative in the United States. Some nations are threatened by the prospect of high unemployment and budget cuts reversing years of economic and social progress.
In such a fragile environment, I say to the Australian people: now is not the time to take risks with the Australian economy – it is a time for prudent and careful economic management; not a time to take risks with a Liberal Party that got it wrong on the global financial crisis, that opposed action to support Australian jobs and that would have allowed hundreds of thousands of jobs to be destroyed.
Australia today is a great beneficiary of the economic growth in China and the demand for our mineral resources in our region, as we know, but if anyone thinks that gives us a free ticket to easy prosperity, they are mistaken.
We must reject the temptation to sit back and simply hope for the revenues from the next phase of the mining boom to wash over us – as the Howard Government did in the first phase of the boom.
Australia cannot expect the resources sector to shoulder the whole burden of building our future prosperity, and we do not want to create an Australia that has is an economic patchwork with some parts of the country booming and other parts going backwards. An economic patchwork that will have some regions crying out for skilled labour while in other regions Australians live aimless lives without skills, work or hope.
We must do the hard work of building an economy with higher productivity growth and higher workforce participation – the long-term drivers of future prosperity.
Australia has experienced a long-term decline in productivity growth since the 1990s, and turning that around is essential for Australia’s long-term prosperity. Equally important is the need to maximise participation in the workforce.
A high-participation economy will sustain stronger growth, stronger public finances, and will better support the pressures on services caused by an ageing population. A high-participation economy will sustain hope and purpose in individual Australians and gives security and choices to their families.
I will make education central to my economic agenda because of the role it plays in developing the skills that lead to rewarding and satisfying work – and that can build a high-productivity, high-participation economy.
It is difficult to think of any investment that will generate returns as enduring as our investment in a child’s education.
Consider this: a child who is 5 years old today is likely to still be in the workforce through to the 2070s. That means that what we invest today to expand opportunity for Australian children will be paying dividends for most of the century ahead through higher participation, stronger productivity and increased economic growth, and that is why I bring to my role as Prime Minister a passionate commitment to better schools and better educational opportunities for all Australians.
My approach to economic management begins with a commitment to macroeconomic stability, within frameworks that have served Australia well through 18 years of economic growth under the governments of Prime Ministers Keating, Howard and Rudd.
For monetary policy, that means an independent Reserve Bank that has responsibility for setting interest rates, with an inflation target of an average of 2-3 per cent over the course of the economic cycle.
For fiscal policy, that today means a commitment to achieve budget surpluses on average over the medium term, to keep taxation as a share of GDP, on average, below the level for 2007‑08; and to improve the Government’s net financial worth over the medium term.
As I’ve said, we are bringing the budget to surplus by 2013 – in three years’ time, ahead of every major advanced economy. This requires ongoing economic discipline by holding real growth in spending to 2 per cent a year once the economy is growing above trend and allowing the level of tax receipts to recover naturally as the economy improves.
Once the Budget returns to surplus, we will still maintain spending restraint, until we deliver strong surpluses of 1 per cent of GDP. This is the responsible approach to macroeconomic management. It forces us to focus our effort on high-quality, effective services.
It sets clear parameters for all our policy decisions, and for the election campaign ahead.
A strong and stable macroeconomic framework is essential for the Australian economy, but there is more to responsible economic management.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Labor Governments led economic reform by recognising that in changing global conditions, only an open, market-driven economy could prosper. That meant floating the dollar, reducing tariffs, ensuring wage restraint and implementing sweeping competition policy reforms.
But as conditions change again, we need more than economic stability to ensure future prosperity. We need active reforms to improve Australia’s ability to compete, to make sure that all our assets are utilised productively, and to make the most of our value-adding capacity.
That is what micro-economic reform does for an economy – helping to sustain stronger growth over the longer term and ensure that Australian firms and workers are able to adapt successfully to changing conditions.
Economic reform should benefit families, boost national prosperity, enable more Australians to enjoy the dignity of work and deliver a more competitive and sustainable economy. Over time, there should be a virtuous cycle between investment in human capital and resilient communities and economic growth, but this demands a different mix of policy approaches from the ones applied in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since I became Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister in 2007, I have argued for an approach to microeconomic reform which focuses on market design.
The sectors which may need renewal and reform are often those that were relatively untouched by the Hawke-Keating reforms – sectors like health and education that meet essential public needs, delivered largely within the domestic economy. Hospitals, aged care facilities, childcare centres, schools, and employment services – all services with a diverse range of providers from the public, private and non-government sectors, and services where competition and value is often held back by jurisdictional red tape and the lack of seamless national markets.
As far as I am concerned, there is no inherent superiority in a public sector or a private sector provider – certainly not on ideological grounds. The challenge is not whether to combine public and private resources in these essential sectors, but how best to do it.
Simply applying the extreme free-market medicine of liberalisation and privatisation without thought or care is not a solution. Maintaining an instinctive hostility towards the public sector and all it provides is equally wrong.
What matters is the hard work of understanding each sector, looking at the needs it must serve, and then methodically working to create the conditions in which markets serve the public interest through vigorous competition, transparent information, the freedom to make choices and a responsiveness to the needs of service users.
For this to occur we need strong, confident institutions at national, state and local level – institutions like innovative businesses, community-focused hospitals and great schools that create lasting value for the public.
But we also need sustained and sometimes bold action to unblock the market failures, open up new opportunities, and make sure that the interests of users and taxpayers are put first.
A modern, productive economy requires national consistency and better standards, and not a mish-mash of conflicting State and Territory schemes. This is the kind of reform that I have delivered for Australians in the areas where I have had direct portfolio responsibility. It is also the kind of reform that I will pursue as Prime Minister.
My record includes big changes such as the introduction of uniform Occupational Health and Safety laws across the nation, a change that policy makers have been pursuing for a generation and which will create billions of dollars in benefit for Australian firms; big changes like the introduction of the Fair Work regime, which has brought a national Workplace Relations system for the private sector, reduced the number of industry awards from more than 4,000 to just 122; and big changes like the My School website and the national Australian school curriculum.
For the first time, accurate and consistent information about the performance and the circumstances of every school in the country is now available to the public, whatever kind of school we are talking about. From next year, we will begin to implement a shared national curriculum, allowing every student to access the highest possible curriculum standards and eliminating a problem for those families who move from one state to another, as so many now do: national quality improvement and consistency in early childhood; national regulation and quality standards in vocational and higher education.
I have also focused on performance-based pay for teachers and performance incentives for universities, vocational education providers and for states that lift school retention rates, because I believe in rewarding hard work and making governments and public institutions more accountable to the public, and in driving reform that focuses on quality and performance, I have also overseen the massive renewal of educational infrastructure across our schools, universities and TAFE.
These programs have invested in the technology and infrastructure that these sectors need for tomorrow.
At the heart of many of the reforms I have championed, and many of the changes for the decade ahead is this: the microeconomic challenges of the future are not a simplistic choice between the market and the state, but the more sophisticated challenges of market design so that we bring public and private resources together to deliver better services and increased productivity.
My priorities are very different to those of the former government in which Mr Abbott served, which subsidised the growth of private providers and encouraged private consumption seemingly for their own sake, without much regard for the overall performance of their sector in service, innovation or cost-effectiveness.
As Prime Minister, I intend to advance an agenda that moves Australia forward to a more productive, modern Australian economy, – one whose dividend to Australians is better quality services, better quality jobs, more competitive firms, a better quality of life and greater financial security for the future.
I say this to my fellow Australians: my vision for Australia’s economic future is not about the success of one sector against another, or one or two regions against the rest, because as Australians, we all have a shared stake in our prosperity and resilience.
Whether you’re in mining up in the northern parts of Australia, or in manufacturing in one of the southern states; whether you’re in the food industries of the Riverina and inland plains or in financial services or the creative industries in one of our big cities; no matter which industry, which region or which job – each of us has a stake in the success of all.
We need to build a dynamic, diverse economy with new businesses that can compete and succeed not just in Australia but also on the global stage;
An economy with a new generation of Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and inventors, an economy that moves forward to prepare our kids for the high-quality jobs of tomorrow – not one that goes backwards, with a Liberal Party that will again cut funding for education and put its energy into playing politics not reform;
An economy that moves forward to deliver good quality services to families – not one that goes backwards, with Mr Abbott once again cutting funding to our public hospitals;
An economy that moves forward and gives working people their fair share of our prosperity – not one that goes backwards, with Mr Abbott’s return to the worst aspects of Work Choices and individual contracts that undermine the safety net;
An economy that moves forward with confidence, with an agenda for the future – not one that goes that goes backwards with a Liberal government that would have taken Australia into recession and put Australians on dole queues.
I am committed to moving Australia forward by providing the responsible, far-sighted economic management we need to expand work and life opportunities for all Australians today and tomorrow.
This is my commitment to my fellow Australians.