Jobs and the Future of Work





Australia is at a crucial intersection.

We have a weakening economy and growing job insecurity

We face environmental, demographic and geopolitical challenges.

But we have a Government that has no agenda, let alone a plan for the future.

They are in denial about insecure work.

About wage stagnation.

About declining living standards.

They are in denial about our choked cities and our starved regions.

They are in denial about energy and science.

And they are more interested in division than inclusion.

But above all, they are characterised by being scared of the present and terrified of the future.

I’m optimistic about the future. Provided we get the policy settings right.

Today the Labor Party begins laying down the framework on which we will build the policies that we will take to the election.

Today, the Australian Labor Party turns our focus forward.

We must face the future in the interests of our country.

And we will be guided every step of the way by our values.

Labor values.

Values that have at their heart the desire to lift up our fellow Australians and help us reach our full potential not just as individuals, but as a nation.

Our policies will always need to adapt to the changing world around us.

But our values are enduring.

The very sites of economic production and exchange are transforming rapidly.

The global economy is more integrated and competitive than ever before.

And in that changing world, we are confronting an intensifying international debate over energy production and the environment.

More and more women are claiming their right to employment and economic security, forever changing the face of – and the culture within – the workplace.

We are in the midst of a technological revolution.

It is acting as both a catalyst for disruption and providing an unprecedented opportunity to improve our lives.

It is a revolution that is changing everything: the way we live, the way we learn, the way we relate to each other and, of course, the way we work.

Today, I present the first in a series of Vision Statements.

It concerns the very heart of Labor’s mission: Jobs and the future of work.

We understand work isn’t just about a pay cheque. With work comes purpose, self-confidence and dignity.

Good jobs strengthen families and communities.

Australians are worried about the future of their job and the jobs their children will have in the future.

They are anxious about facing technological change greater than any time in human history.

They deserve reassurance that the future of work will help them get ahead and not fall behind.

And they expect Government to do its bit by working just as hard as they do.

As a party born of working Australians, which arose from the trade union movement, Labor will fight to see aspirations rewarded and hopes realised.

Australians want their children to have better lives and more opportunities than they enjoyed.

In 2019 many fear this won’t happen – that their children will have fewer opportunities.

And they are right to be anxious.

They are right to be worried about weak growth and stagnant wages.

The current Government’s Finance Minister has even described low wages growth as “a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture”.

The pace of change is confronting.

I get it.

While government cannot stop change, it can certainly shape change.

And Labor’s priority has always been, and always will be, to shape change in the interests of people.

Only Labor can lead Australia confidently into this future.

We have done it before and we will do it again. 

Like Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, I understand that building the future means we must first and foremost be in the business of creating wealth, as well as ensuring it is distributed fairly.

Labor is proudly and resolutely pro-growth.

We understand that successful businesses and a vibrant economy are essential prerequisites for job growth.

The contribution made by 2.2 million small businesses is particularly important.

They employ 4.9 million Australians, nearly half of all private sector employees.

Ensuring they thrive and flourish is vital to our national prosperity.

So too is finding and harnessing new drivers of prosperity.

We need to shape our changing economy so it serves the Australian people, not the other way around.

Not yesterday’s economy.

Tomorrow’s economy.

When it comes to building that economy, technology and innovation are our allies.

They are key to boosting productivity.

We must find new ways to use our resources more effectively – especially the talents of our people.

As much as technology can play a part here, people will matter even more.

How we skill them up and prepare them for change is crucial.

Not just in producing the goods and services we buy, sell and trade in the private market and overseas, but also those public goods and services people expect and deserve – such as a clean environment, quality health and education, and a proper, fair safety net.

As economist Paul Krugman famously said, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

The future belongs to those countries that can innovate, adapt and adjust.

Complacency is our enemy.

As well as lifting economic productivity in the short to medium term, technological advancements are also opening new doors of wealth and job-creation opportunities.

And those opportunities are made even more significant thanks to our geographical position on the doorstep of the world’s fastest growing region in human history.

We are in the box seat to reap the benefits of the Asian century.

If we get it right.

And some of those opportunities lie within the global efforts to tackle one of the greatest challenges we face today: Climate change.

The world is decarbonising. With the right planning and vision, Australia can not only continue to be an energy exporting superpower, we can also enjoy a new manufacturing boom.

This means jobs.

Consider the direct exports of LNG from northern Australia to South East Asia.

Or the dividends from a hydrogen economy that can help our major trading partners, such as Japan and South Korea, make the switch to hydrogen.

This goal is also consistent with our ambitions as set out in the Asian Century White Paper.

It urged Australia to improve human security through the development of resilient markets in basic needs, such as energy.

Indeed, experts tell us achieving 50 per cent renewable energy at home while building a hydrogen export industry would create 87,000 good, well-paid jobs.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel sees a hydrogen export industry that in ten years could be worth $1.7 billion.

Working towards a low-carbon future provides the opportunity to revitalise the Australian manufacturing sector.

Opportunities that are all about jobs.

Yet our current policy settings barely acknowledge climate change, let alone seek to exploit the opportunities that, over time, can come with the global shift to renewables.

In the century that’s before us, the nations that will transform into manufacturing powerhouses are those that can harness the cheapest renewable energy resources.

We have the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent.

We don’t need to create nuclear power when every day we can harness the power of the greatest nuclear reactor in the solar system: the Sun.

We also have some of the best wind and wave resources.

And we have some of the best engineers and scientists, breaking the barriers of what is possible.

Australia can be the land of cheap and endless energy – energy that could power generations of metal manufacturing and other energy intensive manufacturing industries.

Our resources and capability also offer us the scope to be the capital of mining and processing of the key ingredients of the renewables revolution.

Australia is the second largest producer of rare earth elements.

We have the greatest reserves in the world of iron and titanium, the second greatest reserves of copper and lithium, and the third greatest deposits of silver.

Just as coal and iron ore fuelled the industrial economies of the 20th century, it is these minerals that will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st.

Among these resources, there is one that the West Australian Government has identified as key to the diversification of the state’s economy.

And that is lithium.

Right here in WA, we are seeing the emergence of an industry adding upstream value to a resource – creating new processing and manufacturing industries and, crucially, creating regional and metropolitan jobs.

As electric vehicles, energy storage systems and smart devices become more mainstream, the global demand for lithium batteries will explode.

And WA is ready.

Already WA has seven operational lithium mines. Two lithium processing plants are currently being built and a feasibility study is under way for a third.

And it’s all supported by a research centre that’s taking Australia a step closer to the development of a battery-manufacturing industry.

Yesterday I visited Mineral Resources in Kwinana with local MP Madeleine King and Shadow Minister for WA Resources Matt Keogh to see firsthand this exciting growth industry.

The emerging lithium industry is a living example of how real world economic progress happens – business, unions, researchers and government coming together to deliver on an aspiration bigger than just digging stuff out of the ground and letting the value-adding happen offshore.

Not only is Australia in a position to build the batteries, Brisbane-based company, Tritium, has developed and is already exporting the technology to recharge them. Their charging stations are the fastest in the world, and are fuelling the shift to electric vehicles in Europe.

Our traditional industries are also poised to benefit from a low-carbon future.

For example, it takes more than 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal to produce one wind turbine.

According to forecasts of global growth in wind power capacity to 2030, Australia could be exporting 15.5 million tonnes of coking coal to build these turbines.

This is the equivalent of three years output from the Moranbah North coking coal mine in Queensland.

It is expected that the growth in electric vehicles will mean global copper production in the next 25 years will be larger than all the copper mined in world history.

Simply put, the road to a low-carbon future can be paved with hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, as well as supporting traditional jobs, including coal mining.

Labor wants to lead that clean energy revolution.

Labor’s vision for Australia will always be one of a country that continues to make things.

I’ve always been optimistic about our great manufacturing sector.

My optimism was confirmed when I recently visited Keech 3D Advanced Manufacturing in Bendigo.

Located in an old foundry, this 21st-century company designs and prints custom-made defence, medical and mining components, employs 140 locals in that regional city and exports to the world.

But it’s certainly not our only example.

The Bombardier factory in Dandenong has recently been tasked with building new VLocity trains for regional Victoria and refurbishing existing ones.

These additional sets will help secure 100 direct jobs, and will also provide for further jobs in the supply chain.

And it’s not just good for workers. Those stickers on the side that say “Made in Victoria” are a source of real pride.

In regional Queensland, Downer EDI is fixing up the New Generation Rolling Stock trains with all 75 sets to be repaired at the Maryborough site.

And, here in WA, the McGowan Government has announced its METRONET railcars will be built locally, bringing rail manufacturing back to the state.

Change can also bring higher safety standards while creating jobs.

At the Dulux plant in Melbourne, workers in lab coats and computers undertake the task of paint development – a risky undertaking that used to be done manually.

This change has boosted productivity and produced better jobs.

And among those who have jobs at the plant are former Ford workers from Broadmeadows.

Our traditional industries are also embracing technology.

For example, our mining services are a major export.

The future manufacturing sector of Australia needs to deliver world class products, incorporate the best technology, and provide the good jobs the sector has provided for generations.

And a high technology manufacturing sector that competes on the basis of quality – not on a race to the bottom on wages – is how we deliver the good manufacturing jobs we need and deserve.

But this too needs leadership, investment, the addressing of challenges – and a vision.

Our manufacturing sector is straining beneath record energy prices, without a plan or leadership from the Government.

I want firms to invest, and that is why the decline in business investment under the Coalition is so concerning.

Governments should be encouraging capital investment.

Labor has been urging a bring forward of the infrastructure investment that is needed to stimulate the economy.

Today I call upon the Government to introduce an upgraded investment guarantee as part of a measured economic stimulus package to boost our sluggish economy.

Bringing forward infrastructure investment, combined with increased business investment, would create jobs in the short term as well as lift productivity.

Two of our other great renewable resources are imagination and creativity.

Our government should be playing more of a leadership role in the development of employment opportunities in the creative sectors.

These industries span creative services such as architecture, design, software, digital content, advertising and marketing as well as cultural production including film, television and radio, music and performing arts, publishing and visual arts.

Governments across the world are recognising the creative industries as a key strategic area for development.

In Australia, these industries are growing at nearly twice the rate of the broader Australian workforce. And because they require creativity and judgment, they support jobs that are much less likely to be automated.

The creative industries are of strategic importance to Australia, but are being held back by cuts, lack of investment and outdated policy settings.

So I am pleased to announce that Labor will hold a Creative Economy Summit in the first half of next year.

Led by Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland, the summit will bring together key players from across the creative industries to chart a course for an expansion.

There are other developments that will have profound effects on countries and their economies.

Notably, the future impact of artificial intelligence.

Some have estimated that over the next ten years, AI could create nearly $15 trillion in economic value.

In last year’s Budget, the Government announced it was allocating $30 million over four years to support the development of AI.

That’s a start, but bear in mind our Singaporean neighbours are devoting around five times that amount.

At this year’s election Labor championed the establishment of a National Centre of AI Excellence to help chart the likely national investment required in this area by bringing together those with a stake or an interest in the effect of AI’s application in our economy.

This Centre needs to be established now.

Think of it this way – my son was born in the Year 2000. 

For his generation and the next to come, we must respond to the digital revolution with plans to help manage its impact on the future of work and maximise the benefit for communities and our economy.

Achieving growth depends on ensuring that all Australians are able to participate in the workforce.

Since the Equal Pay decisions of the 1970s, progress has been made to ensure workplace equality for Australian women.

Yet women in the workplace still suffer gender segregation, pay inequality, sexual harassment and discrimination.

To ensure that Australian women thrive in the workforce, we must change the culture of Australian workplaces when it comes to caring responsibilities.

We must strive for a labour market where women can be seen on construction or mining sites as equally as men are seen in our places of care.

A labour market where the only thing that matters is your skill and ability to do the job.

Ensuring that women can reap the full benefits of participation in the workforce will be a priority for Labor and I will work with unions and employers to achieve this outcome.

Higher productivity and greater economic growth will only be sustainable when everyone can access the job opportunities and the resulting prosperity.

A strong economy and an inclusive society go hand in hand.

But even now the unprecedented pace of change and spread of new technologies are leaving many workers unsettled, and others left out of the labour market altogether.

To return confidence to the labour market we need to rebuild the pathways that allow workers to engage with technology and innovation in an assured manner.

This will require the single-minded pursuit of skills. Skilled workers are confident and have more choices.

And we know that almost 2 million Australians are unable to find enough work – or any work at all.

Yet a recent Australian Industry Group survey indicated that three quarters of businesses cannot find the skilled workers they need.

According to the Government’s own agency there are skills shortages in occupations such as pastry chefs, electricians and motor vehicle repairers.

Furthermore, the Australian Resources and Energy Group predicts the mining sector will need an additional 21,000 on-site employees by 2024.

As a result of the rollout of the NDIS and the ageing of our population, the demand for workers in health and human services is set to become even more acute.

In short we have a labour market characterised by the mismatch between what workers have to offer, and what employers need.

Over the past six years, the current Government has issued half a million visas to foreign workers. Instead, we should be – wherever possible – training Australians for current and future jobs.

I recognise this debate is a complex one.

But working through the issues is what conscientious governments do.

We must commence a national project to repair our VET system.

We see a steep decline in Australians who are working towards an apprenticeship, with 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when this Government took office.

This includes 7,000 fewer across Perth alone.

Under this Government, TAFE and training have suffered huge cuts and gross underinvestment.

And state governments have also had an impact.  Under the previous WA Liberal government, TAFE fees for some courses went up by as much as 500 per cent.

Mark McGowan’s Government is committed to TAFE, as demonstrated by its “Lower Fees, Local Skills” policy, which halves TAFE fees for high-priority skills.

Too many young Australians have been burned in recent years by fraudulent training providers – that must never be allowed to happen again.

We also need to ensure that trade qualifications are more relevant to the jobs of today, and to ensure people have skills that transfer between occupations.

Transferability of skills is critical in a world of accelerating change.

Today I announce that Labor in Government will establish a new national partnership to drive improved outcomes in the vocational education and training sector and to strengthen workforce planning, particularly in the growing sectors of our economy:

Jobs and Skills Australia will be a genuine partnership across all sectors – business leaders, both large and small; State and Territory governments; unions; education providers; and those who understand particular regions.

And for the first time, I want this to be a data-driven exercise, working in real time with labour markets technology – such as Seek and LinkedIn – to drive real outcomes.

Like Singapore’s Skills Future, I want Jobs and Skills Australia to strengthen our choices in jobs, skills and careers.

It will be legislated, just as Infrastructure Australia was in 2008.

Its functions will encompass:

  • workforce and skills analysis;
  • preparing capacity studies, including for emerging and growing industries;
  • undertaking specific plans for targeted groups such as the regions, over-55 workers, and youth;
  • and reviewing the adequacy of the training and vocational system.

But in addition to those functions, it will also have a unique statutory obligation.

Jobs and Skills Australia will undertake workforce forecasting and assessing skills requirements for those services where government is the major funder, and where demand is forecast to expand – including the human services of NDIS, aged care and health.

This specific function will ensure that proper co-ordination occurs across all our human services investments and that the risk to service delivery or cost is reduced.

As Deloitte Access Economics has said, our future workforce will require skills of the heart.

And I want to do it with a proven model of collaboration.

It will work with business and unions to harness insights from industry to ensure that training is meeting not just today’s needs but to anticipate how work is changing.

It will ensure that the Commonwealth works genuinely with the States and Territories to ensure that our VET system delivers the trainees and apprentices that our country needs.

The TAFE system is the cornerstone of the Australian training system. It can be complemented, but never replaced.

Our model of Jobs and Skills Australia is for a genuine partnership.

The skills challenge of today is more acute than when the Rudd Government developed its skills policy, which is why today’s policy goes further.

I see Jobs and Skills Australia as the basis of a new compact.

The Coalition has taken steps in this direction with the proposed establishment of a National Skills Commission. But this is a late and inadequate response
from a tired Government now in its seventh year.

This is the same Government that abolished the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency that Labor established in 2008.

This was an active decision to vacate the field of national leadership – and our workers, and the businesses that need them, have been paying the price.

Co-operation and collaboration work. I know this from my own experience in Government.

As Infrastructure Minister, I established Infrastructure Australia.

And it worked.

I envisage a similar model for Jobs and Skills Australia.

A collaborative model to guide investment in human capital, just as Infrastructure Australia guides investment in physical capital.

Labor will always ensure workers have access to a strong and stable set of minimum conditions, as well as ensuring workers have the right protections.

We need to ensure workers get their fair share of gains in national productivity.

But let me be very clear.

Supporting protections is not the same as supporting protectionism.

A trading nation such as ours cannot depend on the latter. Protectionism detracts from growth and punishes consumers and businesses.

But protections are different.

They are the insurance we take on to reduce uncertainty, strengthen confidence, manage risk, and support enterprise.

Labor has always advanced such protections.

Protections such as the age pension introduced by Andrew Fisher.

The national unemployment benefits scheme introduced by Curtin and Chifley.

Universal superannuation and Medicare introduced by Hawke and Keating. 

The NDIS and paid parental leave introduced by Rudd and Gillard.

There is a common theme here: all of these reforms help protect Australians against uncertainty and the risk of loss.

Not least in regional Australia, where unemployment rates are higher.

We have established a Regional Jobs Taskforce chaired by Meryl Swanson to focus on employment in our regions.

Right now uncertainty is everywhere.

Job insecurity is on the rise – and it doesn’t discriminate.

According to the latest research one in four workers feels unsure about the future of their current job – and half expect it would be difficult to find a new one quickly if they had to.

While many people take on casual or similar styles of work for

lifestyle or other reasons, others, compelled by financial necessity, have little choice.

Instead they find themselves working unpredictable, fluctuating

hours, with few or no protections, and uncertainty about the size of their pay packet.

As a result, many of these workers are unable to plan ahead or make time to be with their families.

They may find it impossible to get a car loan or a home loan.

Or their lack of job security may leave them too afraid to speak out at work about issues such as health and safety.

These Australians deserve a greater sense of security.

One option would be to investigate the barriers to business offering fulltime employment.

This would not only be better for workers.  Businesses prosper when they foster stronger, mutually beneficial relationships with their workforces.

Our industrial relations system is being strained by the emergence of new forms of employment arrangements.

One such trend is growth in intermediated or on-demand employment, such as the growth in the gig economy.

And non-standard work is seen across industries.

For employers, non-standard arrangements can help with volatility or short term spikes in demand for labour.

But let me be clear, we want people to elect to take on this form of work because it benefits them, not have it imposed on them.

And not as a tool to de-unionise workplaces as a step to lowering wages and conditions.

For many employees, these arrangements can be beneficial. They can provide flexibility and additional income in the form of a secondary job.

Today we have close to 1.5 million secondary jobs, some with a median income of $9500 depending on the industry. Forty per cent of Uber drivers, for example have a separate full-time job, or own a business.

Many Uber drivers adopt the platform precisely for the flexibility it provides.

It is time to have a conversation about new forms of worker protections, which can be made as flexible as the gig economy jobs they could cover, as well as benefit more traditional industries.

Ideas like portable entitlements.

Over the coming months through our Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Tony Burke, Labor will lead that conversation.

It is no longer possible for any nation to assume that economic success is inevitable.

But for individuals, the talk of the large levers of national economic policy, the data and the statistics is all made real through the opportunity to work.

Through having a job.

Through their family and neighbours having a job.

Not just any job – but one that guarantees a decent standard of living, one that continues to improve over time.

But just what those jobs will be a decade from now is uncertain.

We can watch the tidal wave of change coming, then be swept away by it.

Or we can protect our citizens by giving them a fair shot at a prosperous future. 

Labor doesn’t believe that Government should simply get out of the way and leave it to the market alone.

We know that trickle-down economics only rains down misery on working people.

Government must understand the landscape and the forces that drive change.

It must be proactive, not reactive.

The Australian people can build a safe, prosperous and secure future if we establish the conditions in which their own efforts are rewarded.

One that understands that unions and business have common goals.

Hawke and Keating laid the foundations for 28 consecutive years of economic growth.

Rudd and Gillard saw us through the global financial crisis.

In the coming decades we need to create the conditions to prosper in our changing and dynamic world.

There is absolutely no sign that the Morrison Government even understands this challenge, let alone possesses the will to tackle it.

To put it bluntly they are complacent and have no plan.

Labor is prepared to take it on.

We know we can do this as long as we work together and present a vision for the future.

Whatever the economic challenges we face, “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” is still a concept worth aspiring to.

The future isn’t going away.

It’s already with us.