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Julia Gillard’s Speech To The Australian Workers’ Union National Conference

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has addressed the National Conference of the Australian Workers’ Union in Brisbane.

The AWU is an important component of Gillard’s power base. The support of Bill Shorten, the former National Secretary of the AWU, and Paul Howes, the current National Secretary, was crucial to Gillard’s overthrow of Kevin Rudd. Treasurer Wayne Swan is supported by the AWU and its National President, Bill Ludwig. The AWU is an important component of the right-wing faction of the ALP.


  • Listen to Gillard’s speech (23m)

Text of Julia Gillard’s speech to the AWU National Conference.

Thank you very much. Thank you to Paul for that very kind introduction.

Paul, a man of so few words that you really value it when he breaks his silence.

Paul, accused perhaps in the past of being a faceless man, but no one’s ever accused him of being a voiceless man.

That is a good thing, that is a good thing for the members of the Australian the Workers Union because what that means is that Paul raises a passionate voice to put your causes, your concerns at the centre of the national debate so I congratulate him on his leadership of this great union.

I congratulate too Bill Ludwig, a legend of this union honoured today with a life membership, appropriate for a man who has been a union member, a member of this union, for more than 60 years.

He’s dedicated his life to this union. It is impossible to record the history of this union without talking about Bill Ludwig’s role.

It is impossible to write the history of this state without recording Bill Ludwig’s role.

He is a great unionist, a passionate Queenslander, a great Australian and he’s got our thanks for the contribution he’s made to our nation’s life.

And every member of the Australian Workers Union gathered in the audience tonight, if William Guthrie Spence was here this evening I think he would look at these members assembled and he would be amazed at how far your union has come.

He would be amazed by the degree of change that has happened in all of those years in between.

But something tells me that if he was able to be here and sit with us tonight and talk to the delegates gathered from all around the countries and listen to their stories and struggles what he would actually be impressed by is the fact that no matter how much has changed in our nation and in this union’s life you have always held dear to that passion, his values, they’re still the values of the Australian Works Union and you should be so incredibly proud of that.

I want to acknowledge a great friend of the AWU who is here tonight and a great friend of mine, the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has joined us this evening.

Wayne has actually flown back from Russia to be here tonight.

Now I don’t tell you that so you get in anticipation about seeing vodka drinking and Cossack dancing.

I don’t think Wayne had time to pick up those pursuits when he was over in Russia.

He has been attending the G20 Finance Ministers meeting and when he attend that Finance Ministers meeting he is gathered in a room of people who really understood what it was like to be there during the most dangerous moments of the global financial crisis.

And in that room when they look for leadership they look to Wayne Swan, a man honoured as the world’s best treasurer, a man so honoured because of his passionate commitment to jobs.

Wayne, thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do for the working people of this country and for their jobs and opportunity.

Can I acknowledge too, Simon Crean here tonight, Joe Ludwig here tonight and so many members of my Labor team that it is impossible to mention them all.

But thank you for coming from all corners of the nation to be here on this special occasion and to be here and say to the Australian Workers Union and we understand your determination and we share it with you.

We understand the values that have brought you here tonight and we share those with you as well.

Friends, as Labor leader it is a great privilege to be here tonight.

A great privilege to be amongst a room of people who truly understand in every way, in every dimension that what enables a person to build a life for them and their families, what enables them to have a decent life and to aspire to a better life is access to work, access to a job.

Not just any job, but a job that offers them fairness and decency at work and the opportunity to have their voice heard through their trade union.

A job is an incredibly precious thing.

We are in a world shaped by the global financial crisis where literally tens of millions of working people have been thrown out of jobs – on the scrap heap, in their countries, with all the misery that that implies for them, their families, their children, the prospects for the rest of their life.

Work is a precious thing.

You understand that and you feel it when any union member loses a job.

We understand that and we feel it when any working person loses a job.

Which is why, having work, the importance of work, in national economic debate it is front and centre this year, because of the importance of work.

We come to that national economic debate having protected jobs during the global financial crisis when the going was really tough, when the other side of politics simply slept through a global financial crisis they now seek to deny ever happened, we didn’t rest.

We didn’t rest, we worked with you, we worked with the employers to protect jobs in this country – such a precious thing.

What that means is we have come out of the global financial crisis unlike other nations around the world, unlike other nations around the world that have seen millions of people thrown out of work, their skill base destroyed, we have come through the global financial crisis with economic strength, unlike the rest of the world.

But you know that doesn’t mean that our future is assured.

You know that we still have to plan and think and work to shape our future.

We can’t simply drift into the future thinking, well, it doesn’t matter, everything will be all right.

We can’t adopt the politics embraced by the other side of the national debate in Australia, by the conservative side of politics.

We cannot embrace and I agenda of cost cutting and wage reduction as our future.

They would call on us, as we’ve seen on the video tonight, to increase our country’s competitiveness by decreasing the wages of working people.

Well, we won’t do that, we will never do that.

We understand that the strong persistent strength of the Aussie dollar is putting a lot of pressure on, a lot of pressure in many of the industries that you represent.

The strong dollar that has resulted because so much of the world’s economy is weak.

The strong dollar which has resulted because of the resources boom and the big capital inflow that we have seen.

The strong dollar that his persisted even when the price for resources has gone down.

The strong dollar that has continued even as our interest rates have gone down.

The strong dollar which will continue to be a feature of our economy for quite some time to come.

Those who say the answer to the challenge of the strong dollar is cost cutting are asking working people to forego a third of their wages.

That is what you’d need to do – cut the average wage for a full-time working people from $70,000 to $50,000, to try and offset the effect of the dollar’s rise.

That is not a future for our country and we won’t embrace it.

We will choose a different path.

It is the path that I outlined yesterday, a plan for Australian jobs, a plan for our future.

You would have recognised many elements of the plan because they are things your union has been calling for and the union movement in total has been calling for.

We embraced your ideas through a process that included you and the plan that we announced yesterday is a comprehensive plan to make sure that we are a country that makes things; proud to have this union making things as part of our national economy and national life.

We will make sure through that plan that we win work here at home, that the proponents of the biggest projects in our country don’t simply look at their global supply chain, don’t do business here the way that they would do it in any other country on earth.

No, instead they will have to think.

Who in Australia can do this work?

Who in Australia could benefit from these jobs and these opportunities?

At the end of the day we want to make sure that prosperity is shared through the Australian economy by giving Aussie companies and Aussie workers a fair go at the work that is generated here at home.

Projects in Australia, employing Australians – that is the way it should be.

That’s part of our plan for Australian jobs, for blue collar jobs, for secure job, for jobs that help people build a life and feed their families and give their families a future.

We want to focus on making sure that we get to seize the opportunities that will come due to the spectacular growth in our region of the world.

For much of my life, for much of the life of many people in this room we looked to markets in the US and Europe, we looked over Asia and we looked over it because we identified it as a place of poverty or a place of competition.

Now in the age in which we live as the European economies still face so much stress and strain from the global financial crisis and its aftermath, as the US economy still faces challenges with 12 million people unemployed, the same number of people as our total labour force, here we are in this region of the world, the growing region of the world, the region of the world that will soon become home to the biggest middle class on earth.

That middle class will want to buy the things that we’ve got to sell provided we get the plans right now.

So our product is there: high quality, available, desired in the region in which we live.

That’s why we are investing in industry precinct and innovation precincts to bring together researchers and businesses to make sure the great ideas are spread and adopted, to give us that comparative advantage that will help us sell our exports into Asia and create Australian jobs.

The third part of our plan is to make sure our small businesses grow.

We have a vibrant small business economy but often they hit a constraint and can’t get any bigger.

Access to finance is a bit thing that keeps small businesses small even though they’ve got good ideas and good products to sell.

We will be helping those businesses grow and to grow Australian jobs.

A plan for Australian jobs, a plan for the future.

A plan that will work with everything else we are doing to modernise the Australian economy.

To get it ready for the age in which we live and the prosperity we want to see for Australians.

It will join with our plan for a clean energy future.

Our role out of the National Broadband Network.

Our investments in infrastructure, in road, in rail and ports.

Our investments skills, more apprenticeships and traineeships than ever before.

More university places too.

These are the ingredients of the vibrant, modern economy with many sources of strength.

Not all of our eggs in the resources boom, not all of our eggs in any one basket but a vibrant economy with many sources of strength including manufacturing as an ongoing source of strength for our nation.

That is our plan and I am determined that we realise that vision of our country’s future – high skill, high wage jobs, a country that makes things.

Friends, as part of that future, a country that is offering jobs and prosperity to its people, it can only be the Australia we want if it is a country offering jobs with decent working conditions and fairness and respect at work.

We got rid of the hated WorkChoices because it wasn’t the Australian way to have that kind of exploitation at work.

Let’s never forget WorkChoices particularly pressed on the young, pressed on women workers, on workers who don’t come to the labour force, don’t come to the labour force, necessarily able to demand for themselves.

WorkChoices wasn’t the Australian way and we got rid of it with the Fair Work.

Friends, when it comes to fairness and decency at work we have more to do.

We announced some new measures last week that will make a difference to all of our modern families around the country trying to balance work and family life.

Which will make a difference to people who face bullying in their workplace, particularly the young, particularly the apprentices who can face that bullying at work.

These are important measures but they are not the end of our workplace relations agenda.

We will keep making announcements for change in workplace relations because the Fair Work Act is good but for me good is never good enough.

We will keep improving to give Australians the fairness, the decency, the respect at work they deserve and you want to see for them.

We’re not done yet when it comes to health and safety at work.

I know your union is still mourning the loss of two firefighters in Victoria, Katie Peters and Stephen Cader.

We know that whenever anyone loses their life at work it is a dreadful tragedy for them, for their family but we feel it too.

We’ve always got more to do to make sure that people not only go to work but they come back home safe and well and we will keep working with you to achieve that too.

Friends, it’s always been in us as a nation, as a generation, as a people to aspire not only to change our life’s conditions, to do better hopefully for ourselves, but to change our nation so it offers better opportunities to our nation’s children.

Every generation of Australians has worked so that the next generation can live a better life than them.

More opportunities for their children.

This generation is not going to let Australia’s kids down.

We’ve got work to do to make sure that every Australian child, no matter the circumstances of their birth, goes to a great school and gets a real chance at a great life a real chance at a great life as a result.

That they aren’t written off as a 7-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 15-year-old, that they aren’t denied the things that will give them the power, the options, the choices to structure a life for themselves.

We’ve worked hard and I’ve been very passionate about making sure we are improving the nation’s schools for our nation’s children.

But we’ve got more to do to ensure that we can say to each other that we can say to each other that every school is a great school.

That every school’s got the resources it needs.

That a great education isn’t something that comes with a life of privilege, that it comes to every Australian child.

We will be working hard on that this year and I know you will be working alongside us as we do it.

Friends, this year too will see us start a transformation for Australians who live with disabilities and their families.

At the end of the day any Australian – any Australian’s family member – would end up with a disability that changes their life forever.

Getting that disability shouldn’t put that person on the scrap heap.

It shouldn’t put that family into a life of ongoing strain – help should be at hand.

Which is why I’m particularly proud that on 1 July this year we will launch the National Disability Insurance Scheme to make a difference.

The watch-words of this year; the watch-words of our Labor cause; the watch-words of this nation’s future: jobs, opportunity, fairness, being stronger, being smarter.

Making sure that the next generation enjoys a better life than we do.

Getting work pumping through the work troughs and the factories and the offices now.

Creating the economy that will give back prosperity to the next generation of Australians and beyond.

That is our mission, that is our cause in 2013 and beyond 2013.

I come here to this union’s gathering as a Labor leader.

I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.

I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.

I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.

I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.

That is what we believe in and that is who we are.

As the leader I can say to you 2013 will be about fighter for the Labor cause each and every day.

Fighting each and every day as we govern and then each and every day of the election campaign.

I am very confident that as we fight that campaign Australians will see that we have the plan for the nation’s future that is right for their families and for their children and for the nation beyond that – I am very confident about that.

Friends, I know we’ll be working together.

We’ll be fighting together as we govern and then campaign across 2013.

But enjoy the night.

It’s a night to be enjoyed and on with the fight tomorrow.

Thank you very much.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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