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Wayne Swan’s Speech To The AWU National Conference

The Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has addressed the Australian Workers’ Union National Conference in Brisbane.

Swan’s speech follows Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s appearance last night.

Swan’s speech returned to his familiar theme of Labor values, warned of Tea Party tendencies in the Liberal Party, reiterated the government’s commitment to jobs, and emphasised the importance of the government’s re-election in September.


  • Listen to Paul Howes introduce Swan (2m)
  • Listen to Swan’s speech (26m)
  • Listen to Swan’s media conference after his speech (5m)

Transcript of Wayne Swan’s speech to the AWU National Conference.

The Choice of 2013

Thanks Paul for that introduction. I think brothers and sisters of the AWU would join me in saying that your re-election – unopposed as it was – speaks volumes about the respect and appreciation you’ve earned in this room and around the country. There’d certainly be no argument here that the national conversation has benefited hugely from your growing contribution over the past few years. Together with Bill Ludwig – a giant of our movement – you’ve helped the AWU stand tall and unmoved as the first line of defence for so many hardworking Australians and their right to decent pay and fair conditions. And to Bill, mate frankly I reckon you could’ve knocked out another quarter of a century leading the mighty Queensland branch. But I do understand the need for fresh blood and I know you leave it in Ben’s very capable hands. We’re better every day for your stewardship of this great union – our union.

As the PM said last night, I’m just back from G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Moscow over the weekend. These meetings always reaffirm my optimism about the future of our nation. A lot of finance ministers around the table would give their right arm for the resilience of the Australian economy. Yes, we face challenges and we saw some of those tough challenges in the video last night. The higher dollar being one. But we approach these from a position of strength that few developed economies have. Every time I sit in these meetings I think about people like you. I think of the Labor values that go to the core of our party and movement. Jobs first, fair days’ pay for a fair days work – high skill high wage careers. Always putting growth and jobs first, and making sure we’re prepared for the challenges of the future by dealing with dangerous climate change and investing in infrastructure and education. We’re stronger today because we applied these values during the global financial crisis, we saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and small businesses, and in doing that we were opposed every step of the way by Mr Abbott and his Tea-Party style negative tactics. Had Mr Abbott and his slash and burn Tea-Partyers been in charge during the financial crisis, Australia would have gone into recession.

I note today the Leader of the Opposition said this morning that coalition policies will have an Australian accent. Well this is what I say to that – “putting lipstick on a pitbull doesn’t make a blue heeler” Or do I need to point out that Cory Bernardi – until recently Tony Abbott’s hand-picked Parliamentary Secretary – has an Australian accent. Delivering American Tea-Party policies in an Australian accent doesn’t make them home-grown. And on the other side of the ledger, Christine Milne has had a couple of words to say today as you may have heard. Everyone in this room knows we’re not the Liberals, we’re not the Greens, we’re the Labor Party. Our focus will always be on jobs and growth – that’s where our party comes from.

Delegates, two years ago we celebrated our 125th anniversary. It was five months after the bloody battle of the 2010 election. The Prime Minister – who I’ve described before as the toughest warrior for Labor values in our history – had led our party and our movement back into government, but only just. That victory – prolonged and bruising as it was – belonged to all of us here, and to every sister and brother of every union around the country. Just as we’d come together in 2007 to defeat the greatest threat to working people’s lives and livelihoods in modern Australian history, we had rallied once again to overcome that same threat by a different name. Delegates, this year our nation has again come to a crossroads. 2013 will be a defining moment in Australia’s history; not just for the union movement – for the whole country. Australians will make a decision about who we want to be as a nation. I have always believed that at heart we are a country built on the promise of a Fair Go. A prosperous and united country that believes in decent pay and conditions for workers, a helping hand for those who need it most, and the opportunity for every Australian to contribute to our success. That’s why I joined the AWU. That’s why I joined the Labor Party. It’s also why I proudly serve in the Gillard Government. I’ve fought all my life against the harsh and heartless ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality of conservative politics where the wealth of a few is built on the backs of the many. I know some newspaper editorial writers don’t get it, but I don’t care. It’s that cause that binds all of us here together. We’re now facing one of the toughest and possibly most important elections in many years. Many of the usual pundits have written us off. My advice is to not listen to them. There’s no sure thing in a two-horse race, especially when one of the jockeys is called Tony Abbott. We can win. We have to. Because I think Australia is on the cusp of something really big – but only if we have a government that has a real economic and social vision for Australia. I often think to myself, if only we’d got our chance when things were booming. We wouldn’t have wasted the boom years the way John Howard and Peter Costello did when the global economy was firing on all cylinders.But whilst we all would have preferred the Global Financial Crisis never happened, we should feel extremely proud of the things we have achieved together. We’ve seen Australia through the toughest times in 80 years, protected our economic foundations and taken some important steps to set the nation up for the future. For the last four and a half years the world’s economy has been in turmoil. Almost alone among developed nations, we have come through it with continuing economic growth, job creation and rising incomes.

Our economy is now 13 per cent bigger than it was just 5 years ago. We’ve gone forward as a nation even when the circumstances have been against us. When the rest of the world finally recovers, we will be in the box seat. History tells us moments like this must be seized. This year our party celebrates the 70th anniversary of the 1943 election, which endorsed the government of John Curtin. It too was a minority government that came to power at a time of international turmoil – after a decade of Depression, in the darkest days of the Second World War. By the end of that election year of 1943 a lot of fighting was still to be done, but there was a sense that victory was certain. So the Curtin Government faced the people with the slogan “Victory in war, victory in peace”, promising Post War Reconstruction to benefit every Australian.

Let me quote you something important that Curtin said:

“Our country has now withstood the direct trials; it has lived through its darkest hour; it is now confronting the dawn of a victorious and a better day. The Labor Government has done its duty.”

The victory of 1943 led to a great era of advance for the country that gave us full employment, a decent aged pension system, support for widows and deserted mothers, and child endowment. It gave us the first steps towards what would later become Medicare and Medibank – laying the foundations of our modern health care system. When the crisis was finished, Australia was ready. The Curtin Government could have listened to the conservative commentators then and done nothing. It would have been a betrayal for the nation and its future. Instead, Curtin’s great policy achievements, created the basis for the expansion and prosperity and fairness that followed. Menzies wouldn’t have done it, not in a million years. The lesson here is simple: in a time of trouble, you still need to keep an eye on the future, laying the foundations to build a better economy and better society. That’s what our government is doing now. We’re still living with the fallout from the GFC. But we have come through so far with people’s living standards intact, and have begun to lay the foundations for another era of prosperity for all. So we look to the future. We’ll keep doing the hard yards on the big reforms like investing in our schools through Gonski, setting up a National Disability Insurance Scheme and rolling out the National Broadband Network. These are the reforms that are critical for our economy and our community. They will help ensure all Australians can make a contribution and share in the prosperity we will build together in this Asian Century. We have always been a party with a sense of purpose so much greater than just staying in government and keeping the other side out. We have a better country to build. That’s why we must win again this year.

Getting the big economic calls right over the last 5 years has set us up for the challenges of the next 5 years. We need to lock in the gains we’ve made with a plan for the future. We know we can do it because we’ve always been the party of progress. Over the last 5 years, the Gillard Government has continued the Labor tradition of putting in place the big reforms we need to build a stronger economy and a stronger community. Big, tough reforms like putting a price on carbon despite one of the most ferocious and dishonest scare campaigns in Australian political history. A reform delivered under the steadfast leadership of our Prime Minister. And I’d just like to pause here for a minute and talk a bit about what we mean by leadership and what leadership itself means for reform. I want to invoke the words of one of my great Labor predecessors, Paul Keating, some 23 years ago in what came to be known as his Placido Domingo address. As he struggled with the loss that gripped him in the hours after his Treasury Secretary passed away at a young age, and reflected on the task that lay ahead for our nation, he said:

“We really do have this opportunity; it’s not beyond us. The problems we have are not irreconcilable or incapable of being defeated. It just requires will and a national leadership to do it. But basically leadership is about having a conversation with the public. Leadership is not about being popular; it’s about being right and about being strong”.

These words could have been about Julia Gillard, standing up to the campaign of fear and intimidation on carbon pricing or staring down the misogyny and bullying tactics deployed by Tony Abbott. The Prime Minister has maintained her resolve and her determination, as we have gone about building our economic resilience and ensuring the gains we make are fairly shared throughout our community. Of course, Tony Abbott has never seen a scare campaign he didn’t like. The Liberals have also been running around the joint trying to scare the pants off Australians with a bunch of claptrap about our resource rent tax deterring investment even though the facts say the complete opposite. The simple fact is that we’ve seen over $152 billion of capital expenditure in the mining sector since the MRRT was announced in July 2010, representing a staggering increase of nearly 160 per cent. Now clearly, MRRT collections in its first six months of operation have been lower than Treasury expected, with global uncertainty causing a spectacular drop in commodity prices in the second part of last year. Any serious participant in the economic debate understands just how significantly commodity prices have continued to impact MRRT revenue. But we didn’t bring in a resource rent tax as a six month proposition. This is a big, long term economic reform to help set our country up for the decades to come, just like we floated the dollar, brought down the tariff wall and introduced workers’ superannuation all those years ago. Of course we didn’t judge those big economic reforms after just six months – they were far-sighted reforms which built the foundation of our resilient economy and three decades later helped us avoid recession. So yep, last week was a pretty tough week – but I didn’t get into politics to make the easy decisions and I won’t be taking a backwards step now. I don’t apologise for one second for trying to get a fair share for the Australian people for the resources they own 100 per cent. Because fairness is right at the core of what this Government is about. We’ve got a plan to build a stronger, smarter and fairer nation.

When we talk about fairness, what we really mean is that all Australians should have the opportunity to participate in our success. This is a conversation the whole world is having. It was central to President Obama’s historic re-election, which I believe will be seen as a major victory for the global movement for opportunity and equity. This debate isn’t just about fairness, it’s about growth too. With inequality back on the rise in many developed countries, some of the world’s leading economists have warned that rising inequality is one of the key factors holding back stronger growth. I was really encouraged last year when my article in The Monthly and my speech on the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen got our nation talking about the importance of egalitarianism and democracy. Americans know from bitter experience that growth linked to widening inequality is slower growth that produces deep social dislocation. Good economic management doesn’t just grow the economy, it ensures the growth is enjoyed by the maximum number of people. That’s what our policies of the last five years have done – ensured the benefits of our growth go to the whole of our society. By acting decisively during the GFC, we saved 200,000 jobs, protecting the livelihoods and wellbeing of Australian workers and their families. And by avoiding recession, we helped the country avoid the full force of the economic destruction that engulfed the developed world. Of course, Australians certainly felt the impact of the crisis on their household wealth, not only in the performance of their superannuation accounts but also through subdued growth in house prices. But because of our actions and the resilience of all Australians, the wealth destruction here was nothing like what has occurred elsewhere. While median household wealth in the U.S. declined by more than 30 per cent between 2004 and 2010, here in Australia it increased by more than 20 per cent over the same period. In fact wealth inequality actually fell in Australia between 2006 and 2010, with the household wealth of the poorest 20% growing by 5% a year. We’ve also done a good job in retaining our nation’s economic mobility – the idea that anyone can succeed regardless of where you were born or who your parents are. In Australia, how much your father earns is almost half as important as it is in the US and UK when it comes to how much you earn later in life. But there are still sizeable pockets of disadvantage in our country. We have not won a decisive victory yet. That’s why we need this discussion as a country. As a community. And for our economy. It’s the reason I’ve been a member of this union nearly all my life. We all agree our rewards should be proportionate to effort, recognising the hard work and entrepreneurship that create wealth and employment. But we have to continue putting in place policies to combat the types of disparities in opportunity that damage our society – and our economy.

On 14 September this year, the Australian people face a choice between the party of the many and the party of the few. Last year, we saw the American people choose a country and economy which draws its strength from inclusion and participation. They rejected the politics of fear. They rejected the conservative myth of supply-side economics and the so-called ‘trickle-down effect’ – the insulting claim that cutting taxes for the rich somehow benefits the poor. This year, Australians have a similar choice. We must reject the callous Tea Party-inspired ideology which says ‘you’re on your own’ and instead agree that ours is a country that takes care of its own. Just as the Tea Party has annexed sections of the Republican Party in the United States, here in Australia we are now witnessing an alarming radicalisation of the Liberal Party. Delegates, we have an opposition in Australia which has now imported all the very worst aggressive negativity and reckless disregard for responsible economics from the Tea Party in the United States. Just as the extreme right of the GOP have done in the US, Tony Abbott has swung a wrecking-ball through our modern political discourse. What I fear – what I really fear – is that a decade from now we will look back on this period as the establishment of the Australian Tea Party under the leadership of Tony Abbott. Joe Hockey – his fervent accomplice – has openly described the social safety net that so many vulnerable Australians rely on as ‘largesse’ and promised that a Liberal government would take the knife to it. Tony Abbott has already put working parents and their children in his sights to fill his $70 billion budget crater by pledging to rip away both the Low Income Super Contribution and School Kids Bonus if he is elected. We’ve had a foretaste of this, especially here in Queensland, with state Liberal governments making savage and senseless budget cuts – tearing away services in the community that are vital for so many. Tony Abbott will be Campbell Newman on a national scale. Let’s be very clear about what’s at stake here. Mr Abbott’s Tea Party economics would not only wreck our finances like in the US, it would wreck the Australian social compact and prevent the benefits of Australian prosperity reaching every corner of the country. So this year Australians have a defining decision to make. Just like a majority of our American cousins rejected the economically reckless and downright hard-hearted politics of the extreme right, so too must we reject the callous notion that it’s everyone for themselves.

Of course, delegates, the most important thing for a fair society and a strong economy is the opportunity for every Australian to contribute. On Sunday, the Prime Minister released our Plan for Australia Jobs, in response to the PM’s Manufacturing Taskforce, and in the spirit of the discussions at this conference about the future of manufacturing. We know that the sustained higher dollar is putting a huge amount of pressure on some of our traditional Australian industries and is making them much less competitive in their own global markets. The strong dollar hasn’t come down as interest rates and our terms of trade have fallen – and that’s challenging a lot of business models. We can’t control the dollar, but we can control how we respond to it. As a Labor Government, we believe innovation and higher skills are the answer – rather than always resorting to cutting costs by cutting jobs. Our plan is to back Australian firms to win more work, support Australian industry to increase exports and win new business abroad, and help Australian small businesses to grow. It’s about what we can do right now to get more work into Australian factories, workshops, construction sites and service sectors. It’s about what we must do for Australia to get a bigger slice of exports and opportunities in our growing region; and what we should do to secure good jobs for the next generation of Australians. We know that the key to sustaining our growth over the long term will be keeping the current upswing in productivity growth going. But in the Labor tradition, we believe this means building up the skills of Australian workers, not tearing away their pay and conditions. Since before the days of Hawke’s Accord, Labor has always believed that workplace relations should be about cooperation and negotiation. Just as we did during the darkest days of the global financial crisis, we must continue working together – government, workers and employers. That’s why the Prime Minister convened a new national panel on economic reform, in the spirit of the Hawke Accord, also including important stakeholders from our broader community. We are working together on our five pillars of productivity – skills and education, innovation, infrastructure, tax reform and regulatory reform. The panel has agreed that our economic goals should be achieved in the context of improving equity, participation and reducing disadvantage. Just last week the Prime Minister announced new changes to take some of the burden off modern families by giving workers with caring responsibilities the right to ask for part-time and flexible hours. We also want to give these same rights to victims of domestic violence and those who care for them, as well as workers aged 55 and over. This is right at the centre of our commitment to help more Australians participate in our nation’s success in a fair and harmonious workplace.

In stark contrast, the Liberals truly believe that the adversarial workplace relations system of the Howard government was the ‘golden age’. They would rather see employer pitted against worker. Mark my words on this – whatever pledges Tony Abbott makes in blood, whatever he claims is dead, buried and cremated, whatever name he chooses for it, he will bring back the worst elements of WorkChoices. WorkChoices is in Tony Abbott’s DNA. Delegates, this is a man who said Australians could not trust anything but his most carefully scripted remarks. He has always believed it is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. All of us here know what is at stake. None of us here can rest for a moment while this profound threat exists to the jobs and livelihoods of decent Australian workers. The AWU, and unions like ours, must stand together to stop the Liberals tearing away the most basic rights at work for ordinary Australians. Delegates, the threat of an Abbott Government in 2013 is no less than the threat which Howard posed to jobs in 2007. If anything, it is greater. This is the most destructive force in our modern political history. Just as you were in 2007, you will again be the difference in 2013. You can marshal the formidable power of our great union to help protect the fundamental right of your members and of every Australian to fair pay and conditions and a decent social safety net. We are a young optimistic country with the world at our feet. But we have much more work to do. You can help build our country into what it can be in the Asian Century, with every Australian having a stake in our prosperity. Delegates thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here today and thanks once again for your continued support for your members, your Labor Government and for your Treasurer.

Transcript of Wayne Swan’s Gold Coast doorstop following his speech to the AWU National Conference.

SWAN: As the Prime Minister indicated last night, we are the Labor Party, and we always put jobs and growth first. The Labor Party and the Greens are cut from a different cloth. We don’t pander to special interests on our left or on the right. But most importantly I think, if you look at the operation of the Parliament over the last two years, I don’t think you’ll see this decision of the Greens today, practically, have a great impact on the operation of the Parliament. The Greens have opposed quite a few Bills during the last two years but the Parliament has functioned very well, and I believe that the Parliament will continue to function very well. In terms of the Government, we will continue to put policies forward which support hard-working Australian families and we’ll get on with the job.

JOURNALIST: Have you sold out to the mining companies by not being willing to go back and fight the mining tax?

SWAN: I think the whole issue associated with mining, mining growth, taxation and jobs demonstrates some fundamental differences between Labor and the Greens, and Labor and the Liberals. The Greens want to abolish the mining industry, that’s right over on the fringe, this has been the traditional position of the Greens, they don’t see the importance of mining to our economy. They don’t understand the role it plays in jobs and growth. And then of course on the far right, you’ve got the Liberal Party with all of their Tea Party elements who argue that mining billionaires shouldn’t pay their fair share for the resources that the Australian people own 100 per cent. So you’ve got a very clear contrast. We don’t pander to extremists on the fringe – be it the left or the right.

JOURNALIST: Has the Prime Minister been in touch with Senator Milne this afternoon to get a verbal or a written reassurance that she will have confidence and supply?

SWAN: I don’t think there’s any doubt that there will be confidence and supply, that has been a core of the operation of the Parliament over the last two years, and my information is that will continue.

JOURNALIST: Some in the Labor Party have been calling for a long time for the Labor Party to actually distance themselves from the Greens because they are extremists. Is this actually potentially good news for the ALP?

SWAN: As I was saying before, there are extremes to our left and extremes to our right. Take the Liberal Party; they are increasingly going down the road of the Tea Party in the US. I note that Mr Abbott has made some comments about this today. You know, you can’t put lipstick on a pit-bull and call it a blue heeler. The fact is that the Liberal Party is dominated by a right-wing that have fashioned their policies on the Tea Party in the United States. Policies which say give tax cuts to really wealthy people in preference to looking after hard-working families. And that’s the approach we’ve seen from the Liberals when it comes to the mining tax and more generally. I mean, at the moment the Liberal Party wants to abolish the tripling of the tax-free threshold for the lowest paid workers and hack into superannuation of the lowest paid workers. So they’re Tea Party-type policies currently being espoused by Mr Abbott.

JOURNALIST: On the mining tax, would you reconsider your position as Treasurer?

SWAN: Well my position is one where I will continue to ensure that we get the big decisions right for the Australian economy as we have over the past five years, and as we will for the next five years.

JOURNALIST: The Greens and the Coalition are now combining to call for a Senate enquiry into the mining tax and particularly your handling of that. What’s your general reaction? Do you think you have anything to fear from a Senate inquiry?


JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

SWAN: No, I don’t have anything to fear, I’ll just make this point: I fundamentally believe that resource rent taxation is essential for the future of our country, to fairness, to economic growth. There have always been vested interests that have opposed resource rent taxation. Now, it just so happens that it’s politically inconvenient that in the second half of last year commodity prices crashed and that had a dramatic impact on revenues and that occurred more generally. But these are the facts of life that responsible economic managers take into account. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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