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Bill Shorten: National Press Club Address

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has addressed the National Press Club in Canberra, marking the start of the Australian political year.


The Labor leader delivered a populist speech that drew heavily on current themes arising from the election of President Donald Trump. Shorten talked of the alienation of voters from the political class and promised to “put people first, politics last”.

Listen to Shorten’s speech (35m – transcript below)

Listen to Shorten take questions (31m)

Watch Shorten’s entire appearance (67m)

Official transcript of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s Address to the National Press Club.

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

And a big welcome back everyone, hope you enjoyed the break.

This week marks the beginning of the political contest for 2017.

And – first and foremost – I will make it a contest about jobs.

Not the job of Prime Minister – but the jobs of Australians.

A contest about building an economy that serves the interests of working and middle class people.

A contest about Medicare

A contest between our reforms to negative gearing and capital gains – putting the great Australian dream of home ownership back in reach and gratuitous insults for young people and their parents priced out of the property market.

A contest between real action on climate change – and a second-hand, scare campaign.

For us, 2017 will be a year of preparation.

Preparing a comprehensive policy agenda, which we will put to the people of Australia in the lead-up to the next election – whenever that election is.

We’re not getting ahead of ourselves – we’re not taking anything for granted.

We are determined to use this time in Opposition, as we should, to develop our plans.

Plans focused on preparing Australians for the future.

Preparing our people – with the skills, education and lifelong learning to find and re-find work in a changing economy.

Preparing our businesses – to compete and win in Asia.

Preparing our cities and regions with infrastructure to boost productivity and create jobs.

And preparing Australia to capitalise on the new jobs and new investment powered by renewables.

We take up this challenge in a unique political environment as we enter 2017.

Two things are different since the last election:

– Donald Trump has become President

– And Malcolm Turnbull has got worse

But one thing is the same.

The economy is not heading in the direction Australia needs.

– The growth rate is too low

– Productivity growth is too low

– Wages growth is at historic lows

– And even though interest rates are low – they’re not stimulating sufficient economic activity

Put simply – families are under pressure and Malcolm Turnbull is hopelessly out of touch.

Australia needs a plan to drive real improvements in living standards:

– Increasing growth – and making it inclusive

– Increasing productivity

– Increasing confidence

We grow the economy by lifting infrastructure investment – public and private.

Roads, rail – a first-rate NBN.

Social housing, tourism infrastructure and airports.

We grow by encouraging new industries – and helping existing industries to adapt and modernise.

And by paying better attention to regional Australia, not treating rural communities as places we fly over.

We boost productivity by investing in the skills of our people – from schools, to TAFE and higher education.

We boost productivity by keeping Medicare strong and people healthy.

We boost productivity with equal opportunity and equal pay for women.

By valuing the contribution of older Australians.

And by cutting congestion in our cities, with better public transport

Increasing confidence isn’t just about the economy – it’s about Australia.

It’s about decent healthcare and a secure retirement.

A plan for the regions based on more than a marginal seat strategy.

Increasing people’s confidence that they can manage change, to adapt, find work, and support themselves and their family.

Above all – increasing confidence is about reward for effort.

Rewarding Australians who work hard, repaying Australians who play by the rules, who do the right thing – who pay their taxes here.

Restoring that faith in the system is the threshold challenge for politics today.

Rusted-on supporters and deep tribal loyalties are not what they once were.

There is one certainty in 2017: people are disengaged from politics and they’re distrustful of politicians.

Too many Australians think the political system is broken – and more than a few don’t trust us to fix it.

I say ‘us’ – because, virtually everyone in this room is considered part of the problem, part of the political class.

Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, we are seen as members of the same insider club, letting down the rest of Australia.

This sense of alienation isn’t a local curiosity – it’s a global phenomenon.

Strong enough to take Britain out of Europe – and put Donald Trump in the White House.

And in these unusual times, politics-as-usual doesn’t cut it any more.

Yes, we are an adversarial democracy, built on the clash of ideas – I honour that.

My job, as Leader of the Opposition, is to oppose what I believe is wrong.

My job as Leader of the Opposition is to put positive ideas forward.

I’ll never give up what I believe – or what I oppose – in exchange for a quiet political life or the approval of the powerful.

But this year, I am going to remind myself as often as possible: people first, politics last.

I can’t guarantee I’ll always get that right – but I’m certainly going to try.

Because Australians are sick to their core of the petty schoolyard bickering, he-said she-said, the tit-for-tat.

They’re not opposed to a genuine debate about the future – but they are over the smallness of so much of the national political conversation.

Restoring people’s faith means putting the focus back on what matters to Australians.

Mind you, that counts for nothing if people think we are acting in our own interests, instead of theirs.

That’s the nub of the damage done by Sussan Ley – not just to the Coalition, but to politics in general.

These scandals make it easy for Australians to assume politicians are all about themselves.

We, collectively, need to lift our game.

So I’m here today with a three-point plan for better transparency and integrity in our system.

First, Labor will tighten-up the expenses system.

We will support the establishment of an independent body – like the one in the United Kingdom.

And we have agreed to work with the government to implement the recommendations of the Conde Review, conducted in the wake of the Bronwyn Bishop scandal.

I’m confident the vast majority of MPs and Senators respect taxpayer money, and do the right thing.

But the exceptions tarnish all of us –and all of us have a responsibility to clean up the system.

After nearly a year of sitting on the report, it’s well past time for the Prime Minister to bring the legislation into the parliament.

I will work with him to make it a priority.

And if the Government continues to drag its feet, Labor will use parliament to crack the whip.

Secondly, we will clamp-down on foreign donations and introduce new measures to improve transparency at home.

It is long past time we lowered the disclosure threshold from $13,200 to $1,000.

Indeed, at 9am tomorrow – 7 months after the election –Australians will finally discover how much their Prime Minister donated to his own campaign.

You’ve all asked him in the media.

He’s always known this day would come.

What I don’t understand is why has he waited 7 months?

Why hide behind a technicality?

It’s tricky, it’s shifty – the Prime Minister owes Australians a lot better than the bare minimum.

If 210 days of avoiding scrutiny is within the rules – then the rules are just wrong.

Labor’s plan will also mean:

– Imposing stricter standards for gifts

– Greater accountability for public funding, so it applies to declared expenditure.

– And enforcing these stronger rules with tougher penalties.

Thirdly, we will initiate a thorough Senate inquiry into the creation of a National Integrity Commission.

This is my tenth year in parliament.

I’m not aware of corruption – on either side of politics – if I was, I would report it.

I’m not advocating a Senate Inquiry into a National Integrity Commission because I believe corruption is widespread.

I do so to lift public confidence.

Because people’s trust in politics and public administration depends on the confidence and assurance that corruption will be met with the full force of the law.

The current integrity officers do the best they can – but we need a Senate Inquiry to look at the merits of a federal body dedicated to deterring, exposing – and eliminating – corruption.

Restoring confidence in the integrity of the politicians is important.

But it’s only a first step. It’s the green fee, the price of admission.

Proving the relevance on politics demands a lot more than an improvement in our internal processes.

It’s no good simply talking to ourselves, about ourselves.

We must listen to Australians – and deliver on what matters to them.

Any time you turn on the TV, you can see a politician talking, telling you what they think is right or wrong.

Rarely do we explain why we hold that view.

There’s a sense we have traded our status for 8 seconds on the nightly news.

Of course, press conferences are part of political life.

But real life is a lot more complicated than an 8 second grab.

It shouldn’t be taboo to take time to explain, to reason and argue.

Otherwise we risk creating a vacuum, a marketplace for extreme views and for prejudice.

That’s why the 40 or so town hall meetings were the best thing I did last year – anyone welcome, clever sloganeering t-shirt, placard attached, all and sundry.

People get the time to put a considered question – and I have time to give them my best answer.

And if I don’t know – I say so.

We talk afterwards, we follow things up, we make calls and swap emails and sort things out.

They say politics is local – but I believe politics is personal.

It’s personal for the small business owner driven to the end of their tether by a second-rate NBN.

It’s personal for the farmer, pushed to the brink by the unconscionable conduct of some in the banks.

It’s personal for workers in their 50s and early 60s, twenty-plus years on the factory floor, who hear words like ‘efficiency’ and ‘automation’ – and fear for their jobs, their retirement, their kids’ futures.

It’s personal for the family violence counsellor, stretching every dollar – and still being asked to do more and more with less and less.

It’s personal for the mother of a girl with autism, made to feel like a bully and a bad parent because she’s seeking a fair go for her daughter at her school.

It’s personal for the father of an adult son made angry, violent, unrecognisable by ice.

All too often a grandparent becoming a parent again of the grandchildren when their son falls into trouble and worse, and can’t get the help that they need.

It’s personal for the mature-age jobseeker, dispatched to interviews for unsuitable job after unsuitable job, by an employment service provider going through the motions.

I don’t always have an answer – sometimes government, for all its reach and resources, may not have the answer.

Sometimes it’s everyday Australians who have the solution – they just need to be heard.

That’s why I will keep doing regular town halls, roundtables and worksite meetings.

But this year, I’m going to change the format.

I invite people to come with answers – not just questions.

That’s what I want to hear – the views of the people.

And I realise we have to get better at using technology for this too.

It seems to me that politicians have learned how to use social media to talk and to transmit – but not to listen.

Let’s change that – Labor is going to start a national conversation with Australians about the quality and the adequacy of their healthcare.

I want the people who count on Medicare – to tell us what works, more importantly, what doesn’t and most importantly, where we can improve.

Labor will listen – and we will act.

My opposite number has spent his life as a paid advocate.

Able to take either side of an argument – and perform formidably.

And I wonder, even now, if he still measures himself by the flowery elegance of his argument.

I’ve spent my life representing working people.

Able to see both sides of the argument, but always knowing whose side I was on.

I know Australians measure you ultimately not by your words, but by what you deliver, by results.

– Wage rises for tens of thousands

– The NDIS for hundreds of thousands

– Uniting a political party for the nation

You see, that’s the real problem for our opponents.

Not the message, not the spokesman.

It’s the outcomes:

– 34,000 full time jobs lost last year.

– Record low wages growth

– Falling bulk-billing rates – and complaints against Private Health Insurers at an all-time high.

And homes beyond the reach of working and middle class Australians.

25 years ago, a typical home cost 5 times a young person’s average income.

Today, it’s 15 times their average income.

And what’s the Liberal-National answer?

‘Get rich parents’ – ‘Pack up and leave town’.

It’s the same with Medicare.

7 months ago, once he calmed down, the Prime Minister admitted people did not trust the Liberals with Medicare.

Tomorrow is Medicare’s 33rd birthday – and at this podium tomorrow, Mr Turnbull will have the opportunity to show he got the message.

To reverse his cuts to bulk-billing, his medicine price-hike and his new up-front fees for specialists.

If he doesn’t, if he still carries on about the text messages and not the substance, Australians will know everything the Liberals say about Medicare is simply lip-synching.

Australians are sick of politicians who are out of touch with the real economy, who don’t get that inequality is growing, who don’t understand we are the first generation in danger of passing on a lesser standard of living to our kids.

That’s why, in 2017, my team and I have three major economic priorities: jobs, jobs and jobs.

Creating new jobs…sustaining existing jobs – and training Australians for future jobs.

A good job – with decent wages and conditions – is an anchor to society.

It fulfils the promise of reward for effort – and it confers the dignity of work, the pride that comes from supporting yourself – and others.

It gives you control over your own life.

That’s why Labor is the party of jobs.

It’s not a slogan for us.

If you’ve ever grown up in a house where your father faced losing his job, you know the feelings of powerlessness – not just for the parent but the child.

It’s the drink, it’s the anger, it’s the desperation, it’s the never-ending arguments about money.

Trust me, it’s not a slogan – it’s your reason for being.

Last year, we outlined the first steps in our plan to stop the real and proven abuses in the work visa system.

Everybody loses when people are brought in from overseas and exploited.

Good employers, Australian companies who do the right thing – can’t compete with third-world labour costs and conditions.

Local people, looking for work, miss out on jobs they could be doing.

– Nurses

– Carpenters

– Cooks

– Early childhood educators

– Electricians

– And motor mechanics

Exploitation drives down wages, undermines safety – and corrodes our national skills base.

Last year, the Immigration Minister issued over 10,400 visas for trade and technician jobs.

Yet apprenticeships in these exact sectors are in decline.

It is too easy to import skills – rather than train our own people.

And too many work visas are being used as a low-cost substitute for employing an Australian – not to address a genuine shortage.

In a time of:

– Rapidly advancing technology, robotics and automation

– Increasing casualisation and insecure work

And at a time of growing demand for high-quality services and skills, we cannot allow our country to become an unskilled enclave in a modernising Asia.

That’s why the next phase of Labor’s Plan for Australian Jobs is about Skills, Training and Apprenticeships.

These are our three fundamental principles:

1.) All Australians should have access to the skills and training they need for decent jobs that allow them to support their family – throughout their working life.

2.) All participants in the economy – government, business and unions – should share responsibility for designing a high quality and seamless tertiary and vocational education system – producing job-ready graduates and highly-skilled workers.

3.) Every dollar of taxpayer money should be directed to achieving the best student outcomes and the best employment opportunities – not wasting taxpayer money boosting private profits.

As you know, for millions of Australian families, this is the first week back at school.

My youngest starts Grade 2 this morning, I remember walking through the gates with her at the start of prep, tightly clutching hands, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears…and that was just me.

Today I’m talking about young people in their final years of school – the ones who wouldn’t let their parents walk them through the gate for a million dollars…at least I hope that wasn’t just me.

Some of these young Australians will already have a uni course in mind…confident that if they study hard, they can earn a place.

Counting on a system where you don’t have to pay $100,000 for a degree.

But not every young Australian wants to study at university – and university isn’t for everyone.

My parents always offered my brother and I, when we were at secondary school the choice – support for uni or support for a trade.

In my family, a trade wasn’t second-class – my grandfather was a great printer, my Dad a fitter-and-turner before a life at sea.

Some of the most valuable and important roles in our society – and some of the fastest-growing sectors: from building homes to caring for the elderly, don’t require a university degree.

Whether it’s the traditional trades – or important new roles in health, aged care and disability – vocational education and training is never the second-best option.

But the Liberal-Nationals always treat vocational education as second-class.

This government has cut $2.5 billion from skills and training – and under the Liberal-Nationals, Australia has shed over 128,000 apprenticeship places.

Meanwhile, youth unemployment in New England is over 15 per cent, in Launceston over 20 per cent – and in Cairns over 25 percent.

Labor will not give up on these kids, their families – or these communities.

We know TAFE can be transformative for people who are doing it hard.

– Bringing new skills to Indigenous communities

– Helping close the gender pay gap by encouraging women into non-traditional occupations.

– Empowering mature-age workers with the chance to genuinely retrain – not standing by while people from Holden and Ford are cast on the scrapheap

– Giving young people a second chance – that’s what TAFE does.

I don’t believe the world is too hard for Australia to compete in.

But I know competing with the rest of the world –means learning from the best in the world: Germany, South Korea, Scandinavia and Singapore.

And – just as importantly – no more futile competition between parts of our education system.

No more Hunger Games between TAFE and university.

A respected, equal place for vocational education – alongside:

– Early childhood education for the best start in life – which doesn’t cost an entire pay packet.

– Schools providing the foundational skills for every Australian child to get ahead – not $30 billion of cuts, which robs children of individual attention and the extra help they need.

A training system working in partnership with our world-class universities.

Our school system should support kids who wish to study a trade or go to university.

Our TAFE system should ensure that adults seeks to retrain and re-skill get the support they need, to be able to make the changes they want in their lives

Our TAFE system should help apprentices who are working on-site while completing courses.

And it should be easy for Australians to move between TAFE and university – and vice versa.

Winning in Asia on our terms – as a high-skill, fair-wage nation –means putting vocational education back at the centre of our system.

That starts with saving TAFE – and it finishes with the world’s best National Training Agenda.

There’s a lot we have to put right.

Too many institutions have been allowed to chase profits and exploit students – at taxpayer expense.

And public TAFE has been neglected and disrespected for too long.

In the past decade – government expenditure on university students has continued to grow well ahead of CPI.

But for TAFE, it’s actually declined in real terms.

Spending on capital infrastructure – workshops, labs, classrooms and kitchens has collapsed by 75 per cent.

A Labor Government will work with the states to revitalise TAFEs as high-quality job centres for our regions and suburbs.

Where students study is important – but what they learn is crucial.

Right now, there is too much emphasis on ticking certain boxes to get a particular piece of paper.

There are too many dodgy traineeships and certificates out there, acting like counterfeit notes, devaluing the real thing.

Australia is a tradie nation. 1.6 million of our fellow Australians have a trade certificate.

But we put all that in jeopardy if we don’t stand up for the proper conditions of our training system.

Labor doesn’t believe in training for training’s sake – it must lead to a job.

Our priority should be giving people the capability and flexibility to change jobs and even industries, without having to take years out of work to gain a whole new qualification.

That’s true for our young people – and it’s vital for mature-age workers who’ve been dislocated by economic change.

And we have to make it easier for small businesses to employ skilled Australians – with less red tape.

Our employment services have to be small-business friendly.

You cannot have a plan for Australian jobs – without a plan for Australian apprenticeships.

But in the last 12 months alone, trade apprentice commencements have dropped ten-and-a-half per cent.

Businesses are consistently reporting skill-shortages in trades occupations.

Yet the only time Turnbull uses the word trade, is to spruik the benefits of an agreement that no longer exists.

Attempting CPR on the TPP is a waste of time.

It’s worse than a vanity project – it shows he puts his own ego ahead of Australia’s national interest.

Our priority should be economic reforms that actually deliver real jobs – not fantasy trade deals.

That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will be the proudest and most reliable sponsor of Australian Apprentices.

We will work with state governments and major contractors to develop Apprenticeship and Training Plans for all major infrastructure projects that receive Commonwealth funding.

And when it comes to defence contracts, we will do something very similar.

One in every ten jobs, on every single priority project, should go to an Australian apprentice.

In the context of the last election – that would have meant at least 2,600 new apprenticeship places.

Government can set an example on apprenticeships – but we need business to drive real change.

We need to revive the co-operative spirit of the Hawke-Kelty consensus between businesses, unions, the Commonwealth and all sectors of our community.

As a first step, I’ll be convening a National Skills Summit.

A gathering of educators, employers, unions and apprentices – of course.

I’m very pleased that already overnight:


– The BCA



– The Council on the Ageing

– and the ACTU

Have agreed to participate.

And the government are more than welcome to join us.

This is about getting the best set of ideas, from the widest range of people – to shape the future of skills, training and education in Australia.

Getting this right is a win-win:

– More jobs in a growing economy

– More productive, more skilled workers

– And more competitive businesses

That was the point of the New Jobs Tax Cut we took to the last election: an incentive for businesses to employ more parents returning to work and more Australians under 25 and over 55.

This is the kind of policy we will work with business to achieve – practical measures which have a demonstrated relationship to job creation and drive investment.

Of course, I understand this may not be glamorous stuff.

It might sound like basic common sense.

But that’s what Australia is missing from government:

  • Hard-headed, practical changes.
  • Real plans for jobs.Real targets for apprenticeships.
  • Real changes to the way government, business and unions work together.
  • And real improvements in the integrity and transparency of our democratic system.

Obviously, I can’t control who the Liberals choose to lead them to the next election.

Or which issue the right wing decide to use as camouflage for their next attack on their leader.

My priorities are what matters to Australians – their jobs, their educational opportunities, their lives and living standards.

The Liberals are obsessed with attacking me – I’m focused on what counts:

– Medicare

– Housing Affordability

– Education

And Jobs.

My life has taught me the difference that a good job can make – to the individual, to their family, to the community they call home.

I understand Australians work hard.

Our fellow Australians take pride in working hard – and they deserve a fair go and fair reward.

Today I’ve told you some of what Labor will do in 2017.

Let me conclude by telling you a few of the things we won’t do in 2017:

We won’t cut wages, penalty rates and the safety net.

We won’t treat Centrelink recipients and pensioners like de facto crooks and cheats.

We won’t spend $50 billion in a tax-funded spree for large multinationals

We won’t give up on a banking royal commission – just because of a new ad campaign.

We won’t give up on marriage equality, on reconciliation and constitutional recognition for our first Australians, or give up on real action on climate change.

And I will not stay silent – no matter how powerful the friend – when people are banned because of their religion, or their country of origin.

Because the job of Prime Minister is not worth having if you’re too weak to stand up for what you believe in.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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