Address to Jobs and Skills Summit, Parliament House, Canberra
Thank you, Helen.
And thank you, Paul, for your characteristically kind and generous welcome to these Ngunnawal and Ngambri lands – for tens of thousands of years a place to meet and to settle differences.
And to everyone here, from all parts of Australia and every corner of our economy, thank you not just for your time but for the spirit with which you’ve come here – for your candour and commitment.
We’ve seen it in more than a hundred workshops and forums which have informed our work here.
We meet today at a critical juncture.
A really important moment for our economy and our country.
Conscious of the historical parallels – but focused forwards to the future, upwards to the possibilities, and outwards to the people.
Together we draw a line under a wasted decade of unnecessary conflict and needless division which has held us back.
This Prime Minister and his Government,
And I think this country, is all about one thing:
Bringing people together to confront the big challenges in our economy and our society.
These are largely agreed, and already understood:
High and rising inflation.
Flatlining living standards.
Skills and labour shortages.
Migration settings and bargaining rules which don’t seem to work for anyone as well as they could.
An economy not productive or competitive enough, not growing strongly enough, or broadly enough.
Too many locked out and held back from the benefits of a national unemployment rate with a three in front of it.
And I think we all recognise that while the economy is growing, the pressures are too.
Some are imposed by the world, some are home-grown.
Some are new, but many are longstanding.
We know what we are up against, and we understand our shared responsibilities.
And each of us is alive to the opportunities that consensus, common ground, and common purpose can create for our people.
Our goals are just as clear:
A stronger, broader, more sustainable economy that creates more opportunities for more people in more corners of our country.
Where productivity flows from investing in our people and their ability to adapt and adopt new technology – in new industries and in areas of traditional industrial strength as well.
Where full employment is not just a statistical or historical oddity but actually means something to people in real communities.
An economy where every Australian who wants a good, secure, well-paid job can find one.
And where every employer who needs a good, enthusiastic, well-trained worker can find one as well.
Rising profits and rising wages, not rising profits or rising wages.
An economy that re-establishes the link between national economic success and the ability to provide for loved ones and get ahead.
Those are our objectives and that’s our vision.
I want to thank the lead ministers running sessions with Helen:
Brendan O’Connor on skills.
Clare O’Neil on migration.
Amanda Rishworth on participation.
Katy Gallagher on equal opportunities for women.
Tony Burke on bargaining and job security.
Ed Husic on the future potential of our industries.
And Jenny McAllister on energy.
We’ll hear from Ross Garnaut and Yasmin Poole at dinner.
But first up today is Danielle Wood, on productivity and full employment – thanks Danielle for agreeing to get us started.
Investing in the productivity of our people and businesses, and maintaining full employment, should be the first things we agree.
Because our future prosperity, in large part, depends on them.
Last year’s Intergenerational Report showed real GDP growing at 2.6 per cent over the next 40 years, compared to the average of 3 per cent.
The last decade has been the worst for productivity in 50 years – effectively, a lost decade.
As a share of the economy, business investment has been trending down since 2012 – and is now at the lowest level since 1992, around the time Australia was in recession.
Australia does have a productivity problem – which has become a growth problem and a wages problem.
Real wages are lower today than they were a decade ago.
The lower rate of productivity growth in recent years and the low rate of wages growth is not a coincidence – there is a connection.
And if Australia’s productivity growth averages 1.2 per cent in the future – instead of rising back to the 1.5 per cent assumed in the Intergenerational Report – gross national income will be $13,000 per person lower in real terms by 2060.
We must make productivity growth an urgent task, a national task, a task for all of us.
Not just because higher profits depend on it, but because higher wages depend on it.
An economy capable of sustaining full employment depends on it.
But as we have learned, a low unemployment number does not, by itself, solve everything.
We can’t take the historically low rate for granted – not in a time of global uncertainty and volatility.
But with unemployment at a near‑50‑year‑low, we should consider this a once‑in‑50‑year opportunity to make sure a full employment economy can deliver what we need it to.
It’s not just about what non-inflationary level we could get it down to – it’s not just a number or a theoretical concept.
It should mean jobs which allow people to build security and dignity.
Where the barriers to employment are systematically dismantled.
And where Australians are getting the most that they can from work – through their wages, their living standards and their life chances.
By training them for higher wage opportunities.
Reforming childcare so parents can work more and earn more if they want to.
And growing our economy and our industries the right way.
We are looking for broad areas of consensus and common ground.
And we are asking for your ideas on what you can do, not just what others here should do.
We are not looking for unanimity on the perfect position of a comma in a communique.
At the conclusion of the Summit tomorrow, we want to release an outcomes document that covers the priorities we think are ready for immediate action this year, and others that will be subject to further work – as part of the White Paper process, subsequent budgets or through cooperation with states and territories.
So this Summit is just one step – a major step, yes, but one step.
Our expectations are tempered and realistic.
We are not naïve about how contentious some of the issues we will discuss have been, and will be.
But we have been so heartened, energised and encouraged by the willingness you’ve already shown to give a little.
We’ve already made substantial progress.
We’ve got a big chance here.
This is a time of great challenge and great opportunity.
That’s why we are here.
That’s what this Jobs and Skills Summit is all about.
That’s what our Prime Minister is all about – and what his government is all about.
Bringing people together. Finding common ground. Turning challenge into opportunity.
So over the next two days, during times of tension – and yes, there will be tense moments –
Let’s remember why we are here – and who we are here for.
Each of us walked in this morning with different backgrounds, different opinions and different objectives –
But with a common purpose –
To help build a bigger, better trained and more productive workforce – with rising incomes and living standards, and more opportunities for more people, in more parts of Australia.
And that is what needs to guide each of us these next two days.
We wouldn’t have invited you here if we didn’t think you had an important contribution to make.
And you wouldn’t have come here, if you didn’t agree.
So thank you, and let’s get to work.