Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

31 August 2019

An address to Tasmanian Labor's annual conference in Burnie, Tasmania.

Address to the 2019 Tasmanian State Labor Conference

Check Against Delivery.

From the outset I want to acknowledge the Plairhekehillerplue people, their elders, customs and traditions.

In doing so we make it really clear that there won’t be social and economic justice for all of us until and unless there’s economic and social justice for the first of us.

That’s why advancing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in consultation with Indigenous people is so important and that’s why Labor remains so committed to a constitutionally enshrined voice for Indigenous Australians.

I know Julie (Collins) feels the same way and I thank her for her very generous introduction just now and also for being such a great mate for some time now.

While I’m at it can I also acknowledge and thank:

Your state leader Rebecca White, the next premier of Tasmania, for the opportunity to spend time with you earlier this morning over breakfast;

Stuart Benson and the ALP officials for inviting me;

And you, the women and men of the Tasmanian labour movement, for the opportunity to join you here in Burnie and for providing such a warm welcome to a Queenslander a long way from home.

It’s a good day to be in North West Tasmania. 

Burnie at home in the qualifying final at 2 o’clock.

Russell Morris at the Pub Rock Diner in Devonport tonight.

And the Tasmanian State Conference of the ALP.

There are good reasons why people from all over our country, and all over the world, love visiting here.

After two elections in the past twelve months, I think my frontbench colleagues are jealous I got to come to Braddon when there’s not an election on!

And they’d be envious that I get to spend some time on home turf with our colleagues who we appreciate so much in national politics: Catryna Bilyk, Helen Polley, Brian Mitchell, Anne Urquart as well as Julie Collins and Carol Brown.

A list of this calibre invites an obvious question:

How can the same state which sends to Canberra such passionate, progressive and committed people also be responsible for sending us not just Eric Abetz - but the Liberals’ 61 year old Minister for Youth?

It’s a mystery.


But among friends today we can acknowledge that it has been a disappointing year for Federal Labor to say the least.

The result on 18 May stung.  It still stings.  No use pretending otherwise.

Primarily because it means we have to wait another three years to make a difference to our schools and hospitals, to public housing and regional development, and in economic and energy policy.

Three more years before the most vulnerable Australians get a voice in the government of their country.

But also because we lost three outstanding friends in Ross Hart and Justine Keay who are here today, as well as Lisa Singh.

Over recent weeks and months there has been a lot said and written about why we lost the election and there’ll be more of that.

I don’t intend to make a substantial addition to that debate today.

I do want to tell you what wasn’t responsible for our defeat.

We didn’t lose the election because of an absence of hard work or commitment, from you or our candidates.

On behalf of Bill, Anthony, Penny, Tanya and Richard and our whole team I want to thank you for the effort you put in.

It was a difficult election.

We certainly didn’t lose because our opponents hit us with the truth.

The death tax.

The ute tax.

The pensioners’ tax.

We heard it all at the pre-poll booths and on the day.


But I reckon the biggest load of rubbish that was peddled in the election was that the Coalition has done a good job managing the economy.

The Liberals claiming to be good at economic management is a bit like Gordon Ramsay claiming to be good at anger management.

Or former Tasmanian Liberal candidate Jess Whelan claiming to be good at social media management.

It’s not enough to pretend to be good at managing the economy when the facts tell a very, very different story.

Let’s just look at the scoreboard.

Australia’s economic growth? The slowest it has been for 10 ten years.

Wages growth under the Liberals? The slowest ever.

Household debt? The highest ever.

How many Australians are looking for work or more work? Almost two million.

Private business investment? Down 19 per cent.

Private capital expenditure?  Down 32 percent.

Net debt? More than doubled.

Gross debt? Soared to over half-a-trillion dollars for the first time ever.

Living standards? Lower than what they were in 2013.

Productivity? Going backwards.

Electricity prices? Up 18 per cent over the past 3 years alone.

Medical and hospital service prices? Up by 36 per cent since 2013.

Child care costs? Up 28 per cent in the same time.

Profits? Up around 30 per cent in six years.

But wages over the same time? A fraction of that.

Put it this way: next weekend marks six years since the Liberals won government at the 2013 election.

In 2013 when government changed hands Australia had the 8th fastest growing economy in the OECD but since then we have dropped to 20th.

The 11th lowest unemployment rate in the OECD is now the 21st.

For youth unemployment we’ve gone from  10th to 21st.

Here in Tasmania, there are fewer people in jobs than there were a year ago – the worst performance out of all the states.

This is what the Australian economy looks like at the start of the Liberals’ third term.

Six years of stuff ups and stagnation.

Six years of finger-pointing and blame-shifting.

Compare that to the six years before.

When Labor helped build one of the strongest economies in the world.

When Australia was virtually the only advanced economy to avoid recession and we outperformed our peers with stronger growth and lower unemployment.

Now we’ve gone from leader to laggard.


What explains the difference?

As Kevin Rudd pointed out in the Financial Review this week, and Wayne Swan has reminded us repeatedly, Labor had a plan and we acted to protect Australians, their jobs and their economy from the devastation of a recession.

I worked on that plan. 

I know what a good plan looks like.

I know how it feels when a good plan works.

I know what it means to people when it does.

The Morrison Government doesn’t have a plan.

They have a political strategy, sure. 

But not an economic policy.

Lots of speeches.  Lots of spin.  Nothing that resembles a plan.

That’s partly because for so long now the Liberals have pretended everything is hunky dory in our economy.

They say the ‘fundamentals are strong’.

But that’s news to so many Australians who feel with some justification that no matter how hard they work they just can’t seem to get ahead.

It’s news to the dock worker in East Devonport.

The retail worker in Latrobe.

And the single mum in Ravenswood.

The Morrison Government is in denial.

The soft economy has been their blind spot.

It’s becoming their weak spot.

As the storm clouds gather in the global economy their lack of a plan means three things:

It leaves Australia dangerously exposed to turbulence offshore.

It limits the Government’s options if things turn down further.

And it sells out the future.

As Warren Buffet said so memorably “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked”.

In times like these with so much uncertainty you learn so much about a Government like ours blustering and bluffing its way through.

Now, the Treasurer is not short of self-regard.

And the Prime Minister has a certain smug self-belief.

Perhaps that’s why it hasn’t dawned on them that whatever they’ve tried the last six years hasn’t worked, isn’t working now, and is unlikely to cut it in the months and years ahead.

That the ‘right policy settings’ that the Treasurer talks about have been nothing more than a recipe for slowing growth, stagnant wages, record household debt and declining productivity and living standards.

If that’s not enough to spur some action or a change of course what will be?

When will it dawn on these characters that hoping for the best won’t grow the economy?

That the escalation of trade tensions over the last six weeks doesn’t explain away the domestic weaknesses obvious for much of the past six years.

That blame-shifting and finger-pointing won’t get a single Australian into a well-paid job.

That banging on endlessly about Labor isn’t an economic policy.

Nor is attacking unions or just telling business to invest more.

That hacking away at skills won’t prepare people for the jobs of the future.

When Australia needs a government focused on jobs, jobs, jobs they are always talking about Labor, Labor, Labor.

This might get them to the top of the Liberal Party. 

Ultimately – unfortunately – it even got them through an election.

But it won’t turn around an economy floundering on their watch, and unnecessarily exposed to global turbulence as a consequence.


So to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin:

Failing to plan has left them planning to fail.

They’re desperate now to pin that failure solely on global conditions.

Trade tensions are part of the story but they’re not the whole story.

Our challenges are still primarily home-grown.

As the Reserve Bank keeps reminding us, two are being left unattended:

Not enough spending in the economy because incomes are too weak.

And the economy’s getting less productive.

Wages growth has been around record lows for six years now, mostly because of ongoing slack in the labour market which comes from 1.8 million Australians looking for work or for more work.

That’s a key reason why families are struggling, particularly with unrelenting cost of living pressures.

It’s also the major cause of weak consumption, which is dragging down economic growth. 

So is poor productivity growth.

Productivity matters because it is the key determinant of our long term living standards.

With living standards already declining, the challenge to reverse our poor productivity performance is really urgent.

Labor wants to play a constructive role in turning things around.

But this requires an honest and open conversation about the state of the Australian economy and for the Government to acknowledge and address the issues which have emerged over the past six years.

That’s why I am today calling on Josh Frydenberg to bring forward the release of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

An earlier budget update would give the Government a circuit-breaking opportunity to come up with the economic plan which has been so conspicuously absent so far.

It could be a plan to boost the economy and to boost productivity.

And by providing an early economic statement the Government could correct some of the core forecasts of the 2019 Budget which they have got so badly wrong.

This includes their forecasts for wages growth which they’ve stuffed up in every budget and budget update since they came to office.

Same goes for growth and unemployment forecasts which are now out of whack with what the Reserve Bank expects.

But it will also allow them to update their forecasts for iron ore prices, profits, and their assumptions for the dollar – all of which should substantially strengthen the Budget position and take away their excuses to do nothing to stimulate the economy. 

The surplus should not be on the line but the Government’s credibility is.

An earlier MYEFO would provide Morrison and Frydenberg with the opportunity to properly outline an economic program that supports the floundering economy and better safeguards it from global risks.

This plan should consider some or all or even any one of the following five options:

First the Government should bring forward infrastructure spending including projects like upgrading the Bass Highway, replacing the Bridgewater Bridge and upgrading the Hobart to Sorell highway corridor which would provide both an immediate and enduring economic benefit to the local economy here in Tasmania;

Second, the Government could use MYEFO to bring forward part of stage two of the income tax package which would provide further relief for middle income earners;

Third, reviewing and responsibly increasing Newstart would provide a significant economic stimulus by providing millions of dollars in extra retail sales and also support State government budgets through increased GST revenue;

Fourth, implementing a version of Labor’s Australian Investment Guarantee would incentivise and boost business investment;

And fifth, developing a comprehensive plan to boost wages, starting with restoring penalty rates for workers who are most likely to spend in the economy.

There is no reason that the Government cannot deliver these policies, or at least some combination of them, and still deliver a surplus in each year of the Budget.


Now I’m conscious you have a lot to debate and deliberate on today so let me finish up by saying something about you and about us.

Going through a difficult election together, as we just have, makes you think about the essence of what really matters.

That reflection is a first step towards rebuilding and renewal.

And as Anthony Albanese has repeatedly said, we will review our policies but we won’t revise our values.

We believe that governments should serve the people, people shouldn’t just serve the government.

We believe that the economy should work for people; people shouldn’t just work for the economy.

We believe that social inclusion and economic growth are complementary not at odds.

And that in every Tasmanian, and every Australian, there is vast potential to be encouraged and supported – so that more people can work hard and get ahead and provide for their loved ones and give back to society.

In our movement – in the Party, in the unions, in our neighbourhoods too – we share these values because:

We love our community enough to want to serve it.

We love our country enough to want to change it.

And we care as much about the prospects and prosperity of other people as we care about our own.

The Liberals will never understand this.

We won’t ever forget it.

And, united behind Anthony Albanese, that’s what will propel us from a difficult defeat in 2019 to victory in 2022 – here and around Australia.

Thank you and have a great conference.