2019 Address in Reply

Federation Chamber 

Governor General's Speech - Address in Reply

Watch Matt's speech here

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (17:27): Labor is the party of the social safety net. But Labor is also the party of prosperity. We in Labor quintessentially believe that in the rich, wealthy nation of ours in which we live there is no reason why people can't have access to good health care, why they can't have access to a quality education and why they can't have a roof over their heads and a job to go to as well. We are the party of the fair go—a safety net—and of unlocking prosperity. These are the things that fundamentally make up our party, and these Labor values and principles remain anchored in the core beliefs we express.

In many ways, Bob Hawke is seen as the father of the modern Labor Party, and was certainly the architect of the social safety net as we now know it. Along with Paul Keating, he ensured that Australia is a modern and open economy, not a closed and isolated island. Labor, under Hawke and Keating, always ensured a proper social safety net, for growth is stronger when it is shared, and when wages and living standards rise everyone in the community should benefit.

It is our social safety net that actually enables our economic growth and prosperity too. Those on the government benches have a capricious way of claiming that they are the party of the quiet Australians—the everyday Australian. But I think that since the election the Australian people are starting to see through that. Those on the land, long-suffering from drought, are certainly starting to see through this government's lack of any plan. This government needs to learn that good economic policy is good social policy and vice versa. In my view, good economics and good social policy are two sides of the same coin; they are not two distinct and separate matters. Too often we see the way in which people like to put economic policy over here and an interest in social policy over there, but that is not the right way to look at the policy agenda. The government needs to grapple with the sorts of plans that our nation needs and desires.

The government is fixated on seeing good economics as paying for our welfare system because it sees good social policy—

A government member: How else do you pay for it?

Mr KEOGH: as a cost, not as what it is and what a social safety net can be, an investment in ensuring an increase in our productivity. The government's approach promotes a lopsided sense of growth and lopsided inequality, because the government doesn't understand that these two things are actually intricately linked, as the member opposite just blatantly pointed out through his terrible interjection, highlighting his lack of grasp of this essential idea. When we get the investment in social policy right it isn't a cost to the economy. It is a way of helping our economy continue not only to grow but to deliver for Australians, to make sure that we reduce inequality, to make sure that everyone is a beneficiary of economic growth in this nation.

Part of this is linked to how the greatness of a nation is judged by the way that it treats its most vulnerable. There are a few issues here that I would like to canvass. For instance, when it comes to Indigenous incarceration we are neither a strong nation nor a great one. This is something that we can and must do something about, because we must ensure that Australia is indeed a great and strong nation. Research by Save the Children in Western Australia has found that one in four young people in detention are from Perth's south-eastern suburbs, predominantly the area that I represent in the seat of Burt. In recognition of this shocking statistic, the Youth Partnership Project was founded with the belief that children are not born bad but, rather, are born into complex environments that can lead to significant behavioural problems. The Youth Partnership Project model provides an early targeted support for young people aged eight through to 12 with complex needs by working together with the police force, with state government agencies, with local government and with community services to identify young people, many of whom are of Indigenous background and who are at risk of going down the path towards juvenile justice and, ultimately, juvenile detention. From this model has come the Armadale Youth Intervention Partnership. This place-based intensive intervention recognises that merely being tough on crime does little to remedy the causes of crime and, in particular, does little to stop crime from occurring in the first place. This program is now being expanded from Armadale into Gosnells, but both programs are fighting to make sure that they can continue with their funding.

In WA we spend something in the order of over $50 million a year on juvenile detention. Imagine if some of that money were being invested into programs like AYIP, into early intervention programs which they are doing in AYIP. Imagine seeing that expand and being further implemented across the spectrum of our society. Imagine being able to invest in teaching families and work with families and intervene to assist them with issues such as alcohol consumption while pregnant; being able to deal with issues that concern them, such as abuse and drug abuse; being able to assist with mental health; and being able to teach more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder when so many of those who are in detention are affected by that very, very difficult issue. In those cases, we would be spending a lot less on corrective services and, instead, gaining a lot more from the people that we have helped, not to mention decreasing crime rates. There is an opportunity right here for government to change the story of people's lives from one of poverty and of being another generation that's reliant on welfare and public housing to one of people being able to get a job, being able to increase their education and ultimately being able also to pay taxes. More people healthy, giving back to society and working results in more taxpayers being able to pay tax, more people who are not reliant on a welfare payment from the government, people who are contributing to the improvement of our society. Of course, the reduction in crime improves society for everybody as well.

For every day that a young person is kept out of juvenile detention we save in Western Australia over $800. Given that approximately one in four of the juvenile detainees come from my electorate, the government investment in the Armadale Youth Intervention Partnership program is paying huge dividends. It will not have to spend as much on police, courts and corrective services whilst it will gain a lot more from the people who are being helped, not just the individual children but their families as well. We need to provide more opportunities for at-risk kids not just in my electorate but across the entire country. These are the sorts of programs that are really important to our community. They are critical to how together we can change their story and the story of all of our communities. It's up to all levels of government, though, to support these programs, to connect the grassroots programs to organisations that are able to work on the front line, to prevent the entry of a child into our juvenile justice system.

Similarly on the theme of investment, it's good economic policy to invest in education. The higher the level of education of our students, the more our children and society will thrive here in Australia and across the world stage, and it all starts with early intervention. In my electorate, Challis Community Primary School has recognised that children in the area were starting school lacking some of the most basic language and social skills, and these developmental vulnerabilities were significantly higher for that cohort than across the state or national average. The Challis model brings together high-quality early childhood education prior to preschool and parenthood early intervention programs to complement early learning and address the barriers to child development, along with family support for a consistent scaffolding to optimise a child's progress. This system starts from birth and is delivered through a single point-of-entry contact at the school, ensuring that children start school ready to learn and are supported through their early schooling.

The results have been amazing in such a short period of time. Students that have been part of the program are outperforming their statewide and national peers by up to 95 per cent. But we need more critical mass, not just one school in one community. We need a critical mass of schools within the community that are delivering on this approach, lifting the average performance and the overall outcomes for our entire community together. And we need this to flow through all educational levels, not just at the beginning of primary school and before.

Recently I have spoken in this place about the introduction in Western Australia of Australia's first nationally recognised qualification in automation. This program will not only be available to TAFE students who want to learn technical skills in automation or to upskill their current blue-collar skills in the resources sector; I'm really proud to share that this program will be piloted for year 11 and 12 students in selected high schools across Western Australia, including Burt's own Cecil Andrews College.

Over the last few years as a federal MP, I've had the opportunity to observe the fantastic work at Cecil Andrews College in leading the way in STEM education. They're the only P-TECH school in WA and have had some fantastic success on the national stage with robotics and direct industry-engagement programs. It's programs like these that will train our next generation of miners, explorers and people across so many industries.

The resources industry is one that drives the WA economy. Indeed, it drives the whole Australian economy. Unfortunately, in WA our unemployment rate is still higher than we would like it to be. It is higher than the national average. We must create more jobs, but we also need to upskill individuals to have the best opportunities for not just the work of the future but, quite frankly, the work of today. These new courses, an initiative of the WA state government, working together with our resources industry, will be the first to provide education pathways into autonomous operations to further improve our prospects in growing our economy, our resources industry and, crucially, the jobs that are linked to it.

I'm sad to say that in the federal sphere this government's efforts are significantly lacking. After years in witness protection, Michaelia Cash in August was let out of hiding to acknowledge the Liberal government's failure to support the skills and vocational education and training sector over the last six years of this government. In The West Australian newspaper the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash, conceded:

We need a coordinated national approach to ensure Australian workers have the skills necessary for the jobs of today and the future.

The Liberal government's failure to support skills training during its six-year tenure is what has resulted in this. It has left our nation with a gaping hole in the skills that we need for the future. The failure to have a national approach to VET not only impedes our further development in the defence industry and in resource projects across the country but robs Australians who want work the opportunities to upskill and retrain and those who are coming out of school and want to get their first jobs. The government's lack of action on skills over the last six years only provides more excuses for businesses to use 457-style labour at the expense of local workers. If the government were serious about supporting skills in this country, it would not have cut $3 billion from TAFE and training.

Is it any wonder that wage growth is virtually non-existent and that the Australian economy is withering on the vine under this government?

This is not a plan to ready our nation for new challenges. This new skills package is a fig leaf over the government's wanton disregard in the last six years for growing Australia's skilled workforce and, quite frankly, over the government's disdain for our public TAFE system.

In addition to education and working with vulnerable children, our economy also needs to see an investment in infrastructure. Typically when we talk about infrastructure, there's the importance of congestion busting to create economic growth by investing in our transport infrastructure. And this is very important. But, as I said earlier today in the House of Representatives, unfortunately, in the state of Western Australia right now, we see a situation where it's not about trying to get the government to bring forward expenditure, as much as we'd love to see that happen. What we see is a failure of government to get on with the job of processing approvals through its own departments that would allow shovel-ready projects right now to actually start. There are 6,000 jobs on ice in WA right now because there is a billion-dollar pipeline of infrastructure investment that could be happening if it weren't being held up by this government.

It's also about making sure that we invest in social infrastructure, because it's not just about transport. It's about making sure we have regional sporting facilities. It's about making sure that we have social community hubs. It's about making sure that we have all of the different pieces that go together to make our communities thrive and come together. What we've seen over years now is an underinvestment in these crucial pieces of social infrastructure in our outer urban and suburban areas of Australia. What commitment have we seen to that by the government? They cancelled the program that used to fund this sort of infrastructure. That is a terrible indictment of this government. It's a terrible indictment of the health and the social capital of our communities. But, of course, the government only see social policy as a cost to the economy instead of the investment that it actually is.

Then, of course, we've got the area of health. I need to make this point, because it seems to be lost on government so often. They only ever talk about the importance of a good economy to pay for things. Yes, a good economy pays for things. It's how we have Medicare. It's how we have an NDIS. It's how we have so many good things in this nation. But the critically important thing, especially about a program like Medicare, is that it is an investment in the capacity of Australians to work. We, as a nation, come together to make sure that Australians are as healthy as they possibly can be, because it means that they can stay in their job. It means that employers are not having to pay for their health care, as we see in other nations, which becomes an even bigger drag on the economy. Instead, we come together, we make sure that no-one is left behind when it comes to their health care, and we provide that through Medicare. It is fundamentally important that this is what happens.

But, of course, since the government anointed their fearless leader over 12 months ago, GP costs have increased, on average, to a record high of nearly $40 per visit. They talk about how many more visits people are having to the doctor, failing to realise that the way in which they're currently running the Medicare system churns people through the system. They have to go more often because doctors will only see them for a shorter period of time. It's a very unfortunate situation. It is not the way that we should be investing in our public health system to make sure that people are healthy and that we're proactively dealing with issues in the primary healthcare space. I'm sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Rick Wilson, that you, among anyone in this chamber right now, would understand the importance of primary health care as a way of making sure that we don't have the even higher costs of having to deal with people through our hospital system.

One of the other areas in which we have seen that good social policy investment can help our economy is the area of superannuation. When it comes to superannuation, as Paul Keating told the ABC's 7.30 earlier this year, super is forced savings; it's compulsion. And you run the risk that, given the option, people won't have an incentive to save. But some on the government benches say that people can't afford superannuation and they certainly can't afford to see it pushed up. Well, Mr Keating says we can't afford not to. So does the superannuation industry. And they are right.

It's really unfortunate, I have to say, that we have seen comments from members on the government benches that have been critical of the way in which we will see the contribution to superannuation increasing. One of the things that they miss, of course, is that the development of the superannuation industry in Australia by compulsory forced savings not only has meant that we have made sure that millions of Australians have access to savings when they retire—money they can spend as they see fit, something you would think the Liberal Party would be very happy about—but also has seen the development of a huge financial services industry here in Australia. We manage more funds than nearly any other country around the globe as a result of this superannuation system.

The government tries to say that increasing superannuation, compulsory savings, will somehow cut into pay rises. It says we won't see the pay rises that it says should be flowing to workers. Now, we want to see pay rises flowing to workers and, quite frankly, this government is doing nothing at all to see that happen. But the thing they miss—I remember all too clearly, from only a few years ago, when we saw increases from 9.25 per cent to 9.5 per cent—is that, quite frankly, at that stage, when many businesses had wage freezes on their books, if it hadn't been for those increases in superannuation then there wouldn't have been any increase to the remuneration for those companies at all. Quite frankly, these could be the only wage rises some people in Australia receive, and they're only getting them because we're seeing the mandated increase of superannuation savings, which will help those people well into the future. I am concerned about the way in which the Retirement Income Review under this government may well seek to undermine this forward investment that is not just good economic policy, it's also good social policy, because it delivers people the income they need to look after themselves in retirement.

There are so many things that I could talk about in this speech, but there are a few that I want to finish on. Only this week Access Economics released their Investment Monitor, showing the challenges in the Australian economy are principally homegrown—something we in Labor have actually been saying for a long time. We've called for more to be done to address weak economic growth, stagnant wages and unemployment. This isn't political; this is just the hard facts. Access Economics have joined a long line of credible organisations that all have the same facts: the economy is floundering; wages are stagnant; too many people aren't working, they aren't working enough or as much as they'd like to; interest rates keep dropping; and the Reserve Bank have said that there's only so much that they can do. It's a consequence of this government's lack of economic plan. It's a consequence, really, of their political strategy, and it's not working.

There is one more thing that I want to draw to the attention of the House. The government's misunderstanding of the economy matches its misunderstanding of the role of industrial relations. This government seems to see industrial relations as a way in which it can suppress workers and give an advantage to employers, to make sure they can increase their profits while the wages of employees are left lower. But if we want to see a better country, industrial relations has to be a way of protecting the health and safety of workers. It has to be a way to ensure their economic prosperity and their agency in our community. It has to be about involving workers in the means of production to ensure that our community— (Time expired)