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Speech at the ACTU National Congress, Melbourne.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SPEECH BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON SIMON CREAN MP ACTU NATIONAL CONGRESS MELBOURNE, 19 AUGUST 2003

******CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY*******

Introductory remarks

In the face of the most divisive and ideological government in our nation’s history there has never been a greater need for a strong partnership between Labor and the union movement than now.

I welcome the new era of cooperation between the federal Labor Party and the union movement symbolised by the reconstituted Australian Labor Advisory Council.

John Howard, Peter Costello and Tony Abbott think we should be ashamed of our union heritage. Well, I’m proud to be Labor. Proud to be union. Proud to be Australian.

The Liberals are creating a country we won’t recognise…

Much has changed in Australia since our last Congress.

We’re becoming a much more unfair and unequal society.

• Since the early 1990s the pay of the top 50 CEOs has increased by nearly 300 percent. But for workers who rely on award safety net adjustments, pay has gone up by only 1-2 percent a year.

• Job security has declined and long-term unemployment has risen. • The wealthiest private schools are getting massive funding increases but public schools are being neglected by the Howard Government.

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• While the rich have never been richer, nearly three quarters of a million children are at risk of poverty.

The Howard Government is deliberately creating the kind of society we won’t recognise as truly Australian. Their philosophy is simple: ‘sink or swim’.

They believe in treating services like health and education as private, not public goods. They believe in shifting the cost of providing services off the government and on to individuals. They believe in dividing Australians into us and them through unscrupulous wedge politics. They want to make Australians feel less secure, but won’t address that insecurity in concrete ways.

And they want to silence anyone who questions this view of the world. That’s why in the last few weeks we’ve seen a step up in their attacks on unions, the welfare sector and the ABC.

We will end the attacks on the ABC, protect its independence and fund it properly.

And they’re making us afraid…

Australians are rightly concerned about their security.

But the last thing we need is a Government that divides its people and encourages us to be fearful in the face of such challenges.

Franklin D Roosevelt once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

John Howard has nothing to offer but fear itself.

Instead of making us afraid, he should be making us prepared.

Our philosophy is different…

Our philosophy is different to that of the Liberals:

• We believe that opportunities must be given to all, not just the few, if our nation is to reach its full potential, and we believe in strong public services to provide those opportunities. • We believe in a tolerant society built on the great Australian tradition

of the fair go, and on appealing to be best in Australians, not the worst. • We believe in security built on hope not fear and in putting Australia’s national interests first.

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The next election is absolutely crucial.

It will be a policy contest about the future of Medicare… education… keeping Telstra for all Australians… and saving the environment.

Put simply, it will be about the future our children will have and what sort of country we want to be and what sort of future our children will have.

Bold, different and Labor

The Labor Party is becoming known not just for what we oppose, but for what we propose.

Under my leadership we are bold, different and Labor.

Some say there is no difference between Labor and our opponents. I say, look at the policies we are developing and selling.

Today I want to spell out Labor’s new deal for the Australian people:

• A new deal for Medicare. • A plan to improve our schools and to make TAFE and universities more affordable. • A fair go for Australian workers through a strong industrial relations

system with a mandate to help create family friendly workplaces. • And a decent living wage in work and retirement.

A new deal for Medicare

Whitlam built Medibank; Fraser wrecked it. Hawke built Medicare; now Howard is wrecking it.

Now Labor and the ACTU are campaigning together for Medicare. Thank you.

Individually we can oppose the destruction of Medicare. But together we can save it.

We must not end up like the United States, where 45 million people do not have any health insurance and where the doctor asks for your credit card, not your Medicare card. But that’s the sort of health system John Howard wants for Australia.

Under John Howard, bulk billing has fallen from over 80 percent of consultations to just 69 percent.

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Families earning as little as $32,000 per year may not be able to access bulk billing. No one who earns $32,000 per year is wealthy.

That is not the sort of health system a civilised society should ever condone.

Every Australian should have the right to see a doctor or attend a public hospital without charge. I won’t say for free - because it’s not free. Australians have already paid for it with their Medicare Levy and their taxes.

Labor built Medicare and only Labor will save it.

A Crean Labor Government will lift the patient rebate for bulk billing for all Australians, no matter where they live, or how much they earn.

We will lift your patient rebate immediately upon coming to office to 95 per cent of the scheduled fee, and then take it to 100 per cent - an average rise of $5 for every consultation that is bulk billed.

The patient rebate will be lifted by as much as $6.30 for a doctor in a metropolitan area, $7.80 in an outer metropolitan area and $9.60 for a doctor in a rural area.

This is a powerful incentive for doctors to bulk bill and a significant down payment towards restoring bulk billing and saving Medicare.

Our target is to get bulk billing back above 80 percent of all consultations.

But we must do more.

Our task is nothing less than to save Medicare itself.

The argument between the state and federal governments over who is responsible for the state of our health system must be leaving all Australians feeling cold.

They don’t care that it’s the federal government that funds the doctors, the states that fund hospitals and the federal government that funds aged care.

All they know is they pay their taxes, they pay their Medicare levy and they want access to a hospital bed, a doctor who bulk bills and aged care for their grandparents.

Today I want to propose a new era of cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States to save and strengthen Medicare.

A Labor Government will implement a new federalism to save Australia’s most precious institution.

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In the meantime, I urge state parliaments, unionists and individual citizens to unite to force the Howard Government to the negotiating table to hammer out a new agreement with the states to keep Medicare alive.

A plan to keep education affordable…

Education is our bridge to the future for individuals and the nation.

It is a public, not just a private good, and needs high levels of public investment.

We need better early childhood learning. We either invest now or pay more later on.

We need more money for our schools based on need, not privilege. The current funding arrangements that favour wealthy category 1 private schools are a disgrace.

And we need to ensure that every family can afford to send their children to TAFE and university.

How can our young people get a decent start in life, buy a home and start a family when they are drowning in debt?

Labor has a better way.

Labor will create more than 20,000 extra TAFE and 20,000 extra university places, provide more places for teachers, nurses an doctors, cut fees to help us train more scientists and maths teachers and raise the threshold for repaying HECS from the current $25,000 per year to $35,000 per year.

Labor will block the Government’s attempts to deregulate university fees and abolish full-fee university places that allow those with money to jump the queue.

There will be no $150,000 degrees under a Labor government.

A decent living wage…

Australians deserve a decent living wage.

In my day, the only debt you had to save for was buying the family home. Under John Howard you have to save years to have kids, give them a good education and give them medical cover.

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Australians work hard for their taxes, putting in long hours of overtime only to see their pay packets reduced through bracket creep.

But while we’re paying the highest taxes and charges in our nation’s history we’re getting less in return.

That’s because of this government’s wrong priorities.

Like giving massive tax breaks to foreign executives who are the highest paid people in the community, and a thirty percent subsidy for the multi-million dollar golden handshakes enjoyed by corporate executives.

Already Labor has identified nearly $3 billion of wrong priorities to fund saving Medicare, improving access to higher education and to giving all workers a superannuation tax cut.

I want to give bracket creep back, but unlike the Howard Government Labor will do it through both tax cuts and an improved education, health and other services.

A fair go for workers…

John Howard wants Australia to join the race to the bottom on wages and conditions. I will never accept that path.

Australia’s future lies in being a high-skill, high-wage economy. Labor will take Australia along the high road, not the low road.

In a nation as wealthy as Australia there is no need for working people to live in poverty. We must offer a hand up for the low paid and a decent safety net for those who fall behind.

One thing is for sure about the policies and legislation of the Howard Government. If Tony Abbott’s involved it will be anti-worker. Well, if it’s anti-worker Labor will oppose it.

Recently, I was down on the picket lines at Morris McMahon in Sydney. I met lots of young families forced to put off important decisions because they were locked out for 17 weeks.

The same at the Geelong wool combing plant, where workers have been locked out for 14 weeks. Seven families have had to put their homes on the market.

And again at a glass plant in Box Hill, where the workers have been locked out for 16 weeks.

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All disputes that could have been avoided with just a little good faith.

This is not the Australian way.

Labor will give the independent umpire - the Australian Industrial Relations Commission - the power to require parties to bargain in good faith. And if they won’t, we will give the Commission the power to arbitrate and make a decision.

Labor will legislate to guarantee 100 percent of redundancy entitlements to every Australian worker, not just those lucky enough to work for John Howard’s brother.

And we will stop unscrupulous employers setting up sham companies to escape paying redundancy entitlements owed to their employees.

Remember John Howard promising to protect workers entitlements by giving them greater priority when a company goes bust. Well unlike John Howard I won’t just talk about it - I’ll do it.

And we will continue to block John Howard’s unfair Dismissals Bill

John Howard likes to use the threat of double dissolution elections. But let’s understand one thing: if he calls a double dissolution election it will be fought over: • Selling Telstra;

• Destroying Medicare; • Pricing education out of the reach of working families; • And making it easier to sack people.

Let’s see if he’s the courage to call an election promising that agenda.

Family friendly workplaces

Australians are working on average the second-longest hours of any country in the OECD.

If we want to make men and women truly equal partners in the workforce, we must make our workplaces more family friendly.

That’s why Labor will introduce paid maternity leave, improved access to affordable childcare, and why we will lead a change in the workplace culture of this country so that Australian workers don’t have to choose between being good workers and good parents.

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Labor will amend the public interest test to require the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to have regard to the impact of employment conditions on families and communities.

We will give workers the right to negotiate with employers on issues like:

• The right to return to part-time work following a period of parental leave. (‘No one should be sacked from a large firm like Telstra for wanting to return to work part-time after having a child.’)

• Extending unpaid parental leave from one to two years.

• Taking your family needs into account when determining rosters.

• And the option of job sharing and working from home.

Improving and protecting the savings of employees…

And Labor won’t just protect your work and your family, we will also protect you in retirement.

Labor is the only party to build super for the whole workforce. Labor has always been the party of the pensioner but we are also the party of the superannuant as well.

Thanks to Labor more than 50 percent of Australians now directly own shares and 90 percent of Australian workers have an interest in the share market through their superannuation.

Labor will give all Australian workers a superannuation tax cut; not just the top 4 percent.

We will also make your savings safe and secure.

The retirement savings of the whole nation depend on a well-regulated corporate sector.

It’s time corporate executives took responsibility for their failures, not multi-million dollar golden handshakes.

Labor will double current penalties when executives break our corporate law.

We will force top executives to further disclose their pay packages in full, including their share options.

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Under Labor all redundancy payments over the value of $1 million will no longer be eligible business deductions for companies.

Labor values hard work, not corporate greed.

Labor will keep Telstra in public hands

Last week, John Howard introduced new legislation to sell the rest of Telstra.

Selling Telstra is bad for nation, bad for the bush and bad for the Budget.

The Government’s ideologically-driven campaign to sell Telstra will actually cost the Budget $1.7 billion over the next four years.

And it will inevitably deny millions of Australians affordable access to the phone, the fax and the internet.

Every Australian knows that if Telstra is sold, it will leave country Australia quicker than the banks.

Services will decline.

Thousands more jobs will be slashed, affecting service and maintenance levels.

And charges will go up.

Let me make it clear: Labor will not allow the further sale of Telstra, full stop.

Conclusion

Delegates.

Don’t be fooled.

John Howard likes to believe he’s the only one who understands middle Australia.

But he just pays them lip service while destroying their health and education systems, pricing them out of the housing market and punishing them for daring to take time off to raise a family or spend time with their kids.

Labor is the only Party that will stand up for middle Australia and working families.

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The party that will save Medicare, properly fund our public education system and create fairer, productive and modern workplaces. Our opponents only want to make it easier to sack you.

These are policies we can all be proud of.

Good Labor policy. Developed by Labor and the unions working together.

Policies we don’t just pay lip service to. They’re policies we actually believe in.

That’s the sort of Labor Party I want to lead.

Labor will go to the next election as a real alternative to the Howard Government.

If we do so, we will win.