Wednesday, 11 September 2019
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge Senators Dodson, McCarthy and Lambie, as well as Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt, who sit in the other place. And I acknowledge the 39 Aboriginal language groups that make up the great state of South Australia. There has been enough debate, enough delay. It's time for a voice, treaty and truth.
Mr President, 293,000 children call South Australia home. Not one of them chose the hospital they were born in, the parents or grandparents they have or the postcode where they are growing up. But every single one of them deserves a fair start to life. A new senator has many responsibilities, and I will work tirelessly to fulfil them all. But no commitment means more to me than this: I've come here to stand up for the children of my state. As a Labor senator I'll be fighting for fairness in their future, because Labor is, and always has been, the party of fairness. The best way to deliver fairness is through the transformative power of good public policy, and the place to do that is in this parliament. No-one has more power to do good than those of us in this place—and we haven't a moment to waste, because, for the first time in our modern history, Australian children are set to inherit a future that is less fair than that of the generations that went before them. And, on too many indicators, it is our most vulnerable children who are suffering the most. More than seven percent of children in South Australia live in poverty, with those from our regions and in single-parent households the hardest hit. Children from disadvantaged areas are twice as likely to experience developmental vulnerability as their peers in the wealthiest areas. Whether we look at health, education, child protection or justice, we are failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the most, children who also carry the scars of past injustice and trauma forward.
These outcomes aren't inevitable; they are failures of public policy, failures that result from the choices we make or don't make, failures that have left too many children starting way behind the mark. Australia has long taken as granted the notion that generation-on-generation economic growth will drive improvements to our living standards. But that is not the reality for the next generation. Low wage growth, underemployment, unaffordable housing, the precariousness of the gig economy and increasing inequality of wealth mean young Australians are set to inherit a less prosperous and less secure future. These inequities are further compounded by our changing climate, the effects of which will hit the poor and the young hardest. The lifeblood of my state, our precious river, is also set to suffer in a way the next generation simply cannot afford. But none of this inequity is inevitable. Australia should be able to deliver a better deal for the next generation than the previous one had. Successive Labor governments have strived to deliver this through nation-changing policy reforms such as workplace rights, Medicare and the PBS, extending access to higher education, and universal superannuation.
My own family's story speaks to our great national story of generational improvement. My ancestors came to Australia by boat, some in chains, and all were able to build a better life than those who went before them. On my father's side the first to arrive were William Kable and Susannah Holmes, who came on the First Fleet after their shared death sentences were commuted to one-way tickets to the new colony. They became the first Europeans to marry in Australia and the first to successfully launch a civil lawsuit against a captain who had stolen their belongings on the way over. It was a lawsuit that, as felons, they would not have been able to launch back in Britain itself. As convicted thieves, this was not without irony, but it was also a clear sign that in a new land there could be new ways and a new life. On the other side of my family, the promise of a better existence lured out three generations from north London—my great-grandparents, grandparents and mother.
Blue skies were a bonus, but the real transformation for both sides of my family happened through the classroom. My paternal grandfather never finished primary school, yet my parents were both the first in their families to attend university, thanks to federal government policy and a great foundation in the public education system. My siblings and I grew up in an era where Whitlam and Hawke had thrown open the doors of university, and we strode through those doors with eager and grateful steps. In short, my family went from a mid-primary school education to masters level in just two generations. That's the power of education—to unlock opportunity and break down social barriers. It should be available to everyone. And, since it is disadvantaged children who begin life so far behind the mark, it is there that our efforts and our resources must be aimed.
For all of our achievement and promise, educational equality remains the great unfinished work of the parliament and the nation. Through the Gonski report, like the Karmel report before it, Labor attempted to fundamentally reset the educational equation, and on their return to government the coalition swiftly acted to snuff out the promise of equity, fairness and reform. This was a deliberate theft of opportunity from the kids who need our help the most. Few policy failures have been as reckless and unforgiveable as that, because being told they deserve second best is something no child should ever live to hear.
But, even more important than schooling and higher education, is the early education that comes before it. The single most significant policy change I am determined to see during my time in this place is a radical re-draw of the way we fund and deliver early childhood education and care, because the most meaningful way we can smash generational disadvantage is through universal, quality and free education during the early years. If we hold our fire until school age, it will be too late. In the first thousand days of a child's life, critical brain connections are formed. If a child does not develop well during this period and they are not exposed to the right mix of play-based learning, love, nutrition and nurture, then they cannot reach their full potential. That's why we must act now.
I was so proud of Labor's policy to fund preschool for three-year-olds at the last election, and we must not abandon it. In fact, we must extend it to ensure all children can access world-leading early education and care, regardless of what their parents do, how much they earn or where they live. In early childhood education, we have to be bold in our vision, broad in our approach and brave in our means of delivery, and we need to do so in partnership with our early years educators, in whose hands we place our youngest and most vulnerable minds and yet whose critical work we choose to undervalue and underpay. Again, this is a choice—a policy choice and a values choice—and we must change our path.
I first volunteered for the Australian Labor Party some 16 years ago, because within it I found a political home for my Christian values of social justice and fairness. Throughout my career, I have strived to put these values into practice, through the vehicle of public policy, to make our world better for the children within it. I had the great honour of working in the most recent Labor government with Minister Kate Ellis to deliver the most significant quality reforms to early childhood education and care since the sector began. My passion for children has taken me to West Africa, where I volunteered with an NGO fighting child exploitation and forced labour. And I've worked for the incredible Julia Gillard to extend the opportunity of school education to some of the most disadvantaged places in our world. As a Labor senator, my focus will now be on advocating for the children of my state and their future, because, like children all around the world, their voices do not fill chambers of power and influence like this. Indeed, they don't even get to vote for the voices that do.
An essential part of our job as elected representatives is listening to voters. But we should also be listening to the people who can't yet vote at all. So, in preparation for this speech, I sought counsel from some of my younger constituents about what they want us to deliver for them, to let their voices fill this place. Their proposals are worthy of our consideration. Every child I spoke to wanted all Australians to be healthy. They had heaps of ideas for me: 'Eat your fruit and veg,' 'Don't smoke or take drugs,' and, 'Don't die young.' One told me this was all really important; otherwise I would get mouldy teeth!
I wish I could have told these kids that our public health policies are securing a healthy future for everyone, but that's not the case. Generational improvements in life expectancy have been assumed over the last century, but this growth is slowing. If we want to see continual improvements in health, we must tackle the things we know we can prevent, like disease caused by smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse. As a student of public policy at the London School of Economics I saw significant opportunities in applying behavioural economics to these sorts of public health challenges, yet Australia still lags a long way behind other places in using this policy tool.
We must also do more to tackle the regional health divide in Australia, especially in maternal health policy. My Aunty Lynette, from Port Lincoln, felt the impacts of this health divide in a way no mother ever should. Her daughter, born prematurely, needed a level of care only available in Adelaide. As a result, for 17 long weeks, mother and newborn child were separated, with only fortnightly visits and photographs to sustain them. It was a heart-wrenching pain that Lynette felt—one that's still felt by women across regional Australia. These women have fewer options and less support to have their children than women in metro areas. This is especially true for Indigenous women. Horrifically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children die at twice the rate of other Australian babies. If every child is to get a fair start in life, that must begin with good-quality obstetric and paediatric care, no matter where they live. Again, it is a policy choice about what we are willing to value and resource.
Of course, our health isn't just about our physical health. For the three million Australians living with depression and anxiety, and every other Australian with ill mental health, we need to do better. The fact that half of all mental health conditions start before the age of 14 means the time to act is in childhood. I know the consequences of untreated childhood mental health conditions all too well. It's hard to quantify the pain that could have been spared family members that I love had they received the right treatment in time, before their ill health spiralled into drug abuse and self-harm. Until we take mental health seriously and fund it properly, more and more young people will suffer—and their suffering will be on our watch.
The second thing that South Australian children have told me is that they think Australia should have a policy of treating boys and girls the same. Zoe from Prospect told me that boys and girls are 'equally good' and therefore should get to do the same things. For Atticus from Port Adelaide, in practice that means they should both be allowed to become Prime Minister, but—and Atticus was very clear on this point—'only if they are not Liberals'!
Our kids can see that boys and girls aren't always treated equally in Australia, and they don't have to look very far. The gender pay gap and the associated super gap remain pervasive. This has contributed to older women forming the fastest-growing cohort of homelessness in Australia. Domestic violence disproportionately impacts women, as does the burden of unpaid work. This year we celebrate 125 years of women's suffrage in South Australia. But I am sure our suffragettes had higher hopes for the future of equality. Despite the Senate being just a whisker off parity, women still make up only 37 per cent of the federal parliament as a whole and 27 per cent of South Australia's parliament. Women are also significantly underrepresented at board and executive levels in the private sector—something I've witnessed firsthand in my own board work.
We cannot address these statistics without a calm consideration of quotas. Quotas require organisations to consider their female members differently—to see their leadership potential, not just their support capabilities. When there aren't any women amongst them, it forces organisations to ask why and to do something about it. To those in this place who have suggested that quotas push merit to one side, I would add that women are half the population and we have half of all the merit and ability that exists in human society. That's why I don't carry a shred of shame for being a woman representing a party with affirmative action as its bridge to a more equal future, because AA didn't require us to lower our standards; it required us to raise them. When I look at the women on our side who are serving now—not least our leadership team, Senators Wong and Keneally—and when I look back at the many Labor women who have served here before me, I am deeply proud to count myself among them. Of course, when the girls and boys I spoke to have grown up, I hope that quotas won't be required. But the evidence tells us that, for now, they are.
The last thing these children told me was that our policies should ensure they get to have a good job one day. For Harley from Murray Bridge, a good job means being able to buy lots of toys. For Violet from Adelaide's west, it means you can give your kids lots of pocket money. When I was their age I learnt the importance of a good job in a way no family ever wants to. My dad had spent his working life building a business, only for it to collapse. I know what it means to have everything on the line in a family business—because we had everything on the line. I will always remember his distraught face as we stood on the porch and I asked why our car was being taken away. Divorce, disruption and separation followed. It's a story that so many families will recognise when hardship hits. Australia's policy of a genuine safety net was there for us. It meant that my fantastic public education was never interrupted nor our visits to the doctor ever limited by this turn of events in my family's life. And my dad was fortunate: he got a new job and eventually rebuilt the business. I've been so proud to work in it, too, and be part of its journey to become a significant operator of public transport, both in Australia and around the world. And, of course, my time in the family business also afforded me the opportunity to learn an exceptional life skill: how to drive an articulated bus!
But, to deliver good jobs to South Australia's kids, we need policies that will forge a strong economy, because—in my state especially—a strong and resilient economy will not build itself. I firmly believe our best days as a state are ahead of us, but they will only be so if the South Australian senators in this place fight for our future every single day. We'll get more jobs in our state if we work in partnership with business to attract long-term and meaningful investment. And those jobs will be good jobs if we work with our union movement to empower workers to secure fair pay and conditions. Like millions of Australians, I have long been a union member and have benefited from the union movement's work. For so many victories—like annual leave, penalty rates, maternity leave, super—we have them to thank.
But, of course, the fight for good jobs is nowhere near over. Rapid technology change is driving new and unprecedented threats to the security and safety of work. The gig economy, for all its conveniences, threatens the basic rights of workers, including to fair pay and super. It must do better. I commend the Transport Workers Union, and Senator Sheldon in particular, for their work here. For retail workers—of whom I once was one, and who my union, FDA, passionately represents—artificial intelligence and automation are disrupting frontline service and back-of-house roles. These workers, mostly women, mostly young and mostly low-income, cannot afford to be further displaced or devalued. I accept that technological change is inevitable, and it offers opportunities for Australia. But its benefits need to be better distributed and workers need to be better supported in this changing work landscape. The work of our union movement remains unfinished and important. In the fight for fairness in our children's future, I'm with them.
Our children deserve a better deal than the one handed down to previous generations. We can deliver this, but doing so requires us to change the way we design and implement public policy in Australia and to focus beyond the next three years to the next 30 years.
I will use my time in this place to fight for a fairer future for South Australia's children—to stand with Harley, Atticus, Zoe, Violet and every other child in my state. In doing so, I also stand with all of their families, no matter where they live, what they do or who they love. I stand with families who have been here for 60,000 years, and families who have just arrived. I stand with families broken, families mending, families with many kids and families with none. I stand with families with one parent or families where grandparents have had to step in. I stand with them all.
I know that the ability to serve them in this place is not an individual achievement of mine alone. Each of us are the sum of the care, confidence and support placed in us by those that we love and respect. And so, I acknowledge my own family now and the other important people who enabled my journey here today. Firstly, to the people of the greatest state, South Australia: I'm so humbled by the trust you have placed in me to represent you here, and I promise to work tirelessly for you all.
I acknowledge my parents, Neil, Karen and Colin and my siblings who are represented in the gallery by Bart and my sister-in-law, Chelsea, today. To my mother-in-law, Anne: thank you for your willingness to spend half your life with me here in Canberra so that I can be with my son, who's next to you, and do the job that I love. I could not do this without you. To my son's godparents, Brooke and Andy, my friends and my staff: you're all superstars, and I'm stoked that you picked me. Special thanks to Ben Hubbard and my dear friend Timothy Watts for your wise council.
Thank you to our state secretary, Reggie Martin and Aemon Burke, who have both shown me so much support over so many years. I also thank future Premier Peter Malinauskas, Sonia Romeo and Josh Peak for their support, but more importantly for their fierce advocacy for the things worth fighting for in our state. My parliamentary colleagues, state and federal, have been a wonderful source of advice and camaraderie, notably my good friends Senator Alex Gallacher and Amanda Rishworth, as well as Nick, Steve, Zoe, Emily and Chris. I also thank my colleagues from the SDA, TWU, FSU and AMWU.
I especially want to thank Senator Don Farrell for his support of me and so many other women in our movement. Senator Farrell has backed in women where it counts—into winnable seats in our parliament—time and time again. Don, your wife, Nimfa, and your daughters have everything to be proud of.
To our members and volunteers who sacrifice so much time to travel with me from Port Lincoln to Murray Bridge, Whyalla to Mount Gambier, Port Pirie to the Barossa, to share Labor's plans for fairness—thank you. I acknowledge the incredible work especially of Amy Ware, Meagan Spencer, Tom Carrick-Smith and Tara Fatehi. Special thanks to the Labor Women's Network, especially to Victoria, Young Labor Unity, our candidates and volunteers, notably: Liam Golding, Michael Iammarrone, Jordon, Joe, Ben, David, Bez, Mikaela and the door-knocking crew.
I've been fortunate throughout my life to be surrounded by strong, passionate and remarkable women, but I've been fortunate beyond words to have the mentorship of two in particular who've travelled from Adelaide to join me today. To Kate Ellis, a great trailblazer of our movement and our parliament: simply, and on so many levels, I would not be standing here without you—thank you. And to Julia Gillard, whose contribution to this place and legacy to our country is immeasurable: Julia, your belief in me has been sustaining, your advocacy humbling and your friendship is one of the most cherished I have ever and will ever have. I promise to make you proud here.
And now to thank my little family. To my much-loved husband, Clint: thank you for the sacrifices you make so I can be here, for all you do for our family and for being my safe space in this world. I wouldn't want to do the adventure of life with anyone but you. I acknowledge my incredible stepchildren Toby, Gemma and Lachlan, and the newest light of my life, my son, Benjamin. Ben, when you were born, you rewrote me. I apologise upfront for the times I will let you down because I'm in this place and not with you. I hope you forgive me, and I hope you understand I'm here because of my belief in the power of this place to change Australia for the better, and the sense of public service within me that compels me to be a part of that. May that belief grow in you too one day.
My kids are my purpose and meaning in life, but South Australia's 293,000 children will be my purpose and meaning in this place. I will be standing up for their future here with fairness as the goal and good public policy as the means to achieve it. Our tradition of intergenerational fairness has defined Australia. It's our most fundamental value as a nation, yet it is slipping away before our eyes. We are handing our children a lesser future than the generations that went before them. I believe our children deserve better, and I believe we can deliver that to them. In my journey of parliamentary service, however long or short, I will settle for nothing less.
Thank you, Mr President, and thank you, colleagues. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we're meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. And I accept the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart—the invitation to walk alongside First Nations Australians in a movement for a better future, a future founded on a voice to parliament, enshrined in the Constitution, on truth-telling and on treaty.
I'm proud to be joined today in the gallery by members of my union, the newly formed United Workers Union, a union of 150,000 people performing essential jobs around Australia: cleaners, hospo workers, early childhood educators, food production workers, farm workers and many more. You are a huge part of what led me here to this incredible place—this place that has so much promise, the promise of the power to make change, to build a country that brings security and opportunity to all.
My journey to this place started back in the 1970s and eighties in the middle-ring, middle-class suburbs of Melbourne. I was born as Whitlam came to power and was a teenager in the heyday of Labor heroes Hawke and Keating. I'd like to say that I was engaged and inspired by politics from an early age. But instead I spent most of my teenage years watching Neighbours and listening to Spandau Ballet. We lived in a suburb my brother, sister and I now affectionately call 'North Boring'—otherwise known as North Balwyn—and big thanks to my brother and sister for being here today in the gallery. Nothing much happened in 'North Boring', as you might imagine.
Like so many people from that part of Melbourne, though, I am very grateful for what was a great start in life, with the economic security so many Australians strive for, in a household with two stable, secure jobs and a suburb with great schools and services. I strongly believe that our biggest task here is to open the door to the protection and opportunity that good, secure jobs can bring to all Australians. To me a well-paid, stable job is the foundation for a good life in this country. Without one you really just don't get out of the gates. With one the door is opened to the middle-class security that I think all Australians want for themselves and their children—security that delivers the freedom to enjoy life today and the confidence to plan for the future.
My mother's path to that life was not straightforward, and her journey was a major influence on me. Mum grew up in Melbourne's inner north before it was the place to be. At the local convent school she discovered a love of books and flourished. She was the first person in her family to go to university and she absolutely loved it. But she had to fight to finish university after having her first child, scandalously, out of wedlock in 1967, a time when unmarried mothers were often unable to keep their children and when married mothers were regularly barred from work. Before she died in 2011 Mum told us the story of her younger years and how she toted her small baby around to classes, determined to finish. She did, and she was always grateful that she was able to get an education and, as she saw it, to open up her mind and her life. She was able to pass on that love of education and her love of books to many children through her 40-year career as an English teacher. From her I inherited a real sense that there was a rope to climb in life and a belief that everyone, no matter where they come from, should be supported to be their very best by society as a whole. And I knew very clearly how important it was for women to be able to determine our own futures.
Mum would be really proud to be here today. She was absolutely thrilled to come with me to hear Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 2010 election night speech in Melbourne and to live to see our first female Prime Minister. And she would be just as thrilled to see me here with another strong Labor role model: our Senate leader, Penny Wong. Mum was a staunch Labor voter, and my dad, who also passed away several years ago, came from good Labor stock too. His own father was a committed socialist and paid-up Labor Party member. I'm very grateful today to my parents' lifelong friends, Mary and Paul O'Connor, for being here in my parents' place. To dad's sister, Trish Costigan, who I know is watching from home, thank you for your support. Thank you also to Mary Rose Hayter and Gerry Costigan for being here today. From my own university days, I'm blessed to have made some fantastic friends who've stayed the course. The venues for our catch-ups may have changed from the local pub to the local dog park and from the latest bar to the ladies book club, but the friendships I've made with strong, smart and funny women are the best. Thank you so much for being here.
Like my mother, I was passionate about education and I followed that passion to spend over a decade in universities and policy centres both here and in the United States. In the US, I researched the loss of decent, stable manufacturing jobs and the growth in their place of low-paid and insecure work in service industries—jobs that often don't do the job of delivering the incomes and the security people need to get ahead. This is a trend that has really shaped the trajectory of the US economy, society and politics right through to today. It has left millions of people—often women, migrant workers and people of colour—surviving on a bare minimum wage, just one pay cheque away from crisis. And it has left the people who have known the benefits of decent, stable jobs looking over their shoulders with fear for the future. Sometimes that fear has been directed as anger towards those in even more insecure and vulnerable positions, in particular towards migrants seeking a better life. And it has caused a massive wealth divide between the haves and the have-nots. I still remember how shocked I was to see the pointy end of that divide in the US—people sleeping under bridges, while others drove into heavily gated communities in the suburbs each night.
That was really the beginning of a political awakening in me. It took leaving Australia for me to understand just how much we need to fight for what we have here. Joining the Australian union movement was the best way to put that fight into practice, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. In this country too, we've been hit by these same forces of economic restructuring for decades without any consensus as a nation about how we can rebuild the well-paid, stable jobs that underpin access to middle-class security and opportunity. In Australia today, more people than ever need two jobs to make ends meet. Forty per cent of Australians are in insecure work, casual jobs, contract jobs, labour hire and ABN jobs. Gig and shift-by-SMS jobs are more common. Wage theft is the norm in sectors like hospitality and farms. Women are still paid less than men for work of equal value. Migrant workers today in our country face extreme exploitation, and wage growth across the board has been flat now for years. And none of this is because we can't afford to provide good, secure jobs in Australia. We are one of the richest countries in the world, and it makes me angry that so many people are being denied the opportunity they deserve.
In the thousands of conversations I've had with members of my union over the years, I've heard one defining characteristic of a good job over and over again—that is, respect: respect and recognition for your hard work and the contribution you make; respect in your pay packet with a decent living wage; and respect with the job security you need to be able to enjoy life today and retire with enough for the future. I've met some inspirational people in my time with my union who dedicate themselves to fighting for that respect and for good, secure jobs for all Australians.
Gamal came to Australia from Sudan, where he had a career as a lawyer. Over the past 20 years he's worked overnight as a shopping centre cleaner. He's also been a proud union member fighting for fairer wages. Now in his 60s, Gamal still works nights, public holidays and weekends for a full-time wage not much greater than $40,000 a year. He will never give up fighting for fair and decent wages for all Australians.
Kerrie is a career early-childhood educator who is passionate about caring for and educating children. Kerrie uses her annual leave days to perform her official duties as president of the union, because she believes the union movement is the only way that highly skilled educators who earn around half the average wage will win the respect and recognition they deserve.
Andrew has been a union delegate for many years at an industrial bakery. He wants to see companies compete on the basis of quality and innovation, not by cutting wages—a trend he has been witnessing over the last decade. I know Andrew worries about the future of young bakers coming through when the jobs that are growing are almost all lower-paid and labour-hire jobs.
Anna is a young hospitality activist who was fired for speaking out about her below-award wages. She then started a campaign against wage theft in Melbourne, and her campaign inspired thousands of other young hospo workers to join their union, stand up and speak out. It exposed the absolute exploitation in the sector and brought to account some of the biggest names in the industry.
I am so pleased that Gamal, Kerrie, Andrew and Anna are here today. They're joined by the leadership of the two unions that now form the United Workers Union. Thank you to the national secretaries and presidents of both United Voice and the National Union of Workers: Jo Schofield, Tim Kennedy, Gary Bullock and Caterina Cinanni. Thanks also to the state secretaries who are here—Ben Redford, Susie Allison, Mel Gatfield and Lyndal Ryan—and to three longstanding members of my Victorian team: AJ, Tim and Ange. As a leadership team you have always and will always put union members front and centre in everything you do.
The new United Workers Union will be a critical force in rebuilding respect, security and opportunity in Australia. It has formed on a core belief that we are much stronger together, and it has formed to shake things up. Contrary to the current narrative, the big challenges of economic restructuring will not be solved by individuals just trying harder. We're told: 'It's all up to you. If you work harder, you can get ahead. The harder you work, the more you earn.' On that logic the members of my union, who are here today, would be millionaires. We're told: 'If you're not being paid enough to live or if you're stuck in a casual job, then just go out and get another one. Or just wait; we'll cut company tax rates, and, trust us, that'll be passed on to your pay packets.' Governments getting out of the way; people just trying a bit harder; waiting for the wealth to trickle down—that's not a recipe for opportunity for all. It's a tired, self-serving fantasy, and it's a fantasy that has delivered flatlining wages while profits and CEO salaries soar. It's delivered an explosion of job insecurity, low pay and underemployment, which in turn has sucked consumer demand out of the economy. Even conservative economists are screaming from the balcony that something has to give.
We are facing a jobs crisis in our country today, a crisis of persistent low and stagnant wages and a crisis of job insecurity, and we need to change direction now. The time for governments getting out of the way is over. It's time for governments to get back in the driver's seat and back to work. We need to apply a whole-of-government secure jobs pledge to everything we do and be accountable to the Australian people on that pledge. We need a secure jobs pledge that makes us assess every government decision against a simple but critical question: does it create decent, stable jobs with respect, or does it put more Australians on the path to insecurity?
As a first step in that pledge, governments need to start working with union members like Gamal, Kerrie, Andrew and Anna, not against them. Fundamentally, Australians need more power through their unions, not less, more power to win fair wages and stable jobs and more power to build industries that thrive on being the best at what they do, not on treating their workers the worst. They need more power to operate effectively in the changing world of work. The union members who have the courage to stand up for something better for themselves and for all Australians need more respect from government, not less. To those union members I say that if you are ready to stand up and speak out then I'm ready to stand with you.
A secure jobs pledge also means a new national focus on delivering jobs that bring respect, jobs we can count on, jobs we can plan a future on. It means mobilising the resources of government to actively plan for decent, stable jobs in everything we do. A secure jobs pledge means kickstarting investment in stable manufacturing work in new and sustainable industries, because we as a nation have all but abandoned those blue-collar jobs. If we do nothing, global markets will continue to come for those jobs and the communities that rely on them. Companies can move on to new investments and new regions when it suits them, but people stay. Without a strong, diverse economic base, too many communities can be left behind.
A secure jobs pledge means assessing whether privatisation of services promotes decent, stable jobs and, if in fact it just means cutting wages and cutting job security, it means saying no. It also means respecting migrants who come here to work, increasingly on short-term visas. It means guaranteeing them greater protection, including international students, who are so important to our economy but so often exploited in our workplaces today. A secure jobs pledge means guaranteeing good, stable jobs for the women who work in the fastest growing area of the economy: the government funded childcare, aged-care and disability sectors. Today these jobs are undervalued and underpaid, but they are essential and the women who perform them are essential too. If we delivered on our pledge, in this sector alone we would open the gates to middle-class security and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Australian women.
Finally, what about a secure jobs pledge for the First Nations people who today work alongside other Australians doing the same work but for half the pay as part of the misnamed Community Development Program? In my time in this place, I want to see us get right into the task of rebuilding well-paid, secure jobs for all Australians. I don't want to see the people who are lucky enough to have those jobs today looking over their shoulders in fear for tomorrow. I do want to see us extend the protection and opportunity that decent work can bring.
We are so fortunate to be one of the wealthiest nations on earth. We can afford to do better. We need to do better if we want to change the course of our economy today. And we are not just a stronger economy with good, secure jobs as our foundation; we are a stronger society. We're stronger when we can all look to the future with confidence and move forward together. So let's not tell Australians it's all up to them, alone. Let's not tell them our job here in Canberra is to get out of their way. We have the power here to make change, and it's our job to use it. We have the power to deliver the respect, security and opportunity that all Australians deserve. So let's get to work and not walk away.