Speech - Chapter 2: Securing Our Future With Responsible Economic Management




"Chapter 2: Securing Our Future With Responsible Economic Management"




I've been a delegate to National Conferences since 1984. I considered my first election a great honour and I still do today.

It gives me special pride to address this chapter - securing our future with responsible economic management. And the reason is simple.

It's because this Government has achieved great things in a short period of time.

We do not get to choose the time of our being elected, and the timing we know has brought with it great difficulties and great challenges.

We don't get to choose the timing, but we do get to choose how we respond to the times.

And that response, delegates, has been a credit to the people gathered here today and everyone you represent in this great movement of ours.

As the PM said this morning, we came to government with Australia at the crossroads.

For too long the Liberals had been taking the hard work of Australian families for granted.

And of course along with that, they had simply been coasting and boasting.

Coasting on the coattails of what was a once-in-a-generation mining boom, and then boasting about what brilliant economic managers they were.

But it doesn't take much hard work or foresight to simply sit back and watch the revenue roll in while it rains gold bars. That was the situation that our predecessors had.

Of course, in our short time in Government we've had the exact opposite.

We've had some huge decisions to make - the banking guarantee, our three-stage economic stimulus packages, responding to climate change and commencing the biggest review of our tax system in 50 years.

And every single one of these decisions is taken in the national interest with the daily lives of working men and women and their families as our guiding light.

It's people like truck drivers from Tasmania, nurses from Nambour, bricklayers from Broadmeadows and small businesses from western Sydney that we have had in mind when we have sat around the Cabinet table to make decisions that affect the direction of our national economy.

When the economic times turned bad, we acted with resolve, we acted with speed and we acted with courage.

But above all, we acted in accord with the values that unite us here today.

The historic mission of the Labor Party - of all those who have come before us over the past one hundred years and those who will follow for the next hundred - is simply jobs.

And when future delegates speak of the responses of the Rudd Government to the global recession, they will know we've taken decisive action to support jobs and business in very difficult times.

We welcome the responsibility that comes with knowing that the jobs, dreams and aspirations of working people, and those on low and fixed incomes, can only come to fruition if the economic foundations we are building for the future are sturdy. And that's what this chapter is about.

Our response to the global recession has been based on Labor values, with good Labor economic management.

Knowing the terrible toll of past recessions, we resolved to act, and we did act, to prevent the very worst effects of the global recession.

Knowing the cost of inaction and delay in the past, we resolved to act, and we did act, quickly enough to make a significant difference.

And knowing the opposition we would face from those who would do nothing because they know nothing of the struggle of everyday Australians in hard economic times, we resolved to act, and we did act, despite the attacks we knew would come.

And delegates, because we did act to stimulate the economy and to build the economy of our future, at least 200,000 Australians will stay in work who otherwise would not have.

That's families with a breadwinner and thousands of businesses still operating because they have customers coming through their doors.

It's school leavers and university graduates who get that first job that makes all the difference.

It's mums who keep their contact with the workforce rather than being sacked when times turn bad.

And most of all, delegates, it's many thousands of Australians who will not know the indignity and hopelessness of long-term unemployment.

That, delegates, is what your Labor Government has done.

Let there be no doubt what the Liberal and National parties stood for in this great debate. Every MP in this room remembers vividly the events in the Parliament on the 5th of February this year. The Liberals stood on the other side of the House of Representatives - with nearly 30 speakers, until 5 o'clock in the morning of the 5th of February this year - to oppose everything we were doing in our Nation Building stimulus package that we were trying to put through the Parliament. That package on which so many hundreds of thousands of Australian workers and small businesses depended.

And let there be no doubt about where they will not stand - in the streets of our cities and towns where working people live their lives in the shadow of this global recession.

Delegates, everyday Australians supported the decisive action of the Rudd Government that has made our economy the envy of the world. There are big challenges ahead, but the stimulus has made a difference.

Our economic management during this global recession is the bedrock upon which our political, economic and national success will be built in the future.

When you read the chapter before us today on economic management, you can read in every syllable the engagement of this Party and its people with the great economic debates of our times.

Those of you who were here when I introduced the economy chapter at our last National Conference two years ago will remember the work we did back then to rewrite and revitalise this chapter.

That new chapter was the solid foundation on which we built our program for the last election.

This chapter today is also about foundations - about the foundations on which we build recovery for the Australian economy. For a stronger, more sustainable and more productive economy, climbing out of the global recession.

When I read this chapter, I read in it the Labor Party I know. Committed to equity. Dedicated to jobs and economic opportunity. Open to the world. And active in the face of difficult economic times.

I also read the values that underpin the things we have achieved in Government in a short space of time.

Policies of which I am intensely proud as Treasurer.

I am especially proud that, in the most difficult economic and budgetary times in three-quarters of a century, this Government was able to increase the age pension - to provide $32 a week extra to some of the poorest members of our community, our single aged pensioners. And we did it in a responsible way - putting in place the structural savings to pay for it.

I am proud of the justice we have delivered to low and middle income earners in the tax system: this year, a person earning $50,000 will be paying nearly 15 percent less income tax than they paid in 2007-08, and for someone on $20,000 it will be 44 percent less.

And I am also proud to be a member of a Government that is investing more than $6 billion in social housing - something our predecessors couldn't do when it was raining gold bars.

I also know that we can't rest on these achievements. It is very clear from this chapter that we all know how the world has changed and how it will change in future. And we know that we will have to run harder to be ahead of the ever-quickening pace of change in the global economy.

I know it may have been welcome to many here today to be a Keynesian when the times demanded increased government spending. But we must also be Keynesians when it comes to the tough medicine of restoring the budget to surplus when the good times eventually return. So there will be tough decisions ahead.

Just as we rightly express our anger at lax regulation around the world that led to this terrible global recession, we must not fall for the easy but wrong solution of simply imposing sheaves of new regulation on our businesses and our citizens. What we need is smart and effective regulation.

So delegates, we have done a lot in a short period of time. Our stimulus policies have worked.

And of course, what the opponents of stimulus do not understand is that to withdraw stimulus now would be to pull the rug out from under the recovery.

It is also a time to re-dedicate ourselves to the policies that will shape the economy of the future.

Those policies will not be ones which seek to reinstate the comfortable assumptions of the past. They will be about investment to grow our national capacities, openness to competition at home and abroad that will keep us sharper, and turning challenges like climate change into opportunities to lead in the new economy being born.

They will also be about creative responses to challenges like tax reform - responses that provide incentive and opportunity for all, not just the few.

Delegates, this is what the chapter before us is about. I expect debate about the content, because through that debate we refine and improve our thinking.

But I also ask something else: that we remember and take strength from how our Party and this movement have served the Australian people for more than a century.

We stand for a modern, competitive economy that does more to reward the talents and toil of those Australians who are building our recovery.

We stand with millions and millions of decent Australians who have pulled together so magnificently to withstand the worst the world economy can throw at us.

And we stand ready to make the case for a nation building recovery, and to build a new generation of prosperity for more Australians.

The chapter I am proud to introduce today is the platform on which we stand, and I ask you, delegates, to give it your full support.

Thank you.