State of the Nation: Federal Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese – we need to look after our most vulnerable people and essential workers

There’s a whole range of consequences behind poverty. We need to value our greatest asset, which is our people, and how we maximise them, Federal Leader of the Opposition the Hon. Anthony Albanese told CEDA’s State of the Nation Forum.

“We shouldn’t always need an economic indicator to justify social action but in this case all the economic indicators show that if you actually invest you will get a positive economic return not just a social return,” he said.

“How we deal with issues like affordable housing for essential workers is one of the missing elements that isn't there in the government's so-called home builder package.

“That will do nothing for the most vulnerable people in the community because there's nothing there for social housing, there's nothing there for affordable housing for essential workers.

“That would have been very easy to achieve.

“It seems to me that the other opportunity that's there from investment in social housing is that you can actually have built in a skills package. You can do apprenticeships.

“You can't do any of that with the package that has been announced by the Government which will essentially mean that people who are going to rebuild anyway, will be able to do that with some subsidy.

“I think this period has been a chance for us to reset perhaps many of the things that people take for granted.

Cleaners are often taken for granted – they have kept the show going. It's cleaners, supermarket workers, public transport workers, as well as nurses and many of the professions – teachers, early childhood educators, that have kept the economy going.

“Women in terms of in the workforce, have particularly suffered. There's some talk about the pink recession. The impact I believe of the childcare changes that have been announced by the Government will be negative. It's a reverse Titanic. It's women and children off JobKeeper first, and off support.

“We're a wealthy enough country in my view, to do much better.”

Mr Albanese said that Australia had been complacent ahead of the crisis, putting Australia in a weaker position going into the crisis.

“All of the economic indicators were either bad, or certainly not good, so we had a number of interest rate decreases last year and reductions in the economic growth forecasts as well,” he said.

“The Reserve Bank was really belling the cat saying that there was a problem with growth in the economy. We had low consumer demand, we had the worst retail trade figures for decades, we had productivity going backwards two quarters in a row, and we had business investment in decline.

“The Government had been complacent essentially since the May election, from my perspective there was a bit of a victory lap going rather than there being a plan, a strategy.

“We were calling for things like infrastructure…we were calling for increased policy that would drive business investment, we were calling for an energy policy which would drive that certainty that was required and then of course we got hit by the drought that had been prolonged and then the bushfires came, and then the pandemic.

“So I think we start from a position that is much weaker than if we had taken some action last year.”

Mr Albanese said Australia should be looking at a new reform agenda.

“We haven't seen any particularly big reforms,” he said.

“The idea that the reform agenda is done, if you don't actually deal with an ongoing reform agenda, then the world will just move past us and there's enormous opportunities in the Asian century, where we're located in the fastest growing region of the world in human history.”

One area Mr Albanese discussed was clean energy, where he said that Australia should be taking advantage of our natural assets and build on them, to create jobs and economic activity here.

“There is a problem with productivity. When someone says that, what they hear is ‘you want me to work harder’ and when they hear innovation they hear ‘my job’s disappearing’,” he said. 

“The truth is that innovation and productivity is what has liberated our quality of life. Now there are downsides in that, but overall the quality of life of Australians is much better than it was some time ago.

“People are understandably fearful of change, but it’s got to be explained how people will benefit.

“That's a matter of leadership as well from the top, but engagement as well.”