The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

2 December 2011

NO.037

Address to the Australian Labor Party national conference
Moving the Australian Labor Party economic platform

A People-Powered Economy

Sydney

2 December 2011

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

Delegates, I move the economics chapter of our platform. 

Good economic policy is the foundation upon which all the other good things we do as a movement are built.  It's the key to raising living standards and sustained job growth.  And the key to all this is productivity – because productivity gains are what allow us to grow the economy and reward the decent, hard-working people who make our country strong.

Here is the starkest difference between us and our opposition.  Delegates, not for us the extreme ideology of our opponents that says productivity can only be delivered by slashing pay and conditions.  The best way to build productivity and the right kind of economic growth is by building people up, not tearing them down.

Delegates, today our politics are being infected by the dangerous idea that economic understanding doesn't really matter.  This is the crazy Tea Party politics of the US that's been imported by Tony Abbott, poisoning the debate and putting the economy at risk.

He's currently proposing to introduce tax cuts without the carbon tax, to end the mining tax without ending the spending associated with it, and to make $70 billion worth of spending cuts without telling us how.  It would be comic if there weren't such serious consequences for working people and pensioners – the people who would be hardest hit by the voodoo economics of a Liberal Government.

Delegates, I stand here proud of what our movement has done to secure jobs and a decent future for working people and pensioners.  Proud we have put in place:

  • an historic boost to the age pension
  • three rounds of tax cuts for the lowest-paid
  • a tripling of the tax-free threshold
  • an Education Tax Refund
  • an increase in the Child Care Rebate
  • and Australia's first ever paid parental leave scheme

But most of all, I'm proud of the 750,000 jobs created at a rate of over 500 a day, on average, every single day of the last four years.  Especially when you consider that the rest of the world has lost more than 25 million jobs over the same period – tens of thousands of jobs per day.

In a moment of supreme economic crisis, we proved our credentials by avoiding recession. It's one of our Party's greatest achievements and we are proud of it.  If you doubt the scale of that achievement, look around the world at the political and social chaos caused by bad economic policy.  Protesters occupying Wall Street, riots on the high streets of England and boulevards of continental Europe.

Delegates, consider our economy compared to economies overseas:

  • our net debt is a tiny fraction of major advanced economies
  • we're in surplus before others even halve their deficits
  • our economy is around 6 percent bigger than before the crisis struck, while many advanced economies haven't recovered their pre-crisis levels of output.

But delegates, the storm clouds are gathering again on the global economic horizon.  We must acknowledge there is plenty to worry about.  But almost alone in the developed world we are now in a position to plan for the future.  We walk tall in the world.  As this platform sets out, that future is going to be based on good economic management and forward-thinking investment.

We know you can't build a prosperous and decent society if all the economic gains accrue to a minority.  We need an economy in which everyone can look forward to better days ahead.  This is an article of faith to us in the Labor Party.

Consider the contrast with the US.  Its economy grew enormously between 1980 and 2008, but the vast majority of the gains went to a tiny proportion of their population.  And the rise in social inequality has divided and embittered its political system to the extent that necessary economic reforms have become impossible to negotiate through the Congress.

Delegates, not for us an economy of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.  Instead we believe in a people-powered economy.  By ‘people-powered' we mean an economy that relies on the talents and toil of millions of people and not on the very few at the very top.  Because to prosper in the Asian Century we know that chief among our many strengths is the quality of our workers.

Already our values inform our economic policy through:

  • unprecedented levels of investment in education and skills
  • huge investments in infrastructure like the NBN, ports, roads and railway lines
  • a workplace relations system that is flexible and fair
  • a superannuation system that promises a decent retirement
  • a better way of taxing miners that allows the entire community to benefit from the resources boom
  • and now, a carbon price and a clean energy future.

The hard work of growing our economy despite tremendous global turmoil is not over.  But we've managed to avoid the worst the world can throw at us, and under our leadership we face the future with confidence.  But despite our strong links, we don't have a free pass into local markets in the Asian Century.

Whatever measure of success and prosperity comes our way we will have to compete for and earn.  Sometimes the policies we need to achieve this will be contentious.  The big changes and calls about the future always are.  But ultimately it is a matter of fighting for our hard won reputation as a country on the right side of history, not just the right side of the world.  That means carrying forward hard-won gains into the future, building a people-powered economy in the best traditions of our movement. 

It's my privilege to move that this platform chapter be adopted.