It's a great pleasure to be here tonight to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Labour Union Cooperative Retirement Fund.
Let me kick off by acknowledging some of our movement's leading lights: the Hon Bob Hawke, AC; ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence; Bill Kelty; my colleague Nick Sherry; Charlie Donnelly of the NUW; John Carlile, Chair of LUCRF Super; and LUCRF Chief Executive Officer, Greg Sword.
A birthday is always a good time for reflection and a 30th birthday probably more so than most.
If we look back over the past 30 years, it's clear just how much has changed in Australia. Australia has gone through a transformation that we would never have envisaged in 1978, when we were an inward-looking economy in a period of conservative government. Now we are more modern, more competitive and more dynamic better-placed to harness the opportunities of a constantly changing world.
Why does this matter to the working people we represent? Because our historic mission is to create prosperity so we can spread opportunity. It's what has driven us the last 30 years, why we exist today, and what will drive us for the next 30 years and beyond.
This means getting the economic fundamentals right. It means building a stronger economy, so we can reward the hard work of those we all represent.
Tonight is a good night for reflecting on what an enormous contribution the labour movement has made to this mission. But I also want to talk about some of the new challenges we collectively face, and the important role the labour movement can play once again. Because today we confront the most difficult global economic conditions in a quarter century.
The greatest global oil price shock in more than 30 years has driven the oil price to generational highs, flowing through to attack family budgets. Combined with rising global food prices, this has seen inflation surge around the globe, adding substantially to the challenge our Government inherited.
At the same time, the fall out from the US sub-prime crisis is ricocheting around global markets, pushing up borrowing costs here and abroad. These developments, that are buffeting families and the broader Australian economy, come at a time when inflation is already at a 16-year high.
We are among the best-placed nations to deal with these difficulties, but we're not immune from them.
I believe the test of a government, and the test of a movement, isn't what it does when things are easy. The real test is what we do when the challenges are difficult when times are tough, and the future uncertain.
On this test, our movement stacks up very well. We can all be proud of the achievements of Labor governments. The striking feature of these reforms is that they were all difficult, and could have been derailed by populist sentiment. They never put the big challenges into the too hard basket.
Post war immigration transformed Australia initiated by Curtin and Chifley and supported by the ACTU despite fears of post war unemployment.
The Accord traded a slowdown in the rate of growth in nominal wages in return for social wage support critical in helping to bury inflation.
Bill Kelty and the ACTU, and Hawke and Keating, supported the introduction of award superannuation from 1986, and broader super guarantee from 1992. There is now over $1 trillion in wealth for Australian employees ten times the amount in super 20 years ago.
Working with Paul, and guys like Peter Cook and Laurie Brereton, the ACTU supported enterprise bargaining from 1993.
Collectively these reforms can never be downplayed. They helped stabilise inflation and allowed the ambitious structural reforms that have given Australia years of sustained growth and employment.
And the reforms have not just benefited Australians in their working lives but also beyond, well into retirement.
The introduction through the national wage case in 1986 of a 3 per cent employer superannuation contribution began a transformation of Australia's retirement income system. The result of this is that the average Australian employee now has access to a pool of retirement savings and need not rely on the pension alone.
Our retirement income system is the envy of the world, and has through its introduction made Australia one of the world's managed funds leaders.
Our superannuation system was a far sighted reform. We should never forget that it was opportunistically opposed by our political opponents. Today we are at the threshold of similarly far sighted reforms and the same opportunistic opposition.
So now, more than ever, we need to work together to meet the big economic challenges. And nowhere is this more important than in climate change.
Make no mistake, this is the most significant economic challenge of our times. Tackling climate change will not be painless. We will need to transform our economy from the high-emissions economy of the past to the low-emissions economy of the future.
While our opponents have argued for much of the year that we have moved too slowly on issues of importance, now they say we are proceeding too fast. We make no apologies for taking urgent, measured action on climate change.
There's an important parallel here, with super: Super was a difficult reform, about starting early and saving for the future. Today, with climate change, starting early avoids costs later. Climate change is today's generational equivalent of super reform. The sooner we act responsibly on climate change the stronger our economy will be for the future.
As Professor Garnaut noted in his draft report last week, not acting at all would cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars. But delaying the introduction of the emissions trading scheme, as proposed by the federal Opposition, would also have billions of dollars worth of adverse consequences for Australia.
We are putting in a lot of hard yards to get the ETS right. And we are determined to bring you and your members with us, as we embark on the most significant economic reform of our generation.
Friends, it's a real honour to help you celebrate tonight.
Much has changed in the past 30 years but the constructive role of the labour movement has remained a constant source of reform and inspiration. We have a very big agenda in front of us and we again need the help of the labour movement in driving forward important reforms.
This is an ambitious government and sweeping reforms are in the pipeline. Not just in climate change. In the Education Revolution the engine room of prosperity and opportunity. In infrastructure the biggest nation building fund in our history. In COAG to modernise the federation, and create a seamless national economy. And in the Tax Review to modernise the tax system, better reward hard work, and make us more internationally competitive.
Our hope is we can exceed the proud record of the 1980s and 90s in working with the labour movement to achieve effective and long-lasting reform. Just as the nation needed the women and men of the labour movement then, so must we work together now. Because we are change-makers, and nation builders, not shirkers. And the future beckons us.
Thanks and enjoy your night.