Parliamentary speeches

A secure future for all

February 15, 2021

This is an important motion moved by my friend the member for Dunkley, and it raises some important questions about where we're going as an economy and, more profoundly, how we are doing as a society, and how we might do better. I was pleased to be in the chamber for the remarks of the member for North Sydney. He talked about his disappointment. Well, what disappoints me about the member for North Sydney and, indeed, about his government is their view that they are not only entitled to their world view, but to their own facts.

This motion clearly sets out some facts that should be concerning to all Australians. This government is a government that seems resistant to truth telling in every aspect. We have seen that this morning. We have seen that in its response not only to the great challenge of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, but also to responding to the generous offer that First Nations people have given us to walk with them on their terms, not on the terms of this government. So I am disappointed that the member for North Sydney and the government, of which he is a part, can't accept these facts or some of the challenging statistics that the motion before us sets out.

It does set out the great achievements of our economic growth, and that's something that we should celebrate; but we can't look at that in isolation from some of its consequences, in particular the increase in inequality. This is something that has been shown to all of us as local members. It's so readily apparent and hard to ignore, through the experience of COVID and the pandemic response, where the gaps between those who have and those who have not have been so cruelly exposed.

This motion really asks us to consider two things: inequality and the consequences of growth. I would have thought that was a matter that members from all side of politics would be conscious of. It is the case that Australia is becoming a more unequal society. For me, that's a moral challenge. For those of us on the Labor side, it is a moral challenge. But we know now that there is an emerging economic consensus that this is actually a barrier to growth. It is something we need to respond to if we're going to ensure our economic recovery is all that it could and should be.

We also have to reflect on the experience, more broadly, of the pandemic, what it has revealed, the gaps in our safety net that have been cruelly exposed, and also for us to think about what really matters to us as communities and as a nation. We know the things that we decide to measure really matter. They drive the decisions we make in this place; they drive the work of the public service; they drive our political debate. I share the member for Dunkley's conviction—also so eloquently expressed recently by the member for Dobell—based on her experience as a representative, and in her former life, that we need, as a government, to take a broader perspective on these matters. We need to ask, as the English commentator Will Huttner said, 'How good can we be' not to cheerily talk about 'how good is', as the present Prime Minister is so fond of doing, and to seek to mark our progress towards this goal of a good society, of a country every bit as good as the Australian people, all of them.

This isn't a novel concept that's being advanced today. The shadow Treasurer, when he talked about the need to measure things more broadly, referred back to Robert Kennedy's 1968 remarks that GDP 'measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.' In this place all of us but particularly those who occupy the government benches for now have the opportunity and also the obligation to do whatever we can to make life worthwhile for all Australians. We have the tools that will help us do this internationally, with the sustainable development goals and the work of the OECD, which is something that members opposite should have regard to. Yet the Treasurer seems to think this is something that's worthy of mockery, often in offensive terms. This is unworthy. He should have look around the community that he represents and recognise that we are less equal in Australia right now than we were before the pandemic and that this is getting worse.