Australians are a positive people. But even the most optimistic among us must be discouraged by the wage stagnation caused by the Morrison-Joyce government.
The cost of living is going up. Australians see it every time we visit a supermarket, fill up at a petrol station or pay the monthly bills. But, at the same time, wages are going backwards in real terms. The meagre pay rises Australians receive are more than wiped out by the increase in the cost of the necessities of life.
The Morrison-Joyce government’s mid-year budget update predicts real wages will go backwards by 0.5 per cent this financial year. This is not good enough.
Australians work hard and they should be able to expect that their wages will keep pace with inflation at the very least.
The government’s rhetoric about the strength of the economy does not match the day-to-day experience of Australians – an experience of rising costs and flat wages.
It would be bad enough if wage stagnation had been somehow forced on Australians by economic factors beyond our control. But low wage growth is Scott Morrison’s policy.
In the lead-up to the previous federal election, Mathias Cormann, the finance minister at the time, declared that low wage growth was “a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture”. He said if employers were required to increase wages, they would be forced to employ fewer Australians.
This is a colossal cop-out from a lazy government that prioritises business profits ahead of wage growth when, with the right leadership, we can have both.
We can lift wages and profits and also create even more jobs if we make our economy more productive. Productivity growth is about squeezing more out of our existing resources. Productivity is at the centre of Labor’s plan for a better future for Australia. We will take practical action to ease the strain on family budgets while also strengthening the economy.
Making childcare more affordable will play a key role. Australians pay some of the highest childcare costs in the world and fees have increased more than 35 per cent under the Liberals and Nationals. And the way the system is designed means many parents lose money if they work more than three days a week.
We need to lift childcare subsidies. We need to give parents, particularly women, more choices – the opportunity to earn more, to pursue their careers and get ahead. Such a reform also will produce a productivity dividend for the entire economy through increased workforce participation.
Investing in TAFE and training also will boost productivity. Australia has a severe skills shortage that is holding back the growth of our businesses, which have been forced to become over-reliant on overseas workers on temporary visas.
At the same time, two million Australians are unemployed or underemployed and there are 85,000 fewer Australians in apprenticeships or traineeships than when the Coalition took office.
Labor’s Future Made in Australia Skills Plan will create 465,000 free TAFE places and 20,000 new university places in areas of skills shortage.
By investing in our greatest resource – our people – we can provide greater opportunity for individuals and remove a key impediment to business growth.
We will also work with businesses and trade unions to improve security of work for Australians. The drift to casualisation in recent years means about four million Australians do not have secure work providing them with stable incomes.
Casual work suits many Australians. But for many others, secure work will make their lives more stable, allowing them to plan ahead, build homes, raise families and generate more economic activity in their own communities.
One of the biggest burdens facing families and businesses is the cost of electricity. We must embrace the use of renewable energy, which the Prime Minister and his colleagues have ridiculed for nearly a decade. Renewable energy is clean and cheap. Under my Powering Australia plan we will boost renewable energy and cut average household bills by $275 a year. This shift also will cut the cost of doing business – another productivity gain.
With the will and the right policies, we can reignite wages growth in this country.
Morrison and his team see wage growth as a problem. In contrast, wage growth should be seen as an opportunity to build a better future for all of us.
Anthony Albanese is the leader of the Australian Labor Party.