FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY WE CAN’T BE CONFIDENT THAT THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE BETTER OFF THAN WE ARE
April 21, 2016
The unofficial election campaign has begun, and no matter what Malcolm Turnbull tells you, it isn't about the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
That's just a Prime Ministerial ploy -- an excuse to dash to the polls before he is completely found out. It's a fig leaf to cover up the complete absence of economic vision.
I know it, you know it, and Malcolm knows it too.
So, what is this election really about? I think it's about inequality. Here's why.
It's the easiest thing in the world for a politician to talk up their country. Mr Turnbull can't seem to go a single day without telling us all how exciting it is to be an Australian. And for some, it certainly is an exciting time. After all, we are entering our 25th year of uninterrupted economic growth. In this period, our GDP has doubled, incomes have rocketed for some people, and we now have one of the highest levels of wealth in the world.
But it isn't all good news in the lucky country.
There are two and a half million Australians -- including children -- living their days in deep trenches of poverty. There are schools where children have the intellect and ambition but lack the resources to help them succeed.
The gap between the very rich and the rest is getting bigger and bigger, as wages for the middle and working classes stay flat. Ordinary people are working harder and smarter than ever before, but this isn't reflected in their pay packets.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who can't get a job and one million more who need more work than they currently have. Others are in insecure work, not knowing how many hours they'll get each week, or how much pay they'll take home.
Understandably, many people are anxious about what the future holds.
Perhaps, for the first time in our history, we can't be confident that the next generation of Australians will be better off than we are.
I believe that inequality sits at the centre of this malaise. It's now the highest it's been in 75 years, and it's getting worse. Inequality slows economic growth, reduces living standards, stifles opportunity and weakens communities. It's contrary to that most Australian of ideals -- the fair go. It is popular on the conservative side of politics to accept that a certain level of inequality is normal, even desirable.
I think they are wrong.
The old myth that inequality is the price you pay for economic growth has been shattered.
For economic growth to be both strong and sustainable, it must also be inclusive. Our economy needs to include more people and benefit more people.
Labor has put forward a new agenda for tackling inequality -- Growing Together. It shows how actively investing in a person's capabilities across their whole life will help them reach their full potential. This is good for them, their families and the economy.
If there is a 'silver bullet' for more inclusive growth and lower inequality, it is education. And if there is one issue that best shows the difference between the two major political parties at this election, it is also education. You can't have a plan for the economy without a plan for education -- from early childhood, through to school, university and VET.
Our future growth has to come from high-skill industries with high-wage jobs. We urgently need to equip young Australians with these skills, but our education system currently falls far short of what is required.
Australia is currently ranked 17th in the world when it comes to student performance in mathematics. Can you imagine the national outcry if we finished 17th on the Olympic medal tally?
Global institutions have said loudly and clearly that education is the best weapon against inequality. That's why Labor's 'Your Child Our Future' plan -- which will fully implement the Gonski school funding reforms -- is at the heart of our agenda for government.
Inequality is not inevitable. It's a choice that governments make.
Come July 2nd, Australians will also have a choice.
There is a choice between a plan to tackle inequality, or a path to more division and exclusion. A choice between the high road to inclusive growth and prosperity, or the low road to austerity and mediocrity.
Over the next few months there will be plenty more ploys by Mr Turnbull to pull focus from the important issues. But in the final analysis, the choice is clear.
An Australia with lower growth, fewer jobs and higher inequality; or an Australia where more people are contributing to our growth, and more people are sharing in our success.
This piece was published on The Huffington Post on Thursday, 21 April 2016.