Inaugural speech on 10th February 2015
My daughter, Carina, is 10 months old. She has already been expelled for unruly behaviour. If things had gone to plan, she would only be eight months old today, but Carina had other ideas. She would not wait nine months to meet us and came early, spending the first six weeks of her life in the Royal Women's Hospital. Friends have suggested that caring for a screaming, implacable, at times irrational infant is the best possible training for question time. That may be true, but becoming a parent has other advantages. Carina brought home to me the importance of universal government services. Without a world-class health service Carina would not be here today. It is that simple and that stark. Family does that for all of us. It draws our attention to the importance of the community we are part of, protected by and beholden to. The anchor and generational interplay of a family — within which a person might be not only a parent but a sibling, a son or a daughter, or an aunt or an uncle — expand perspectives. Family encourages us to do more than seize the day; it spurs us to build a better tomorrow as well.
My family, many of whom are here with me today, also remind me of the importance of government. My wife has worked in the Victorian public service on multicultural policy, industry policy and the national disability insurance scheme rollout. My sister is a decorated police officer who has often put herself in harm's way. My mum was a teacher — one of those teachers who stayed back to coach the debating team or organise the school play. My dad was a psychiatric nurse, having moved to Australia in his late 20s from Italy and put himself through night school while working multiple day jobs. And my stepfather worked on Indigenous policy in the Prime Minister's department.
Government is important, but it is only part of the bigger picture — the bigger picture of a modern pluralist society like ours. There is the community — families in all of their increasingly varied forms and sizes, which remain the bedrock of our life. There is also the need for a competitive private sector and for a vibrant and diverse not-for-profit sector — all of which begs the question: what is the appropriate role for government? How should we add value, not just today but tomorrow, to the lives of the diverse community that is Victoria?
A key challenge facing this Parliament is the pace and unpredictability of change in the modern world, so it is useful to remember that this is not the first time that Victoria has faced transformational change. In 1851 Victoria commenced a revolutionary decade that transformed its economy and society. In the two years following the discovery of gold Victoria's population increased more than sevenfold. In the 1850s Victoria accounted for over a third of global gold production. The legacy of those heady days is still with us today: this remarkable chamber; the beautiful Victorian era architecture spread across Melbourne and our regional cities; and a rich social and multicultural history, including the western world's oldest continuous Chinatown.
Victoria is entering another transformative period, one that will differ from the gold rush in three important respects: firstly, it will not affect one commodity but will directly affect every single aspect of our economy and society; secondly, it will last many decades, not one; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, unlike in 1851 we have advance notice of the changes ahead.
In framing a vision for our society's future we should consider how we want Victoria to look in 2051, two centuries after the gold rush. This chamber will need to deal with three tectonic forces that will shape Victoria's future no matter who wins the intervening elections. The first irreversible force is that by 2051 there will be billions more middle and high-income consumers around the globe. Forget newspaper headlines about short-term fluctuations in the price of iron ore; over coming decades large swathes of the developing world will experience urbanisation, industrialisation and eventually a transition to a services economy. Billions will escape poverty.
Our response to this must be nuanced. Firstly, we must develop industry specific strategies. Some Victorian industries will be well suited to satisfy the growing demand of large middle-income markets; other industries will have comparative advantages dealing with high-income consumers rather than focusing on ultra-competitive low-margin mass-product markets. The Gippsland dairy industry, selling premium milk, cheese and yoghurt into the best Shanghai supermarkets, has the right approach.
Secondly, we need to broaden our focus beyond Asia. While numerically Asia's rise will be unparalleled, to move up the value chain we need a global approach. We can trade high-quality beef, wine and seafood, tertiary education and funds management services to people anywhere in the globe. To succeed in high value-add markets, we must target traditional markets such as the US, Japan and Europe, as well as developing regions such as East Asia, South America and the Middle East. Government can assist by freely providing exporters with detailed data on foreign markets that individual firms cannot easily access. Government can promote innovation and retrain workers transitioning between sectors and can promote a pro-growth environment by building productive infrastructure and implementing best practice regulation.
A second safe prediction is that by 2051 Australia will be an older society. The federal government predicts that by 2051 the number of workers per retiree will have roughly halved compared to today, placing significantly greater strain on government finances. Over the same period the number of people aged over 85 will more than quadruple. That is better than the alternative, but this will put significant upward pressure on healthcare costs.
I wrote my dissertation on the macro-economic impact of an ageing society. I believe the core conclusion still holds: the best approach is to adopt a range of strategies. This includes gradually increasing the average retirement age where possible by removing barriers for the many older Victorians who would prefer to remain connected with the workforce for longer. Immigration can also play a role, particularly if working-age migrants address specific skills shortages. The Victorian government can reduce ageing pressures by promoting productivity growth. More productive education and training services will boost the capacity of a smaller workforce to support a just welfare state. More productive health services will ensure that retirees receive the care they deserve even as the tax base shrinks. Service delivery will benefit from greater flexibility. Just as Google, Amazon and Facebook now provide services tailored to each individual person, so should our health and education systems.
Finally, there is a third prediction: by 2051 Victoria will have a considerably higher population than today. Victoria is already more populous than 10 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations and 12 of the 27 member nations of the European Union. In addition Victoria's population is growing more rapidly than those of all major advanced economies. Indeed it is growing faster than those of all the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China — the engine rooms of the modern global economy. The Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that by 2061 Victoria will have a population of over 12 million and Melbourne a population of 8.6 million, making it Australia's largest city. Forget about Melbourne's CBD becoming a mini Manhattan; if we were to build a full-size Manhattan immediately adjacent to the current CBD, it would barely accommodate a third of the projected population increase.
Victoria will require additional infrastructure of all types. This will require innovative funding and financing arrangements. Some projects will require government funding and delivery. For these projects careful planning and transparent, rigorous project evaluations must be mandatory. For many projects, governments can most usefully play a planning and coordination role, creating the right environment for long-term investments. Victoria is one of the most attractive places in the world to invest in long-term projects, with its high and growing per capita income, rapid population growth and stability.
While I have made three bold predictions there are also, of course, many unknowns. Will the private sector take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves? What unexpected social pressures will our community experience? Will Carlton win another premiership before 2051? And most importantly for us, how will successive governments of either stripe respond to these three foreseeable trends? When our grandchildren look back in 2051 at what we did, we will have no excuse not to have acted with foresight and vision.
Eastern Victoria Region, which I represent, reflects the best of this great state and encompasses these future challenges and opportunities. It incorporates much of Melbourne's rapidly growing urban fringe, where I experienced the difficulties of providing public services firsthand as a deputy mayor. It includes a significant part of the green wedge, a symbol of Melbourne's liveability, given its proximity to such a large and bustling city. It contains a series of beautiful coastal townships along the Mornington Peninsula that are close to Melbourne yet in danger of dislocation from transport infrastructure and service delivery. It encompasses the Latrobe Valley, a region that employs thousands in the power sector and provides energy for industries and consumers across the nation, and the broader Gippsland region, with its sprawling high value-add agricultural industries. We are already making significant inroads into building Victoria's dynamic future, and eastern Victoria is there at every step.
Before concluding I would like to thank some of the people who have so generously helped me on my journey to this place. First, I thank my high school friends Dave and Stuart, who I was active with in Young Labor over 20 years ago, and Julian and Adrian, who have always encouraged me — albeit from across the aisle. I also thank the federal and state ministers that I have worked for. I will try to emulate the rigour of Jacinta Collins, particularly in relation to education and employment policy, and her commitment to Labor's social justice ideals.
In Bill Shorten's office I worked on flood insurance reform, the national disability insurance scheme and asbestos reform. I hope in the near future we will be negotiating for increased funding from a Shorten-led federal government. It was a privilege to work for Steve Bracks, the exceptional leader of a government that balanced sustainable economic growth with innovative, inclusive service delivery, and Treasurer John Lenders, who led this house. He taught me a great deal about implementing sound economic policy.
I have also benefited greatly from the friendship, advice and mentoring of many people within the party and friends beyond it, including Michael Donovan, Luke Donnellan, Raff Ciccone, Lizzie Blandthorn, Richard Scheelings, James Merlino, John McLindon, Marlene Kairouz, Adem Somyurek, Vicki Setches, Dimity Paul, Helen Lennon and Elena Douglas. I have benefited from the efforts of Labor people from across eastern Victoria, including the 11 lower house candidates and 4 other upper house candidates, who all invested so much in their campaigns, as well as the many hardworking campaign managers, branch members and party supporters.
I acknowledge the significant contribution of the members of Eastern Victoria Region whom Harriet and I follow — Johan Scheffer and Matt Viney. The only downside of being introduced to so many worthwhile community groups by Johan is how often they now remind me of the large shoes that I have to fill.
I thank my family. Sarah's dad, Geoff, has been extremely generous in letting us base our campaign out of his previously orderly house. Mum, Dad, Nadia and John have been an unwavering source of support throughout my life. They have supported my political endeavours even as they have struggled to comprehend Young Labor factions, arcane preselection processes, the Kilsyth primary and, most recently, the Victorian upper house counting odyssey.
Finally, I come to the bedrock of everything in my life — Sarah and Carina. Sarah has the wonderful capacity to view my political dilemmas with the strident outrage of a loving spouse. Despite being unfailingly partisan toward my case, she also manages to offer wise, dispassionate counsel to extricate me from whatever embarrassing situation I have landed in. Sarah and I met during the 2010 state election at the Boronia shops — a location that I contend has to date been underestimated for its romantic potential. Our first experience together was to tie propaganda-covered helium balloons to unsuspecting children. Ironically, I would not dare anyone of any political persuasion to do the same to Carina with Sarah nearby today. I believe that it makes for a more balanced, more principled and more activist politician to know that whatever you achieve through your office will pale in comparison to what you achieve at home, and that no matter what errors you make or humiliations you suffer in public life, you can eventually safely return to your private domain.
Responding to the three long-term trends that I outlined earlier will not be an easy task in an extremely competitive global market. It will not be easy when government balance sheets are stretched. It will not be easy when our society seems to be struggling to agree on a shared vision for our future. But if we have the courage to make decisions that both benefit today's generations and also stand the test of time, we will have vindicated the electors who bestowed on us the privilege of serving in this place.