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Politics, projects and people -- panel discussion
MF: I actually had a bite to eat yesterday with
Simon Crean and Bill Kelty, and we talked a little
about these issues. We were very fortunate as relatively
young men at the time. We had a group of what were
effectively men who were children of the Depression,
who'd come back from World War II and never got
the chance of education, but they had been through
the hard times and good times. When you think back
to 1983, we had an economy that was at a standstill
-- double-digit unemployment, double-digit in ation.
There was realisation in the broader society and the
union movement that something had to change. We'd
come out of a period of no economic reform.
We all know that the Fraser years were
disappointing from an economic perspective. We
actually decided that something different had to occur,
and the union movement also realised that you can
actually have a bigger impact on improving ordinary
people's living standards by effectively getting reform
through government. The rst down payment on that
was Medicare, the universal healthcare system. That
was exceptionally important in terms of lower-paid
people, and we built on that.
We also knew that, in return for those reforms, we
had to be part of driving change in Australia, and that
nothing comes without also making a contribution.
I chaired the ACTU social reform committee, and I
served on the root and branch reform of the whole
social security system -- the rst time since World
War II. We actually attacked middle-class welfare --
the pension was not means tested. We wouldn't think
about that today. We decided to make changes to
unemployment bene ts and bring in the activity test.
In the end, there was a reciprocal obligation on all of
us in the community.
I think the Australian community is almost at a
point now where it knows that something has to give.
They can see, from the Budget perspective, that the
days of huge revenue out of commodities and gas,
have disappeared. Western Australia and Queensland
are prime examples.
They want to know, for example, with an ageing
society, how we will pay for our health and education
in the future. They want a real tax debate in the
lead-up to the next election, and this is emerging to
a large extent at the moment out of Premiers Baird
and Weatherill. They come from different political
persuasions, but they are prepared to put their feet
in the water and say, 'Let's have a debate about the
GST'. Let's hope this continues in the lead-up to the
next election. If you go back to New South Wales,
I don't think Baird won just because of leadership,
but also because he had a plan. The privatisation of
electricity was a necessary reform, and consumers
will bene t. It's tough in terms of the change to the
electricity system in the short term, but other states
have had to do it.
Baird also went out and explained to the
electorate what he was going to do with the proceeds
of privatisation: invest in infrastructure and jobs, and
improve productivity. The M7 is a prime example,
where 55 sets of traf c lights disappeared. Since
we've nished it, why haven't we continued it up
to the Paci c Highway through Hornsby? Think of
the productivity gains for New South Wales and the
whole of the east coast if there had been leadership
at a Commonwealth and state level -- we would have
nished that over the last decade.
Such a plan will get community support. Western
Sydney is gridlocked. They want leadership on tax
and leadership on infrastructure; they can see the
bene ts for their everyday lives.
RMG: The New South Wales electricity debate
actually highlights the fact that you can make reform,
despite the dif cult situation we're in. If you go back
to Iemma-Costa's attempt at privatisation, they had no
mandate whatsoever. In fact, before that election --
I think it was 2008 -- Morris Iemma had said that he
wouldn't privatise electricity, so he didn't have the
support of the electorate. He de nitely didn't have the
support of the union movement. Of course, they then
tried to pull it on, but he didn't have a parliamentary
majority; because Barry O'Farrell voted against them,
they had none out of the three things I mentioned earlier
that you need for reform. It was sort of crazy/brave.
Why was Baird able to achieve it? As Martin said,
he had a plan; he was honest with the electorate
about what he was going to do, and they trusted
him. He put it to the vote, and he won it because
he had a good plan. You can achieve reform, but it
does require bravery, and it does require leadership.
Andrew Constance said to me some time ago, 'Mike
and I promised each other before the 2011 election
that if we got elected, we wouldn't be there in
10 years' time wishing we had done something.
We're either going to do it, or we're going to go down
trying'. Reform requires bravery, leadership, honesty
with the people and a plan.
TS: Taking Max's point, this is the rst time in
Sydney that we've had an integrated long-term
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