By Tanya Plibersek

28 January 2021




At the end of World War II, Australia was an exhausted country. Our military had pushed back the threat in the Pacific, but at great human cost. Many had sacrificed everything to protect Australia.


Ben Chifley – the Prime Minister at the time – believed that Australians had earned a better deal through their sacrifice. Having won the war, it was now equally important to ‘win the peace … for the greater happiness and prosperity of all men, women and children’.


Chifley was an optimist. He believed Australia’s best days lay ahead of it. His promise was full employment and more home ownership – and he delivered. Unemployment dropped to two per cent, and home ownership rose by 10 percent over the next seven years. Australia won the peace.


As Australians watched the coronavirus spread last year, overwhelming hospital systems around the world, our immediate focus was on survival. We were willing to make serious sacrifices to keep our country safe – and keep our fellow citizens healthy. 


We’re not out of the woods yet. Recent outbreaks remind us this virus is relentless. But we owe it to everyone who made sacrifices to start thinking about the kind of country we want to rebuild when this crisis is finally behind us.


2020 showed us it’s possible to achieve amazing things in difficult times. This time last year, it would have been impossible to imagine schools shifting overnight to online learning, or banks offering mortgage holidays, or hotels housing rough sleepers. It would have been impossible to imagine wage subsidies, free childcare and doubling Newstart. It certainly would have been impossible to imagine Australians staying home from the beach and the pub.


In just weeks we achieved all of this and more. It was a year of community spirit, selflessness and discipline – Australian optimism at its best. That should inspire us.


Just as Ben Chifley promised full employment and a family home, today’s leaders should aim higher as we rebuild after the pandemic: full employment, decent wages, job security, dignity in retirement, a strong safety net; a better quality of life for all Australians.


We can expand cheaper, cleaner renewable energy to bring down power bills, boost Australian manufacturing jobs, and reduce pollution. We could employ more Australians to care for the elderly in their homes. Instead the Prime Minister is falling back on his old habits.


The Liberals’ economic plan after the pandemic is exactly the same as the plan before the pandemic: lower wages, less job security, less to live on in retirement.


That’s not winning the peace – that’s surrender.


Australians who kept our supermarket shelves stacked, who hauled our food in their trucks, who kept our public places clean, who taught our kids online, who risked their health as nurses: Scott Morrison called these essential workers heroes in 2020. His plan for them in 2021 is a pay cut and a broken promise of a more comfortable retirement.


In the last week of parliament, the Liberals introduced legislation allowing new workplace agreements to leave employees worse off. Now the Prime Minister is breaking his commitment to increase retirement incomes through the superannuation guarantee.


Pay cuts aren’t just bad for the people who cop them, they’re terrible economics. Strong wages and secure jobs aren’t the distant end result of economic growth, they’re the precondition for it. When people have a bit of extra cash in their pockets, they’ll buy a coffee on the way to work, or treat the family to pizza on a Friday night. When people are confident, they spend and create jobs for other Australians.


After sacrificing so much during the pandemic, Australians deserve better. They deserve real leadership, not false promises. They deserve a leader who’s willing to take responsibility, not look around for someone to blame.


They deserve a government with a genuine commitment to full employment – where a secure job is within everyone’s reach. They deserve a government that recognises that decent pay and job security create the consumer confidence that keeps more Australians in work.


When people think of Labor, they should immediately think of secure jobs, decent pay, a comfortable retirement, and a strong safety net.


Back in the 1990s, John Howard talked about wanting Australians to feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’. There’s something in that. But as we enter a new decade, we should aim a bit higher: we should aim for ‘relaxed and confident’.


Australians should have the confidence to spend and invest, knowing they’ll have a job next week and next year. They should be confident that if they work hard and do the right thing, they can afford to live a good life; that their kids will have an easier path than they did.


We should be confident that our bush, farms and reef will be there for future generations. We should be confident that we can withstand the next shock and, if we fall on hard times, that we’ll receive the help we need to get back on our feet.


We had to rely on the states and territories to wage the war against coronavirus. To win the peace, we need national leadership. Just as it did after World War II, it falls to Labor, as the party of the future, to provide this vision of better, stronger, fairer Australia.