In an address to the National Press Club on Tuesday, the opposition leader will invoke Ben Chifley’s call for full employment in a modern context to frame Labor policy around the need to address inequality.
“When Ben Chifley and his government spoke about ‘full employment’ as their great objective, their priority was finding work for the half-million Australians who had come from war,” Shorten says.
“Their fear was of another Great Depression, a second wave of mass unemployment. Seven decades beyond Chifley, the social harm of high unemployment remains real.
“And the benefits of empowering more people with the dignity of work will always be a Labor principle … For modern Labor, full employment means every Australian working to their full capacity.”
Shorten’s speech comes a day before Labor’s Jenny Macklin is due to release a report based on two years of her consultations around inequality, poverty, disadvantage and unemployment. It also frames Labor’s approach in the lead up to the election.
Shorten says one of Macklin’s recommendations is for Labor to make a commitment to full employment at a time when unemployment and underemployment is on the rise. He says 1 million Australians are under-employed.
“I recognise the importance of flexible, adaptive and productive workplaces – I worked with employees and management to achieve them for nearly 20 years,” he says.
“But I will never accept an economy where a vast underclass of Australians are trapped working for six dollars an hour.”
He says double digit unemployment remains a “devastating reality” for young Australians in many regions, including Wyong, Thomastown and Maryborough.
“Visiting these towns and suburbs should remind us that the march of new technology is not merely something to applaud,” he says.
“It must also be a call to arms – a warning that Australians will need new skills and better training to win the jobs of the future.”
Shorten says as a result of the “rough edges of economic change”, industries, communities and families are feeling the strains of flat wages, rising living costs and “harsh government cuts”.
Shorten says governments need to make smart investments in people’a skills to improve productivity and empower participation.
“More and more Australians – from all walks of life and in every field – lack security at work,” he said.
“More and more of us worry about what our kids will do for a living. In moments such as these, it’s not enough to waffle about excitement and agility.”
He says Turnbull’s fixation on an early election rather than policy was a sign of “selling out his principles” and characterised him as a “massive disappointment”, six months into the job.
“When Mr Turnbull became prime minister, I knew my task would be harder,” Shorten said.
“But I also hoped – like many Australians – he might elevate the politics of the day, he might take our national debate to a higher place.
“Instead, we have watched this prime minister shrink into the job, selling out his principles in exchange for power. The prime minister’s betrayals on climate change, marriage equality, the republic and Safe Schools diminish him – and they diminish us all.”
He characterised the election as a choice between the leadership of a “paid advocate of the Liberal party, co-joined with an erratic leader of the National party and the leadership and ideas of a united Labor team of believers in jobs, education, health, a fair tax system and real action on climate change.”