Labor leader Anthony Albanese has pledged to tackle skills shortages and industrial relations reform if he wins government, as he seeks to reposition the party’s proposed action on climate change as a new jobs “revolution”.
In the first of a series of vision statements aimed at resetting Labor’s policy agenda following the May election, the opposition leader has outlined the party’s jobs and skills agenda in a speech in Perth on Tuesday.
Saying the party is “proudly and resolutely pro-growth”, Albanese has flagged the potential of clean energy jobs for a new manufacturing boom, while also emphasising the need to do more on skills reform.
Labor in government would establish a new national organisation called Jobs and Skills Australia, Albanese said, which would be tasked with driving improved outcomes in the vocational education and training sector and strengthening workplace planning.
The agency would be legislated and based on the model of Infrastructure Australia, with its functions including workforce and skills analysis and reviewing the adequacy of the training and vocational education system.
“It will work with business and unions to harness insights from industry to ensure that training is meeting not just today’s needs but to anticipate how work is changing,” Albanese said.
He says Australians worried about the future of work, need to be reassured that technological change will unlock new opportunities while still providing economic security.
“The unprecedented pace of change and spread of new technologies are leaving many workers unsettled, and others left out of the labour market altogether.”
Albanese said that to restore confidence in the labour market, workers needed to be helped to engage with technology and innovation in “an assured manner”, which would require “the single-minded pursuit of skills”.
This would help address a mismatch between what workers have to offer and what employers need, with Albanese highlighting a recent Australian Industry Group survey that three quarters of businesses cannot find the skilled workers they need.
“In short we have a labour market characterised by the mismatch between what workers have to offer, and what employers need,” Albanese said.
He criticised the government for issuing half a million visas to foreign workers over the past six years.
“Instead, what we should be doing – wherever possible – is training Australians for current and future jobs.”
On the issue of job security and industrial relations reform, Albanese said the current industrial relations system was being “strained” by the emergence of new forms of employment arrangements, pointing to the rise of the gig economy as an example.
“These Australians deserve a greater sense of security,” Albanese said.
“It is time to have a conversation about new forms of worker protections, which can be made as flexible as the gig economy jobs they could cover, as well as benefit more traditional industries – ideas like portable entitlements.”
The new skills pledge comes alongside a push by Albanese to recast Labor’s climate policy as part of a new industrial “revolution”, saying the shift to clean energy will underpin an Australian manufacturing boom that unlocks new jobs and export opportunities.
“The world is decarbonising. With the right planning and vision, Australia can not only continue to be an energy exporting superpower, we can also enjoy a new manufacturing boom. This means jobs,” Albanese said.
“Working towards a low-carbon future provides the opportunity to revitalise the Australian manufacturing sector – opportunities that are all about jobs.”
The speech comes as Labor MPs jostle over how the party should reposition itself on climate policy after the shadow resources minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, called for the opposition to abandon its emissions reduction target in favour of the coalition’s less ambitious plan to reduce emissions by 28% on 2005 levels by 2030.
Labor had proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% in the same period.
In a sign that Albanese wants to maintain the party’s action on climate change as a key point of difference with the coalition, he used Tuesday’s speech to emphasise the benefits of an ambitious emissions reduction policy for jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Labelling climate change “one of the greatest challenges that we face today”, Albanese also says that countries which act to harness cheap renewable energy would also be able to transform into “manufacturing powerhouses”.
“We have the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent, we also have some of the best wind and wave resources and we have some of the best engineers and scientists, breaking the barriers of what is possible with renewable energy,” Albanese said.
“Australia can be the land of cheap and endless energy – energy that could power generations of metal manufacturing and other energy intensive manufacturing industries.”
He points to the potential export opportunities of lithium, rare earths, iron and titanium as the “key ingredients” of the renewables revolution, saying the minerals would be in high demand in a low-carbon future.
“Just as coal and iron ore fuelled the industrial economies of the 20th century, it is these minerals that will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st,” Albanese said, pointing to the growing demand for lithium for electric vehicles, batteries and energy storage.
But the Labor leader also assured “traditional industries” that they would benefit from the shift to renewables, saying the demand for metallurgical coal would continue, fuelled by growth in wind energy.
Labor has been at pains to reconnect with coal communities since its election defeat, amid concern that blue-collar workers abandoned the party in its traditional stronghold seats.
The former leader Bill Shorten has said since the election that he had misread “some of the mood”, particularly in the resources states of Queensland and Western Australia, saying voters saw some of the party’s policies as “being green-left, not for the worker, not for working people.”
“It pains me to realise at the last election our presentation meant that some people felt we weren’t putting jobs first and foremost in everything we did,” Shorten said.
Labor’s shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has said there was a perception that Labor was “sending mixed messages on the coal industry” during the campaign, while Fitzgibbon has said it was a “huge error” for Labor not to talk about coal because of a fear that it would cost city seats.
Albanese said that with more than 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal required to produce one wind turbine, growth in global wind generation over the next decade could see Australia exporting 15.5 million tonnes of coking coal to build turbines.
“This is the equivalent of three years output from the Moranbah North coking coal mine in Queensland,” Albanese said.
“Simply put, the road to a low-carbon future can be paved with hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, as well as supporting traditional jobs, including coalmining. Labor wants to lead that clean energy revolution.”
The first of Albanese’s headland speeches comes as the party braces for the release of a review of the election that is being spearheaded by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson to establish what went wrong in its campaign, with climate policy and the party’s position on the Adani coalmine expected to be scrutinised.
Albanese has said the review will be a “line in the sand” for the party as it seeks to reassess all of its policies ahead of the next election, due in 2022.
Along with the focus on green jobs, Albanese also called for the government to introduce an upgraded investment guarantee, saying it should form part of a “measured” economic stimulus package.
“A bring-forward of infrastructure investment combined with increased business investment would create jobs in the short term as well as lift productivity.”