A Hawke-era jobs summit would be a silver bullet for our workforce, Labor says. But would it work?

Labor-skills-gap jobs summit

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese in the House of Representatives. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

It’s 1983 and newly minted PM Bob Hawke has set the stage for reforms that would see 30 years of economic growth in Australia.

Within a month of the Labor leader’s tenure, Hawke had brought together government, unions and businesses for the National Economic Summit.

Hawke’s goals were simple: get the economy out of its slump of stagnation and bring wages under control.

“Virtually all of the success, the economic success of 1983 stemmed from the summit,” Hawke later told the ABC.

“There hasn’t been anything like it since.”

Until now? Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has promised an Australian jobs summit as a top priority should he win this year’s federal election.

Why do we need a jobs summit?

When the government’s Intergenerational Report was published last July, it didn’t mince words.

It said Australians will make on average $32,000 less — and the federal deficit will double — if the country does not reverse a decade of slumping productivity growth.

Albanese says a “full employment white paper” would be the first step in paving the way for a new era of reform — based on a crackdown on insecure work.

The Labor leader also wants to reduce underemployment and casualisation, while boosting wages growth and narrowing the gender pay gap.

Also on the agenda is how Disability Support Pension recipients can get into the workforce, as well as the burgeoning job opportunities in renewables.

What would it look like?

Albanese says he’ll bring together experts from across government, industry and the union movement in formulating a plan to tackle unemployment.

Former CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia Peter Strong says he expects training, skills development and immigration will be discussed too.

But Strong, who now works in small business and community advocacy, says the summit would be useless unless all parties first agreed to revamp workplace relations.

“If they have the summit it’ll be a talk session — nothing else — unless they agree beforehand to change the workplace relations system and make it less complicated,” Strong says.

“Albanese needs to show leadership in saying to all involved to leave the ideology behind — otherwise we’re not talking about reality, real change.”

What’s different this time around?

Unemployment was at 4.6% as of November, an 0.6% uptick from the previous months as employers added 366,100 jobs, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says.

Compare that to the Hawke era — unemployment peaked at 10% in 1982-83, before declining in the remainder of the decade (it had climbed back up to 10.7% by 1992).

The makeup of our 2022 workforce is different too — Albanese cited the rapid expansion of the care economy, including aged care, childcare and disability care when announcing his plans for the white paper.

“Last time it was big business and the unions coming together — plus, the unions were really keen to see change,” Strong adds.

“This time around small business has become a bigger focus too, it’s such an integral part of so many industries now.”

Plus, the climate crisis has intensified since the Hawke era, with the last seven years being the hottest in recorded history according to the EU’s satellite.

Albanese actually criticised the Intergenerational Report for “barely” mentioning the looming climate crisis, which he says offers “one of the most promising paths we have out of the quagmire”.


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3 months ago

From past experience (renewables and in particular NBN which we all went into full of naïve hope) it will just turn into an ideas robbing talk fest and ultimately only benefit the labour elite, funnily enough certain big business who labour publicly disavow and maybe, just maybe union members. The man in the street will just be robbed of further opportunities under the guise of “jobs for our workforce” – or as Conroy put it at the time “has to be some collateral damage”.

Would not surprise me if it is seen as an opportunity to sneak through legislation to benefit a few.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rossyduck
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