Australian PM pledges reform in speech marking 100 days in power

Since winning elections in May, Mr Albanese's government has focused on delivering on its campaign promises. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised a shift to an era of "reform and renewal" for his government once the period of Covid-19 recovery is over, in a speech marking 100 days since he took the top job.

Mr Albanese said he saw Australia's journey through the Covid-19 pandemic in three stages: beginning with response, then the current phase of recovery and finally leading to reform.

"Whether it's wages or skills, national security or energy, we will act with urgency when urgency is required," he said at the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday (Aug 29).

"But we will never take our eyes off the big prize, the future, the chance to secure a new generation of prosperity and fairness for all Australians," he added.

Jobs and skill summit

Since winning elections in May, Mr Albanese's government has focused on delivering on its campaign promises, including greater action on climate change, boosting Australia's diplomatic footprint and growing workers' wages.

“The biggest single outcome I am hoping for is the beginning of a culture of cooperation,”  he said.

Among the opportunities for future reform that Mr Albanese mentioned were increased health and education funding, greater use of renewables and improving gender equality.

Mr Albanese is bringing Australian political, business and unions leaders together for a jobs and skill summit in Canberra starting from Thursday (Sept 1), which he is hoping will produce "immediate actions".

"Of course, none of us imagine that a two-day summit will entirely fix wages and job security - or any of the other urgent economic challenges facing the country," Mr Albanese said.

He said the government was working on an employment white paper, which would be partly informed by the outcomes of the summit this week. His government is expected to deliver a mid-year budget in late October.

He said widespread skills shortages were acting as a handbrake on the economy, and it was unwise for the previous government to tell temporary visa holders to leave Australia during the pandemic as borders closed.

Migration and post-Covid

In addition to discussions on lifting Australia’s migration intake, the government would look at creating “more paths to permanent migration” to attract foreign workers back in areas, including nursing and engineering, he said.

The government’s immediate priority is shoring up the economy to give families and businesses security and certainty, he said.

“Australia is already in the ‘recovery’ phase, and that’s presenting its own economic challenges, including significant and unpredictable supply and demand imbalances which are driving up costs, for businesses and families,” said Mr Albanese.

The pandemic was a race that Australia was not ready for, he said.

“We were left vulnerable – not just by complacency and a failure to plan, but by years of cuts and willful neglect to the very services and skills we needed most. We found ourselves economically exposed, hanging on the end of the global supply chain.”

Nurses, teachers and aged care workers were exhausted by the pandemic, and there was a need to boost employment in these sectors for the decade ahead, he said.

Many industries and small businesses in hospitality, tourism and education were also struggling to reboot.

Albanese criticised the record of the conservative former government’s nine years in power, including “chaos” in energy policy and stagnant wages.

He highlighted the action his government had already taken on climate change, its decision to hold a national referendum seeking approval to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution, and its support for raising the minimum wage.

Australia’s central bank warned this month inflation was heading to three-decade highs requiring further hikes in interest rates that would slow growth sharply.

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