So you barely have to scratch the surface of the Albanese Government’s agenda, or my work as Treasurer, to find Sen’s influence or indeed Griffith’s influence.
A very good example of this, perhaps the best example, is the Employment White Paper that we’ve just released.
It’s the culmination of a year of work since the Jobs and Skills Summit.
There’s a heap of analysis in there but the emphasis is on action.
It details around 70 work-related policies we have already implemented; another 80 that are now underway; and 31 future reform directions.
It draws on the Universities Accord and the good work of a number of my colleagues.
Nine new specific policies were released on the day, and I’m pleased to say they’ve been pretty well-received.
Pulling our whole vision together in this way isn’t the norm.
Only three national governments have gone about it the way we just have, with detailed policy papers on work:
Chifley’s in the 1940s, Keating’s in the 1990s, now Albanese’s in the 2020s.
Finding work for thousands of returned servicemen and building a peace worth the winning in the 1940s.
Lifting the modern, reformed economy after recession and laying the foundations for 30 years of growth in the 90s.
And now, making sure our people benefit from the big shifts that will define this decade and those which follow.
Paul’s was called Working Nation; ours is called Working Future – a little nod to the past but with a focus on the future.
It works and winds its way through five core objectives:
First, delivering sustained and inclusive full employment, where everyone who wants a job can get one without searching for too long.
Second, promoting job security and strong, sustainable wage growth.
Third, reigniting productivity growth.
Fourth, filling skills needs and building our future labour force.
And fifth, overcoming barriers to employment and broadening opportunity.
The policies we’re pursuing hang off each of these objectives.
They’re about embedding full employment, boosting job security and wages, and making our economy more dynamic and productive.
Modernising, broadening and deepening our industrial base and our approach to the regions.
Planning for the workforce we need and will need.
Broadening access to foundation skills.
Instilling a culture of lifelong learning, retraining and reskilling.
Reforming the migration system in our interests.
Building capabilities through employment services that support people into meaningful work.
Partnering with communities.
And promoting more inclusive workplaces.
In all these areas we are putting capabilities and change at the core of our approach.
Taking the evolving nature of work as our starting point.
We are making it easier for workers to find great opportunities and for employers to find great workers.
So we can prosper together.
But it’s not just our goals or the detailed policies we are changing and updating that are important.
It’s also the thinking that underpins them.
Let me give you three quick examples.
First, we are changing the way we think about full employment.
Consider this remarkable fact:
Of the 18 months that the unemployment rate has had a three in front of it since monthly records began in 1978.
15 of those 18 months have been under our Government.
So, it’s the perfect time to consider how we measure and how we target full employment.
We know the unemployment rate, as important as it will always be, doesn’t always tell the full story of underutilisation and underemployment in our economy, or the distribution of opportunity in our society.
It doesn’t always capture the differences and the complexities of frictional, cyclical and structural factors.
The economists here will know there’s already a necessary and important but narrow and technical concept here called the NAIRU; the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.
And the Treasury makes an assumption in the budget about what this is, around 4.25 percent.
This concept is about what level of unemployment is currently achievable that is consistent with low and stable inflation.
The NAIRU informs and complements, and is distinct but complementary to, the government’s broader and longer term goal.
To create an economy where everyone who wants a job can find one without having to search for too long.
We don’t see the NAIRU as set in stone, we want to drive it down over time – by reducing the structural barriers to work.
That’s why we’ve adopted twin goals of sustained and inclusive full employment.
Sustained full employment is about minimising volatility in economic cycles and getting employment as close as possible to the current maximum level consistent with low and stable inflation.
Inclusive full employment is about broadening opportunities, lowering barriers, and reducing structural underutilisation over time to increase the level of employment in our economy.
This does not put us at odds with the Reserve Bank, as some commentators have wrongly concluded.
In fact I consulted the Governor on this approach and she has publicly and repeatedly backed it in.
We’ve also changed the way we are coming at the productivity challenge.
For too long, productivity growth has been too weak – lower in the ten years to 2020 than in any other decade of the last six.
And for too long the national debate about productivity has been needlessly and mindlessly narrowed to industrial relations.
We’re changing that.
Looking ahead and constructing an agenda that responds to the economic opportunities of today, not the 1980s.
One that’s about investing in people, their capabilities.
And getting capital flowing to where it will turbocharge the necessary economic transformations underway in our economy.
Not seeing productivity in the harsh and punitive ways of our opponents or our critics.
Our emphases here are about looking above and beyond the tired old labour versus capital roundabout that much of the commentary still circles around.
Focusing instead on how we create a more dynamic and competitive economy.
On building a skilled and adaptable workforce.
Harnessing data and digital technologies.
Delivering quality care and support more efficiently.
And investing in cleaner, cheaper energy and the vast industrial opportunities presented on the way to net zero.
So, we’re changing our approach to full employment, and seeing the productivity challenge through a future-focused lens.
And we’re also changing our thinking around how best to expand opportunity.
With a new emphasis on place.
When we think about the national economy of course we think about national averages and aggregates – and they’re important.
But we need to go beyond this, to understand how outcomes and opportunities vary across the country.
A lot of the inspiration for this, the influence on this, has come from my work with Griffith, with Logan Together, with you.
And from my home, the place that I grew up and am proud to represent, Logan City.
Where it’s so obvious and so unacceptable that in a country like ours, with an economy as strong as it has been.
There are still pockets of disadvantage and long-term unemployment.
What worries me most about this, is the way this disadvantage and dependence can cascade through generations and concentrate in a handful of communities like ours.
That’s why the White Paper has such an emphasis on place-specific barriers and place-based initiatives, and why our Budget funds important new place-based partnerships.
As Ross Gittins wrote last week in relation to full employment, these are important shifts in the country’s thinking.
Ross should know – having covered Keating’s Working Nation in 94.
Then, Ross said that it would take time to see the results of the changes in policy and approach outlined in that document.
And the same is true of the Employment White Paper.
But what is clear, is that without bedding down these changes, without committing to them.
We’ll run the risk of wasting another decade with short-sighted economic policy and the wrong priorities.
This can be a defining decade, but only if we make our people beneficiaries of change, not victims of change.
By investing in them, boosting their capabilities, giving them the tools to succeed and thrive and advance their communities.
That’s what the Voice is about.
It’s what our white paper on jobs and opportunities is about.
It’s what Amartya Sen’s work is all about.
And what this university is all about as well.
It’s why this is all linked up together.
And it’s how we ‘Make it Matter’.
Not just for some of us – but a brighter future for all.
So thank you for the opportunity to give this first Oration.
For the possibilities you open up for people.
And for the belief you’ve showed in so many of us when it mattered most.