This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald: click here for the original.
The seeds of disquiet that helped deliver Donald Trump his shock victory in the United States are growing in Australia, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has warned.
In an address to Labor Party faithful playing directly to a traditional industrial base, Mr Shorten has claimed the Australian economy is no longer working in the interests of ordinary people, with falling living standards, rising inequality, deteriorating job security and a generation of people clamped out of the housing market.
“Understand that whilst we are a different country … some of the seeds of the disquiet we see overseas are present and growing in this country,” Mr Shorten told the ALP state conference.
Mr Shorten last week came under fire for branding the US President-elect “barking mad”.
On Sunday, he did not resile from his criticisms, delivering a scathing assessment of the “trickle down” approach to economic management blamed for marginalising large sections of American society, while rewarding the rich and corporations.
But in a spirited speech at the Moonee Valley Racecourse, Mr Shorten also appeared to adopt a measure of Mr Trump’s anti-globalisation agenda, declaring that the US election had shown “old certainties are shifting”, while criticising the importation of foreign workers on special 457 visas.
“We in the house of labor must understand that in the mining towns, the manufacturing suburbs and regional communities of our country our fellow Australians are hungry for recognition, hungry for Australia’s political parties and leaders to recognise that the economy is not currently working in the interests of ordinary Australians,” he said.
The speech follows a warning from former Labor prime minister Paul Keating that the ALP under Mr Shorten’s leadership has abandoned the political centre by pandering to a shrinking base, rather than placing its faith in the market to boost living standards and equity.
In an extract from a new biography, Mr Keating warned that the party’s primary vote had dwindled to just 35 per cent, warning it was under attack from the Greens and Pauline Hanson, and had lost the ability to speak aspirationally.
But on Sunday Mr Shorten did not take a backwards step, warning Australian jobs were increasingly threatened by foreign workers on lower pay rates and worse conditions.
“We understand that when people are brought into this country to work on worse conditions for less money, good employers … that do the right thing are at a competitive disadvantage,” Mr Shorten said. “Local people in the cities and our regions miss out on jobs that they could be doing – nurses, carpenters, cooks, early childhood educators, electricians, motor mechanics.”
“People in Broadmeadows, in Geelong, in the Latrobe Valley, they are doing it tough,” he said. “Yet on the [Turnbull] government’s watch, employers are using and abusing temporary work visas to bring in cheap labour.”
Mr Shorten said living standards had fallen by 2 per cent since Labor lost power federally, with inequality at a “disturbing” 70-year high and “more and more australians are worried about being offshored and contracted out and outsourced and downsized”.
He said a generation had been locked out of the housing market by a tax system favouring speculators over first home buyers.
“Childcare costs are devouring the wages of working parents. Our tax system continues to disproportionately favour the multinationals and the very wealthy,” Mr Shorten said.
A motion at the conference to throw open Senate preselections to a 50 per cent vote from party members was defeated on the floor of the conference, with right factions rejecting the push. That means Labor Senate candidates in Victoria will continue to be decided by a central committee.