Anthony Albanese has pledged to turn post-COVID Australia into a “country that makes things”, framing Labor as the party to create a fairer country.
The Labor leader made the remarks in a keynote address to the first day of Labor’s national conference, promising not to leave behind workers who made Australia’s “victory” over COVID-19 possible.
Central to his pitch was a $15bn COVID recovery fund, which he described as “the next piece of the puzzle” as Australia emerged from the crisis.
The national reconstruction fund would aim to revive Australia’s manufacturing industry and slash emissions by focusing on renewable energy.
“We’ve learned the lessons of the pandemic, we’re ready to lead for the recovery,” Mr Albanese declared.
“The next piece of the puzzle is the national reconstruction fund, a down payment on the industries and the jobs of tomorrow.”
Mr Albanese has regularly spruiked the employment opportunities provided by the post-COVID reconstruction, particularly in green energy industries.
Central to that plan is a suite of loans, equity, co-investments and guarantees to stimulate economic development in the regions.
He declared Labor would ensure “underpaid and undervalued” workers forced to sacrifice throughout the pandemic would be supported after it.
“We are going to invest in Australia, we are going to invest in Australian workers and Australian skills,” he said.
“A new era of national reconstruction to achieve our potential, a country that makes things and creates better jobs to go with them.
“Victory over the pandemic, followed by victory for those whose sacrifices made it possible.”
After almost two months of harassment and sexual assault allegations rocking the government, Labor Senate leader Penny Wong championed the party as one where “women speak and are heard”.
“We work to shape an Australia where we can all succeed … (with) women taking their rightful place as fully equal members of the Australian community,” she said.
She lashed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for “mouthing” Labor values “while it suited him” but yanking away support for workers hit hard by the pandemic.
“It hasn’t taken long for him to return to type, to return to the real Scott Morrison, to remind us he doesn’t hold a hose, to return to the same old Liberal attack on wages, conditions and trade unions,” she said.
The first national conference held virtually was struck by an early hiccup, with federal president and former treasurer Wayne Swan forced to attend remotely due to a snap lockdown in Brisbane.
In a move designed to show unity in the federal opposition, Mr Albanese was introduced by his predecessor Bill Shorten.
Mr Shorten, who led Labor to a shock defeat at the 2019 election, said there were no easy days as opposition leader but said his successor was on track for victory.
“There’s never a shortage of advice, good and bad,” Mr Shorten told the conference.
“All of us still live with the pain of 2019.
“Not just the sting of defeat … but the hurt of 2019 also came from knowing how close we have been before and how close it still was after.“
Mr Shorten said Mr Albanese lived and breathed Labor values before turning his attack on the Prime Minister.
“Scott Morrison is the wrong man, with the wrong attitude, and the wrong approach for this moment in Australia’s history,” Mr Shorten said.
“(Albanese) has exposed the hollowness of a prime minister who loved to make announcements but pathologically hates being held to account.”
Mr Albanese invoked the trauma of World War II, saying Labor would not be satisfied with “simply muddling through returning to how things were”.
“John Curtin led the nation out of (WWII), then Ben Chifley led it into reconstruction.
“Their motto: victory in war, victory in peace … After triumph, something better. And I want those inspiring words to be the theme of this conference.”