It gives me great pride to open this conference, possibly the biggest ever gathering of delegates in the CPSU, our first National Leaders Conference.
But I have to say it gives me even more pride that you have been welcomed to this conference by your own, by our delegates. And what a stunning welcome it was.
When I think about the future of this union, with delegates like those you have just heard from, you have got to think it is looking pretty bright.
Why are we here and why are we here now?
We are here now because we share the same broad goals and values.
We believe working people should be treated with dignity and respect.
We believe every worker should receive fair pay and conditions.
We believe in secure jobs - jobs that can pay the rent or make sure that you can get a home loan.
We believe our workplaces should be as diverse as our communities and free of discrimination.
We fundamentally believe that unions exist to help working people get a better life, a decent life for themselves and their families and in the process of doing that, build a fairer Australia.
We want an Australia where the economy works to serve the community, not the other way round.
We want a community that is a great place to live. Simple stuff, like when your kids gets sick you can take them to hospital. Where every child gets a decent education, where when something goes wrong in life – you lose your job, you have an accident, you get a disability, Government is there to help you.
And we know our values are Australian values.
For our union they are also pretty special, because our members work for those values every day. Our members are proud of their work in the public sector, in telecommunications, in broadcasting, science and so many areas. Work that is about serving that community and serving those values.
But we also know it is not enough. It is not enough to believe in those things, we have to work for them.
It is not enough to have a positive agenda. You have to have the capacity to deliver that agenda, and that is why we are here for these three days. Without that capacity, without the sort of union that can take on those fights, it’s just a wish list. We are up for more than that.
So as we stand here, we are proud of our union and we are proud of the work we have done together. We are incredibly proud of the work that you have done as our delegates and leaders, leading our union in your workplaces.
We have done a lot well. We have delivered better pay and conditions to hundreds of thousands of workers through our Better Way to Bargain and other campaigns. We have stood up for safety, we have stood up for diversity, we have stood up for the rights that our members believe in. We have created new rights, like being the first union in Australia to ever win superannuation on unpaid maternity leave to bridge the gap in women’s retirement incomes.
And let me tell you, when Gail Kelly from Westpac stands up and says “Westpac did it first” no they didn’t, it was the CPSU in the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
We have also changed laws, which is not an easy thing to do. We have changed laws like winning back recess coverage for our members who are injured at work, and changing the laws to give staff a voice in the ABC. Those are big achievements.
Active delegates like you have given our members a voice in their workplaces and made your workplaces better. And you haven’t done that alone. You’ve been backed in by our members, many thousands of them, but you’ve also been backed in by our staff. Many of whom are here today and they do a great job in supporting you in that role.
You can also be proud of what we have achieved as part of the labour movement. Until we campaigned for change, working people could be forced onto Australian Workplace Agreements that stripped back so many rights and conditions. Now they can’t and they are not coming back.
Until unions campaigned for change, two thirds of Australian working women had no access to paid parental leave. Now they do.
And what I think will be seen as one of the most significant labour reforms, is until we campaigned for change, 8 million Australians only had 9% superannuation, not enough for a decent retirement. Over the next few years that will rise to 12%, helping millions of workers, including many of our members. That is a huge achievement.
They are great examples of us campaigning together as a movement, working with Labor in Government to make positive reforms.
But they are not enough, and there is more to do. And that’s why we are here.
Too many workers find themselves in insecure work across our economy. It might happen less in our sectors, but it is growing. And as I look out across this room, I think about workers who are working in processing in the Tax Office.
Where I remember an email I received from a parent of one of those workers who was a young bloke with a disability. His dad sent me an email saying “Nadine, I am writing to you directly because I am really worried about my son. I’m worried about his life. I’m worried that he’s never going to be able to secure a home loan, to have some income security. He keeps being put on these rolling contracts. Year after year. Month after month.”
I read that and I thought, we are not doing a good enough job. I am really proud of what we do, but it is not enough. We shouldn’t have workers in the public sector who can’t have a secure income. Who can’t know that their job is going to be there. Who can’t plan for themselves. Plan to buy a home, plan to start a family. It’s not good enough.
So we know there is a lot more to do.
Too often we find bargaining is a fight to hold on to what workers already have. Too often we see productivity defined as just cutting the conditions and rights you have. When we know productivity is about what our members believe in, doing your jobs better.
And for our union, too often we face cuts to public services and cuts to jobs. We have a big fight ahead.
We know unless we keep campaigning for change, too many of those gains of the past will come under threat and we won’t have the capacity to deal with those new challenges.
Because not everyone shares our values. Right now there is a vigorous contest of ideas going on about what our society looks like, how our economy should work, the very nature of our community.
The other side of politics is not vanquished. They haven’t sat around licking their wounds. They are taking the fight right up to us.
After the success of the Your Rights at Work campaign - the work that we are all so proud of, who would have thought that a few short years later, we would be back protecting basic workplace rights?
Well here we are.
Business is waging a campaign to wind back our workplace rights and conditions, as though industrial relations reform is the solution to every challenge facing our economy.
I had the bizarre experience of being at the Prime Minister's Economic Forum in Brisbane a couple of months ago. And you heard one after the other, business people talk about "If only we had industrial relations reform… If only there was more productivity and flexibility in the economy."
It is a bit like hearing Tony Abbott on climate change. Every single bad thing that happens, it’s either about the carbon tax or it’s about our industrial relations laws, possibly both.
But it is a serious fight. We have seen John Howard out this week urging the Coalition to strip back unfair dismissal protections and return to AWA’s.
We are hearing loud voices like mining billionaires. They are new players on the scene. Gina Reinhart, Clive Palmer. They are buying their way in to the public debate, pressuring governments to act in their interests. Not in the communities interest.
At the same time, we are facing an ideological attack on public services across Australia and around the globe. It has been extraordinary in the last few months to see just what is happening under state conservative governments.
They are sitting up now above 40,000 jobs to be cut. It is the biggest single change we have seen in decades.
And, while you might say Campbell Newman’s the best thing going for us at the moment, It is a big fight to take on.
The more we see of Tony Abbott’s agenda – massive job cuts, 50 billion dollars of cuts to government spending, winding back industrial relations reforms, attacks on unions - the more frightening and radical it seems.
We know our members are in the firing line.
The challenges we face are not just about politics and it is certainly not the only reason we are here. Our community is changing. The demographics of our population are changing.
Governments face an ageing population, increased demand for health care, increased demand for pensions and a decline in tax base to fund those critical services.
Our economy is changing. You have seen a lot in the public debate over recent months about the future of manufacturing and other industries, the growth of the service sector and now changes in the public sector.
We are seeing an extraordinary rate of change in technology and communications. It is phenomenal. How many of us have a smart phone on your desk or in your bag?
A few years ago we hadn’t even heard of things like Facebook and Twitter, now they are driving public debate. The world is changing fast.
Our workplaces are changing too and you will hear more about that over the course of this conference. People are moving through jobs and careers in new ways. They are not staying as long and more and more people are coming in to our workplaces who haven’t had an experience of unions.
They may have gone through 10 years of working life in the private sector, in small business, in parts of the community sector, not for profits and so on, where they have never had the experience you have of being union and seeing how that makes a difference. Those people are not going to come looking for us, we need to go looking for them.
And what this conference shows you is we are ready.
We are ready for those challenges and we are up for them. We have taken a brave step, a bold initiative to look at what we do as a union, to have a really honest conversation. Not just about what we are proud of and our successes, but about what we are not winning and about what it is going to take to do that.
So in the process that we have gone through, we have developed a new plan for our union. It is called Shaping Our Future. Why? Because that is the challenge we face.
The decisions that we make now, the decisions that this group of delegates and leaders make, that this generation of unionists make, matter.
They will help shape the future of our members jobs, the future of our industries, the future of our communities and the sort of Australia we live in.
This is your plan. It has been shaped by your work, by the lessons we’ve learned and by what hundreds of you have told us.
One of the most delightful things I have got to do in recent months - often as I sit on planes, is read through all that delegate feedback that's come out ofthe meetings you have run and your workplace discussions.
It has been absolutely brilliant to see what you are telling us about what you want to do, and where you want to take this union.
But it is not a fixed plan, it is a plan that will evolve. The first part of that will happen over these 3 days as we talk to each other, talk through what we need to do and reflect on our experiences.
And in true CPSU tradition, it won’t end there. As the world changes, as our environment changes, those plans will evolve in the coming months and years. But this is the time to have that conversation.
There are four critical elements at the heart of Shaping Our Future, that we have talked about the sort of union we need to be:
We need to be a union that most employees want to join
We need to be a union that delivers positive change in our workplaces every day
We need to be a union that delivers in bargaining, and
We need to be a union that can take on the big issues in public and political debates.
Delegates are at the heart of this plan and as you have heard this morning and as you’ve seen, in everything we do, we want to be a union led from the workplace.
So what does that plan look like and where are we going with it?