Release type: Transcript


Address to the Labour 20 Summit, Brisbane


Senator the Hon Eric Abetz
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for Employment
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Senator for Tasmania

***Check against delivery***


On behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, can I add my welcome to representatives of the international labour movement to Australia. In that category, I sort of include Sharan Burrow, she’s very well known in Australia and doing well on the international stage. Can I also acknowledge Ged Kearney and I confess I had not heard her story before and thinking of her as timid, with a squeaky voice, and all those things does not sound real but I’m sure it was the case many years ago because whatever her faults or benefits or qualities, I don’t think anyone would say she is shy or unwilling or unable to be an extremely effective advocate for her cause.

So to everybody, welcome to Australia, welcome to Brisbane, a very important forum you’re engaging with today and I trust it is going to be informative and enjoyable but I also trust that you will have some time to enjoy some of the culture, arts, sports and other things that our nation has to offer whilst you are here in Brisbane, the third largest city of our nation.

Can I from the outset I want to thank the L20 for its work in providing advice and information to member countries throughout the G20. In representing the views of organised labour on an international stage, the L20 makes a valued contribution to the policy discussion.

During the Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting and preceding Taskforce on Employment meetings, I appreciated the L20’s input on a range of global challenges – including on workplace safety and female participation in the workforce.

I’m particularly pleased to join you at this Summit as you tackle the topic of “rebuilding economies, jobs and wages”. The order is the correct and logical order. Experience tells us strong economies lead to secure jobs which then leads to wages growth. And we confront a situation where economic growth remains too low in many countries and the International Monetary Fund has revised down its global growth forecasts repeatedly over the past two years.

This sustained low growth has contributed to high levels of unemployment, with many countries struggling to create enough jobs for their people. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 200 million people are unemployed worldwide – with this number expected to increase based on current trends.

Although emerging G20 economies have made tremendous progress in reducing extreme and moderate poverty, an estimated 450 million workers remain on less than two US dollars a day. And we know courtesy of the IMF that the risk of structural unemployment constraining future growth potential is real.

Around the world, economies are transitioning and finding new approaches to ensure sustainable growth.

The 2014 G20 Agenda

The ‘2014 agenda’ was designed bearing this transition phase in mind, and it builds on work done in previous years.

While maintaining a clear focus on continuing the recovery from the Global Financial Crisis, this year we’ve tried to look further ahead and take steps to ensure sustained growth.

First and foremost, the Australian presidency has aimed to hold the G20 to a targeted agenda. We accept that the G20 cannot solve all problems, and it’s necessary to focus on key areas to get meaningful outcomes. In this context, we made a very deliberate decision to emphasise employment issues as part of the 2014 agenda.

This year’s agenda has two overarching priorities:

  • to promote stronger economic growth and better employment outcomes; and
  • to build a more resilient global economy.

Promoting Growth

The first of these priorities – promoting growth and employment – is being addressed through comprehensive growth strategies for each country that will be encapsulated in the Brisbane Action Plan.

As the private sector is the main source of job creation, the role of these strategies is to help business to grow.

To this end, the growth strategies include practical actions countries are taking to strengthen infrastructure investment, encourage trade, make it easier to do business and boost employment.

Focussing structural reforms in these key areas over the next four years will encourage growth, create jobs and lift living standards.

In February, Finance Ministers agreed to lift the G20’s collective GDP by more than 2 per cent above the trajectory implied by the then current policies over five years.

Achieving this goal has been the focus of the work conducted this year, and accomplishing it will add more than $2 trillion to global GDP and generate millions of jobs.


Infrastructure investment is a key part of lifting growth. I recognise the L20’s strong advocacy of this topic.

Investing in infrastructure has the benefit of an immediate impact on growth by creating jobs, and the longer-term benefit of making economies more productive.

The OECD has estimated that more than $70 trillion, that’s 70 thousand thousand million, in infrastructure investment is needed worldwide by 2030. Investment on this scale needs the private sector.

To facilitate this, the G20 has looked at how to improve the investment environment in member countries – both individually and collectively. The G20 has also considered how best to channel funds into productive investments.

At their meeting in Cairns in September, Finance Ministers agreed that a Global Infrastructure Initiative was a critical part of accomplishing this. The initiative is comprised of a multi-year strategy to increase the quality and quantity of infrastructure projects in the G20 and beyond.

In line with this collective goal, the Australian Government is taking strong action to increase investment in productive and job creating infrastructure. For example, we’ll invest $50 billion in land transport infrastructure.

Reforms allowing state and territory governments, and the private sector, to make even more substantial investments are being implemented. Overall, this initiative is expected to support more than $125 billion in new and upgraded infrastructure that improves Australia’s economic capacity and supports employment growth.

Trade and Productivity

Trade is another key stimulant of economic growth, and the current slow growth in trade is a concern for all countries.

During 2014, G20 members have identified practical actions to remove obstacles to trade. At their July meeting in Sydney, Trade Ministers set out the commitments that countries are making in their growth strategies to boost trade, with the aim of returning it to pre-crisis levels.

G20 members are also working to lift productivity and encourage competition – including by cutting red tape – in order to make doing business easier.

Finally, strengthening labour markets and increasing workforce participation are another way we’re seeking to lift growth.

Building Economic Resilience

The second key priority of this year’s G20 agenda has been to build a stronger, more resilient global economy.

The G20 has an important role in ensuring the global economy is better prepared to withstand future shocks, and members have worked together to identify policies that will build resilience. This work has included reforming the global financial system in order to strengthen it and foster global stability.

Addressing tax avoidance is a critical step that will provide greater transparency and more equitably share the taxation burden.

It’s common sense that companies should pay tax where they earn a profit. Achieving this goal, however, will require greatly increased international co-operation.

So Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors have agreed to the rapid implementation of an information exchange between tax authorities to help identify tax evaders.

The Ministers also committed to the completion of the G20 and OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan by 2015.

Genesis of the 2014 Employment Agenda

As an employment minister, it’s the jobs component of growth on which I focus.

Employment is an overwhelming good.

When somebody is gainfully employed, their physical health, mental health, self-esteem and social interaction are all enhanced. These benefits are shared by their families and communities.

Employment, therefore, delivers an overwhelming social good – quite apart from the economic benefits.

I had the pleasure of chairing the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting in Melbourne this September.

The overarching theme of our meeting was preventing structural unemployment, creating jobs and boosting participation.

Contained within this theme was an agenda based on priorities set by Leaders and Ministers last year, including:

  • developing country-specific employment plans;
  • adopting strategies to address structural unemployment, especially among youth and the long-term unemployed;
  • reviewing progress in facilitating quality apprenticeships that lead to employment outcomes; and
  • considering of how the G20 can contribute to safer workplaces.

Australia contributed several priorities to the employment stream as well – most notably in relation to increasing female labour-force participation.

At the Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, we covered policy strategies in some key areas.

Our Declaration – together with our country employment plans – outlines priorities and actions across a range of subjects intended to boost employment growth and prepare our workforces to take advantage of that growth.

Allow me to outline three key outcomes we achieved.

Female Participation

The first key outcome of the Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting was a strong commitment to lift female labour-force participation.

This was a critical topic for us to address because all G20 economies have a gender gap in participation – ranging from about 10 to more than 50 percentage points.

To lift female participation, G20 countries enthusiastically embraced a commitment to take the steps needed to close gender gaps in opportunities and labour-market outcomes.

We also went a step further, recommending that Leaders adopt a goal to reduce the gender gap in participation in their countries by 25 per cent by the year 2025.

This is an ambitious but achievable objective for G20 economies.

Reaching this goal could increase the G20 labour force by more than 100 million people and support the empowerment of women more generally.

This commitment will give added impetus to efforts across a broad range of policy areas concerning women around the world.

Youth Unemployment

The second key outcome of the September meeting in Melbourne was a commitment to address youth unemployment.

High youth unemployment has continued to be a significant problem, with the World Bank estimating there are about 600 million young people who are neither working nor studying. That is, young people being denied the overwhelming personal benefits of meaningful engagement.

As well as the lost opportunities resulting from this disengagement, high levels of youth unemployment can threaten social stability.

In recognition of this continuing problem, we committed to take concrete actions to place young people in education, training or jobs. Each of our countries has set out the actions they’re taking to meet this commitment and boost youth employment in our country employment plans.

But we must do better, and the commitment made by Labour and Employment Ministers is to step up action in this area.

Country Employment Plans

Our country employment plans contain commitments that members have made to address their employment challenges.

And, together, these plans constitute the third key outcome of the Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting.

The plans are comprehensive, ambitious and coherent – spanning a wide range of policy areas, from skills development to active labour market programs, labour market regulation, social protection, addressing disadvantage, and broader economic settings.

For instance, Australia’s plan sets out employment measures the government is taking to facilitate job creation, lift labour force participation and better match skills with jobs.

These measures form part of the government’s Economic Action Strategy, which aims to create one million new jobs, restore the structural integrity of government finances, and support continued improvements in living standards.

Each plan also contains a section on monitoring past commitments.

These employment plans closely align with the G20 growth strategies each country is putting together, and they contribute key employment measures to the strategies.

The process of aligning them has strengthened the cooperation between the G20’s finance and employment agendas, and improved policy coherence at the national level.

The employment plans will be published at the time of the Leaders Summit, with a focus on further development and implementation under future G20 presidencies.

Safer Workplaces

The Labour and Employment Ministers’ Declaration includes the G20 Statement on Safer and Healthier Workplaces – the result of some challenging and thoughtful work by a sub- group of the Taskforce on Employment.

The issue of safer workplaces was put on the agenda in response to the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. This tragedy, of course, is only part of a bigger issue.

Poor health and safety practices result in an estimated 2.3 million deaths every year.

The statement on safer workplaces commits G20 countries to take action to improve occupational health and safety in their own countries and elsewhere.

It sets out 10 priorities for bringing about improvements.

The business sector and labour representatives will have a critical role to play in implementing these reforms.


This year, the L20 has continued to draw attention to the issue of informal employment.

Informality has no shortage of implications for the good functioning of economies and socio-economic development. It’s typically associated with low wages, poor working conditions and a lack of social protection.

Members of already disadvantaged labour groups are more likely to experience informal employment, entrenching their disadvantage.

Labour and Employment Ministers have this year committed to better identify people employed informally, and to develop strategies to support their transition to the formal economy.

We agreed to include policies to support this commitment in our employment plans, and to work with social partners on joint approaches to address the issues.

Future Work

Continuity from year to year – and from presidency to presidency – underpins the G20’s ability to generate results. So to be clear – the G20’s work does not stop after this weekend’s summit.

Australia is looking forward to the Turkish presidency, and we’re confident that progress in implementing practical commitments will be sustained.

In the employment stream, the work conducted on some of the policy themes addressed this year will continue under Turkey’s leadership.

And that effort will be facilitated by a renewed G20 Employment Working Group.

In addition, we’ll enhance our country employment plans and monitor their implementation.

It’s also important that we track our progress against the commitments we made this year.

With the establishment of the Employment Working Group, the employment stream will be better placed to tackle a medium-term agenda, as well as continuing to address current challenges.

I trust the social partners will continue to provide input in to our work.

I’m confident that this weekend’s Leaders’ Summit will provide a strong conclusion to the G20 year.

It promises to come up with tangible results, and to position us for a sustainable recovery and strong growth in employment.

In a similar way, I’ve no doubt that this Labour 20 Summit will prove stimulating and valuable for all concerned.

So – on behalf of the Australian Government – I wish you all the best and I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions. The work and policy development in which you are engaged is never to be underestimated.

On behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, I wish you an enjoyable and informative summit.