Labor leader Anthony Albanese has promised a focus on new technologies and the future of work, as the Opposition looks towards the next election.
In his first major policy speech since becoming Opposition leader, Mr Albanese said Labor would not shy away from technological innovation and emerging industries, and would focus its effort on addressing skills gaps and improving conditions for workers in the gig economy.
“When it comes to building the economy, technology and innovation are our allies. They are key to boosting productivity,” Mr Albanese said in the CEDA address in Perth.
“We must find new ways to use our resources more effectively – especially the talents of our people. As much as technology can play a part here, people will matter even more. How we skill them up and prepare them for change is crucial.”
The Labor Party needed to be in the business of creating wealth, and technology would play a big part in this, Mr Albanese said.
“We are in the midst of a technological revolution. It is acting as both a catalyst for disruption and providing an unprecedented opportunity to improve our lives. It is a revolution that is changing everything: the way we live, the way we learn. The way we relate to each other and, of course, the way we work,” he said.
“Australians are worried about the future of their job and the jobs their children will have in the future. They are anxious about facing technological change greater than any time in human history.
“They deserve reassurance that the future of work will help them get ahead and not fall behind. And they expect government to do its bit by working just as hard as they do.”
A future Labor government would establish Jobs and Skills Australia, a national partnership enshrined in legislation which would aim to address skills and training issues in the growing sectors of the economy, including technology industries.
It would include business leaders, states, unions and education bodies, and produce workforce and skills analysis, prepare capacity studies and specific plans for target groups. It would also review the adequacy of the training and vocational system.
Mr Albanese said it would also be a data-driven exercise, working in real time with labour market platforms such as Seek and LinkedIn, with an overall aim to “strengthen our choices in jobs, skills and careers”.
“I see Jobs and Skills Australia as the basis of a new compact. A collaborative model to guide investment in human capital, just as Infrastructure Australia guides investment in physical capital,” he said.
“Labor will always ensure workers have access to a strong and stable set of minimum conditions, as well as ensuring workers have the right protections. We need to ensure workers get their fair share of gains in national productivity.”
The Opposition also plans to hold a Creative Economy Summit in the first half of next year to “bring together the players to chart a course for expansion”.
“The creative industries are of strategic importance to Australia, but are being held back by cuts, lack of investment and outdated policy settings,” he said.
Mr Albanese flagged a focus on automation and artificial intelligence, and called on the Coalition to open the National Centre of AI Excellence, which Labor had announced as an election policy.
He said that Australia could be the “land of cheap and endless energy”, with a focus on rare earth elements such as lithium.
“As electric vehicles, energy storage systems and smart devices become more mainstream, the global demand for lithium batteries will explore,” Mr Albanese said.
“The emerging lithium industry is a living example of how real world economic progress happens – business, unions, researchers and government coming together to deliver on an aspiration bigger than just digging stuff out of the ground and letting the value-adding happen offshore.”
Mr Albanese recommitted to improving rights for workers in insecure work, including in the gig economy.