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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10903


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/03/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10903


Thank you, thank you very much. To Peter Costello, thank you for

that very warm welcome. To Tony Staley; to Tim Fischer, the Deputy

Prime Minister of Australia; State Premiers; Chief Ministers; my

Cabinet and Ministerial colleagues; other Parliamentary colleagues;

ladies and gentlemen. It is an enormous privilege to be with you

this morning to deliver this National Convention address, to reflect

upon the heritage and the values of our great party, to record the

achievements of the past two years and to outline our goals for

the years ahead into the 21st Century.

Above all, the Liberal Party is a party that belongs to all Australians.

When I accepted the mandate of the Australian people on that exhilarating

night of the second of March 1996, that none in this room will ever

forget, I said the proudest thing about being the Prime Minister-elect

of Australia was that I led a party that was owned by no one section

of the Australian community, that it was a party for all Australians.

It wasn't owned by the business community. It wasn't owned

by the noisy elites. It wasn't owned by political correctness.

It certainly wasn't owned by the trade union movement. It was

owned by the ordinary men and women of Australia and I remain immensely

proud that we have demonstrated that in Government.

We are a party with a great history but an even greater future.

We remember the great inheritance of Sir Robert Menzies, our founder,

remember those long, uninterrupted years of social and economic

stability after 1949 when we had an unemployment rate that was the

envy of the rest of the world, when we welcomed in their millions

the peoples of Europe and the Middle East, whether they came like

Alex Somlyay's parents from

Budapest or whether they came from Italy or from Greece or from

the Baltic States or from Poland or Czechoslovakia. We welcomed

them in their millions and they have all become, every last one

of them, wonderful Australians and we thank them and we respect

them for the contribution they have made to our great nation.

We also remember the inheritance from Menzies of great social reform.

We remember the trail-blazing reforms of the Fraser Government.

We remember the fact that it was the Holt Government and not the

Whitlam Government that ended the inequity of the white Australia

policy. We remember the family allowance changes brought in by Malcolm

Fraser, and of course we also remember the 13 barren years under

Hawke and Keating.

Our Party has always been rooted very firmly in principles. We

believe, above all, in the supremacy and the sovereignty of the

individual. We believe that the family unit is the bedrock of our

society. We believe in the work ethic. We believe in rewarding hard

work and achievement. We believe in the principle of mutual obligation.

Those in the community who are down on their luck are entitled to

our assistance and our compassion but we as a community are entitled

to ask in return where it is reasonable that people who receive

Govenrment help give something back to the community. That is the

principle of mutual obligation and that is the principle that is

enshrined in our Work for the Dole policy which has the overwhelming

support of the Australian community.

We are a party that believes passionately in the place and the

role of small business in our society. I have often spoken very

feelingly and proudly about my own background as the son of a garage

proprietor in the inner suburbs of Sydney. I have never forgotten

the upbringing I received. I have never forgotten what I was taught

about the value of starting with nothing and building something

by the dint of your own effort and your own achievement and I long

for an Australia where every man and woman who wants to do that

can do it without hindrance or without interruption.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are also, above all a party that believes

in tolerance and racial equality. We have welcomed people from the

four corners of the earth. We have welcomed people of different

religions and of different colour and of different ethnic backgrounds.

We admire and we respect them all and they are all equal and entitled

members of the great Australian family.

Peter Costello in his introduction spoke of the achievements that

we have marked up since our election in March of 1996. We have achieved

an historic turnaround in the economic fortunes of Australia. Whatever

they may say to the contrary, nothing can conceal the fact that

Paul Keating and Kim Beazley left to the incoming Coalition Government

a huge deficit of $10.5 billion and in two short years we have turned

that around so that we have in prospect the announcement in May

of this year when Peter Costello delivers his third budget that

this country will once again be in the black. We will once again

be a country that is paying its way and that is a huge historic

achievement in just over two years.

We took many decisions in our first budget and our second budget

that people didn't agree with. There were some complaints,

even outcries, but let me say, I don't apologise for any of

the decisions that we took because, without question, if we had

not set about getting the books in order, the economic troubles

that had swept through the Asia-Pacific region would have gone close

to engulfing and undermining the Australian economy. If we had taken

the Beazley advice, if we had simply been swallowed up in the Beazley

inheritance of debt and deficit we would not have been able to fireproof

the Australian economy against the worst ravages of the economic

downturn in Asia. It will remain forever to the credit of my Govenrment

that it was prepared to take the tough economic decisions that have

brought Australia protection and insurance against the worst effects

of what has happened in Asia and I remain immensely proud of that

and I will defy any of my critics on that because every single thing

we did to get our economic house in order has meant protected living

standards for the Australian people.

It has meant that the potential economic dislocation that has swept

through Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand and Korea is something

that will never come to Australia and it was my Government with

my Treasurer and my Deputy Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues

and my Parliamentary Party that had the courage and the foresight

to do that and we should always be immensely proud of that achievement.

We have delivered in the process a major social bonus. We have

not only kept those great promises we took to the last election,

the family tax initiative, the health insurance rebate, the relief

for small business, the relief for self-funded retirees but our

interest rate reductions, which are worth $300 a month to the average

home buyer in Australia. Now that, my friends, is the equivalent

of a wage rise of $100 a week to the average wage and salary earner

in Australia. Let me say that again. The equivalent of $100 a week

increase in the average wage of the ordinary worker in Australia.

All of that has been achieved in the face of fierce opposition

from the Labor Party because every measure that we took to reduce

the deficit and thereby make it possible for interest rates to fall

was opposed by the Australian Labor Party, and what is more, if

they get back into office, those interest rate cuts will disappear

because they will once again lapse into deficit and debt and once

again interest rates will go up and nothing could be more certain

than if Labor were to win the next election, that $100 a week wage

rise that is the benefit of our economic policies will disappear

very quickly.

Of course, ladies and gentlemen, one of the other great achievements

of my Government is that we have fundamentally changed the character

of industrial relations in this country. We are now watching the

unfolding of one of those great defining moments in the economic

and industrial history of a nation. What is now occurring on the

Australian waterfront is a defining moment in Australia's industrial

relations history. It will benchmark for all time the attitudes

of the Liberal Party and the National Party on one hand and the

attitude of the Labor Party and their mates in the trade union movement

on the other hand. What we have done is not to smash a trade union.

We have no desire to smash a trade union and we have no desire to

smash trade unionism. What we have done

by our legislative changes is to smash for all time the trade union

monopoly on the Australian waterfront.

Let me say again that I applaud the courage and the leadership

and the guts and determination of the National Farmers' Federation.

They are taking advantage of the legal changes that we made. It

needed a Liberal Government to make the changes. It needed a Liberal

Government to break the monopoly. It needed a Liberal/National Party

Government to give the National Farmers' Federation the opportunity

and the incentive to do what it is now doing and I notice on one

of those programmes this morning that Mr Beazley has said that if

he wins the next election you know what he's going to do about

the waterfront? He's going to have a meeting. Going to have

a meeting. That's not the half of it. He's going to have

a meeting at which Bob Hawke is the ringmaster. I mean, he's

going to have a meeting on native title. I mean, the last time the

Labor Party had a meeting on native title it produced the wretched,

unworkable Native Title Act that we are trying to fix up. So heaven

preserve us from another meeting under Labor Party leadership on

the native title.

No doubt, he will have a meeting also on taxation reform. I predict

now that the Beazley policy on taxation reform, when it is finally

revealed will involve having a meeting. The mind really boggles

when you think about a meeting about the waterfront. The last time

a Labor Prime Minister had a meeting on the waterfront it cost you

and me and the rest of the Australian taxpayers $420 million and

there was zilch improvement in productivity. So bad was it that

some of the people then made redundant about six or seven years

ago are still working on the waterfront. It's a bit like some

kind of long-running Labor soapie. Perhaps there will be some cameo

appearances from Laurie Brereton and Paul Keating as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, our reforms have not been limited to repairing

the budget deficit or, indeed, for getting rid of debt. But our

reforms have also included the creation of

100 000 new apprenticeships in the last 12 months. We've delivered

the lowest unemployment rate for seven years. We have introduced

a Work for the Dole scheme. We have demanded new standards of literacy

and numeracy throughout Australia. We have reduced rorting and welfare

cheating to the tune of $28 million a week and that

$28 million a week is redirected to the most needy people within

the Australian community. And we have also correctly rebalanced

the direction of Australian foreign policy. We have recognised that

Australia occupies a unique intersection of history, geography,

culture and economic circumstances.

We are the only nation in the world that is a projection of western

civilisation in this part of the world with profound and enduring

links, not only with Britain and Europe but also with North America,

and we have replaced the obsessive Asia-only policies of the Keating

Government with the more balanced and mature Asia-first approach

of my Government. Instead of us appearing as we sometimes did as

an anxious outsider wanting admission to the Asian club under the

Keating Government, we are now seen as a proud participant, a respected

regional mate, a country that is prepared to help our

Asian friends in their hour of need and along with Japan, Australia

is the only country that has contributed to the economy bailouts

of Indonesia, Korea and Thailand and I am very proud of those decisions

because they are in Australia's interests. They will guarantee

Australian jobs. They will guarantee Australian exports. They will

protect Australian firms' future in those particular countries.

But they are some of the things that we have achieved. But politics

is never static. It is never something that involves looking back

in retrospect all the time. It is something that involves being

proud of your past and your heritage and what you believe in and

what you stand for. But you must always throw to the future. And

ahead of us lies the great piece of unfinished economic business

in Australia and that is to fundamentally overhaul and reform the

Australian taxation system. We have a taxation system in this country

which is increasingly seen as unfair and inequitable and that is

why we want to change it.

We want to give to the ordinary Australian wage and salary earner

in the 21st Century a fairer and more equitable Australian taxation

system. We want to end the evasion and the rorting at both ends

of the spectrum. We want to reform the business taxation system.

We want to make our firms more competitive as a result in world

markets. We want to address some of the problems of Commonwealth/State

financial relations and we certainly want to respect the overall

need for fairness and equity.

Now this is not an easy task and I don't pretend that we won't

be opposed and bitterly attacked, not only by the Labor Party but

by other groups in the community. But I say to you my friends, what

is the point of holding the reins of national office, what is the

point of having a mandate from the Australian people, what is the

point of being in Government? It is not being there just to enjoy

what is involved in some kind of sense of prestige or importance.

What is really important about being in Government is to do good

things for the people of Australia and doing good things for the

people of Australia involves tackling the problems identified by

the people of Australia. And deep down, all Australians know that

our present taxation system is unfair, is crumbling and is in need

of root-and-branch reform.

The Labor Party knows that. They knew it back in the mid 1980s

when Keating tried his Option C. They knew it in ‘93 but for

sheer political opportunism, they lied their way through the election

campaign. And then to rub insult into injury, they did, in Dawkin's

1993 budget, in the greatest piece of political betrayal I have

seen in my 24 years in politics, they did the very thing that they

attacked us for allegedly wanting to do. And we all remember the

scandal of the dishonoured L-A-W tax cuts. We all remember the huge

increases in sales tax.

And my message to the Australian people is, that whatever anybody

says about taxation, always remember that whatever Labor says about

taxation in an election campaign, it will do the direct opposite

when it gets into government. And that ought to be remembered by

all Australians.

So taxation reform is one of our great goals and it's

a goal that will need the support of everybody in this room and

all our friends and supporters throughout the nation if it to be

realised. And another great goal is to fix the deplorable native

title inheritance that we received from the Keating-Beazley government.

The Native Title Act of 1993 has delivered very little justice

to Australia's indigenous people. It has been a bitter disappointment

for them. And it has, in addition, delivered extraordinary delays,

extraordinary degrees of cumbersome regulation and extraordinary

doubt so far as the mining and pastoral industries of Australia

are concerned.

My critics say I that I should sit down and have yet another meeting

in relation to my 10 Point Plan and in relation to the legislation

that is now in the Parliament again. Can I say to you, ladies and

gentlemen, I've had no less than 15 to 20 meetings over the

last 12 months with the major stakeholders. I began meeting on the

native title issue with the Premiers and Chief Ministers of Australia

at Kirribilli in January of last year. I then met the indigenous

leaders, the leaders of the mining industry and the pastoral industry.

We have already compromised. We have already made concessions. We

have already protected the fundamental rights of the indigenous

people of Australia.

The Native Title Amendment Bill now before the Australian Parliament

is a fair and balanced compromise representing the interests and

respecting the interests of all of the Australian people involved

in this very, very difficult issue. And the proposition that we

should compromise further is a call to surrender. It is not a call

to compromise. I mean, what is being asked for amongst other things

is to say, in relation to pastoral leases, that we will give to

one section of the Australian community a right to negotiate that

we will not give to another section of the Australian community.

The right to negotiate was never intended for pastoral leases.

It was put there in an extraordinary late night meeting - once again

these meetings under Labor governments - an extraordinary late night

meeting that represented a compromise in the negotiations that were

then going on. It is a right unknown to the common law of Australia.

It is not a right enjoyed by any other section of the Australian


I simply want to say to all of you and to the Australian Senate

and to all the members of the Australian Senate: the Australian

people are sick and tired of this issue. They want to put it behind

them. They want us to get on with our future and they expect you

to do your constitutional duty and pass that legislation without


We have many others goals for the future. Those goals include,

of course, continuing the assault on the still too high levels of

youth unemployment. They include continuing to protect the budget

surplus that I believe we can deliver in May of this year. They

also include, as I said yesterday, the opportunity of making Australia

the second great financial centre in the Asian-Pacific region after

Tokyo. So that as we move into the 21st Century we'll have

four great financial centres in the world - London, New York, Tokyo

and Australia. We have the climate. We have the legal system. We

have the political

stability. We have the prudential banking system. We have the respected

money market systems to deliver that goal. And I believe it's

one of the many opportunities that are there to be grabbed hold

of by the Government of this country and by the Government of the

States of Australia.

But there is another great goal that I have for the future. And

just as Robert Menzies made Australia the greatest home-owning democracy

in the Western world, so it is my goal that my Government will make

Australia the greatest share-owning democracy in the world.

Already we have sold one-third of Telstra and we're along

the way towards that goal. Ladies and gentlemen, we can and should

go further. And I therefore announce today that we have made a firm

policy decision, that if re-elected we will proceed to allow the

people of Australia, the men and women of Australia, to buy the

remaining two-thirds of Telstra.

This is how we will do it. We will not wait until after the election

to introduce the legislation. We will introduce the legislation

to give effect to this goal into this session of Parliament. The

proclamation date of the legislation will be a date not earlier

than the return of the writs after the next Federal election. So

that in accordance with the undertaking I gave to the Australian

people before the last election, the Australian people will have

an opportunity at the next election to decide whether or not they

agree with our policy. If they throw us out, then presumably the

legislation won't be proclaimed by the Labor Party. Did I hear

somebody say, ‘Commonwealth Bank.'

But they re-elect us, as I believe they will, we can then proceed,

without lead or hindrance, to allow the men and women of Australia

to buy into this great Australian company. And let me remind you

that in the first float of one-third 92 per cent - 92 per cent of

the employees of Telstra bought shares in that company. Six hundred

and two thousand Australians bought shares for the first time in

their lives. And I know that out there, there are men and women

who will applaud this decision. Because they will see it as an opportunity

to buy shares in a great Australian company. And I can't think

of a better way of enhancing Australian ownership than to let Australians

buy something. I mean, this notion that in some kind of indirect,

surrogate way the Government is best placed to own something on

your behalf - it's never worked in practice and that's

not surprising.

This particular decision will enable us to retire about 40 per

cent - let me say that again - about 40 per cent of the Federal

Government debt left to us by Paul Keating and Kim Beazley.

As was the case of the first one-third, the overwhelming bulk of

the proceeds will, of course, be used to reduce our debt. But we

will reserve the right, as we did in relation to the first one-third,

to provide a specific social bonus out of the capital proceeds of

the sale of the remaining two-thirds.

Good economic policies, sound and prudent fiscal management always

return a good and useful social bonus. And that has been the case

with our interest rate policies and our budget policies, so it is

the case in relation to our privatisation policies. And John Fahey

and Richard Alston will be, this morning, releasing a joint press

statement detailing some of the other aspects of that particular


But, ladies and gentlemen, they are but some of the achievements

and some of the goals for the future. That is what we have done.

That is what we believe in. And that is some of what we will do

in the future. And what is the alternative? The alternative is a

negative party that has lurched back in the area of industrial relations

to the 1950s and the 1960s. The alternative is a Labor Party that

refuses to admit it was wrong.

As William Hague said on Friday, one of the first things that I

said to him when I met him in London last year after he'd been

elected Leader of the Conservative Party, was that he had to demonstrate

to the British people that he changed. In other words, it was a

different party from the party that had been thrown out. But the

only thing that has changed about the Australian Labor Party is

that they no longer have Paul Keating as their leader.

Their policies have not changed. In many respects, they have got

worse. They are more interventionist, they are more profligate,

they are more irresponsible than what they were in government. They

would revisit the scene of every political and economic crime they

committed in their 13 years if the Australian people were to re-elect

them. They would drag us back to deficit and debt. They would send

home interest rates sky-rocketing. They would bring back political

correctness. They would kowtow to the trade union movement. They

would repeal our industrial relations legislation.

That's no idle piece of political rhetoric my friends. They

have said it. They are totally opposed to our industrial relations

reforms. They even want to go back to the 1950s and reinforce the

full rigour of the award system. There'd be no NFF at Webb

Dock under a Labor government. John Coombs would become the plutocrat

of the Australian industrial relations scene if the Labor Party

were elected.

Ladies and gentlemen, Labor in government again would be an immense

risk. The Australian people threw them out after 13 years because

they were fed-up with their approach. Their Hobart Conference demonstrated

that they had done no serious policy work in Opposition. They have

not developed new ideas. They have opposed for the sake of opposing.

They have been negative in the extreme and they offer no hope, no

inspiration, no leadership and no alternatives to the

Transcript 10903