PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10910


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: 17/04/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10910


Thank you, thank you very much Bob Baldwin. To the Administrator,

Mr Ron Eagle, to Senator John Tierney, Mr Peter Blackmore, other distinguished

guests, ladies and gentlemen. And certainly, most importantly of all,

the people of the Hunter Valley.

I am delighted to have this first opportunity as Prime Minister to

be at the Maitland Town Hall. I thank the Administrator and the people

of Maitland for the civic reception that you have honoured me with

today. I regard gatherings, such as this, as being the ultimate in

grass roots politics. It is the ultimate way in which a Prime Minister,

or any senior figure in political life in Australia, can meet a cross-section

of the community, can meet men and women in business, the people who

run the hospitals, the people who run the caring charities, the people

who work on the land, the people who are retired citizens, the people

who run the ambulance service, the people who run the fire service

and the police service. All of those groups in the community come

together on an occasion like this, and it is a great reminder to me

as Prime Minister, of the tremendous community spirit which binds

the Australian nation together.

I am also delighted to be in the electorate of Paterson which my friend

and colleague, Bob Baldwin, has held in the Federal Parliament since

March of 1996. Although this is certainly not an overt political occasion,

it's a civic gathering, I don't think I'll be offending

any sensitivities to say very emphatically that Bob Baldwin has been

an outstandingly active and energetic representative for the electorate

of Paterson.

He's a consistent advocate of Paterson's causes, he persistently

lobbies for the interest of the people of Paterson and he has persistently

lobbied me on a number of issues which have been of particular concern

to people in his electorate. Because it is a very diverse area and

as the Administrator said in his introductory remarks, we've

had the opportunity since some of the unfortunate events which overtook

the city of Newcastle and the Hunter Region generally. We've

had the opportunity of seeing how different sections of the Australian

community can work together in a time of difficulty. Nobody welcomes

the decision that was taken by BHP. The important thing though was

that the city and the area didn't look back. They didn't

wallow in self pity, they looked for new alternatives and new hopes

and new opportunities. And to a cooperative effort involving the Federal

Government, the State Government, the Newcastle City Council, the

business interest of the city and the region, the representatives

of the trade union movement and also the representatives of the business

community it was possible, amongst other things, to put together a

Prime Minister's task force for dealing with the problems thrown

up by the BHP announcement on Newcastle. And interestingly enough,

that task force was jointly chaired by a former BHP official and the

then Secretary of the Newcastle branch of the Australian Workers'

Union. And at all stages in my contact with that group and with the

people of the district following those events in Newcastle, there's

been a total absence of politics and there's been a total commitment

on the part of everybody to try and come up with sensible solutions

for the future of the region.

And can I take the opportunity of saying here today that a few months

ago my Government committed millions of dollars to support the establishment

of the Redbank Power Station and that project, if it can go ahead,

will generate 1,000 jobs in the construction phase and several hundred

additional jobs over and above the construction phase. And it is being

held up at the moment because Energy Australia won't connect

the power station to the New South Wales electricity grid and I do

hope that the owner of Energy Australia, which is the New South Wales

Government, will exercise the rights and powers of ownership and ensure

that Energy Australia does what is necessary to get that project going.

My Government has committed millions of dollars to it. My Government

wants the jobs that it will generate. We now need the electricity

generated in order to get the project going and I hope that the common

sense that that situation commends itself to the New South Wales Government

over the weeks and the months ahead, and I think it's very important,

when there is a legitimate interest in the creation of new jobs in

this region, I think it's only important that every effort be

made, every effort be taken, every opportunity seized to support a

project that will generate new jobs.

The Hunter Valley has a tremendous sense of community spirit as the

Administrator and Bob have both said, I am no stranger to this part

of the world. My wife has very long family connections, not only with

Newcastle, but also with Singleton. And my family have holidayed in

this part of the world for close on 20 years, and we do it because

it is a very pleasant place to come to. We've grown very fond

of the area, it brings together an extraordinary cross-section of

the Australian community, and it does represent the coastal areas

of Australia. It does, of course, in Newcastle contain one of the

oldest and the best known of the industrial centres of Australia.

It does, of course, in the wine growing area manifest one of the great

burgeoning export industries of this country and it does, of course,

contain many very attractive rural parts of Australia.

And this morning at Tocal I had the opportunity of sampling the delights

of that beautiful college which is the most respected agricultural

college in Australia. And the New South Wales Department of Agriculture

is doing a splendid job in administering that college for the Alexandra

Trust and about 400 or 500 young Australians a year pass through that

college. And what it does is to bring together all that is good about

Australia's agricultural past, but at the same time impart to

those who pass through the college modern, contemporary understanding

of the demands of farming and agricultural life.

Agriculture is still a very important part of the fabric of the Australian

nation. It is not only the rural way of life that's important

but the export income that we earn from farmers is tremendously important.

Without that export income, the people who live in the cities of Australia

would be a lot worse off. Without that export income, which is often

not as great as the effort of the farmers who generate the income

deserved, without that income Australia would be a much poorer nation.

And I want to take the opportunity as I have on other occasions when

I've visited non-metropolitan areas of Australia, to say that

one of the greatest and continuing goals of my Government is to ensure

that our rural producers receive a fairer go on international markets.

Now that means, not only tough negotiating in the world trade fora,

like people like Tim Fischer and John Anderson, but it also means

that we have a taxation system that encourages exporters. It also

means that we have an efficient, productive waterfront. It also means

that we have low inflation and low interest rates. And I am very happy

to say that although many areas of rural Australia have been gripped

by drought in recent years, and some continue to be gripped by drought,

and I saw them myself first hand despite the deceptive appearance

of some green on the top, that there is still a lot of drought affliction

in this part of the world. But despite those setbacks there have been

some good pieces of news for rural Australia in recent times.

To start with, we are making a huge commitment to landcare and bushcare

through the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia. The Natural Heritage

Trust of Australia will spend $1.25 billion on capital projects designed

to repair Australia's environment. And these projects, and I

made some announcements yesterday in Far North Queensland, will include

some further investments in relation to river systems in both the

Hunter area and also the northern part of New South Wales. But the

great advantage of the Natural Heritage Trust is that we are going

to spend the money on practical environmental challenges. We are spending

a lot of money on cleaning up the Murray Darling Basin which is the

underpinning of a large part of Australia's agricultural base.

We are spending a lot of money on tackling the horrific salinity problems

in Western Australia. And you only have to fly over Western Australia

to get an idea of how difficult the salinity problem is. We are spending

money on landcare. There are now 4,000 landcare groups in Australia.

I went to the Annual Presentation of the Prime Minister's Landcare

awards in Canberra a few weeks ago and it was a marvellous reminder

to me of a cooperative effort between farmers, environmentalists,

townspeople, everybody who is interested and comes together with a

common cause of preserving and re-enriching the soil and the land

of Australia. So this Natural Heritage Trust is not going to be spent

on what I might call high-profile politically correct, peripheral

environmental issues. It is going to be spent on grass roots, down

to earth, ongoing, far sided environmental regeneration. Cleaning

up our rivers, preventing ocean outfalls, removing salinity, caring

for the land, caring for bush. All of those things are the way in

which we can make a lasting contribution to the rehabilitation and

the regeneration of the Australian environment.

The other thing that I am happy to say has come the way of the bush

and come the way of small business over the last few months is, of

course, that as a result of the policies we've followed. We've

seen a very significant fall in interest rates. And I have been travelling

around rural Australia and regional Australia for a long time now

in various disguises, and the last couple of years I've been

touring around as Prime Minister and in the last few months I am happy

to say for the first time I am able to look at rural people, I am

able to look small business men and women in regional towns in the

face and say: your interest rates are coming down. Because for so

long our interest rates have been at Himalayan levels. Only a few

years ago we had interest rates at 17, 18, 19, 20 per cent and we

now, as a result of the announcements made by the Commonwealth and

Westpac, and I apologise for the representative of any other bank

present for mentioning those two, but they happen to be the ones that

have made the announcements. As a result of that we are now looking

forward to a situation where on an overdraft of $100,000 you can achieve

an interest rate reduction of about $4,000 a year because those banks

have announced packages that will have their base lending rates at

about seven and a quarter per cent.

And when you compare that with the levels obtained only a few years

ago it is indeed extremely good news. And that is something that is

unalterably one of the best pieces of news that farmers and small

business people can have because the burden, the crushing burden of

high interest rates has been the most perennial, repeated, constant

complaint which has been made to me over the last 10 or 15 years when

I have been to many a civic reception, been to many a homestead, been

to many a small business in many a main street of many a country town

in Australia. And the constant complaint I've had more than anything

else is the level of interest rates, and at long last we are starting

to see the breaking of that particular drought and we hope, of course,

that the breaking of some other natural drought will come very, very

freely and very, very soon to those parts of Australia that need it

very badly.

I am often asked ladies and gentlemen what is the best thing about

being the Prime Minister of Australia, and the best thing without

question about being the Prime Minister of Australia is the opportunity

to come to gatherings like this to meet so many different parts of

the Australian community, to be reminded as I have today of the enormous

part of our heritage which is owed to the rural community. To speak

to people who's families for generations have owned land, who

for generations have been rural people. To have the opportunity of

meeting people who have made this country their home from Europe or

from Asia. To meet, as I have at this civic reception, people from

countries as far apart as Thailand and Greece and Italy. To have the

opportunity of being reminded of the contribution to the Australian

culture of the 1990s of our Indigenous heritage and to understand

that respecting everybody's right to fully identify according

to their own culture is part of the modern Australia and is part of

what it is to be an Australian in the 1990s.

So visiting gatherings such as this, having the opportunity of getting

out of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, not that I have anything against

any of the people who live in those wonderful areas having myself

grown up and spent all my life in Sydney, it is part of the tonic,

the regeneration, I suppose of the political being to meet so many

people and to understand and to listen a little more and perhaps understand

and realise a little better some of the particular challenges that

you have in these parts of Australia.

I want to thank all of you for the contribution that you make to your

community. I want to salute again the great Australian volunteer spirit.

We are one of the great volunteer nations of the world. We are a nation

that better than most have grasped the fact that Governments can't

do it on their own. Individuals can't do it on their own and

community groups like the churches and the great charitable organisations

can't do it on their own either. But we can only build the kind

of society we all want, a good and a fair society, a good, fair and

strong society as we move towards the 21st Century if we enlist the

cooperation of the Government, the community groups and the individual,

with each playing their own part. Recognising that when people need

help, they should be helped but in accordance with the principle of

mutual obligation, if we help people who can afford to give something

back to the community in return for that assistance then that is not

unreasonable to ask for. And that principle of mutual obligation underpins

our approach to such projects as the work for the dole.

But ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very warmly for the civic reception

that has been tended to me by the Administrator and by the people

of the city of Maitland. I wish you all well, I thank you for the

contribution that you are making to our country, to your community

and it's been a great delight to have been amongst you today.

Thank you.

Transcript 10910