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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11339


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: 17/05/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11339


Well thank you very much Joe. To Dick Humphrey, Maurice Newman, Alan

Cameron, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today. I was remarking to Maurice Newman

that it has been reasonably busy day. I started off in court in a

ceremony to mark the 175th anniversary of the Supreme Court

of New South Wales. I have just come from a rather more somber occasion,

a State Funeral for a former Premier of New South Wales at St James'

and now, I guess, I am paying homage to mammon by coming to the Stock

Exchange to launch this very important initiative.

As I am sure all of you know, amongst the many things that we have

sought to do as a Government is to promote Australia and as Prime

Minister of the entire country I talk generically but to promote Australia

as a centre centre for financial services. We used

to, as Joe said, talk about it as a regional financial centre but

it is important to see Australia's potential as a global centre

for financial services.

And I am announcing today a number of important new initiatives and

not least of those is the establishment of the International Financial

Centre Taskforce that will ensure major participation in the quest

for Australia's status as a global financial centre very important

and valuable private sector involvement. This taskforce will be headed

by an executive chosen from the private sector with particular knowledge

of what is needed and the energy required to remove the barriers and

the impediments that now stand in the way of us realising our goal

of Australia becoming such a centre.

We are going to do a number of things apart from establishing the

taskforce which will be based here in Sydney in the central business

district. We are going to reopen Treasury's regional office in

Singapore. There will be a leading role for Joe Hockey, the Minister

for Financial Services and Regulation, as well as continuing his normal

ministerial duties, he will have responsibility as a roving ambassador

for me and for the Government to promote Australia as a centre for

global financial services. We are also going to establish a new committee

of regulators comprising the Treasury, the Reserve Bank, APRA, ASIC,

the ACCC and the Australian Taxation Office. We are going to improve

data collection to benchmark Australia's performance.

Now, our strategy to promote Australia as a world financial centre

is based on the belief that this country offers attractions that few

countries in the world can offer. First and foremost, we have a stable

economy. We have an economy that last year grew stronger than any

economy in the industrialised world. We have a strong, stable, well-supervised

and prudently regulated banking system. We have a clear coherent body

of law. We have sound traditions and principles of corporate governance.

And one of the fascinating things about economic debate in this country

and around the world in recent times is how some things that were

a few short years ago seen almost as impediments to Australia aspiring

to what we are about today are now seen as some of our greatest strengths.

I can even recall some businessmen a few years ago saying that we

were too stodgy, that our banking system perhaps was a little too

conservative, that maybe we should adopt the Malaysian model for promoting

investment, that maybe we should adopt this or that approach. Now,

of course, those very apparent signs of stodginess are seen as some

of the greatest strengths that this country has. Perhaps what some

would call our very conservatism in the approach of many of our financial

institutions, that is now seen as having been one of the virtues of

this country over the last few years and one of the reasons why we

have been able to stare down the Asian economic downturn.

As Joe said, over the last few years the Government has carried out

a number of major economic reforms which have helped deliver the strongest

Australian economy in 30 years, the lowest interest rates, the lowest

levels of inflation, significant rises in real incomes, all of which

have combined to give to this country in a general sense a level of

affluence and prosperity that we haven't seen since the late

1960s. And as I have said on many occasions the challenge of economic

reform in a globalised economy never disappears. We are where we are

now, the strength of today is the product of yesterday's reform

and the strength of tomorrow will be the product of today's reform.

And that, of course, brings me to the issue of taxation reform. Any

hope we have of making Australia a global financial centre will be

gravely threatened, if not totally destroyed, unless we can get fundamental

taxation reform. And one of the prices that this country will pay

years into the future if we don't have fundamental tax reform

is that we'll be denying the opportunity of capitalising on those

fundamental strengths of which I spoke a few moments ago. We do have

taxation laws at the moment which discourage the further promotion

of Australia as a financial centre. And one of the reasons for tax

reform is to get rid of the financial institutions duty, to get rid

of the bank account debits tax, to get rid of the tax on share transactions,

to reform our capital gains tax system, to replace the ramshackle,

out of date wholesale tax system with a modern internationally competitive,

broad based indirect tax. All of those reforms together will further

promote and add to the other strengths that Australia has and the

other appeal that Australia has as a world financial centre.

It's been one of my goals and it's been a goal of the Treasurer

since we're elected to office a little over three years ago,

to capitalise on the fundamental strengths that we have. A strong

economy, a stable political system, English is our national language,

strong rules, clear rules of corporate governance and a well regulated

financial system. They are all massive generic assets. But on top

of that you've got to look over the horizon and you've got

to grab hold of all of those things additionally that you can do to

make this country more attractive as a financial centre. And one of

those, of course, is fundamental taxation reform. And that's

why we went to the last election, spelling out in detail what we were

going to do. It's why we told the truth to the Australian people

at the last election about what we were going to do and it's

why there are many Australians at the present time who are angry beyond

belief that a government had the honesty and the candor to spell out

in detail what it intended to do and did not intend, try to slide

back into office on the basis of a generalised commitment to taxation

reform, but actually spelt it out in detail. And when you have gone

through that and you have won the election, and then you are told

by people, who themselves, did not spell out in detail before they

were elected what they wanted to do with the taxation system, you

begin to ask some fundamental questions about how effectively our

parliamentary system is operating. In all of the years I have been

in politics one of the constant complaints I have received is that

politicians don't tell the truth. They say that they won't

tell you what they are going to do or when they do tell you what they

are going to do, they change it after they have been elected. Well

in 1998 we told the public what we were going to do on tax. We haven't

tried to change it after we were elected. We are in fact trying to

implement what we promised the Australian people we were going to


And I certainly as Prime Minister and all the members of my Government

believe that what is now occurring through the refusal of the Senate

to honour the mandate we were given not only calls into question the

proper processes of our parliamentary system but of course it will

do incalculable damage to the Australian economy in the future. We

can be an even stronger more effective nation economically. We can

become a world financial centre. We can continue to deliver higher

living standards to the Australian people, but we can't do that

without continued reform. We badly need taxation reform. It is the

greatest piece of unfinished economic business on the Australian economic

and political landscape at the present time. And it is urgent in the

national interest that that be implemented. And our strategy to make

Australia a global financial centre will be undermined if we cannot

achieve financial reform.

Can I say in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, that I appreciate enormously

the opportunity that the exchange has given us to launch the details

of these new initiatives today and to give me an opportunity to outline

some of the goals that the government has in mind in this area. We

are very strongly committed and we do believe that this country can

become an international financial centre because it has assets that

other centres don't have and on top of that if we have the courage

and capacity as a community to make necessary future reforms to the

Australian economy then that goal can be realised.

Can I very warmly commend to you the work that Joe has done as the

Minister responsible for financial services since his appointment

to that position in October of last year. He will have a very active

and visible role in relation to achieving the goal of making Australia

a financial centre. He will work very closely of course with the taskforce.

He will be reporting directly to me as well as to the Treasurer regarding

the activities of the taskforce. And I see him as having a very active

part to play as a roving ambassador promoting the cause of this country

as a world financial centre.

Can I just say once again, ladies and gentlemen, that we do have enormous

opportunities at the present juncture in our economic and political

history. We do have the strongest set of economic fundamentals, far

stronger than many of us thought possible, even our more optimistic

moments a few years ago. And we have the capacity to continue with

that strength if we have the will and the application as a nation

to undertake further reforms. Doing well in a globalised economy is

a race that never finishes and it's not sufficient to look back

and say well we're doing better than we did thirty years ago,

we have to do better than our current day competitors if we are to

continue to stay in front of that race. And Australia has been doing

that over the last few years, we can continue to do that but only

if we have a capacity and a willingness as a people to embrace the

further necessary reforms, including taxation reform, which will maintain

into the future the edge that we currently have over so many other

countries and so many other competitors around the world.

Thank you very much.


Transcript 11339