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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11640

Address to Women's Action Alliance 25th Anniversary Dinner, Melbourne

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: 12/10/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11640

Subjects: Social and economic policies; Olympic Games

E&OE..................

Well, I'm glad those votes didn't exist 25, 23 and 20 years ago but thank you very, very much Pauline for your kind words of introduction, to Karin Abrams, the National President, to the many distinguished guests and particularly can I acknowledge the presence of my parliamentary colleague Kevin Andrews and can I say what an intelligent decision the preselection committee of Menzies made last weekend.

Celebrating 25 years of an organisation is always a special moment and when one thinks of all of the things that have happened in political and national and social life in this country and around the world, the last 25 years has been an extraordinary period. It almost exactly not totally but almost exactly mirrors the period of time that I have been a member of the House of Representatives. I was elected to the House of Representatives as the Member for Bennelong in May of 1974, half way through the three year term of the Whitlam Government. I will come to politics gently in a moment but it does represent a very remarkable period of change in Australian society.

A lot of those changes have been very positive, a lot of them, many would argue have not been so positive. It's been a period of time that has seen furious debate on social issues, it has been a period of time when major economic change has brought about very significant social change. It has been a period during which the country has gone through some deep recessions and economically now we are in arguably the strongest and brightest period economically that we have had for more than 30 years. But I haven't come along tonight to talk excessively about economics although it is never possible to talk about the national condition without referring a little bit to the economic state of the country. But yours is an organisation that has championed vigorous social debate, you've championed the cause of something that is fundamental to my personal philosophy and that is the notion of choice. Particularly but not only for women within the Australian community. The role and status of women, the relationship between men and women within our community, the enormous changes in gender roles within our society over the last quarter of a century, remain issues that still excite, understandably a great deal of debate.

I remarked earlier to my companions at the dinner table that I believe that the younger women of today, in many ways, despite some of the burdens to which Pauline referred were increasingly being seen in my view as having a more mature and a more relaxed attitude about the role and status of men and women within our community. Many of the legitimate goals of equality of treatment and opportunity have now been achieved. That doesn't mean that men and women either within or out the paid workforce are treated equally or are afforded equality of opportunity. But it does mean that we now live in a society that recognises that the aspirations and the horizons of women have changed for all time. But it is also a society, I know and particularly your organisation, that would argue that although those horizons have properly changed that doesn't alter the fundamental and enduring value of many of the institutions of our society and I know to an organisation such as your own as to the government and as to my own personal political philosophy the family unit remains the central and most stabilising influence in the life of the nation and in the lives of most Australians.

The challenge of Government in the 21st century is to recognise that and support the fact that the family remains the most important group unit in our society. It continues not only to provide most people within our community with the immediate source of their emotional and often their spiritual being and sustenance. But it is also something that in economic terms provides the best social welfare system that man kind has ever devised. What we all must recognise is that although the family remains central to our lives and central to what we think of ourselves, how we learn to relate to each other and how we learn to relate to our fellow human beings, it is now operating within a very different environment than what it was 25 or indeed 50 years ago. It is no less relevant, it is no less important, it's no less held dearly by the community and one of the things I find fascinating is that whenever a survey is done of the aspirations of young people within our community you normally find at the very top the aspiration of personal happiness, security, family life, stability, all of those things that you tend to associate with traditional attitudes towards family life within our community. And what I think we draw from that is that people still want the stabilising influence of family in their lives. They still see it as the most immediate source of support but families today are going to operate under different rules. Family members are going to relate to each other differently. The opportunities for family members are going to be different and particularly the opportunities for women are going to be different.

Many of the things that were spoken of as the goals of your organisation and many of the things that we have achieved if I may say so together, in areas such as taxation are all built around a very important philosophical notion and that philosophical notion is the notion or concept of choice. The driving force of so much of the philosophy of the party that I am privileged to lead, the Liberal Party of Australia is a belief that the most important thing that we can provide to the Australian community is to give to the men and women of Australia the maximum range of choices that we possibly can and what I've sought to do and I have been a long term advocate and I am glad that the changes that we brought about in our taxation reforms are recognised for the achievement that they represent. I have been a long term advocate of greater equity and justice within the taxation system for different family formations.

I don't think Governments have a right to tell families how to organise their paid and unpaid working lives. I don't seek as Prime Minister to say to parents of young children you should have this or that child care arrangement, that is not my right. But it is my responsibility as far as possible to allow parents in Australia to exercise the choice they want in relation to their childcare arrangements and if they want childcare to be in the form of home care by one or other parent on a full or substantially full time basis they should not suffer a severe economic penalty if they elect to go down that path. I believe that the changes we have made have reduced that penalty. I don't think I can say it has disappeared all together but certainly it has been substantially reduced. It remains our goal to maintain choice. We don't mandate conduct, rather we facilitate choice. And of course that same commitment to choice underlines the attitude of the government in another very important area that touches the lives of all families and that is the area of education.

The Government believes very strongly that Australian parents have the right to choose the education they think best suits the interests of their children. I don't believe in commercial monopolies, nor do I believe in education monopolies. We have in many ways the best mixed system of government and independent schools to be found anywhere in the world. We have provided a climate for growth of choice against the back drop of a well funded strongly supported government education system and I speak myself as totally the product of the government education system of New South Wales. A quality of education to which I remain indebted to the schools that gave me that education. But I believe very strongly, that we should always provide parents with the maximum level of choice and the new funding arrangements introduced by the government and currently before the Senate have been the subject of some debate within parliament and within the media in recent weeks and the aim of those policies is to increase the choices available to Australian parents. The aim of those changes are not to confer privilege on small sections of the Australian community but rather to expand the choices available. We have done so by introducing new funding arrangements and new measurements of the capacity of parents to pay and we believe that as a result of those new arrangements there will be far greater choice available to Australian parents.

Can I say to all of you that organisations whether they be the Women's Action Alliance, whether they be political parties, whether they be service organisations or other voluntary organisations within the Australian community, all of them face the challenge of competing for the attention of an increasingly busy community. We are a different society from what we were two generations ago. People do not automatically join organisations the way they did 20 or 30 years ago therefore the attempts of all organisations to remain strong advocates for their causes and to enlist the aid and support of people within the Australian community, that challenge is increasing every year. And I congratulate an organisation such as this that has remained, I believe a very steady and sensible voice for the opinions of a large section of the mainstream of the Australian community. I think that we need strong advocacy of organisations which don't have any formal alliance with either side of politics and I guess I address here tonight a gathering of people who represent all strands of political opinion within the Australian community and that is how it should be because one of the distinguishing things about Australian politics in the 21st century is that it has become a lot less tribal than what it used to be and I find it of intense fascination and interest as I move around the Australian community the number of people who identify themselves as having had a particular allegiance in the past that may not necessarily be mine finding points of agreement on issues that I am supporting or propagating and equally on occasions I come across people whose traditional allegiance is my own that have points of disagreement or points of criticism on attitudes that I am taking. And it is a reminder to me that politics today is more plural, less tribal and therefore in that sense a lot more challenging in many ways than what it was when I entered federal parliament 25 years ago.

Can I say to you that although I have not said a lot tonight about the economic condition of the country I am sure that you would all agree that the capacity of a government and the capacity of a country to deliver stable economic conditions, strong economic growth, rising job opportunities, lower interest rates and low inflation, all of those things, create better conditions for Australian families. One of the things that gives me a great deal of pride is that today we have a set of employment figures, unemployment figures which show not only an unemployment level of 6.3% over the last month but also the lowest level at 18.5%, the lowest level of youth unemployment that we have had since 1978. Now those figures represent if I can put it, the flesh and blood of economic policy and economic achievement.

We hear a lot these days about whether we have become a society which is obsessed with economic efficiency and economic achievement and I can understand why people occasionally express concern about a tendency by some to be preoccupied with economic outcomes because running an efficient economy is never an end in itself. I don't seek a strong growing stable efficient Australian economy in order to please the economic purists of the world or of the International Monetary Fund. I do it because I see it as a way of delivering a better life for individual Australians and for their families. Because more people in work, more satisfying work, more career opportunities, more family opportunities, they are the outcomes, they are the flesh and blood of strong economic policies and effective economic achievement. I have often been asked to describe as best I can the broad philosophical goals and objectives of the government that I lead and I have sought to describe the modern Liberal Party of Australia as being very much a party that believes in principles of economic liberalisation when it comes to economic policy and a Party that believes in modern conservatism when it comes to social policy. What I mean by modern conservatism in social policy, I mean that we are a government that believes that there are some enduring values and some enduring institutions in our community that are as relevant and as precious and as valuable to us in these early months of the 21st century as they have ever been and I have touched on some of those tonight. But equally we live in a society where the conditions in which those institutions operate and contribute to human happiness and human fulfillment are different from what they were a generation ago and the challenge of modern society is always to maintain the enduring value and importance of institutions such as the family but ensure that we do it in a way that retains its relevance and its support and its value for the modern community. And I think organisations such as your own do recognise that. You are not arguing that the conditions in which families operate are the same now as they were when your organisation was formed. Having achieved some of your goals you are now very sensibly moving on to others and I congratulate you for that and that does mirror in a very significant way the approach that the Government has taken to many important elements of social policy in Australia.

The last thing I want to say to you and I find it quite impossible to address any gathering of Australians anywhere in our country at the present time without saying what I feel about the tremendous success and the tremendous value to our sense of national pride and national achievement constituted by the wonderful Olympic Games in Sydney only a few weeks ago. I think that event demonstrated the tremendous capacity of the Australian community to do something in the eyes of the whole world in an efficient, modern, sophisticated, friendly, relaxed and above all, I think very courteous and very Australian way and it was a reminder to those within our community that seek to denigrate the Australian achievement and the capacity of Australians to do things effectively, it was a reminder of how much this country has been able to demonstrate to the world what a remarkably successful amalgam it is of so many people from so many different parts of the world. A classless society that values in a very relaxed and friendly fashion strong and spirited sporting competition.

Can I thank the Women's Action Alliance for the contribution that it has made to economic and social debate in Australia. Can I encourage you to continue your work, can I encourage you to find new forms of advocacy, can I encourage you to continue to put them to my government and any future government of Australia. We may not agree with everything but we certainly will always listen to you, will always respect your commitment to family life, your commitment to effective choice for men and women and your belief, a belief that the government shares, that there are some enduring institutions in our society which are as relevant and as important today as they have ever been and the support of those institutions is very important to the future of the whole of the Australian community.

Thank you very much

[ends]

Transcript 11640