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Transcript 11643

Address to Add Lib - Italian Australian Institute Lunch, 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: 13/10/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11643


Well thank you very much Louise for that very kind introduction, to all of my parliamentary colleagues, to Rino Grollo, the President of the Italian Australian Institute and ladies and gentlemen.

Before I address some remarks to contemporary political and economic issues I'd like to acknowledge very warmly on your behalf the contribution of the Italian Australian Institute and particularly its president Rino Grollo for the sponsorship of this Ad Lib Lunch. And in the process of thanking Rino and his colleagues in the Institute can I formally launch this, well I can't call it a slim volume because it is fairly substantial but it is very important and it is called In Search of the Italian-Australian into the New Millennium and it records the proceedings of the conference held here in Melbourne on the 24th & 25th & the 26th of May which traced the wonderful Italian story in Australia. And for the many people who have their heritage from Italy in Australia and many others who are friends of those and friends of Italy it will make very good reading.

Can I say to you Rino, in particular, and to others connected with the Institute that one of the more significant things about the Olympic Games particularly the opening night were the unprompted responses of the 110 000 strong crowd at the Olympic Stadium as the various national teams walked past and it was very interesting to note the unprompted response of the crowds to particular national teams, and there was no doubting the affection and warmth and spontaneity of the applause and the welcome extended to the Italian team as it marched into the Stadium. And that was a demonstration of the affection in which those of Italian heritage, numbering more than a million within the Australian community the affection in which they are held by the broader Australian community. So thank you again for your sponsorship and more broadly thank you again for what your magnificent community represents as part of the 19 million strong Australian community.

There is a little bit of a sense in Australia at the moment, both politically and psychologically of, well, haven't things gone very well, particularly with the after glow of the Olympic Games and more narrowly but very importantly at the political level after the very successful introduction of the new tax system there's a bit of a sense of what is going to happen now? And one of the things that I would like to try and do today is to share with you my thoughts of what is going to happen now and the short answer is quite a lot. The longer answer will take a few more minutes but it is certainly the case that the New Taxation system which came into operation on the 1st of July has been accepted and assimilated by the Australian community to a far greater extent and far more quickly than even the most optimistic proponents of it, such as myself, dared imagine. And all of those prophecies of doom and all of those suggestions from the Labor Party and others that the world would come to an end on the 1st of July, all of their prayers that that might happen weren't realised of course. They did want it to be a disaster, they wanted it to be a political catastrophe for the government so they would be in a position to say "there we told you so" and to use Mr Beazley's rather inglorious phrase the Labor Party might then hope that it would surf to victory on the back of voter dissatisfaction with the new taxation system.

Well of course none of that transpired and the Australian people have seen the reform for what it is and that was a very serious attempt to give this country a new taxation system that it's needed for more than a quarter of a century. Now I don't pretend that there aren't some individual problems of detail and there won't be areas of concern, there won't need on occasion to be some fine tuning of the way the new system operates but fundamentally the reform has been accepted and the reason it has been accepted is that it was seen as structurally sound and very comprehensive. It wasn't just a reform of the indirect tax system, it delivered very large reductions in personal income tax, it got rid of provisional tax, it almost halved capital gains tax, it's cutting company tax from 36 cents in the dollar to 30 and it is doing a number of other very positive things that we have needed to be seen done for a very long period of time. And the other reason why I believe that it has been well received is that the public see it as part of a pattern of change and reform that this government has embraced over the last four and half years.

If you look at our economic performance, our inflation rate is low, our interest rates are much lower. We recorded yesterday the lowest unemployment rate this country has seen for more than 10 years. We now have the lowest level of youth unemployment at less than 19% that we have had for perhaps 20 years. We still have very strong levels of business investment, we have a strong budget surplus. We've recorded 11 or 12 quarters of economic growth in excess of an annual rate of 4%. We are seen around the world, despite what some people say, inaccurately, as a country whose productivity performance is stronger and better than the productivity performance of most. And recently we have had a very ill informed debate about the relationship of new technology to the Australian economy and there is a false view being put around by some people that because this country is not a major manufacturer as opposed to a major user of new technology, particularly information technology, it is seen around the world as an old economy. And against that background I found some comments contained in the most recent Bulletin of the United States Federal Reserve System very instructive and very enlightening. And I am not prone at speeches like this as many of you will know to read extracts from reports or indeed to read anything at all. But I do want, if you will bear with me for a moment, I do want to read a short extract from that bulletin because it goes very directly to this rather fatuous and completely erroneous argument about new technology.

What the bulletin says is that the most prominent explanation for the pick up in productivity growth, and the Bulletin here is talking about economies generally, centres on new developments in the high technology sector, in particular the proliferation of computer and information technology. In so far as most of the recent technological advances in this area are available to businesses worldwide it is natural to expect them to contribute to faster productivity growth abroad as well. The availability of new technology on a worldwide basis need not however translate into an automatic improvement in productivity performance. An economy's structure, institutions and regulations influence the rapidity with which technological advances are adopted and the extent to which adoption of these advances leads to heightened efficiency. And the Report goes on to find that with only a few exceptions, labour productivity in foreign countries to the United States does not appear to have accelerated in the latter half of the 1990's. And they go onto say that only two of the foreign, industrial economies in our sample, Australia and Switzerland show a rise in labour productivity growth over 1996/98 compared with earlier periods. And the extract concludes by saying this, that for Australia, the acceleration in labour productivity was particularly strong, an increase of two percentage points in 1996/98 over its average during the 1980's.

Now that rather dry, but nonetheless very relevant extract from the Federal Reserve's monthly bulletin makes a very emphatic point and that is productivity improvement is based on the adoption and the use of new technology. And when you look around the world Australia and Switzerland are the star performers according to the United States' Federal Reserve system and out of those two Australia has done the best of all. And that rather does give the lie not only to this argument about the inability of Australia to effectively use and adapt new technology but it also drives home another point that Louise made in her introduction and that is that one of the things that's been very important to economic change and reform in Australia over the past few years has been the way in which we have been able, through industrial relations reforms, through the use and applications of new technology to lift the productivity in the Australian economy.

One of the reasons why working men and women in Australia now are better off than they were a few years ago is that they have been able to enjoy real gains in their incomes without there being inflationary costs. They've really got the double benefit of lower interest rates and higher real wages. And that has been due in no small measure ladies and gentlemen, in no small measure to the fact that we have seen a very significant boost in productivity.

So when you look back over the last four and a half years, culminating with the introduction of the new taxation system, it has been a pattern and a policy of consistent change and reform. And that process must go on. We now live in an economic climate where there is really no alternative to the process of change and reform and the process of globalisation. The last time I addressed a gathering in this very auditorium was a dinner gathering of the World Economic Forum held on the eve of the Olympic Games, remembered perhaps more for the riots and the demonstrations rather than for many of the very substantive contributions that were made. But on that particular occasion we were really talking about the merits or otherwise of globalisation. And the reality that came out of that conference to me and the reality as you look around the world, is that so far from globalisation being something that has weakened, enfeebled and impoverished countries and people, globalisation has brought economic gains and individual economic liberation to millions of people.

I used on the occasion of my address at that gathering, I used the example of Korea. A country that had in every sense of the word a third world economy back in the early 1960's, one of whose best exports was wigs, but a country which opened up its economy, embraced globalisation, became a world competitor and now has within the Asian Pacific region one of the strongest GDPs and strongest growing economies of all. And when you compare the Korean example with the example of countries that have kept their economies closed to the rest of the world but have turned their faces against globalisation, and as a consequence have poorer, more impoverished populations, we might begin to understand that globalisation is not something brutally imposed on the world by rich capitalists, rather it is something of long-term benefit and long-term gain to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Now if I look back over the last four and half years we can point to a lot of real achievements. In politics nothing is ever static. There is always an obligation to move on. There is always an obligation to tackle new issues and new horizons. And the Government's agenda is not limited to economic issues. Securing good economic outcomes is not an end in itself. It's only of value if it increases the store of human happiness and human contentment. And that is why the most warming thing to me about our economic progress over the last four and a half years is to know that we have generated more than 800,000 additional jobs. That we've got youth unemployment down to a twenty year low. That we have unemployment generally down to a little over 6%. But we want to go further. And if we can maintain economic growth at the present rate we can go further.

But going broader afield there are other major challenges which Australia faces. Last week I announced a Federal Government commitment to one of the most important, if not the most important environmental challenge that this country has. And that is the problem of salinity and the deteriorating quality of water throughout Australia. Many people coming metaphorically from Mars might wonder how it was that a country such as Australia had a problem with water. Yet in reality it is one of our long-term challenges. One third of all Australian rivers are of inferior quality. And unless we do something to reverse the deteriorating quality of the water supply in this country, in twenty years time the drinking water for the people of Adelaide will be unfit for human use in two out of every five days. The problem of salinity which has been with us for a very long time, but has been essentially left untackled until elements of the Natural Heritage Trust plan were put in place after the 1996 election. That along with water quality represents the biggest environmental challenge probably we have. And we announced a Commonwealth plan that I will take to the meeting with State Premiers on the third of November to work together in partnership over a ten year period identifying the twenty catchment areas around Australia that have serious salinity and water quality problems. And building in each catchment area a plan, working with local communities to tackle those problems. Recognising that compensation for particularly primary producers who may be affected might well need to be paid.

But it is one of those challenges which is very much for the long-term. It's something that will reflect in years to come on the stewardship of the present generation of Australians with those assets that we hold in trust and the quality of our water and the quality of our soil are certainly prime amongst those assets - the assets that we hold in trust for future generations of Australians.

The Government will also have before it, before the end of the year our internal response to the McClure Report which recommends some new directions for Australia's social security system. Contrary to what so many people said on the left of politics in Australia when we came into office in 1996 this Government has not demolished the social security safety net, it's never been part of the philosophy of the Liberal Party to leave people in need in the Australian community without assistance. Indeed if you go back over the period since World War II most of the really big, lasting changes to the social security safety net of this country were introduced by Liberal Governments. And therefore it was never going to be the philosophy or the policy in action of a Coalition Government to interfere or hack away at the social security net. And as time has gone by that realisation has come throughout the Australian community and now increasingly the Australian community feels comfortable with the idea of moving on to further change and reform in the area of social welfare. They have embraced the notion of mutual obligation which says that we have an obligation as a society to look after those in genuine need, but where possible and I stress where possible, people who receive assistance should reasonably be asked if they can to give something back to the community in return.

I don't regard that as an exercise in punishment, I regard that as an exercise in co-operation. I regard it as a principle and an approach which not only has wide support in the Australian community, but provides people with a pathway out of welfare dependence. And there's an increasingly strong view within the Australian community and indeed elsewhere around the world that we need to find ways to break the cycle of welfare dependency. Not in a heartless insensitive way by denying those in the community who need help and can't get anything back the necessary assistance, but rather to recognise that it's far better over time to assist people out of welfare into work than to encourage a continuation of welfare dependency. So much of what the McClure Report on social security was about was to address issues of that kind.

We'll also be taking some major decisions in relation to transport matters including, but not limited to, decisions in relation to what arrangements should be made in relation to further airport facilities in Sydney but of course that decision will have an impact on transport matters that go far wider than Sydney or indeed New South Wales. And in the area of technology and innovation and education we'll be responding to a number of major reports indicating some new pathways in that area.

So the message I would give to all of you is that the process of change and reform must go on. And speaking as I am to an audience that is particularly supportive of our efforts at a political level, can I say to you that as in all of these things we keep a balance between economic necessity and political realism. In the long run the obligation of any political party is to remain in office so that you can implement the philosophy in which you believe. The best way to do that of course is to govern well and to deliver competent, responsible government for all of the Australian people. And that is what we have sought to do. And we've sought in the process to give the maximum amount of choice. Louise mentioned two other things in her introduction. One of those was health insurance and another was education. And when I think back to only two years ago when we were struggling after the 1998 election to get our private health insurance rebate, our tax rebate through the Senate and it was only with the help of Senator Harradine that we were able to get that legislation through the Senate. And the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats voted against it and it's widely rumoured that at the time the legislation went up, elements of the Labor Party in New South Wales sent a plaintive request to Brian Harradine to vote in favour of the legislation with the rider that of course that the Labor Party couldn't support the legislation but it had, because it opposed it during the election campaign, but it really wanted it to go through anyway because they were frightened that it would be seen in a very poor light in the context of the New South Wales state election if that legislation were defeated. Now that struck all of us at the time as a monumental exercise in hypocrisy, but of course the final evidence of the Labor Party's hypocrisy on this issue is that having done all of that they announced a couple of weeks ago that after all they would keep the health insurance rebate if they were elected. A commitment that I don't think given their track record believe for a moment, but in any event it demonstrates their hypocrisy and bankruptcy on this issue.

And health has been one of those issues which over the years we've been told constantly by the political analysts is something where we're meant to be struggling in relation to the Labor Party. The reality is that the Coalition Government has now established because of its support for private health insurance a better balance between public provision for health in this country and private provision, working in partnership, a better balance than we've had in this area than for probably a quarter of a century.

And the final area is the area of choice in education. And recently we've had a very vigorous debate in Parliament about the Government's new funding arrangements for independent schools in Australia. And I want to acknowledge in his presence the tremendous work that David Kemp as Minister for Education has done in this area. Choice in education has always been a very important Liberal principle. It's built upon the commitment to one central proposition and that is the parents of Australia should be given the maximum choice to decide the way and where their children should be educated. And this country has probably the best mix of public and private provision for education of any advanced industrialised country in the world. There's a far greater choice available. We recognise that choice in not only religious denominational terms, but also in terms of the method and the quality of education. And what this Government stands for above all else is giving the parents of Australian children that right of choice and that is best delivered through an education system that has a strong public component, properly resourced by the state government which historically has provided most of the funds for Government schools, supplemented where necessary by the Federal Government and also a strong independent sector funded by a funding system that recognises the capacity of parents to pay rather than outdated notions of what is a wealthy or not so wealthy school and recognising the increasing diversity of the school population within the Australian community.

Well ladies and gentlemen I have gone on for too long for a luncheon gathering. Can I say to you that what I've tried to convey in these few moments is that yes a lot has happened over the last four and a half years. We've had a new tax system. We've had in recent weeks the tremendous excitement of the great success for Australia in every way at the Olympic Games. But much remains to be done. Governments never automatically win re-election. The next election will be hard, the third one always is. Politics is volatile, it's unpredictable, it's less tribal than it once was. And no prime minister, no government can rest on its laurels and assume that good government has its automatic reward. The Australian people demand of us good government. They expect us to address with courage the difficult problems a country faces. They applaud commitment and resolution in the face of political difficulty. They expect us to show an understanding and compassion for those in the community who deserve it. And they expect us above all to continue to govern in the interests of all of the Australian community.

Let me say to all of the members of the Victorian Division and supporters who are here today, I know it's not easy in the first twelve months of opposition at the state level. I've experienced opposition, I know how awful it is. I'll never go back to it. I promise you that. And I will do everything I can to help and co-operate with my state colleagues in Victoria. We have a big fight ahead of us here in Victoria and around Australia over the next twelve months in the lead-up to the Federal election. I am encouraged by the support shown by this luncheon today and I thank you very warmly for coming along and demonstrating your commitment to our very important cause.

Thank you.


Transcript 11643