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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11662

Address to the Leichhardt FEC, Cocktail Function, Cairns

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: 17/05/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11662

Subjects: Tax reform; rural and regional Australia; Telstra and telecommunications; trade and Korea

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

Well thank you very much Warren and Lynne and the Mayor of Cairns, my parliamentary colleague Ron Boswell, the Leader of the National Party in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, ladies and gentlemen. Well thank you very much Lynne and Warren for those warm words of introduction. What I like about you Queenslanders is you are so subtle. It always takes me a long time to sort of work out exactly what you are saying. But I got the distinct impression that Warren has a lot of support here and can I tell you that doesn't surprise me in the slightest and it was nice of him to mention that incident a year ago and I will just say twenty seconds about it. I have never witnessed in all my life a greater example of the unreality of the Canberra press gallery than I did on that particular occasion. They had no idea of what sort of real life was about and I thought it was the most ludicrous ill-based unjustified attack on somebody's integrity I have seen for a long time and I had absolutely no difficulty in defending you mate because you were absolutely right.

Well it is great to be back in far north Queensland again and everybody I have met tonight that wasn't born here and that's all but one has said to me that they have escaped the cold weather of Sydney or the cold weather of somewhere else and you are obviously very happy to be here and it is a special part of Australia and it's a part of Australia that of course has very strong links into our region. And I will be demonstrating that tomorrow. For the first time I will be departing on an overseas visit as Prime Minister of Australia other than out of Sydney or Canberra. And I will be leaving Cairns tomorrow to go to the Republic of Korea for the first time as Prime Minister to pay an official visit to that country to repay the courtesy of a visit by President Kim Dae Jung last year.

Korea of course is a very important trading partner of Australia's. Korea buys more products from Australia than any other country in the world bar Japan and I was reminded yesterday when I was in Townsville and I opened the Sun Metals Zinc Plant just how important Korean investment is for the future of the Australian economy. So tomorrow I leave Cairns, Australia to go to Seoul in the Republic of Korea and that's entirely appropriate given the contribution of Queensland and the contribution of far north Queensland to the economy of Australia.

There are a lot of things I could talk to you about tonight. I am not going to give you another long and passionate speech about all the good things that the government has done but we have done a lot of good things and I don't want anybody to think, I don't want anybody to imagine for a moment that I am not very proud of the fact that Mr Beazley ran up $80 billion of national debt in five budgets and in our first five budgets we will have wiped $50 billion off that $80 billion of debt.

I am mighty proud of that. And while I am on the subject of my opponent I notice that he has got a new fancy moniker, Country Labor. It is a bit of an oxymoron if my experience in politics is any guide. I have only one observation on that. That in political life you win support and you win respect with substance and policy you don't win it through gimmicky descriptions. And in the end the people of non-metropolitan Australia whether you call them the regions, the country, the bush or rural and regional Australia and I sort of I use all those terms interchangeably. In the end people respond to substance they respond to long term commitment and they respond to an empathy with the challenges of their particular area of Australia. And I have been coming to Cairns for a long time. My visits to this city pre-dated Warren's election as the Federal Member for Leichardt and I know a little about it. I know how distinctive it is. I know for example how heavily it relies on small business and how important the strengths of the small business sector is. And it was one of those areas in Australia where I always got very strong support for the industrial relations agenda that I was pursuing both in opposition and in government.

You know around Australia there is only twenty per cent of people employed in the private sector now who belong to trade unions. And yet our political opponents are talking about if they were in government again, restoring the award system to the very heart of Australia's industrial relations system. We fought very hard when we first got into government against a hostile Senate to get through some very important industrial relations reforms and those changes, they weren't as far as we would have liked to have gone, we would have liked to have gone further. But we went a considerable distance. And those changes have been one of the reasons why our economy has gone much better over the last four years than it did over the preceding four years.

But that is in the past, albeit in the recent past. What is immediately in front of us on the 1st of July, in case you hadn't noticed, in case you hadn't heard is the arrival of tax reform. And tax reform can I tell you is going to be of enormous benefit to the economic strength and the economic future of Australia, and that is why I was prepared to risk my political future in October of 1998. And Warren might mutter "and my political future too in the process". But we were prepared to do it because as Warren said we knew it was good for the country. And when you have been in politics for twenty six years and there is no sort of point in messing about with political longevity. There is no point in messing around about you know who's been there longer and what it's like to be in office, been there done that. The only thing that I'm interested in at this stage of my political career is doing some things that are good for the future of the country. And in the end you get support politically if you do what is right. And I have believed for a long time that this country needs taxation reform. And we were prepared to risk our political future in October of 1998 because we believed that this reform was going to give Australia greater economic strength. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world economy. We can't isolate ourselves from what happens around the world. We might like to but we can't and this city with its links into Asia and its heavy reliance on the tourist industry knows only too well how important the attitude of the rest of the world is to Australia. But so it is that if we're going to remain competitive with the rest of the world we've got to keep changing and reforming our economy.

Warren rightly said that he thought rather than being a conservative, I was a bit of a radical. Warren, I have to say I'm both. I'm a selective conservative and I'm a discerning radical. And I don't say that in any way facetiously. Because that is what I think is, in a sense, the art of good government. There are some things about our past, and there are things about the way in which Australia has always done things that we ought to hang onto and we should never surrender. We should never give away the fact that we are a classless society that believes in treating people according to their worth and their merit and not according to where they were born or what school they went to or how they dress or what their accent is. That's never been the Australian way. We've always treated people according to their merit and what they're prepared to give to their community. And we ought to hang onto those things, they're precious, they're valuable. And we ought to hang onto the contribution that the bush, if I can use that expression, in the best description of the term, the contribution that the bush makes to the Australian character. I can't imagine what Australia would be like without its bush culture. I can't imagine what Australia would be like if we lost that. And that's one of the reasons why it's tremendously important that we give support as we did in the last Federal Budget to getting some more medical practitioners and more health services into the remote areas of the country. I mean the real outback areas that are really suffering as a result of the declining commodities prices and are doing it very hard. They are losing services, we ought to understand that, we ought to listen to that, we've got to do something about it. So we decided in the last Budget that rather than spray a bit of the money around to a number of areas affecting rural and regional Australia we would take one area and we would really make a good job of it. And that's what we did in relation to health services. And it's part of hanging on not only to the human and economic infrastructure, but also hanging onto the contribution that it makes to what it means to be an Australian and to the Australian identity and to the Australian character.

So there are a lot of things about us that we should hang onto. But there are some things about us, there are ways in which we have done things in the past that no longer work. And we have to change them. If we don't change we will get rolled over by the rest of the world. And that's why we have tried to implement in a number of areas an economic reform agenda. That's why we had to get the Budget into surplus. That's why we had to change our industrial relations system. And that's why I still believe very strongly, although there may be some people in this audience who don't agree with me, I still believe very strongly that the Government shouldn't own 50.1% of Telstra. I don't believe that you should have $50 billion of public investment tied up in a telephone company. I think it is an unwise expenditure of that public investment. Governments are lousy managers of businesses. They've demonstrated that over the years. And if governments own business operations, in the end you get a conflict of interest. There's a funny idea around you know that if somehow or other Telstra were continually owned by the government there would never be any job redundancies. In between 1991 and 1995 when the old Telecom was a hundred per cent owned by the government, there was 17,000 redundancies. Telecommunications in Australia is changing. There does need to be an improvement of the services in the bush. They have improved, there is a lot of room for further improvement and we're not going to do anything further about selling the rest of Telstra until that further improvement is guaranteed. But nobody should imagine that in the long run you get any real salvation about having a giant telecommunications company in this modern day and age half owned by the private sector and half owned by the government, you constantly start bumping into each other. It's a conflict of interest, in the long run it is an unsustainable situation. And if we could sell the rest of Telstra, we'd be able to get rid of all our debt. We've got rid of a lot of it, but we'd be able to get rid of a great deal more.

But ladies and gentlemen, tax reform is on everybody's lips, I understand that. And can I say to you that I believe after it comes in on the first of July, inevitably after enormous amount of debate, enormous amount of criticism from the Opposition, a tremendous public focus, I believe that after a relatively short period of time people will see it is as a very valuable reform.

Then under the taxation reform system, we're going to have one of the lowest company tax rates in the Asia Pacific Region. It will fall from 36 cents in the dollar to 30 cents. We are going to almost halve the capital gains tax. We're going to abolish provisional taxation. We're going to have $12 billion of personal tax cuts, 80 per cent of the Australian community, of Australian tax payers will be on a top marginal rate of no more than 30 cents in the dollar. We're going to get rid of the unfair inequitable wholesale sales tax and replace it with a simple goods and services tax. We are going to get rid over time of a whole host of state taxes. Diesel fuel in non-metropolitan Australia will be 24 cents a litre cheaper than it would otherwise have been. Petrol used for business purposes will be 7 cents a litre cheaper than it would otherwise have been. All of these benefits together will represent the biggest shakeup that we've ever had in taxation in this country.

And very importantly every dollar, every last dollar of the goods and services tax is going to go to the state governments of Australia. And we're going to end this charade every year of premiers coming to Canberra and going in and saying, I'm going to demand something for Queensland and Joh Bjelke Petersen said it, Wayne Goss said it, Rob Borbidge said it, Peter Beattie says it, they all say the same thing, Labor, National, it didn't matter and then they'd come out and they'd say, the lousy federal government wouldn't give it to us and we had to go back and we had to slash services and increase taxes in Queensland they'd say. And they'd say that. they said that of Malcolm Fraser, they said that of Bob Hawke, they said that of Paul Keating and they said that of John Howard.

So what we decided to do when we put tax reform together was to say, right we're going to give the states what they've always asked for and that is access to a growth tax so that they can fund the police services, the public hospitals, the government schools and all the other things they've got to do and that is exactly what we're doing. And every dollar that goes, every dollar that's collected from the goods and services tax is going to the states. And can I assure you that I had the [inaudible] with the Premier of Queensland and the Premier of New South Wales, both of whom belong to the other party and they came along to the Premier's Conference and they said, Prime Minister this is a shocking tax reform package, it is outrageous, it is going to do the Australian people in the eye, where do I sign. And there is a very, very good reason for that. They wanted to sign because they know, and Queensland will get access to the benefits of the growth in GST revenue earlier than any other state in Australia. And Queensland will be better off quicker than any other state as a result of the introduction of the GST. So if you don't believe it, if you didn't believe it when you came into this room tonight, after I hope I've pointed that out to you you'll go away as very enthusiastic supporters of it.

But ladies and gentlemen as you gather from my demeanor I believe in this reform, I've staked a lot on it; I've campaigned for it; I've led the Government to victory in an election on it; we've got it through the parliament in the face of a hostile upper house. There were some changes made that we would have preferred hadn't been made but they've been made as the price of getting it through. And I've done all of that not for some political advantage, you can hardly argue that in the face of the danger that's involved in such basic change, but I've done that because I believe it is in the long term benefit of the people of this country and I believe that as time goes by that will be very, very widely recognised.

Ladies and gentlemen it's an enormous privilege to be Prime Minister of this country and the best part about it, more than any sort of single event, more than meeting this or that person is the opportunity it gives you endlessly to visit different parts of Australia. And I do take care to ensure that I reach the non-metropolitan areas of Australia on a regular basis. I haven't suddenly discovered the value of bush tours. I've been undertaking bush tours all of my political life. I haven't suddenly discovered regional Australia. I'm not a stranger to Townsville or to Cairns. I'm not a stranger to Kalgoorlie. I'm not a stranger to Esperance or to Whyalla or Port Pirie or to Dubbo or Parkes because Australia is more than just Sydney and Melbourne and Canberra, important though those centres are it is also non-metropolitan Australia, it's far north Queensland.

Warren does bring to the national parliament a particular style. Sounds to me it's pretty effective too. And good on him, he's a very good representative and he remarked to me tonight, he remarked to me tonight that this is a very diverse gathering of the community of his electorate and so it is, it represents people who were born in Cairns, it represents people who came to Cairns from other parts of Queensland, it represents people who've come from other states, there are representatives of our indigenous community here and the Torres Straits. There are representatives of Japan a country that has very close links with this part of Australia. There are people retired, there are people in small business, there are people involved in welfare services, government welfare services and non-government welfare services. In other words you've got the whole bit and that's terrific because that's what this community is and that's what representative politics is all about, it's about representing the entire community and of all the things I tried to say to the Australian people on the night that I was elected Prime Minister in March of 1996, the one that I wanted to get across very strongly was that I was elected to lead a government that would govern for the mainstream of the Australian community and this is the mainstream tonight. The mainstream is not made up of one particular group being the largest in the community, it is made up of different sections of the community all working together for a common purpose and that's what a community like this here tonight represents and thank you very much for having me and you've got a very good sitting member.

[ends]

Transcript 11662