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Transcript 12479

Address to Victorian Division of the Liberal Party State Council, Geelong

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: 12/10/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12479

12 October 2002


Thank you Peter for those words of introduction. Robert Doyle the Leader of the State Parliamentary Liberal Party, Ian Carson, State President, my federal and state parliamentary colleagues and fellow Liberals.

Again it is a delight for Janette and I to be at the Victorian State Council. Particularly as your Division prepares for what increasingly appears to be an inevitable early election. A lot of people would give heaps to have four year terms. And if you’ve got them why would you cut them short unilaterally? You only do so if you feel what is around the corner. A lot of things around the corner. Mr Justice Cole is around the corner. He’s going to expose a lot of other people who are around the corner, so to speak. I think you do have to ask that rhetorical question. And I know many Victorians are asking it. Why, if you are running smoothly and the State is in good shape and investment is pouring in, and everybody loves you, why do you want to go early? You want to go early because your incapacity to say no to vested interest groups is starting to catch up with you.

I want to say to you Robert that you will have the total and enthusiastic support of all of your federal parliamentary colleagues in trying to wrest the treasury benches from the Bracks’ Labor Government.

I deal with all of the State Premiers. It’s my job. They’ve been elected by the people of their State. It’s a funny situation when you invite them to dinner at the Lodge and they’re all Labor and then one or two of them go away they talk about how they caucused before the dinner as to what they would say over dinner. That’s not very smart. But you know one of the besetting features of the Labor Party is that they can’t sort of get to the media quickly enough to explain how one faction or one Premier or one leader or one interest group was cleverer than the next.

I don’t like having eight State and Territory Labor Leaders to deal with and I think there are an increasing number of Victorians don’t like having a State Labor Government. It might have looked alright at the beginning. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time. They might have thought well we’ll have a bit of this warm and fuzzy stuff. Then after a while they start seeing somebody who can’t stand up to the unions - who’d rather throw away $90 millions of federal funding for the MCG - the greatest sporting arena in Australia, rather throw that away than stand up to the unions and insist as we rightly do that if you are going to spend federally collected taxpayers money you’ve got to obey federal laws and that is all we were asking. And that is a principle we apply all around Australia. And I couldn’t believe it when the Victorian Premier indicated oh no we don’t want your money. I mean every time I have a discussion with a State Premier about money they always want more. I mean this is one of the first occasions in which they said they didn’t want it. I couldn’t believe it. It reversed the only statement of Paul Keating’s I ever agreed with and that is you never stand between a Premier and a bag of money. The only statement of his I ever agreed with!

But ladies and gentlemen it won’t be easy. Let’s not kid ourselves. In my lifetime I can only think of - in my political lifetime I can only think of three occasions in which the public has thrown out a State government after only one term. They did it to two Tonkins one on either side. John Tonkin in Western Australia and a David Tonkin in South Australia and of course unfortunately the Borbidge/Sheldon government in Queensland only lasted a term. It is very rare but it has happened. And if we work hard it can happen again.

Industrial relations and the falling competitiveness of the state of Victoria compared with other States is the Achilles' heel of the Bracks Government. Investment is going elsewhere. Now as an Australian Prime Minister I am only interested in more investment anywhere in Australia and more investment both domestically from overseas. I don’t play favourites as to where it goes but I do observe and I do hear what businessmen and women around the country say and they are finding it increasingly less attractive on the industrial relations front to invest in this State.

So Robert you have not only our goodwill and our good wishes but you also very importantly will have our extremely enthusiastic and energetic support whenever the election is held and everything in my political bones tells me that it is not too far off. It seems to be the view of just about everybody and I know that you will have the tremendous goodwill and the aspirations and the hopes of all Liberals throughout, not only Victoria but also throughout Australia.

Ladies and Gentlemen it is now almost 12 months since the Government was re-elected for a third time on the 10th November last year. And in that time we have set about doing the things that we said we would do if we were re-elected. We have set out about continuing running a strong and growing economy. Peter is right, Australia has been the stand out economic performer of the developed world over the last five or six years. We are rightly seen as having succeeded where others have failed or not done so well and the long list of successful achievements on the economic front is increasingly well known to the Australian people.

But importantly it is something on which you can never down tools. You can never go to sleep on economic reform, you can never say well we’ve done enough, we can now coast and enjoy the benefit of it. When you start doing that you have lost your usefulness to the Australian community and you have lost your capacity to continue delivering strong economic growth.

So the reform process must go on. We have tried since the last election again to get our unfair dismissal changes through the Senate. We are going to put that Bill up again and we are going to keep trying until eventually one way or another we will get that legislation through the Senate.

We are continuing to look at ways in which the international aspects of our taxation system can be made more attractive. We are fulfilling our commitment to review the competition laws of this country to ensure that the balance between large and small business is properly maintained. We have put up to the Parliament all of the changes to superannuation that we took to the last election. We have introduced and legislated for the baby bonus that will provide additional choice for Australian parents in relation to the care of their first child and that baby bonus is not going to be compromised or whittled away in the process of introducing other policies in the future. It is a good policy in its own right because it adds a very important element of additional choice and we are a Party of choice when it comes to balancing work and family. We are not a Party that says to parents you’ve got to make these arrangements that we tell you to make in relation to the care of your children. What we are about is maintaining policies that provide Australian parents with optimum choice.

Peter Costello’s last budget importantly contained a very significant document about the long term future of Australia. And what that document pointed to - the inter-generational report - it pointed to the ageing of the Australian population. It didn’t point to it in a negative fashion, it pointed to it in a realistic fashion.

We have a declining fertility rate. We have an ageing population. We have a
Need to increase the participation of the Australian workforce in work and we have a need to adopt policies that will make it possible to afford the greater health and aged care bills that will accompany the ageing of the Australian population. That is why we proposed some very modest co-payment increases in relation to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the Budget. You cannot maintain indefinitely the generous safety net of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme unless you have measures that maintain its affordability. It is a simple fact of life. That was recognised by the Labor Party even when it was in government. I mean we have one of the best if not the best Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the world and you’ll only keep it that way if you maintain its affordability. For the life of me I cannot understand the short-sightedness of the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, the Greens and all the others who are opposing these changes. They’re modest. They’re affordable. They’re necessary. And if they’re not introduced, over time they are going to put at risk the long term beneficial safety net of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. And if we can't as a country come to terms with the need to make a change as simple as that we’re not going to be able to make much of a fist of the far greater challenges in the years ahead of an ageing population.

So I would echo Peter Costello’s invitation to the latest Leader of the Australian Democrats Andrew Bartlett to come in for a cup of tea and to talk about how we’re going to make the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme affordable. And the only way you can do that is to invite people to make a modest additional contribution to the cost of maintaining it. We want a scheme that makes life saving drugs immediately available when they’ve been approved in the regular way to all sections of the Australian population irrespective of their means. But we can only do that if we make sure that there is a reasonable but nonetheless modest element of co-payment for all of us. It makes eminent commonsense and I hope in the end the Senate and particularly the Opposition parties in the Senate will see the logic of it.

But ladies and gentlemen the national political scene is inevitably and increasingly dominated at present by the world focus on the challenge to the world and most particularly to the United Nations of the problem of Iraq. I think all of us would wish that we could wake up tomorrow morning and it wasn’t there. That the problem had miraculously gone away. Nobody in one sense really wants to confront the problem. And the easy thing to do would be to say look it’s a difficult issue let’s take a risk. Let’s not do anything, it will go away. May be nothing will happen.   We’re all getting too excited and we should just forget about it and get on with our lives. Now that is very tempting. That in reality is what the critics particularly of the United States and of President Bush are saying. And there are no shortage of people ready to criticise the United States. Being the most powerful country in the world carries enormous advantages but it also gives you an enormous burden. You’ve got plenty of critics. There is no shortage at the moment of people who are so ready to criticise the United States. They are perfectly happy for the United States to do all the heavy lifting if a difficult problem comes along. They are perfectly happy to see increases in United States’ military expenditure far exceed the total amount spent on military activities by the next highest spending countries as far as defence is concerned. They are very happy to criticise but when something goes wrong, they are the first to say to the United States why didn’t you do something about it, why didn’t you tell us it was going to happen, why didn’t you anticipate it, why didn’t you pre-empt it occurring in the first place.

There is a lot of that around at the present time. The reality of course is that the world has changed since those attacks in the United States in September of last year. All countries and most particularly the Americans because the attack was against them and against their building and their people and their assets, that they must factor into their defence preparations the possibility that they will be subjected again to random brutal and devastating terrorist attacks on their buildings and on their citizens.

One of the things that, into the indefinite future countries must now, not only guard against but where possible prevent occurring, are attacks of that kind.

Now however we may in our own minds have tried to rationalise it after the event, the truth is that none of us really thought something like that would happen to a country like the United States on that scale and in that fashion and because it has I can certainly understand and I think thinking Australians can understand why the United States should now feel a greater sense of urgency regarding the threat posed by Iraq.

Iraq is not the only country to have weapons of mass destruction, that is right. But unlike other countries Iraq has recent form. Iraq has demonstrated an indiscriminate willingness and capacity to use those weapons in a way in which other countries possessing them hasn’t. People say Israel has got weapons but Israel hasn’t behaved in the same cruelly, indiscriminately, aggressive fashion towards her neighbours. She certainly acted in self-defence but she has not behaved in that same cruelly indiscriminate fashion against her neighbours as has Iraq.

Many people say to me well why is President Bush thinking about doing something about it now. The reason of course is that the world has changed a lot since last year and that unless the issue is addressed it won’t go away. It might slumber for several years and nothing may happen if we are indifferent and inactive but eventually at some stage history and past experience has taught us that when you leave those things unaddressed they have a habit of coming back in a more savage form sometime in the future. And people then turn around and say why didn’t America do something about it, why didn’t the world do something about it.

I think over the last week we have seen very good progress being made in getting support within the United Nations Security Council. It won’t be easy and the Australian Government very strongly supports the efforts now being taken by the United States and Great Britain to secure the passage through the Security Council of a new effective resolution. And the willingness of the leader of the weapons inspection team to wait until that new resolution is passed is very encouraging and the strong authority given to the American administration by the United States Congress over the past few days will add to the legitimate pressure on those in the Security Council thus far reluctant support the American and British position to do so.

Now let us remember that the United Nations is now re-energised and re-engaged and reactivated in relation to Iraq because of the pressure applied and the actions taken by the United States. If that action had not been taken I venture to suggest that there would not have been a reactivation and a recommitment by the United Nations.

No country’s international affairs are conducted impeccably and without blemish and the United States like many other countries has made and will make in the future her share of errors, but I do detect regrettably in sections not only of the Australian community but the world community an unreasoned desire to unfairly attack and criticise American behaviour. Yet against the background of always assuming that no matter what happened and no matter what you say in the end the protection and support of the United States will always be there. She does exercise enormous power as the one superpower in the world today, but that power carries with it an enormous responsibility. This issue my friends is not going to go away, it does need to be addressed, we do want to see it addressed through the processes of the United Nations. And that has been our diplomatic position and will continue to be our diplomatic position. And I can only express the hope and I know all Australians will express the hope that the United Nations mechanism will be equal to the task because it is a very important test for the United Nations because the issue is not going to go away and it cannot remain unaddressed.

My friends, there are just two other things that I want to mention in my remarks. The first of those relates to a point that Peter made in his introduction. And that is that political success is always built on strong teamwork. What has made the Federal Coalition Government since March of 1996, now going on for seven years of successful government, what has made it such a successful government is that it has been a strong team. It’s been made up of men and women of great ability, it’s been made up of men and women who very importantly are committed to our common success. People often say why is it that we’re doing so well federally but we’re out of office at a state level? There are different reasons in different states for that situation. But speaking of the Federal Coalition what has held us together is that people have been able to work as a team. I often say that the Liberal Party is a broad church, that we have people with different shades of opinion, and that is a good thing. The Liberal Party of Australia is a special creature, it’s the trustee of both the classical liberal tradition and the conservative political traditions of this country. And we’ve been able to put the two of those traditions together in a unique mix and that is one of the ingredients of success. But remember that the history of Australian politics tells us that there’s never much of a divide, despite what the opinion polls much enticingly or depressingly tell you depending on the circumstances from time to time, there’s never much a divide between the number of people who end up voting for us and the number of people who end up voting for the Labor Party. We’re doing well at the moment federally, but that can change and can change very quickly. And we must always remember that it will change if we ever look or sound as though we’ve lost contact with the Australian community. If we ever look or sound as though we’re taking them for granted, that we think we’re clever than they are, because one thing I’ve learnt in 29 years of politics in this country is that the Australian electorate rarely gets it wrong. The Australian electorate is very savvy, it knows exactly what it’s doing and what it wants to do. And if it thinks any government, state or federal, is getting beyond its station in life it will cut it down and cut it down ruthlessly.

So our success has been built on team work, it’s also been built on a willingness to understand the essence of accountability to the electorate. And in saying that I want to again as I do at these gatherings express my gratitude to all of my federal parliamentary colleagues, particularly to Peter who’s carried such an enormous burden both as Treasurer and as Deputy Leader and has fulfilled both of those roles and carried both of those jobs within great energy and very great distinction.

And to all of my other, my many federal parliamentary colleagues form Victoria, the other senior ministers and parliamentary secretaries and members and senators – the great team that this division has sent to Canberra and also can I express my thanks to the party organisation. It still remains the best resourced and strongest division when it comes to membership in the country. You have a very good professional organisation, you’re going to be put to the test quite a bit over the weeks and months ahead. And I know that the organisation will pass that test and pass that test with very great distinction.

It is as always a great delight to come here to Victoria to address this state council. We have come a long way in the last six and a half years. We have changed Australia for the better, we’ve made Australia economically stronger, we’ve given Australians a greater self-belief in who they are and what they represent in the world. We have rebalanced our relationships with the rest of the world, we’ve stood up internationally for high principle, we’ve been prepared to defend the integrity of our borders and to insist what is self-evidently true and that is that every nation has the right to determine who comes to this country and who lives here and we have also maintained that great self of cohesion and fairness within our community which has been a hallmark of this country down through the years.

The Liberal Party can be very proud of what it’s done, but importantly it can look forward to what it will be doing in the future, not only or Australia but here in Geelong in the state of Victoria. If I don’t speak to this council before the state election I wish Robert well, I know that you will work very hard to bring about a change of government in Victoria.


Transcript 12479