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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12997


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: 09/11/2002

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 12997


[tape begins] Leader of the Opposition, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. This gathering of the Liberal Party in Tasmania is both an opportunity to assess some of the lessons of the past and asses them in an open, frank and realistic fashion. But also, and more importantly, it is an opportunity to focus on the future. The Liberal Party in Tasmania has great and important challenges, it has two clear objectives and responsibilities. It must rebuild its stocks at a state level, they have faltered to almost historically low levels. And they must begin the process of winning back representation in the House of Representatives at the next federal election. It is not acceptable to me, nor is it acceptable to any of my federal parliamentary colleagues from Tasmania, that we remain unrepresented amongst the five House of Representative seats from this state. That must be said, not in anger, but in realism. It is said as an encouragement to the party organisation to focus on winning back at least one of the five House of Representatives seats in two years time - [power interruption] - I hope that';s a reflection on the encumbrance of those five House of Representatives seats! I hope it portends, I hope it portends a mighty shift and after all power is a state responsibility isn';t it, electricity? It hasn';t happened for a while, I must say that, it';s a while since that';s happened to me.

So ladies and gentlemen, we do face that very important challenge and I encourage the party as it looks federally to do that, we have a federal election in just two years time, tomorrow is the first anniversary of the re-election of the Federal Government on the 10th of November 2001. Elections come around very frequently at a federal level, we';re on a three year term, therefore I can';t understand why anybody who';s on a four year term would go only after three years, but I';ll leave that to another day and another forum.

At a state level can I repeat what I said last night, and that is congratulate Rene Hidding on the realistic and energetic way in which he has set about rebuilding the fortunes of the party at a state level. We need more party members, we need to represent to the ‘Liberally inclined'; but not ‘Liberally belonging'; people of Tasmania that we are a party that is open and united and welcoming towards new members and new supporters. We must have an open mind as to who our future parliamentary representatives should be that so people of ability in the community who have something have to offer but do not have years of party membership behind them can feel that they would have an equal chance of being considered on their ability and on their merit. One of the great strengths of the Liberal Party over the years has been that it';s been a party that has been beholden to no one interest group in the community. It';s been a party that has represented everybody and we have to renew that strength, we have to keep asking ourselves whether that continues to be the case. We are certainly a far more representative political party than the Labor Party. The Labor Party';s trade union domination grows proportionately stronger as its own membership base shrinks. And the proportion of Federal Members of Parliament representing the Labor Party who have had a trade union officer background grows rather than diminishes as time goes by.

So they are the two challenges that should be said to the party. Of course you will have your reflections and post-mortems on the last state election, that would be unrealistic if you didn';t. But I urge you to spend more time, having done the post-mortems, to spend more time in going forward to the future, on recognising that there are opportunities here in Tasmania, there are vulnerabilities of the Bacon Government, because of the number of new members that came in at the last election, disappointing though the overall result was, you have an opportunity to build for the future.

At a national level the Government faces two very significant challenges. We face an international climate which is more unsettled in our own region because in particular of the terrible events of the 12th of October in Bali. And domestically, although we have a very strong economy which by world standards is a star performer, there are nonetheless two storm clouds hanging over it. One of those is the drought which is gripping increasingly all parts of Australia, except Tasmania, and the slow down in the world economy, particularly in the United States.

Last night as many of you all will know the Security Council of the United Nations passed unanimously a new strong effective unconditional resolution dealing with Iraq, calling on Iraq to comply with a strict weapons inspection regime and to unhesitatingly declare and surrender any weapons of mass destruction. I warmly welcome on behalf of Australia the passage of that resolution, it was carried without dissent, even Syria voted amongst the 15 members of the Security Council in favour of the resolution, that is a very welcome development. Because that resolution is the whole world saying to Iraq you must disarm, you must admit the weapons inspectors, you must stop delay and obstruction otherwise there will be consequences. None of us want a military option in relation to Iraq, I don';t, President Bush doesn';t, I spoke to him as recently as last night after the council dinner when I telephoned him to, amongst other things, to congratulate on his magnificent victory in the mid-term congressional elections. And as has been apparent to me on earlier occasions he is not a man who';s wanting a military option, he would like the matter resolved without resort to force, we all would, nobody likes war, we hate it, it';s a terrible thing. But we cannot allow weapons of mass destruction to remain in the hands of a country which in the past has demonstrated a willingness to use those weapons, not only against her own people but also to threaten their use and in fact use them against the nationals of another country. And the ultimate nightmare in the world in which we now live is that weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of terrorists because they would not hesitate to use them, they would have no scruples about using them. And that is one of the reasons why it is so important that the issue of Iraq be dealt with. And the passage of that resolution, unanimously and in such strong terms, last night in New York is a vindication of a strong but patient leadership that President Bush has displayed on this issue. Australia has wanted the forum of the United Nations to be used, we support the use of the United Nations, it was a challenge to the authority and the backbone and the fibre of the United Nations and I am delighted, as I know all Australians will be, that all the members of the Security Council have risen to the occasion, without exception, and voted in favour of the resolution. You couldn';t have a clearer signal to Iraq, you couldn';t have a clearer more unanimous expression of world opinion, the five permanent members, the United States, Great Britain, France, China and Russia and then a diverse group of countries making up the non-permanent members of the Security Council. We call all hope that the terms of that resolution will be enforced strictly and the terms of that resolution will be fully complied with. And I would hope that in the interests of the people of Iraq who have suffered a lot under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, suffered enormously, but for their sake as well as the sake of many other people that the resolution is fully and totally complied with.

Ladies and gentlemen I mentioned a moment ago the impact of the drought and the impact of the slow down in the United States and in other parts of the world on the world economy. They are the two impediments to continued very strong economic growth. And despite the fact that they are impediments we will still have very strong economic growth in this country. A few days ago we had an unemployment figure of six per cent, it';s one of the lowest figures we';ve had in the last 10 or 15 years. Since this Government has been in office we have created more than a million new jobs, we could create tens of thousands of more jobs if the Labor Party and the Democrats and others would allow our changes to the unfair dismissal laws presently hampering small business to pass through the Senate. That bill will be presented to the Senate again before Christmas, and the Labor Party and the Democrats will have another opportunity of voting in favour of jobs for small business. We will only get a further significant reduction in unemployment in Australia if we can create more opportunities for small business to employ people. Small business remains the great job generator in Australia and that is why policies should always be directed towards removing the impediments that small business labours under regarding the employment of people. And these unfair dismissal laws remain a serious impediment to the creation of tens of thousands of additional jobs. Now I know I';ve talked about this a lot, we';ve been trying for six and a half years to get sensible unfair dismissal laws in this country. And for six and a half years we have been frustrated by the Labor Party and the Democrats and others in the Senate. Well I want to say to them that we';re going to persist, we';re going to put that legislation back again and if the Senate rejects it again the Australian public will know they don';t want to further reduce unemployment in this country. Because the evidence is very clear, we';re not talking here about sanctioning discrimination against people, we';re talking here about removing a law that intimidates small business out of employing people in the first place. Anybody who';s run a small business knows that with a small staff if one or two out of four or five are not pulling their weight and are not doing the right thing, if you can';t let them go easily then you';re not going to employ them in the first place. You can';t afford the cost of a lawsuit, you can';t afford having to settle for $20 or $30,000 to avoid having to go to court, a big company can afford that but if you';re running a small operation where you mightn';t be making more than $50 or $60,000 a year or less, how can you afford $20 or $30,000 to settle a lawsuit? So you';re not going to employ the person in the first place. And then the same people who preside over the preservation of those laws go around the country wringing their hands and saying unemployment is still too high, although unemployment now is much lower than it was when we came to office, it was eight and a half per cent when I became Prime Minister in March of 1996, it could be a lot lower if we could get rid of these ridiculous unfair dismissal laws. And we';re going to put that legislation up again and we';re also going to persist ladies and gentlemen with many other reforms that we have advocated in the past.

Yesterday we had the Estens inquiry on Telstra, we';re going to have a look at that inquiry, we';re going to see whether what it assesses to be the state of telecommunications in rural Australia and what it further recommends, whether taken together those two things meet the test I laid down during the election campaign last year, namely that we wouldn';t proceed to a further sale of shares in Telstra until we were satisfied that conditions for telecommunications in the bush were up to scratch. I expect that that examination will take place quite soon and I';ll be able, on behalf of the government, to indicate our future course of action. Once again we have to ask ourselves the fundamental question, is it plausible that in the long term forever a company like Telstra, having to operate in the market, having to compete with telcos on world-wide basis and otherwise, whether it is realistic. When all the constraints that are involved that it should continue indefinitely to be half owned by the government and half owned by the private sector. Because there is, you can';t go back, no government is going to take back into public ownership the 49 per cent that';s already been sold, now you have two choices, you either on proper satisfaction regarding conditions in the bush, you either proceed further or alternatively you continue indefinitely with the present unsatisfactory situation where it';s half owned by the government and half owned by the private sector. Now they are issues that we will be examining as a government, but our commitment to rural Australia is rock steady, we';ve got to be satisfied arising from our examination of the Estens inquiry that conditions are up to scratch in the bush. The inquiry was clearly very positive in that direction, clearly found that a great deal of progress had been made and it indicated one or two areas where further work needed to be done and we';ll be paying very close attention to those.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the seventh occasion that I';ve had an opportunity of addressing this state council meeting in Tasmania since I was elected and my government was elected in 1996. And as we look back over the achievements of the government and the way in which our country has been changed for the better and strengthened during that six and a half years we can draw a number of very important lessons. As a political party at a federal level we can draw the very important lesson that unity and common purpose delivers re-election and it also delivers positive outcomes for the Australian people. Ours has been a very unified government. We have a full range of views, as you would expect, from the Liberal Party of Australia which has always been simultaneously the trustee of the classical liberal tradition in our community as well as the conservative political tradition. And we have accommodated those range of views and the policies that we have produced have been a reflection of the range of views within our great party. But we';ve worked together with great purpose, we';ve been unified, we have people of ability from different parts of the country, all of which have made their contribution. And the other thing that has been a key ingredient of what we have achieved, and that is that we have been willing to undertake long term reform even though it might involve a short term level of unpopularity or short term obstruction or difficulty. If you look back over that six and a half years, industrial relations reform, reducing a budget deficit that was running at about $10 billion a year to a situation where we have just about the lowest government debt to annual wealth generation of any country in the world. Our level is 4.6 per cent, the OECD average is about 35 per cent, the United States is about 45 per cent, and Japan';s is about 120 per cent. And that is a measure of how effective we have been in reducing debt. We have of course undertaken major taxation reform, we';ve continued the process of industry reform, we are now a major exporter of motor vehicles, we have a motor vehicle plan which of particular benefit to the people of Adelaide and the people of Victoria. We have delivered a fair outcome in relation to forest policy, we';ve bought stability to the industry while protecting and respecting environmental values, always a difficult balance and the regional forest agreement that I signed just on five years ago with Tony Rundle, that regional forest agreement is going to be maintained and honoured by the government I lead. We';ve given stability and security to the industry but we';ve also protected important environmental values. The Natural Heritage Trust, which we funded out of the proceeds of the sale of the first trounce of Telstra represents the biggest investment in one single programme in Australia';s environment in our nations history. We';ve committed ourselves to a major programme to tackle the problem of salinity, we';ve got a very comprehensive oceans policy and we are addressing the enormous challenge of water conservation in this country. Now these are the things that are being done by the a Liberal Government in order to protect and promote the environment. And when you add all of those things together it is a record of reform and commitment, to which all of us collectively can be proud. And also always in politics and public life the reform process is never finished, there is never a point at which you can say well we';ve done a lot, we can take it easy. Once you think you can take it easy you';re no longer doing the job. We can';t take it easy, we can';t be complacent, there';s a lot more reform to be undertaken, we have an ageing population and we have to adopt polices in the years ahead that address the problem of the ageing of the Australian population. If we don';t make some changes, we don';t make for example the very modest changes in relations to pharmaceutical benefits, that were bought down in the last Budget, the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the years ahead is going to become increasingly unmanageable. An ageing population has implications for the cost of health, the retirement policy, pharmaceutical benefits and a whole range of other issues, we have to find new opportunities to keep older people in the workforce, we have a very low participation rate for people in the age cohort of 55 to 64. We have a much lower percentage of people in that age cohort still in the workforce than many other comparable countries and we have to ask ourselves why and if there are responses that need policy change than we have to be willing to embrace those.

So Mr President there is still an enormous amount to be done, we have been successful in the past but that won';t guarantee our success in the future unless we maintain our unity, retain our stomach and zeal for continued reform and finally and very importantly remain in contact with the Australian people. All governments must constantly avoid the risk of remoteness and complacently. Ultimately we should always remember that we';re beholden to nobody other that the Australian people, the Australian people have an unerringly finally honed capacity to spot complacently and inertia on the part of any government. And if we demonstrate any of those ingredients than they will responded, as they should, accordingly.

Ladies and gentlemen a lot has been achieved for Australia over the last six and a half years. During that period of time we';ve had some wonderful moments as nation and we';ve joined together and celebrated those wonderful moments and we';ve had some very tragic events, the most tragic of all of course being the events of the 12th of October which have saddened and bought grief collectively to our nation of the type that I haven';t experienced in my time in public life. But as always is the case out of events of that horror, the level of horror, something good and positive has come and that is a reminder to all of us of the great capacity of the Australian people to show strength and mateship and warmth and affection to our fellow countrymen and women who have lost so much, and the demonstration of that warmth and affection and willingness to share and help to the maximum extend possible was a vivid and evocative reminder to me and I believe to all of us of the great and unique strength of the Australian people. Our unpretentious spontaneous capacity to help a mate in need [tape break] determined in a measured sensible fashion to see that justice is done, but also a nation determined that in the process we do not reduce or abandon our warmth and tolerance and our embrace of people of different backgrounds and different beliefs. We ask of all people in this country but one thing above everything else, and that is their loyalty and commitment to Australia, it';s values and its beliefs and traditions and its mores be the most important commitment they make. And having done that we respect the fact that people do bring different traditions and different backgrounds to this country and in that process make the contribution to the modern Australian community.

Finally ladies and gentlemen can I thank all of you for the great loyalty and assistance that you';ve demonstrated towards me. To you Doug you';ve shown great organisational leadership in a difficult time, it';s not easy after a big defeat to pick up the pieces and you and Rene together have gone about that task in a very purposeful, practical way, you';ve understood and acknowledged the magnitude of what happened but you haven';t morosely dwelled exclusively in the past, there';s nothing to be achieved by that, life goes on, there';s a new mountain to climb, there';s a new challenge to respond to, there';s a new political opportunity. No government is invulnerable, that';s one of iron laws of politics and the Federal Government';s not invulnerable, if we drop the ball we';ll pay for it and the state government';s not invulnerable either, if it drops the ball it should pay for it. Importantly as an Opposition here in Tasmania you';ve got to be ready to pick up the ball and to use a rugby analogy, perhaps not appropriate in this gathering, but pick it up and score a try. But to all of you thank you very much for your help and good luck to you in all of your endeavours in the years ahead.


Transcript 12997