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Transcript 20531

Address at the launch of the SA Division's Enterprise Forum Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide

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: 14/03/2003

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 20531

Thank you very much Rob, Rosemary Craddock, my many Federal and State Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. I echo the gratitude expressed by Rob to all of you for joining this inaugural launch of the Enterprise Forum. It is a way of strengthening many areas of support for the Liberal party here in South Australia but it's also a vehicle through which men and women in the business community in South Australia in particular can engage in a process of communication and contribution to the activities of the party both at a State and a Federal level. And I also join Rob in thanking Rosemary and Graham and the South Australian Division organisation for the work they have put into putting the forum together.

South Australia is punching above its weight in the Federal Parliamentary Party. It's remarkable that we hold nine out of the 12 seats and it's an enormous tribute to the quality of all of the Federal Members from South Australia and none of them here today will argue with that proposition. But it is amazing and three seats in particular of Makin and of Adelaide and of Hindmarsh have been held by their respective members often against the tide and it's a tribute to their marginal seat skills and I record that very warmly.

The other area where South Australia's contribution is immense is in the Cabinet. There are four Cabinet Ministers from South Australia and I do want to say very feelingly that the counsel and support and advice and judgement that has been my lot to receive from Alexander Downer and Robert Hill, particularly over the past few weeks and months in relation to the international situations we've faced has been quite invaluable. When you get into the sort of situation we are at the moment you're talking to the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister almost on an hourly basis and both of them have made a remarkable contribution and I want this Adelaide audience to know what an integral part they play along with Nick Minchin and Amanda Vanstone, and of course our Speaker, I mean he's above politics but he's here today and good to welcome him and the contribution all of my colleagues from South Australia make to the strength of the Government.

Australia faces, and indeed the world faces, a very difficult issue at present. I understand that there is a range of views on this issue within the Australian community. And the reason for that more than anything else is that in a way this is the first great international issue that the world has had to grapple with since international terrorism changed the lives of all of us in a way forever on the 11th of September 2001. Most of us when we grew up we thought of war and invasion in terms of the army of one country rolling across the border of another. And you thought of defence in terms of responding to that kind of aggression. You never thought of it in terms of responding to or preventing the sort of domestic terror attack to which the Americans were subjected, and to which our friends in Indonesia were subjected on the 12th of October which sadly claimed the lives of so many Australians. So we are living in a different world where international terrorism operating in a borderless environment is the new menace and the new threat and we have to understand that and we have to devise ways of coming to terms with that. My argument to the Australian people about the need for Australia to be concerned about Iraq is a very simple proposition. If a country like Iraq is allowed to keep chemical and biological weapons, inevitably other rogue states will want to do the same thing. And as the number of rogue states possessing those weapons increases, the possibility of them falling into the hands of terrorist organisations multiplies. That in essence is the proposition. My critics say give me the proof necessary to satisfy a criminal court jury at the "Old Bailey" or whatever Australian equivalent you might wish to choose. If you wait for that kind of evidence it could well be too late. And that in essence was the point of the reference I made in my speech yesterday to Pearl Harbour.

Now I'm not seeking to exaggerate or to over dramatise the situation, but I am seeking to communicate to my fellow Australians my very strong belief that because of the different environment in which we are now living we have to respond in a different way. We have to take action against Iraq, we must ensure that Iraq is disarmed. I would prefer overwhelmingly, we all would vehemently prefer that it happened in a peaceful fashion. But unfortunately the indications are that that is very unlikely. And one of the reasons that it's very unlikely is that I believe that some of the countries on the Security Council, and I single out in particular France, have played a spoiling role. They're not offering an alternative solution. Their solution is built on an outcome delivered by the very American military presence which is part of a policy they continually attack. Does anybody think for a moment that those weapons inspectors would be in Iraq had it not been for the American military build up? Nobody does. Hans Blix doesn't because he told me that. Kofi Annan doesn't, he said that publicly. Even the French Foreign Minister has acknowledged that if it hadn't been for the build up by the Americans, the inspectors wouldn't be in Iraq. And the few morsels of co-operation that have been dragged out of Iraq have been because of the American and by extension the British and Australian military presence.

Now can I pose the other rhetorical question? If the United Nations doesn't resolve to do anything about this, how long do the French and others believe that the American and British and Australian forces should remain in the Gulf region? Are they arguing that they should remain there indefinitely? Well that is plainly unrealistic. Can I pose another question, if they were all withdrawn, I mean I've been told by the Leader of the Opposition here that I should withdraw the Australian forces immediately. If the Americans were to withdraw their forces and the British were to withdraw their forces do you think that the weapons inspectors would continue to have the access they've had over the past few weeks? Do you think the progressive disarmament of Iraq would then proceed on the basis of a press statement from the weapons inspectors? What I say to the critics of the United States in particular, and by extension Australia, what is your alternative? The only disarmament that you say is occurring at the moment has been wrought out of Iraq because of what the Americans in particular have done and yet you're totally opposed to what the Americans are doing. So by the demonstration of what has happened no alternative has been presented.

Now this issue does present an enormous challenge for the Security Council of the United Nations. And I fear that if it doesn't rise to the occasion and the likelihood appears more remote by the day of agreement being reached for something effective to come out of the Security Council, then its credibility and influence in future could well be diminished.

Could I just say two other things about this very difficult issue? The first of those things relates to the fact that international terrorism has obscenely hid behind Islam, one of the great religions on the world. Whenever you respond to international terrorism you are accused of a generic attack on Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our policy on Iraq is not anti-Islamic. And that is a view that is shared by the President of Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world. And I want to say to all of you that in the weeks ahead it could well be that some of our fellow Australians of an Islamic background could feel somewhat isolated. I want to say to them they shouldn't, they are part of the Australian community. And I invite, I ask all other Australians to reach out of them and to reassure them and to tell them that they are Australian before anything else and that they will always be a valued and important part of the Australian community. Our quarrel is with the behaviour of a particular country, our concern is that unless that behaviour is brought before the dock of world opinion and changed that that behaviour could spread to other nations and that could have potentially serious consequences for all, particularly of the Western liberal democratic societies of the world. And it's very important that we understand that, it's very important that we keep it in perspective.

The other observation I'd like to make goes to the very heart of the emotional side of the debate that is occurring in Australia at the present time. And that is the humanitarian consideration. Whenever there is military conflict, there is casualties, whenever there is military conflict there is the likelihood, the near inevitability of some civilian casualties. And the very thought of armed conflict sends a shudder through all of us, it does me and I'm sure it does all of you. And that is why issues such as this are so difficult and so perplexing and so challenging.

But there's another side of the humanitarian debate and when I hear people condemning the Government's policy on humanitarian grounds I always say to them have you thought of the humanitarian consequences if the current regime is allowed to stay there? And although regime change is not our principle policy goal, our principle policy goal is the disarmament of Iraq. There is a very powerful argument on all of the available evidence that the suffering of the Iraqi people would be less if Saddam Hussein were removed than if he is left in power. I detailed some of the examples of the human rights abuses in Iraq yesterday at my address to the National Press Club and the person from whom I quoted, one of the most respected rapporteur on human rights to the United Nations. And he said that the human rights record of the regime in Iraq had few parallels in the years that had gone by since the end of World War II. So we're not dealing here with a 100 to nil balance when it comes to human rights considerations. When you put those considerations into the balance there's a very powerful argument that the human rights considerations are very much on the side of there being a change in authority in Baghdad.

I want all of you to know one other thing and that is that the support, the solidarity, that's not a word a Liberal Leader normally uses but I will use it on this occasion, the loyalty and the support and the solidarity and the understanding of my colleagues on this issue has been both remarkable and reassuring. No great issue like this produces a uniformly consistent internal response from a hundred or so independently minded men and women. But they have understood the significance of this issue, they've understood its significance to our alliance with the United States. And although that's not the dominate consideration it's always a very important consideration because in the long run the greatest security guarantee this country has is, apart from the industry and the resourcefulness of its own people, is our alliance with the United States. But my colleagues have understood all of these things and I want to publicly record my gratitude to them because it's very important on an issue like this that we do as a government and as a party speak with one voice.

And the final thing I would say to you is that although we are understandably preoccupied with this issue, it is not the only issue that is occupying my mind and I want in particular to assure you that we keep a very careful and weathered eye on the state of the Australian economy. The Australian economy is continuing to outperform just about every other economy in the OECD. We have two problems, one of them is internal and that is the drought and the other is external and that is the weakness, relatively speaking, of the world economy. The drought we hope may be in the early stages of breaking, I don't know, I keep my fingers crossed but the indications are that the el Nino weather pattern is beginning to change. The world economy remains very hesitant, and it was hesitant before the onset of the latest preoccupation with Iraq and there are some fundamental weaknesses in a number of areas of the world economy. But our own domestic situation remains very sound. We've generated one and a quarter million new jobs since we were elected. Those of you in business in this room know the benefits that have flowed from low interest rates. We've gone through the very difficult but necessary process of major taxation reform. But there are still a number of major economic reforms that need to be accomplished. We do need further industrial relations reform, we'll keep trying to get those reformed unfair dismissal laws through the Senate. We'll continue to press the Senate to bring in some sensible changes to our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so that it can remain affordable years into the future because there'll be greater pressure on that system as our population slowly ages in the years ahead. There is still a very significant job of reform to be undertaken. We've begun the process of preparing the Budget to be brought down in May, we remain a Government that is committed to keeping the Budget in surplus. I'm very proud of the fact that we, by the end of this financial year, will have a debt to GDP ratio of just three per cent. And by way of comparison the OECD average is 49 per cent, the level in the United States is 47 per cent and in Japan is 76 per cent. And it's a measure of the success of our fiscal policy and because we run a tight fiscal policy we're able to have, with the growing economy, a still relatively low interest rate structure.

So there's a lot to be pleased about in relation to the Australian economy. Our flexible exchange rate helped us through the Asian economic downturn and a number of the other economic reforms also saw Australia during that period surprised just about everybody including I think a lot of Australians through the strength that it displayed.

So my friends, while inevitably we focus very heavily on international and security issues at the present time we have not taken our eye off the domestic political ball. We will not do so, because maintaining a strong economy and attending to necessary reform issues in areas like higher education remain very important objectives for the Government. We've been an energetic Government but we remain an enthusiastic and energetic government. The great challenge of governments when they've been in office for a number of years is renewal and recommitment. And there's plenty of reservoir of personal commitment and dedication to that process.

Can I again thank all of you for the support and loyalty that you've demonstrated by being here today, I do encourage you to get behind the Enterprise Forum, it's a very important, valuable long term initiative. I always keep a proper distance from these matters but can I just say that providing the [inaudible] of war for parties of the centre right in the Australian environment is a more difficult circumstance than a lot of people imagine. We don't have automatic flows of support from the union movement and in circumstances where increasing numbers of companies tend to take and on the one hand this and on the one hand that in terms of financial support which I note and understand we have a particular challenge and bodies like the Enterprise Forum are designed to do exactly that.

I very warmly thank you for your presence and I congratulate the party organisation where in South Australia for its initiative.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20531