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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21110

Address at Community Morning Tea Ulverstone, Tasmania

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: 14/02/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21110

Thank you very much Councillor. I think he quite likes the place. I get that very distinct impression that he is very fond of the area that he presents and I'm not surprise. Can I first of all, of course, acknowledge my Senate colleagues. All of them here, Richard Colbeck who's chairing this gathering. The President, Eric Abetz, John Watson. I acknowledge Stephen Parry and, of course, Mark Baker who's going to be the standard bearer for our party in this electorate at the next election, ladies and gentlemen.

Gatherings like this are an opportunity for a travelling Prime Minister and I travel a lot around Australia to get a bit of advice and I've had a bit this morning, that's good, to listen to what people's concerns are and also to share a few thoughts of my own about the future of our country, its current condition and the part, that Ulverstone and the part of this Tasmania plays.

The message I bring of course, is one of great optimism and a very positive message. I've been visiting Tasmania regularly for the almost 30 years that I've been in the national parliament and this is by no means the first time that I've been to Ulverstone and it won't be the last because it's a very important of, not only the electoral map, but the evolving and changing character of both the economy and the way of life of Tasmania, and particularly, this part of Tasmania.

We are at the moment experiencing the strongest economic conditions that Australia has had in my opinion since the end of World War II. Stronger even than the sometimes spoken of, golden days of the 1950s and 60s when our where economy was strong and was growing, but it was a lot less independent, and it was a lot more protected. It relied more heavily on handouts and subsidies and it didn't really make its way in the world quite the way it is at the present time.

But when you look at the globalised trading environment we now have and you look at the way in which we have a floating exchange rate, we have free foreign exchange conditions. We no longer have high tariff barriers, in other words we are a nation prospering because of our own inherent strength and capacity, and the outlook of our people. And there are a lot of reasons why this has happened. The major reason why it has happened is because of the quality of our people, the quality of our entrepreneurs and our men and women.

I always give pride of place in Australia's economic success story to the men and women of our country whether they are business men and women, employers or employees because they together have grabbed hold of the opportunities that have built a more powerful and a more resilient country.

I also, of course, give credit to sensible economic leadership by the Government. I think we've done a good job in creating the opportunities and the conditions. We now have for the first time in 35 years, we have both unemployment below 6% and inflation below 3%. We have the lowest interest rates in a generation. We have very strong business investment. And importantly, we have adapted and changed and nowhere has this occurred more than in many parts of Tasmania where you've had to adjust to the closure of old industries, but you've had the capacity and the application and the flexibility to develop new industries.

For a long time, Tasmania was missing out. That is no longer the case. The benefits of economic prosperity are now flowing through and being enjoyed as they should be, as is your right by the people of Tasmania. Your unemployment rate has come down. People are returning from the mainland. Your tourist industry is booming, the resource sector has been stabilised by the Regional Forest Agreement and investment has come and job security has been provided. And these things haven't happened by accident. They have happened through the ingenuity and the diversity and the skill of your people. They have also happened because we have had the strong economic conditions and also because we have made changes in the way the country operates economically. You can't stand still. It wasn't popular to reform the taxation system. The easy thing was to say no. The expedient thing was to say no. And many did. But we persevered with it. It wasn't easy to reform the industrial relations system. The easy thing was to say no and many did but we persevered with that. And there are still a few things further in that that I'd like to do to help small business but unless we can get a change of heart in the Senate then that remains difficult. Change and reform is never easy, there's always a tendency to say we've done enough, let's rest on our laurels and do no more. But you can't do that in today's world. You have to willing to embrace change and reform and as a result of that we do have this strong economy. We do have an economy that for the first time in a long time it has a strength which has been shared by all parts of our nation and I'm delighted that Tasmania shares in that and I'm very happy about the specific, and particularly, in the area of the passenger subsidy and other things that the Federal Government over the years has provided in order to bring those circumstances and those conditions about. And of course, it's not just about economic management, it is also about addressing issues that are important to all communities and I'm very conscious of the importance of health and aged care to this community, as well as the importance of education and we do have on our plate Mr Acting Mayor, we do have on our plate certain issues relating to aged care which we will be considering in the lead up to the Budget. And you make a valid point putting it on the agenda and we're also in the process of trying to bed down some major changes to improve and strengthen Medicare.

Most of those changes have already been implemented - the increase in the Medicare rebate, for bulkbilling of people with concession cards and for children under 16. The measures to bring more doctors and practiced nurses into areas of doctor shortage. That's very important and I find there is a shortage of GPs in many parts of rural Tasmania and that is an issue that we have addressed in the Medicare Plus package and as those measures flow through those shortages will begin to be addressed. There's one issue we're still negotiating and that is the passage of the Medicare Safety Net and I can't, for the life of me, understand why anybody would vote against an additional safety net for people. We're not taking away something here, we're actually giving something additional and even if you don't agree with our policy, there's no harm in supporting it because it won't prevent you introducing an alternative policy if you ever have the opportunity to do so and it's a very simple proposition. If you being either a concession card holder or a family getting tax benefit have out of pocket expenses either from a GP or from a specialist or from getting a tissue biopsy or any kind of out of hospital, out of pocket service, if you have any expense out of pocket which is more than $500 in a year than you get 80% of those out of pocket expenses reimbursed and if you're not either a concession card holder or getting Family Tax Benefit A, if you're the rest of the community the threshold is $1,000. Now, I can't for the life of me understand why anybody would vote against that. But at the moment we're having trouble getting it through the Senate.

It seems to me to be sort of an act of dog-in-the-manger politics and we can't get something which is so unambiguously good for the Australian public through the Senate and we're going to keep fighting very hard and I hope in the end with the support of some of the independents, including a couple from Tasmania, I can't guarantee that, but we're certainly working very hard to get it through because this will give peace of mind, additional peace of mind to a lot of people, and even if as I say, you don't agree with our philosophy on some of these things you can still see the merit of a proposition like that and it won't prevent the introduction of alternative policies if others have the opportunity of doing so. I've just been to launch an initiative; a financial initiative of the Government to support potential science students in schools of the region under our regional initiative - a wonderful programme which will help the Cradle Mountain area and I heard the Vice Chancellor of the University speak ambitiously and positively of the advances in education that have occurred over the past few years, not only in this area but throughout the entire Australia. So we're not only acting in relation to overall economic management, we're also acting very actively in the social and community areas.

So that really brings me in a way to the final thing I wanted to say to you and that is to speak very warmly of the Liberal Party's candidate Mark Baker for the electorate of Braddon. Politics is about a national scene and it's also about 148 or 150 local scenes and the two interact. It's no good being strong nationally if you're weak locally. If you are strong locally and weak nationally that's no good either. You need a combination of the two. I think Mark brings to his candidature a great wealth of experience, an understanding of the area, an involvement I know, a very strong involvement in the local football club. I mean he doesn't play the game they play in Heaven which is the one that is my first preference but certainly not to the exclusion of others. But I know of his very strong local interests, of his business experience and previously to that I understand, his experience as an educator and he certainly does bring to the responsibilities of being a Liberal candidate in this area a great wealth of experience. Now it's an area of course that depends on a lot of changing industries which are bringing new aspects and new views but it's also an area where job security for people in the local industries remains critical and I can assure you that he will continue to advocate policies and approaches as will the Government that will support the job security of workers in the forest industry will support, the job security of people whose livelihoods are tied up with the ongoing security and the ongoing prosperity of the region.

So ladies and gentlemen thank you very warmly for having me here today. The best part of my job is meeting people. When Parliament sits, on almost a daily basis I have a school group visiting Parliament come around to the executive courtyard, I have a photograph with them, they come into the office, they crowd around my desk and we chat at the desk that was used by Joe Lyons in the 1930s, it was the desk that was used by John Curtin and Ben Chifley during and after World War Two, it was the desk that was used for 16 years by Bob Menzies and then it sort of stopped being used after that for a while and then I found it gathering dust somewhere in Parliament House and I was told about it and it looked a lot better than the other version that had been put in the New Parliament House so although it offended some of the style dieticians at Parliament House (in furniture that is), I decided that I would bring it back and it's always a good talking point because if you can say to children, you know, John Curtin used this and Menzies and so forth - particularly if they're doing history it connects them with the history of the country. Anyway to get back to the point of that story, after that diversion. Children invariably say to me, what is the best part of being Prime Minister? And I answer unhesitatingly, the opportunity of going out and meeting people. Meeting people in all different forums like this, or last night wandering out in the park at Launceston at the Festivale and probably meeting in the process about 1000 people of all ages and all degrees of enthusiasm. Because the wine was very fine and it was very good and they were all so wonderfully warm and friendly but that sort of, those experiences are the best because it drives home to me and I'll finish on this note and I know that everybody will agree with me, spontaneously it drives home to me the quality of the Australian people, their generosity, their decency, their wonderful duality of strength and compassion, which is something that I've had occasion to be reminded of over recent years on a number of very sad national occasions. So it's a tremendous opportunity and one that I treasure very much.

So ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, get behind this bloke, he's a very very good man. I think he'll do a wonderful job for the area. I say that because I know something of his background, I know his commitment and I know the policies that he's going to support and uphold.

Thank you very much.

[ends]

Transcript 21110