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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21408

Address to New South Wales Division State Council Novotel Hotel, Sydney

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: 24/07/2004

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 21408

Thank you very much Madam President, John Brogden the leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, Scott Morrison, my federal and state parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you again for the very warm welcome that you have extended to Janette and to me. It's always great to come back to address a meeting of the State Council of the Liberal Party here in New South Wales, a State Council of which I have been a member for many years and a State Council that I have enthusiastically participated in in various positions over those many years.

May I start my remarks this morning by expressing what I know to be the dismay and concern of millions of Australians about some of the developments in the legal system in Indonesia overnight. Can I say that my remarks are made out of full respect for the judicial system in Indonesia and in full recognition of the enormous and untiring efforts that the Indonesian Government has made to bring to justice those responsible for murdering 88 Australians and 202 people in all, on the 12th of October 2002. The court's decision does not have an immediate set of implications for those that have been convicted because it is an advisory opinion, but inevitably it will be pleaded in support of appeals that could well be brought. And I want to say that my heart and the hearts of millions of Australians will go out to those families and survivors of those who died or were horribly wounded and injured in the attack, if they have to go through the trauma and the ordeal of giving evidence again.

But let me make it very clear that every effort is being made by this government in cooperation with the authorities in Indonesia to ensure that the overwhelming desire of the people of both our countries, and that is that those responsible for these horrible deeds are appropriately punished according to the full rigour of Indonesian law. It was a horrible crime. It was committed with reckless indifference to the suffering not only of our Australians, but also of the citizens of other countries. And the Australian people and the people of Indonesia will never forget the Bali atrocity. I will continue to work, as will the Foreign Minister and other Ministers of my Government, with the Government of Indonesia to see that justice is done. And I want to again record my appreciation to the Government of Indonesia, to the police authorities in Indonesia, and the magnificent way in which they cooperated with the Australian Federal Police.

My friends, as the time goes by and we inevitably approach the forthcoming federal election, as always in the lead up to an election, we begin to focus on the choice that the Australian people will make. And for a number of reasons, the choice that will be made at the next federal election will be both sharper and have a more enduring impact than perhaps choices on occasions in federal elections have represented in the past. As we approach the election, we not only ask the Australian people to return the Liberal National Party Coalition Government because of what we have achieved over the last eight and a half years, we also ask to be returned because of what we can achieve on behalf of the Australian people in the years ahead.

We don't just run in this election on our record, strong and proud and full of achievement that that record may be. But we also run as the side of politics best able to interpret, understand and put into effect the aspirations and the hopes of the Australian people for the next 10 years and beyond. This country needs not only a continuation of the prosperity and security and strength of the last eight and a half years, but it also needs to pioneer new territory in a number of areas. We need to greatly expand even further the enterprise culture of this country. We are a nation, we are a party, we are a people that believe in individual effort and individual enterprise, and the success of the last eight and a half years has seen the burgeoning of that individual enterprise.

But as I look ahead to the next 10 years, in order to consolidate the ground we have won over the last eight and a half years and in order to win even further ground, we have to find new and different ways of further expanding the enterprise culture of our people and our country. That is why, amongst other things, we have embraced the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. That Free Trade Agreement has specific gains for many industries, including the dairy industry and the beef industry and the motor vehicle industry and the tuna industry and the wine industry, and so the list goes on, and for the first time Australian firms will have access to the giant United States Government procurement market, which is worth $US400 billion a year. But even beyond that, the great opportunity, a once in a generation opportunity, that the US Free Trade Agreement opens up for us is to lock our economy into the most powerful economy the world has ever seen. And those who cringe and falter and dither, as many in the Labor Party do at the prospect of signing this Agreement, have no vision, inspiration or optimism about the future of this country.

I cannot for the life of me understand why any self-respecting political party in this country would shrivel in fear at the prospect of linking our economy with the greatest economy, in terms of power and economic strength, that the world has ever seen. If we don't sign up to this Agreement, if the Australian Parliament doesn't sign this agreement, I can guarantee you that there will be a veritable queue of countries in our region wanting to take our place. They will wonder at the commonsense of the Australian people if we fail to embrace this Agreement because this is an agreement about our future, it is not about past, it is an agreement about our future, just as the Agreement I have signed with the Prime Minister of Thailand a couple of weeks ago, a smaller economy and more narrowly based, but nonetheless a very valuable Agreement. And just as the great natural gas contract that we signed with the Guangdong Province in China 18 months ago was about our future, so the Free Trade Agreement is about our future, and those who ponder and worry about its wisdom have no understanding of the needs of our future and are locked in past prejudice and past attitudes and past behaviour.

But it is not only in the area, my friends, of expanding our enterprise culture that the Coalition offers more than our opponents, but in two other areas that I regard as central to the kind of future I want for Australia, and they are the areas of the sustainability of our continent and the further strengthening of the fairness and decency of Australia as a society. It is well accepted now that care for the environment in Australia is no longer a peripheral or occasional political issue. It is right in the middle of the concerns of all Australians, of all generations and of all political persuasions. We do, as the old clich‚ says, hold in trust a country that we have borrowed from our children, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that there is a proper balance between caring for the environment and the economic development of this country. And that is why over the last eight and a half years we have invested record amounts in the Natural Heritage Trust. It is why a Coalition Government led the nation in tackling the problem of salinity. It is why we continue to be a very active opponent of those nations around the world who would want to see an increase in commercial whaling. It is why the government I lead gave leadership that led to the signing of the agreement dealing with the Murray Darling Basin and broke the deadlock between the various states of Australia a few weeks ago, and as a consequence of this some $500 million of expenditure on projects to resuscitate the Murray Darling will begin to be invested and spent very soon.

But as a country we face further environmental challenges. We need to tackle the growing shortages of water. We need to embrace attitudes and practices in that area that we mightn't have contemplated as recently as five or ten years ago, and we'll need to cooperate as a nation between the Commonwealth and the States, to achieve what has to be done there. We need to see the environmental challenges not being an argument between old or traditional sources of energy such as coal, and new renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, but rather a challenge to reduce the greenhouse gas emission effect of all sources of energy use. And that was the basis of the energy paper that I released a few weeks ago. But we can achieve that balance, we can continue to grow as a country while caring for our environment. We can't, in the interests of our economic advantages, sign the Kyoto Protocol in its present form for the very simple reason that if we sign Kyoto, we would immediately confer an advantage on countries that compete for resource investment, countries such as China and Indonesia that do not have any penalties or obligations because of their developing status under the Kyoto Protocol. And until such restrictions as that are altered, it is not in Australia's interests to sign that Protocol.

I also want the opportunity in government again after the next election to continue the many things that we have done to create Australia as a more fair and decent society. I remember, as many of you do, back in 1996 when we were running for election against the Keating Government, they said that we were going to destroy Medicare, they said that we were going to destroy the social security safety net, they said that we would not be generous and supportive to Australian families. And if you look back over the last eight and a half years, you see how wrong all of those predictions were.

Let me talk for a moment about Medicare. Not only have all the predictions about destroying Medicare been wrong, but in fact over the last eight and a half years we have in fact taken a number of steps to strengthen the Medicare system in Australia. And the most recent were the initiatives that Tony Abbott got through Parliament to introduce for the first time in Medicare a safety net, and interestingly enough it's the Labor Party that has pledged to abolish the safety net. This is a safety net, ladies and gentlemen, which says that if you are a concessional cardholder or you as a family get Family Tax Benefit A, once your out of hospital, out of pocket expenses goes over $300 a year, you get 80 per cent of the excess reimbursed by Medicare, and for the rest of us it's $700 a year as a threshold. Now that provides an unrivalled safety net. It's something that has never been there before and it's something that potentially will advantage about 415,000 Australians a year, largely families on low to middle incomes. And yet extraordinarily the Labor Party, the friends so they argue of Medicare, is going to gut one of the most important reforms that has been added to Medicare since its introduction more than 20 years ago.

And then when you add to that their, what I can only describe as their equivocal, mealy-mouthed comments about private health insurance - they never quite bring themselves to say we will keep the private health insurance rebate exactly as it is. They can't bring themselves to say that because they don't intend to do that. That's the reason. It's always like oh we'll keep a rebate, or we don't think we'll have a means test, or we won't do this or we won't do that. They never give an unconditional commitment that they're going to keep the private health insurance rebate exactly as it is.

And then of course this week we had a remarkable contribution from the Leader of the Opposition, and it produced that wonderful headline in The Australian that said "it's society stupid", and what he was trying to say, although he backed away from it a few hours later, that we really should be debating society rather than debating the economy. Well I'm very happy to debate society. I talk about society every day. I recognise that the values that are important to us as Australians - our respect for individual enterprise, our respect for the central role of the family, our belief that Australian parents should have the right to choose where they educate their children - that's my society, a society that respects appropriately the history of this country, a society that recognises the contributions that people of all ethnicities and backgrounds, and not least the indigenous people of Australia, have made to the modern Australia. We talk about those things all day and every day because they're important to all of us, and they're not the property of one side of politics.

But I also recognise that the society we are living in now is in no small measure a product of the economic strength that we have given it over the last eight and a half years. And when I think of the 1.3 million jobs that have been created over that period of time, I think of the fact that real wages have risen by 13 per cent in the eight and a half years we've been in power versus 2.9 per cent in the thirteen and a half years that Labor was in office. When I heard the Leader of the Opposition launching his women's policy, and he said he was going to have an equal pay unit. Well that's terrific, because when they were last in government, the average wages of women rose by 0.5 per cent in 13 years. Perhaps they could apply that equal pay unit retrospectively to make up for some of the failure that took place when they were last in government.

The reality is that the wages of women in Australia have risen in real terms much faster under this Government than they did under the previous government. And the expansion of childcare, the tremendous growth in the number of women starting their own businesses, the additional choice that we have given to both mothers and fathers in families in relation to the care and the upbringing of their children, they are all real advances and they're all part of society. There is a link between the strength of the economy and society, and I'm always suspicious of somebody who says well we should talk about the economy less and something else more. That says to me that... two things. It says they're a little uncertain of their ability to manage the economy and they don't know a great deal about how to do it.

So my friends, the choice that we face is a very important one. It will determine not only the future of Australia domestically, but also the future of Australia internationally. And it will also be different on this occasion because if Labor wins... and let us not pretend, let us not get carried away, that is a real possibility, no matter how strong the economy may be, no matter how justified we may think the case for the Coalition is, it will be a very tough fight. But if Labor does win we will have, on my understanding for the first time since federation, we will have Labor governments in office at every level of government, both state, federal and territorial. We will have wall to wall, coast to coast Labor without let or hindrance, without the checks and balances that are so important in any national political system.

Now not only will that carry implications in so many areas, but in particular it will carry enormous implications in the area of industrial relations because it will represent a temptation too great to resist for the Australian trade union movement that still remains the master of the Australian Labor Party, indeed to a greater extent now than in the middle 1980s. One of the great paradoxes of the link between industrial and political Labor in Australia is that in 1986 35 per cent of the private sector workforce in Australia belonged to a union. Now the figure is 17.5 per cent - 18 years later it has fallen to 17.5 per cent - yet in that same time the number of members of the Federal Parliament representing the Labor Party, who are members of trade unions, has grown to a much higher level than what it was in the mid-1980s.

So in terms of the membership and the influence on the parliamentary Labor Party, it is far more a trade union dominated party now than what it was in the mid-1980s, and therefore in the area of industrial relations, more so than anywhere else, you will have nine Labor governments all over Australia - they will re-regulate the labour market, they will take away Australian Workplace Agreements, they will take the secondary boycott protection out of the Trade Practices Act, they will remove the figure of 20 as a limit on the allowable matters that can be put by the Industrial Relations Commission into workers' awards, they will require companies signing contracts with the Federal Government to disclose the identity of their sub-contractors so those sub-contractors can enjoy a friendly call from the local union organiser, whether they want it or not.

Imagine what that will mean to the already beleaguered building industry in certain parts of this country. You will see a re-regulation of the labour market, and the tragedy of that will be most heavily borne not only by Australian business, but will also be borne by the workers of Australia because the remarkable thing, and something Labor never acknowledges, is that under us the employees of this country have never been better off because not only have we given them high levels of employment and reduced their interest rates but we've also, as I said earlier in my speech, presided over a significant increase in their real wages.

So of all the things of which I would grieve if there were a change of government, none is more serious, none represents a more lethal threat to the prosperity of this country, to the success and stability of the small business sector and to the business community generally, than the prospect of a reimposition of a centralised union dominated industrial relations system. And if we have Labor everywhere, there will be nothing standing in the way of the trade union movement securing that outcome.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I finally say on policy issues that not only have we much to be proud of in what we have achieved domestically over the last eight and a half years, but the reputation and standing of this country around the world has never been higher. And in case anybody thinks for a moment that I am just reflecting on the regard in which Australia is clearly held in north America and in Europe and in countries like China and Japan and Korea, but today happens to be the first anniversary of the Australian led intervention to save the nation state of the Solomon Islands.

And that intervention, the RAMSI intervention to which so many countries in the Pacific contributed under the name Operation Helpem Fren, which is obviously pidgin, it has been a wonderful success. And we have demonstrated what a good friend and neighbour we are of the people in our region, and we have been received warmly in the Solomon Islands. I have been there twice over the past year and it's wonderful to know that the efforts of this country in rescuing a country that was clearly falling into a state of being a failed state and the efforts we are making to help our friends in Papua New Guinea, the investment we are making, particularly in the region, to help fight the scourge of HIV AIDS, where we have a special responsibility as a wealthy nation to help - all of these things are part of the contribution that Australia is making to being a good international citizen. And so can I say to our friends in the Solomon Islands that we are proud that the intervention has been so successful, we are delighted at the progress that it is being made, and we are particularly warmed by the fact that it was not a solo Australian effort. It was an effort to which many countries in the Pacific Islands contributed and contributed very generously.

Can I lastly say that it's great, as I remarked at the beginning, to be back to address a meeting of the New South Wales State Council. The Liberal Party in New South Wales at a federal level holds more seats than the party has held at any time in this state since the party was formed in 1944. Now that's the good news. The bad news is you've got to hold on to every one and win some more to make absolutely certain... to make absolutely certain that we get returned. We do, as you all know, have a strong position in New South Wales and Queensland and South Australia, not quite so well in the other states. We can't afford to lose more than eight seats and if we do, we're political history and all of the things of which I spoke will come about. So we have ahead of us a tremendous fight. But I'm encouraged by the strength of the New South Wales division. Can I pay a very special tribute to the partnership of Chris McDiven and Scott Morrison. I've been a member of the New South Wales division for a long time and I have to say, and I say this without any disrespect to anybody else, I haven't seen it in a healthier state organisationally, particularly as far as its federal focus is concerned, at any time, and I thank all of you for that.

Let us continue our efforts, let us increase them, let us remember the responsibility we have. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. The political debate in Australia now is not about the past, it's about the future. It's about who is better able to deliver that fair and decent society, that more enterprising culture and that sustainable continent. And to deliver those goals and to achieve those goals, you need the underpinnings of two things. You need a strong and growing economy and you need a secure and well defended nation, and there's only one side of politics that can deliver that.

[ends]

Transcript 21408