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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21831

Address to the American Australian Association US Chamber of Commerce Washington DC

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: 18/07/2005

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 21831

Your Excellencies, Mr. Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen...Rupert, thank you very much for those extremely generous remarks. Might I say when speaking of citizens of the world, few people on the planet qualify so fulsomely for that description, than Rupert Murdoch. And the honoured place that the Murdoch family has occupied in the life and the affairs of my country over a long period of time is deeply respected and greatly appreciated. And, Rupert, through his life and his effort, particularly in recent decades, has exemplified all of the things that our two countries have in common, and has made an enormous contribution to cementing the good relations between the people of Australia and the people of the United States.

Mr. Secretary, I thank you very much for honouring Janette and myself with your attendance tonight. To the Color Party of United States Marines, which reminds us, as Rupert said, of the fact that since the battle of Hamel in France in 1918 on the fourth of July, the forces of the United States and Australia have been engaged together in every significant conflict. That particular battle which lasted only 93 minutes and introduced new methods of combat into WWI - and, incidentally, the commanding officer on that occasion was an Australian, the great Sir John Monash - was the beginning of an association that has endured through the years, and I agree is stronger now than at any time in the history of relations between our two countries. And what makes it strong is what we stand for and what we believe in. And more than ever, in the history of the relationship between the two countries, it is important to assert the commonality of our values and our common commitment to the principles of freedom and openness, not only in our societies, but societies around the world.

Those who see the resurgence of terrorism as simply a manifestation of the divide between the rich and the poor, the outcry of the oppressed and the downtrodden, misunderstand the character of the challenge that our societies face. The terrorists' challenge is based upon a perverted and totally invalid depiction of a great world religion. It is not based on principle, it is not based on a legitimate desire for liberation or freedom, and in that sense it is the enemy of all of us.

Fifty-four people so far have died as a result of the terrorist attacks in London. As The Australian newspaper poignantly pointed out last Saturday, one of those who died was an Australian citizen of Vietnamese origin. His parents came to Australia after the end of the Vietnam War and in difficult circumstances they made a life for themselves and for their young son Sam. He went to University; he became an IT specialist. He embraced the opportunities that his immigrant parents had given him by choosing Australia as a place in which to live. Isn't it symbolic and doesn't it tell us something, that he was the success story of a minority in a welcoming country. He died at the hands of the son of other immigrants who had gone to Great Britain as part of the great migration from India and Pakistan in the 1950's and 60's. That particular young man chose the path of murder and terrorism, and what it illustrates is that we are fighting an ideology. We're not simply dealing with an outburst of legitimate anger against economic deprivation and political punishment.

I speak to you at a time when there is so much that we should be pleased about in the relationship between our two countries. I'm conscious that in this room tonight are many people who played a major part in securing the passage through the American Congress with record majorities of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I want to pay tribute to the work of my own Embassy, Australia's Embassy, our then Ambassador Michael Thawley, to the Chamber of Commerce, and so many of the Senators and Congressmen and women who worked so very hard in a great cause.

I am very conscious of the fact that the majorities of the agreement secured are symbolic of, not only the expression of support for the substance of the agreement, but also of the character and quality and the importance of the relationship between our two societies.

I believe that the relations between Australia and the United States will grow ever closer as the years go by. And that association and that friendship will grow without prejudice to the very important linkages that Australia has with different parts of the world. I set myself an objective in foreign policy when I became Prime Minister, and that was to rebalance our relations between different parts of the world.

I take the view that Australia occupies a unique intersection of history and geography. We are a nation of essentially western European origin with very deep and abiding links with many countries in Europe particularly, but not only, Great Britain and Ireland. But we're a nation that is placed by geography and circumstance in the Asian-Pacific region. And the modern Australia has been greatly enriched by immigration from Asia. My own constituency in Sydney comprises some fifteen per cent of citizens of ethnic Chinese decent. But we're also a nation that has deep and abiding links for many, many reasons with the people of the United States. And I regard it as the role and responsibility of the Prime Minister of Australia to ensure that all of those linkages and all of those traditions are kept in good order, and none more importantly than, of course, our relationship with the United States.

The Free Trade Agreement represents an expression of optimism about the future of that relationship. Of course it didn't provide the two sides with everything they wanted, but what it has done and what the subsequent passage of the E-3 visa legislation, which I particularly want to express my thanks to the American Congress for, what it's done is to say to the rest of the world that there is a special character to this relationship. And as our economy and yours becomes more enmeshed as the years go by, particularly in the service sector, people will look back on the passage of this Free Trade Agreement and remark at what a remarkable, far-sighted contribution it's made to relations between the two countries.

But that Free Trade Agreement will only be fully exploited and fully developed if the economies of our two countries continue to grow, and if successive governments in Australia and the United States continue to rise to the challenge of economic reform. The Australian economy is now enjoying its fifteenth year of expansion. That hasn't happened by accident. It's happened because over the years governments of both political persuasions in Australia, and I have never been reluctant to give credit to former governments in Australia for some of the reforms carried out in the 1980's, because governments of both political persuasions in Australia have undertaken far-reaching and significant economic reforms. Tariff reform; getting the budget back into balance and surplus; which has been a hallmark of the work carried out by my government, particularly the contribution that my Treasurer, Peter Costello, has made to that process; labour market reform, and I will return to that again in a moment; fundamental taxation reform some five years ago; and, of course, importantly, financial deregulation carried out by the former government, but strongly supported by the then coalition opposition.

Now that has produced the strong economy that we have at the present time. And right at the moment the government is embarked upon a process of further reforming our industrial relations system. Of bringing about further needed flexibility in our labour markets. We've come a long way in the last eight or nine years in relation to that but I believe that we must go further. Some people are saying to me in Australia 'John, everything's going well...unemployment is at a 30 year low, the budget's in balance, real wages are high, interest rates are relatively low, inflation is under control...why do you want to do anything? Why don't you just let the economy run itself? Get out of the way. Don't bother anybody. I know that's a very tempting thing...to be told that the economy is going so well that you don't need to do anything. The reality is, of course, that it is an illusory strength, because the process of economic reform is like the runner who is pursuing an ever-receding finishing line. You never reach it. But if you don't keep running you don't try to reach it then others are going to go past you because they are going to keep their resolve to reach the ever-receding finishing line. And the reason why we have to undertake further reform is to guarantee that the prosperity that we now have and enjoy, will be there in five and ten years and twenty years time. And I know and I think we all know that when a country believes that the economic reform job has been finished that is the time that the economy of that country and the success and the strength and the commitment of that government begins to recede.

We need a more flexible labour markets so that in five years time we will have an unemployment rate that's even lower than the five percent of today, because the sort of world in which we live does produce the circumstances of that ever-receding finishing line. Unless we continue to reform and we continue reform and we continue to change then we're going to lose the place that we now occupy in the world. There's a tendency in our countries, as I'm sure there is in any country of similar comparison, to believe that they somehow or other completed the process of economic reform. The truth, of course, is that we haven't. And if you look around the world and you examine some of the different economies of the world, it's probably in the area of labour market composition and labour market change that you see some of the starkest comparisons. There's quite a debate going on in Europe at the present time, in the wake of the rejection of the referendum by the French and Dutch publics and if you look at the rigid labour markets of Germany and France and Spain and you compare those labour markets with those of the United Kingdom, of New Zealand, of the United States and also of Australia where unemployment levels are half what they are in Germany and France and the reason overwhelmingly is that those countries haven't carried out the process of labour markets deregulation. And if I may say one of the most important and cleverest and most valuable things the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, did when he became Prime Minister in 1997 was to tell the Trade Union congress of that country that the labour market reforms of the Thatcher government were right for Britain and they should be retained and that, as much as anything else, I believe, has contributed to the maintenance of the strengths of the British economy. So I am very much for ongoing reform. I lead a government that's committed to ongoing economic reform and a government that does not believe that you can ever imagine that that process has been completed.

I would like to say just two other things to you tonight and they're both related to one of the challenges that the developed and rich world has and that is to respond to the dreadful poverty and depravation particularly of large parts of Africa. We've seen a lot in the margins and at the meeting of the G8 countries in Gleneagles. We've seen a lot about the desire of many to close the gap between the rich and the poor. Everybody of any common humanity will want to see that occur and to the extent that people argue that we should adopt policies to close that gap then I totally support them. But in examining how you close that gap, I think it's a fallacy to imagine that the problem is simply solved by increasing the level of direct overseas aid from the wealthier countries to the poorer countries. Strong, properly delivered aid programs will play a significant role in reducing disadvantage and poverty in the poorest countries of the world. But I would argue there are two other things of even greater importance than direct overseas aid. The first of those is the breaking down of trade barriers. It is beyond argument that the value to developing countries of removing the most pernicious of the trade barriers maintained by developed countries would do infinitely more to help those countries than would increases in overseas aid. In all the economic experience of the last forty or fifty years tells us that those countries that have enjoyed the most dramatic improvements in their living standards and their economic growth are those countries that have benefited from reductions and removals of trade barriers and trade restraints.

I would argue very very strongly that one of the greatest contributions that the developed world can make towards reducing poverty is to address the implications and the impact of many trade barriers that shut out opportunities or retard opportunities for developing countries to export their produce particularly, but not only, in the area of agriculture.

The other issue, of course, is what is politely called the challenge of governance. What they're really talking about, of course, is the prevalence of corruption and the belief, understandably, by the citizens of goodwill in countries such as the United States and Australia. A belief that unless something was done to improve governance, to reduce or eliminate corruption, then they're not particularly keen that they're hard earned dollars taking by governance in taxation are used to not assist the suffering of the poor and the deprived but rather the lifestyles of some of those who control the activities that go on inside those countries. Yes, I agree with Sir Bob Geldolf and all of those who gathered in his wake and obviously touched the hearts of many, particularly the young, in all of our nations. I agree with you that the world does have a moral obligation but is has to be a moral obligation that is delivered calmly and with a proper understanding that we can do a lot more than by addressing trade imperfections and we have every right to insist that standards of governance are properly delivered and that is a requirement and a demand legitimately made by those who elect us to government and those who see their taxes, and want to see their taxes properly used.

And that of course leads inevitably to a point I want to make about the importance of the trade negotiations that are going on as part of the DOHA round. There'll be a major meeting of ministers in Hong Kong at the end of this year and it is very important that we make progress in DOHA because if we don't, I think there'll be a significant collapse of confidence in the capacity of the world acting multilaterally to solve some of our most deep-seeded problems. And I think the opportunities for this to occur at the present time are there and I hope that all of those who bring influence and the United States obviously, such leadership as can be given within the European Union at the present time, Japan, Australia as the leader of the Cairns Group and all the other countries that will go there. We do have a particular responsibility because if we can get a breakthrough in relation to trade barriers affecting the least developed countries in the world, I do think that will make a greater contribution than perhaps anything else to achieving the goal of closing that gap.

Can I finally say to all of you how much Janette and I are happy to be back in Washington. The bonds of friendship between Australia and the United States are very deep. They are treasured bonds and because they are based on a common view of the way in which we should live our lives, a belief that the worth of somebody is based upon the contribution that he or she makes and the character of the person and not according to where they were born or what the colour of their skin is or what their religion is but simply on their intrinsic worth as an individual. Values that tell us that strong, united, properly functioning families represent the greatest social welfare system that mankind has ever devised. And a belief, a very strong belief, that the bases of national wealth is individual effort and individual capacity. That competitive capitalism has still been and will always be the most effective engine for maintaining economic growth and economic strength.

Now with some variations of the margins, according to your political tastes, and those things do represent many of the common values that bind our two countries together. Rupert Murdoch, in his introduction referred to the fact that I was in this city on the 11th September. You'll remember that he and I had a meal the night before on the 10th September. Having been here I was deeply touched by the impact of that event on the people of the United States and I've told my fellow Australians time and time again that if you want to understand the American view on terrorism, if you want to understand the way in which it transformed attitudes in this country, you have to have really been there. And I struck and touched by a sense of outrage and understandable horror with which those events were received in this country. I think the war against terror will on for a long time and their will be many people along the way who will tell us that there is some clever way in solving it, that some how or other you say you're sorry for who you are; that you imagine that by curling yourself up into a little ball and going away into a corner nobody will notice you. I think many experts in this area will tell you that there's one thing that a terrorist despises and will punish even more severely than they might punish other behaviour and that is weakness. And those who imagine that you can bargain and covenant with terrorists and buy yourself immunity from future attack misunderstand the nature of the perverted minds with which we're dealing.

Our two nations have been through many things together, we owe a lot to each other. We're more than good friends, we have a deep and abiding alliance but most importantly we share a common view of the kind of society we want. We want a society built on a pursuit of individual liberty and capacity. We want a society where the most important social institution is the family and we want a society where in a sense there's nothing better than to start your life with nothing, to work hard to get a proper reward for your effort and to give your children a better start in life than you had. That's always been very much part of the ethos of the United States and it's been very much a part of the ethos of the Australian people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you very much for the honour that you have done me tonight. I count it as one of the real achievements of the time that I've been Prime Minister of Australia. In a small way I have made a contribution to an even deeper and richer understanding and an even stronger set of bonds between our people and our two very great countries. I think the best of the relationship, good as though it's been in the past, lies in the future and the contribution that many people in this room have made to that relationship is one that I salute and one that I thank them for.

Janette and I warmly thank you for your hospitality, it's great to be back in Washington and I wish all of you great good fortune for the future.

[ends]

Transcript 21831