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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 22035

Address to Housing Industry Association NSW North Ryde, 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: 15/11/2005

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 22035

Thank you very much Mr Morgan, Dr Silberberg, my parliamentary colleague Alan Cadman, Ivan Petch, the Mayor of Ryde, an old friend Bill Kirby-Jones and other very familiar faces in this industry, welcome to the electorate of Bennelong. It's great that you have decided to establish your regional headquarters here in my electorate and I am more than happy to be on hand to officially open these premises to launch YouthBuild and very particularly, especially on a day when there is a focus on industrial relations changes, to make a few comments about the role of the Housing Industry Association and the role of the home building industry in the Australian economy. It goes without saying that I have had a very long association with this industry association. It goes back to the time when I was Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and then Treasurer in the former Coalition Government. It was a relationship which I tried to keep in good repair during the years that the Coalition was in Opposition, I remember with gratitude the support that the Housing Industry Association gave in 1993 to the industrial relations policies of the Coalition at the time, a level of support which unfairly and dishonourably brought forth a level of punitive behaviour and discrimination from the re-elected Government in 1993 which did not reflect very well in the democratic process.

It is true that the housing industry has played a critical role in the economic expansion that has taken place in this country over the last 15 years. I well remember the early months of 2001 when as a result of some of the transitional effects of the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, the home building industry went into a very significant decline and due in very significant measures to the representations that were made to me by Ron and the other members of the Housing Industry Association executive, we decided in the wake of the very bad national account figures for the December quarter of 2000, as a temporary measure to double the first homeowners grant from $7000 to $14,000. I think that demonstrated two things, it demonstrated the ongoing significance of the housing industry as an economic driver in the Australian economy, it also demonstrated an interesting piece of economic advocacy if you like that John Maynard Keynes is not completely dead when it comes to the decisions that governments take in order to respond to economic difficulties. That measure worked in a relatively short period of time, there was a recovery in the home building industry and over time, the grant has returned to its previous level.

I know from time to time that people suggest that it should, on an ongoing basis be higher and the Government continues to receive those recommendations but we think the current level is appropriate, we certainly believe very strongly in having as part of the armoury of policies for home ownership in this country, we do believe very strongly in a first homeowners grant. It is important at a gathering like this for me to reaffirm the centrality of private home ownership as part of the makeup of modern Australia. This country has one of the highest home ownership levels in the world. There may on occasions be one or two countries whose home ownership goes a little higher but we are right up there with the top rank and at various periods during the 1960s and 70s, if my memory serves me correctly the State of Victoria did in fact have the highest levels of home ownership of any identified political jurisdiction anywhere in the world and those home ownership levels are important for social and family stability. Buying a home, investing in a home is the major investment that most people make in their lifetime. For most Australians, owning their home is far and away the greatest asset that people have and in many cases it is the only substantial asset that people have and it is as true now as it was a generation ago that the desire to buy a home and to raise a family and it goes right to the heart of the stability and the future of our society.

There are challenges for younger people in buying their first home especially but not only in the city of Sydney. There is no easy solution to that. Some of them I believe lie with more adventurous land release policies and rather more realistic development policies to be adopted by State and Federal Governments. We do not believe that the solution lies in altering the existing taxation arrangements in relation to negative gearing or the capital gains tax exemption. They are issues that have been looked at. They were tried briefly in the 1980s when the former government phased out for a period of time negative gearing and the result of course was that there was a very significant shortage of investment in investment properties. There was a very sharp escalation in rentals charged in metropolitan Sydney and perversely a measure that was designed as some kind of measure of social equity and social justice ended up via the increased rents - in fact hurting the most vulnerable people in the community.

If I could move to two other things. The first of those of course is the Government's workplace relations proposals which have passed the House of Representatives - are now before a Senate committee and will be debated by the Senate when it reconvenes in just under two weeks time. These proposals more than anything else will be of enormous benefit to small and medium size businesses. And it is therefore appropriate that I say something about them to an audience which overwhelmingly is of an industry that is made up of small to medium size entrepreneurs. I know there are some large companies that are members of HIA but quintessentially this is a small business industry. It's an industry of risktakers. It's an industry of hard workers. It's an industry of independent contractors. It's an industry of men and women who believe in the small business ethic. And these proposals will provide a better future for small business. And because of that, these changes will over time generate more jobs. They will over time make a big contribution to maintaining our economic growth and economic momentum.

We run the risk in this country of resting on our economic laurels. We run the risk of saying that because we have done so well over the last 10 or 15 years we don't need to embrace any more reform, we can sit back, we can enjoy life, we can avoid taking any further difficult or challenging decisions. That ladies and gentlemen is a recipe for the economic progress of today, stalling tomorrow and going eventually into reverse. No country can afford to stand still on economic reform. No country can complacently assume that because we've done difficult things in the past and reached a certain level of activity that we can then stop, down tools and assume the future will look after itself. You can't do that with your businesses and this Government and no government of Australia can do that with the economy of Australia.

In my view once these changes have been implemented - if that is the will of Parliament - and I believe it will be the will of Parliament, it is my view that after they have been implemented for a period of time most Australians will look back on the criticism and the objections and the observations that have been made about them, with a sense of bewilderment. The sky will not fall in. Weekend barbeques will not be abolished. Parents will still be able to spend Christmas Day with their children and importantly the greater flexibility that the new system brings in will boost industries such as the housing industry and will lead to very significant further job generation in small business.

I say this next or make this next observation, not in denigration of the trade union movement but rather to say something about the face of modern Australia. There are now more small business units in this country than there are paid up members of trade unions. Now that says something about the nature of modern Australia. I understand that the HIA in New South Wales has enjoyed since 2001 something like a 69 per cent increase in its membership, which is an extraordinary achievement and it's a reminder - and a lot of that growth I gather has occurred in regional New South Wales - and that is a reminder of the continued life and energy of the small business ethic in the Australian community.

I wouldn't want you to forget that part and parcel of the industrial relations programme that we took to the last election was the introduction of special independent contractor legislation to further reinforce the status of people who are contractors as small business operators, and to make it even more difficult for legislators and others in the future to somehow or other deem them to be in an employer-employee relationship with either their head contractors or in some circumstances, the people that work for them. As well as declaring these premises open, I know this is the launch of the YouthBuild Foundation, a Foundation promoted by the Housing Industry Association, a promotion that hopes to further encourage apprenticeships, particularly apprenticeships that involve a link between the apprenticeship and the apprentice's school. We have seen an increase in school-based apprenticeships around Australia. Unfortunately the progress has been slower in New South Wales, because an essentially award tainted approach to apprenticeships in this State and the prejudice against school-based apprenticeships has meant that their growth in New South Wales has been a lot more limited. It is right, as the Executive Director Ron Silberberg said, that the Government has put an enormous amount of emphasis into trying to boost apprenticeships and technical education.

I'm very hopeful that at the next meeting of Commonwealth and State Governments in February that we will be able to sign off on an arrangement that will remove, over a short period of time, the remaining barriers for people who have obtained technical qualifications in one part of Australia to carry on their trade in another. It still remains to me an absurdity in 2005 when in theory we are meant to have finally got rid of the barriers that exist in relation to say doctors and lawyers qualified in one part of the country practicing in another. That somebody who qualifies as an electrician in one part of Australia can be required to go through some kind of trade qualification or course or clear some barrier or hurdle in another part of the country that a hairdresser who qualifies in Western Australia can carry on his or her occupation in London without further lead or hindrance, but can't carry on that occupation in New South Wales or Queensland without going through some further hoop. I mean that sort of thing is ridiculous. It only has to be stated to most Australians for them to shake their heads in disbelief that it could be the case. But it is the case and I am very hopeful that coming out of the process that was set in train at the last Premiers' conference that we can reach some real agreement at the February meeting to put that kind of stupidity behind us.

We have put a lot of extra emphasis on getting skilled migrants. We continue to look to ways to make that work better. We are investing very heavily in 25 Commonwealth Technical Colleges around the country to demonstrate to Australians the premium we place on a high grade technical education. And I've frequently said when I've spoken about this subject that the line that I used in the last election campaign that got the most applause in most parts of the country was when I said I wanted an Australia where a high grade technical qualification was as prized as a university degree. And it is a shift in emphasis and a shift in esteem and prestige which is very important to our country's future.

So ladies and gentlemen, I am really very pleased to be part of this ceremony today, to thank the Housing Industry Association for the contribution it's made to the Australian economy over the years. To thank it for the contribution it's making to apprenticeships, particularly through YouthBuild, the contribution it's making to school-based apprenticeships, and to assure you, not only through our industrial relations reforms, which are a very, very important part of building the economic strength of Australia in the future. But in many other ways, we will remain a good friend and a good partner of the Housing Industry Association. Our goals are the same. We want viable small businesses, we want strong levels of home ownership, we want to protect the independence of people in your industry and we want to encourage the maximum number of young Australians to take out apprenticeships and in time themselves become the independent contractors, which are the backbone of the Housing Industry Association.

I have great pleasure in declaring this building open and I wish you well and thank you for inviting me.

[ends]

Transcript 22035