PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 - 03/12/2007
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  • Howard, John Winston

Thank you very much Hugh for those very warm words of introduction, to Dick
Woolcott, to Ambassador Platt, to Gareth Evans representing the Leader of the
Opposition, your Excellencies, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is an immense privilege for me to be here tonight to open the AustralAsia Centre of
the Asia Society and it gives me the opportunity to speak to you directly about an issue
of enormous importance to our country and that is our relations with the nations of
Asia. The Asia Society is the pre-eminent non-government American body concerned
with relations between the United States and the nations of the Asia region. For
years now it has played a major role in promoting those linkages and the centre that we
launch tonight will help improve dialogue on Asia between Australia and the United
States and it will make in its own way yet another contribution to the very important
associations between the United States and Australia and serve again to underline the
common destiny of the United States and Australia within the Asia-Pacific region.
The Centre will draw also on the experience of the Asia Society to strengthen
understanding in Australia of the nations of Asia. It will complement the efforts of
other existing Australian institutions like the Asia Australia Institute, Asia Link and the
regional studies centres in our universities.
I congratulate Hugh Morgan and Nick Platt for their initiative and energy in bringing
together the AustralAsia Centre and bringing about its inauguration tonight. As he
mentioned Hugh Morgan recently accompanied me on my visit to China as part of a
very high level business delegation. It was a very successful visit and it was an
effective demonstration to our hosts of the joint determination and the joint
commitment of the business community of Australia and the Australian Government to
building even closer links with the nations of Asia.

I believe that under the direction of Richard Woolcott, who brings an unparalleled
wealth of diplomatic experience, particularly in terms of our relations with the nations
of Asia that this centre will well and truly flourish. The Centre is formed, ladies and
gentlemen, at an Important time in the history of Australia's engagement with Asia.
We are living through a period of economic transformation that really been without
parallel since the Industrial Revolution more than two centuries ago. Economic
globalisation, technological advance and more open trading arrangements are
transforming patterns of production, employment and opportunity around the world.
It is a transformation from which no modern economy is, or can even imagine it can be
immune. Australia is therefore equipping itself as a nation to meet the challenges and to
seize the opportunities of the 2 1st century.
There can be no argument at all that a principal task of my government is the continued
pursuit of economic reform. Those in our midst and elsewhere who say that the
reform process has gone too far are not only wrong but their nostrums, if accepted,
would condemn Australia to a bleak and fearful future. The task of modern
government is to maintain the momentum for the changes which are necessary whilst
to the extent that it is possible to cushion the personal and social consequences of that
change. That is why the focus of the Coalition in government will continue to be
standing up for Australia in a world where the competition for investment, growth and
jobs is increasingly fierce.
Our focus will continue to be on improving Australia's capacity to compete
internationally through a comprehensive economic and social policy reform agenda.
Our focus will continue to be on increasing our national savings and the
competitiveness of our industries and enterprises. Our focus will continue to be on
helping families and small businesses and it will continue to be on expanding
opportunities for younger Australians and providing greater security for older ones.
That is the course that my Government has chartered and on which it will continue.
Australia's engagement in her region plays a vital part in my Government's overall
strategy. In discussing that engagement I am going to make no apology for raising
first and foremost, economic factors but I do not pretend that they are alone, the
essence of the association between Australia and the nations of Asia. If we are to
enjoy in this country better living standards and if we are to create the jobs we need,
economic growth is essential. Given the size of Australia's domestic market, exports
are vital and indispensable to our growth. In the past year, our exports grew more
than twice as fast as the economy as a whole. Moreover, surveys of small companies
and exporters show that those which export are more likely to be hiring employees and
paying higher wages. The markets of Asia are growing fast. During the past decade
more than half the world's economic growth has come from East Asia. In the next few
years, it will continue to grow at least twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Already nearly 60 per cent of our exports now go to East Asia. Seven out of our ten
top export markets are in East Asia.
It follows that one of the most decisive influences on our standard of living and the
capacity of our economy to provide worthwhile jobs for our children will be our
success in exporting our goods and services to the nations of Asia. In the first place

that will require us to produce high-quality products that are internationally
competitive and to maintain a reputation as a reliable supplier.
Success will also crucially depend on improving our knowledge of our region, our
understanding of its markets and our capacity to operate in them and a deep and
greater understanding of the region's people. We are indeed fortunate that more and
more Australians particularly young ones are studying Asian languages and are
learning about the history, culture and economies of our neighbours. Our ties cannot
just be economic. As our economy becomes more integrated with our neighbours',
our stake in their security rises and our mutual understanding must grow.
Moreover, the pursuit of our economic interests in the region cannot be divorced from
acceptance by the countries of our region that we are worthwhile and valuable
partners. That means making a commitment a national commitment to developing
closer ties with our region. It means welcoming visitors and investment from Asian
nations. It means valuing our migrant communities and in particular it means saluting
the massive and enduring contribution made to the culture and the future of Australia
by those hundreds of thousands of Australians of Asian descent who have contributed
so much to the development of the modern Australia.
It is impossible, ladies and gentlemen, to imagine a prosperous and successful Australia
which is not deeply engaged with Asia. Those who propose putting up the shutters
could not be more wrong. Against this background, let me say a few words about
some of the propositions put recently in public debate by the Member for Oxley, Mrs
Hanson. Like any other Australian citizen, she has a right to be heard. Personal
attacks and mindless drowning out of her views are not only unAustralian but they feed
sympathy for her but she has equally to be prepared to have her views tested, their
accuracy assessed and their substance analysed.
She cannot have it both ways. She enjoys freedom to express her views. Equally, she
has to be accountable for those views. She cannot evade responsibility for the
consequences of her statements. This is all the more so because she now claims to lead
a political party. She is wrong when she suggests that Aboriginals are not
disadvantaged. She is wrong when she says that Australia is in danger of being
swamped by Asians. She is wrong to seek scapegoats for society's problems. She is
wrong when she denigrates foreign investment, because its withdrawal would cost
Australian jobs. She is wrong when she claims that Australia is headed for civil war.
She is wrong in having not repudiated the views of her supporters who have called for
the legalisation of the type of semi automatic weapon that Martin Bryant used to cut
down the lives of 35 people at Port Arthur.
The political campaign mounted by the Member for Oxley seeks to exploit fear and
instability without offering solutions or hope. As best I can discern them, her policies
do not provide a positive response to the challenge of boosting jobs and growth, of
revitalising our regions, of strengthening our families, of reducing our national debt
and of providing greater security in people's lives.

They have nothing to do with meeting the challenge as our parents and grandparents
did before us of passing on to the next generation of Australians an even better,
stronger and more united Australian society than was handed over to us. None of
these goals, my friends, will be achieved through empty populism or cheap
sloganeering. None will be achieved through bitter and divisive recriminations. They
will only be achieved through constructive and consistent purpose and through
adjusting to new realities in ways that reflect what is best in Australia's past.
I want to make it clear to you tonight that under my Government, Australia's future
will be built on hope, openness, confidence and Australian values not a sour, bitter,
narrow-minded view of both our past and our future.
In responding to the views of the Member for Oxley, it would be a serious mistake to
attack those who are apparently attracted to her as bigoted, narrow-minded and racist.
A few, no doubt, are. Most, however, are not.
The fact is that Australia is a deeply tolerant, fair-minded and generous society.
Discrimination on the basis of a person's racial or ethnic origin is offensive to all
decent Australians. Every Australian, regardless of colour, race or creed, is entitled to
walk our streets, ride our buses and trains, play sport on our fields and pursue their
work with confidence, utterly free of discrimination, vilification or insult. Every
Australian, regardless of background, is entitled to be treated with total respect and
total dignity. All decent Australians agree with that, and find repulsive any violation of
that code of national tolerance.
The appeal the Member for Oxley has temporarily achieved lies not so much in the
belief that she articulates alternatives for Australia clearly she does not. Rather, she
echoes concerns about the pace of change and the pressures that parts of our
community are under. These concerns as distinct from her responses, deserve the most
sensitive understanding and the government is committed to giving them a serious and
effective response. She also echoes long-smouldering resentments about attitudes
which have been imposed upon the majority of the Australian community without that
majority feeling it has even had an opportunity of debating those issues.
In part, the 1996 Federal election result represented a repudiation of the stultifying
political correctness which had afflicted so many areas of the Australian polity during
the previous decade. Many Australians for example, resent the negative view of our
history and the Australian achievement which has become so standard in recent years.
Those same Australians resent the constant claim that our history has been little more
than a litany of racism, sexism and imperial triumphalism.
Those same Australians resent the plaintive way in which so many have encouraged us
in the past to approach our association with the nations of the Asia-Pacific region.
They resent the suggestion that Australia has to change its identity in order to play an
effective role in our region. The truth is that we go to that association as contributors
as well as beneficiaries.

I know why some Australians have stopped to listen to the Member for Oxley. I say to
them, however, she has no answers to your problems. The Hanson cure would be
worse than the disease.
It is worth reminding both Australians and the people of the region of two striking
features about Australia's engagement with the region. First, it has been a two-way
street. We do not come as a supplicant to the regional association because we have
brought much to it. Australia has been a dependable friend and an important economic
and security partner to many countries in the region. One has only to mention the
Colombo Plan and APEC to recall the continuity and scale of Australia's contribution.
Australian exports of energy and raw materials helped make possible Japan's dramatic
industrial take-off Australia's record for tolerance and acceptance is regarded as an
example to the world. Under Malcolm Fraser's Government, Australia accepted more
Indochinese refugees on a per capita basis than any other nation in the world.
I would also make the point that Australia's willingness to take in people from all over
the world, including Asia, has been richly repaid by the contribution these immigrants
and refugees have subsequently made to Australia.
The second striking feature of our engagement, as these examples show, is its
longevity and continuity. The importance of our engagement with our region has been
a consistent theme of Australian governments since the Second World War, if not
before. This has been true for governments from both sides of politics and tonight I
acknowledge the contribution of my two predecessors as Labor Prime Ministers of
Australia for the contribution that they made to building better links between Australia
and the nations of the region. My Government is determined to continue that tradition.
It is committed to advancing Australia's national interests in our region. There will,
however, as inevitably is the case, be some important differences in approach if not
commitment from that of our predecessors.
We will, for example, be willing to listen a little more to what some in the region are
saying. During his recent visit to Australia, the Japanese prime minister, Mr
Hashimoto, made some important proposals to advance Australia's relationship with
Japan and to highlight Australia's role in the region. This is a healthy and welcome
development and we will have the confidence to welcome and respond to an initiative
from a friend like Japan-as well as from others. We do not think that the only good
initiatives can come from Australia.
On the issue of human rights, Australia will always stand up for her beliefs and values.
As Prime Minister I will never do less but I do not see that public hectoring or
lecturing other countries about their shortcomings or differences from us is appropriate
behaviour for a neighbour or indeed likely to promote our interests or our values.
Equally, Australia herself does not expect to be on the receiving end of lectures. We
have the same right to our values and sensitivities and the same right to demand
respect for them. Mutual respect has to be a two-way thing.
My Government has put considerable effort into pursuing Australia's interests in the
region. My own role in this has been to establish good working relationships with my
counterparts In some of the countries of most importance to Australia. We have made

good progress in improving the frameworks within which Australia and the business
community in particular might better pursue their goals.
My first bilateral visit was to Indonesia, our largest neighbour, an important and
growing market for Australia, and a partner with which we share many economic,
strategic and other interests as is reflected in our close cooperation in APEC and our
security agreement. I made clear to President Soeharto my continued commitment to
strengthening that relationship.
I have already mentioned the good developments that are taking place in our
longstanding relationship with Japan, which I also visited last year. Both Mr
Hashimoto and I are committed to ensuring that our partnership becomes ever more
effective in the region and I had as you know the great pleasure of hosting a very
successful visit from Mr Hashimoto only two weeks ago. In Manila last year at the
APEC leaders meeting, I reaffirmed Australia's commitment to the economic goals of
APEC which is held by my Government.
In China recently, I proposed we form a partnership in growth. Australia has an
immensely important role to play in supplying China with the resources and energy to
fuel its future growth. Indeed I believe Australia can play in China a similar role to the
one we have played in the growth of Japan and Korea. Australia can also provide the
financial, legal and other services for which China has a growing need as its economy
modernises and becomes more sophisticated. The seniority of the business leaders
who came with me to China sent a very strong signal that the Australian Government
and business community want to work closely together in building our economic links
with China. The Chinese Premier, Li Peng, and I agreed to have regular summits in
order to ensure that Australia and China have good and direct communications at a
political level. I also proposed that we upgrade and broaden the scope of our
ministerial dialogue on economic issues.
Since my meeting, Australia has welcomed visits from a number of very senior Chinese
leaders. You will be pleased to hear that China's Vice Premier, Mr Zhu Rongji, will
visit Australia later this month.
My talks with the Premier Goh Chok Tong in Singapore have confirmed the vitality of
Australia's links with that country and I hope also this year to be able to visit India and
Malaysia, and next year Korea. My contacts in the region have left me optimistic
about Australia's prospects in our region and also immensely optimistic about the
prospects for growth and development in the region as a whole.
Asia's economic growth is good for the people of the region, good for Australia and
good for the world. It is true that this same growth is producing major changes in the
strategic outlook of our region and although potential sources of conflict remain over
Taiwan and on the Korean peninsula. But greater prosperity has for the most part
improved the prospects of stability within countries of the region. It has benefited our
security by raising everyone's stake in the stability of the region. The question is how
does the region ensure that this state of affairs continues. Part of the answer lies in
doing what we can to remove the constraints on economic growth. This is why
Australia's role as a supplier of resources, services, technology and finance is so

important. That is why the work of APEC in bringing down barriers to trade and
investment and helping remove bottlenecks in infrastructure, capital flows, and human
resources is so important.
A second part of the answer lies in doing what we can to maintain the region's
stability. Stability is necessary if countries of the region are to be able to devote their
energies to meeting the common challenges of education, economic reform and raising
the living standards of their people. My Government has been very active in that
regard. We are committed to maintaining the Australian Defence Force's capabilities
and improving its effectiveness. My Government has reinvigorated our alliance with
the United States. That alliance, along with those of Japan and Korea, support the
engagement of the United States in our region and are therefore vital to regional
stability. We are committed to maintaining effective security links with our neighbours
through the Five Power arrangements with Malaysia and Singapore, the security
agreement with Indonesia and other bilateral arrangements.
Australia is also playing a prominent role in the development of sturdier regional
frameworks to promote regional dialogue and understanding on security matters, in
particular the ASEAN Regional Forum. These activities do not reflect a fear on the
Government's part of any particular threat. I especially want to emphasise that it is in
no-one's interests to treat China as a threat. We want to see China fully involved in
regional and global institutions. It is also in China's interests to see these strengthened.
China too needs to assure itself of open markets and a stable international trading
system if its economy is to keep growing. It has an interest in the countries of the
region being confident about future stability.
My Government believes its policies will contribute to our region's strategic resilience.
They will help provide us and our neighbours with greater confidence that we can
navigate safely a period of great economic, political and strategic change. They will
help ensure that the economic progress of the past 10 or 20 years is not disrupted.
Ladies and gentlemen, attempts to define Asia, Asianness and Australia's place in it are
interesting, but they do tend to produce more heat than light, often in the media.
Worse, they have left a degree of confusion or even resentment among many in our
community about issues on which there need be no confusion at all. I do not want to
get into definitions. Rather, I would like to finish my remarks by reiterating that our
links with our region will be vital in every way to Australia's political, social and
economic future. In building those links, Australia does not have to choose between
her geography and her history. Our history and our links with the West make a unique
contribution to the region. The recent advances we have made in our relationships
with Japan, China, Indonesia and the United States demonstrate this, as do visits to
Australia in the past six months by President Clinton, Mr Hashimoto, Chancellor Kohl
and shortly the Chinese Vice Premier, Zhu Rongji.

Australia can be immensely confident about its place in our region. We bring many
strengths to bear. Australia has economically, politically and strategically an
important role to play. We are a stable democracy. We are located near a major
source of the world's great economic growth. The size of our economy, our vast
resources, and our technological capabilities make us a very attractive economic
partner. Our high levels of education and our innovativeness give us the capacity to
use our assets effectively.
We do not bring to our association with the region any of the colonial baggage of
others. We enjoy the security inherent in being an island continent and from having an
effective defence force. Our stability, alliances and defence links with our neighbours
contribute to our region's stability. Our credibility makes us an effective actor in
international forums. Our cultural and ethnic diversity gives us a great opportunity to
consolidate our personal ties with the countries of our region and the building blocks
years ago of such great innovations as the Colombo Plan have meant that the network
of personal associations between this country and the nations of the region are vast and
deep and I was reminded of this in a very personal way when I attended a gathering of
the Alumni of Australian Universities during my recent visit to Singapore and to spend
an hour amongst literally hundreds of Singaporeans who had been educated at
Australian universities brought home to me both the longevity of the Association and
its intensely personal character and it was an object lesson, an object reminder to me
that the greatest, the most enduring and the most effective bonds between any nations
are those that are built on people to people contacts and no number of trade missions,
no number of Prime Ministerial visits can ever equal the value of the experiences, the
very positive experiences of those thousands of people when being educated in
Australia, the contribution and the value of that experience to building friendships
between our two nations.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we go into the next century. my Government is committed to
using these strengths to build on a long history of honourable participation by Australia
in our region. I congratulate those who have formed the centre. I thank the Asia
Society of the United States for its interest and its activity and I very genuinely thank
the businesses of Australia who have contributed so magnificently to make the
foundation of this centre a reality. It is an important mission. There is no geographic
linkage more important to the future of Australia than our linkage with the nations of
the Asia Pacific region. We are forever part of this part of the world. It is forever the
destiny of Australia to see her future bound up with the aspirations of the hundreds of
millions of people of the region and all of the energies and all of our policies must
always be directed towards ensuring in the national interest that those links are open
and fuilsome and generous and directed towards the maximisation of the benefits that
we can all derive from that very important association.
Thank you.