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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10934


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: 23/05/1998

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 10934


Thank you very much Michael, to my many federal and state parliamentary

colleagues and my fellow Liberals here in New South Wales. As always

it's a great pleasure to be back talking to the New South Wales

Division of the Liberal Party. And this morning I want to share some

thoughts with you about the Australian federal political scene which

are very important to our party and to our country over the weeks

and the months ahead.

We will of course sometime in the next nine months have a federal

general election. When that will be and what form that will take I

am yet to decide and in making that decision I will naturally take

the counsel, not only of my federal parliamentary colleagues, but

also of the Liberal Party organisation here in New South Wales and

throughout Australia. And it is therefore appropriate that we begin

to assess the choice that the Australian people will need to make

when the next federal election is held because elections, be they

state or federal, are all about choice. They're about deciding

whether you will go down one path and continue in a particular direction,

or whether you will change direction and go backwards down another

path. And I use that word backwards very advisedly in the context

of the next federal election, because it will involve a choice about

going forward or about turning around and going backwards. Because

over the past few weeks the Australian public has had driven home

to it just how negative, reactionary and backward-looking is the federal

political alternative on offer.

My Government was elected a little over two years ago. We were elected

following thirteen years of Labor - thirteen years which increasingly

saw a government drift away from contact with the ordinary men and

women of our nation. A group of people in government who became arrogant

and lazy and out of touch, and one of the things that I've encouraged

all of my colleagues to avoid is falling into the trap of being arrogant

and out of touch. And I believe that we have worked very hard to avoid

that and the success that is now becoming more evident to the Australian

community is the reward that we are beginning to see as a consequence

of avoiding that arrogance. Everyone knows that we are living in a

very turbulent region and I don't think I have gone through a

week in public life in Australia where the potential turbulence of

our own Asian-Pacific region, particularly Indonesia, has been more

apparent than it has over the last week. And if ever the truism that

we are part of the Asia-Pacific region was driven home to the Australian

public it was driven home over the last week. All of us will hope

that as change is undertaken in Indonesia that the direction will

be towards a more open and a more inclusive Indonesian society.

I have never taken the view that Australian Prime Ministers should

pontificate about the leadership of other nations. Good relations

between countries are built on mutual respect and that includes accepting

the decisions that other nations make about their leadership and their

constitutional forms and their way of government, but equally demanding

of them that they accept the decisions we make about our leadership,

our constitutional forms and our way of government. And I've

followed that approach since I've been Prime Minister and I'm

sure it's been the right approach. We have good relations with

Indonesia, we are a friend of Indonesia's, we've been a

regional mate of Indonesia's but we have not been an uncritical

commentator. We are prepared to defend our own interests and our own

rights and to have our own views but we stop short of telling other

countries how to run their own affairs. Now I don't know precisely

the ultimate form of the change process which is underway in that

country. And who governs that country and the form of that government

is a matter for the Indonesian people to determine. I do know that

I want the country to have peace, I want the country to have a greater

measure of personal liberty, and I want the country to have increased

living standards. And whatever may have been said of the government

of that country for the past thirty two years, nothing can gainsay

the fact that the living standard of the average Indonesian has risen

dramatically during that period of time. And the way forward for Indonesia

is through economic and political openness and co-operation with the

nations of the region. And we will continue to be a good friend, we'll

continue to help where we can as we have in the past, but like any

other great democratic self-respecting nation we will of course require

in our relations with that country as with all others, a basis of

mutual self respect.

But what has happened there and what indeed has happened in the region

over the past few months has driven home to the Australian people

the need for a government that delivers safety, security and stability.

And the clearest possible message has come from the economic management

of my government epitomised by the recent Federal Budget, and that

is that against the backdrop of enormous regional turbulence we have

delivered security, safety and stability to the Australian people

and to the Australian economy. And I ask the very obvious rhetorical

question: Where would we have been now against the background of what

has happened in the Asia-Pacific region if we had not followed the

economic course we embarked upon in March of 1996? Where would we

have been if we had left Mr Beazley's black hole of $10.5 billion

unfilled? Where would we have been if we had taken the advice of the

Australian Democrats? I mean they sometimes make the big spenders

of the Labor Party look like skinflints. Where would we have been

if we had taken the lazy option and adopted the views of having one

government you were paralysed and did nothing? The truth is that if

we had not cut the budget deficit, if we had not got on top of the

enormous debt that we inherited from Mr Beazley and Mr Keating, this

country now would have been weaker, more vulnerable and at the mercy

of the economic turbulence that is swirling through the Asia-Pacific


So what we are facing at the moment is a very clear choice. Do we

hang on to that stability, security and safety which my government

has delivered, or do we go down a backward risky economic path which

is being mapped out by the Labor Party? The Labor Party says it believes

in fiscal responsibility but opposes every measure to deliver it.

The Labor Party says it believes in budget surpluses but has spent

two and a quarter years trying to stop the creation of a budget surplus.

The Labor Party created the problem - they lit fire to the building

and they've tried to stop the fire brigade putting out the fire.

And yet they pretend to the Australian people that they too are a

party of economic responsibility.

The Labor Party in 1998 is a monumental economic risk. The Labor Party

if re-elected would undermine the security the stability and the safety

against the background of Asian economic turbulence that my government

has delivered. And it's not only at the macro level that the

Labor Party is a risk, it's also at a level that directly affects

people in this audience and affects the great bulk of middle Australia.

One of the greatest gifts of my government to the battlers of Australia

and to middle Australia - has been the enormous reduction in interest

rates that has occurred since 1996. To the average homebuyer it's

worth $300 a month and that is the equivalent of $100 a week pay rise.

If Labor is re-elected that will be put at risk because as certain

as one can be of anything in politics, if Labor gets back into power

interest rates will start going up again. Because Labor is a party

of big spending. Labor doesn't believe in budget surpluses, Labor

believes in budget deficits because that's what they did when

they were in government, despite what they said to the opposite. And

the biggest risk to middle Australia of a re-elected Labor government

will be higher interest rates because the low interest rates we now

have are a direct result of the economic policies of my government

-without them there would have been much greater pressure on borrowing

in the financial markets and therefore much higher interest rates.

So we do have a very clear choice emerging - we have safety, stability

and security against the backdrop of Asian economic turbulence on

the one hand and on the other hand the enormous risk of returning

Labor to office federally, and that risk is symbolised more than anything

else by the threat that a re-elected Labor government would pose to

the level of interest rates - not only for housing but also for small

business. Because they are now at their lowest level for more than

thirty years. You have to go back into the late 1960s to get interest

rates for housing as low as they are now and back into the early 1970s

- before the Whitlam government began to take an axe to Australia's

economic stability - to get the sort of interest rates for small business

that are now becoming daily more apparent.

We therefore ladies and gentleman do have a very clear choice. And

it's a very clear choice that it's the responsibility of

all of us as members of the Liberal Party to communicate to the Australian

people, either at a federal parliamentary level or at a branch or

conference level. Because it goes very much to the kind of Australian

community we are going to have as we go into the next millennium.

We often talk about the future - we talk about our goals, we talk

about our vision for the future, we talk about our hopes for the future.

I believe that one of the greatest legacies that a government of Australia

in the late 1990s, in the closing years of the twentieth century,

one of the greatest legacies that that government could aspire to

leave to the generations of the third Christian millennium of the

twenty-first century would be a debt-free Australian society. When

I think of the future that my own children will enjoy and hopefully

their children will enjoy, one thinks of the prospect that they might

have a society that is not only socially stable, racially tolerant,

politically liberal, but also a society that is free of debt and a

society therefore that provides a sense of continuity and a sense

of economic predictability that is so very important.

All of our economic policies have been designed to deliver that stability,

that safety and that security which is so important. We don't

pursue economic policies because we have some ideological obsession

with it. Change for the sake of change is of no use. Change is only

worthwhile if it delivers a benefit to society. And every single change

that I've embraced as Prime Minister has been a change that I've

believed will make Australia a better nation. I believe that one of

the greatest gifts of statecraft in modern society is to choose between

preserving those values and those institutions we've inherited

from the past that are worth preserving and getting rid of those attitudes

and those practices that are worth getting rid of. And when people

say to me do you believe in change my answer is I believe in change

if it's for the better but if it's for the worse or if it's

simply neutral then I'm not in favour of it. And that is the

attitude we ought to take. Beware of those people who say that change

just for the sake of experimentation is something you ought to embrace.

But equally have the courage to throw out something which is clearly

working against our interests. And it's in that context that

we have approached economic, industrial relations and other change

since we've been in office.

We want to reform the Australian waterfront not because we want to

destroy the Maritime Union of Australia, or we want to prevent trade

unionists working on the Australian waterfront. We want to reform

the Australian waterfront because that will be good for the Australian

economy. We want to reform the Australian waterfront because that

will create more jobs and generate more investment and make Australia

a more competitive exporter in an increasingly competitive world trading


We reduced the budget deficit because that made Australia stronger

and more secure and it has meant that against the background of the

Asian economic turbulence that we are a much more stable society that

we might otherwise have been. Equally when we turn our gaze to the

next great area of economic change that will be good for Australia

- that is taxation reform - we view it not as turning the world on

its head, not as a revolution, we see it rather as the next necessary

desirable change to further strengthen the Australian economy. We

want a new tax system because the present one is not good enough.

We want a new tax system because the present one is not fair enough.

We want a new indirect tax system because the present one penalises

exporters. We are one of the few great trading nations in the world

that has a taxation system that actually penalises Australians that

want to sell goods and services overseas. And that's the reason

why we have to get rid of the present system because it's hurting

Australia. When we line up against nations that have a different indirect

tax system, an indirect tax system that does not impose any penalty

on inputs to the manufacture of goods that we sell overseas we are

at a disadvantage. Because the present system does impose that penalty

and that alone is argument enough for changing the present system.

So tax reform is not about revolution. Tax reform is about the evolutionary

building of further advantages and further protections for the Australian

economy and for the Australian community. It's about making Australia

a more competitive nation. It's about removing the unfairness

of a wholesale tax system that says that if you can afford to buy

a Lear jet you don't pay any indirect tax, but if you're

like most of us and can only afford a family car you pay twenty-two

per cent. It's about a taxation system that back in the 1950s

said that you only paid the top marginal rate of tax if you earned

in Australia in today's dollar terms about $500 or $600,000 a

year. But now you pay that top marginal rate of tax if you earn something

round $50,000 a year. And by the time we get to the year 2000 it will

be down to around $39,000 a year. Now we can't go on with that

kind of taxation system. That's why we want to change it. There's

nothing revolutionary or radical about that, to me it is plain up

and down common sense and that's what tax reform is about, is

adopting a common sense sensible measured approach to change that

will make Australia a better country. There are very few nations on

earth left with the indirect tax system that we have at the present

time because most of them have had the wit to realise that such an

indirect taxation system works to Australia's disadvantage.

We're not going to introduce a tax system that is going to hurt

the poor. One of things I'm very proud about is the way in which

my government has maintained the social security safety net in this

country. I think we are long past the day when there's any serious

argument in Australia about the desirability of having a social security

safety net. We don't believe in anybody being allowed to rort

the welfare system anymore than we believe that people at the top

end of town should be able to escape their taxation liability. They

shouldn't be, because it's unfair and it imposes an unfair

burden on the rest of us and the great bulk of wage and salary earners

who are in no position to take advantage of fancy and dubious arrangements.

I want to make it very clear that our tax reform will be directed

to ensure that people who are escaping their fair share of the tax

burden will be required under those reforms to do so, and any suggestion

to the contrary is completely wrong. But we need tax reform because

it will further strengthen us and because it's a necessary next

step in the process of making Australia ever stronger, more stable

and more secure against the background of what is occurring in our


Ladies and gentlemen over the next few months we will of course be

unveiling the details of our taxation policy. But we'll be going

to the next election whenever it is being held against a background

of very significant achievement over the time that we have been in

government. We have been willing to tackle issues of long term importance

to the Australian community. We have strengthened the economy. We

have improved industrial relations. We have reasserted the rights

of the mainstream of the Australian community against the clamouring

of noisy minorities without being insensitive to the responsibilities

of government to look after the vulnerable and the weak and the disadvantaged

within our community. We have adjusted Australia's foreign policy

so that whilst we preserve the great priority of our relations with

the Asia-Pacific region, we haven't ignored the very important

linkages that this country has with Britain and the rest of Europe

and with the nations of North America. I have frequently said that

Australia occupies a unique intersection of history, geography, culture

and economic circumstance in this part of the world. We are a projection

of western civilisation in the Asia-Pacific region. We are a nation

that has very strong historical links with Europe. We have deep bonds

of shared democracy and liberal values with the nations of North America

and we are located in the Asia-Pacific region. And our own society

has been enriched through the immigration into this country of hundreds

of thousands of people from the Asia-Pacific region. And when you

put all of that together it gives us a great advantage, it gives us

a place in history and geography and culture and economic circumstance

that no other nation on earth can possibly occupy. And if we are sensible

and positive and if we don't see those historical and economic

and cultural linkages as being mutually exclusive but rather blending

together to give us a unique position in this time of history then

we have an enormous opportunity to build a very special society playing

a very special role in this part of the world.

So we'll be able to go the next election whenever it is held

proud of the record of economic stability and reform, proud of the

fact that we have given Australia a proper role in the world and the

affairs of the world and also having a practical vision and a solid

set of values as we go into the next century.

But can I just finally address a few words to all of you as members

of the Liberal Party organisation. Election campaigns are not won

by members of parliament alone, they're not even principally

won by members of parliament. They are won by the combined grassroots

efforts of the men and women who make up the rank and file of political

parties. I need your help whenever the election is. My colleagues

need your help and all of us together need to mount a very strong

and effective grassroots election campaign. Election campaigns are

never easy. They are becoming harder each time in this country because

we now live in a state where politics is a lot less tribal than it

used to be and there are fewer people in the Australian community

whose political allegiance is permanently rusted on to one or other

side of politics. And there are a lot more people swinging around

in the middle and therefore you can have significant movement one

way or the other within a very short period of time. So I don't

take anything for granted. From the moment I was elected two and a

quarter years ago I said that we couldn't take the result of

the next election for granted and that remains the case.

But I'm greatly encouraged by the unity and the strength of our

own parliamentary party. I'm greatly encouraged by the support

that I've received from the organisation and I'm greatly

encouraged by the fact that in the face of very considerable difficulty

and adversity on a number of issues the Government has gone the distance

and stayed the course and the public is beginning to appreciate and

to respect that and to understand that and to see that as a great

strength. There are always times in public life, there are always

times in the lives of political leaders, in the lives of government,

when you're going to go through periods when everybody is criticising

you and everybody is expressing doubt about the wisdom of the course

that you are following. And like every other government worth its

salt we have gone through periods like that over the last two and

a quarter years. But because our cause has been right and our objectives

have been in the national interest we have stuck to our course and

that has been evident in areas like economic reform. There were plenty

of critics eighteen months, a year ago, who said we'd gone too

far. There aren't many of them now. They're very grateful

that we did do what we did a couple of years ago. And they're

very grateful that it was a couple of years ago and not this budget.

And they're very grateful that we had the foresight and the determination

to do it. There are people who were critical, our opponents in particular,

of some of the things we have done in respect of industrial relations,

but we've stuck to course and we're going to continue to

pursue the course. We're going to continue to pursue the cause

of waterfront reform for example, because it's in Australia's

interest that it be achieved. That's what governments are elected

to do. There's never any point in being in government if you

don't do something with it. There's nothing more pathetic

in public life than to be given high office and be elected to a position

of power and responsibility and then squander the opportunity that

that great gift from the people gives you. And that has been something

that has very significantly affected the way in which we have conducted

the affairs of government.

But ladies and gentlemen I'm very proud on behalf of the Federal

Government to give this report, to map out the choice that lies ahead

of the Australian people. Whether we continue down the path of stability,

security and safety or whether we go backwards and put at risk the

achievements of the last couple of years in particular go back to

the era of high debt, high deficit and high interest rates and high

unemployment that was the legacy that we inherited from Mr Beazley

and from Mr Keating.

Ladies and gentlemen again my very warm thanks for the tremendous

support that you've given me and given my government over the

last couple of years and I look forward with great enthusiasm to the

challenge of the weeks and the months ahead.

Transcript 10934