PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11359


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: 02/08/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11359


Well, thank you very much, Mr Deputy Mayor, Des Brown; to David and

Penny Hawker, Joy Howley, the President of Victorian Division; to

my numerous Federal and State Parliamentary colleagues and fellow


I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words very directly

to Liberal Party activists and supporters here in the electorate of

Wannon but can I first of all express to you, David and Penny, and

through you to the people of the area, to the people of Wannon, to

the people of the western district of Victoria, my gratitude for the

very warm reception I received this morning.

There are many ways in Australian politics of reaching people. And

one very special way, of course, is to go to country shows. I thought

what I experienced this morning was a country show writ very large,

with a very, very special character. And I can't remember feeling

the ambience of being in the bush, of being in rural Australia and

addressing such a large gathering of people involved in such an important

rural industry. I can't remember having experienced quite the ambience

that I did this morning because the wool industry is very much part

of the history of our country. The wool industry is very much part

of the life and the history of this part of Australia. And I know

that the industry has gone through enormous ups and downs in the years

that I've followed it. And it's going through some hard times at the

moment but like all industries there are some strong areas and some

not so strong areas. There are some efficient areas and not so efficient

areas and there are some opportunities for people that maybe aren't

available to others.

One of the very good things at the present time for the wool industry,

indeed, for all primary industry around Australia is that I can say

without fear of much contradiction that the generic economic conditions

we have at the moment are as good as they have been for more than

three decades. Indeed, in many ways our economy now is stronger than

what it was in the late 1960s. It's more open and competitive. It's

less protected. It's not constructed on an artificial basis which

is subject to likely change in the future. We do have the lowest interest

rates for 30 years, the lowest inflation rate. We have, I'm very proud

to say, the lowest Federal Government, or government debt to GDP ratio

of any of the 24 OECD countries. And that is very important because

farmers know more than most in the community the burden that is carried

if you have too much debt. And one of the many complaints I used to

receive as I went around the bush in the years that we were in Opposition

- and those years seemed to go on forever, they were 13 years of them,

13 years too many - people complained about not only the interest

rate they had to pay on their own debt but they also complained about

the readiness of governments to run up debt. And, of course, the former

government here in Victoria was pretty good at running up debt. And

one of the challenges of the Kennett Government when it was elected

in 1992 was to bring about a reduction of that debt and it's done

it quite magnificently. And, equally, our predecessors were the world's

worst at running up debt and we inherited a Commonwealth Government

debt of about $95 billion when we were elected.

And I'm very pleased to say that if we can get the other 50 per cent

of Telstra sold, by the year 2002 we could be completely free of net

Commonwealth debt. Now, that would be an astonishingly sound basis

on which to effectively commence the next millennium because getting

rid of debt means that people who want to do productive things don't

have to compete with governments in the markets for borrowing money

and that interest rates are more likely to stay down than to go up.

And it's very important that we continue to work hard to get rid of

our debt.

As you know we have just come through a quite historic exercise in

reforming our taxation system. We've succeeded in bringing about the

most beneficial change to our taxation system certainly since World

War II and perhaps any time since Federation. And there are a lot

of benefits in that taxation reform for people in rural Australia.

To start with, fuel is going to be dramatically cheaper. We're not

only going to cut the price of diesel but we're also going to effectively

reduce the cost of other fuel by seven cents a litre when it is used

for business purposes. And the benefits of this, the benefits of this

for the bush are tremendous. I don't think people understand fully

the dimension of the change that is made, has been made in this area.

And it's important to remember that when we went to the election in

October of last year we made certain commitments in relation to diesel

and the cost of fuel in the bush. And it's also important to remember

that when our legislation seemed to hit the wall in the Senate when

a certain Senator from Tasmania said, 'I cannot', I made a promise

to the rural community of Australia at the 20th anniversary

gathering of the National Farmers' Federation at Longreach in Queensland

- which coincided with the first ever meeting of Federal Cabinet in

Longreach - I made a commitment that in the negotiations that we about

to conduct with the Australian Democrats, in the bargaining that went

on we would not in any way bargain away the commitments that we had

made to people in rural Australia. And I can say without any fear

of contradiction that undertaking has been honoured in full. And the

benefits of the lower excise for diesel, the other changes which are

going to be of enormous benefit to farmers and to primary producers,

all of those have been kept and none of them have been affected by

or in any way whittled away. And there is, in fact, an argument suggesting

because we've extended the diesel concession, off-road diesel concession

to rail, there's an argument that, in fact, the new package has significantly

enhanced the benefits of the fuel reductions and the diesel concessions

in particular for people living in rural Australia.

And I want to take the opportunity here at this lunch as I did to

the gathering this morning when I opened the Sheepvention to repeat

a commitment. And that is that when we receive John Ralph's Report

- and that will be in the next few days - and when as a government

we sit down to look at changes to the business taxation system - and

we are going to make changes to business taxation - there will be

changes made to the capital gains tax to make it more attractive for

people to invest. There will be other changes made. I want to make

it very clear that none of the changes we make will disadvantage people

in rural Australia. We haven't decided yet on what the precise changes

are going to be because we haven't got the final report. But we have

decided that there will be a few principles that are going to guide

the making of our decisions and one of those principles will be that

we don't intend to make changes that are going to in any way erode

the competitiveness of farmers or in any way hurt people who live

in rural Australia.

And we're also going to try and make changes that make Australia a

more attractive country in which to invest. I've paid a lot of visits

over the years to the United States and I've paid a lot of visits

over the years to New York which remains undoubtedly the financial

capital of the world. And what is very interesting is that on this

occasion I was paid more regard to and I was listened to with greater

respect and there was a greater universal respect for Australia's

economic performance in New York than I have experienced in any time

over the last 20 years. And what is interesting about the United States

is that many of their business leaders, particularly in the financial

community, have a much greater understanding of our country than do

some of their political leaders. It was disappointing to me to find

that the two senior ranking republican leaders I spoke to, the Speaker

of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader in the Senate,

that neither of them had visited Australia. And neither of them had

any real understanding, I don't think, of Australia. Yet all of the

leaders of the major banks and financial institutions I met in New

York had all been to Australia on numerous occasions. They have business

operations here, indeed, one of them is a part owner of a very well

known restaurant in Melbourne. And that little sort of anecdote drives

home to me something very important and that is that the way to further

connect with the United States is rather through the business community

and particularly the financial community than sometimes at a political

level. And certainly we are regarded in New York and we are regarded

in the United States as having performed very well economically. And

there is enhanced interest in our country. There is an enhanced willingness

to further invest in Australia and to open up new avenues of investment

that didn't exist before. But it's very important that we understand

that in the hard-headed world of financial decision making investment

goes where profit is most likely to accrue and where competitiveness

is the greater.

I would like to see Australia become a major world financial centre.

And there's no reason why that can't occur. And there's no reason

why, when you look at our generic strength, our low inflation, our

political stability, our economic stability, the fact that we have

very clear rules of corporate governance, we have an incorruptible

legal system, we have the rather obvious enhancement of being able

to speak the English language, although some people suggest on occasions

we mangle it but it's an enormous advantage. And we also have within

our ranks, particularly in the cities, we have a large number of Australians

of Asian descent who can speak the language of that region, the languages

rather, of that region with very great skill and very great dexterity.

When you add all of those things together and you think of our enviable

lifestyle, if we get our decisions right in relation to our business

taxation system this country can become an even more attractive place

in which to invest.

So, it's a good story but amidst that very good story of everything

being very positive at a national level I do recognise, as I said

at the gathering this morning, that the people in the wool industry

have gone through a lot of difficulty. We had Ian McLachlan's report

a few weeks ago. That's now being discussed around the industry and

when we get reaction to that the Government will be addressing the

sort of decisions that need to be taken. Like all industries it's

had to adjust, everybody has to adjust. The world in this globalised,

economic environment imposes adjustment on everybody but it's very

important to remember that we can't reverse the process of globalisation.

We don't have an option. In the 1960s we could get away with having

high tariff barriers, you can't do that any more. And it's in the

long-term interests of this country that we continue to try and open

up the markets of other countries. We got very angry about lamb, and

justifiably so.

The other side of the story is that in 1998 we actually increased

our exports to the United States by 34 per cent. And indeed one of

the reasons why Australia has been able to stare down the Asian economic

downturn is that we were able to switch a lot of our trade which had

been going to the countries of the Asian-Pacific region into North

America and to Europe. And that was partly the result of us having

a very well managed exchange rate and the conduct of our exchange

rate policy by the Reserve Bank has been one of the major economic

strengths that the country has had over the last few years.

And I want to assure you, and particularly your local member David,

who does a terrific job of representing the people of Wannon and the

people of Hamilton in the Federal Parliament, I want to assure you

that we are conscious of the fact that there are particular concerns

in the bush about the run down of services. And one of the things

that we did when we decided that we would try and sell some more of

Telstra was that we establish what we call the social bonus. And that

is that we said that if we could get some more of Telstra sold then

out of the proceeds of that sale we would provide some additional


And one of those proposals at the last election is of direct relevance

to the people of this part of Victoria. And we said that a key initiative

was a $120 million television fund to bring SBS to more regional areas

and to eradicate transmission black spots. And that was to be funded

from the sale of a further 16 per cent of Telstra. And I am delighted

to say today that the communities in Western Victoria will be a priority

area for this new five year fund when the money is finally available

from the sale. And detailed site analysis will commence this month

with final planning, purchase of equipment and installation and commissioning

to follow.

And that on current indications viewers in towns such as Hamilton

and Portland should be watching SBS television by October in the year

2000. And this is, I know, an area that people have been expressing

concerns about for a long time but for the benefit of the scribes

present I am putting out a separate release so you need not take it

down. My staff will be providing a news release. But this is fulfilment

of a particular promise that we made at the time of the last election

and it's an indication that we are not only trying to look after the

concerns of rural people at the macro level, the general state of

the economy level, but we are also trying to address particular concerns.

Because I know that there is a lot of angst in rural Australia about

the disappearance of what are regarded as basic services. And I know

there's a lot of concern about banks. I know there's a lot of concern

about doctors. And I am pleased to say that in relation to doctors

a number of initiatives that have been taken by Michael Wooldridge

and the Government and as a result of a tour that Michael Wooldridge

and John Anderson conducted in many parts of rural Australia a few

months ago and as a result of the announcements that have been made

in the Budget there is a belief, I think, spreading in rural Australia

that at long last a number of specific initiatives are starting to

have an effect and we are starting to address that problem in a more

effective way.

But, David, can I thank you very warmly, you and Penny for inviting

me here today. I am sorry that I had to cancel the earlier visit but

you may remember I had to cancel that visit and a visit to a couple

of the rural electorates because of the need to negotiate with the

Australian Democrats regarding the taxation package. And you were

good enough to understand the need for that and I was delighted that

I was able to renew my commitment and come here.

But it has been extremely enjoyable. I do, as Leader of the parliamentary

Liberal Party, want to thank all of you for your tremendous support,

your contributions to and your loyalty to the Liberal Party over a

long period of time. The Liberal Party is sustained by its branch

membership. We can't achieve anything unless we get candidates elected

into Parliament. The Liberal Party organisation is a voluntary organisation

and it's the efforts and the goodwill and the financial support and

the hard physical work of people like yourselves.

And I certainly agree with Marilyn, your electorate Chairman, I think

it was her who said earlier that there are awards in heaven for people

who hand out how-to-vote cards. I have constantly said that. In the

40-odd years that I have been a branch office bearer I have said that.

And I have heard State Presidents say that and I have heard Federal

Presidents say that and now you are hearing a Prime Minister say that

because it has to be right then if all of those people say it. But

it can be a thankless task but can I say it is not a task and it is

not a performance and it's not something that you do that goes unacknowledged.

I owe everything that I have achieved in public life to the Liberal

Party. Without the Liberal Party I would never have achieved the things

that I have achieved and I have never forgotten that and I never lose

an opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the members of the Liberal

Party wherever I go in Australia for their tremendous loyalty and

support. And I do that again today. I wish you well. The party is

in good shape, in good shape here in Victoria and it's in good shape

nationally. We have got a good story to tell, we have got good members

to support and I look forward, without any sense of complacency I

might add, I look forward to more opportunities to do good things

for the people of Australia. Thank you very much.


Transcript 11359