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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11391


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: 27/03/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11391


Thank you very much Peter for those very warm and kind words of introduction.

To the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, to the President of the

Victorian Division, Joy Howley, to my many federal and state parliamentary

colleagues, and fellow liberals from Victoria.

This is certainly a very large gathering and I thank all of you for

coming along in such large numbers to hear my speech. Or perhaps I'm

wrong. Richard Alston said you were all on the way to the football.

But whatever it be, it's always great to address hundreds of

members of the rank and file of the Liberal Party and it's appropriate

that I do so this weekend because it is almost to the day six months

since the government was re-elected in October of last year.

And it is therefore an opportunity to do both a stocktaking of that

six months and also to throw forward to the next two and a half years,

because immediately after its re-election, the government did set

about keeping faith in a most emphatic way with the commitments that

we made to the Australian people in the lead up to the last election.

I said when I spoke to this Council only a few weeks after the October

election that I believed that in many ways the victory in 1998 was

greater and more meritorious than the victory in 1996, because in

1996 we were campaigning against a tired government that had become

lazy, arrogant and out of touch and led by somebody who imagined that

his judgement was always superior to that of the mainstream of the

Australian community.

And we won very emphatically in 1996 but in 1998 we were seeking an

explicit mandate to implement one of the most courageous blueprints

for economic reform that any western country has seen in the last

thirty or forty years.

It is the reality, ladies and gentlemen, that no federal government

in Australian political history has gone to the people with such a

comprehensive, open, transparent blueprint for economic reform than

the government I led to the last federal election. We've had

governments in the past that have talked generally about reform, we've

had governments in the past that have laid out general scenarios of

what they would do, but I defy anyone to name a government in Australian

political history that actually took a detailed reform plan to the

Australian economy in a fundamental area such as taxation, to the

Australian people, laid it all out in detail and said vote for us

or against us, on the basis of this plan.

Now I say that very deliberately because in the weeks ahead the Australian

Senate will have to make a decision in relation to that plan. And

I want to say to you with all of the conviction that I can muster,

that the government has absolutely no intention of retreating from

the responsibility to implement that plan that was given to us by

the Australian people in October of last year.

We haven't put our political bodies on the line, survived to

tell the story, but to walk away because of the desire of those who

hold the balance of power but more particularly, the negative approach

of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats, to frustrate

the will of the Australian people.

We embarked upon a programme of further economic reform and change

immediately we were re-elected. We put the taxation legislation into

the Parliament, we set about our plans to privatise the remaining

elements of Telstra and thus make Australia not the second largest

share owning democracy in the world, but indeed the largest share

owning democracy in the world. And not only as Peter says, can we

by selling the rest of Telstra, remove for ever federal government

debt, a remarkable legacy to bequeath to our children and grandchildren,

but also if we can sell the remaining elements of Telstra, Australia

will boast the highest percentage of share owners of any democracy

in the western world.

But an even more important thing has occurred over the last six months.

And that is that I believe that over the last six months the Australian

community and importantly the world community, has begun to realise

the full extent to which Australia was able to stare down the worst

of the Asian economic downturn.

There was a sense of it before the election, there was a growing confidence

that maybe the impact of the Asian downturn would not be nearly as

great as we had suspected, but I don't believe it was until after

the election and through the Christmas and New Year period that the

full realisation came to the Australian public that not only had we

stared down the Asian economic downturn, but we had in fact demonstrated

a capacity for economic performance that was beyond the wildest expectations

of even some of our most enthusiastic supporters.

We have been able to deliver the lowest interest rates, the lowest

inflation figures for 30 years, the best unemployment level for almost

ten years, levels of business investment that make us very proud and

very optimistic about the future and we are increasingly attracting

the attention of the rest of the world. There was a sense, as Peter

alluded to, when we came into office that Australia was the anxious

outsider knocking on the door of the Asian club seeking admission.

Now all of that has been significantly changed and we have demonstrated

that we are an economic strongman in this particular part of the world.

And that was overwhelmingly due to the measures that we took when

we came to office.

If we had not cut the budget deficit that we inherited, if we had

not taken some of those decisions that caused some unease and criticism

in the community because of their impact on particular groups, .........making

a contribution to repairing the fiscal position, we would not now

be in the situation that we are. And it took a great deal of skill

and a great deal of economic and political courage to do it. And I

do want to pay a special tribute to the work that Peter Costello did

in that task as the Federal Treasurer, because unless you have a committed

Federal Treasurer who has the national interest uppermost in his mind,

you will never get long-term economic benefit and long-term economic


So my message to our supporters and our foes alike, is that we were

not re-elected to sit on our laurels. We were re-elected to implement

the promises we took to the Australian people and we were re-elected

to renew our commitment to an even more vigorous reform agenda. There

is never such a thing as there being no further need of economic and

social reform. There is always a need for change and reform –

not change in the name of change for its own sake – but change

because society always requires that that what is no longer working,

should be swept away and replaced by something that will work.

And the challenge of economic reform is still very real in this country

and the benefits of economic reform are so apparent at both a national

and a State level. Ask any fair minded Victorian where this State

would be had it not been for the courageous economic and other reforms

of the Kennett government over the last seven years.

And it is because of that courageous reform agenda that of all the

State governments of Australia none is in a stronger economic and

political position, none deservedly enjoy such a high level of public

respect than does the Coalition government here in Victoria, led by

the Premier Jeff Kennett.

We're not only going to implement the things we said we would

do before the election, but we also intend to go further in areas

that we began work on in our first term. We have succeeded in reducing

unemployment. Unemployment now is lower than it has been at any time

since the early 1990s. But it is still too high and it could go lower

if we could make further reforms. It could go lower if we could get

rid of the unfair burden of the unfair dismissal laws on small business.

It could go lower if we could entrench junior wages in the Australian

industrial relations system. We have tried to do that. I mean there

is not a man or woman in this audience who has employed anybody who

doesn't know the simple reality that if you force employers to

pay higher wages for inexperienced, young employees, what they will

do is employ less of them. And you don't need a degree in industrial

relations, you don't need to have anything other than a bit of

experience of life to understand that that is a reality. But while

you have an Opposition overrulingly dominated by former trade union

officials – I mean one of the extraordinary things about the

modern Australian Labor Party is that as the influence of unionism

in the community falls, the influence of trade union officials in

the Labor Party rises. They have more influence now in their parliamentary

party than what I think they had twenty five years ago. At least 25

years ago they had one or two people who occasionally invested some


In all sorts of things.

But ladies and gentlemen, we are determined to do more on the industrial

relations front. We are determined to continue the process of industrial

relations reform begun in the early 1980s by many people who believed

that the old centralised industrialised relations system was no longer

serving the interests of the Australian community.

But it is not only on the economic front that this government has

seized the agenda and has laid out an action agenda for the next two

and a half years.

We are a party which is willing to embrace the social agenda. We are

a party that does not believe that good government is about good economics

alone, important though that is. We are also a government that believes

a modern compassionate society does have to provide a proper social

security safety net and one of the proudest boasts that the Coalition

Government can make is that we have done exactly that.

Contrary to what our critics said three years ago we haven't

reduced the real value of the pension but actually increased it. Contrary

to what our critics said three years ago, we haven't reduced

workers wages, we've increased them. The workers of Australia

now are infinitely better off than they were under Bob Hawke or Paul

Keating. Real wages are higher, interest rates are lower, take home

pay is therefore greater and spending power of the average family

is therefore greater. I mean that is why there is a sense of economic

stability, an economic strength within the Australian community that

we haven't seen for a while.

We are also keen to add value to the existing structures of our society

that look after the less privileged. And last night I had the opportunity

here in Melbourne to outline in more detail our government's

ideas for building what I call a new social coalition in Australia,

where you get the government, the welfare sector, the business community

and the volunteer efforts of individual Australians working together

in an effective coalition to look after the disadvantaged in the most

effective manner.

I have never made any apologies since I've been Prime Minister

in seeking the advice from those who know best about the way to best

assist the less privileged in our community. And much and all as I

respect the work they do you don't get that advice from a bureaucracy.

You get it from those great coalface organisations like the city missions,

and the Salvation Army and the Society of St Vincent de Paul, who

daily deal with these difficulties and understand them in a way that

surpasses any understanding that most others can have. And I deliberately

involve those organisations in providing advice and in helping to

make the decisions that we've made in that area.

And last night I announced a major series of taxation concessions

involving a cost to the revenue of over $50 million a year. It will

provide more incentives for generous benefactors in Australia to give

more to help those in the Australian community who need assistance.

And in making those announcements I acknowledged the fact that there

are at present many Australian companies and many Australian businesses

that have a rich tradition of giving generously and giving unstintingly

to those causes within our community which deserve assistance.

We've also articulated quite unashamedly the principle of mutual

obligation. And that is a principle that says that a compassionate

society should look after those in society who need help, but in return

those who are helped should be willing, in an appropriate way, to

give something back to the community in return. And that is the basis

of our work for the dole approach. And that is the basis of our approach

in a number of other welfare areas. When it was first announced it

was derided, it was attacked as being heartless and insensitive. But

once the Labor Party realised that the majority of the Australian

community understood both the fairness and the decency and the common

sense of such an approach, it began to change its tune.

So ladies and gentlemen, I'm very pleased, indeed proud to report,

six months into our second term that not only have we rapidly begun

to implement the policies we took to the electorate in 1998, but we

have also begun to set a new agenda in a number of important social


And having reported on that what do we see on the other side of Australian

politics? We see the Australian Labor Party still bereft of policies,

and still bereft of any sense of real political direction. There are

many of us in this room who've had a lot of experience in politics.

We've had experience in both Opposition and in Government. And

it's very instructive to have experience in Opposition, very

instructive indeed. You learn a lot and you don't forget any

of it if you're sensible. And one of the things you learn is

that when you're in Opposition you will never win the respect

of the Australian community or the Victorian community, or indeed

any other community, unless you are prepared to undertake hard policy


Unless the public knows what you believe in and what you stand for

you are never going to become a decent government. And the great problem

with the Opposition in Australia at the present time is that nobody

has the faintest idea of what it stands for other than the desire

to replace the Government.

I have no idea what the Labor Party's long term policy is on

taxation. I don't know whether the Labor Party is going back

to the old pre Hawke/Keating interventionist approach to industry

policy, or whether they're going to return to the Hawke/Keating

approach. I don't know what their policy is on something like,

let's take something like youth wages. Mr Beazley's party

voted against the maintenance of youth wages, yet he said in an interview

in the papers last week, the Melbourne Age nonetheless, he said that

he was really in favour of keeping youth wages. He says he's

in favour of removing the power of the Senate to obstruct legislation.

And yet as Peter Costello says he's running the greatest bit

of Senate interference that we've seen for decades.

The Labor Party unfortunately has lapsed into the greatest mistake

that any Opposition can make and that is opposition for its own sake.

And it doesn't matter whether the Labor Party is dealing with

an issue that the public voted for, or the public voted against, or

that the public has never heard about before, or the public likes

or the public dislikes, they have a simple rule of thumb: if Howard

and the Liberals are for it, we're against it. Now that may make

for easy decision making because you don't have to give it any

thought. You just automatically oppose it. But it doesn't in

the long term build community respect. And I found in my years in

Opposition, and there are a lot of them, and I shared them with quite

a number of people in this hall, and I'm sure Jeff found the

same thing, that if you just automatically oppose what the other crowd

is doing irrespective of its merits, in the end you pay a very heavy

price. And I think the Australian population is growing increasingly

weary of it. And I think the Australian population believes that if

a government has the courage to lay out in painfully explicit detail

how it intends to change the Australian taxation system, take the

political risk of putting that forward as its policy for an election

and wins that election, I think the Australian public deep down think

they ought to be given a fair go and they ought to be able to implement


There are just two other things I'd like to touch on my friends,

and that is to say a few words about the very difficult circumstances

that are unfolding in what was the old Yugoslavia. All of us I know

regret, and feel a sense of a heavy heart, and a sense of disturbance,

when weapons of great destruction are launched against any country.

But as history has told us repeatedly if intransigence, if the brutal

repression of minorities, if a denial of the human rights of minorities

is tolerated indefinitely without reprise and without retaliation,

a much heavier price is paid further down in time.

And the stubborn intransigence of the Milosovic regime in Belgrade,

their unwillingness to reach a negotiated understanding with the Ethnic

Albanians in Kosovo, the appalling human rights record of that regime,

the atrocities that have been practiced upon the people of Kosovo

so vividly displayed on our television screens, have really left the

NATO countries no alternative. And whilst there is no, and it is of

course not at all likely that there will be, involvement of any Australian

military personnel in the NATO action, let me say that that action

does have the understanding and the support of the Australian Government.

We believe that the NATO members have tried hard and long to reach

an accommodation and a fair outcome, and they have been driven to

the use of force and the use of military weaponry through the intransigence

of the Milosovic Government in Belgrade.

The final thing I would like to say because this is the occasion of

your annual meeting, and that is this: that I do appreciate in a very

real sense the support and co-operation that I have received from

the Victorian Division over the last 12 months. I have frequently

said, and I say it again today because it is true, that there is no

more professional, no better organised Liberal Party Division anywhere

in Australia than the Victorian Division. And that has been true for

a long time. It was true when Michael Kroger was your President, It

was true when Ted Baillieu was your president, and it remains true

today with Joy Howley as your President. And the standards set by

the Victorian Division could be well emulated by a number of divisions

in other parts of the country. I don't say that critically, I

say it in praise of the high degree of professionalism that you have

demonstrated at both a State and a Federal level over a long period

of time. You have been great friends, you've been great supporters,

you have been a wonderful part of a great party. We have achieved

an enormous amount, and the years ahead give us an opportunity to

build for future generations a Liberal achievement and a Liberal inheritance

which will make them immensely proud. Thank you.


Transcript 11391