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


Well thank you very much Jocelyn. To Tony Benneworth, Eric Abetz, Paul Calvert, John Watson, Bob Cheek, any other parliamentary colleagues, fellow Liberals, ladies and gentlemen. In a few moments I would like to start drawing together at the end of this the fourth week of the election campaign the main issue that is crystallising before those members of the Australian public who';ve yet to decide who they';re going to support. And that final decision here in the electorate of Bass is more important than in most seats because this is the quintessential marginal seat. They don';t get any closer than Bass and they won';t be any more interesting to watch on election night than this particular electorate.

But before I do that and appropriately because I am in Launceston, in Bass, in northern Tasmania, I want to release the Coalition';s Tasmanian package, the Coalition';s list of policies specifically designed to address the particular problems and challenges of the island state of Tasmania.

I';m pleased to announce today that if the Government is re-elected we will put in place policies worth $38 million to continue the support we';ve provided in the past for investment and jobs in the state of Tasmania. A stronger economy for Tasmania and a higher standard of living for the Tasmanian people is the centrepiece of our next plan for the Tasmanian state. We';ll be funding new measures to make it easier for tourists to come to Tasmania; we';ll be upgrading important roads; we';ll support upgrades to tourism infrastructure; we';ll make significant further improvements to telecommunications; and we';ll provide a further boost to Tasmania';s credentials in the area of education.

It was as you know a Coalition Government that introduced the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme. It was us. This has led to a doubling of vehicles coming to Tasmania with big benefits for the tourism industry. We are going to further expand this important scheme to make it even more attractive throughout the whole year and more accessible for members of the community by increasing the rebate to a flat $300 a car on a return trip, increasing the rebate for motor-homes and caravans, and allowing equal access to the rebate for people with disabilities.

Furthermore we will fund upgrades to the Lilydale-Scottsdale Road and the Arthur Highway. We will fund improvements in local tourism infrastructure in Launceston; Low Head; Burnie; and other places around the state. Tasmania will also get its fair share of the $65 million tourism plan I outlined in Hobart earlier today. We will provide $3 million in agriculture infrastructure and introduced new scholarships and provide funding for a new course in environmental and town planning at the University of Tasmania.

These measures and others in the package which I';m releasing today represent real support for Tasmania. They are not the token support offered by the Australian Labor Party. The lack of real support for Tasmania from Labor which frankly takes Tasmania for granted – their attitude in this election campaign is that Tasmania';s okay, Tasmania';s in the bag. When they start counting the gains their starting point is Tasmania';s in the bag. Don';t worry about Tasmania, they';ll always vote Labor at a federal level. They';ll always support us. We can take them for granted. We start five-nil in Tasmania and then we try and win seats back. Well we';re here to tell you they shouldn';t take Tasmanians for granted. And what did they say? They said they';re going to maintain the value of the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme. That';s a pretty pallid generalisation compared with the offer that we have made. We want more people coming to Tasmania and we';re going to pay more through the subsidy to achieve this.

The Coalition has a long history of support for Tasmania be it through the $110 million under the Regional Forest Agreement; the $150 million provided under the Natural Heritage Trust; the $20 million of the Abt Railway; or many other such measures. We have over the years provided very strong and real support for Tasmania. We have worked hard to get a balance between the natural desire of all people in this state to protect and care for the environment, but also to support the important forest and paper industries which are very important to jobs. We want both. Surely it is not beyond the width of Australians in the early years of the 20th century to devise a set of policy that simultaneously look after the environment but also create job opportunities for young people. And there is no state in Australia where that double goal is a greater imperative than it is here in Tasmania. And unless you have industry that provide jobs for young people you won';t stop the flow of your young to the mainland of Australia and that is why special measures over the years to support the Tasmanian economy are so absolutely essential. And I believe that when you read and digest the other details of our Tasmanian package, mind you, crafted not just as Labor';s is to help people in two electorates – namely Braddon and Bass – but rather tailored for all Tasmanians and providing measures that help all parts of the state of Tasmania, I believe it will win very wide support.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is now just over a week to go before the election. At eight o';clock tomorrow morning in a week';s time those polling booths will open and in the course of the next few hours my fate will be sealed one way or another, and the fate of a lot of other people around Australia and that is how it should be in a great democracy and we wouldn';t want it otherwise. And isn';t it a privilege to live in a country that allows that kind of process to happen. And isn';t it a privilege to live in a country where you can wander around and interact with people, get a pat on the back, get a few vigorous handshakes, cop a bit of abuse, a bit of abuse gratuitous or otherwise. But that really is what electioneering Australian style is all about and long may it remain like that. And that';s why you';ve got a good man here in Bass in Tony Benneworth. And I';ve been through a few malls in my time. He';s a good mall walker. I mean he sort of stays with you. He doesn';t mind meetings people. It';s amazing some candidates. No, none here, no names. You go out and you sort of wonder whether they really want to be out there with you or not. But Tony he';s terrific and he knows a lot of people and he interacts very well.

But this is going to be a very tough fight. We all know that. Never underestimate sitting Labor members. They hang on tenaciously, they use the resources provided to them to the very last degree to hang onto office. They';re never easy to root out of office. And you';ve got to fight very very hard. You shouldn';t assume that because with such a tiny margin there must on the law of averages be a swing back to the Liberal Party at the next election.

Now there are two issues that should resolve the minds of those people who';ve yet to decide who they';re going to support and it';s really the answer to the question – who is best able to deliver for Australia in those two important areas - that should resolve the question of who you';re going to vote for. And those two areas are nationals security and economic management. They';re both important. One is no more important than the other. I';ve heard at various stages in this campaign people say we';ve got to get off national security issues and get onto domestic issues. That';s nonsense. It';s equally nonsense to say we should only talk about national security issues. You';ve got to talk about both. You can';t have the one without the other. If we had no national security it doesn';t matter how well you manage the economy you might lose it and equally no matter how strong our national security is if we decay economically than the protection we have provided ourselves amounts to a fairly vain effort.

And it';s in those two areas where I believe the Coalition, the Liberal Party, my Prime Ministership matched against the Labor Party and Mr Beazley';s leadership of the Opposition that we are entitled to another term from the Australian people.

We do face a number of security challenges. We are involved alongside the Americans in a fight against terrorism. We can';t wash our hands of that responsibility. We can';t say to the Americans well you look after us if we get into difficulties but now that you';re under assault you look after that on your own. I can';t think of anything which is more strategically and morally indefensible than that. And that attack on America in September was also an attack on us. It killed Australians and it also assaulted the values and the principles on which our country is built. And nobody should think that the terrorists will go away if you don';t say boo to them. This naive view that some people have that the way to deal with them is to sort of pretend it didn';t happen and hope they won';t notice it. That';s the sort of the dealing with the crocodile theory. It will always eat you. It might eat you last but it will always eat you. Now that in the end is the sort of challenge we face and we are there beside the Americans because what is at stake is the right of Australians to go about their ordinary lives free of the fear of terrorist attacks, free of the dislocation to our economy that those attacks produce, and free of the attack on the values of a free society that are so tremendously important to us.There are other elements to national security. We';ve had quite a debate in this country over the last few months on the question of illegal immigration. I hold very strongly to the view that this country has an obligation as part of the international community to conduct a generous refugee program and we have done so to our credit now for some decades. We are one of only nine countries in the world that has a resettlement program and we take more refugees on a per capita basis than any country in the world accept Canada. But my friends we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come and we';ll decide that applying humane equitable principles and international refugee assessment. What is involved in this debate about asylum seekers is the proposition that some people have, namely if people can quite literally present themselves at Australia';s borders and demand entry no matter what the background or no matter what the circumstances are. And don';t any of you imagine that the Labor Party has been as avowedly in support of the position we now take as they currently claim. When we presented our Border Protection Bill to the Parliament the Labor Party voted against it. Having four and a half hours earlier through the Leader Opposition said that he supported what I was doing in relation to the Tampa they then changed their position and they voted against it. A few weeks later they voted in favour of it and then while it was being debated in the Senate many of their members said that if they won the election they would reserve the right to alter that particular piece of legislation.

Once again when it comes to the Labor Party don';t believe what they say, remember what they did. And when they had the opportunity to vote on that legislation they first voted it down and it was only I believe a political calculation on their part, not a sincere change of heart, that led them to alter their position. The reality is that we must assert and maintain the undoubted right we have as a sovereign nation to control our borders. It is the first element in a basic national security policy not only to have adequate defences for the country but also to have the right to decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

Over the course of this campaign I have reminded the Australian people of the foresight of the Government in providing for a greater defence build up. When we came to office the one area that was quarantined from spending cuts when we found courtesy of Mr Beazley that we had a big deficit, was in fact defence spending. It was the only area where no cuts were allowed. More than that through the defence white paper we have massively increased defence spending. And that has meant that we are in a position to make the commitment that we have made to the US led coalition against terrorism. It is why we were able because of the increase in brigade strength of the Army we were able to make the effective deployment into East Timor. And it';s why we have been able to effectively be involved in peacekeeping operations in Bougainville. So national security in its broader sense is a very important issue in this election.

But the other issue which is so overridingly important in this election is that of economic management. All the promises in the world in the area of health and education and roads and all the other things that we know are important amount to nothing unless we run a strong growing economy. And I would say without any qualification that our commitments in those areas are more credible, more deliverable, and more likely to be implemented in full than the commitments made by the Labor Party for the fundamental reason that if we are returned to office we will be able to manage the Australian economy through the difficult months ahead infinitely better than will the Australian Labor Party because in the time we have been in Government we have turned the Australian economy around.

When I became Prime Minister our federal government debt was $96 million. By the end of this financial year we would have repaid $58 of that $96 billion. When I became Prime Minister we had a much higher unemployment rate. When I became Prime Minister we had about 135,000 apprentices a year. We now have more than 310,000 apprentices a year. When I became Prime Minister our rate of economic growth was slower than the average of the last five and a half years. When I became Prime Minister we had an un-reconstructured old fashioned industrial relations system. When I became Prime Minister we had a union dominated inefficient Australian waterfront. In those two areas we have brought about massive change and massive reform.

All of you will remember the great struggle to reform the Australian waterfront in 1998 and when Peter Reith took on the Maritime Union of Australia with the support of his colleagues and the support of many, but not all people in the business community, the container rates per hour was 16.7. We set ourselves a goal of 25 and the rate is now 27 an hour, a rate that was completely unheard of. Completely unheard of years ago. And the changes that have occurred in our industrial relations system. We';ve abolished compulsory unionism; we';ve encouraged workplace agreements; we';ve put the secondary boycott projections back into the Trade Practices Act. We';ve tried and tried again with limited success and we';ll keep trying if we';re re-elected to get rid of the ridiculous unfair dismissal laws which are so damaging to small business.

And you can be certain as surely as the proverbial night follows day that if Labor wins this election there will be massive rollback in one area and one area alone and that';s industrial relations. They may be intending to keep 97% of the GST and the tax reform package but they will abolish 100% of the industrial relations reforms that this government has brought in. And any member of the Australian business community who thinks that some way or other they will be a business friendly government is deluding themselves because the industrial relations policy that Mr Beazley has committed himself to is far more regressive, far more pro union, and represents a far greater turning back of the clock than even the industrial relations policies of the Keating Government because his policy involved a total abolition of workplace agreements, a wrecking of the secondary boycott provisions in the Trade Practices Act, a restoration of the right of unions to demand entry into premises even when no members of the firm are members or want to be members of the union. And if you have a federal Labor government but Labor governments in every state with the exception of South Australia it will be absolutely open season.

So ladies and gentlemen, wherever you turn on the issue of economic management we';ve not only got the runs on the board but we';ve also got a commitment for a continuation of that strong economic growth. It';s no accident that the London Economist predicted that next year the Australian economy would grow more strongly than the economy of any part of the industrialised world. And the reason for that is that we have had the courage to implement and to go on implementing genuine and important economic reforms. Tax reform was very hard. Bits of it were unpopular and I know there were transition difficulties for the small business community and I thank them for that and we tried to respond to their concerns. But now that it';s there the last thing we want is to muck around and try and take bits and pieces out of it and fiddle around at the edges and pretend that we';re rolling back. Let';s get on with our lives, lets'; get on with the future so far as the operation of our tax system is concerned. And it has brought great benefits - $12 billion reduction in personal income tax; a company tax rate down from 36% to 30%; a halving of the capital gains tax for individuals; taking the embedded indirect taxes out of exports which is one of the reasons why we';ve had the eight successive trade surplus announced only a couple of days ago. Something nobody would have thought possible.

I mean that is the measure of the strength that this government has brought to the Australian economy. The Labor Party';s trying to sneak through this election campaign when it comes to economic management saying me too, me too, yeah we believe in balanced budgets. They ran five deficits in their last five years in government and they left us with $98 billion of debt. I mean they expect us to believe, accept that they are born again budget balancers. I mean really these are the men and women who gave us that $96 billion. These are the men and women who gave us 17% interest rates. Mr Beazley was the Employment Minister who took unemployment to 11%. I mean these people have form. They are past masters. [tape break] They really do. They have plenty of priors I can tell you. They have plenty of prior convictions. I mean they were there at the scene of just about every serious economic crime inflicted on the Australian public in the last ten or fifteen years. They gave us the recession we had to have, they gave us those high interest rates. They gave us that $96 billion of government debt. And now they';re coming back saying look we';ve learnt our lesson, we';re pure, we';ll never do it again, we won';t offend again your honour. I mean I don';t think the Australian public are going to believe that unless of course we are so foolish as not to remind them, unless of course we become part of some sort of acceptance, oh no well you can';t talk too much about their past, we';ve got to sort of talk only about the future. In an election campaign you';ve got to talk about the present, you';ve got to talk about the past, and you';ve also got to talk about the future. And on all of those scores we have a very strong story to tell.

We';ve heard a lot from the Labor Party about health and education. Can I just give you two little figures no health and education. They run around the country saying that we are against government schools. 70% of Australian children are educated in government schools and in the five and a half years that I';ve been Prime Minister we have increased federal government spending on government schools by 43%. 43%. And in that period of time the enrolment in government schools has risen by 1.8%, 1.8%. And our spending has gone up by 43% and so it should because government schools educate 70% of Australian children. And the other statistic I';ll give you on this issue because it';s part of the Labor Party propaganda war to say we don';t care about kids who go to government schools 69%, just on 69% or 70% of Australian children are educated at government schools and they get 78% of the total government funding both federal and state which is made available for education. Now if you look at those two figures nobody can make any kind of case that we have neglected government schools. Certainly we believe in freedom of choice. We support independent schools because we believe in the right of parents to choose the education they think best suits their children. But the exercise of the implementation of the polices that deliver that choice are not in any way polices that have discriminated against the operation of government schools and the provision of generous federal government funding of those schools.

Ladies and gentlemen this is a very important election. It';s a very important election for Australia because I don';t believe this country can afford on Saturday week to go to a government that really doesn';t know quite what it believes in. Over the last five and a half years the Labor strategy has been to say nothing and hope the other mob fall over. I mean Mr Beazley said that at a famous caucus meeting when somebody questioned him about policy and he said don';t talk to me about policy, our policy is to let them introduce the GST and then surf into victory on the back of the public discontent. And that was their philosophy for year after year. They didn';t develop any policies and now they';re running around saying we need more time to argue their case. If we had another week they';re saying briefing the journalists we';d do better. But they';ve had five and a half years and they can';t have outlined themselves and defined themselves to the Australian community over the last five and a half years it';s a pretty sorry pass for now for them to put up their hand and say we';d like another week in which to campaign around the Australian community. They have run the most negative opposition I';ve experienced in my 27 years in public life. And on that ground alone they don';t deserve to win.

But it';s also a very important election for one other reason. You need three terms at least to be down fundamental changes to a society particularly when you';ve come in after 13 years of government by the other side. We';ve made a lot of changes but many of them would be at risk if we lose on Saturday.

Now ladies and gentlemen that brings me back to Bass. It is one of those seats that has a very special place in the Liberal pantheon. It was a great historic, memorable, never to be forgotten here in 1975 which was the welcome harbinger of the defeat later that year of the Whitlam Government which undeniably is the worst government that Australia has had since World War II. And it was a government that had brought a great deal of economic distress to this part of Australia and the people of northern Tasmania demonstrated how they felt. And it was a great victory by the late Kevin Newman on that particular occasion. And since then of course since Kevin retired it';s sort of been in and out of Liberal hands and now it is ever so narrowly in Labor hands. And she will fight like crazy to hang on to it. And we';ll win this seat if we can present to the people of Bass a clear choice at a national level between the sort of things I';ve spoken of and the Labor alternative.

I need Tony to win in order to be certain that I';ll remain Prime Minister. You can';t assume that we';ll have even swings throughout the country. I need Tony Benneworth in order to remain Prime Minister. Of course seats can go in different directions and seats like Bass we need to win back from the Labor Party. We need to give ourselves a foothold here in Tasmania. I want more seats than Bass. I mean I';d be delighted to have the lot. But because I';m here in Bass I';m focusing on the need to win Bass. It will be a very tough fight but if we work hard, if you work doubly hard between now and Saturday we can have a wonderful surprise on the night of the 10th of November when the results start going up and you will have delivered back to the Liberal Party fold a seat that has a very special place in the history of our party. And in Tony the people of Bass will have a magnificent local representative. Thank you.