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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20830

Address to WA Liberal Party State Conference Perth, Western Australia

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: 02/08/2003

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 20830

Thank you very much, Colin, for those very kind words of introduction; Kim Keogh, the State President of the Western Australian Division; former Premiers; Sir Charles Court and Lady Court; Richard Court; my Federal and State parliamentary colleagues; ladies and gentlemen. State conferences of our party are ideal venues and appropriate occasions to again restate to the Australian people the fundamental goals that the Government has for the future of our country and the future of our people.

The Government I lead has three fundamental goals for Australia's future. We seek to provide, first of all, for the national security of Australia and Australians and that is always the first responsibility and goal of any national government. We also seek to build and further expand the economic strength and the economic growth capacity of our nation and its people because economic growth and economic strength is the foundation, the practical wherewithal, to deliver the social goals and the social aspirations we have. Economic growth and economic strength is never an end in itself, rather it is a way by which we deliver the social aspirations and the social goals of our people. And our third fundamental goal for the future of Australia and Australians is to maintain and further consolidate the great social stability and social cohesion of our nation.

And today I want to say a few things particularly about social stability and the contribution especially of private home ownership to the social stability and the social fabric of our nation. But before doing that just a few words on the issues of national security and economic strength. As Colin said in the time that has gone by since we last met this country has been reminded brutally and tragically of the volatile world and the volatile region in which we live. The tragedy of Bali reinforced the changes the world saw through the events of the 11th of September 2001. Terrorism came to our doorstep, it claimed the lives of many of our young and has left a permanent imprint on the national psyche of our country. It was a terrible reminder that no nation in the modern world can be impervious to the threat of terrorism, that no nation can count itself as completely and utterly isolated from the deprivations of terrorist behaviour. It was a further reminder of the need to strengthen our own domestic responses to the threat of terrorism, a need to further invest in our intelligence agencies and our defence forces and a reminder of the need for further regional cooperation between the agencies of this country, which are charged with law enforcement, and the agencies of nations in our region. And I take the opportunity, particularly in the presence of two of my close Western Australian colleagues, Daryl Williams, the Attorney General, and Chris Ellison, the Minister for Justice, who are particularly charged with the responsibilities in this area of saying how much Australia is in the debt of them and of those with whom they work for the close cooperation between the Australian Federal Police and the law enforcement agencies of Indonesia.

The fact, ladies and gentlemen, that we are now seeing people responsible for those foul crimes being tried in Indonesia is in no small measure due to the cooperation that was established in the early days after Bali, when Chris Ellison and Alexander Downer went to Jakarta and met the Indonesian President and we put in place arrangements. And I also take the opportunity of saluting the role of the Indonesian police and the Indonesian investigative authorities. We need to cooperate even more and ever closer with our regional neighbours through the agencies of both this country and of those countries. In the years ahead, which will see the fight of terrorism go on until that fight is won, that cooperation will be essential.

We've also been reminded in recent weeks of our own leadership role in the Asia Pacific region. We have responded to a request from the Government of the Solomon Islands to restore law and order in that country. It's in Australia's interest that we do so. We have sent a very large force to the Solomon Islands because it is in Australia's interest as well as the interests of the people of that small country that it not become a failed State. Failed States become magnets for international criminals and money launderers and potentially international terrorists. And we have a role above all others in this region because of our size and our relative strength to give leadership and that is what we have done. The rest of the world expects us to do it, the people of the region expect us to do it and I believe the people of Australia support us in having undertaken that role. And I wanted to salute the police and the Australian Defence Force personnel, as well as the police and defence force personnel of other countries who are undertaking that cooperative intervention, as Alexander Downer has called it, in the Solomon Islands. It is a proper demonstration of being a good friend and a good neighbour to a small country that needs our help and a small country whose stability in the future will be important to the stability of our own region.

I also take the opportunity of welcoming the apparent willingness of the Government of North Korea to participate in discussions about the nuclear capacity of that country into the future with South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and the Russian Federation. This is a very welcome move. If the reports this morning are correct it indicates a cautious victory for the steady diplomacy that has been undertaken by Australia and Japan and South Korea and the United States and I particularly welcome the involvement of China. The key, in my view, to a successful, long-term resolution of the nuclear challenge represented by North Korea is the involvement of the Government of China because China, more than any other country, can exert long-term influence and long-term pressure on North Korea.

Ladies and gentlemen, the economic strength of this country is, of course, fundamental to our place in the world. Australia is respected around the world because Australia is seen as a strong economic performer. Our economic growth, our economic performance gives us added credibility when we go to the tables of world gatherings and world meetings. We speak with added authority because we are a successful economy. We win added respect because we are a strong economic performer. But that performance and that respect does not happen by accident. We've undertaken some very unpopular decisions. I've addressed this State Conference as Prime Minister in the teeth of national debate about tax reform, about industrial relations reform, about many other areas of economic reform. And we've had to do it in the teeth of strong opposition from our political opponents. As I look back over the last 20 years and I think of the economic reforms that have been carried out by different national governments I remember that when we were Opposition and the then Labor government came up with any sensible proposals for economic reform, our response was that we';d vote for them because they were in Australia';s interests. When they proposed tariff reductions we could have run a ferocious fear campaign, we could have said that hundreds of thousands of Australians jobs would have been at risk, but instead of that we decided to back their proposals because we knew that they would be in the long term interests of this country.

Contrast that with their attitude when we proposed taxation reform. They fought it every inch of the way, they even thought they could slide their way through and pass the winning post at the last federal election on the basis of a wrongly perceived national revulsion at the introduction reform. They lost the last federal election not because of the Tampa, they lost it because their opportunistic opposition to everything that we had done represented them to the Australian people as a worthless negative carping opposition. What is worse they are an opposition that has not learnt the value of economic growth and economic development. And this a message that will resonant more powerfully in the state of Western Australia and probably in any other part of Australia because if ever a state has been built on growth and development and the power of this nation';s exports industries it';s been the state of Western Australia. As I remarked last night, 11 per cent of the population and what a 150 per cent of the nation';s export income, or something in that order of magnitude. A little exaggeration, just a little. But it does tell the story, it tells the story of a state that is contributing enormously to this country';s growth and export income. And what is the response of Simon Crean';s Labor Party to that? His response is to say I';m going to fund my higher education policy out of imposing a $576 million tax increase on the mining industry of Australia, I';m going to reduce the diesel fuel rebate for the mining fuel rebate by 10 per cent and that';s going to cost the mining industry oh only $576 million over a period of four years. Well my reply to that Mr Crean is that you obviously don';t understand what generates the wealth of this country, you don';t understand the simple fact that unless you generate wealth you don';t have anything to help the people who need help. That the fundamental of good social policy is a sound thriving growing economy, unless you have a sound thriving growing economy you don';t have a capacity to look after those who are in need of assistance.

But today I want to dwell for a few moments on something that';s very important for who we are as Australians and how we think of ourselves as an Australian nation. There';s a saying of a well known radio broadcaster in Australia who broadcasts out of Sydney and he has a programme every morning and he starts off by exhorting everybody to keep the dream alive. Well part of keeping the dream alive in Australia is to own your own home and one of the proudest things that this country was able to aspire to and this country was able to acclaim in those great years of growth after World War II when hundreds of thousands of migrants came to this country initially from Europe, but then from many parts of the world and built a new Australia and a new and visionary Australia, one of the proudest things that we could talk about was that we had one of the highest levels if not the highest level of home ownership in the western world. And we still have a very high level of home ownership, and home ownership now represents the greatest asset that most Australians have. Ask yourself the question, what is your most valuable asset? It';s the home you own. In many cases, myself included, it';s about the only great asset that you have, and let';s face it, that';s the case for most of us, and do we mind it? No, because we all recognise that it contributes to our sense of stability, our sense of security and our sense of wellbeing. We have seen over the past few years, we have seen the value of our homes increase, and that';s a good thing, I mean let us keep a proper perspective, if you own our own home the fact that the value of it has increased is a great thing, I don';t find anybody coming up to me saying “John I';m cranky with you, my house is now worth more than it was when you were elected”. Nobody says that to me, nobody. Some say it should be worth even more but they don';t complain about it being more valuable than it once was. And one of the reasons for that of course is that we have dramatically lower interest rates. The average Australian is now paying $400 a month less than what he or she was paying to service the typical housing loan when we were elected. $400 a month! You';ll be hearing a bit more of that figure over the next 18 months I can assure you, because it';s a metaphor for the benefits of the Government';s economic policies. And it';s a reminder that the contribution that Peter Costello in particular as Treasurer has made to the economic management of this country.

But I do recognise, having said all of that, that it';s great if you';ve got a house, it';s harder if you haven';t. And there is a challenge in relation to the first homebuyer, it';s in effect a challenge created by the benefits of prosperity and affluence, in a sense we';ve become the victims of that successful economic policy of the last six or seven years because we have low interest rates, because we properly have a sensible capital gains tax approach in relation to the family home where it';s not subject to and never will be under the policies of any government I or any other Liberal will lead. Because of that it does mean that we have a problem in relation to first home buyers and I think we have to get to the bottom of what that problem is. It';s obviously due in no small measure to the land release policies of local and state authorities. And now is not the time to pass judgement on that but to merely highlight many of the areas that have to be covered.

I';ve got to say that in 2001 when we decided in the wake of a very bad quarter of economic growth at the end of 2000 that we had to give an injection to the housing industry and we decided to double the First Home Owners Grant for new homes, I can remember writing to all of the State Premiers, and at that time you had a newly installed Labor Government here in Western Australia, and you had I think Labor Governments in all but one of the other states of Australia. And I said that we were going to double the First Home Owners Grant scheme for new homes as a way of giving an injection to the housing industry, and would they mind giving some kind of relief for stamp duty as a contribution by the states? They said yes to our proposal, they said ‘no'; to any contribution by the state governments, and as a result, I mean they were clever doing that because the doubling of the home owners grant scheme revived the housing industry, and how. I think of all the things that we';ve done in government nothing was a better reminder that every so often Keynes was right and a little bit of carefully targeted fiscal stimulation to an industry that can have a quick multiplier affect in the economy, it was a very very powerful reminder that those sort of nostrums still work. But of course they did very well out of it, they got a whole lot of extra stamp duty because the housing industry came back, the value of homes rose, money poured in and everybody at state treasuries were very happy. Well that';s one of the things that I would like this inquiry that Peter Costello';s formally announcing today, a Productivity Commission inquiry into some of the barriers for first home owners to look at. We';re not having an inquiry into the value of your principal asset, I';m in favour of Australians having valuable homes because it gives them a sense of security and stability. But I do want to see whether there are changes needed to make it easier for people to buy their first home because that is the challenge.

So we';re going to have inquiry by the Productivity Commission, we';re asking it to report by the 31st of March 2004 and I';ll be asking the State Premiers and Chief Ministers to contribute to and co-operate with this inquiry because I would have thought helping people to buy their first home, knowing as we all do how important home ownership is to the social cohesion and social stability of our nation, I would have thought that';s something that would draw strong bipartisan support and strong support across both Commonwealth and state governments.

Ladies and gentlemen just two other things on the theme of social stability. Governments have great responsibilities to provide the right climate in which children are educated, cared for and grow up. And I take this opportunity again of reaffirming the absolute determination of the national government to maintain its Tough on Drugs strategy.

We will not alter or relent in any way in our belief that a three pronged strategy of educating people against the evils of illicit drugs, strong law enforcement and strong rehabilitation that a strategy based on that three pronged approach is a strategy that will work and it is a vastly superior strategy to the harm minimisation approach urged by those who basically say, well you can';t do anything essentially about it, you have to mitigate its consequences.

The reality is that we are making progress, we have seen a decline in the number of deaths from heroin overdoses. Our education programs are working, parents do talk more to their children and we have to keep reminding ourselves, as a Party that believes in individual responsibility, that in the end the people most responsible for the behaviour of children are their parents.

We have to remind ourselves that there is a limit to how many areas of responsibility can be parcelled up and sent off to the school, or sent off to the State government, or sent off to the Federal government. I keep reading everyday, I saw something in one of the newspapers the other day about how we, you know, it was now the responsibility of governments or companies to do things about obesity. We do have responsibilities but so do parents.

Parents have responsibilities - both mothers and fathers. Both of them together have responsibilities in all of these areas. So we';ll continue to have a tough on drugs strategy and we';ll also continue very strongly with policies that provide the maximum choice for parents as to where they educate their children.

I want to see a strong government education system and I also want to see a strong independent education system. I don';t see the two sectors in contest, I don';t see the two sectors as enemies, I see the two sectors as together contributing to the education of our children.

Can I finish my friends by thanking all of you for the tremendous support and loyalty that you have given to me and to the members of my government over the last 12 months. It';s been a very turbulent period in the life of the world. It';s been a time for difficult decisions by the government. It';s been a time for arguing some unpopular causes in the face of apparent overwhelming public opposition, but through all of that the most remarkable thing that I can reflect on, and I think particularly of the government';s decision to commit our military forces to combat in Iraq, I think of the magnificent understanding and loyalty that I received from my parliamentary colleagues and from members of the Liberal Party. I know that was a difficult decision and I know that some of you would have entertained doubts and concerns and might have questioned it and that is only natural in a Party that treasures the value of individual conscience and individual views, but in the end everybody delivered an enormous measure of trust and loyalty and support to me and to my senior colleagues on a very difficult issue. I was grateful for that.

It made it easier for the government and it';s meant that the nation came behind the government';s decision in a far more impressive way than many would have expected and we are eternally grateful that thus far our forces have been spared any casualties and we hope that that continues, but that loyalty and that display of unity and commitment to a common cause, despite understandably of individual misgivings, is something that I am very grateful for and humbles me as Leader of the Liberal Party, and it is a reminder of the extraordinary generosity that all of you have displayed towards me in the time that I have been Prime Minister.

I am aware of it, I am grateful for it and I';ll never forget it.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 20830