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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21434

Address at the Community Morning Tea Townsville, Queensland

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: 02/08/2004

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 21434

Thank you very much Peter, Senator Ian Macdonald, ladies and gentlemen. It's tremendous to be back here in Townsville, it's a city I have got to know very well in the years that I've been in public life and as you know in the eight and a half years that I've been Prime Minister I've been a very frequent visitor to Townsville and to the electorate of Herbert. My principal mission today of course is to attend the welcome home parade that's going to be held in Townsville at two o'clock this afternoon, and that is a wonderful opportunity for the people of Townsville and of North Queensland to give a heart felt Australian welcome home to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force that have done such tremendous work on our behalf in so many difficult areas. It's just over a year since we sent the mission to the Solomon Islands, and what a wonderful success that has been. There's been no loss of life, happily, we have restored law and order and we have given new hope to a tiny country that needed our help. And that mission went there under the name of operation Helpem Fren, pidgin for I think we know what. And it was a wonderful demonstration of co-operation between Australia and the other countries of the Pacific.

But while here in Townsville Peter said come around, I want you to meet one or two of my friends for morning tea. And so here we are, a very large gathering. And I do want to take this opportunity of saying what a tremendously dedicated, hardworking representative you have in the national parliament in Peter Lindsay. He really is, he's a person who does, as the MC said, badger and hector and hassle on behalf of the interests of the people of Herbert and the people of Townsville. And he's been part of my team since he was elected in 1996 and I believe very strongly that the people of this area will be very well served by Peter continuing as their Federal Parliamentary representative.

Over the last eight and a half years this country has changed a lot, it's achieved a lot of things, but over the next few weeks or months as we debate the future government of Australia we'll be looking at our future rather than at our past. And the purpose of great decision making moments such as elections is to ask questions about who is better and what attitudes are better to drive the country into the future. And right at the moment the Parliament, which will resume tomorrow, has to take a decision on something that I think is very important to Australia's future and that is a once in a generation opportunity to have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. And the reason that I believe in this is simply that it's good for Australia's future, it will lock the Australian economy into the growth of the biggest economy the world has ever seen. Now it wasn't a perfect agreement and as people in North Queensland know it didn't include sugar, and it was partly and significantly because of that that the Government decided after lengthy discussions with the sugar industry to promote a sugar industry package that's worth some $444 million over a period of four or five years. And ladies and gentlemen, that particular commitment was a recognition of the special significance and the special importance of the sugar industry to this part of Australia. But the reason we support this Agreement is because that in so many areas it brings benefits and we won't have another opportunity and if we pass this one by other countries will shake their heads and say we would not have passed such an opportunity by, we would have grabbed it with both hands. So I hope that the opposition parties when the necessary legislation is presented in the Parliament in the next little while, in the next couple of weeks, that they put aside any reservations they have, that they call it for Australia's future, because this is an Agreement that is very much about the future of this country.

We all have our dreams and our hopes and our aspirations about not only our personal futures but also the futures of our families. And they are of course the most important thing in the world to all of us. But a nation is very much like that, a nation needs to have hopes and dreams and aspirations about the future. A nation needs to be able to set itself goals, but in order to achieve those goals it has to make certain that the foundations on which those goals can be achieved are there. And the two most important foundations that we need in this country, I believe to provide a strong future for Australia, are a continuation of our very strong and vibrant economic growth, and this country over the last eight and a half years has had remarkable economic growth. I looked at some figures the other day which told me that in 1996 there were 35 federal electorates in Australia that had unemployment of 10 per cent or more, now the number of federal electorates in Australia that has unemployment of 10 per cent or more has fallen from 35 to just four, and it's my goal to get rid of those four as electorates with more than 10 per cent unemployment. Our unemployment rate is the lowest its been since 1981 and the challenge now is to find enough skilled tradesman in many areas to satisfy the demands and the growth and the need for the Australian economy. And the other thing that is important to achieving our goals and our aspirations is of course to have a secure, well defended country and that's why my Government has placed such a very strong emphasis on defence and national security. It is why we have increased expenditure on defence. It's why when I first became Prime Minister in 1996 and we sat down to prepare our first budget and we faced a big deficit, I said there was one area that would not suffer any cut backs and that was the area of defence, it was the one area that was completely quarantined from any kind of expenditure reduction and over the years we have continued to make increased commitments to defence. And that will continue to be the situation in this country for many years into the future because the kind of world we live in, the need for peacekeeping operations of the Solomon Islands type in our own region, the need from time to time to participate alongside our allies in the war against terror, as demonstrated in Afghanistan, and the other commitments such as in Iraq we have made demonstrates that the world is a more uncertain, a less predictable environment and a less predictable place that its been for a very long time. And for that reason there would need to be a continued emphasis on defence.

So they're the two great underpinnings, and if we can continue into the future to gets those rights, to continue to run our economy well, and to have the nation secure and well defended, then we can hope to continue to invest more money in health and education and roads and all of the things that are important to our everyday lives and that is what the Government has been able to do over the last few years, we've reduced the debt we inherited by $70 billion and that means that every year we have $5.5 billion less interest to pay and we're able to use that $5.5 billion to invest in health and education and roads and all of those things and also to return it by way of taxation reductions and family payments.

QUESTION:

Are you going to adopt the old monetary system and go for new (inaudible) system like Lyndon LaRouche's proposed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Lyndon LaRouche? No, I don't think I'll be adopting his policies. But anyway I respect your view sir, I don't agree with it, but it's good that people can come along and express a contrary view.

I think the monetary policies that we have followed over the last eight or 10 years are pretty good because the results demonstrate that. We have now got without much argument the most powerful industrialised economy in terms of growth and vitality in the world. Not as big as many other economies, but its performance over the last eight and a half years has been remarkable. But I don't look to the past, I look to the future and what is important is the underpinnings of which I've spoken and our capacity to deliver those things.

The last thing I want to say to you my friends is I'd like to go on meeting as many of you as possible. I address a lot of gatherings as I go around Australia, last week I spent four days on the other side of the country, I went to Karratha in the north-west of Western Australia and then I came down to Perth and I went to many gatherings such as this. Some of them were in school hall, some of them were in community centres, some of them were in the open air, some of them were in RSL halls, but all of them had one thing in common, and that is that they brought together that great cross section of the Australian community, particularly those who represent so many of the great volunteer organisations of our nation and many of those people are here this morning, people who work day in and day out in an unsung, unpaid voluntary way to make Australia a happier and a better country. And one of the great strengths that we have in this country is that we are a people who can work together so easily for a common purpose. And the volunteer spirit in this country is alive and strong and well and I would like as the Prime Minister of Australia to say how much I admire and I thank the volunteers of this country, the carers of this country. The people who run the sporting clubs, the people who run the service clubs, the people who care for those in our community who are doing it tough and no matter how successful we have been economically there are people who are not sharing that, I know that, and I am not insensitive to their position. And we have endeavoured, and we've been successful in doing so, in strengthening the social security safety net over the past few years. But no government, no matter what its complexion is, no matter how much money it has, no matter how generous it might be can take the place of a compassionate local community in looking after people who need to be looked after. And there is nothing quite like the home grown charity and compassion and support and help and welfare and there are so many people in this gathering this morning who day in and day out see it as part of being a good citizen to deliver that help and I wouldn't want the opportunity to go by without acknowledging that, and without thanking all of you for the contribution that you have made because one of the great things about this country is that volunteer spirit.

So to all of you, thank you very much for coming, remember what a good bloke Peter Lindsay is, he really is a very good bloke and I very, very warmly commend him to you and all I can is that coming to a gathering like this, I find always very stimulating, there's nothing better about the job I have than the opportunity it gives me all the time in different environments all over this country to meet my fellow Australians, to say hello to them, to listen to their advice, to exchange a few words, on occasions of course to agree to disagree, which is part of a vibrant, strong democracy. I always find it refreshing and stimulating and this morning is no exception.

Thanks a lot.

[ends]

Transcript 21434