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
Address to Liberal Party State Council Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide

Thank you Bob, Rob Kerin, my ministerial colleagues, fellow Liberals. It's a great pleasure for me to be back again at this annual gathering of the South Australian Division. I read in the newspaper this morning that I was quoted as saying that I had a soft spot for South Australia. Well that is certainly the case. I am not a Johnny come lately visitor to South Australia. In all the years that I have been in public life, in the various positions I have held - some of them prominent, some of them not so prominent - I have been a very regular visitor to this state, and I've come to love and understand some of the different characteristics of South Australia. And one of the things that has struck me in recent years is that there is a sense of optimism and enthusiasm in South Australia at the present time, and that is overwhelmingly due, in my view, to the fact that for the first time in a generation South Australia is fully sharing the benefits of national economic prosperity, and it's national economic prosperity which has given South Australia the benefit. If it hadn't been for the policies of the Federal Government followed over the past few years, then the prosperity that's being enjoyed here would not be nearly so evident.

My friends, we have a big election fight ahead of us and I want to address some of the issues that will be prominent in that election fight. But let me state one thing right upfront, and it will be central to what we say in the lead up to the election - this coming election is about the future, it is not about the past. Let Labor fight the last war. By contrast, we will talk about the future of our country. Political parties that fight the last war are political parties that have no policies, no plans and no vision about the future of our country. In 2004, the issues that will confront the Australian people in the choice they make will be different. Not totally different, but substantially different than the issues they have faced in 1996, in 1998 and in 2001. And there are a series of questions that we will ask the Australian people, and we will invite them to ask of themselves when they weigh how they are going to vote.

We'll be asking them first and foremost which party is better able to deliver a strong economy, because a strong economy is the foundation of all the other things we hope to do. The strong economy that we've had over the last few years has meant that we've had $5.5 billion extra a year in saved interest payments to spend on education and health and roads and defence and family benefits and tax cuts and in strengthening Medicare. If we hadn't have paid off $70 billion debt, we wouldn't have had that $5.5 billion available. You can have all the dreams and all the plans in the world - you can hope to further strengthen the health system, you can hope to have a sustainable environment, you can hope to further encourage the enterprise culture, but unless we have a strong economy, we can't deliver on those hopes and those aspirations.

So the first question to ask is which party is better able to deliver a strong economy, and very specifically which party is better able to deliver low interest rates. In many respects, this next election is about the two IR's and I'll refer to them in a moment - interest rates and industrial relations. But low interest rates are something that is important to middle Australia. We all remember the 17, 18, 19 per cent interest rates of the Keating and Hawke years. Labor equals high interest rates because Labor always goes into deficit, Labor always spends more than it raises, and Labor eventually becomes economically irresponsible. That is why the risk of Labor is the risk of higher interest rates. Latham will deliver the high interest rates that Keating and Hawke delivered, because he will essentially follow the same economic policies. And those of us who remember the late 1980s and the 1990s, and there would be many in this room, particularly primary producers who will remember the high mortgage and bill rates of those years, will ponder the consequences and the implications of a Labor victory.

Another question we could ask ourselves is simply this - which party is more likely to deliver close relations not only with the United States, but also with the nations of Asia? When we campaigned in 1996, our opponents said that the Asian leaders would not deal with us. They derided our talk of rebalancing our foreign policy. The rest of course, as they say, is history. Over the last eight and a half years, this country's relationship with the United States has grown ever closer and we've been able to conclude a Free Trade Agreement, a once in a generation opportunity that will deliver great benefits right across the industry sector. Tuna fishermen in South Australia will be great and immediate beneficiaries. Go to Port Lincoln and ask them what they think of the Free Trade Agreement. It will be of enormous benefit. Ask the manufacturers who will get benefits out of the Free Trade Agreement, the access to the huge American Government procurement market, worth at a federal and state level about US$400 billion a year.

Only a Liberal Government could have negotiated a Free Trade Agreement. Even this morning, the anti American rhetoric is still being uttered by the Trade Spokesman for the Labor Party, and in the face of the remarks made by the American Ambassador here in Adelaide yesterday, the Trade Spokesman for the Labor Party says that the Bush administration is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies. Now this is the language of the alternative Trade Minister, the man who would be Trade Minister and would hope to seek the benefits (inaudible) of a Free Trade Agreement. The first sign of criticism of what Labor has done and they fall back on their old knee-jerk, anti American rhetoric. There's only one side of politics that can simultaneously build close relations with both the United States and with Asia. And one of the great triumphs of our foreign policy over the last eight and a half years has been the fact that we have been able to develop not only that closer relationship with the United States, but a relationship with China of unparalleled dimensions. China is now one of our great trading partners, and the opportunities for further development of trade with that country are virtually unlimited. We are seen as reliable, dependable, our links with North America are a plus, they are not a minus, and the character and the nature of this country is seen as very attractive to China and to China's leadership.

We might well ask the question - which party is better able, therefore, to give strength in issues of defence and national security? When I became Prime Minister and we faced a $10 billion deficit, I said that there was only one area of expenditure that should be quarantined from the eye of the Expenditure Review Committee, and that was the area of defence because defence spending had been run down under former governments. We hear a lot about the reputation of the newly reappointed Defence Spokesman from the Opposition. The reality is of course that under the stewardship of a succession of Labor Defence Ministers, defence spending and defence morale had been run down, and anybody who has any understanding of what happened in that portfolio will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Ironically, we might also ask the question - which party is more likely to deliver a strengthened Medicare? Labor claims some kind of natural, uninterrupted ascendency on health policy, yet the only side of politics that is actually promising to weaken Medicare at the present time is the Labor Party, because the Labor Party is promising to take away the safety net that we introduced only a few months ago. And what the safety net does is to say to any family that gets Family Tax Benefits or anybody who has got a Commonwealth Concession Card - if your out of pocket, out of hospital expenses are more than $300 a year, then 80 per cent of everything over the $300 is reimbursed to you from Medicare. And if you don't come under either of those categories, then the threshold amount is $700 a year, and over and above that, 80 per cent of the surplus is rebated under Medicare. Now this is a major addition to the protection provided by Medicare, yet ironically enough, because of the Labor Party's blind ideological obsession with one aspect of Medicare, it's going to abolish that safety net if it gets in. And it still hasn't given an iron clad guarantee about the preservation of the private health insurance rebate. It always falls short of guaranteeing in full the existing private health insurance rebate. It talks about preserving a rebate. It doesn't say it won't means test it. It doesn't rule out limiting it to particular services. Labor will take away a safety net which every week is delivering reassurance to tens of thousands of Australian families.

And very importantly, we might also ask the question - which party is more likely to deliver parental choice in education? Labor has a hit list of private schools. Labor's hit list of private schools is the thin end of the wedge. The teacher unions of this country have an ideological objection to Government assistance for independent schools. And in the process of implementing that ideological obsession, they are running an envy campaign, seeking to represent to the Australian community that independent schools equal a few schools that charge large fees of in the order of 14 or 15 or 17 or 18 thousand dollars a year. The reality is that they are a small minority of independent schools, and whether you have state aid or not, they will always exist. The schools that have grown and the schools that should be concerned about Labor's objection to parental choice are the low fee schools in the independent sector. In the time that we have been in Government, almost 300 new independent schools have opened up, and about 200 of those charge fees on average of $2,000 a year. And what we are seeing under our new schools policy, and please remember that Labor voted against the legislation that has enabled those 300 schools to be opened up since we have been in Government. Labor objected to our new schools policy because they object in their hearts to unlimited parental choice when it comes to education. And I support government assistance for all parents who send their children to independent schools because I believe that parents, and parents alone, should decide the nature and the place for the education of their children.

My friends, I said yesterday at the gathering in... a business gathering, that I didn't often quote anything that my predecessor said, but there is one thing that my predecessor did say that I agreed with, and that is that if you change the government, you change the country. The country was changed when we were elected eight and a half years ago, and it's been changed for the better. And we are entitled to ask that question that Ronald Reagan asked of the American people in 1984, when he asked of them - do you believe that our country is better off now than what it was four years ago? And I can with great confidence ask that question of the Australian people - do you believe that Australia is better off, that Australia is stronger, Australia is more respected, Australia is more secure, than what it was eight and a half years ago? And given the circumstances into which our world has fallen over that period of time, given the advent of international terrorism, given the events that have occurred in our own region, and given the challenges that we have had as a country in the last eight and a half years that we never dreamt of in 1996, it is still fair to expect a resounding yes to that question. We have changed the country and we have changed it for the better.

When I became Prime Minister, there were 35 federal electorates in Australia that had double digit unemployment. Now there are only four. Over the last eight and a half years, real wages in this country have risen by 13 per cent. They rose by a miserable 2.9 per cent in the period that Labor had been in government. And so the list goes on - not only of economic statistics, but also of a measure of the self-confidence of this country, an inner belief that the Australian nation is a nation more widely respected and more widely admired around the world now than ever before because of its economic strength and because of its willingness to take a stance on difficult issues. I said yesterday at the business address that there is a danger that Labor will represent to the Australian community that a change of government will mean very little, that we can have the strong economy and the strong national security and the strong foreign relations, and we can have a few adjustments at the margin to soften the edges and we can have a little bit more here and a little bit more there, and the rest of it will just go on in an uninterrupted fashion. The reality of course is far from that.

If we change the government, we will change the direction of this country. We will hand the control of the industrial relations back to the trade union movement. It seems to me to be a grievous contradiction that at a time when only 17.5 per cent of workers in the private sector in this country belong to a union, the alternative Government wants to hand back 100 per cent control of industrial relations to the union movement. And that is no exaggeration. Labor would abolish Workplace Agreements, they will abolish the secondary boycott protections of the Trade Practices Act, they will restore the primacy of awards, they will give unions right of entry, even in places where there are no union members. They will require of companies making contract with the Federal Government that they disclose the identity of their subcontractors. They will hold a dagger to the throat of many of our great export industries by taking away, particularly from the mining industry, the capacity to make individual workplace contracts with their employees, which has been the foundation of the growth in productivity of so many of those industries over the last few years. So Labor is an immense risk in the area of industrial relations.

And the grim reality is that if they win federally, until there is a chance at a state level for a change in government, we will have coast to coast Labor Governments for the first time in this country's history. They will govern without checks and balances, they will govern without any let or hindrance, and you can imagine the opportunity and the temptation that that will present to the union movement of this country to demand their ultimate reward for the tens of millions of dollars year after year they have poured into the coffers of the Australian Labor Party, and augmenting the rorting of the Australian taxpayer represented by the disgrace of Centenary House. So there is a lot at stake, my friends, a lot at stake in this election. There is a risk in electing Labor, and it's proper that that risk be pointed out. There's a risk in industrial relations and there is a risk for middle Australia of higher interest rates.

Now I speak to you as somebody determined to ensure that the prosperity of this country for the last eight and a half years, the respect and the stability and the achievement and the cooperation that we have won with our friends in all parts of the world, is maintained and continued over the next three years. I speak to you, very conscious of the importance of South Australia. I spoke last night of the marginal seats we hold and the marginal seats we hope to win, and I spoke approvingly of the enormous contribution that all of you have made, not only my parliamentary colleagues and my Senate colleagues, but also all of you as members of the South Australian Division. The Division has worked hard in preparation for this election and I'm greatly in the debt of Bob Randall and Graham Jaeschke and Rob Kerin and everybody else who have worked so very hard to maximise our chances. We have great candidates and we have great sitting Members. We have five seats that we could win the lot of them, or we could lose the lot of them, or we could win some of them and lose others. And as I look down at some of the candidates, I look at Kym Richardson and Simon Birmingham right in front of me, I know that they are determined, and so is Trish Draper, to make sure that at least three of those five are won. And I know that Trish Worth and the others are equally determined to ensure that that is going to happen. David Fawcett is the fifth. Of course he is the candidate in Wakefield.

But it's going to be a very tough fight, but it will be about the future. The Australian people want us to project our views and our values and our vision for the future of this country. They are not interested in fighting the last war. They are interested in knowing what we have in mind for their future. And it's in that spirit that I thank you for your support. It's in that spirit that I encourage you to redouble your efforts over the weeks and months ahead, so that when the starting gun goes, whenever that may be... that always gets a laugh, I don't know why, it always gets a laugh. But whenever that starting gun goes, I know that you will be ready. I thank you very much for your past loyalty and help, and I know that I can count on you in the weeks and the months ahead.

Thank you.