PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 - 20/12/1991
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  • Hawke, Robert James Lee

11 APRIL 1983
On behalf of the Australian government, I have the greatest
pleasure in welcoming all participants and observers to this historic National
Economic Summit Conference.
And I make that welcome not only on behalf of the government of
Australia, but on behalf of the people of Australia.
For in a very real sense, we meet here today as the representatives
of the Australian people, in a time of Australia's gravest economic crisis
in fifty years. So it is entirely fitting that this conference should assemble in
the House of Representatives in the national capital.
It is true that we have not been directly elected for the purpose
of this conference. But the conference itself springs from the very clear instruction
of the Australian people, given in the national elections, just over one
month ago. I do not think there can be the slightest doubt that the proposal
for this national economic conference, including its composition, has been
clearly endorsed by the Australian people.
And in that sense going to the very heart of the Australian
democratic tradition we meet here by the express !: ill of the people of
Australia. So we meet not only as the representatives of our respective
governments and organisations, but as the representatives of the Australian
people. And whatever our responsibilities and obllations to any particular
group or interest or organisation, I trust that all of us, throughout this
conference, :; ill keep to the forefront of our concern.-, our wider respon. 3bLlttL.
to the people of Australia.
They have imposed a high trust upon us. We must try our very best
not to let them down.
From the outset I should enpha; L that thii., ccaf crence has a dr,: be
purpose the puriposcs are both of . t specific kLnd and of a synbotlic kind.
V-U2LZ;; Cxrj

The specific purposes of this conference may be better understood by
reference to its origins. Emphatically, this was not a proposal drummed up
for the purposes of the recent election campaign.
The call for it had come from many representative sections of the
community. I myself had long been its advocate and in an address to the
Australian Institute of Political Science Summer School on 30 January this
year a date, you will note, on which certain events were, to say the least,
still unforeseen I had this to say;
" We will convene a national surmmit conference with representatives
from the employers, the ACTJ and the State governments. This will
not be some half-day superficial point-scoring exercise but a
completely honest attempt to expose all of us, together, to the
realities of what is happening in the domestic and international
economic scene and the problems, dangers, opportunities and challenges
of what is involved in those developments.
As a logical extension of that process of knowledge acquisicion and
sharing there would then be in that context an attempt to analyse
the reciprocal implications of movements in wages, profits, patterns
of work and industrial reconstruction. This conference would clearly
occupy several days and provision would be made for an early follow-up
if the parties considered it desirable to have further discussions
after the opportunity to digest and analyse the breadth of information
and views presented to them".
I think it will be acknowledged that the concept and procedures
which I then outlined on 30 January 1983, have been followed faithfully in
the arrangements for this conference.
The results we seek and these must be regarded as only a minimum
measure of our success should be:
. first, a heightened appreciation of the need to work constructively
together to meet the great challenges now confronting our country;
. and second, an increased likelihood of all participants tailoring
their expectations and claims upon the community's resources to the
capacities of the economy, and the urgent need for a reduction in
unemployment and a restoration of growth to an economy now in deep
recession. In pursuit of our specific undertaking to make this an informationsharing
occasion, we have already provided a range of maiterial for the use of
all participants at this conference. 1* 3

In addition, further background papers will be made available
during the conference.
You will already be aware that a Steering Committee for the Sunmmit
has been established to assist in the conduct of the conference.
Its members are myself, the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran,
the Premier of Queensland, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, MI'essrs Dolan, Fitzgibbon a~ nd
Kelty of the ACTU, and Hr Hughes, President of CAI, Mr Bridgland, President
of AIDA, and ' Mr John Utz (' Vormald International Ltd).
You have before you the proposed Agenda for our conference.
But of course, the flow of the Agenda will be determined by the
conference itself. I wholeheartedly accept that this conference should enjoy
the freedom which the Parliament of this nation itself asserts and that is
the principle that this conference is master of its own destinies.
Those are among the specific purposes and procedures of this conference.
But as I have said, it also has a symbolic purpose and value.
This conference itself is part of the process of bringing Australia
together. Behind the concept of the conference lies my long-held belief
a belief I am convinced is now shared by the overwhelming majority of the
Australian people that Australia can no longer afford to go down the path of
confrontation and fragmentation which has embittered and disfigured so many
aspects of the national life, for much of the past decade.
It is not only a question of the need for national reconciliation
in this current economic crisis.
It goes far beyond that. It is a question of the shape of the
future of Australia, as we approach the end of the twentieth century.

The twenty-first century is only seventeen years away and that
same year, indeed the very same day, the first of January 2001, will see
Australia enter its second century as a united Commonwealth.
And I deeply believe that this conference has a part to play,
not only in the urgent and immediate task of achieving national economic
recovery, but in laying foundations for the whole future of this great
country of ours.
I think it can be said without any exaggeration, that this is part
of a process and an important part in establishing what sort of Australia
our children will inherit for the rest of this century and beyond.
So, in a double sense, this is an historic conference historic
not only in the sense that nothing of this scale and scope has been attempted
before, but as an event of genuine and seminal importance in the life and
history of Australia.
Let me say very firmly, that when I speak of the consensus on
Austali's economic and social problems which I hope will emerge from this
conference, I am not settling and none of us should be prepared to settle
for the lowest common denominator, the barest minimum of agreement on an
approach to a solution of the current crisis.
If a genuine consensus is to emerge, it must mean an understanding
on the part of all sections of the Australian community, of the constraints
they will be called upon to accept and the contribution they will be called
upon to make to the process of national reconciliation, national recovery and
national reconstruction. It will mean a recognition and acceptance of restraint by all sections
of the community. It must mean a recognition a sense of realism of what can
be achieved in the near future.
We must all understand that there are no miracle cures, no overnight
solutions. It calls for a sustained, concerted national effort. This conterence
is only a beginning.

Specifically, the tasks this conference should set itself are:
to secure broad agreement on the role of an incomes and prices policy,
in our efforts to promote employment and to achieve recovery and
growth; and to ensure that the benefits of recovery are not lost
in another round of the wages-prices spiral;
to devise machinery for achieving the necessary restraint, including
methods of wage fixation, influencing non-wage incomes, and price
surveillance; to secure a better and wider understanding of the broad economic
framework, within which we have to operate;
to seek broad agreement on the relationship between a successful
prices and incomes policy and the implementation of policies on
industrial relations, job creation and training, taxation, social
security, health, education, and the other major community services;
to examine the competitiveness and efficiency of the Australian economy;
and finally, to reach agreement on arrangements and machinery to monitor
and continue the work of this conference, especially in regard to
continuing the process of consultation and co-operation between
government, business and unions, initiated by this conference itself.
And of course, i must repeat what I made very clear during the
recent election campaign.
This conference and its outcome can in no way be a substitute for
effective government policies. The governments of Australia, and in particular,
the national government, cannot escape and do not wish to escape their
primary and fundamental responsibility for the economic and social policies
of this nation. But effective policy can not be made in a vacuum.
Decisions that are going to achieve our great national objectives can not
be made in isolation from the economic and social realities.
And the purpose ol this conference is to expose us all, including
those with direct responsibility for government decision-making, to those
realities the realities of the current situation and the realities of what
must be done if there is to be a resolution of Australia's present crisis.
I shall not pre-empt the Treasurer, who will later address you
on the economic position and outlook. .1/ 6

But, while Mr Keating will outline the serious and complex nature
of the problems, there, can be no doubt that they are encapsulated in the
question of unemployment, and the need for a restoration of sustained
economlic growth which avoids a new bout of destructive inflation.
The first problem is how to arrest the explosion in the unemployment level
and then move towards its steady reduction, with the ultimate goal of
genuine full employment as fundamental national economic policy the
bipartisan goal adopted for the first three decades of the post-war era.
It is easy enough to quote all the grim statistics which show
that we face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression itself.
But behind the statistics lies an even grimmer human reality.
The raw statistics do not show what unemployment means in terms of
the loss of human dignity and self-respect, what it means in terms of the
break-up of families and the social alienation of one-third of the best and
brightest generation we have ever produced, what it means in terms of the
defeat of human hope and the crushing of the human spirit.
The statistics do not show the special difficulties faced by particular
groups the particular burdens placed on young people, on women in the
workforce, on single parents, on migrants, on aborigines. There are identifiable
groups in this community experiencing unemployment at levels as high as, or
even higher than, any ever experienced in the worst years of the Great Depression
itself. For example, total unemployment in .1932 the worst year reached
29 percent. Unemployment in the 15 to 19 age group is already at least as
high as that. It is true that today we have a social security network far in
advance of any that existed 50 years ago.
But while the material deprivation of unemiployment may not be now
so severe, yet, in another sense, unemployment in the 1980s imposes a burden
more crushing than in the 1930s.
And the reason for that is that the expectations to which the people
are entitled, are now so much higher and so they should be.
This is particularly true for the younger generation which is bearing
the heaviest brunt of the present recession.
And le-t us never forget because it is a me. as ure of our personatl
respons~ bility that it is our generation which taught the new generation to
hold those expoc tat ions, and that sense of Ontitlemocnt oz; what this rich,
Ldvanced nat ic'n of ours should offer them.
;. Je c-innot escape o'ur p, rqo[ wI zro-ponsibi Lit-. y

This conference gives us all an unprecedented opportunity to
fulfil at least a small part of that responsibility, individually and
collectively, in both the personal sense and the national sense.
When we look around the world today, we can see that those
comparable countries comparable in their political, economic and industrial
systems, comparable in their standards of living, comparable in their
national aspirations which have had most success in surmounting the
present international economic crisis, are those where governments, business
and unions and the community as a whole, have agreed on common goals and
objectives and have co-operated together for their achievement.
we have to remember at all times that Australia, in common with
the rest of the industrialised world, is passing through one of the most
dramatic periods of social, economic and technological changes in recorded
numan history. We have to be prepared for social and economic responses as
innovative and radical as the technological achievements which are creating
this profound revolution in human affairs, in lifestyles, in work patterns
and opportunities. We cannot put the clock back.
This leads me to the very heart of what I believe we must be
about in this conference and the times ahead. So often in our affairs
the emphasis has been put upon the competing struggle between wage and
salary earners and business, and residually, welfare recipients.
I believe we must come to put the emphasis upon the fact that
they all have a common goal and therefore a common interest. They all
seek the same thing the maintenance, and through time, an improvement,
of their standards of living. The indispensable condition fo r the
achievement of this common legitimate goal is real economic growth
an increase in the per capita output of goods and services.
The attitudes, assumptions and expectations of those participants
in the economic and social * processes have been fashioned by the environment
in which they operated. For a generation and a half that environment was
characterised by the conditions of full employment, low inflation and
steady economic growth. SuchI an environment was able, with relative case,
to accommodate the unco-urdinated indeed, adversary-type pursuit of
competing claims. While this proces,; certainly did not provide optimal1
reaL growth, the growti that dIid OCCLIC sustained the process.

For a range of reasons applying not only to our own country
but operating in varying degree throughout the world, those conditions
no longer characterise our economy indeed the opposite conditions of
high unemployment, high inflation and recessed, even negative, growth
are now the predominant characteristics.
In all aspects of human behaviour there is always a time-lag in
the perceptions of change in the rele'vant environment. This has been true
of us here in Australia in the way we have conducted our economic and
social affairs. The attitudes, assumptions and expectations w. hich reflected
a former environment are no longer adequate to meet the changed circumstances
which characterise our more recent and present condition.
Yet the common goal the goal of maintaining and increasing
standards remains legitimate. The very essence of our rmut-lal task
now is to work together to recreate those conditions in which the
achievement of that legitimate, common, goal is possible.
We can restore growth and we can significantly reduce
inflation. The task of restoring full employment as we knew it
will be harder. But we can, if we work together with this sense
of common purpose, also make real progress towards that goal. To move
again towards balance in the field of employ-ment, we must of course
make decisions calculated to produce more jobs. We MuLst also,
I believe, as a concerned society together examine the other side of the
equation the demand for jobs to see whether we may~ be able to
provide fulfilment in life for some of our people alongside the
conventional production system. 9

It is of the greatest importance that we should make the right
economic decisions. But that is not enough. There is no single " correct"
decision that can of itself solve our present economic and social problems
any more than a single " wrong" decision was responsible for the present crisis.
While I am confident that this conference will help significantly to create
the framework for better decision-making and a better economic performance
in this nation, that is only a beginning. It will not be enough for any
of us to say at the end of this conference: " So much for that the rest
is up to the government". Both the immediate problems to which we are
addressing ourselves and these more far-reaching challenges to the whole
social, economic and industrial fabric of the nation, require much more than
that. They call for a deep and continuing commitment by governents and
the community alike. They call for the application of those qualities of
innovation, initiative, independence, tolerance and need I say, mateship
the qualities which we like to think are distinctively Australian.
It is not without significance that Australia's unemployment
has now reached the level to which it had risen at the outbreak of the
Second World War, which itself prevented the onset of another Depression.
That is one measure of the magnitude of the task before us.
During the recent campaign, I frequently drew the parallel between
the supreme crisis of the early 1940s; and the present crisis.
Of course, the two are very different in nature and scale.
Survival itself was at stake in 1942. But in one sense, the present crisis
is more complex and at least as challenging to our resourcefulness as a
people. Then, the challenge was clear, identifiable and external. Today,
the chief challenge comes from within.
But now as then every bit as much as in 1942 the essential
requirement for victo ry remains the same the united effort of a united
people working together to achieve agreed goals and common objectives.

More than forty years ago, one of the very greatest of all Australians
stood in this place in this historic chamber to give this message to the
people of Australia. On that occasion, 16 December 1941, John Curtin said:
" Our Australian mode of life, our conditions, our seasons, all
that go to make up the natural conditions of living, make us
better equipped ( for the purpose of meeting this crisis) than
are the peoples of many other countries.., the qualitative capacity
of our population compensates in large measure for the shortage
of our numbers I, like each of you, have seen this country
at work, engaged in pleasure, and experiencing adversity;
I have seen it face good times and evil times, but I have never
known a time in which the inherent quality of Australia has to be
used so unstintingly as at this hour".
, MY fellow Australians, I do not pretend to compare the scale of
the crisis through which John Curtin steered this nation to triumph with
our task today. But I do believe that the essential elements which John Curtin
defined as the key to victory are as relevant in 1983 as they were in 1941.
And by far the most important of all is the quality of our people.
I do not believe for one moment that the essential quality of our people has
in any way declined since 1941. On the contrary, it has been enriched and
strengthened by the contribution of the millions of our fellow citizens drawn
from nearly every country and race around the world.
If we at this conference dedicate ourselves to provide leadership to
this great people, I have absolute confidence that they will respond with a
united effort and a renewed determination to beat this crisis and to build an
even better future for this great nation, Australia.