PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9681


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 02/08/1995

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 9681

I am very pleased to be here, and thank you for inviting me.
Some people thought it was a rather eccentric thing for a Labor Prime Minister
to do to come up to Roma and open the 47th annual conference of the
Queensland Graingrowers Association.
" Not a vote among them", they said. People who mostly feel removed from the
centre of things.
By which I think they meant people who feel their voices are not being heard,
who feel alienated from the political system, who feel the Government is out of
touch. But then, that is an argument for coming not staying away.
It's nothing new for people to feel that governments are remote I daresay it
forms part of the popular definition, and it has done, I suspect, since
governments were invented.
Democratic governments included I reckon within a week of the first popularly
elected person being sent off to represent his electorate, there were people
saying " he's out of touch". Before he got there.
So I don't think that this is a new phenomenon. But nor do I think it is one to
be ignored. It is essential that governments understand what is happening in
communities. Essential that they listen to the people. Essential, above all,
that having listened and having understood, they make policies in the national
As I've said before: good governments listen, but so do many bad
governments. The difference is in what they do.

In fact there is only one judgement to be made about all governments and
that is whether the government of the nation has acted in the interests of the
nation. And, by definition, in the interests of the people.
The judgement is when these people were in strife and when their industry
was in strife, did the Government do what a national government should do?
Did it do what was necessary?
Now, I think that in the case of Queensland's farmers, generally speaking, we
And I'm pleased to see that lan MacFarlane said as much yesterday.
Speaking of listening, I was pleased to listen to lan when I first came up here
to look at the drought areas and in fact if you're within 50 metres of lan you're
listening to him. And I'm delighted to be up here listening to him again. He's a
passionate Australian and a formidable advocate for the farming community.
I know there is much more to do. There is always more to do. Whether it is a
farm, an industry, or an entire economy there is always more to do.
I think farmers like yourselves have that at least in common with Prime
Ministers and Treasurers we are both familiar with the sensation that the job
never ends, that we never get to the last chapter, the one where we are
entirely out of the woods.
But if we are diligent and adaptable and hardworking we do get to better times
we do get to comfort zones, we do work our way into a position where we can
begin to make the hopes realities, and a position where we can survive the
hard times.
Let me tell you that is what we have been working towards these last twelve
years. It is what the whole effort has been for: to get Australia onto a pattern of
sustainable growth, to make us more productive and competitive, to make our
economy more diverse and durable, to get more of us working in modern jobs,
more of us trained in modern skills all of us, farmers included, able to share
in the wealth of this country, and the future of this country. And all of us,
farmers included farmers especially able to survive the hard times.
Now I think we've made a lot of progress in this regard. I think we've made
remarkable progress.
But I am not in any doubt and never have been that a lot of Australians do not
share this view.
I am very much aware that the broad data on which governments are obliged
to make their assessments of the nation's economic health do not always tally
with the problems households and communities are having.

I also know that a healthy stock market does not mean that the same
confidence abounds in Australian communities.
And I know that this applies to rural and urban communities around the
country. I have to say that the broad data have a lot to recommend them and I never
heard a good reason why a government or a Prime Minister should not
advertise national progress and say that in real and comparative terms
Australia is making remarkable progress.
Sure as hell, the Opposition won't say it.
I think Australians should know that Australia has grown in every one of the
last 16 quarters; and that with this economic growth we have had
unprecedented employmet grpwth; and that we have had this with low
* jnfi-atiorn-and we can confidently expect this low inflation growth to-Tcdhtinue.
As the editorial in The Australian said at the weekend " This may be the
healthiest recovery the nation has had certainly in modern times."
It is unprecedented in our modern history we have growth which shows every
sign of being sustainable.
At this point my more experienced listeners will no doubt be preparing
themselves for a recitation of government achievements.
I will spare you the unabridged edition it takes a long time: but allow me to
mention a couple of important recent developments.
Among the good news the Government feels bound to advertise is the level of
Australian productivity it has grown in the last three years at least twice the
rate of New Zealand's. Let me say beware the new cultural cringe to New
Zealand, and beware those who tell you that their labour market is more
efficient than ours.
The second bit of news we find irresistible is savings. For a generation we
have tended to substitute inflation for savings.
The double digit inflation we experienced in the 1970s and early 1980s did
lasting damage to the culture of saving for the future, and it has proved very
hard to re-establish.
But we are now doing that. We've got low inflation that's fundamental. And
with the reforms to superannuation we introduced in the Budget, personal
savings will rise, national savings will increase substantially and I think we
will see a savings ethic emerge in the Australian community.

These savings directly address our current account problem.
The current account deficit won't go away immediately.
Whose mortgage ever did? Some people win the lottery, but nations don't.
The current account will turn not by a miracle or any stroke of luck or by
wishful thinking. It will turn by saving and investing wisely, by continuing to
work hard, by making the most of our resources by insisting, even if we make
a fetish of it, that we stick to the path of sustainable, low inflation long-term
growth. I will stop this good news bulletin there. I want to get back to farmers and, in
particular, grain growers.
And I'd like to get there by this means: I said that national governments ought
to be judged by what they do for the national interest and the nation's people.
I said, beware of those who only talk about listening. Beware of those who
pretend they can satisfy everyone's need, who pretend they can be all things
to all people.
Now I know that many Australians are not feeling the full effects of the good
news I have just broadcast.
And I know that there are people preying on their disillusionment, feeding their
frustration with messages of gloom and despair and by implication suggesting
that, if only the government would do a couple of simple things, there would be
bounties for everyone.
The fact is that just now we are all coming to terms with a new kind of
Australia. An Australia in which we have prolonged economic growth without
inflation not a boom, not another sequence of wage-price spirals, but
sustainable growth.
It is the sort of growth which will enable us to plan and invest as a nation;
realise more and more of our national ambitions and survive the downturns
much better.
And in the end that means personal returns more and better jobs, more
security, more prosperity, better services, better communities.
It is the sort of growth I might also say which has been made possible by
Australians' own hard work, sacrifice and adaptability over the last decade.
Low inflation, higher productivity, saving through superannuation these
require government decisions, and often difficult decisions; but above all they
have required a real effort from Australians.
The sort of effort for which Australian farmers have long been admired.

Farmers surely know better than anyone the value of things I have been
talking about.
And I sincerely hope that they also know the Government knows the value of
farmers. There are two ways to measure their value.
You can do it with figures.
Rural exports contribute about $ 20 billion annually to Australia's export
earnings. That's about 35 per cent of the total.
Of that we estimate that the 1995 harvest of wheat and coarse grains will be
worth about $ 4 billion.
It means that for all the changes to the structure of the economy, and all the
essential diversification, rural Australia remains a very big player. And it
always will.
The other way of measuring the value of farmers is by their contribution to the
spirit of the country. By the example they set.
Some of these people who are growing the $ 4 billion harvest have been in the
drought for as long as five years.
They have endured extreme hardship and real despair.
But they have stuck in there and, with the rain, they have planted nearly
million hectares and, all being well, they will harvest about 25 million tonnes.
The toughness and spirit of Australia's farming families should be an
inspiration to the rest of Australia.
And I think it is.
And that is one very good reason as good as their productivity and efficiency,
as good as the value of their harvests why Australia's farming families must
survive. They are essential to the national psyche.
Some, I know, will not be able to stay on the land. But this Government is
determined to see that the vast majority do.
It is one of the great challenges of the next decade or so: to see that the
100,000 or so farming families of Australia are not replaced by a thousand or
so companies.

I read somewhere that agriculture and grazing in Australia has caused the
extinction of 78 species of plants.
When you think about for it for a while, that becomes a very sad fact. Because
extinction is irreversible. These are bits of our universe, pieces of the great
design, gone forever.
And if you think about it a bit longer you think we have to make sure that what
has happened to these plants does not happen to our farmers.
It's a challenge for all of us and I'm sure we won't fail it.
I think the last year or so has demonstrated that the farmers of Australia and
the Government have the capacity to work effectively together.
In fact, looked at objectively, I think the last twelve years have demonstrated
that. But what is so encouraging is the expansion of our collaborative effort.
And I hope that the thinking on both sides has caught up with the
contemporary reality.
Canberra is indeed a long way from here. And here is not Labor's heartland.
But, whatever, rural Australia thinks of the Government, the Government thinks
well of rural Australia and when rural Australia needed help we did our very
best to provide it. We still are.
That is not a plea for thanks. What we are doing is no more than a
government should do. We should not just listen we should work in
Among other reasons, I say it to make the point that the next time we hear the
fashionable anti-government refrain which has swept America and is getting
louder here, I hope we can agree to at least say hang on, where else but from
government will we get the help we need? I hope we can agree to eliminate
the irrational and misinformed and prejudiced from our political debate.
The fact is that while governments can't do everything, there is no substitute
for them when it comes to a lot of the essentials.
Here in Queensland, 5,500 farm families are receiving Government assistance
at the rate of nearly $ 2 million a week. Across eastern Australia we have
committed nearly $ 600 million.
Large areas of eastern Australia, including many parts of Queensland, have
received good autumn rains.

But we recognise that some parts of central Queensland are again in
desperate need. We recognise that even those farmers who have got the rain
they needed, now need help to rebuild.
We are under no illusion that there is no more to be done.
There is always more to be done!
Nor do we think that helping farmers through the drought is the only job we
have to do in rural Australia.
I said earlier that Australia's rural industries continue to be of primary
importance to the national economy, and Australian farming families of equal
significance to the national fabric.
We want to see Australian farms and Australian farming communities flourish
and grow in the 21 st century.
Farming families are a great national resource. It follows that the land they
farm must be able to sustain their use of it.
There can scarcely be a more important issue for Australian farmers than this
and it is no less important for the Government.
I don't believe there is anyone in this room who does not believe that our
agriculture should be sustainable agriculture. And if by a simple snap of their
fingers they could make if sustainable,_ Fiar sure that is what everyone would
We need a collective national snap of the fingers. Not to do it, but to resolve
to do it.
We should recognise at once that this will be a difficult process. It will be a bit
like farming; there will be ups and downs, set-backs, disappointments.
But if any Australians know how to live with difficulty and endure a protracted
struggle it is Australian farmers.
I think we should take to the effort for sustainable development this sort of
spirit. Whenever we talk about the degradation of our land we tend to sit in
judgement on earlier generations of farmers and often the judgements are
harsh. I am inclined to think that we should take a more positive view. They had the
courage, ambition and energy to take on the land, and their efforts were
substantially responsible for the nation's prosperity.

Their efforts made them legendary Australians. We now need the efforts of
this generation of Australian farmers to make the country not only prosperous,
but sustainable which means that there will still be farmers on the land
and 100 years from now.
Do this, and to those farmers of the future you will be legendary.
The partnership between Australian farmers and the Australian Government in
the National Landcare Program has been one of the great phenomena of the
recent times.
And it has been phenomenal. Not only because it has drawn so many farmers
into the movement; and not only because this has had the effect of improving
our land management practices.
The remarkable thing about Landcare is that it has tapped the passion of
farming Australians for the land itself. We have seen an incredibly swift
change in the culture of Australian farming and that has created an infinitely
more fertile environment for further change.
A more scientific approach to the land has implications for productivity, for the
quality of our products and therefore their success in export markets, for the
viability of farms and therefore of farming communities.
Of course it has also had the effect of bringing farmers into the centre of the
debate about the environment and that is wher* e they should be, where they
must be if we are to reach the right decisions about the land we live in.
In recent times, Australian farmers and the Australian Government have also
worked together very effectively to put Australia's case against the market
distorting subsidies of the United States.
No doubt many of you here are aware of the work being done by the Farm Bill
Working Group to encourage change in US agricultural policies that
significantly affect our interests. We have had considerable successes. While
we should not over-estimate our influence, nor should we under-estimate our
successes. And we certainly must continue. In particular we have to press for the EEP
and the Dairy Export Incentive Program to be dismantled.
Again, what matters is the collaborative environment we have established
between the Government and the industry. It provides us with the necessary
condition for doing so much more.
In that context, I have to say that nothing has improved the environment in
which we work so much as those major early reforms of a Labor Government. I
mean those perennial structural problems which faced Australian agriculture.

Progressively dismantling the tariff wall has reduced the burden that is borne
by our internationally competitive industries including agriculture.
Floating the dollar delivered the biggest increase in competitiveness ever
achieved in this country with labour changes, a 40 per cent increase since
And our greater competitiveness is not simply due to the nominal depreciation
of the exchange rate.
The Accord has meant that the depreciation did not simply translate into higher
wages. The Accord has meant permanent increases in our international
competitiveness. It has meant much more as well in productivity, flexibility
and creativity, and industrial harmony. The last year has not only been a year
of growth it has also been a year which recorded the lowest rate of industrial
disputes since World War II.
The benefits to Australia, including rural Australia, are immeasurable.
I wouldn't be doing the Government justice if I did not remind you as well of the
benefits that will flow from the Uruguay Round and APEC.
For example, the Uruguay Round provides for a total reduction of 36 per cent
in the quantity of subsidised grain exports and for a reduction of 21 per cent in
expenditure on export subsidies.
At the same time Australia has been leading the way in the formation and
development of APEC. With the Bogor Declaration we have a framework
within which free trade can be developed in the most dynamic economic area
in the world. The benefits to Australia, not least to Australia's grain growers,
will be enormous.
Let me conclude by addressing a couple of the issues which specifically
concern the grains industry. Our objectives might be summarised as growth,
competitiveness and self-reliance.
We want to see increased production and access to markets; institutional and
market arrangements which maximise the competitiveness of the Australian
industry; and an industry willing and able to take responsibility for its own
affairs. To these ends we have deregulated the domestic wheat market and reoriented
the Australian Wheat Board away from being solely a bulk supplier and
towards differentiated product. The Board now has the ability to engage in
value-adding of wheat and wheat products.
Without going into details, grain growers can also expect major benefits to flow
from the recent competition policy agreement between the Commonwealth and
the States.

I know Bob Collins wants to hear the industry's views about new marketing
arrangements before he puts considered options before the Government; and
we are expecting to hear these views soon after a series of grower meetings in
The ultimate objective is to allow growers every chance to seek out production
and market opportunities, and the point of competitiveness is to help farmers
reach this objective without hindrance or unwarranted costs.
A self-reliant industry means one in which government participation is limited
to ensuring that any clear public interest requirements are met.
It also means an industry which is sustainable in an agronomic, economic and
environmental sense.
The drought has dramatically reduced grain production and this has led us to
undertake the biggest peacetime importation of grain in Australia's history.
Some 390,000 tonnes of whole grain has arrived in Australian ports since last
December and there is potential for another 100,000 tonnes under existing
import permits.
I know that is not a fact calculated to please people in this room.
I know that some of you have argued that the Government should divert some
of our export grains to domestic use.
But we took the view that the costs of this would be too high. It would damage
our relations with established customers. It would also be a bad business
decision because we can import the necessary grain for a lower price than we
are receiving on the export market.
We do not believe imports constitute a long-term threat to traditional suppliers
to the domestic market, if for no other reason than the much higher cost of
shipping and handling imported grain.
We understand that the issue of imported grain creates imperatives for our
quarantine and inspection services, we have therefore developed protocols to
prevent the introduction of exotic pests, diseases and weeds.
We have also developed appropriate cartage arrangements such as secure
transport systems and dust suppression measures and these will be trialed in

While we are vigorously protecting our national interest in quarantine matters,
we must also be mindful of our broader interests where Australia is currently
challenging the legitimacy of import standards in a number of countries and
our success will rely heavily on demonstrating that similar decisions affecting
our own industry have an objective scientific basis.
I will finish with these few remarks. Like other sectors of Australian industry,
Australian agriculture has made extraordinary adjustments in recent years.
Australian farmers have responded to the challenges of a rapidly changing
Australian and international economy.
They have proved their adaptability and at the same time confirmed what we
have always known about them that they are not only highly efficient, but
highly resilient and durable.
It has been one of the very beneficial by-products of the great economic
changes of recent years, that the relationships between the national
Government and Australian industry and the Australian workforce have been
substantially redefined.
This is true of our relationship with rural industry and nothing is more
important than that we continue to develop this relationship.
The fact is that we can't succeed without each other. We do have a common
interest and it is in the national interest that we recognise this.
In recent times the drought has dominated at least the public side of our
partnership; but it won't end with drought; and I look forward to developing with
you new strategies for the prosperity of rural Australia in the better times that
surely lie ahead.
Even allowing for future droughts and all the other problems which regularly
beset Australia's farmers, the potential is virtually unlimited.
The farmers in this room and their families are overdue for some rewards and I
can assure you we will do every practicable thing to see that they come your
way. Thank you.

Transcript 9681