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- Start of Business
- OPENING OF THE PARLIAMENT
- AUTHORITY TO ADMINISTER OATH OR AFFIRMATION OF ALLEGIANCE
- RETURNS TO WRITS
- MEMBERS SWORN
- PRESENTATION TO GOVERNOR-GENERAL
- AUTHORITY TO ADMINISTER OATH OR AFFIRMATION
- MESSAGE FROM THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: LEADERSHIP
- NATIONAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA: LEADERSHIP
- PARLIAMENTARY PROCEEDINGS BROADCASTING AMENDMENT BILL 1998
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- DEPUTY SPEAKER
- SINCLAIR, RT HON. IAN
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
Tuesday, 10 November 1998
Mr SPEAKER —I have to report that the House this day attended His Excellency the Governor-General in the Senate chamber, when his Excellency was pleased to make a speech to both houses of the parliament. I have received a copy of the speech, which will be incorporated in Hansard for record purposes.
The speech read as follows—
Honourable Senators and Members of the Parliament of Australia:
On the third of October, the Australian people re-elected the government and renewed its responsibility for managing the nation's affairs in the interests of all Australians.
The government presented the Australian people with a clear set of goals for Australia into the next century, and a detailed strategy for achieving them.
The government's priorities for its second term derive directly from those goals and that strategy.
They are priorities aimed at realising Australia's unrivalled potential in the twenty-first century through building a stronger Australian economy and a fairer Australian society.
They are priorities which provide incentives for individuals and enterprises to succeed within a framework of a strategic but limited role for government.
They are priorities centred on stronger families, stronger workplaces and stronger communities.
The government's priorities balance fairness and incentive—promoting innovation, choice, opportunity and competition at the same time as ensuring compassion and care for those in genuine need.
They are priorities which maximise the potential of Australia's position at a unique intersection of history, geography, economic opportunity and cultural diversity.
They are priorities clearly focussed on delivering practical and beneficial outcomes for all Australians.
Above all, the government is committed to implementing the priorities for its second term on the basis of its unequivocal commitment to the Australian values of decency, openness, tolerance and a fair go for all.
The government is committed to enhancing our national economic performance and providing a policy framework in which more jobs are created and the living standards of Australians are improved.
The government's sound economic policies have been crucial in minimising the impact of the Asian financial crisis.
The Australian economy has continued to grow rapidly in the last 12 months despite the financial turmoil in our region and the slide into recession that has been experienced by many of our major trading partners.
The Australian economy is forecast to remain one of the best performing in our region, and is expected to grow faster than most of the world's major advanced economies over the next two years.
The financial turmoil that initially affected a number of Asian economies has spread more widely in recent months. It directly affects Australia's interests. That is why the government has been an active participant in international efforts to contain the crisis, minimise its impact, and provide support for countries in our region afflicted by it. The government will pursue these objectives in APEC and other international forums to advance Australia's broad national interests.
Australia's interests are also affected by the recent high level of instability in international financial markets. The government has therefore assumed, and will continue to assume, an active role in efforts to reform and strengthen the international financial system.
To ensure the best possible input from both the public and private sectors on what is a vital national interest for Australia and the greatest economic challenge facing the international community, the government has established a task force on international financial issues which combines the expertise of senior public and private sector representatives. It will report by the end of 1998.
The stability of the Australian financial system is testimony to the underlying strength of our economy and the world-class reforms to the financial system introduced by the government in its previous term.
The government will continue to actively develop and promote Australia as a regional financial centre. The demonstrated stability of our financial system and the incentives created by the government's new tax system will be important factors in achieving that objective.
A new tax system
The government has made it clear that reform of Australia's taxation system is the single most important item of unfinished business in building an economic infrastructure that will enable Australia to compete and prosper in an increasingly competitive world economy.
The government has strengthened Australia's economic foundations and enhanced our international competitiveness through a policy framework that has delivered sound fiscal management, low interest rates, low inflation, effective workplace relations reforms and high levels of business investment.
Tax reform will build on, and complement, these achievements.
The government went to the Australian people in the last election with a plan for a new tax system that will provide the basis for stronger, more sustainable economic growth, higher productivity, more jobs and higher living standards.
The government will move quickly to put its bold new plan in place.
The new tax system will dramatically reduce the taxation burden on Australians. It will slash business costs, thereby creating scope for more jobs growth. It will reduce fuel excise by around $3.5 billion a year. It will ensure that tax cheats and tax avoiders pay their fair share of taxation by reducing opportunities to operate in the cash economy. It will improve incentives to work and save. And it will be simple and transparent.
Under the government's new tax system there will be:
. personal income tax cuts totalling over $13 billion from July 2000;
. cuts in income tax rates for about 95 per cent of all individual taxpayers so that around 81 per cent of all taxpayers will face a marginal tax rate of no more than 30 per cent, compared with only 30 per cent of taxpayers now;
. reductions in business costs of over $10 billion a year, and in particular reductions of $4.5 billion a year in the costs facing Australian exporters;
. a $2 billion family package, including a simplification of the assistance provided to families to make it easier for them to understand and access their entitlements;
abolition of provisional tax; and
. an up front increase in income support payments so that the aged and other pensioners are more than compensated for the price impact of tax reform.
The government's new tax system will modernise the financial basis of Australia's federal system as it prepares to enter its second century. The states and territories will receive all of the GST revenue to replace the most burdensome and inefficient state and federal taxes, as well as the existing Financial Assistance Grants. As a result, the states and territories will have a secure and growing source of revenue to fund essential public services in the future.
The end result of the government's reform plan will be a world class taxation system which delivers fair and equitable outcomes for all Australians, and which enhances Australia's economic prospects into the next century.
Reform in a community context
While the government is determined to maintain the impetus of economic reform to expand Australia's opportunities in an increasingly competitive world, it will continue to be sensitive to community concern, particularly in regional Australia, about the impact and pace of change. It fully recognises the need to ensure that the benefits of reform are fairly shared and that adjustment costs are taken into account in framing policies.
Reforms are not ends in themselves. The government's commitment to strategic objectives such as a more productive economy, more effective markets, greater competitiveness and fiscal responsibility is a means to achieving faster jobs growth, more opportunities, rising living standards and a more competitive and dynamic Australia. This commitment is underpinned by the government's strong support for a fair and decent society, including an effective social safety net.
Jobs and the workplace
The government will maintain its efforts to generate strong and sustained jobs growth through sound economic policies and fiscal management, workplace relations reforms, and initiatives to support small business and strengthen the competitiveness of Australian businesses generally.
The creation of the Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business portfolio emphasises the importance of the right workplace relations framework and a dynamic small business sector in securing future jobs growth.
The Workplace Relations Act will be amended to include the promotion of youth employment as one of its objectives, and provide for junior wage rates on a continuing basis to protect youth employment.
Legislation to reduce the burden of unfair dismissal laws, including the exemption of small businesses from the unfair dismissal provisions of the Workplace Relations Act, will be introduced in the parliament at the earliest opportunity.
The government's workplace relations reforms will continue to build on the principles of a direct and simplified relationship between employers and employees, a fair go for all, and genuine freedom of association.
The government will also continue to pursue a better system of delivering job services for all Australians. The provision of assistance for the long-term unemployed will remain a priority along with ensuring appropriate assistance for young people, indigenous people and people in rural and regional areas.
The Job Network is an important and successful initiative, focussed on performance and results, for helping disadvantaged unemployed people to compete effectively for jobs. It will continue to be developed to achieve better outcomes for job seekers.
Measures to remove barriers to self-support and create work incentives through the income support and tax systems will be implemented. The government will build on the success of its mutual obligation programs including an expansion of the Work for the Dole program. Ensuring that young people remain connected to the community and develop job skills continues to be a key priority for the government.
Our future generation
Education and training are fundamental to achieving our vision for Australia in the twenty-first century. Skills and knowledge of the highest order are essential to maximise job opportunities for Australians in the future and to underpin innovation, technology and competitiveness in Australian enterprises as they compete in the global economy.
The government will work to ensure that all young people, whatever their career aspirations, will have access to a strong basic educational grounding and a quality pathway from school to further training and employment.
The government will provide additional resources to improve literacy and numeracy standards in all schools and to boost the National Asian Languages Program. It will upgrade funding for schools within the Catholic education system to address identified cost pressures. Furthermore, the government will
support a Quality Teacher Program to improve teachers' skills and lift the status of teaching in schools.
The government will build on the reinvigoration of the traineeship and apprenticeship system achieved during its first term by boosting new apprenticeships in rural and regional small businesses.
Higher education policy will focus on expanding access and improving the quality of teaching and research.
Families and the community
Families will again be a key priority for the government in its new term. This is particularly reflected in the $2 billion package of enhanced family measures in the government's new tax system.
The government is committed to increasing opportunities for families to build on and strengthen their own resources and networks of support. The new Family and Community Services portfolio, by drawing together—for the first time—the many different programs of assistance provided to families, will play an important role in achieving this outcome.
The new portfolio recognises the central role of families within communities and will assist in developing partnerships between communities, community organisations, business and governments to tackle problems identified at the local level and to strengthen networks of support within communities.
Helping families under pressure before they reach the point of crisis is important for the quality of life of families, and for avoiding the consequential costs of family breakdown including youth homelessness, drug addiction, suicide and crime.
In its second term, the government will maintain its momentum on the fight against illicit drugs, and will continue to implement its Tough on Drugs initiatives which attack the demand for drugs through education, rehabilitation and active community involvement. These efforts will be backed up with great vigour by effective law enforcement measures to reduce the supply of illicit drugs.
The government will build on its achievements for women, with special focus on opportunities for economic independence. It will work to assist women re-entering the workforce after a break for parenting or caring responsibilities, and address the health needs of women, including those in rural and remote areas.
1999 is the International Year of Older Persons. This will heighten recognition of the enormous contribution older Australians make to the community and the economy. Through the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, the government will continue to consult the community about the policies and programs which will help older Australians to meet their needs into the next century. The government has made important reforms to ensure the long-term sustainability of aged care services and to improve choice and access to services, including allowing people wherever possible to be cared for at home if they wish. Where residential care is the best option, the government will ensure it is affordable and of a high quality.
The government will continue to strengthen the security of veterans and war widows by heightening recognition of their service and improving health and financial assistance. The commemoration program will be boosted to ensure that veterans' courage and sacrifice are honoured and that our proud history is celebrated.
The government will work to improve the health and medical care of all Australians under the Medicare framework.
The government is committed to a balanced health system, and to strengthening both the public and private sectors. It is moving quickly to promote the role of private health insurance with the introduction of a 30 per cent rebate on insurance contributions as part of its tax reform package. This initiative—designed to take effect in just over seven weeks on 1 January 1999—will be supported by measures to help funds to keep costs and premiums down, while offering a broader and more attractive range of products to private health insurance clients.
The government will work with the states and territories under the new Australian Health Care Agreements to continue to improve the efficiency and quality of services in public hospitals. A major focus will be to ensure that Australians living in rural and remote areas have access to high quality health services.
Addressing the huge disparity in the health of our indigenous people will continue to be a priority for the government. Indigenous people need to be able to access good local primary health care services at a level more commensurate with their high level of health need.
The government is strongly committed to rural and regional Australia, and recognises the hardships which country people have endured in recent times. The new ministry now has a Transport and Regional Services portfolio, headed by a senior cabinet minister, to focus specifically on the needs and concerns of country Australia.
The government's new tax system will contain significant boosts for regional and rural Australia, particularly through the $3.5 billion per year reduction in the cost of fuel.
The government will help strengthen the economic and social fabric of rural and regional areas. Priority will be given to establishing Rural Transaction Centres in smaller rural towns as a means of restoring access to services lost over more than a decade. An injection of funding for road, rail, telecommunications and environmental infrastructure, and for flood mitigation, will also deliver substantial benefits to regional Australia.
Transport and industry policy
An efficient and integrated transport sector is vital to underpinning economic growth, creating investment and export opportunities, and providing services to people in both urban and regional Australia. The significant reduction in the cost of fuel to all businesses provided under the government's new tax system reflects that priority.
The government will continue the revitalisation of the rail industry, including by facilitating major projects such as very high speed train links, and is providing additional funds to improve our road network. The government will maintain a strong, efficient and safe aviation sector, and will address the issues of a second airport for the Sydney region and management of aircraft noise. It will also continue to address issues in the maritime sector to deliver the benefits of a viable Australian shipping industry and a more productive waterfront.
The government is committed to the development of industries of the future. Partnership with industry will be strengthened through the development of action agendas in key industries, including biotechnology.
Communications and information technology
Improved communications and continuing advances in information technology are fundamentally changing the way we work, live and socialise. To ensure that Australians fully realise the extraordinary potential of these advances in terms of job-creating and other opportunities, the government has established a new portfolio of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts to secure effective information technology cohesion and co-ordination within the Federal Government, and maximum co-operation with other levels of government and industry.
In the area of communications, the first priority is the sale of a further share of the government's equity in Telstra. This will bring benefits to Australian taxpayers by paying off public debt and reducing interest payments. There will also be other benefits through initiatives funded by the further sale to improve communications infrastructure and reduce disparities between services to urban and non-urban Australia.
The government will continue to boost competitive pressures in the telecommunications sector to ensure better services to consumers.
As promised before the election, the government will establish an independent inquiry into Telstra's service levels around Australia. Unless and until that inquiry certifies that service levels are adequate, the further sale of Telstra beyond majority government ownership will not be permitted.
The approach of the millennium gives pause to consider the critical influence that information technologies will have on economic performance in the twenty-first century. These technologies are already an integral part of Australians' lives and are a key driver of economic and employment growth. Priority will be given to implementing a national strategy for the information economy and continued efforts to address the Year 2000 computer problem.
The government remains committed to the ecologically sustainable development of our natural resources for the benefit of all Australians.
The government will enact the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill as a matter of priority to put in place a streamlined and more effective environment approvals process, and to establish, for the first time in our environmental history, a genuinely integrated approach to biodiversity conservation.
The Natural Heritage Trust is now in its third year of operation and represents an unprecedented national commitment to the continued protection of our unique natural environments. The government will build on the proven success of the Trust, and will provide an additional $250 million from the second phase of the sale of Telstra.
Australia also has one of the largest and most diverse ocean resources in the world. The government will finalise a national oceans policy that will bring together the interests of all governments, industry groups and the broader community.
Australia and the World
The first responsibility of government is to provide for the security and defence of the nation and its people.
The government will ensure that the Australian Defence Force maintains its capability during a period of great strategic change in our region.
The government will strengthen key alliance relationships and expand defence links in the Asia Pacific in order to contribute effectively to regional and international security.
The government's commitment to engagement with Asia is unequivocal. So is its determination to strengthen Australia's profound and enduring links with the United States and Europe.
The government will work hard at all levels— bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally—to pursue Australia's trade liberalisation objectives and to increase market access for Australian exporters.
In our region, the government remains committed to working closely with Indonesia as that country moves forward with its economic recovery and political reform programs. The government will also maintain strong support for the Papua New Guinean Government in its efforts to achieve lasting peace on Bougainville.
The government's aid program will continue to focus on poverty alleviation and sustainable development in the region. The government will also continue to promote human rights and democratic institutions, and to ensure greater involvement of the Australian community in the aid program.
Australia and the new millennium
The government will conduct a constitutional referendum by the end of 1999, so that the Australian people can decide whether or not Australia will become a republic. As the Constitutional Convention in February 1998 demonstrated, the nation can debate this issue in an open and constructive manner.
In 2001, Australia will celebrate an historic milestone—100 years of nationhood. The Australian achievement is an extraordinary one worthy of great pride and genuine celebration. It will be a time to recognise the benefits of our unique Australian values, our economic stability, the rule of law and our proud record in both defending and promoting freedom. The centenary celebrations provide a great opportunity for Australians to take stock and look forward to a confident, harmonious and prosperous new century of national achievement.
As we approach the new millennium and our Centenary of Federation we also face the challenge of reconciliation between indigenous and other Australians.
The government will work to achieve the goal of reconciliation over the next two years. It will do so in the knowledge that the great majority of Australians want true reconciliation to be achieved and will support a co-operative approach to achieve that outcome.
The government continues to believe in the importance of achieving practical outcomes for indigenous Australians—particularly in terms of improvements in their health care, their education, their housing and their job opportunities. In its second term, therefore, the government will be looking to secure ongoing progress in these key areas.
The strategy to which the government is clearly committed, and the priorities and goals which it has set, directly relate to the challenges which Australians face as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century.
In implementing its plan for a stronger Australia, the government recognises the clear responsibilities with which it has been charged by the Australian people. Its driving purpose will continue to be the fulfilment of those responsibilities in a way that achieves practical benefits for all Australians and that enhances Australia's national interest in a unifying way.