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Tuesday, 12 February 2002
Page: 18


The SPEAKER (3:47 PM) —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:

Introduction

On the tenth of November 2001, the Australian people re-elected the government and conferred upon it, for a third time, responsibility for managing this nation's affairs.

In doing so, they endorsed a wide-ranging programme of continued reform, disciplined fiscal management and the implementation of policies underpinned by the characteristic values of the Australian nation.

The government will take early steps to implement the specific policy commitments it made during the recent election campaign.

There are few nations on earth which can enter the early years of this new century with the same sense of optimism, opportunity and quiet confidence that the Australian people are entitled to feel.

The government seeks to build on a century of national achievement and accomplishment evident in fields as diverse as business excellence, scientific endeavour, the arts and culture and in the world's great sports.

With political stability and social cohesion that are the envy of the world, with the personal freedoms of expression, enterprise and association more certain and assured than ever before, Australians can pursue whatever individual or collective dreams inspire them.

Although neither complacent nor unaware of the many challenges ahead, Australia can create for itself a future of immense prospect and prosperity.

The government pledges itself to that effort. It will continue to be driven by a belief that self-reliance, individual endeavour and choice must be encouraged and rewarded. It will maintain a strong social security safety net for the more vulnerable in our society. It will champion the concept that families, workers and communities striving together towards shared goals create capacities far more potent than any other arrangements.

It will continue to believe that Australian society is fundamentally built upon principles of fairness and decency and the premise that opportunity should be available equally to all, regardless of background, gender, race or religion. It will support the creative talent and entrepreneurial spirit of Australians as they seize the unprecedented opportunities available in the years ahead.

The government's priorities throughout the coming term will also be based upon an acknowledgment that it must set in place the foundations for national success well beyond the life of a single parliament - addressing such serious long term issues as the changing age composition of Australia's population and environmental sustainability.

Above all, its decisions will recognise that a government is charged with two over-riding responsibilities, namely providing for the security of, and delivering prosperity to, the nation.

Security

The national consciousness of security issues has understandably risen in the wake of the tragic and momentous events of September 11, 2001. The world is sadly neither the safe nor certain place we would all wish it to be.

Australia has joined the United States in an emphatic international response to terrorism.

The government will ensure that Australia maintains a strong and flexible Defence Force, able to act in the nation's interest whatever circumstances may arise and in support of the principles of democratic freedom that Australians value so highly.

I acknowledge the professionalism, the commitment and the courage of all Australian servicemen and women but particularly those currently on active duty overseas - in the war against terrorism, in East Timor and as peace-keepers in countries throughout the world.

Through the implementation of the 2000 Defence White Paper, which provides for real increases in defence spending of $32 billion over the next 10 years, the government will ensure Australia's Defence Forces are properly trained, equipped and supported, and that they remain capable of contributing both to the cause of political stability within our region and broader international endeavours.

The government will continue its fight against transnational and organised criminal efforts to boost trafficking in illicit drugs, people smuggling, money laundering, major fraud and other crimes.

Modern terrorism clearly presents a new and dangerous threat. Determined and strong responses are needed. To this end, Commonwealth law enforcement and national security agencies are being reviewed and will be allocated additional resources to achieve even higher levels of effectiveness.

Priority will be given to collaborating with other nations on security and law enforcement issues, enforcing proper control of our borders, ensuring greater efficiency within Commonwealth agencies and providing clear leadership for the states and territories in these vital areas. The Prime Minister will host a summit of state and territory leaders in April to advance new national frameworks for dealing with these challenges.

Both Australia's security and its prosperity will be enhanced through constructive international relations and Australia's network of bilateral relationships will remain the foundation of the government's foreign policy. These relationships are in good order, but will require careful ongoing attention over the term of this parliament.

Our ties with the United States are of immense importance to Australia's security and economic interests and the government continues to recognise the ongoing relevance of the ANZUS alliance for regional stability. Maintaining our support for the coalition against terrorism and, more generally, our relationship with the United States will be priorities for the government.

Developments in Asia, of course, are of enduring importance to Australian interests. The government will ensure that our already considerable economic and political ties to North and Southeast Asia continue to be strengthened for the benefit of all Australians.

Australia's Pacific neighbours have faced many difficult challenges in recent years and the government will continue to work with the region to help it address these issues. Australia has strong economic and diplomatic relations with nations around the earth. The government will continue to foster these relations in the interests of domestic prosperity and global security.

Australia is honoured to be hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum in March and is committed, as Chairman, to ensure that the Commonwealth meets the challenges ahead and encourages members to maintain their shared values of good governance, human rights and economic development. Her Majesty The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, will visit Australia for this meeting.

This year marks the Golden Jubilee of the Queen's accession to the Throne. There can be little doubt that, during the past fifty years, Her Majesty has fulfilled her duties with great dedication, skill and remarkable energy. Australians will wish her well on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee.

Shared prosperity

The second fundamental obligation of government is the pursuit of prosperity in which all citizens may share. The government remains committed to achieving higher living standards and more jobs for Australians over the next three years.

The resilience of the Australian economy, despite a global slowdown, is a strong endorsement of the government's disciplined approach to economic management and the structural reforms it undertook to improve the efficiency and flexibility of Australia's product, labour and financial markets.

Since 1995-96, the government has repaid over $55 billion of public debt. A key priority in the government's third term will be to maintain a strong fiscal position.

While Australia's recent economic performance has been extremely impressive, the process of economic reform is ongoing and the government will vigorously pursue economic policies which further strengthen and reform our economy.

The government will continue to vigorously advocate genuine trade liberalisation. Securing additional market access through WTO and bilateral trade agreements will be a high priority. The government will continue to explore the prospects of achieving a free trade agreement with the United States. This will be very difficult but, if such an outcome can be realised, the benefits for Australia will be significant.

A thriving business sector

At home, competitive, well-functioning markets, supported by good regulatory frameworks, encourage economic growth.

The proposed review of the competition provisions of the Trade Practices Act, and their administration, will examine whether they adequately encourage growth and international competitiveness, protect the balance of power between small and large business and support the growth of regional business.

Attracting overseas direct investment to Australia will also be an important activity of government. The government will continue to develop strategies to promote and attract investment, promote new venture capital arrangements and focus efforts in sectors of high growth potential, such as information and communications technology.

The government will consider appropriate changes to current foreign ownership and control of Australian media laws and the cross media rules, aimed at opening up the broadcasting sector to new investment while ensuring continued diversity of opinion.

The government will continue to pursue reforms that deliver an efficient, cost competitive energy sector. This will include an improved national energy market for both electricity and gas. The government will also actively promote the responsible development and export of our abundant minerals and energy resources.

The government will also undertake a review of the current governance arrangements for statutory authorities and office holders. The government will focus on improving their structures and practices, particularly of those authorities that impact upon the business community, to ensure more efficient and effective operations and the highest standards of accountability.

Families

Policies that support families and provide them with effective opportunities and choices are crucial to Australia's economic and social future. The government will continue to provide practical assistance to families in their day to day needs and in support of their longer term aspirations.

The government will take early legislative steps to implement its election promise to introduce a First Child Tax Refund, recognising the loss of family income that generally results from the arrival of a first child. Tax initiatives aimed at improving Australia's superannuation system and securing family income throughout retirement will also be priorities.

The government remains committed to supporting the right of parents to choose the type of education that best suits the needs of their children and to quality schooling for all Australians. In particular, it will maintain its strong emphasis on literacy and numeracy for all young Australians, including indigenous children.

Choice and access in health care

The government will continue its commitment to improving choice and access to high quality health care for all Australians regardless of their personal circumstances.

Australia's world-class public Medicare system will continue to provide access for all to high quality health care, complemented by a vibrant private health sector. This mix of public and private health provision means that Australia's health system will be viable in the long term and able to adapt to our nation's changing needs.

In its third term, the government will negotiate new Australian Health Care Agreements between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories. The aim of the Agreements will be to achieve improvements for people who use public hospitals to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment in a timely and responsive way.

Welfare Reform

Welfare reform remains a key focus of this government. It believes all Australians should have the opportunity to become more self-reliant and attain higher standards of living for themselves and their families.

The government's commitment to welfare reform is expressed through the Australians Working Together package. Using Centrelink as a gateway, this package will provide increased assistance and improved incentives for people on welfare to get paid work, at a cost of $1.7 billion over four years.

The government will maintain a strong social security safety net and increase opportunities for people with disabilities wishing to work to their fullest potential.

In addition, Work for the Dole will remain a vital element of Australia's new active welfare system. The government will strengthen Mutual Obligation arrangements to focus on what people can do, rather than what they cannot.

Flexibility and reward in the workplace

The government considers that further workplace reform is essential to deliver higher living standards and create more jobs.

In the first weeks of parliament, the government will introduce bills to ban compulsory union fees, ensure secret ballots before strikes, prevent one-size-fits-all industry bargaining and establish fair dismissal procedures. The Autumn sittings will also include the introduction of bills to improve protection for workers in Victoria, ensure more democratic and accountable unions and employer organisations, and give more workers a say on workplace safety issues.

The government will also provide an effective safety net of minimum wages and conditions that can be relied upon by low paid employees whilst contributing to workplace bargaining above that safety net. The government will consult further about ways to give employees priority over secured creditors in the event of company failures. It will also work with employers to extend opportunities for workers to more effectively balance their family and workplace responsibilities.

In its third term, the government will give particular attention to addressing the challenges of an ageing population through helping mature aged people remain in and/or get back into work.

Innovation, technology and higher education

Recognising the vital link between science and business in building a prosperous future, an important focus for the new Education, Science and Training portfolio will be the continuing implementation of Backing Australia's Ability, which commits an extra $3 billion to supporting research, commercialisation and skills development. As part of this effort, the government has initiated a process to develop national research priorities to assist and guide research funding decisions across a range of government funded research programmes. The government expects to announce these national research priorities towards the end of this year.

The government understands that the higher education sector is critical to maintaining Australia's international competitiveness, economic prosperity and cultural development. It will work with universities, the business sector and the broader community to ensure that its policies enhance the quality of teaching and encourage universities to develop their particular teaching and research strengths and areas of specialisation.

In today's global economy, knowledge and skills development provide the essential platform for business competitiveness and community prosperity. In the time that the government has been in office, the number of people undertaking new apprenticeships has more than doubled from about 143,000 to an estimated 330,040 in September 2001. The government's support for vocational education and training will be further strengthened in its third term.

A stronger country Australia

This will be a government committed to creating greater opportunities for country Australia.

An important priority for the government is to help improve the profitability and competitiveness of Australia's rural industries. A strong, vibrant primary sector will not only create jobs and earn this country valuable export income, but will also help revitalise many rural and regional communities across Australia.

The government will continue to improve the transport system, an important social and economic issue for country Australia. It will maintain its commitment to national highways and roads of national importance and seek further progress in rail reform.

Domestic and international aviation will be reviewed, to ensure that the government's approach to competition and regulation recognises the major changes in the aviation operating environment. Australia will also participate in international efforts to strengthen aviation security.

The government remains committed to ensuring adequate levels of telecommunications services across regional, rural and remote Australia. It will build on the significant improvements achieved through the Networking the Nation programme and other Social Bonus initiatives. These programmes, combined with the $163 million response to the Telecommunications Service Inquiry, will mean that almost $1 billion will have been spent on improving regional communications services over the life of the government. In response to the Telecommunications Service Inquiry, the government is also introducing further enhancements to the regulatory safety net, achieved through the Universal Service Obligation and the Customer Service Guarantee, to ensure that all Australians have timely, affordable and reliable access to basic telecommunications services.

The government's programme of telecommunications sector reform has encouraged greater competition and given Australians access to a wide range of high quality, innovative and low cost telecommunications services. The government's priority is to ensure more services for rural and regional Australia.

The government will not proceed with any further sale of Telstra until it is satisfied that arrangements are in place to deliver adequate services to all Australians.

Our citizens

The government recognises the special place indigenous people occupy in our society as the original inhabitants of Australia and will continue to implement its practical reconciliation agenda, sustaining its focus on tackling disadvantage in the key areas of education, employment, health and housing.

These important endeavours will be pursued in partnership with indigenous people. Our joint goals should be to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The government will continue an immigration programme that places a strong emphasis on attracting people with skills. Australia will also continue to be one of the very few nations in the world to maintain a refugee programme.

Whilst continuing to work for solutions that give help to those most desperately in need, the government is committed to following the fundamental principle, accepted in international law, that Australia alone has the sovereign right to determine who is allowed entry.

Australia will continue to seek effective co-operation with nations in our region to combat people smuggling.

Protecting the environment

A whole of government approach to sustainable environment issues is to be one of the highest priorities in the government's third term. To this end, the government has established a new Sustainable Environment Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister.

Immediate action to tackle salinity and water quality problems is essential and, for this reason, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments will jointly invest $1.4 billion over seven years under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. The Plan will target some of Australia's worst affected areas and will support action by regional communities and local landholders. The Plan will be complemented by the extension of Australia's largest ever environmental rescue effort, the Natural Heritage Trust.

The government's ongoing funding package of $1 billion over five years for greenhouse gas abatement is among the largest by any government in the world. These funds are assisting to develop strong government-industry and government-community partnerships that are beginning to reduce the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

Conclusion

Honourable Senators and Members, in the pursuit of success in all areas of national endeavour, the government will maintain its characteristic pragmatism, drive and determination. It will seek to defend all that is best within Australian society today whilst initiating the bold reform necessary for a prosperous and secure future.

Its overarching goal will be to better the lives of all Australians, wherever they may live and whatever their own aspirations may be.