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Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Page: 16


The 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:

Introduction

On the ninth of October 2004, the Australian people re-elected the government, conferring on it, for the fourth time, the honour of and responsibility for managing Australia's affairs.

Few nations can claim the special gifts that providence has bestowed on this country—as a beacon of democracy and tolerance underpinned by a prosperous economy and a fair society.

Today Australia stands on the threshold of a new era of national achievement. With renewed energy and purpose, the government rededicates itself to the great ideals of the Australian nation and to the service of the Australian people.

The government was re-elected on a platform that emphasised strong economic management, a determined role in world affairs, and faith in the capacity of Australians to exercise choice in their daily lives.

The government will take early steps to implement the policy commitments it made during the election campaign—commitments that reflect a fundamentally optimistic view of the character of the Australian people and of this nation's capacity to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges of the future.

Maintaining a strong economy

The government has an ambitious fourth term agenda based on its overriding commitment to ensuring the Australian economy remains strong, productivity growth remains high, and future prosperity is spread throughout the community.

Australia has one of the strongest performing economies in the world. This is no accident. The government's economic reforms have contributed to significant increases in productivity. As a result, Australians have enjoyed solid growth, more jobs, falling unemployment, real wage increases, low inflation and interest rates and increasing wealth and incomes.

Careful management of the Australian economy over recent years has increased its resilience. But we are not immune to world events. Sustained higher oil prices will have consequences of uncertain severity, and terrorism remains an ever-present risk.

At home, continuing low rainfall is a concern for many parts of both rural and metropolitan Australia.

The ageing of Australia's population means increasing pressure on the health and welfare sectors. The government has said that action to prepare for some of these costs must occur now. The government is committed to establishing a dedicated financial asset, the Future Fund, with the aim of fully funding Commonwealth superannuation liabilities by 2020. The Fund will also increase national savings, and enhance the net worth of the public sector.

Increasing productivity and workforce participation are keys to our future economic success and to meeting the challenge of demographic change. The government is committed to the task of improving the efficiency and competitiveness of the Australian economy and to lifting workforce engagement.

Getting more people into work

Unemployment is at a 27 year low and a record number of Australians are in work. However, too many people of working age remain on welfare. The government aims to break the tragic cycle of welfare dependency for these income support recipients, and lift labour force participation and employment rates through an appropriate balance of obligations, incentives and assistance. It aims to give all Australians the opportunity to participate in our prosperity. And the best means of tackling poverty is to help Australians find a job.

Through the Mature Age Worker Tax Offset, the government will make it more financially attractive for older Australians to remain in employment on a full-time, part-time or casual basis. The government will also work with industry to counter the misplaced prejudices against the employment of mature age workers.

The government is committed to encouraging hard work and self-reliance by reducing tax as fiscal circumstances permit, providing incentives for small business and helping families with the cost of raising children. Under the government's announced tax cuts, 80 per cent of taxpayers will face a marginal tax rate of no more than 30 per cent.

Labour market reforms

In its fourth term, the government will accelerate the reform of workplace relations as a means of raising productivity and Australian living standards. A strategic package of measures will be pursued in this Parliament to promote that objective.

Particular attention will be paid to ensuring that small businesses, the engine-room of our economic success, are encouraged by greater workplace flexibility to employ more staff. Legislation will also be introduced to give formal recognition and protection to independent contractors.

Education and skills development

The links between educational achievement and robust economic growth have never been more apparent. Meeting the skills needs of our economy will drive our national prosperity and help deliver a better quality of life for all Australians.

In this term, the government will boost training in areas of existing and looming skill shortages through an integrated package of measures designed to encourage more young people to take up trades. This will provide more pathways for students to enter traditional trades while in school, as well as improving the rewards for going into an apprenticeship and removing barriers that prevent people from beginning or continuing with an apprenticeship. No young Australian should feel less valued for choosing an apprenticeship over university.

A key driver of these measures will be the establishment of 24 Australian Technical Colleges, catering for Years 11 and 12 students, which will provide students with industry-endorsed training to equip them for a career in the traditional trades.

Over the coming term the government will continue its commitment to parental choice in education. Working with parents, the government will invest directly in school infrastructure through an additional $1 billion commitment over the next four years.

Building an enterprise culture

The government is committed to fostering a spirit of enterprise in Australia. To help build this enterprise culture, the government will introduce an Entrepreneurs Tax Discount for small enterprises. It will also establish a new Regulation Reduction Incentive Fund specifically designed to reduce the regulatory burden on home-based businesses.

It will further remove legislative burdens on small business and improve access to resources so small businesses in Australia can continue to innovate and grow.

Modernising industry regulation and infrastructure

Better planning and increased investment in national transport infrastructure is critical to the long-term economic performance of Australia. The $12.5 billion land transport plan, AusLink, will be implemented.

The transport security net will be extended. Jointly with the states and territories, a new intergovernmental agreement on land transport security will be established and the national transport security regime extended to cover dangerous goods and mass urban transit.

The government maintains its commitment to reform Australia's media ownership laws. New arrangements will provide enhanced diversity and increased investment, enabling Australians to have greater access to high quality media services. The government is also committed to ensuring that its regulatory framework for communications and broadcasting remains responsive to the challenges brought about by new technologies.

The government will pursue its longstanding policy for the full privatisation of Telstra. Its future sale will be contingent on adequate telecommunications service levels and appropriate market conditions.

Comprehensive trade policy agenda

With expectations of strong global demand in 2004-2005, prospects are bright for Australian exporters.

The government is committed to the multilateral trading system and driving forward the Doha Round of trade negotiations, which promises enormous gains for Australia.

At the same time, the government will continue to pursue other opportunities for trade liberalisation, including through free trade agreements. Ensuring timely entry into force of the Australia-US free trade agreement is of the highest priority, as is implementation of the Thai-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The government will also continue to consider possible FTAs with China, Malaysia and ASEAN, the latter in conjunction with New Zealand.

To further assist and support Australia's export trade activities, the government will invest an additional $30 million over three years in the Export Market Development Grants Program. It will also appoint 30 new export facilitators to maximise Australian export opportunities in the United States market and reinforce the government's extensive support for Australian exporters by creating `export hubs' in regional Australia through co-location of the services of Austrade and AusIndustry.

National security and Australia's place in the world

There is no more important responsibility of government than the security of Australia and Australians.

Australia continues to face a challenging international and regional security environment. The government will maintain a strong stand against international terrorism and the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It will also respond to the adverse impact that failing states have on our national security. While vigilance is needed in current circumstances, Australians should not feel threatened, nor be deterred from leading normal lives, enjoying the freedom for which others before us have so bravely fought.

To take account of new security threats, the government will bring forward legislation that will facilitate expeditious access to stored communications, such as email messages, establish a comprehensive surveillance devices regime for the investigation of serious Commonwealth offences, and protect sensitive national security information in criminal proceedings.

In addition, the government will continue working closely with states and territories to maintain our world class counter-terrorism capability. Business will be a key partner in advancing arrangements for the protection of the nation's critical infrastructure and ensuring smooth implementation of new anti-money laundering laws.

I acknowledge the enduring commitment and unflinching courage of the service personnel who protect Australia's interests.

The government will provide the Australian Defence Force with the major new equipment it needs to carry out its vital role of defending Australians at home and Australian interests abroad.

The ADF will be provided with new Abrams tanks, additional troop lift helicopters, new Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters and a new fleet of Armidale Class Patrol Boats.

New contracts worth up to $8 billion will be signed for the construction of Air Warfare Destroyers and Amphibious Ships and the government will maximise Australian industry involvement in all major defence projects.

To further strengthen our ability to protect key infrastructure, the government will permanently base two new Patrol Boats at either Port Hedland or Dampier to protect the vital assets in Australia's north west.

Over the next decade, the government will provide $50 billion of funding to further develop and sustain an ADF capable of deterring threats to Australia and deploying at short notice in support of our national interests. To this end, the government will maintain our forces in Iraq, East Timor and Solomon Islands until their jobs are done.

Sustaining Australia's high standing and strong alliance with the United States is a key priority. The alliance reflects the strength of our historical relationship and our shared values.

Strong relations with the countries of Asia are vital to Australia's security and prosperity. The government is committed to deepening ties with North Asia—building on mature links with Japan, expanding ties with China and continuing support for peaceful outcomes on the Korean Peninsula.

The government will work to strengthen our cooperation with the new administration in Indonesia, including our vital partnership on counter-terrorism. The government will further build relations across South-East Asia through a range of initiatives. The government is committed to expanding Australia's relationship with India and strengthening ties with the other countries of South Asia.

The Australian government places a high priority on strengthening cooperation with our regional neighbours and offering assistance in capacity building in the fight against terrorism. To this end, the government will establish six new Australian Federal Police counter-terrorist teams to work with regional neighbours to enhance surveillance and investigative capability and for rapid deployment to disrupt terrorist networks. A Centre for Counter-Terrorism Cooperation and Joint Intelligence Training for Australia, South East Asia and the Pacific will also be established.

Supporting families, carers and women

Policies that provide Australian families with opportunities and choices are the hallmark of this government.

The government will introduce a 30 per cent child care tax rebate to reduce the out of pocket costs paid by parents and increase by $300 a year the rate of Family Tax Benefit Part B.

The government is delivering on its election commitment to provide grandparents who are primary carers for their grandchildren with better access to affordable child care. Effective from 1 November, the work, training and study test for access to Child Care Benefit has been waived for eligible grandparent carers and new legislation will provide additional support in recognition of the important role these Australians play in our society.

The government will continue to work with parents and local communities to develop the potential of our youngest Australians through early childhood development.

It will also build on its strong record of support for people caring for others by implementing initiatives to provide more flexibility to combine caring with work, training or study and to help parents of adult children with a disability plan for the future.

The government is committed to providing opportunity and choice for Australian women and will continue to build on its strong record in promoting women's employment and participation in the workforce.

The government will implement major changes to Australia's family law system, focusing on resolving disputes outside the courts through a network of Family Relationship Centres. The government also proposes changes to the Family Law Act 1975 to put much more focus on sharing parental responsibility after separation.

Choice and peace of mind in health care

The government is committed to giving all Australians peace of mind and real choice in health care. It will continue to strengthen Medicare, the nation's world-class health system. GP services will be more affordable for all Australians through legislation to increase the GP rebate from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the Medicare fee for all consultations. The government is also fully committed to maintaining the Medicare safety net. In addition, Australians will receive greater access to mental health care, particularly to address the burden of depression.

The government will make private health insurance even more affordable for older Australians—increasing the private health insurance rebate from 30 per cent to 35 per cent for people aged from 65 to 69 years and to 40 per cent for people older than 70 years. Lifetime Health Cover arrangements will continue to keep private health insurance attractive to younger people.

Human services

The government is determined to improve the development and delivery of government services to the Australian public. A new Department of Human Services will bring together into one department six key Commonwealth agencies. It will ensure better governance, clearer accountability and coordinated implementation of government policy.

The Department will also advise the government on the most efficient and effective way to deliver new and existing payments to Australian families and individuals. It will focus on the provision of better services in a timely and sympathetic fashion.

Regional Australia

The government will press on with providing better services in regional Australia. It will establish two additional sustainable regions for special government assistance, and will provide banking services at an extra 266 licensed post offices.

The government will provide increased support to cultural activity in regional and remote Australia as a means of strengthening community cohesion, well-being and development.

Indigenous affairs

In these sittings, legislation will be reintroduced to further reform the delivery of indigenous programmes and services. Indigenous Australians are relying on a better relationship with all governments to improve their circumstances. The issues they face are some of the most important for our nation.

The government is determined that its approach, focusing on shared responsibility arrangements negotiated with indigenous communities at the local level, will lead to better outcomes for indigenous Australians. The government will ensure that the Australian Public Service works closely with the new National Indigenous Council to focus on practical issues—addressing family violence, reducing substance abuse, increasing opportunities for education and employment and improving health.

Veterans

Australia has a proud military heritage and members of the ADF continue to serve with distinction across the globe.

2005 will be a time to look back at the contribution of more than 420,000 Australians who served in World War I and some one million in World War II. The government will mark the 90th anniversary of the first landings at Gallipoli and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II with special tributes. The sacrifices of those who went before will be recognised with pride and gratitude.

Environment

Water is the most important conservation issue facing Australia. The Prime Minister has written to the Premiers and Chief Ministers urging them to join with the Australian government in implementing the National Water Initiative as they agreed at the June 2004 COAG meeting.

The National Water Commission will be established as an independent statutory authority in the Prime Minister's portfolio to advise on reform progress under the National Water Initiative and on projects, supported by the $2 billion Australian Water Fund. The Fund will contribute to major projects for more innovative use and re-use of our water, better understanding and accounting of our water resources, and wiser stewardship of our water by communities around the country.

Sustainable development requires a careful balance between environmental goals and meeting the needs of local communities. The government will uphold environmental values by protecting an additional 170,000 hectares of old growth forest in Tasmania—but it will also preserve timber workers' jobs and support the communities that depend on them.

The government is committed to developing a robust and comprehensive global response to climate change. Australia is on track to meet its Kyoto emission reduction target and new initiatives, such as the creation of the low emissions technology fund and solar cities trials, will position Australia for the challenges ahead.

Conclusion

The government begins its fourth term mindful of its responsibility to use its new mandate wisely—to further advance Australia's prosperity and security, to govern in the interests of all Australians, and to uphold those values that bind us together.

The government is determined to fulfil the trust placed in it by the Australian people. It will do so by implementing a wide-ranging set of policy commitments which, in turn, places trust in the common sense and good judgement of the Australian people.

Our nation is a leading example of democratic freedom, institutional stability and economic well-being. May I conclude by expressing my appreciation of the degree to which this is due in no small measure to the integrity, hard work and fair thinking of our parliamentary representatives. I congratulate those recently elected to this parliament, and wish all members and senators well in your deliberations.