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Thirty-eighth Parliament, 30 April 1996: speech at the opening.

Honourable Senators and Members of the Parliament of Australia:

Introduction

On 2 March the Australian people entrusted to a new government the responsibility of managing the nation's affairs.

In doing so they endorsed decisively a comprehensive programme of practical reform. The Liberal and National Parties will keep faith with the people and implement that programme. Today I outline some aspects of the Government's legislative programme as well as its approach to governing the country in the years ahead

At the request of the Prime Minister, I depart from the prepared text of this speech by making specific mention both of the sadness which envelopes the opening of this thirty- eighth Parliament and of the profound sympathy which all associated with the Parliament feel for those affected by the Tasmanian tragedy.

The members of the Government have believed for some time that action needs to be taken:

to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the Australian economy and thereby deliver higher economic growth and higher living standards,

to raise national savings;

to lift burdens from the small business sector so that it can generate new jobs, and

to tackle the longer term environmental challenges such as soil degradation, salinity and the protection of our coastline and waterways.

Australia is a society rich in resources of all kinds. We should not have to settle for a lower level of economic performance than other countries with fewer advantages. The Government's policies aim to fulfil people's aspirations by rewarding hard work and initiative, achieving rising living standards, affordable home ownership, and a more positive future for our children. The needs of Australian families will be placed at the centre of the national policy agenda. Small business will be promoted as the dynamic engine of our economy which can offer new jobs and opportunities for many Australians In particular, more young Australians will have the opportunity to fulfil their talents through rewarding jobs.

The Government set out the framework of its plans prior to the election, and it intends to implement them. This task has been made more difficult by the fact that it is inheriting a prospective Budget deficit of $8 billion. That added burden, however, will be tackled in a balanced and sensible fashion through prudent and responsible management of the national Budget.

Jobs growth, opportunities and living standards

Reform of the labour market is essential to creating jobs and raising living standards. Higher efficiency and productivity will raise our international competitiveness and open up new export opportunities.

The Government is determined to introduce its promised practical reforms in this area.

These reforms will give Australian employees the prospect of higher wages based on higher productivity within a framework of guaranteed minimum standards. They will also make it easier for employees to blend their family and workplace responsibilities.

The industrial relations legislation, to be introduced early in the life of the Parliament will promote genuine co-operation between employers and employees, provide greater scope for workplace agreements and give all Australians greater choice and more incentive.

Compulsory unionism will be abolished. Genuine freedom of association will be guaranteed. The unfair dismissal provisions of the current legislation will be replaced with a system that is fair to employers and employees.

Effective sanctions against secondary boycotts will be restored.

The Government's Plan of Action for Small Business will, in its turn, enhance job growth and economic opportunities.

The Government will reduce red tape, unnecessary paperwork and regulation identified by a new Small Business Deregulation Task Force

It will also take steps to reduce the complexities and compliance costs imposed by the taxation system (particularly the Capital Gains Tax and the Fringe Benefits Tax) which have a disproportionate impact on small business.

A more competitive economy is crucial if we are to overcome Australia's still severe current account deficit problem and therefore over time reduce our foreign debt.

The Government's agenda for microeconomic reform, especially in the telecommunications and transport sectors, will have a significant role in improving competitiveness:

the Government will work with the States and Territories to ensure that the momentum of competition reform is further developed and duplication is reduced;

the Government will also introduce legislation to facilitate the sale of one third of Telstra. Telstra will become a more competitive company in the global telecommunications market and Australian consumers will benefit through a more efficient communications sector; and

waterfront reform, greater airport efficiency, improved roads and better gas and electricity operations will all lift productivity and, as the reforms take effect, there will be greater demand for skilled labour.

To assist in meeting this demand, employment programmes will be more effectively linked with the mainstream training system. Apprenticeships and other work-based training opportunities for young people will be strengthen through the Modern Apprenticeship and Traineeship System. Older unemployed people will have access to labour market programme assistance and support services. Pilot Regional and Community Employment Councils will bring together business leaders, education and training providers and representatives of the wider community to more effectively link training of unemployed people with real jobs and with regional development plans.

While employment prospects are enhanced for people seeking jobs, activity tests for unemployment assistance will be stringently applied.

Families, the community and the elderly

Reducing the economic pressure on families, especially those with dependent children, is one of the Government's most important and pressing tasks.

The Government believes that strong family life offers the best support and welfare system yet devised. The new family tax initiative will reduce the tax burden on low and middle income families with children by ensuring that more of their income is tax-free. It will particularly assist one income families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet.

The Government's plans to make private health insurance more affordable will ease pressures on Medicare, improve access to health care and help reduce waiting lists for public hospitals.

The Government remains strongly committed to the maintenance of Medicare, bulk billing and community rating.

The States, Territories, service providers, carers and volunteers are essential to the delivery of effective health and community services. The Government will work co-operatively with them to ensure the coherent and efficient promotion of better health throughout life, to improve childhood immunisation rates, to develop strategies further to combat domestic violence and to expand the availability of marriage preparation and ongoing relationship programmes.

A comprehensive retirement incomes policy will ensure that older people have financial security in retirement. For people who elect to work longer than the normal retirement age, there will be provision for deferred pension entitlements.

The Government will also act to ensure that self-funded retirees will receive the same tax treatment as pensioners on identical incomes.

Young Australians

The policies and measures mentioned earlier will do much to ensure that young Australians have greater cause for hope and confidence in their future and that of their country.

The issues of youth unemployment and youth alienation will be at the forefront of the Government's priorities.

Further support for the concerns and difficulties of youth, particularly homelessness and youth suicide, will be an important priority.

The Government believes it is vital to ensure that young Australians have access to a world class education and training system that will give them the capacity to secure jobs and to maximise their creativity and productivity.

Promoting excellence in educational standards, fostering greater diversity of choice, a strong commitment to equality of opportunity for all students, a greater focus on literacy and numeracy skills in primary schooling and the availability of school English language programmes for newly arrived migrant children are all important and practical elements of the Government's approach to education.

A coherent, nationally agreed framework for vocational education and training will meet the needs of industry and business enterprises. TAFE will be supported as the key public provider of vocational education and training and industry' s involvement in the training system will be strengthened.

Regional Australia

Our nation continues to depend on the natural and human resources of rural and regional Australia for a major proportion of its wealth. There is a responsibility in the interests of all Australians to develop those resources in a sustainable and environmentally sensible way. The Government will meet that responsibility.

The Government will help to restore the nation's land and water resources infrastructure and enhance our primary industries by removing impediments to international competitiveness and by working in partnership with industry to maximise export opportunities.

It will remove export controls on all mineral commodities except for uranium and nuclear materials. New uranium mines and exports will be approved subject to strict environmental, heritage and nuclear safeguards.

Implementation of the National Forest Policy Statement will ensure a scientifically based, comprehensive and representative forest reserve system and an ecologically sustainable forest industry.

An historic and comprehensive environment and sustainable agriculture programme will have as its centrepiece the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia. It will be a Trust in perpetuity to be funded by the partial sale of Telstra. It will constitute an unprecedented national commitment to the protection and rehabilitation of Australia's unique natural environment.

Defence international relations and trade

There is no higher responsibility for the Government than effective action to ensure the security of the Australian people and the protection of their interests. It will do so through a realistic defence policy, a constructive foreign policy and an active trade policy.

Defence policies will be based on self-reliance, strong alliances and close ties with our friends. The Government is committed to enhancing the mobility and operational capabilities of the Australian Defence Force.

The promotion of a strong defence industry base and an effective capacity for defence research and development will be essential elements of the Government's approach.

Foreign and trade policies will focus on improving national prosperity and security in a practical, focused and co-operative way.

The Government's perspectives will be global and its focus will be regional. While further developing relations with Australia's traditional partners, there will be no higher priority for the Government than advancing relations with countries in Asia, with particular emphasis on Indonesia and other members of ASEAN, Japan, Korea, China and India.

The Government will work closely with Australian exporters and industry groups to develop market opportunities for Australian exports and to overcome specific barriers to trade or investment in overseas markets. It will do so through bilateral, regional and global negotiations It attaches particular importance to APEC as a forum for trade and investment liberalisation in the region that will also act as a catalyst for further global trade liberalisation.

A cohesive society

The Government's commitment to govern in the national interest, and not for vested interests, will build community confidence and respect for the rights of all Australians.

All the measures and policies so far described are aimed at promoting the interests of the Australian community as a whole. As they are implemented, they will add to national prosperity, mutual trust and shared achievement to which the Government believes all Australians are entitled to aspire.

In addition, the Government will promote other measures which will encourage cohesiveness, rather than division in Australian society.

The Government will work to give Australian women greater equality of opportunity to succeed and genuine choice in their lifestyle, their aspirations and how they share family responsibilities. It will be advancing these goals in all policy areas and particularly in industrial relations, health care, superannuation, taxation and education.

As we gather in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, we acknowledge the continuing culture and unique role of Australia's indigenous people in the life of this nation.

The Government will continue to promote the processes of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and will act to improve the well-being of indigenous communities in the areas of health, housing, education and employment

Amendments will be made to the Native Title legislation to ensure its workability. These amendments will honour the basic principles of the Native Title Act.

The Government will continue to develop the great strengths which are derived from cultural diversity in the Australian society while reaffirming the unifying values we all share.

The Government also considers that the arts and culture should be accessible to all Australians, and not be the preserve of a privileged few. Its regional arts initiative and its emphasis on young and developing artists will be important elements of this approach.

It is also determined that the community should have a greater say in the design of constitutional reform proposals. By the end of 1997, the Government will give the people a new opportunity to have their say about their Constitution and their system of government.

As well, the Government will introduce legislation early in the new Parliament to protect Australia's flag and to ensure it cannot be altered without the people's approval.

Finally, it is particularly appropriate at this time and in this place to mention the Government's intention to improve the standing of the national Parliament.

It is a regrettable fact that, for various reasons, increasing numbers in the community have lost respect for the Parliament and its members.

The Government will take steps to restore that respect. It will do so without in any way reducing the scope for robust debate which is one of the most valued features of our democratic tradition.

Conclusion

The Government is confident that its programme of practical reform, some of which I have outlined, will vindicate the confidence and support shown by the Australian people at the recent election.

These policies, and the many detailed aspects of the programme not mentioned in this address, are designed to unite and harness the capabilities of the Australian people.

The Government is deeply conscious of the great responsibilities it has been given. It is determined to address the national challenges we face. And it is unequivocally committed to good government for the benefit of all Australians.