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Address to the Menzies Research Centre Employment Participation Roundtable, Sydney



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

3 June 2011

ADDRESS TO THE MENZIES RESEARCH CENTRE EMPLOYMENT PARTICIPATION ROUNDTABLE SYDNEY

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………………

Thanks very much Tony, it’s nice to be here. It’s good to see so many people focused on intellectual pursuits so early in the day and I acknowledge all my parliamentary colleagues, most of whom have already been named by Tony McClelland but I probably should add Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop to the list of parliamentarians who will be here today to attend what I’m sure will be a marvellous day of talks and discussion put together by someone who is, as Tony said, a very attractive young man and, look, he is quite intelligent as well. We’re very lucky to have Julian Leeser as the Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre.

Well, ladies and gentleman, it was the former leader of the Liberal Party, John Howard, who pointed out that the Australian Liberal Party is the custodian in this country of both the liberal and the conservative political traditions and as I’ve often said on party platforms, as liberals we support smaller government, lower taxes and greater freedom, as conservatives we support the family and values which have stood the test of time and as Australian patriots we want policies that work and which make a great country even stronger. John Howard sometimes described himself as a Burkean conservative, at other time he described himself as a Burkean liberal and I think both descriptions are fair given that Burke was both a Whig in a formal party sense and also the father of modern political conservatism, at least in the English speaking world. I like to think of myself as, in some respects, a social fabric conservative and a social fabric conservative is someone who promotes change that goes with the grain of human nature, that builds up individuals and reinforces their place in the web of formal and informal networks that normally give people that sense of meaning and purpose which is so important in any human being’s life. These informal and formal networks approximate to the little platoons that were an important part of Burke’s thinking. It’s these little platoons which contribute towards Burke’s marvellous metaphor of society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born. And of course, it is very appropriate that we are discussing work and participation and productivity today because so much of the ordinary person’s sense of self is provided by what he or she does for a living, by his or her work.

Work is of course a contribution to the economy but it’s much more than that. It’s part of what gives each individual’s life meaning, it’s part of the way in which each individual relates to the others around that person and unemployment or lack of work is a problem, not just because it weakens the economy, it is a problem because it degrades people’s sense of self. It corrodes that sense of community which all of us should have. Unemployment is not just an economic phenomenon, it is a social phenomenon as well and when we refer to unemployment, we aren’t simply referring to people who are on unemployment benefits, but we’re referring to all the people who would prefer to work, who would prefer to enjoy the integration

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into society which work normally provides. So, unemployment doesn’t just include those who are statistically unemployed, it includes discouraged workers, it includes the disguised unemployed who are often in our society on the disability support pension.

Now ladies and gentleman, you will often hear government ministers, particularly ministers in the current Government, standing up and boasting about how the Government has created jobs. The Treasurer was talking before the Budget about the Government’s creation of half a million new jobs in the coming year. Well, how one can boast about something that is a mere forecast is a mystery but nevertheless my point is not to criticise the Government for boastfulness, my point is to point out that in the end government hardly creates jobs. Government might facilitate job creation but the only jobs that government actually creates are the jobs where it is the direct employer and that obviously is not nearly as frequently as jobs occur in our society. Employment happens when a specific individual or business agrees to employ a specific person who then commences work. There are two essential ingredients to employment. We need to have a ready employer and a willing employee and the employee and the employer add up to employment. It is an equation with two sides. It is not something that happens magically because of government policy.

So, what I want to talk about today, by way of introduction to this morning’s guest speaker, is what the Coalition intends to do to try to bring about more employment and we want to address both sides of the employment equation. First of all, we want to increase the pool of people who are ready and willing to be employed. At the election, some of you might recall, the Coalition promised commitment bonuses for young people who had been on unemployed benefits for 12 months or more and who took jobs and stuck at those jobs for 12 months or 24 months. We also promised relocation allowances of up to $6,000 for people who were prepared to move to take a job but of course the corollary of that was our expectation that they would forego an entitlement to go back onto welfare for at least six months. We committed to incentives for employers who were prepared to take on older people and to break the tyranny of youth which has so dominated our employment market for so long. Since the election the Coalition has committed to a four point plan for participation reform; mandatory work for the dole for people under 50 who have been unemployed for 6 months or longer, mandatory income management or income quarantine for people who have been on unemployment benefits for 12 months or longer, an extension in other words to the rest of the country of a system which has already been put in place in the Northern Territory, suspending dole payments for people under 30 in places where unskilled work is readily available, taking up the very strong suggestion of the noted indigenous leader and the former President of the Australian Labor Party, Warren Mundine. Finally, a better designed disability support pension to take better into account the degree of people’s disability and whether disability is likely to be permanent. To stop older people, in particular being parked on welfare when they are capable of working.

What I want to talk about now is how we can make it easier and more likely for business to fulfil its part of the employment equation, particularly for small business to fulfil its part of the employment equation because small business is such a significant part of our economy and employs something like 50 per cent of the Australian workforce. Ladies and gentleman, at the last election the Coalition committed to having a special Minister for Small Business in the Cabinet. We’re committed to the establishment of a small business ombudsman who would act as an advocate for small business in government. We committed to the creation of lower interest loans for small business, where those loans were backed by mortgages over small business operators’ homes and we committed to extend unfair contract protections to small business as well as to individuals. Ladies and gentleman, since the election we’ve committed to reducing the regulatory costs, particularly those on small business by $1 billion a year. Studies have suggested that the regulatory burden on our economy could amount to more than $80 billion a year and what I want to announce today is superannuation red tape reform for small business. The Coalition will relieve some of the red tape that burdens small business by giving them the option to remit the compulsory superannuation payments made on behalf of workers directly to the Australian Taxation Office. This would occur at the same times as small businesses remit their PAYG payments. This will require only one payment to one agency rather than multiple cheques to multiple superannuation funds. The Australian Taxation Office will then send the money to superannuation funds directly.

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Ladies and gentlemen, so often small business acts as the unpaid agent of government. Small business acts as an unpaid tax collector for government. We can’t avoid a lot of this work which small business must do but thanks to this measure which I announce today, at least small business won’t have to act as unpaid superannuation brokers as well on top of everything else that they have to do and I am very pleased in committing the Coalition to this initiative to have been able to take up an important recommendation of COSBOA, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I should say in respect of this initiative that the Coalition is always looking for ways to help small business to get ahead because that’s where jobs are created. For small business men and women, less paperwork means higher profits, boosted sales and more time with their family.

Another point I want to stress this morning is that the Coalition will not change the current laws relating to the treatment of personal service income. We will resist the current Government’s attack on contractors since coming to power. Through inquiries into sham contracting, through ATO crackdowns through increased reporting requirements and through Fair Work inspectors, Labor has well and truly declared war on independent contractors and family enterprises and I want the independent contractors of Australia to understand that they have a friend in this Coalition.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s my happy task today to introduce our guest speaker Phillip Blond. Before I introduce Phillip, I should point out that political terminology can be quite confusing even in very similar societies. A few years ago as a new member of parliament I was lucky enough to be invited on a US information agency tour of the United States and the message went off to Washington that this Australian politician was coming, he was a very strong liberal and very anti-republican and so for most of my trip to America I was being introduced to communists. And even in the United Kingdom, the term ‘liberal’, until recently meant an anti-nuclear activist, an anti-development activist, basically these liberals in the United Kingdom were not so much the representatives of John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty guise but John Stuart Mill in his latter days when he became very much a collectivist. They certainly weren’t strong economy, strong society patriots. Nevertheless, there is now a United Kingdom Coalition Government, which unites the former British Liberal Party, now Liberal Democrats and the British Conservative Party, which we are very familiar with. One of the key thinkers behind the UK Coalition Government, one of the key thinkers behind David Cameron, the dynamic Tory leader who is now the Prime Minister of Britain has been our guest speaker today, Phillip Blond. Phillip has been perhaps the principal articulator of David Cameron’s big society concept which is a modern version if you like of the Burkean idea of the way that little platoons can fit into the big battalions of a sophisticated, modern society.

In welcoming Phillip Blond to the podium, I want to point out that he is not just a friend of Australia, but someone who has made good use of Australian produce. When I met Phillip in my office yesterday, I was delighted to see that so much has he taken Australia and Australian ways to heart that he had shunned the elegant footwear of London but was wearing RM Williams boots which he assures me, ladies and gentlemen, that he actually bought in the United Kingdom, which just goes to show that despite the policies of the current Government, the exports of our mighty economy continue to grow.

Would you please welcome Phillip Blond.

[ends]