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Liberal Party Qld division state convention: address



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10 June 2001

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP ADDRESS TO THE LIBERAL PARTY QLD DIVISION STATE CONVENTION, BRISBANE

Subjects: achievements of the Coalition Government; Labor Party; new taxation system; defence; environment; health care; education; social security.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

Thank you very much Bob for that warm welcome. Can I first of all congratulate John Herron on his assumption of the presidency of the Queensland division. Can I wish him well and can I thank him for the commitment he makes in taking over the helm of the division at a very important time in its history. Can I also record my personal thanks and the thanks of the federal parliamentary party to Con Galtos for the tireless energy, the great commitment and the great personal devotion that he’s displayed towards the Liberal Party in the time that he’s been president and also in the years earlier.

There is a big task ahead of rebuilding the Liberal Party, both at a state level and organisationally here in Queensland. But the rewards are enormous, the incentive is real, and if people work together in harmony and unity I have no doubt as to what the outcome will be. At a federal level much is at stake here in Queensland. We hold a large number of seats, all with impressive sitting members, very impressive. Well that’s got the front row on side. But there are also one or two seats held by Labor that I would like to see won back. Seats, without being in any way exhaustive in my list, seats like Dickson. That got a few more rows on side. And Capricornia, and so the list goes on. But this state, and yes I’ll go through the whole list,

Lilley and Bowman and Griffith and Brisbane and the whole lot. But ladies and gentlemen, this is a very important state, you’ll all agree with that, it’s a very important state in every sense of the word. It’s important to Australia economically, it’s important to us politically, and of course it’s also very important to the membership of the Wallabies team that represents Australia so very magnificently. I’ll stay away from the game that I’m going to watch tonight in Sydney, as Prime Minister I am strictly neutral in the State of Origin.

But ladies and gentlemen there is a huge task in front of us. And that task goes beyond our responsibilities as Liberals, it goes very much to the heart of our responsibilities as members of the Australian community. We have come a long way in the last five years. This country is stronger, it’s more widely respected around the world, it is more at peace with itself, and its economy is more soundly based than what it was five years ago when we came to office.

We have done so much together and we have not been content merely to rest in the political luxury of being in government. We have not sought to adopt a steady as you go, don’t do anything in case you might offend somebody attitude towards government. We have taken the view that you only have the opportunity once in your lifetime to be part of the government of this country and you have to seize the moment and seize that opportunity to try and make a difference, to try and make changes for the better. And that is what we have done. And over the last five years or more our constant goal in every area has been to secure Australia’s future. To deliver a more secure future for all of our citizens. And where ever you roam in the policy areas of the Federal Government you find that that has been our constant touch stone. If you look in the area of our economic record it is a truly magnificent period of economic strengthening ,change, and reform. When we became the government of Australia, the accumulated Federal Government debt of this country was $96 billion. By July of next year when the budget handed down by Peter Costello a few weeks has worked its way through, we will have repaid $58 billion out of that $96 billion of government debt.

There are two things I’d say about that repayment of debt. It’s all been achieved in the face of unremitting opposition from the Australian Labor Party. I mean it’s a remarkable achievement of political malfeasance to leave the $96 billion in the first place, but then to spend all of your waking hours in Opposition to try and stop it being paid back is truly extraordinary. As a result of repaying that debt, we now have $4 billion a year more to invest in the future of Australia. People often wonder what all this repayment of debt means in practice.What it means is we’re not paying as much interest, and when you’re not paying as much interest on debt as every one of you knows you can spend it something else. And we’ve been able to spend it on investment in important areas such as defence, tackling the problems of the environment, road funding, health, education, the list goes on. We’ve also been able to devote some of it to reducing the personal taxation burden.

We’ve not only reduced that debt, we’ve now had our fifth successive budget surplus. We have the lowest interest rates in 30 years. 30 years ago you have to go back in order to find interest rates we now have. $300 a month less is being paid on the average mortgage in Australia now than was the case in March of 1996. We’ve reformed our workplace relations, we’ve reformed the waterfront. People said that could never be done, people said no government would have the guts to tackle reform of the Australian waterfront. And that has been true for 30 or 40 years of governments of both political persuasions. But in 1998 our government tackled it. And as a result we now have productivity levels on the Australian waterfront that were undreamt of only a few years ago. And that is working greatly to the credit and to the advantage of our exporters. As a result of our industrial relations reforms we have lifted the productivity of the Australian workforce. Australian workers are better paid

under the Liberal Government than they were under 13 years of Labor Government’s. One of the things of which I’m immensely proud ladies and gentlemen is that it’s been the Coalition Government that has put more money, more disposal income, into the pockets of ordinary Australian workers than did Labor. Not only did interest rates rob the real value of wages under Labor Governments, but because of their approach to industrial relations you actually saw a fall in real wages under Labor, whereas a result of the higher productivity under our government you’ve seen a rise in real wages over the last five years.

After 25 years of people thinking about the need to reform the Australian taxation system, and 25 years of government’s not having the courage to reform the Australian taxation system, the government I lead introduced from the beginning of last year the biggest taxation reform this country has seen since the end of World War II. Now that change has done a number of things. It’s lead to a significant lowering in the personal tax burden. It’s provided with the states of Australia, to the states of Australia, a revenue base for the future that they would never have dreamt imaginable under the old system. I had a Premier’s Conference in Canberra on Friday, they now call it this complicated thing called COAG, I still call it a Premier’s Conference because everybody can understand what a Premier’s Conference is. But it was a Premier’s Conference with a difference. And the difference was that there wasn’t anymore an undignified brawl about money. I’ve been to probably 13 or 14 or more Premiers’ Conferences, either as a Treasurer or as a Prime Minister in the 27 years that I’ve been in parliament, and this was different. This was a sign of the new era in Commonwealth/State financial relations. And can I assure you ladies and gentlemen that no matter what they may have said on the way in or the way out, or what they might say in the future, not one State Premier complained to me about the Goods and Services Tax. They know the truth of that old saying, you never look a gift horse in the mouth. And if ever there’s been a taxation gift horse to the states of Australia, it’s been the Goods and Services Tax. And the state that will benefit the most and the first is the state of Queensland. Because of the GST no Federal Government has treated a state better than this Federal Government has treated the state of Queensland. Because Queensland will be the first state to find that under the GST it will be better off and increasingly better off than it would have been under a continuation of the old Keating financial formula.

And we have therefore seen in the last week a very significant transformation in the debate about the GST and about the debate in taxation in Australia. When you introduce a new taxation system you have to accept that there will be some transitional challenges, that there will be criticisms, and that there’ll be some need for fine tuning. And there’ll be some administrative mistakes made along the way. And all of those things happened, and I acknowledge that. And we’ve set about responding to people’s areas of concern. And when the GST was first introduced and the personal tax cuts began to flow there was very strong support. And as a few months went by and there was some difficulties emerge in relation to the Business Activity Statement there was some criticism. And then when we had those bad December quarter figures three months ago the Labor Party leapt on those figures with glee. Their goal had always been to surf to victory on the back of public discontent with our taxation reforms. It had always been the Labor Party’s belief that we could do the heavy lifting, ‘leave the reforms to the Liberal’s, we’ll hope there’ll be a bit of unpopularity as a result, we’ll get into office and we’ll take the benefit’. That’s always been the Labor way. Leave the policy heavy lifting to the Liberals, let them do the hard work to get the economy in order, then we get into government and take the advantage of a strong economy and a growing revenue base as a result of the tax reforms. Well it’s our job ladies and gentlemen to deny them that opportunist benefit. The faces of Mr Beazley and Mr Crean and all their other

colleagues on the frontbench of the Opposition in Canberra were a study itself on Wednesday after the March quarter National Accounts had come out. All their fondest hopes lay in ruins. They’d been talking the Australian economy down for at least three months, and indeed months and months earlier. Kim Beazley told his caucus in December 1999 when he was asked about policies, he said we don’t need policies we’re going to surf to victory off the back of GST discontent. Well you began to see my friends last Wednesday the really serious unravelling of that. Because what the accounts last Wednesday demonstrated, and the figures that came out the following day which showed that we had the lowest Current Account Deficit since 1981, the lowest Current Account Deficit since 1981, the figures that came out demonstrated very clearly that the downturn in December had indeed as Peter Costello said at the time had been an aberration caused by some one-off factors which had not recurred. And you saw an economy coming back very strongly, you saw the Australian people saying to the doomsayers and the pessimists that we can embrace taxation change, we might communicate some of our discontent about the detail, but we know in the long run it is good for the country’s future, and what is good for Australia is good for us. And that fundamentally represents a very very significant and a very important change in the debate that is going on within our community, not only about taxation but about economic management.

You cannot be a strong effective government in the area of economic management, you cannot manage a modern economy in a globalised world economy without having the courage to undertake necessary change and reform. And you cannot change and reform something as fundamental as a taxation system without there being some transitional difficulties.

So ladies and gentlemen I’m extremely proud of the fact that the Australian community shrugged off the pessimism and the doomsday talk of the Labor Party and many in the media and have worked their way through some of these transitional difficulties and we now see a return of the very strong economic growth that this country has enjoyed over the last five years. We see rising activity in the home building industry. We see a very strong export performance. We see better prices and better conditions in the bush than we have seen for probably 10 years. And don’t they deserve it? They have suffered appalling economic conditions, great seasonal difficulties,the distortion, indeed the perversion of commodity prices because of the corrupt trading practices of the Europeans and many others in world agricultural markets. And if ever there’s a group of men and women in Australia who deserve a break it’s the rural people of Australia and I’m very pleased the things are…I’m very pleased that things are coming together so that they are beginning to have a little more good fortune.

But my friends it’s not only in the area of economic management that this government has worked to secure Australia’s future. In the area of defence and foreign affairs this government from the day it took over set out to rebalance our foreign relations. We regard our relations with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region as first and foremost and clearly the most important of all our international relationships. But we don’t have a relationship with the region to the exclusion of our relationship with the peoples and the nations of Europe and North America. And it’s important that any Australian government adopt a balanced approach to our international relationships. In producing as we did at the end of last year a White Paper on Australia’s future defence needs, this government gave not only to the defence community but also to the broader Australian community after a process of detailed consultation, we gave the clearest blueprint that any government has provided for the last 25 years. And we’ve not only provided a clear blueprint but we have also dedicated the money in rising amounts over the next 10 years to fund a stronger defence commitment by the Australian government on behalf of the Australian people. And I take the opportunity in talking of the White Paper to record my gratitude to the former Defence Minister John Moore of the tremendous work that

he put into the preparation of the White Paper. It does represent a very important document in the history of the past five years, not only so far as defence is concerned but the capacity of this government to provide for a more secure future. Because although the Cold War is long since behind us, and although the great ideological divides of the past are no more internationally, we do as every knows live in a very turbulent region where there is much uncertainty, as illustrated by the action that was taken to defend and protect the people of East Timor a little over a year ago.

We moved to areas such as the environment, and this government has pursued policies that are for the long term protection of Australia’s environment. When we came to office we invested a billion dollars out of the partial sale of Telstra in the Natural Heritage Trust. It’s been a remarkable programme of providing support at the grass roots level for so many environmental programmes. And in the last budget we announced that we’d be continuing that programme over a five year period and investing a further $1 billion. I announced last year that we would join the states in investing $1.4 billion, if the states come to the party on a dollar for dollar basis, investing $1.4 billion in beginning to tackle the huge problem of salinity and water quality within the Australia community. It’s a sobering thought that if we don’t do something about this problem, in 20 years time the people of Adelaide won’t have fit water to drink in two out of five days. Now that is long term environmental challenge. They’re the sorts of things governments should be focusing on. They shouldn’t be focusing on high profile, short term faddish demonstrations of a commitment to the environment. They should be focusing on such things as salinity, of water quality, of revegetation, of oceans policy, of cleaning up our rivers and of tackling in a way that doesn’t compromise industry or Australian jobs the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions.

We move onto ares such as health and education. We hear a lot about health and education from the Labor Party. In other words we hear the words, I mean it’s a bit like this thing called Knowledge Nation, it’s a mantra, it’s not a policy. Health and education, the Labor Party says oh we’re interested in health and education, so is everybody in this room. There’s nothing we’re more interested in than our health and the health of our families and the health of our friends. And over the last five years we have worked mightily across a whole range of areas to strengthen health provision within the Australian community.

When I became Prime Minister private health insurance was dying in this country. We were down to about 31% of people belonging to private health insurance. And as a result of our policies that figure has risen to the staggering level of almost 45%. And it happened because we did what you’ve always got to do to change behaviour, we provided people with an incentive to change their behaviour. We provided people with a tax break, we provided people with the incentives comprised in life time health cover and as a result of those two measures we’ve seen millions of Australians either return to or take out private health insurance in circumstances were they might not have otherwise done so.

We hear a lot from the Labor Party and from Labor Premiers about the funding of public hospitals. And I know the circumstances relating to this vary from state to state. But public hospitals are owned and operated by the state governments of Australia. They are not owned, operated or controlled by the Federal Government. But despite that we provide, successive Federal Governments have provided large funds under the Medicare arrangements to help the funding of state hospitals. And under the most recent health care agreement there will be a 28% increase in real terms, 28% increase over and above inflation in real terms over the next five years of Federal money flowing to state hospitals. As a result of the incentives we’ve provided that have got people back into private health insurance we are taking some of the

load off the public hospitals of the state system. So don’t let me hear any Premier coming to me saying we need more money for state hospitals, we’ve provided 28% more in real terms, we’ve taken the load off state hospitals by getting more people back into private health insurance. I know that this country’s health system could be better. No health system anywhere in the world is perfect. Let me say that we have a responsibility not to denigrate it unreasonably because when you go around the world, with all it’s faults, the Australian health system with it’s combination of public and private provision is infinitely better than the health system of any other comparable country. If you’re a battler, don’t get sick in the United States or the United Kingdom. It is infinitely better to be cared for in this country and the health provision in this country is infinitely better than you will find in any other comparable country in the world.

And two other areas I’ll mentioned very briefly, because it’s important not to see the achievements of this Government as simply being in the area of economic management, impressive though those achievements are. But in education we’ve not only put $3 billion, the biggest investment made by any Government in the area of science and technology and innovation. We have actually put down our policies for the intellectual future of Australia. We have committed ourselves to additional spending on research, we’re going to double the spending on health and medical research in Australia over the next four years. We’re going to double the funding of Australian research grants. We’re going to provide thousands upon thousands of more opportunities for post graduate students in Australia. We’re going to fund the establishment of two world class centres of excellence in Australia. One dealing with information technology and the other dealing with bio-technology. We’re going to attract many of the best and the brightest back to this country to attractive programs. And I announced all of that in January of this year and it’s received a very enthusiastic reaction from the education and scientific community. But importantly at the grass roots level of school education, this Government has done two very important things. It’s stood up for the importance of the basics like literacy and numeracy. It has said that a school education system that does not produce numerate and literate Australians is a school education system that is not serving the country well. And although the direct responsibility for schools lies with the states, we work very hard through our federal programs to boost the importance of literacy and numeracy within the school education program. And we make no apology at all for the policies that we have adopted in relation to providing Australian parents with the full range of choices as to the schools they send their children to. We believe it is the fundamental right of every Australian parent to decide what type of education their child should receive and where their child should receive that education. And the politics of envy being played by Mr Beazley on this issue of private schools is the thin end of the wedge for an attack by the education unions on the role of independent schools within Australian society.

And finally in the area of social security, despite all the predictions that we would be a hard hearted indifferent government to the disadvantaged within the Australian community we have maintained and strengthened the social security safety net. We’ve improved the pension, we’ve linked it for the first time to a percentage of average weekly earnings of the rest of the community. We’ve made certain with the compensation arrangements that people were not only compensated for the impact of the goods and services tax, but in fact delivered a real increase of at least 2% in the value of pensions generally. We’ve respected and introduced the principal of mutual obligation. A principal that says that a humane society has an obligation to look after the disadvantaged and those who can’t look after themselves but it also has a right to say to people who get the help of others that if you are able to do so you should put something back to your community in return. Work for the Dole is an expression of that

principle. It’s a program that would clearly go under a Labor Government despite what they might now say to the contrary. Their colleagues in New Zealand abandoned it a few days ago and I’m certain as I am of anything in politics that if Labor wins at the end of this year, one of the things that it will do is scrap Work for the Dole because the unions do not like it.

Ladies and Gentlemen they are some of the things that we have sought to do over the last five years and all of those have been directed towards one thing. And that is providing a more secure future for Australia and for the people of Australia. As we look ahead we face a great political battle. It’s always hard to win a third time because it’s so easy for our opponents to run a negative campaign. And we face an opposition that after five years has produced no policy alternatives. We face an opposition that runs entirely on the politics of negativity. It is a party of total opportunism. When the good national account figures came out on Wednesday the Labor Party tried to run the line that our national savings were being run down. And they said oh look at this tiny figure here in the accounts which says that this particular measure of savings is lower than it was earlier. They completely neglected all the other measures. And particularly the measure that said that aggregate national savings had increased and not fallen in the five years that we’d been in Government. I mean it’s a very very strange thing that you now hear Mr Beazley and Mr Crean weeping tears over national savings.They weren’t doing that when they were running up $96 billion of Government debt. They weren’t doing that… they weren’t doing that when they ran five successive budget deficits when Mr Beazley was the Finance Minister. He wasn’t a distant bit player, he was right there in the middle of the engine room when this country ran into debt to the tune of $96 billion, a debt burden on future generations which if this government had not had the courage to tackle would now see this country with a lower standard of living, with higher inflation, higher interest rates and fewer bright prospects for the future.

So we will face at the end of the year a choice. A choice between a government that has sought on every occasion and on every issue to secure Australia’s future. A government that believes in a society that should give people a number of things. Liberal’s believe in a society that gives people incentive, we believe in a society that gives people choice about how they lead their own lives. We also believe in a society that encourages self-reliance, a society without self-reliance is a society which is doomed to decline. So those three great things of incentive and choice and self-reliance are great Liberal principles.

We are also a party that believes in caring for the disadvantaged. We’re not a party that says if you can’t make it too bad, we’re a party that says you should try to make it and if through no fault of your own you need a bit of help we’ll give a helping hand. That’s always been the Australian way and it’s always been the Liberal way. We face as an alternative a group of men and women who when they last had management of this country not only gave us $96 billion of government debt but they drove unemployment to a post-depression high of 11.2%. They gave us housing interest rates at 17%. And farmers had to pay bill rates of 21 and 22 and 23%. They gave us a society that was governed root and branch by the dictates of trade union power and trade union officials. And don’t imagine that that would be different if they win again. In fact the membership of the frontbench of the Labor Party is even more replete now with former union officials than what it was during the Whitlam and Hawke years.

We do face a choice, we face a choice of continuing with a government that has sought at every turn to secure this country’s future. A government that is committed to those great Liberal principles I enunciated, or returning to a government that when they were last in office demonstrated a monumental incapacity to manage the Australian economy. Demonstrated an almost manic desire to serve and placate every interest group in the Australian community

according to the volume of noise that that interest group produced on a given issue. When we said in 1996 that we were going to govern for all of us, it was no mean commitment. It was a statement of a philosophy, it was a statement of a value system, it was a statement of Liberal belief about the kind of society we are. Of the many great things we can say about Australia as a society, none is more important than that treasured commodity of egalitarianship, egalitarianism, some would even call it mateship. And it’s a great quality. It’s a quality that says that everybody has a right to aspire and to achieve what the best that his or her talents will allow him to achieve. That we live in a society where if you give people incentive, you give them choice and you encourage them to be self-reliant and they can achieve whatever their dreams, wherever their dreams will take them.

And we have sought to govern for all Australians. And in the process we may have offended some interest groups, but I don’t believe we have offended the broad national interest. We have secured the broad national interest, we seek your support and your help and your commitment whenever the day comes to make sure that we can continue that great task for the future benefit of all Australians.

Thank you.

[ends]

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