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Transcript of address by the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard, MP, to the Braddon Community Afternoon Tea, Latrobe, Tasmania, 13 May 2005. \n

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13 May 2005


Subjects: Forest agreement, budget, tax cuts.


Well ladies and gentlemen can I thank Mark Baker, can I acknowledge my other parliamentary colleagues, Rene Hidding the leader of the Opposition in Tasmania, Senator Richard Colbeck, Senator Guy Barnett, Carol Humphries the State President of the Liberal Party and very importantly David Foster, world champion axeman and his wife Jan who of course are our hosts and owners of this magnificent venue.

I am for a very special reason delighted to be back in northern Tasmania because on the 6th of October at the Albert Hall in Launceston, I gave an address to the Timber Communities of Tasmania in which I delivered an undertaking that we would handle the forestry issue in a way that would not destroy their communities and would not destroy their jobs. And this morning with the Premier of Tasmania in the Styx valley I signed the agreement and made the announcement that delivered in full on that promise I made to the working men and women of the Timber Communities of Tasmania.

There is no doubt that that decision played a material part in Mark Baker’s magnificent victory in Braddon and also Michael Ferguson’s equally magnificent victory in Bass. Because the people of Australia had displayed to them the reality that when it came to protecting the livelihoods of working men and women the Coalition Government was the real friend of the workers of Australia and not the Labor Party.

And I made that decision because I have always believed that it is wrong to ask a small vulnerable section of the Australian community to carry the burden for a decision which the great majority of the community want. Everybody believes in caring for the environment of this country, everybody is at heart a conservationist, everybody believes in preserving to the maximum extent practicable our Old Growth Forests—nobody wants to destroy them. The idea that one side of politics wants to…probably not the right expression to use in a place like but I’ll say it anyway, wants to take an axe to the forests—my friends, that has always been nonsense. But you have to achieve a balance and it is possible to care for the environment and also preserve jobs and to build confidence in the future of an industry.

And as a result of the agreement that I have reached with the Tasmanian Government, 87 per cent of the Tarkine has been locked up, 53 per cent of the Styx, more than a million hectares put into reserve. All of the commitments that we made in that area last October have been delivered. But importantly it has not been at the cost of the jobs of timber workers or the livelihoods of timer communities. And I’m very proud to have been part of an arrangement… an agreement to have spearheaded an agreement that delivers that balanced outcome— because balanced outcomes are deliverable in so many areas in Australia and it’s always been the aim of my Government to try and achieve a balance. We are not a nation of extremists--we are a nation of reasonable men and women who want reasonable, sensible outcomes. We have a natural scepticism towards people who propose extremist solutions. And just as we are sceptical of people who have extreme political views, we should be sceptical of people who have extreme environmental views.

So for me this is a very symbolic and a very important visit. It signs and seals the agreement that gives total effect to the promises I made on behalf of my Government three days before the last election. It also brings me to the first time into the electorate of Braddon, once again held by a liberal colleague of mine. And I pay great tribute to the wisdom of the people of Braddon in electing Mark Baker as their member on the 9th of October last year. I don’t say that out of any personal denigration of the person he replaced. I simply say it in positively extolling his hard work, his commitment to the people of this electorate that he’s already demonstrated, and his willingness… Tip O’Neill who was for many years the Democratic Party Speaker of the House of Representatives coined a phrase that echoes for all of us, when he said that all politics was local—and particularly in provincial seats in regional seats around Australia, the quality and application of the local member is of tremendous importance. And Mark has demonstrated that in the seven short months that he has been your local member. His knowledge of the electorate, his willingness to argue and advocate causes that he spoke earlier of, a number of the things that he’s done—he’s impressed all of his colleagues with his quiet and energetic commitment to the people of Braddon. I also want to acknowledge the magnificent job that the two Senators, who are present here today are doing on behalf of the people of Tasmania and on behalf of the Liberal Party.

My friends Australia remains strong and optimistic about her future. The Budget delivered by the Treasurer last Tuesday night was a Budget of a successful country, of a confident country, of a country that was willing to provide for its future, a county that had paid off more debt and was in a sounder physical position than any comparable western country anywhere in the world. We were able not only to provide for the long-term needs of an ageing population but we were also able to tackle some of the current welfare challenges. The unfortunate reality that whereas 10 years ago this country was short of jobs, it is now in 2005, short of workers. And we need in fact to find ways and means of increasing the workforce participation of people who are now not in the workforce.

We were able to inject a little more incentive into the taxation system and if Mr Beazley gets out of the way, all Australians can have their tax cuts on the 1st of July 2005. We need a taxation system that is fair, we also need a taxation system that provides people with incentive and once again it’s a question of achieving a balance. We have a progressive taxation system and that means that if your income is high, you pay a lot more tax and if your income is lower, you don’t pay as much tax—that’s what a progressive taxation system is all about and it stands therefore to reason that if tax is cut in dollar terms, somebody on a higher income gets a bigger tax cut because they’re paying more tax in the first place—I mean it’s as simple as that. I mean it’s a matter of logic and this attempt by Mr Beazley to whip up old fashioned, class politics. I mean he’s been blown out of the water by one of the most eminent


trade union leaders in Australia—Bill Shorten, who runs the AWU. Bill Shorten wrote before the Budget that what had to happen was that we had to reduce the thresholds at which the top marginal tax rates applied and that’s what we did. And then he said oh no I didn’t mean that—I mean he did mean it because he said it and he wrote it down and I quoted it and he can’t run away from it. But he’s right because there are thousands upon thousands of skilled tradesmen in Australia who are earning wages that are pushing them into high tax brackets and they are as desirous of taxation relief and having more incentive in the tax system as anybody else. And the rather, sort of convoluted attempt by Mr Beazley to construct an alternative—I mean the reality is that Governments propose tax changes. If the Labor Party wins an election, the Labor Party can propose their taxation plans. But in the meantime they should get out of the way and let the Australian people have their tax relief.

But this country’s greatest strength I believe is the regard and the repute in which it is held around the world. And Australia is respected and well regarded around the world because Australia is a strong country. Australia is a country that has clear, unambiguous positions on issues that are important on the international scene. The rest of the world knows where Australia stands, the rest of the world knows that Australia is an open democracy, the rest of the world knows that Australia will stand up for what is right, even though it may not be popular and that Australia will take a strong stand to help others who are in need. And we have demonstrated especially over the last few years in our own region, a willingness to stand up for those things that we believe are right, a willingness and a capacity because of our economic strength to come to the assistance of those countries in our region that are in need of assistance. And I have found in the times that I’ve travelled around the world in recent years, a growing awareness of this country, a realisation that it’s a successful, strong, prosperous and progressive nation. And the principle reason for that is is not the people who maybe leading it at any particular time but the principle reason for that, of course is the quality of the Australian people. And the obligation of any Government of any Prime Minister is to so set the climate for this country, that the very best qualities of the Australian people will be encouraged. And they are qualities of fairness and decency, of hard work, of egalitarianism, of a willingness to have a go and adaptability and a capacity to adjust to circumstances as they change, and a growing pride in the history and the achievements of this country. And in recent times I’ve had no prouder experience than I did, when along with about 15,000 or 18,000 other Australians I participated in the 90th anniversary commemoration of the landing at Gallipoli, only last month. And to see the commitment and the passion and the interest of the young of Australia in that sad but long remembered chapter in Australian history, was to remind you that everything that we would want to be, part of the spirit of the younger generation of Australia is well and truly there. And that the young of Australia are proud of what this country has achieved, they want to know more about it and they have a burning commitment to do their part and to do their best to make this country an even stronger and a better nation and even more respected around the world.

My friends there is a lot that we can be proud of as a Government and as a political movement. We have the lowest unemployment rate in this country now for 30 years, we’ve paid off our debts, we have low inflation, we have strong business investment, we have low interest rates. And at midday today we got some more Medicare figures, which indicated that there had been a further rise in the levels of bulk billing around Australia—a response to the policies that Tony Abbott introduced in the Medicare system last year. And no state has benefited more from those increases, than the state of Tasmania, where it’s my understanding that the level of bulk billing since those changes has risen by something in the order of 10 percent, and that’s the result of very deliberate policies on the part of the Government to recognise some particular difficulties that operated in the state of Tasmania.


My friends I’m very proud of my team in Canberra, I’m very proud of my Tasmanian colleagues, I’m delighted that the spirit and the strength of purpose and economic activity of Tasmania has lifted so much in recent years. In the 30 or more years that I’ve been in public life, I have not encountered as much optimism in Tasmania and so much confidence in the future as I have over recent years. And I know that it’s always the want of State Governments to claim the credit for that—I mean when the national economy’s doing badly, it’s Howard’s fault and when the national economy is doing well—well it’s all the good work of the local State Governments. Well both of those propositions can’t be right and without wanting to bag anybody in particular, let me modestly say, I hope nothing has been more important to Peter Costello and to me and to John Anderson over the last nine years, than to build and to strengthen the Australian economy. When we came to office we had a national debt of $96 billion dollars and Peter reported to the country last Tuesday night that that had fallen to $6 billion dollars. We had an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, yesterday it’s 5.1 percent, we had interest rates on housing mortgages of well over 10 percent, now they are at least three percentage points lower. In the 13 years that the former Government was in office, real wages rose by 1.2 percent, in the nine years that we’ve been in office, they’ve risen by 14.1 percent. I’m very proud of the fact that we have proved to be a better friend of the workers of Australia than have our political opponents.

Now all of these things I suppose are just an aggregate of statistics but they translate into the reality that opportunities are greater, employment is more plentiful, business rewards are greater, comensurate with the effort that is put in. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have major problems, we are an ageing population, that’s a common fate of all western countries and we must prepare for the ageing of the population. We must make sure that our health system, our pharmaceutical benefits system, those things are sustainable. We are a nation that is incredibly dry; we therefore must recognise that the great conservation challenge of the age is water. We’re a country that must be able not only to defend itself but also to participate with our friends and allies in defending causes and the values that believe in, in different parts of the world. So nobody should imagine that the success of the last few years blinds me or any of the colleagues to the reality of the challenges we face, the deficiencies that still exist in public policy and the need to maintain the momentum of reform.

We announced a number of major reforms in the welfare system in the Budget on Tuesday night and before long I’ll be outlining further reforms to Australia’s industrial relations system—designed not to deny people the right to join a union, not to deny unions the right to collectively bargain on behalf of their members if that is the wish of their members, but to entrench greater flexibility in the system, to ensure that people have a right to choose, fully, the type of arrangement that governs the relationship they have with their employer—without the interference of third parties, unless that is their wish. And also to recognise that we are a national economy, we are not eight separate economies. The Tasmanian economy is dependent upon the economies of other parts of Australia, it is completely interlinked with the rest of Australia. And increasingly we must seek national solutions to many of the economic challenges that we have.

My friends finally could I thank you all for coming to give me an opportunity of meeting you, to show your support for Mark Baker, but most importantly of all, to remind me of the great importance throughout Australia of strong local communities. Strong local communities are the heart and soul of the country and as I’ve moved around here this afternoon, I’ve realised as I realise at all gatherings like this, wherever they are held, that the greatest strength this country has is the sense of voluntary commitment and the sense of local commitment to the future and the welfare of the Australian community. It’s a great honour for me to be here this afternoon and thank you—all of you for coming along.



Thank you.