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"75 Years Young and To The Polls": speech by Tim Fischer, MP to the Federal Conference of the National Party: Lakeside Hotel, Canberra: 10 September 1995.



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Federal Conference Speech. by

Tim Fischer, Federal Leader of the National Party

"75 Years Young and To The Polls"

Lakeside Hotel, Canberra Sunday 10 September 1995

Federal President, John Paterson, State Presidents, Women's Federal Council President Di Nesbitt, Young Nationals President Meredith Mackenzie, Parliamentarians both State and Federal, delegates, ladies and gentlemen. It is with pride and a great deal of pleasure that I stand here delivering the leader's address, in this our 75th year as a federal parliamentary party. We are coming to the end of a year of celebration and it would be a great culmination if we were to end the year with the defeat of our arrogant part-time Prime Minister and a clear-cut Coalition election victory. I welcome and thank delegates helping us to build winning momentum, and I acknowledge the absence because of tough times and drought of some key delegates. On Friday in his key conference opening speech John Paterson covered the 75 years of party activities including the role of former Prime Ministers Page, Fadden and McEwen, who all clashed with Billy Hughes. Billy Hughes described the party as "hayseeds", as "country bumpkins", and as "non entities". Significantly, such derision of the Country Party has been described by the Australian historian, Manning Clark, as the greatest mistake of Billy Hughes' political life. Mind you, the style of Hughes in terms of derision, of insult - and of taking our party too lightly - has been echoed by a more recent Prime Minister. And that Prime Minister - the present arrogant and part-time Prime Minister - I am confident is making exactly the same mistake. There is a lesson here for those who underestimate the National Party. We have been written off by academics, by social commentators and by journalists, year after year, but here we are, in 1995, celebrating our 75th year. Moreover, we celebrate as a most cohesive and consistent political party in the nineteen nineties. In Victoria and Western Australia we are the cement in vigorous Coalition Governments. This year in the New South Wales and Queensland State elections the Nationals performed very well against the odds. Federally, we won two new seats and a new Senate position at the 1993 election in spite of a general trend against the Coalition: the only party to increase its representation in both houses in that election. Our challenge now is to go one step better and convert those swings into government at the next the next federal election - Keating out of the Lodge, John Howard into the lodge, and the Coalition government getting Australia back on the rails. I am confident that the National Party is poised to make that one extra step into federal Coalition government, because I am sure of the conviction and the drive which exists within this party - and because I am sure that the feeling of ordinary Australians is firmly in our favour

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My first speech as leader was to the Victorian branch at Mildura. The theme of that speech was "back to the bush" and I announced the commencement of an outreach program, which has taken me to every part of Australia in the past five years, and has given me the opportunity to listen to thousands of Australians about their hopes, fears, and dreams. One message above all has come from that outreach. It is a message that has grown stronger with every extra month of Labor Government. So many ordinary Australians feel they are battling as hard as they can but not making progress. And if they do stop to catch a breath, they fall behind. That is a dreadful reflection on this Labor Government, but it is true enough. Let me illustrate by taking a second look at the Australia 2010 programme which the Business Council of Australia put forward two years ago, and particularly at the four economic targets the council identified. These were to put Australia in the top 10 countries as defined by per capita income; To get unemployment to less than 5pc, and keep it there; Contain net foreign debt; and Achieve a strong level of investment. This looks like a modest enough set of aims for a developed country in the 1990s. But think for a while. The country that the Business Council wants Australia to be, pretty much describes Australia at the turn of this century, and in the Menzies/McEwen years. But sadly, not Australia today. What went wrong with this country in the past 25 years? Well, let me point out to you that for 15 of those 25 years we have had Labor Federal Governments and for the last half of that 25 years - for nearly 13 grinding years - we have suffered a Labor Government without respite. That's what has gone wrong with this country. Ladies and gentlemen, paul Keating looks at Labor's record and boasts of driving change forward. I look at Labor's record and I condemn him for holding our country back! Labor has not uplifted our country; it has driven us down. Let me briefly review Labor's record - and in doing so I speak particularly to the working men and women who in the past have been the backbone of Labor's support, but who have had to shoulder most of the back-breaking burden of Labor's unlucky 13 years in government. Since 1983, poverty in Australia has gone up 14pc under a so-called Labor Government. In the past decade the top 10pc of Australians have taken more of the nation's disposable income than ever before. The number of families who are unemployed or welfare dependant rose by 50pc from 1989 to 1993, and has only marginally reduced since then. Unemployment reached unprecedented levels and remains stuck at more than 8pc with youth unemployment at 28pc - that's one kid in four who can't find a job. And we wonder why they are losing hope and enthusiasm? In the last financial year, Labor increased taxation across the board by a whopping 10.3pc and they’re about to slap another 9.3pc on top of that. And think about this, when Labor came to power foreign debt stood at $23 billion - it is now $180 billion. A more than seven fold increase! Under Labor Australia now has the worst current account deficit in the industrialised world! I digress at this point to bring to you a surprise, and to launch the magnificent McEwen house black book which details Labor's record and shows that the task facing an incoming

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Coalition Government will be immense. Keating's infamous quote "This is as good as it ever gets" dominates the black book. In terms of the task ahead, let me take this opportunity to deliver a message to those who have historically voted for the Labor party and, through them, to the leaders of the Labour Movement in Australia. I ask all Australians to listen carefully when leaders of the Labour Movement address the possibility of a Coalition Government in terms that are close to a naked threat, close to political blackmail. They seem to be saying they will deliberately create a wages and industrial disputation breakout for the express purpose of driving the Coalition out of government by making its economic policy unworkable. I must ask those labour leaders if they really mean this? Are they really prepared to cynically and cruelly drive down the living standards of all Australians purely for political purposes? Is this what politics-driven policy making finally comes down to? So I say to traditional Labor voters, remember that the National Party is fundamentally a party of working people. Remember that the seats we hold have the lowest average weekly earnings of any in the country. Remember that our aim is to lift the living standards of all Australians. And to leaders of the Labour Movement I say this: while I do not expect to be the Minister for Industrial Relations, I do expect to be Deputy Prime Minister. In that regard I extend an open invitation to the leadership of the Labour Movement. No matter what difficulties you might be having from time to time, my door will be open to you because I want all Australians to be better off, regardless of the partisan nature of politics. I might add, both Peter Reith and I have separately met with the ACTU executive, and whatever the rhetoric, no doubt we will continue to do so. Ladies and gentlemen this is a Government and a country which is suffering the stagnation of political correctness. It is a Government which has kowtowed to sectional interest groups to an extent that is little short of social engineering, and follows a decision process which puts political effect ahead of effective policy. This is a Government that puts process ahead of performance, and power ahead of everything else. And it is the country - all of us in this country - who suffer the consequences, or rather lack of them. A classic example is the Native Title Act which the Government introduced with such fanfare as its answer to the challenges presented by the Mabo judgement in the High Court. This was the centrepiece of the Government's reconciliation process, the instrument by which we would correct the political wrongs of the past - real or imagined - visited on Aboriginal people. Well, what has it achieved? Nothing. No, I take that back ladies and gentlemen, the Native Title act has achieved something. Remember the cynical joke of the time that Mabo stood for Money Available, Barristers Only? Well, what the Native Title Act has achieved is to make that joke the unfortunate reality. In eighteen months of activity, the Native Title Tribunal set up to administer this Act has received 100 applications for land claims from Aborigines and Aboriginal groups. It has not granted a single one. Not one. Not one Aborigine has gained title over a single acre of land from this so-called centrepiece of reconciliation. It has given Aborigines nothing but it has cost us, I have no doubt, millions of dollars already, with millions more to go.

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On a similar aspect of policy, I note the call from the political agenda-setters to set aside seats in Federal Parliament specially for Aborigines. To Australians of Aboriginal heritage I say: have your say in mainstream politics where it counts. Don’t allow yourselves to be patronised by Labor’s tokenism. The future lies in treating all Australians the same, not differently - no tokenism, no meaningless promises, and absolutely no prejudice. Labor's disease of politically correct stagnation not only affects social policy. Major economic policy suffers as well. Most of us are only too familiar with the raft of programmes that Labor has introduced to address the massive unemployment problem which Labor itself created in the 1980s. And most are familiar with the Minister for Employment's endless boasting about the number of jobs he says the Government has created. Let me give you a different and revealing - and I maintain more accurate - perspective on Labor's performance in this area. When Paul Keating won the last election there were some 921,000 Australians on unemployment benefit. That's the Department of Social Security's official figure on how many people were actually on allowances. Today that figure remains over 900,000 despite the millions spent. Let me add one more example to this sorry saga of stagnation under Labor - the continuing lack of competitiveness on Australia’s export front line , the waterfront. According to the latest benchmarking study from the Bureau of Industry Economics, Australia’s bulk commodity ports are starting to match the rest of the world but our container ports - the ports that handle the processed goods that we have pinned our future on - are falling further and further behind despite nearly 10 years of Labor’s so-called reform. The BIE found that on those container wharves, charges are consistently higher than many of our competitors, crane rates are falling and are 25 to 50pc behind the best overseas ports, and lack of reliability adds one to four days to a typical voyage and is adding something between 3.5pc and 7.5pc to freight rates. And then of course we have the high farce of the privatisation of ANL which has been on and off more times than a dress at a fashion show since it was proposed four years ago. In that time it has been the subject of seven reports and inquiries, its value has varied from $170 million to less than nothing, its board has been summarily sacked, and it has caused a week-long $55 million wharf strike. Four years on and at a conservative cost of about $100 million to the nation, and where are we? Back where we started. That's what Labor calls progress. So when you hear the Prime Minister trying to sell superannuation as his next master plan, dangling the promise of a super cheque worth nearly half-a-million-dollars, just remember Labor's record on grand plans and reform. Remember this plan is all about a mythical cheque in the mail - and I doubt if one person at this gathering will qualify for it. I am proud to say that the way of the Labor party has never been the National Party way. We have never been politically correct and we should wear our political incorrectness as a badge of pride. We are a party of people who have had dirt on our hands. We understand blue collar people because that's where we've come from. We understand rural and regional Australia because that is also where we've come from. Every Federal Parliamentarian of the National Party is someone who has lived and worked

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in rural and regional Australia. That’s why we’re in touch, that’s why we have common sense, and that's why we are anything but politically correct. We know that Government is about performance, not personalities. And today as leader of your party I give you my absolute undertaking that the National Party rejects the cult of personality politics that under Labor has dragged our national Parliament into such disrepute. The personal attacks and personal invective that increasingly characterise Labor's Parliaments is a disgrace. Is it any wonder Australians lose faith in their politicians when the Government in the national Parliament orchestrates what can only be described as the verbal equivalent of a bar-room brawl? In government, as Deputy Prime Minister, I undertake to uphold the standards of behaviour which ordinary Australians expect and deserve, just as strongly as I will uphold the standards of national management you expect and deserve. We know that the test of good policy is not whether it wins you a few votes, but whether it wins for the nation. We know that process is something that you go through to deliver that policy as quickly and effectively as possible - not something you do for its own sake. We know that under a Coalition Government, living standards will go up. I would like to close on this matter of political correctness by offering the Prime Minister a challenge. Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister and I don't agree on much, but one thing I think we do agree on is the politically very incorrect belief that gay couples should not be afforded the same recognition as the traditional, heterosexual family - the normal family. The Prime Minister hasn't been game to say so - even though I have deliberately given him the opportunity to do so in Parliament several times - but nevertheless I think he agrees with me. Now at the moment the Government is before the Industrial Relations Commission opposing an ACTU application to recognise same sex couples as families for family leave - and I give it credit for that stance. But only last week the Government was warned by the homosexual lobby that it would lose their vote if it continued to oppose this application. So my challenge to the Prime Minister is simple: stick to your guns. Just this once, and publicly say no to the pressure groups on this issue. Ladies and gentlemen, the National Party in Coalition with the Liberal Party can and will win the next election. The Coalition front bench is a more talented group than the tired and tawdry team of Labor. And I thank my frontbench and all of the parliamentary team for their great work. I thank also John Paterson, Cecile Ferguson and team, and my wife Judy for their help. I also salute Bruce Lloyd and Ray Braithwaite on their sterling service as they prepare to retire, and wish John Walker and De-Anne Kelly well. Let me say, the people of Australia are sick of Labor. Sick of the fine words, the rhetoric, the downright lies that this Government trots out under the name of policy. They are sick of promise on top of promise on top of promise that are either quietly forgotten or cynically ignored when it comes to the crunch. They are sick of a government which has its hand stuck deep in the wallet of small business and which stands in its way. They are sick of a government which seeks to tell them how to live and how to think. They are sick of a government which sets the lowest common denominator as the standard then goes about dragging the enterprise and energy of Australians down to this level.

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But we will win only if we have discipline. There is one truism in the history of conservative politics in Australia - Coalition solidarity is an absolute pre requisite if we are to win elections.

We all have strong views on various elements of federal policy, but as a party we can have no substantial influence without winning federal elections. All of us, at our own level and in our own way, must demonstrate a single minded determination to win the federal election. Ladies and gentlemen, these are exciting times. Our preparations for the next election are on track. Candidates are ready. Secretariats are ready. I know that you delegates and your colleagues in the branches have already put in a lot of hard work and are ready to do even more. I want to thank you all for your dedication, for the effort and sacrifice you all make for the party. I am very conscious that I carry many of your hopes and aspirations with me as we go into the next election. Happy seventy fifth, and on to the polls we go - to victory, and to a better Australia!

ENDS