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Address by the prime minister the Hon John Howard MP - Bradfield Federal Executive Council - Autumn Lunch, Bradfield



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P R I M E M I N I S T E R

25 May 1997

... ADDRESS BY THE PRIME M INISTER THE HON; JOHN HOW ARD MP BRADFIELD FEDERAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL AUTUMN LUNCH, BRADFIELD

E&OE

Thank you very much Brendan, to Tony Staley the Federal President o f the Liberal Party and to my Federal and State parliamentary colleagues and particularly to D r and Mr Smith, the headmistress and husband o f Ravenswood School and M r James Miller,

the Chairman o f the School Council.

Can I unashamedly and risking all o f the inevitable partisan hostilities that I will incur in saying it, our daughter had five years o f outstanding education at this school. It is a great place and Kerry I had momentarily forgotten. The thing I remember about the 25th o f May 1991 - it was a Saturday and Shore Under 14 beat Riverview 2 -1 in the

soccer.

But it is a great delight to be here and can I say that the schools on the N orth Shore are bipartisan when it comes to inviting Prime Ministers. I well remember back in 1973 when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister o f Australia, he was invited to a Knox Speech Night and he said it was the biggest gathering in the electorate o f Bradfield

ever addressed by a Labor leader. So it is a very, very fine bipartisan tradition and it is great to be here.

But even more importantly than that it is great to be amongst so many old friends. And it is great to acknowledge the contribution through the years o f the Federal Division o f Bradfield to the organisation o f the party here in New South Wales, and o f course I cannot let the opportunity go by without particularly acknowledging the presence of my old friend John Carrick and his wife, Angela. N obody under this great

marque has done more for the Liberal cause in Australia than that man and I very, very happily acknowledge it.

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY

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I also want to thank Brendan for his very kind words and endorse what Robert said about the contribution that he is making and also the remarks that were made by Kerry- Chikarovski. Brendan has proved to be a very energetic and articulate representative o f the Division o f Bradfield. He is very pugnacious and hard working and loyal but an intelligent contributor to the deliberations o f the parliamentary party and the parliamentary party is the stronger for having Brendan Nelson. And I think it is also important today that there are a number o f members here who represent electorates that we have not always held. We have always held Bradfield and Bennelong and N orth (no we have not always held N orth Sydney, we lost it for a while) but we have

certainly held Bradfield and Bennelong for a very, very long time but we did not win Gilmore the first time up and we should have. And of course Parramatta has gone back and forth. And it really is important that we are all reminded that the future o f the Liberal Party at a Federal level depends on getting people like Ross Cameron and

Joanna Gash re-elected at the next Federal Election. ............. " ....

We are sort o f half way through our first term in Government and I spoke yesterday about keeping faith with the promises that we made at the time o f the last election. And I spent a little time at the State Council meeting reminding people o f how much o f the agenda that we spelt out before the election had in fact been delivered. And I am very proud o f the fact that in the last Budget for the first time in the history o f Australia, a Federal Government has actually given an across-the-board incentive for people to save. For years I have gone around to meetings and I have been told by people that what you have got to do is fix the taxation system to the extent that you no

longer tax people when they earn their income and tax them again when they receive some interest on the investment o f what is left over out o f their income. And the fifteen percent across-the-board tax break that was announced in the Budget is the first recognition by any Federal Government that that kind o f change to the Australian taxation system ought to be made and it will act as a very powerful incentive and a very important reward over the years for people who are thrifty enough to save.

Now Brendan spoke in his kind introduction about privatisation. And o f course one cannot let an opportunity like this go by without reminding oneself o f the incredible hypocrisy o f our political opponents on privatisation. I mean I have been a consistent supporter o f privatisation as has Nick Greiner and many others under this marque for a very long period o f time. And I remember when I first advocated that we privatise

Qantas and Trans Australia Airlines as it then was and sort o f half raised the possibility of privatising the Commonwealth Bank that Bob Hawke went to Bathurst in May and delivered the Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture and said that one o f my predecessors

Ben Chifley, who I think in some respects was a more loved Labor Prime Minister than some o f his successors, he said that Ben Chifley would roll in his grave if anybody thought o f selling the Commonwealth Bank.

And o f course before the 1987 election, they swore they would not do it. Before the 1990 election they swore they would not do it. Before the 1993 election they swore they would not do it. And o f course before the 1996 election they swore they would not sell Telecom either. Or Telstra as it is now called. But we all know that having

sworn not to sell the Bank before those elections, they finally ended up doing so and we also know that if the Australian people had been unfortunate enough to re-elect a

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Labor Government in 1996 a re-elected Labor government would not have sold a third o f Telstra, they would have sold the whole lot. And I am reminded o f that by this extraordinary little exercise that is going on here in New South Wales. Now I am all iiL

favour o f privatising the power system in New South Wales. I think it is aneminently sensible thing to do. But why on earth can’t you say that before the election and not sort o f kid, try and kid the Australian public, that you are not going to do it. I think it is just sort o f completes the circle. Finishes the loop as far as their hypocrisy is concerned.

Now over the last 14 months we really have gone a tremendous distance between implementing the agenda on which we were elected. There are a few things that have come up as inevitably things do when you are elected that you did not anticipate. And governments are required as well as implementing the things that they promised to do they are also required to respond to some o f the unexpected things. And we have had

such things to do with such as the issue o f national gun control legislation last year, the rather unexpected requirement to deal with a decision by the High Court o f Australia in the Wik case that many predicted might go in the other direction. But the main

agenda that my Government has had and the main agenda that my Government will continue to have between now and whenever the next election is held is to keep faith with the essential commitments that we made to the people o f Australia to the mainstream o f the Australian community before the last election. And that is about giving to families a greater sense o f security, it is about giving to individuals greater incentive, greater incentive to work, greater incentive to save, greater incentive to take risks.

It is also about tackling the chronically high levels o f unemployment, particularly amongst the young, that we still have in Australia. And none o f us, particularly in electorates on the North Shore o f Sydney, should lose sight o f the fact that there are areas o f Australia that suffer tragically high levels o f unemployment where the endemic character o f unemployment is such that it is being passed now from grandfather to father to son and that it has become intergenerational.

We do require policies that will regenerate some o f the regional areas o f Australia. That is why in the Budget we announced that we were going to establish a $1 billion Federation Fund which will be used not to finance the building o f a thousand little monuments in every suburb and every hamlet o f Australia but is going to be used to finance the construction o f major infrastructure works which will be o f long term benefit to the future o f Australia particularly to the regions and to the rural area o f Australia.

But in that context, one o f the other responsibilities o f a government is always to keep its eye on necessary reform. Quality government and quality political leadership is about, on the one hand, holding onto and consolidating those things in the community that are important and ought to continue. And I have always believed that what one

ought to be.in politics is either a discerning conservative or a selective radical or should I say a selective conservative and a discerning radical. In other words, you hang onto those things that are working well, you do not throw out something that is working well just for the sake o f change. But on the other hand, when something is

not working well, you are zealously and you are energetically committed to bringing

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about change and bringing about reform. And that is why in the early 1980s I set my sights on reforming Australia’s industrial relations system because I thought it was out o f date. I though it was discredited. I thought it was holding back the potential - growth o f Australia. I thought it was too heavily dominated by the trade union movement and worst o f all I thought it was skewed irrevocably against the interests o f small business in Australia.

It was an industrial relations system that had been built to accommodate large company large work forces heavily unionised, overwhelmingly male, and predominantly blue collar. And o f course the character o f Australia has changed so much that that sort o f paradigm no longer works and is no longer relevant to Australia.

So we set ourselves the task o f changing industrial relations and one o f the big changes that I am very proud of, that my government has brought in is industrial relations change. And as the weeks and months go by and the value o f the changes that were brought in by Peter Reith in his workplace relations legislation w ork their w ay through

the Australian economy the legislation has only been operating now for a little under six months. We took a bit longer to get it through the Senate and we only got through about eighty per cent o f what we would have liked but that eighty per cent is an infinite

improvement, an enormous improvement on the system that it replaced.

And one o f the great benefits o f that legislation is that it has given to small business a lot more flexibility and a lot more room to move and a lot more opportunity to make agreements at a workplace level. But that task o f reform is never o f course finished. So one o f the other issues that governments and political leaders and business leaders and leaders o f other organisations in this country have got to face, and that is the need to reform Australia’s taxation system. Now I do not make any apology at all for

raising the issue o f reform o f Australia’s taxation system. Anybody who imagined that it was something that could lay dormant in the political corner for the next ten or fifteen years has no understanding o f the needs o f this community and no understanding o f the way in which the taxation system we presently have is becoming

less and less relevant to the kind o f modern Australian economy that we are trying to build. But it is very important that as we continue to debate taxation reform we do not make the mistake that I think we have made in the past and that is becoming obsessed with the system o f taxation reform rather than the outcomes o f taxation reform. We

must not become obsessed with building a perfect econometric model to the detriment o f asking ourselves what are the goals o f taxation reform.

And I think there are three goals and there are three questions you have to ask yourself. The first question you have got to ask yourself is what reform o f the Australian taxation system is needed to generate more jobs. That is the first question.

I think the next question you have to ask yourself, given the importance o f trade to Australia, is what reform to the Australian taxation system is going to generate more exports? And I think that is a tremendously importantly thing. And finally you have to

ask yourself what change to the Australian taxation system is going to generate higher living standards and encourage people to greater risk taking and provide people with greater incentives?

Now they are the three tests that we have to apply. And it is not a debate that the Liberal Party should walk away from. It is not a debate the Liberal Party should turn

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its back on. And those on the political spectrum who believe that an essentially negative, backward-looking fear campaign is the only response to the issue o f taxation reform I think are making a very, very serious mistake. Now I know that this issue was raised in the past and I am aware as anybody else in this gathering o f the debate that followed the result in 1993. I think there were some errors, let me put it this way, there were some errors o f emphasis and some errors o f presentation and there were

some other errors o f timing in relation to that, which are entirely different now.

Now, let me say to you that our commitment not to introduce anything remotely resembling a goods and services tax during our first term o f government remains absolutely rock solid. I gave that guarantee to the Australian people before the last election and I have no intention from walking away from that anymore than I have an

intention o f walking away from other commitments that I made to the Australian people. But I have never said that we would never look at taxation reform. And I think we would be a very odd" government, we would fail the Australian people completely if we turned our backs on the necessity o f reform in this very, very important area.

I can remember at the end o f the 1970s, as Treasurer, being invited to give a speech about the challenges o f reform, economic reform in Australia in the 1980s. And I said that we needed to reform our financial system. Well, ultimately we did. And that received support essentially from both sides o f politics. We needed to embark upon reform to our taxation system. Well, have bismally failed as a nation to do that. And we needed to look increasingly at our industrial relations system and see what areas o f change and reform were needed there. So we still have, if you are looking at the reform agenda, and all governments have got to do that, you are not elected to occupy positions of power without using that power wisely for the benefit o f people. I have been in politics a very, very long time now, but I have always thought that the profit o f

winning office is to do good things for the country and not just the satisfaction o f exercising that political power. So part o f our job, part o f our responsibility is to keep the torch o f reform in certain areas going, but to do it in a way that is related to the outcomes o f that reform.

Politicians who get caught up with process and not outcomes lose the capacity to communicate with the Australian people. The Australian people want to know why a reform is good, they want to know how it will affect them, they want to know whether it will make it better for them and make it better for their children and make it more likely that their teenage children will get a job and that their elderly parents and other members o f their family have a sense o f stability and a sense o f security. It is the outcomes. It is the product o f change rather than the tactical value o f that change

which is the important thing that we as political figures, political activists should always work towards.

The last thing that I want to say to you, ladies and gentlemen, is that it is always a great pleasure to come back to the grass roots o f the Liberal Party. I o f course have been a member of the New South Wales division o f the party since about 1958 when I joined a branch in Earlwood, the suburb in which I grew up, and I owe everything that

I have achieved in politics to the Liberal Party. I would never have been a member o f parliament without the Liberal Party. I would never have been a leader o f the party

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without the support and understanding o f the Liberal Party and o f course I would never have become Prime Minister o f Australia without the support and nourishment and loyalty o f people in the Liberal Party and as I look around this room I see people that I have been associated with now for 25, 30 and in some cases even a little longer than that years. And it is a very great privilege to have that opportunity.

I want to thank all o f you for the support that you have given over the years in so many different ways to the Liberal Party cause here in Sydney and all around Australia. We waited a hell o f a long time in Opposition. W e lost more elections than we should have. We knocked on in front of the try line far more frequently than any group of

people should have done and on occasions I sort o f wondered as though somehow the world had been turned on its head and there was absolutely no justice in politics as in sport.

It rs like last night when I was watching the second one dayer. I mean I thought English cricket teams were meant to feel like Englishmen not like South Africans. And I mean there is something wrong when you cannot rely on the English to feel like Englishmen. There really is. You know. The world is not the same. It sort o f

shattered my faith in the predicability o f some o f those constants.

But anyway, ladies and gentlemen, can I say to you again that I do appreciate all o f your support. It is infinitely better to be in Government than in Opposition and we need your continued support but we need your support, your quality support. We need your resources, we need your manpower, but we also need on occasions your

advice. I mean politics is about listening to advice. It really is. And one o f the reasons that I think my predecessor lost the last election that he lost the capacity to listen and he lost the capacity to understand what the proverbial man in the street or man and woman in the street really wanted out o f their political leaders. N ow I will try

very hard to avoid that trap and my colleagues will try very hard to avoid that trap. And it is your obligation privately and discreetly o f course when you think we are falling into that trap to remind us of it. But thank you again for your tremendous support and loyalty. And once again congratulations to the most consistently blue ribbon electorate in the whole o f Australia for the Liberal Party cause, that is the Division o f Bradfield. Thank you very much for all that you have poured into the Party over the years and all that you will undoubtedly pour into it in the years to come. I am both retrospectively and in the future very, very grateful for all o f that support. Thank you.