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Priorities for the new Australian Government: speech at the Australian and New Zealand Leadership Forum.



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Prime Minister of Australia

Speech

Speech at the Australian and New Zealand Leadership Forum, Deputy Prime Minister, The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Priorities for the New Australian Government

13 June 2008

E&OE

Introductory Remarks

Thank you very much for giving us Australians such a warm and friendly New Zealand welcome.

This fifth meeting of the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum brings together an impressive group of government, business and academic leaders who have come together to advance our shared interests and goals. The Forum thus provides an invaluable opportunity to deepen the already close and fond relationship that exists between our two countries.

As our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said to Prime Minister Helen Clark when she visited Australia in February, the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is ‘as close as it gets’. We enjoy strong and multi-faceted ties, founded on a unique shared history and a wide range of common interests. Where we have occasional differences, we never lose sight of the overall health of the relationship. The close cooperative partnership between Australia and New Zealand has over the years shown its robustness and resilience. It also makes each of us stronger.

It’s a relationship so close that - as you know too well - we Australians sometimes conveniently forget to mention that some of our most talented people are in fact Kiwis. I’m talking of course about people like Crowded House and Russell Crowe, whom we’ve ‘borrowed’ from time to time. In fact we’ve created a new term ‘New Zealand Australian’ to try to take credit for our good fortune in having such talented neighbours. These people-to-people contacts are extensive in both directions. Despite growing international competition, New Zealand retains its place as one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations. In this chill winter season, Australian skiers head for New Zealand’s snowfields.

Of course while we may sometimes neglect to mention the New Zealand heritage of some of our most talented residents, there’s one thing we never neglect to mention - that’s the word ANZAC. We were reminded of this connection when Prime Minister Clark visited Sydney in late April to unveil a new statue of a New Zealand digger at one end of the ANZAC Bridge, standing as a silent sentinel opposite his Australian comrade in arms. I can’t think of another two sovereign countries prepared to incorporate another nation’s name into that of their own armed forces and to share one of the truly formative moments in their national histories. That really says it all.

Let me also make clear that the new Government in Australia is looking to inject renewed vigour into our trans-Tasman relationship. The presence of such a strong team of my Ministerial colleagues at this Forum attests to this commitment.

Today I want to give an overview of some the foreign and domestic priorities of the Rudd Government. I see it as particularly important that decision makers and opinion leaders in New Zealand are aware of these policies because of their trans-Tasman implications. I should add that, on many issues Australia and New Zealand share common cause. We are thus keen to secure New Zealand’s input, support and engagement on issues where we can work effectively together,

both in domestic and international contexts.

As you will notice, our federal constitution has focused our national reform efforts around a new era of inter-state cooperation through the Council of Australian Governments known as COAG. While our system obviously differs with New Zealand’s more unitary state, I know that New Zealand participates actively in many COAG forums where we embrace similar challenges and goals.

z Global challenges like climate change, energy security and migration. z Regional challenges like maintaining democracy and stability in the Pacific, and building a wider Asia-Pacific Community which brings in all the key players, including the United States, Japan, China, India and Indonesia. z And domestic challenges like investing in the education and health of our people to ensure we prosper in the

world-wide human capital revolution. Our two countries are renowned for knowledge and creativity. There are also

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significant numbers of expatriate Australians and New Zealanders spread across the world, including in key leadership positions in major economic centres. We thus have a joint interest in working out how to benefit from our educational and cultural investments.

Since taking office, the Rudd Government has made significant steps to implement an ambitious agenda spanning economic and social reform and changes to Australia’s international role as a middle power.

The priorities in these areas are largely set by our election commitments.

They add up to a set of priorities covering every sector of Australia’s economy, society and polity.

The Regional Reform Agenda

I want to start with our shared regional agendas where Australia and New Zealand have a solid track record of achievement over many years.

The Rudd Government is committed to a new era of revitalised engagement and cooperation with Pacific island countries based on principles of mutual respect and responsibility. A key element of this strategy is close collaboration with New Zealand.

The Prime Minister’s Port Moresby Declaration of 6 March this year affirms Australia’s commitment to the Pacific. A key element is Pacific Partnerships for Development, through which Australia will provide increased development assistance over time in return for commitments from individual governments to improve governance, increase investment in economic infrastructure and achieve better outcomes in health and education. Working closely with New Zealand, we are also

promoting closer economic integration of Pacific Island countries with Australia and New Zealand where our Closer Economic Relations agreement serves as a model. We see such integration as crucial to the region’s development and long-term sustainability. We are also looking at creative options such as establishing an Australian seasonal labour mobility scheme for Pacific Island countries. In this regard, we have found New Zealand’s experience instructive. We have very much appreciated the willingness of the New Zealand Government and other stakeholders to discuss with us the NZ Regional Seasonal Employment scheme.

Looking to the wider region, we have to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Asia Pacific Century.

As Prime Minister Rudd said last week, global economic and strategic weight is shifting rapidly to our part of the world. And it’s in our interests to try to shape the outcome.

This means we need strong global and regional partnerships and institutions to underpin stability.

It was with that in mind that last week that the Prime Minister signalled his intention to engage neighbouring countries in a dialogue about establishing a potential Asia Pacific Community as a structure for discussing security, economic and environmental issues of joint concern.

It’s a long and involved process that will require much dialogue. And it’s our full intention to engage closely with our friends across the Tasman as we start to explore the possibility further.

The Domestic Reform Agenda

Of course, prospering in this age of immense change also requires far-reaching domestic reform. Given our CER partnership and resulting interdependence, changes at the Australian end naturally have implications for New Zealand.

At the heart of our domestic priorities lies our commitment to responsible economic management.

Clearly, international economic and business cycles are producing a very different environment from the one Australia has enjoyed for the past decade.

Our response to those pressures, and managing the risks of major international price shocks, requires ongoing reform to lay the foundations for sustained growth.

So our first order of priority for nations like ours is the development of long-term strategies and investments to lift productivity and enhance our international competitiveness.

In Australia this means things like:

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z The review and reform of federal-state relations and reducing the dysfunctional federalism that’s acting as a brake on economic growth; z Reducing the burden, and increasing the efficiency, of tax and regulatory systems to support the potential for business to contribute to the economy; z Improving and increasing infrastructure, especially in the supply of water, in transport, in energy and in broadband; z Increasing workforce participation to support both individual opportunity and economic growth; z Implementing an effective, market-based response to climate change; z Pursuing more international trading opportunities for our businesses; and z Creating systems of excellence in early childhood, school, vocational and higher education.

Within each of those priority areas for reform, we have or are in the process of implementing major commitments.

In our view this is the modern agenda for nation building that we believe will become a model for similar countries around the world.

We have set in train processes to further expand the depth and breadth of that reform agenda.

We’ve been criticised for setting up a large number of major reviews of existing policies and programs. This is something we are totally unapologetic about, because those reviews are providing the government with the sort of detailed, expert, evidence-based understanding of its policy options we need to carry off long-lasting reform in areas of great complexity and uncertainty: climate change, national security, defence capability, national innovation systems, sectoral economic reforms and so on. A new direction for any nation can’t rest on ideology or half-baked solutions; it must be based on evidence.

Those reviews are also an important opportunity to broaden the sources of policy advice to the government by seeking out expertise from the private sector, the non-government sector, academia and other levels of government.

Two innovations may be of particular interest - a new role for the Council of Australian Governments and our recent 2020 Summit.

From a once-yearly consultative mechanism, the extensive COAG process, in which New Zealand participates through the Ministerial Councils, is becoming a dynamic part of our nation’s system of government. This recognises that improving national efficiency and productivity relies on the states and local government as well as the Commonwealth.

COAG will now meet more regularly, including four times in 2008.

And its aim will be to get all public services working with joint purpose across the whole reform agenda to raise national productivity and improve social equity, including: health and ageing; education, skills, training and early childhood; climate change and water; infrastructure; business regulation and competition; housing and Indigenous reform.

Seven Working Groups - comprising federal ministers and senior state and federal officials - have been established to drive ongoing change and to develop and implement the COAG reform agenda in these areas.

And the decisions of COAG will be joined by a more effective framework for federal financial relations, which will link federal payments to the states to the advancement of reform, including new National Partnership funds to promote innovative service improvements.

You may have followed in the press the recent 2020 Summit - which brought a thousand of our nation’s brightest minds from across the whole of society together to set an agenda for the future.

It was a highly successful event which captured ideas for building a modern nation ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

The Government is moving quickly to develop a comprehensive response to the ideas raised at the Summit.

Lead Ministers have been allocated to each main idea, and a reference group of senior government officials has been established to ensure that this work is properly coordinated and progressed within the timeframes.

Ideas from the Summit will be used in different ways - some will inform the development of policy, others may lead to specific programs or ways of doing things. We believe they will produce important new directions for the country.

It is already clear that a large percentage of ideas have links to existing policy and program initiatives. Almost one third of the group of about 140 top ideas generated from the Summit have been supported, in various ways, in this year’s Budget.

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Fifty of the key ideas are directly related to the work of COAG.

The initial report of the Summit’s outcomes has been published and is available on the 2020 website. In addition, the 2020 website will continue to receive public submissions and comments.

The Prime Minister has asked for a comprehensive response to the ideas of the 2020 Summit to be provided to him at the end of the year.

This is a clear indication of the government’s intension to further expand its reform efforts during its first term of office.

Governance Forum

Finally, a distinct set of priorities applies to the business of government itself. Good government is about developing a long-term strategic view, putting in place the right machinery, policies and programs, and striving for highly effective implementation and delivery of services which produce national benefits.

To achieve this:

z A more rigorous and open appointments system for major public bodies has been instituted; z The Prime Minister has released the Government’s Standards of Ministerial Ethics which contain important initiatives to restore and improve ministerial accountability; z We have established a Register of Lobbyists; z We are promoting a culture of pro-disclosure of information including the establishment of an Freedom of

Information Commissioner; and z We are holding regular Community Cabinet meetings across Australia which allow Australians from all walks of life to directly engage with Cabinet ministers and senior public servants in person.

This also requires a public service focused on policy development and implementation and one that has the necessary capabilities - the skills, resources and systems in place to support effective implementation. As the Prime Minister said in his recent speech to the Senior Executive of the Australian Public Service ‘Good policy is one thing. But good policy without effective program implementation is a dead letter’. So another of our reform goals is the creation of a leading-edge public service.

Concluding Remarks

These are just some of the key elements of the reform agenda the new Australian Government is committed to introducing and which my colleagues will be expanding upon in our discussions during this Forum.

After such a lengthy period out of office, and during a time of rapid economic, social and environmental change, we’re determined to be a government of reform.

In the past, Australia has been a world leader in economic and social reform. We want her to be so again - and to be an innovator in tackling the new challenges of climate change, Asia- Pacific growth and regional integration.

New Zealand - which also has an enviable track record on innovation and reform, and which shares many important interests with Australia - is a natural partner in these endeavours. We are thus looking forward to working alongside New Zealand on these challenging and exciting agendas. We have much to learn from each other and can amplify our regional and global influence by close collaborative effort.

Thank you.

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