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Civic reception, Cairns: transcript of address.



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13 August 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP ADDRESS TO CIVIC RECEPTION, CAIRNS

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Well thank you very much Warren, Mr Mayor. And could I thank the traditional owners and the dance group for their very, very kind welcome and also their very nice gift. And I pay tribute to them and acknowledge the land on which this gathering takes place.

Mr Mayor, I want to thank you and your staff for making it possible for us to have this regional Cabinet meeting in Cairns. We try to come to major regional centres on a regular basis and by any definition, Cairns is one of the great regional centres of Australia. And the courtesy that your staff has extended to us, the facilities you have made available and the general warmth of the reception that we have received from all of the citizens of this city, is very greatly appreciated. And I know that the opportunity all of my colleagues have had to be here over the past couple of days has allowed them to learn more of your particular contribution to Australia’s economy and Australia’s social infrastructure, and also to know a little of some of the challenges and opportunities that exist.

It’s always a delight to come to Warren Entsch’s electorate. As I said last night, he’s a character. He has his own distinctive qualities as a local Member. I can assure you he makes a big noise in Canberra on behalf of far north Queensland and I don’t think the people in this room would want it otherwise.

I’m very conscious that this is a gathering that brings together people who contribute in different ways to the life and the heart and soul of this city. It brings together representatives of community groups, people who volunteer their time and dedicate their lives to helping people who are less fortunate in our community. And one of the things that I’ve been able to do over the past day or so in Cairns is not only to talk to the business community, but to meet some of the school teachers and young students, to meet people as I am at a gathering such as this, who are involved in keeping the social cement of this community not only well and truly mixed, but making its contribution to holding society together.

PRIME MINISTER

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The Governments have mixed responsibilities. We have three levels of Government, as the Mayor pointed out. Historically that’s the system we have, and it’s our obligation to make it work as effectively as possible. And one of the reasons that we introduced tax reform a couple of years ago - we don’t hear much talked about it now, it’s become part of the system and people have got used to it - but one of the reasons that we introduced tax reform several years ago was to answer requests that State Governments had made of the Federal Government decade after decade and that’s to give them access to a growth tax. And what happens under the new taxation arrangement is that all of the proceeds of the Goods and Services Tax go to the states - all of it. Every last dollar. And under the new arrangements, in time every state will be better off as a result of the GST than they were under earlier arrangements. And the good news for a Queensland audience is that the state which will be better off first will be the state of Queensland, because with effect from the 1st of July next year, the state of Queensland will be receiving under the GST arrangement more money than it would have received under the old arrangement that we inherited.

Now I don’t want to be any more subtle than that, but I just want to make the point that I agree with you Mr Mayor - that we do have to address the distribution of responsibilities in this country. I think you always have some buck passing between the different levels of Government. My belief is that the public gets sick and tired of arguments between State and Federal Governments about who is responsible for what, and between Local and State Government, Local and Federal, and so forth. They really expect us as elected representatives to discharge responsibilities that we have, and where we have shared responsibilities, to work together in a cooperative fashion.

Now one of the shared responsibilities that I would like to work with the Queensland Government on is of course the care of the Great Barrier Reef. And the Queensland Premier and I have released a statement today announcing that we’ve reached agreement on, and signed a memorandum of understanding about the future care and the way in which we will maintain the quality of the reef and the surrounding waters so that it will remain forever a magnificent icon environmentally not only for Australia, but for the whole world. It also maintains the enormous potential that the Great Barrier Reef represents to far north Queensland. That’s the kind of cooperation that the Australian public wants. The Australian public is not interested in name calling between Governments. The Australian public is interested in us working together and discharging our different responsibilities.

These regional Cabinet meetings are a reminder that Australia doesn’t revolve around Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. It’s a reminder of the contribution that northern Australia makes to our export capacity. It’s a reminder of the importance of the tourist industry. It’s a reminder as the Mayor said, of our linkages with those hundreds of millions of people in our region. And it’s also a reminder of some of the difficulties of the older industries of this country. Older in the sense that they’ve been here for a long time and one of those is the sugar industry.

There is a problem with the sugar industry. I met the elected representatives of the industry yesterday afternoon. I spoke to some of the men and women from the industry outside the Council Chambers this morning. They were all putting their view, as Australians have a right to, to their elected representatives and asking us to respond. We will respond. We’ll be sympathetic. We’ll also be realistic. We have a responsibility to respond to their requests. We have a responsibility to recognise the importance to a whole string of towns on the Queensland coast of the sugar industry. We also have a responsibility to recognise that unless there is some fundamental long term change and reform, simply providing short term assistance is not an answer. Successful industry restructuring occurs where Government

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assistance is matched by internal reform and industry response. Where that occurs, the partnership, the package can work. Where it doesn’t occur, the problem is back on the Government’s lap in even greater measure within a relatively short period of time. Now that is the philosophy that we’re going to bring to this issue. We’re not going to ignore the plight of the sugar industry. Of course we’re not. We know how important it is and how fundamental it is to so many people in so many communities. But we operate in a world where there is a massive oversupply, with sugar at a very heavily depressed price. We have to deal with that reality. And if there is to be Government assistance it has to be matched by some significant areas of change and reform, and that’s the kind of approach we’re going to bring to it and I hope that the deliberations that we will bring will be seen as fair and reasonable not only to people in the sugar industry, but also to the rest of the Australian community, and I’m sure it will be.

But finally ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure to be here. I’m departing literally in minutes to get ready to go to Papua New Guinea where I’ll be spending just a day and then going over to Suva for a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. And while in Papua New Guinea I’ll have the opportunity… the great privilege of unveiling a memorial to those Australian soldiers who died defending this country in one of the most crucial battles in this country’s history, and that was the Battle of Milne Bay which represented the first defeat on land of the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II and was in so many ways an historic turning point in the battle of Australia 60 years ago. And I know that I’ll be speaking for all Australians of all political persuasions in expressing the views of a grateful nation to those wonderful people.

But Mr Mayor, thank you for having us. You’ve made us very welcome. We’ve enjoyed being here. I detect that there is an air of prosperity and confidence in the city of Cairns. I’m sure it has much to do with the civic leadership of the city. I’m sure it has also much to do with the quality of the Federal representation. And I’m sure the State representation is hard working as well. So to everybody can I simply say thank you for having us. It’s great to get out of the big smoke, it’s great to get around regional Australia and it’s great to savour the entertainment, the delights… well I’d better rephrase that - it’s great to savour the hospitality and the entertainment of the people of far north Queensland.

Thank you very much.

[ends]