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Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Page: 154

Mr WAKELIN (7:55 PM) —At the beginning of our parliamentary year in 2006, as we come up to the 10th year of the coalition government and the prime ministership of John Howard, it is worth while recalling some of the achievements of this government. We inherited record debt, high interest rates and high unemployment and many of our welfare benefits—our welfare system—were struggling under the weight of an ineffective economic system and under ineffective economic management. There will always be those who will want, to put it as politely as I can, to be distracted from the main game—that is, the best possible interest rates, the lowest possible inflation rate, lower unemployment, encouragement of enterprise, and making sure that our young people are being educated, trained and maximised in apprenticeships and traineeships so that our enterprise system can thrive.

The fact that we had to have a Charter of Budget Honesty when we first came into office was in itself quite an indictment of those who sit in opposition. We were struggling internationally with our reputation. We were not maximising our exports. As I said, our welfare, health and education systems were struggling under the weight of inefficiency. Interest rates came down from nine per cent and 10 per cent to six per cent and seven per cent. The inflation rate is well under control. The unemployment rate is down from one million unemployed and is heading towards the five per cent rate. Apprenticeships have trebled. There have been record exports. These are the things on which nations are built. That is the legacy of the past 10 years. The fact that we are able to provide one of the most effective welfare, health and education systems in the world is testament to our private enterprise system.

The other thing that the Howard government has brought to Australia, as I suggested earlier, in the international field is a far greater sense of self-respect. We have become much more self-assured as a nation, and so we should have. There will always be work for government to improve what we do—we can never be complacent—but I find respect for Australia around the world. I think those who observe us as a small- to medium-sized country are somewhat incredulous at what we have been able to achieve over the last couple of hundred years.

As I said, there are many challenges in front of us. It is important that we respect what these achievements have been built on. I would like to conclude by acknowledging the efforts of all of my colleagues, not just the executive, as we head towards 10 years of coalition government. Those achievements have developed Australia and its people to the standard, the quality and the spirit that we now enjoy.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 8.00 pm, the debate is interrupted.