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New South Wales Liberals' corporate lunch, ANA Hotel, Sydney, 15 March 1999: transcript of address.

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15 March 1999







Well thank you very much Michael. Only seems like yesterday that I was at this podium l eading up to an event in October and it was a great event. It was a great outcome. Pretty sound decision by the Australian people. And it’s a great delight for me to be here today to say a few words in support of somebody I’ve known for a long time, and I admire immensely, and who I believe has the intelligence and the character and the values to be a very fine Premier of New South Wales.

A few days ago I was talking to somebody and he said: John, tell me why we should change the government in New South Wales? You blokes are doing a very good job of running the economy nationally. I said that I agreed with that. And he said: that’s flowing through so why would we change the government in New South Wales? And I said to him that the reason that we should change the government in New South Wales was that in a nation like Australia of federation where responsibilities are divided between the national government and the various State governments, no matter how good the Federal government was, unless its deeds and its leadership were matched at a State level by purposeful State governments then the kind of long term changes and improvements that we all think are necessary would not be realised. And reality is that there are tremendously important on going responsibilities at a State level that are important to the well being of a society. Indeed the things that touch the [inaudible] of our lives. The strength of the policing services, safety in the home, safety on the streets, safety on trains late at night, the quality of our government schools, the quality of our hospitals.

All of those things are overwhelmingly the responsibility of State governments. And it’s also the responsibility of State governments to run their economies well. They can’t leave it all to the Federal government. And you need the combination of the two. And you need State governments that are prepared to tackle head on the difficult issues that confront State governments.

And the reason why undoubtedly in my mind the best run State government in Australia at present, that is the Kennett Government in Victoria, the reason that is so successful is that it’s had the courage since it was elected in 1992 to tackle issues that are important to that State and which can’t be solved by the Federal government. They’ve tackled the problem of State debt, and they’ve done so by recognising that governments are no longer good in the modern age at running business enterprises. And that if governments get out of those business enterprises and sell interest in them to the ordinary public and the ordinary consumer, there are dividends and improvements all round and there is the wherewithal the cash to pay for much needed government infrastructure and much needed provision for hospitals and schools and all the other things that are important.

And my first and greatest criticism of the present New South Wales Government is that it has really not tackled any of those fundamental issues. We all know that Mr Carr and Mr Egan for two-and-a-half years told us that the only thing that really mattered was the privatisation of New South Wales’s power industry. And you all know that in the end that got rolled over, big time by the unions who told them it simply wasn’t on. And instead of standing up and continuing to fight for what they believed was in the long term interest of the State, they simply went over into a corner and wimped it and now have the audacity to criticise the Coalition for committing itself to something which they themselves know in their hearts is the right thing to do. And just as Mr Beazley opposed something at the last Federal election that he knew in his heart was needed and necessary and which he supported when he was a member of the Hawke and Keating Governments, so it is the case that Mr Carr and Mr Egan are opposing something that they know deep down is needed in the long term interests, not only of electricity generation in this State but also in the interests of getting rid of $18.5 billion of State debt.

And of course to make matters worse we now have the New South Wales Government quite literally claiming credit for the strength of the New South Wales economy. They’re running around saying: oh the economy in New South Wales is getting better. It is gettin g better but it’s getting better off the back of the leadership that we have shown at a Federal level. And it’s getting better in spite of the course of Mr Carr, because Mr Carr along with Mr Beazley and other Labor leaders around Australia have opposed all of the major reforms that the Coalition Government has carried out federally since we came to power in 1996. They opposed every attempt we made to get rid of Mr Beazley’s deficit of $10.5 billion. They opposed industrial relations reform. When we set about reforming the Australian waterfront, [inaudible] stop that reform. He wasn’t putting up his hand in favour of reform. When we introduced taxation reform he opposed it. Through his public service he has sought to obstruct the spread of the Work For The Dole scheme through public enterprises in New South Wales. He has tried to obstruct microeconomic reform in this State prompted at a national level.

At every turn you have a Labor Government in New South Wales being uncooperative in trying to obstruct the flow through of national economic reform and national economic leadership. And yet for the purposes of this election campaign he sets, as I said yesterday, to bask in the sunlight of the strong economic conditions created by the very policies that he with Mr Beazley have opposed since March of 1996.

He talks about the 4% unemployment rate. A mission impossible in this State with the sort of policies that he espouses and the policies that he supports. I’m very proud of the fact that the Australian economy is now the strongest it has been for a quarter of a century. I’m very proud of the fact that we have delivered the lowest interest rates in 30 years, we have delivered the lowest inflation in decades. We are seen throughout the world as having come through the Asian economic downturn in remarkably strong shape. I’m proud of that and all Australians should be proud of it but I want to make it very clear that all of that has been done with virtually no help, no cooperation and no understanding from Labor either at a Federal level or at a State level.

It may be a political game to always oppose what your opponents do. It may make good short term politics. But in the long run you do get marks from the Australian people for quality policies, for quality attitudes and for quality government. We won the last Federal election because we had a plan for Australia’s future. We won the last Federal election because people felt deep down that we were addressing something that needed to be addressed. And we will go on winning elections nationally if we continue to espouse that philosophy. And the reason why Federal Labor is worried at present and is looking more and more lacking in policy vision is that it played politics for three years. May have scored a few short term points, may have embarrassed us on various occasions. But in the end the Australian people decided to stay with us because they thought we were tackling the things that really mattered as far as Australia was concerned. And that’s the test. And that’s the test that I want the people of New South Wales to apply over the next two weeks.

And Rod McGeoch was absolutely right when he said that this election campaign has only really begun in the last 48 hours. People don’t engage quickly in the lead up to election campaigns. They engage even less quickly in the lead up in to State election campaigns than they do to Federal ones. Now what happens over the next two weeks will decide whether we have a Coalition Government led by Kerry Chikarovski, or we continue with the Labor Government that is prepared to ride on our coat tails when it suits them but is not prepared to give any kind of political support to what we’re doing that’s delivered those conditions.

Kerry’s team does have a plan. We do need to privatise the electricity generation system because only by doing that will be able to pay off $18.5 billion of public debt and give ourselves as a State the resources to do other things. And she does have a plan in relation to so many other issues.

And I want to say as a friend and supporter of hers for a long time, I admire her greatly. I think she has enormous style, intelligence and grit and determination. I think she represents a directness of speech, she represents a directness of attitude and a concern with the interests and the aspirations and the hopes of what one might loosely call the mainstream of this State. I think she’s not only a very fine leader of the Coalition, I think she’ll make an extremely fine Premier of New South Wales. Will you please welcome Kerry Chikarovski.