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National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 5 May 1999: transcript of doorstop [Speech of the Australian Unlimited Conference; Chinese immigration case]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE, 5 MAY 1999

 

E&OE-PROOF ONLY

 

Subjects: Speech to the Australia Unlimited Conference, Chinese immigration case

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, how far is Australia behind the rest of the world when it comes to a knowledge-based society?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We’re going backwards. Our research and development effort in private industry is going backwards. Our commitment to public spending on education is going backwards. And in those two characteristics, we are unique. We have an opportunity to build a knowledge-based society because we are a people who adapt so well to technology. But all the essential underpinings of it, Government is undermining.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But what are the dangers there? I mean, if we don’t improve our record with regard to a knowledge-based society, what are the problems we have? Less competition, less ... What are the problems?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, the dangers are, essentially, these: we’re in our last five to ten good years and after that we’re in diabolical trouble. That’s the danger.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What do you mean — our last five to ten good years?

 

BEAZLEY :

 

Well, those are the years where we can still afford to live off essentially good commodity prices. Those are the years when the changes we’ve made in restructuring ourselves give us some form of comparative advantage in relation to the region around us and then we ... suffer the consequences of not having sufficient new high technology industries operating in this country and the associated services with them. And that’s when the Europeans, developing countries in the region around us, and the Americans send us materially backwards.

 

JOURNALIST :

 

So, what have we got to do? What policy changes should be made, presumably now?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We have to see that all our people are skilled and they have the opportunity to skill themselves through their lives. We cannot guarantee everyone a job for life but we can guarantee their employability. So, we have to adjust policy to ensure that people can constantly upgrade their skills to deal with new job opportunities. Skilled workers attract new industry and an absence of skilled workers mean that people go somewhere else.

 

JOURNALIST :

 

So, does this mean that ... you talked today about increasing the retention rate to 90 per cent ... skills. What do you mean there?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, 90 per cent is no big deal. That happens to be something that I’ve committed ourselves to. But that just happens to be what the Koreans do, the Germans do, the British do, the Americans do. I mean, that is just routine — that you get to 90 per cent in terms of completion rates. We got up to the low to mid 80s but we’ve since slipped down to 72 per cent. As I said, we’re the only country in the industrialised world going backwards. And you can take any education indice that you like and you’ll find that the case.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Why are we going backwards? What’s the problem? What’s wrong with us?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Because we’ve gutted public education over the course of the last six years, basically, by Liberal State governments and more recently by the federal Liberal Government. And fundamentally, people have stood back from that, washed their hands of it and said it doesn’t matter. One of the problems that we have is that while three quarters of our kids are brought up in families who earn less than $50,000 a year, many who earn a deal more than that prate about the solutions which are relevant to them as being relevant to the majority of our kids, and that just simply isn’t so.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

... floating around about a woman who was forced, back in China, ... Australian immigration officials were aware of her situation in that if she was sent back she would have an abortion. Apparently, she had an abortion ... before she was due to deliver the baby. What’s your view on that?

 

BEAZLEY :

 

Well, if that is so, it’s a terrible thing. But I understand that the Government has said that they’ve taken that question on board ... Senator Harradine, at the Estimates yesterday, and they’re investigating the matter and I’ll wait and see what ...

 

JOURNALIST :

 

From what you know, do you think the Immigration official should have been ...

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I know very little. All I know is that the question was raised and I would like to see the product of that investigation before I rush to judgement. Of course, if that did occur it would be a terrible thing.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, talking about partnerships between the Government and also the private sector in terms of social agendas, what sort of incentives would you offer business to promote social ... tax incentives? What would it be?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, certainly tax incentives in relation to research and development and in relation ... capital gains tax incentives also in relation to development of new high technology industries. I would certainly look at that as being ... of Government and business partnerships. I also think there is social responsibility on business in the training agenda for the Australian people and it is something which, when we were in Government, we sought to extract. But what I did say today was that at the end of the day decent outcomes and real accountability doesn’t come from duck-shoving it to the private sector. It only comes from governments accepting responsibility. And equality of opportunity in relation to education cannot ever be a product of the private sector contribution. It can only be a product of government initiative.

 

 

 

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