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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 25

Senator KNOWLES (10:04 AM) —I move:

That the following address-in-reply be agreed to:

To His Excellency the Governor-General


We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign and to thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

It is my great honour and privilege to be called upon by the Prime Minister and Senator Robert Hill to move the address-in-reply to His Excellency's speech at yesterday's opening of the 41st parliament. This is a very special occasion because it signifies the re-election of the Howard government for its fourth term, and that has been granted as the wish of the Australian people. To be part of such an occasion gives one a real sense of privilege, because it signals that the policies of the government have been endorsed not only by the members of this government but by the Australian population in this great country of ours.

We on the government benches do not take the election victory lightly or smugly. We have sought to govern for all Australians no matter what their political beliefs may be. We will continue to do so in the national interest and for the prosperity of all. This is not like some game where the winner takes all. This is a serious business of making and implementing policies that will benefit everyone.

While we were able to proudly stand on a record of getting more people into work, solid job growth that has delivered a 27-year low in unemployment, low inflation and interest rates, real wage increases and increasing wealth and incomes, the job is far from complete. The Howard-Anderson-Costello government intends to provide more and more tax relief where the capacity is available. This is something that our predecessors were unable to deliver. His Excellency noted yesterday that with the government's tax cuts, 80 per cent of taxpayers will pay a marginal tax rate of no more than 30 per cent.

As the Prime Minister said in his speech at the coalition campaign launch, Australians `want a Prime Minister who understands them and will let them get on with their lives and will give them freedom and choice and opportunity'. That is the way this government intends to proceed into its fourth term. The Howard government has provided the best economic conditions since World War II, with high business confidence and high consumer confidence. Added to this, it has put more money back into Australians' pockets by lowering personal taxation, providing more relief for families and for carers, doubling the spending on health, creating greater and more practical safety nets for those most in need, providing better facilities for the aged, honouring our global commitment to genuine refugees, practically assisting small business and creating better education and skills development opportunities for so many. This is by no means an exhaustive list of achievements, because there are too many to list here today. However, it needs to be noted that all this has been done while repaying $73 billion of the $96 billion debt inherited from Labor.

While I did not contest the last election, I was not prepared to sit back and just hope for the re-election of the government. Anyone who has been part of the Howard government could not help but be enthused and motivated to ensure that the last 8½ years of excellent policy development progress this country has made will not be wasted. A change of government at this stage of Australia's progress would have signalled a direction that I believe would have been negative for all: children, the young, young adolescents, the baby boomers and the aged. All of them would have been worse off. We need to continue to create greater incentive for small business whereby people can have a go, can develop and can go out and really succeed, while providing job opportunities for others. But in the end they are providing security for their own futures.

We cannot compromise on the mission to get people to save. Helping and guiding people to do so will ensure that they avoid the poverty traps later in life. We can no longer afford the attitude of `spend now and worry about the consequences later'. As His Excellency noted in his address, the nation is ageing, and that will place greater pressure on the health and welfare resources of the country. We therefore must provide the greatest opportunity for all to enable them to contribute to the nation's wealth. That must start with educating the children of today and tomorrow. To have a well-educated child is to have an adult with the best possible chance of lifetime success. To ensure that literacy and numeracy is not an optional extra in schools is something that this government is making happen—and it is happening with great progress. To assist into trades and apprenticeships teenagers who do not aspire to go to university will help fill much-needed jobs where there are skills shortages and will allow them to enjoy success and prosperity. We must get away from the culture that, if someone does not wish to go to university, they are a failure. There are many, many trades out there which desperately need good, qualified people. They can then progress to running their own companies. That is something we need to get into the schools, and we need to ensure that educators and students alike know and appreciate that there is a future for them.

We have a responsibility to convince teenagers that they are very much part of the country's success, whether they be in a trade, in law, in medicine or in any other profession. The expectations currently placed upon some of our youth are unrealistic if all the options available to them are not promoted. Our education system needs to concentrate more on teaching about governance and politics. Many children—and many adults, for that matter—do not know enough about our systems of government. They should and must know more because in time they are the ones who will need to participate in an active way in the governance of this country.

His Excellency referred to Australia's Defence Force capabilities. This is an area where Australia must not ever be seen to compromise. International and regional security challenges will be ever present in the world in which we now live. No Australian government should ever give a quarter where global security is concerned. A substantial part of that strength is maintaining a strong alliance with the United States of America and maintaining strong relations with our Asian neighbours.

The government continues to provide more and more assistance to families, carers, the Indigenous and women. Carers were overlooked in the 13 years prior to the Howard government. That is why there was such a need to provide greater flexibility for those carers who also wish to work, train or study and also for those carers who look after adult children with a disability. They were all left out of the loop, and they were struggling. This government is doing more and more every day to help those carers provide a better quality of care but also a better quality of life for themselves and those for whom they care. We also need to continue to break the cycle of welfare dependency. The cycle of welfare dependency that we have seen becoming intergenerational has to be broken. The best form of welfare is a job, and no-one can deny that that is so. That is why the policies of this government to create a 27-year low in unemployment are so commendable.

We also need as a nation to break a mentality that has developed over the last 20 years whereby many only look at the budget in terms of what is in it for them. They only look at an election campaign in terms of `What's in it for me?' They fail to look at the broader picture of what the policies are that will grow and develop this country as a whole, from which everyone will be the beneficiary. The media has a very strong role to play in this area. I find that the reporting of budgets and election campaigns now is nothing short of appalling, because all it concentrates on are winners and losers instead of the broad picture of what is in the national interest. I think it is about time that that simplistic and negative approach be changed.

It is also my hope that, much sooner rather than later, the state governments will stop holding their hands out for money from the federal government to provide the services that are strictly within their areas of responsibility. We need to look back at a little bit of fairly recent history. The states sought a guaranteed source of funding from the Commonwealth so as to avoid having to go through the undignified and somewhat unpredictable COAG process. Their wish was granted, and that came in the form of the goods and services tax. The states and territories are the beneficiaries of every last cent of the goods and services tax, while it was the federal government that copped the flack for its introduction. Yet we still have today state governments putting their hands out for more and more Commonwealth money.

A casual observer might believe that the states are somehow being short-changed by the federal government. That is not so. The states are now in receipt of record levels of funding. My state of Western Australia, for example, will be $1.166 billion better off over five years than they would have been under the arrangements of previous Labor governments. Yet they are still crying poor. There is no reason, other than to try and shift political blame, why the state governments cannot and should not properly fund things like state schools and state hospitals—

Senator Patterson —And accommodation for the disabled—

Senator KNOWLES —and, as Senator Patterson just interjected, accommodation for the disabled—and reduce their reliance on taxes such as payroll tax and stamp duty. The states walk away from those areas of responsibility each and every time. It is about time that they acknowledged that they are in receipt of funding that they never thought was possible, and the quantity will continue to rise. The Gallop Labor government in Western Australia, for example, has made a big thing about a minute reduction in stamp duty in recent weeks. There is no talk about the huge increases in stamp duty it imposed on people in four short years of government. It is simply an unfair tax that for many has almost offset the first home buyers grant provided by the federal government. It is about time that the Labor governments in every state and territory dramatically reduced, if not eradicated, their reliance on taxes such as these two so that people can buy properties and vehicles without such enormous penalties.

The other issue that is of critical importance to the people of Australia is that of crime. This government has more than doubled the funding to the Australian Federal Police but at the same time in Western Australia the personnel levels in police stations in the community are low, and every community knows that. What is the state government doing about it? Absolutely nothing. It is important for the security and the safety of the community that there are adequate personnel levels on the front line in the police stations in the community. Once again, the federal government is doing all it can. It provided in the last budget for a $20 million national community crime prevention program designed to provide financial support to various communities to undertake programs that they think will benefit them. It is not a prescribed program, where a certain program must be implemented in every area; it is a program where the local communities can decide what is going to be of benefit to them. One may well ask why the federal government has to do something such as this. The answer is simply that the state governments have let down the communities they are meant to protect.

I could not make a speech today without recognising the increased number of members of the Howard government in the House of Representatives who were sworn in yesterday. I particularly wish to note the three new members from Western Australia: Mr Michael Keenan from Stirling, Mr Stuart Henry from Hasluck and Dr Dennis Jensen from Tangney. They are all men of proven success in their previous fields of endeavour. I congratulate them as they embark on their new careers.

It was my great pleasure and honour to work with Mr Keenan in Stirling. What a character. He is a fine man with a great intellect and a great sense of humour. I have to say that we had a ball. But he is a man who worked and worked for eight months. His election did not come lightly. His opponent was touted as someone who was going to be impossible to shift, but he at no stage looked at his opponent and said, `I can't win this seat.' The people of Stirling deserved better representation, and he will provide that representation. He takes his election very seriously and will serve the people of Stirling with diligence, dedication and grace. As I speak he is probably over in the other place making his first speech. He was an outstanding candidate and will be an even more outstanding member of parliament.

To all those people who helped Mr Keenan win, I would like to add my thanks to those of his. I will not name all of them, because I would be here for a week. I have never seen people come out in such force to help a candidate, but that was the type of spirit and support that Mr Keenan engendered. It would be fair to say simply to John, Trish, Fay, Jenny, Sue, Mat, Michelle, Steph and Doug, `You were terrific.' To all of those other supporters and to all of those volunteers who literally poured out in Stirling to support Mr Keenan because they knew he was good, because they knew the government was doing an outstanding job and because they took great pride in their country, I say a huge thank you.

I look forward to being part of the Howard government until 30 June next year, but equally I look forward to it fulfilling its commitments to the Australian people which will result in continuing growth of the economy and in Australia becoming a more and more prosperous nation. As I said, there is much more work to be done. We cannot possibly drop the ball now. We need to go forward and we need the goodwill to go forward. The mere fact that the Australian people have given the Howard government a majority in the Senate is not something that we take lightly. It is not something that will be abused; it is something that will be used wisely for the benefit of all. It is important for this nation to ensure that there is great prosperity for all. We cannot have a return to policies that divide the nation.

There were some policies that were enunciated during the campaign that I believe would have done precisely that. That is not what the Howard government is about. The Howard government is about governing for all and for the future of this country, to make sure that the prosperity is shared and that there is safety and security within our borders. Much has been done to protect this country and to protect our borders. The work that is being done by defence personnel and the Australian Federal Police to protect Australia is second to none. I look forward to the fourth term of the Howard government for the sake of all Australians and for their own prosperity.