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Transcript of address to the Liberal Party of Australia, Victorian Division State Council: Hawthorn, Melbourne: 8 April 2006.

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08 April 2006




Thank you very much colleague Costello.

Mr President, Peter Costello, my other parliamentary colleagues, my fellow Australians. And I start my joining Peter in extending my thanks and congratulations to Helen Kroger who has been a wonderful servant of the Liberal Party here in Victoria and of course continues as a federal Vice-President of the Party. I thank you Helen for the wonderful co-operation with the federal organisation and the federal parliamentary party. And in extending my thanks to you can I also welcome and congratulate Russell Hannon on his election as President of the Victorian Division.

The links between the parliamentary party and the organisation are incredibly important. A parliamentary party cannot win an election on its own. The history books at both a state and federal level, particularly at a state level are full of parliamentary parties in, recent years, that imagine they could win without having a respectful, fruitful co-operation with the party organisation. We each have roles in the Liberal Party covenant. There is an understanding that the parliamentary party has the ultimate say when it comes to policy. There is an understanding on behalf of the parliamentarians that in organisational matters the organisation exercises the ultimate authority. And it is when the two work in respectful partnership that we get the best results. And that has been my experience in the last ten years where I have been able to work in a professional partnership with the party organisation at a national level and in the various state divisions.

And as you assume your office Russell, I wish you and the division well. And I record again my great sense of gratitude to the men and women of the Victorian division who over the last ten years and long years before have been such loyal


supporters of the federal parliamentary party. Without you we cannot achieve anything. And any congratulation that may be due to the parliamentary party for having been in office now for a decade is something that should be shared with all of the rank and file of the party organisation.

It is as Peter said exactly this weekend, eighteen months since we were re- elected on the 9th October 2004. It goes with incredible speed. Four years is pretty dismal when you are in opposition. Four years of course seems quite different if you happen to be in government. Whatever we might think of that the reality is that we have three year terms at a federal level and that’s not going to change at any time in the immediate future. And we do face over the next eighteen months to two years around Australia, an enormous challenge electorally. We have an election in Victoria at the end of this year. There will be an election in Queensland sometime in the next twelve months. There’s an election fixed in New South Wales in March of 2007. And there will of course be a federal election if the normal cycle is fulfilled and there is no reason why it shouldn’t towards the end of next year.

And that does place an enormous pressure and strain on the party organisation. But it is a cause that all of us have found over the years really worth fighting for. Not only because of the -at a national level- the miserable, directionless alternative that is offered. A federal Opposition that can’t make up its mind on anything that goes directly to the heart of the national interest but also because of the things that we have achieved at a national level. And when we were re-elected eighteen months ago we were essentially re-elected for two reasons. We were re-elected because we were overwhelmingly trusted to keep the economy strong and to provide the security and sense of direction and the sense of re-assurance that Australians and their families wanted as they planned the future. We were trusted to keep interest rates low. We were trusted to keep unemployment low. We were trusted to keep on paying off Labor’s debt and isn’t it a wonderful thing that by the end of this financial year this nation will have no net national debt. That is a remarkable achievement. And I pay a special tribute to you Peter for the stewardship that you have given as the Treasurer, and therefore as the principal architect of the economic policies of this government.

That particular economic statistic is really a metaphor and the most powerful metaphor of all for what we have achieved over the last ten years and it has given people a sense of security. Wherever I go in Australia the reaction is the same that fundamentally people feel that the government has got on with the job, that we have kept our eye on the ball that we’ve focussed on the things that concern them and not the things that might fascinate us.

We are not preoccupied with internalising disputes. We are not preoccupied with introspection. We are preoccupied with the everyday needs of our fellow Australians. And there is a message in that. While ever we are like that we will go on succeeding but once we turn away from that we will begin to decline. And so it is that we were re-elected to keep the economy strong. We were also re-elected to protect the national security and the defence interests of this country. And those two things have stood like two giant pillars above everything else that we have done not only over the last eighteen months but over the last ten years, because fundamentally Australians want a government that will provide them with economic security and provide them with a sense of national security so that they can get on with their lives, they can raise their


families, they can educate them, they can pay off their mortgages, they can get ahead, they can start a business and they can make some money and they can be contributing members of this great Australian community of ours.

That’s what they want. They don’t want the government at every point in their lives telling them what to do but they do want a government that will guarantee the basic things that are important to them, that sense of personal and family security and that sense of national security. And as part of providing people with security we have obligations at both the national level and at a state level to provide resources to the great public services for education and for health and all of the things that are involved in making sure that we educate the young. We provide them with opportunities as they go through life and we also look after the resources and provide the resources that are needed to care for those in our community who are ill, either physically or mentally. And these are shared responsibilities.

Defence is the total responsibility of the national government and there some things that are the total responsibility of state governments. But there are a number of things and health and education are two examples of where the responsibility is shared and the only way that we deliver the outcome that the Australian people want is each level of government contributing what it ought to contribute.

Australians are not particularly fussed as to who delivers the service as long as the service gets delivered and I find once again as I go around the country whether it is in Victoria or far North Queensland or Western Australia, whenever something is raised about who ought to be doing what at a particular level of government, the reaction of the average Australian is I don’t care who delivers it as long as it gets delivered, and then they quickly add you’re the Prime Minister fix it for me. That’s a fairly human sort of reaction and can I tell you it’s not only human but it’s uniform. Wherever you go it is still the same attitude. They are not particularly fussed about the philosophy of all of this they want a good outcome and last week we demonstrated our commitment to that process in the vital area of mental health.

Many recent surveys have indicated and educated us to the challenges in this area. We are talking about it a lot more because we should, because it is a huge health issue. And the Commonwealth announced that it would commit over the next five years additional resources of $1.8 billion in areas where the Commonwealth clearly has direct responsibility. And I made it clear when I made the announcement that that $1.8 billion would be allocated irrespective of what the state governments did. It was an unconditional commitment. We weren’t saying well we’ll put this money on the table provided the states put in an equivalent amount on the table, but I expect the states to match that $1.8 billion and I expect them to do it particularly in areas of supported accommodation.

More than forty years ago this country I think a little hastily but it’s now history and we can’t turn back the clock, I think we embarked upon a policy of deinstitutionalisation in the area of mental health without having a plan for what you were going to do with the people who were no longer cared for in those institutions. They were meant to go into some kind of step down half way form of accommodation that provided more sensitive and effective accommodation and the adequate level of services, but that somehow or other never happened. And now we are paying the price


for it as a community where an astonishing percentage of the gaol population in this country suffers from mental illnesses and where there is a cycle of people being picked up and cared for almost in refuge accommodation, not taking their medication, some of them lapsing back into anti-social behaviour on the streets and ending up in the prison system.

Now something has got to be done about this and we have indicated unconditionally that we will play our part. We will carry our share of the burden and I am calling on every State Premier in Australia to respond to what we have done and to match the financial commitment of the Commonwealth and to discharge their responsibilities under the shared arrangement in this crucial area.

But ladies and gentlemen that was a few days ago. This morning I want to announce a very important initiative relating to the health workforce of this country and it is an initiative that has particular relevance to the people of Victoria. What I am announcing this morning is that the Commonwealth in response to the report of the Productivity Commission on Australia’s Health Workforce, that the Commonwealth will commit an additional $250 million over the four years to train more doctors and nurses in Australia.

I make this announcement today prior to the next meeting of governments- of COAG in July so that the recipient universities can gear up to offer these places as soon as possible.

Specifically the Commonwealth will fund an additional 400 medical school places a year. Of these 400, 120 places will go to Deakin University in Victoria, 40 places for a new Gippsland Branch at Monash University Medical School in Victoria and the remaining 240 places will be distributed among the states and territories including Victoria.

Now I think you can work out from that that Victoria will receive more medical places for the very simple reason that it has a significantly lower number of medical students per head of population at present than the rest of the country and this is a policy, this is a response, this is a gesture from the government to redress that imbalance. And I am asking the states and the territories to match the Commonwealth’s contribution by guaranteeing clinical placements for all Commonwealth-funded students in medicine and nursing and investing in additional vocational and technical education places in areas including enrolled nursing, care assistance and aboriginal health workers.

Ladies and gentlemen the Commonwealth will also provide one off capital grants and this commitment is subject to matching funding from the Victorian Government of up to $18 million for Deakin University Medical School and $5 million for Monash University Medical School, Gippsland Branch.

In the vital area of nursing the Commonwealth will fund an additional one thousand higher education nursing places a year commencing in 2007 and the Commonwealth will also increase its contribution to the cost of nurse clinical training from approximately $690 to $1,000 a year per full time student to help ensure nurses are better prepared for work. I emphasise that the announcements that I have made this


morning are in addition to the health workforce measures that were announced as part of the mental health package on the 5th April.

We will continue to work with the states and territories on other reforms to Australia’s health workforce including appropriate medical specialist opportunities in the public and private sector, registration arrangements for health professionals. Accreditation of health education and training and ensuring the health workforce continues to develop to meet the changing needs of the Australian community.

Can I in concluding this announcement acknowledge the advocacy of my federal parliamentary colleagues from Victoria led by the Treasurer and amongst them Stewart Macarthur, the Member for Corangamite and many others were very active in agitating for redressing the imbalance that has existed for a long time in relation to the allocation of university places in different parts of Australia.

It is important in the wake of an announcement like that and in the wake of the announcement that has been made during the course of this week on mental health, to remind ourselves lest we think this is a government only concerned with keeping the economy strong and keeping the nation strong and secure, important though those priorities are, we are also a government that is interested in reform in areas such as health and education. And if you look back over the last ten years this government’s track record of reform in areas of health and education has been quite remarkable. Look at the university reforms that were negotiated through federal parliament a few years ago by Brendan Nelson. Think of the significant changes that have been made to the health system. Tony Abbott is fond of saying that the Howard government is the best friend that Medicare has ever had. It’s true. We have reinforced the virtues of Medicare. We have restored strength and respectability to private health insurance despite the criticisms that are often made of that system. The reality is that forty-five percent of Australians have voted with their dollars to retain private health insurance. And we have also in an unflinching fashion over the last ten years maintained our strong commitment, not only to the present level but to the expansion, if that is the wish of Australian parents, of the independent school sector.

I noticed during the week that there is some kind of belated electorally dictated repentance by the Labor Party in relation to hit lists on independent schools. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t trust them. Don’t believe it. They don’t believe it themselves. They are still, because of their association with the education unions in Australia that are viscerally opposed to the independent school sector, they still remain at heart a people who are not true believers to use some language they employ themselves, they are not true believes in a dual system of education.

We have always stood unconditionally and unflinchingly for the principle of parental choice in education. When they talked about it in 2001 and they started trotting out their stories about Kings and Scotch and Wesley and Xavier and they started to run the politics of envy because they feel comfortable talking the politics of envy. They believe in the politics of envy. And scratch the surface of any Labor Party gathering and the politics of envy will simply ooze out. Because that is their whole being. And nothing is going to alter that. We are the party of equality of opportunity. We are the party that says it is the right of the parents above everybody else, to decide how their children are to be educated. And I am very proud and I know all my colleagues are


very proud that over the last ten years we have expanded the opportunity of choice and the possibility of choice to hundreds of thousands of Australian parents who would have been economically denied that choice but for our policies. And they will always remember that it was the Coalition, the Liberal Party of Australia, that made that possible.

So my friends we have been a great reforming government in the great social areas of health and education. Of course we need a strong economy. Of course we need strong defences. And we need security against those who would try and pull down our way of life. But we are also a government that is intent on preserving the health of the nation and is determined to provide opportunities and expanding opportunities of that in areas of education and training.

Can I just say one final thing to you my friends, that the last ten and a bit years has been a great opportunity for all of us to serve the Australian people. We have been successful but far more important than our own partisan political success, our nation has been the beneficiary. This country is stronger in so many ways than it was ten years ago. We are more respected around the world. We are treated more seriously around the world. We have simultaneously taken our relationship with the United States to a greater level of involvement and intimacy than ever in our history and yet we have developed a constructive, mature, beneficial relationship with China and are building and developing an ever closer relationship with India.

In other words it has been possible despite what was said ten years ago by our critics. It has been possible to re-embrace the traditional alliances that are so important to this country but at the same time develop the new associations that are equally important to our future. And symbolism is sometimes important in politics. And there was a moment in 2003 when on successive days the parliament of the nation was addressed by the President of the United States and the following day by the President of China. And that sent a powerful message that our alliance with the United States so important to our security in the past and so important to our national interest in the future. We are in alliance with the Americans because it is in our interests to be so. We are not doing it out of some kind of blind ideology but we also need consistently with that to build and develop our relations in our own way and on our own terms with the nations of Asia. And so it was the next day the President of the most populous country in the world, a country that is now taking four times more exports from Australia than it was in 1996, so it was that he addressed the Parliament on behalf of that huge and important nation.

Fast forward to a week and a half ago and within the space of a week we had a visit from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom whose eloquent exposition of the cause of freedom and the values at stake in the worldwide fight against terrorism delivered a powerful message to his fraternal colleagues on the other side of our Parliament as much as it did to us and to the rest of the Australian community. And a a few days later he was followed by the visit to Canberra and to Western Australia and New South Wales of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa. A reminder again of that important duality that you can build trust and strong relationships with the nations of Asia without in anyway apologising for and retreating from those traditional associations which are so keenly and dearly held by millions of Australians.



The idea that somehow or other you had to walk away from your history to embrace a modern day geography in the area of international relations was always a flawed doctrine. Whenever I heard it articulated by my predecessor I thought it flew in the face of the common sense of the Australian people and over the last 10 years we have demonstrated how utterly false and ridiculous that proposition has been.

Again my friends to all of my parliamentary colleagues in Victoria and you have a wonderful federal parliamentary team in Victoria. I thank you, I wish you well, Robert I wish you well in your quest for office as the year goes on. All of my parliamentary colleagues will do everything they can to help bring about a change of government. We have too many Labor governments in Australia, far too many and our next opportunity, unless there is something unexpected in Queensland, our next opportunity, you can always count on there being something unexpected in politics. Our next opportunity is here in Victoria. We wish you well, again my warm thanks for your great support and loyalty over the last ten years. Thank you.