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Australia Unlimited: address to the Global Foundation dinner, Melbourne.



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PRIME MINISTER

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7 March 2007

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP ADDRESS TO THE GLOBAL FOUNDATION DINNER NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA, MELBOURNE

EO&E…………………………………………………………………………………

Australia Unlimited

Let me congratulate the Global Foundation for organising this ambitious and timely Australia Unlimited Roundtable.

One phrase in particular jumped out at me from the supporting material for this event. It was a comment about a growing awareness in Australia that we can now ‘get big things done’ as a nation.

It’s a sentiment I endorse wholeheartedly. Australia today has a capacity unrivalled in modern times to ‘get big things done’.

We certainly confront formidable challenges - security and economic challenges, environmental and social challenges.

And yet we possess a rare moment of opportunity to forge a new era of national development; an era of even greater prosperity and opportunity. So how do we convert this moment to our permanent advantage?

æ We need to keep our economy strong because a strong economy holds the key to meeting all our national challenges;

æ We need to engage globally and in our region in a way that plays to our strengths; and

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æ We need to retain and reinforce our social cohesion at home.

Each of these three objectives is bound up with the other two. They are self-reinforcing goals; part of a potentially virtuous circle of national progress.

In a speech last week I talked about Australia becoming the best country in the world to live, to work, to start a business and to raise a family.

This relies on unlocking the talent and potential in every home, every neighbourhood, every place of learning and every workplace.

It demands bold and energetic government. But it also requires a measure of humility. Getting this balance right is the essential art of modern government.

Why do I say this? I say it because our future is open-ended, rather than a fixed, pre-determined destination. It relies as much on the local and the particular as on the bold, grand design.

The American writer Virginia Postrel makes this point in her stimulating book, The Future and its Enemies. She writes how ‘the very nature of progress dictates an inherently open, and imperfect, future. … The future will be as grand and as particular as we are.’

Our progress as a nation is not something that can be engineered top-down by Australia Inc. or by technocratic design. It will arise, albeit imperfectly, from the creativity, dispersed knowledge and diverse choices of individual Australians.

Those who crave predictability will be invariably disappointed. That’s why the key to truly successful societies is what I’ve called in the past ‘well-governed flexibility’.

Above all, it is well-governed flexibility that has seen Australia reclaim its place in the top rank of OECD countries, where our living standards now exceed all G-7 countries except the United States.

It fits with our philosophy of government which is to create the conditions for the Australian people to pursue their own dreams and aspirations for a better future.

It’s why we believe that a strong economy is the foundation for achieving all our other goals.

In the last decade, Australia’s economy has experienced sustained growth, with low inflation, historically low interest rates, and a decline of unemployment to its lowest level in more than three decades.

The Government’s disciplined economic strategy built on returning the budget to surplus and paying off government debt has in turn opened up new opportunities to ‘get big things done’.

Our $10 billion water security plan is a prime example of this - the direct result of sustained growth and a strong budget position. This sort of investment simply would not have been possible 20 years ago, 10 years ago or even 5 years ago.

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I remain hopeful and confident that the Commonwealth can secure Victoria’s agreement to putting in place a national approach to the Murray-Darling Basin.

Today, I also announced a major new investment in broadband access. Under the Australian Broadband Guarantee, the Government will provide subsidised internet access for Australians currently unable to gain a reasonable level of broadband service at their principal place of

residence or small business.

Of course, we can only afford to make these investments if we maintain our economic strength with ongoing economic reform.

Today’s reforms are the foundation for tomorrow’s prosperity. Reforms such as WorkChoices, welfare to work measures and successive rounds of tax cuts are essential pillars of future prosperity.

With David Murray present, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Future Fund, another plank of the Government’s long-term fiscal strategy.

The passage through the parliament last week of generational reforms to superannuation is a further part of a reform agenda geared to demographic change. This will streamline and simplify superannuation, removing tax and providing greater flexibility for individuals on how and when they wish to draw on superannuation in retirement.

Earlier this year, I announced a $1.5 billion package of reforms to the aged care sector - part of our social infrastructure at the forefront of pressures from an ageing society.

Steps the Government has taken to support future economic growth in the face of demographic change are paying off.

æ improved labour force participation, particularly of older workers.

æ a strong economy and the Government’s assistance for families, including the maternity payment, have supported a lift in the birthrate in recent times.

This illustrates perfectly why ‘getting big things done’ for the nation can never be totally divorced from the immediate concerns of individuals and families.

By analogy, getting our policies right at home is central to Australia projecting confidently in the world.

If anything, this age of globalisation has magnified the power Australia derives from assets at home. This paradox is something I drew attention to in a speech to the Lowy Institute early in this term of government.

Australia’s global engagement rests on core national assets - resilient yet adaptable individuals, stable yet responsive institutions, and enduring ideas and values that bind together our diverse yet cohesive society.

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We must further develop and play to these strengths if we are to shape our own destiny and not just be a taker of trends set elsewhere.

Australians sometimes downplay our influence on international events, perhaps out of a kind of national self-deprecation. Australia can and does make a difference on the world stage. We should be confident in doing so.

Undoubtedly, the rise of Asia - in both economic and political terms - is redrawing the contours of global power.

Asia is poised in coming decades to assume a weight in the global economy it last held more than 500 years ago.

The transformation over a period of roughly half a century is truly breathtaking. By 2030, Asia’s share of world GDP is projected to grow to around 48 per cent, compared with just 20 per cent in 1980.

Asia is at the epicentre of a defining trend of our age - the emergence for the first time in history of a truly global middle class.

There are now roughly 400 million middle class citizens in China and India alone. The World Bank estimates that by 2030 the middle class in the developing world will exceed 1.2 billion (roughly 15 per cent of the world’s population).

The population of more than 30 developing countries is expected to be 40 per cent or more rich and middle class, creating rapidly growing markets for goods and services.

This historic development will also exert enormous influence over the course of national and global politics - as people demand greater political participation, greater certainty over property rights, better standards of health care and education and stronger environmental stewardship.

One of our great assets in engaging with this process is an outward-looking, hard working and entrepreneurial Australian diaspora. At any one time, there are up to 1 million Australians outside Australia, in all corners of the world.

It’s true that increasingly we are living in a globalised labour market and that competition for global talent is intense. We in Australia must work hard to attract and retain our share of the best and brightest.

However, I am not one who gets alarmed by talk about a ‘brain drain’. I see Australians going abroad to live and work and study as an enormous benefit to this country and another reason for national confidence.

Surveys suggest these Australians retain a strong sense of national identity, with nearly 80 per cent still calling Australia home and indicating that they would return.

We must also ensure the benefits of globalisation are felt across our domestic society if governments are to retain support for outward-looking policies.

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The creation of cross-border networks of crime, illegal migration and terrorism reminds people that globalisation is a double-edged sword. And protectionist sentiment remains an ever-present threat.

There is at least a glimmer of hope that it might be possible to conclude the Doha Round of global trade negotiations this year. This remains the Government’s top trade priority.

The January decision by WTO members to resume full negotiations was welcome, as was President Bush’s decision to seek congressional renewal of trade promotion authority.

Much work remains to be done by key players, particularly on agriculture, if we are to take advantage of this window of opportunity. Australia continues to play an active role in negotiations with key players.

In parallel, Australia is pursuing a strong regional and bilateral trade agenda to open up new trade opportunities, including this year when we host APEC.

APEC is a strong force for regional economic integration, with APEC economies accounting for about 70 per cent of Australia’s trade.

With much depending on the next few weeks and months in the Doha negotiations, I believe we must also look at our regional options.

A Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) is something that has been talked about as an ambitious, long-term goal. With APEC economies accounting for about 55 per cent of global output and almost half of world trade, this is an opportunity too attractive to ignore.

Finally, I want to affirm something I said about our national challenges 12 months ago, on the occasion of the Government’s 10th anniversary. I said then that no challenge is greater than maintaining our national unity, social cohesion and egalitarian spirit.

This has many dimensions. It encompasses the need to ensure that new arrivals to this country are made aware not only of their rights in Australia, but their responsibilities as well. It demands that Australia’s children have clear guidance on the values which underpin Australian society and a good grasp of our history.

It demands an Australia where all citizens - whether in our big cities or in the most remote locations - feel connected to each other with a sense of shared destiny and, when times are tough, of shared sacrifice. And it affirms that a strong social safety is central to Australia’s egalitarian tradition.

It’s true that in a time of general prosperity the pockets of real disadvantage in Australian society become even more conspicuous.

As Prime Minister, I remain very conscious that our nation still has a long way to go before we live up to our highest ideals in affording equal opportunity to Indigenous Australians.

The gulf between the first Australians and other Australians on economic and social outcomes is a measure of the distance we still have to travel.

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In a couple of months, we will mark the 40th anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum. This was an event where in overwhelming numbers the Australian people affirmed that is was completely unacceptable to regard the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as anything other than full participants in our national community.

As a nation, we need to recapture the spirit of the 1967 referendum. If that moment of great hope spoke of anything it spoke of the need to remedy the disadvantage of the first Australians.

Of course, maintaining our social cohesion is a challenge not just for government. It is a challenge we all face in our different walks of life - in politics, in business, in academia, in the community sector, and in our attitudes and behaviour to our fellow citizens.

I know that this has been part of your deliberations today.

The challenge we all face as citizens is to help build a strong and vibrant Australia - a country that looks confidently to the future but with a firm grasp of the values that have served it so well in the past.

We live in a rare moment of opportunity in one of the most fortunate of countries.

Converting this in a way that gets big things done is a timely challenge to all of us in 2007.

And it’s only appropriate that we look to groups like the Global Foundation - a unique citizens’ organisation - to help us meet this challenge.

[ends]