Sir John Kerr Opens The 30th Parliament

In the wake of the Whitlam Dismissal, Labor members boycotted the Governor-General’s speech opening the 30th Parliament.

Sir John Kerr addressed a half-empty Senate chamber when he read the speech prepared for him by the Fraser government.

  • Listen to Kerr’s speech (8m – first part only)

Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s speech opening the 30th Parliament.

Senators, Members of the House of Representatives:

We assemble at a time when large areas of New South Wales and Queensland are being devastated by severe flooding. It is a terrible experience for those affected and my Government expresses its deepest concern for their plight. The Government is consulting with the States in taking action to ensure that all proper assistance is available. The Natural Disasters Organisation is operating smoothly.

Following the decision of the Australian people in the election last December for both Houses of Parliament, my Government believes that the Australian people have given it a strong directive to bring under control the highest unemployment for forty years and the worst prolonged inflation in the nation’s history. The Government believes that excessive government intervention in the life of the nation is a major factor in economic instability.

My Government’s immediate objective is to bring inflation under control so that there can again be jobs for all who want to work.

The Government’s long term objective is to prevent the growth of centralised bureaucratic domination in Australia, the increasing dependence of individuals on the state. It is to encourage the development of an Australia in which people have maximum freedom and independence to achieve their own goals in life, in ways which they decide.

As part of this approach the Government will place great emphasis on directing welfare assistance to those in real need. Unless there is a concentration on those in real need, schemes of assistance do not provide maximum possible assistance to the disadvantaged and become excessively costly. The Government does not believe that the poor and disadvantaged can be best helped by increasing the dependence of everyone on what the Government chooses to provide.

My Government believes that adequate opportunities for the disadvantaged as well as the most rapid improvement in social service provision, are dependent on people being free and encouraged to achieve their best. The disadvantaged must be helped in ways which leave them the maximum independence.

At the root of the economic crisis is a steadily increasing tax burden required to finance, at the expense of the private sector, an ever-growing public sector. Measures to deal with this crisis will advance Australia towards the long-term goal of a society based on freedom and on the mutual respect freedom makes possible.

The Government’s strategy to achieve its objectives can be summarised as follows:

(1) There will be a major direction of resources away from Government towards individuals and private enterprise;

(2) The internal structure of the Government is being made more economical and effective; a responsible Cabinet system has been instituted which will permit effective and co-ordinated decisions to be taken and implemented;

(3) Major reformswill be implemented to protect individuals from being subjected to massive unlegislated tax increases;

(4) Historic reforms will be made to reverse the concentration of power in the Federal

Government and increase the autonomy and responsibilities of Local and State Governments. The Government believes that there must be more scope for community and individual initiative if people are to solve their problems sensitively and with a rational use of resources;

(5) The total wealth of Australians will be expanded by the encouragement of enterprise, and by the reassertion of the Government’s role in establishing an appropriate legal framework for economic life;

(6) In all policy areas the Government will be alert to opportunities to increase the freedom of Australians to choose -without exploitation- the kinds of goods, services, and styles of life they want, and to minimise direction by Government and the unnecessary redirection of resources through the Government’s bureaucracy.

Control of inflation is the Government’s first consideration. Unless inflation is brought under control there will be no adequate employment opportunities, no soundly based return to prosperity.

The Government has already begun to implement its economic program to achieve this objective. It is a full three year program.

The budget deficit must be lowered, otherwise inflationary pressures will intensify. The very rapid growth in government expenditure in recent times has been accompanied by enormous waste. The Government has taken a number of actions to reduce expenditure and inefficiency.

Immediate economies have been made in administrative expenses. These affect, among other things, overtime, travel and subsistence expenses, advertising, consultancy work, the activities of commissions, boards of inquiry, and so on, as well as expenditure by Ministers and other members of Parliament.

The growth of the Federal bureaucracy has been halted by the announcement of revised staff ceilings. Further revisions to these ceilings to reduce the size of the service were announced last week.

There has been an initial review of the Government’s spending programs and, with the other measures taken, expenditure reductions worth about $3 60m in the current year have been achieved. Savings from these decisions in later years will be considerably greater.

The Government has also appointed an Administrative Review Committee to review administrative expenditure, achieve maximum administrative efficiency, and eliminate waste and duplication within and between Government Departments, and between Commonwealth and States. The committee will report progressively.

The Government has been forced to examine all expenditures in terms of their priority. Choices have to be made. It will be necessary to economise on some worthwhile projects which are not urgent, in addition to continued action against waste and duplication, to effect the necessary transfer of resources to the private sector. Only if this is done can prosperity and productive job opportunities be restored.

While the Government in these ways is seeking to cut the costs of public administration, it also seeks to promote worthwhile innovation in the Public Service. The Government will give close attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration when it is received.

Concurrent with action to bring the deficit under control, the Government has announced a number of measures to further restrain inflation, encourage investment in plant and equipment and expand job opportunities in the private sector.

These measures include a new 40 per cent investment allowance and the relaxation of conditions applying to the interest deductibility of convertible note issues.

The Government has introduced a major set of monetary measures to take up excess liquidity and encourage investment. The package included a special new security, the Australian Savings Bond, which was outstandingly successful in supporting the February loan raisings.

The Government will continue the suspension of the quarterly tax instalments for the three instalments that would have been payable for the 1976-77 financial year.

Alongside its assistance to manufacturing and other industries, the Government has taken action to assist the rural community to overcome its present crisis. Rural industries will not be neglected as they have been in the past.

Government support for industry- primary as well as secondary- will be based on reports of the Industries Assistance Commission. The Government, of course, makes policy in this area. The Government is pursuing energetically proposals for a Rural Bank and a Farm Income Reserve Fund.

An important contribution to economic revival and the expansion of job opportunities will be made by the Government ‘s policy for Australia ‘s resources. The prime objective of the Government’s national resources policy is to return resource development to its proper role in the nation’s economy and to restore overseas users’ confidence in the Australian mining industry’s long term reliability.

The Government seeks to assure its overseas trading partners, including Japan, that we will be a stable and steady trading partner. Reliable access to overseas markets for a range of Australian products will be sought.

The development of the North- West Shelf is a high priority and the Government is working closely with the Western Australian Government and private enterprise to bring the gas on-stream at the earliest possible date.

The Government will energetically promote overseas trade and participate actively in the discussion of trade problems in the Conference on International Economic Cooperation and the forthcoming UNCTAD Ministerial Conference, as well as in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations being conducted under the auspices of GATT.

The Government will encourage measures aimed at improving the efficiency, economy, and adequacy of our transport services. In achieving these objectives it will work through Commonwealth, State and industry advisory bodies and it will review means of strengthening the Australian Shippers ‘ Council.

Action will be taken to give effect to the Government’s commitment to develop a relative freight equalisation scheme for Bass Strait traffic.

The Government will ensure that business activity is regulated by law to prevent exploitation of consumers. It will also review existing regulations to ensure that they are in the public interest and do not needlessly hamper business efficiency. The Government will review the operation of the Trade Practices Act and closely cooperate with the States in protecting the consumer.

Australia will not return to a soundly based prosperity without understanding and cooperation between all sections of the community. The Government needs broadly based advice from the community and in this regard will be looking to such bodies as the Economic Consultative Group and the proposed tripartite national consultative council in the industrial relations area. With this in mind the Government has established the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs to develop and maintain close contact with consumers and business. In the field of transport, improved communication and cooperation with the States will be undertaken through the Australian Transport Advisory Council, the Marine and Ports Council and the Transport Industries Advisory Council.

Talks are to be held with union and employer groups on the future role and operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal.

A major step in the Government’s strategy and an important support for community cooperation will be the introduction of tax indexation.

In the next Budget, the Government will begin implementing its tax indexation policy. The greater the support given to the Government’s economic program, the greater the first step can be. This reform will compel governments to be honest- if they want more money, they must legislate for it. It will protect the average Australian and the low income earner against higher tax levels caused by inflation, lt will check Government-induced inflation. It will be more effective in protecting the incomes of wage and salary earners than any other single measure.

The Government intends to increase the capacity of Australian workers and employers to decide the leadership of their organisations. Legislation will be introduced providing for officially conducted secret ballots in elections for officials in organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Government is also proposing to ensure that members receive each year a report on the activities of their organisation and its finances. These measures will be discussed with the trade union movement before legislation is introduced.

To re-establish a pattern of co-operation in national affairs and reverse the excessive centralising of power in Australia, the Government proposes to make the most important reform of the Federal system since Federation. Its core will be the principle of tax sharing. The possibilities of this new approach to Federalism are demonstrated by the recent Premiers’ Conference. The working of our governmental system has been corroded by the absence of reasonable financial autonomy for the States. Under this Government, the States will have access to a secure proportion of personal income tax revenue. This will both make possible more effective community participation in State and Local Government and a more rational use of the Government’s resourced.

In making these reforms, particular care will be taken over the special circumstances of the less populous States to ensure that they are in no way disadvantaged.

To assist in achieving co-operation between the various spheres of government, an Advisory Council on Inter-governmental Relations will be established.

In line with its policy of devolving governmental authority, the Government will progressively act to confer executive responsibility on the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory with the objective of advancing the Territory to Statehood. A joint Federal and Northern Territory Legislative Assembly committee will be set up to work on arrangements for the transition to Statehood.

For the A.C.T. the Government will propose legislation to ensure that the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly has responsibility for the financial management and decision-making related to Canberra’s local affairs, although the Parliament will retain a reserve power of disallowance. A task force has been established to make recommendations on the framework for the transfer of appropriate authority to the Assembly.

Action to restore Australia’s economic well being and decentralise Government decision making is essential to the Government’s ability to provide better and more effective assistance to the disadvantaged. The Government will not permit economic recovery to take place at the expense of those who are less well off.

The Government proposes to introduce to the Parliament amending legislation to increase social service pensions and benefit rates every six months in accordance with movements in the Consumer Price Index. Similar legislation will be introduced to increase repatriation compensation payments.

The Government will proceed with a review of the income security system as a whole, including the effectiveness of guaranteed minumum income proposals in overcoming poverty.

The possibility of expanding the area of choice in services available to the disadvantaged and those in real need, while fully maintaining support, will be investigated by the Government.

It is believed by the Government that voluntary welfare organisations are a critically important part of the Australian welfare system. Accordingly, financial assistance to them will continue. In addition, the Government will assist voluntary bodies by placing public service resources at their disposal through improving opportunities for transferability of staff between the Government and the non-government sector.

Medibank will be retained and the Government will ensure it operates efficiently. The Medibank Review Committee has been established to examine the program in this respect.

Measures have been taken to ensure that only those genuinely eligible receive unemployment benefit. The Government will do everything in its power to ensure that these measures are applied with a sensitivity and understanding that respects the dignity of the unemployed, and that there is a simple, understandable and effective appeals system to protect applicants for benefits against arbitrary action by officials.

The Government believes that education is a prime means for individual self development. An education system to achieve this end must be based on equality of opportunity and the pursuit of excellence.

Legislation will be presented to Parliament early in the session to provide assistance to the States for education in 1976. This legislation will authorise funds for the programmes of the Schools Commmission, Universities Commission, Commission on Advanced Education and the Technical and Further Education Commission, which are now proceeding.

The Government has requested reports from these Commissions on the triennium 1977-79 by the end of March.

The relevant Commissions will be asked to give close attention to measures designed to achieve greater equality in teaching and facilities, and in particular to giving effective educational opportunities to the disadvantagedhandicapped, Aboriginal, isolated and migrant children.

The functions of the Commissions and how they relate to State programs and responsibilities will be examined by the Government. Proposals are being considered for a single Tertiary Education Commission to perform the functions currently undertaken by the Universities Commission and the Commission on Advanced Education.

The Government intends to proceed with the establishment of the maritime college at Launceston.

The Government gives high priority to the provision of trade union training. It is particularly concerned that training opportunities, and the composition of National and State Union

Training Councils recognise the important position of women in Australian employment.

The Government’s foreign policy will reflect a greater self-reliance, and willingness to develop friendly and cooperative relations with all countries. The Government will continue fully to support international initiatives for the reduction of world tensions.

Within South East Asia Australia has particularly good relations with the ASEAN group of countries. The Government will seek ways of expanding cooperation with them both individually and as a group as well as maintaining and developing substantive communications with all countries in the Asia-Pacific area.

My Government’s diplomatic effort will give greater emphasis to the Asia-Pacific region. It will seek to extend and deepen Australia’s relations with Japan. In response to messages from the Prime Minister of Japan, expressing the wish for the early conclusion of a treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries, the Government has made decisions which will enable the negotiations delayed last year to proceed. Bilateral relations with China will be further developed.

The Government believes there is a need to pay more attention to relations with countries with which we share common philosophical commitments.

Priority will be given to the protection of Australian interests in areas adjacent to our continent. In the Indian Ocean the Government supports United States Efforts to balance the Soviet presence while hoping mutual restraint will keep the balance of forces at the lowest practical level. Conscious of the steady and systematic development since 1968 of Soviet naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean area and its use of facilities there, and given the need of the United States to have adequate logistical back-up in an area where developments could affect global stability, the Government supports the United States development of Diego Garcia facilities.

The Government believes Australia has a continuing responsibility to assist in the progress of Papua New Guinea and will, therefore, continue a comprehensive program for cooperation and development. The Government looks forward to the visit of Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister and to having early discussions with him. The Government also accepts that it has a responsibility to assist with the economic advancement of developing countries.

The nation’s security is a prime concern of the Government. The Government will watch the international situation closely to ensure timely warning of any changes adverse to the nation’s security interests. It will maintain and foster the valuable defence relations with Australia’s allies and other friends, including close associates in the neighbouring region.

The Government will ensure that the nation has at its disposal an adequate defence force that is properly trained, equipped and supported.

Thorough assessments of equipment needs are being undertaken as part of the review of the Defence Program. Once the priorities are determined my Government will act without delay to acquire the chosen equipment. An order for medium range transport aircraft for the RAAF is expected to be placed within the next few months.

A plan for a new cadet system is being drawn up. The new style cadet corps will retain the essential virtues of cadet training, but will seek to rely more heavily on voluntary support from the community.

The Government places importance on improving the Defence infrastructure, and has directed that a number of studies be undertaken in relation to our Western seaboard. These include an examination to expedite completion of HMAS Stirling in Cockburn Sound, and the early establishment of a Joint Services training area at Yampi Sound.

The new Defence organisation established by the Defence Reorganisation Act will facilitate the development of a Defence Force in keeping with Australia’s needs. A Defence Council has been established to facilitate the access by the Minister for Defence to all relevant advice and information concerning the control and administration of the Armed Services and to ensure that the views of the services are reviewed by an appropriate body.

The Government is firmly committed to furthering equality of opportunity for women in education, employment, and in public life. It will encourage the full participation of women in all aspects of Australian life to ensure that their contribution of skills and talents is used to the full. The Commonwealth Public Service Superannuation Scheme to be introduced shortly has been amended to make better provision for women employed by the Government.

The Government recognises the major contribution that migrants have made to Australia.

It will intensify action to meet the needs of migrant and ethnic communities in Australia.

In order to consult adequately with migrant communities, the Government will see that consultative committees are established in every State.

It will cooperate with the States and migrant communities in disseminating ethnic languages and cultures.

It favours the provision of migrant advisory services and assistance schemes in industry and will encourage industry to take a greater responsibility for the welfare of migrant workers.

The Government will make available adequate numbers of bilingual staff in public hospitals and government departments.

The thrust of the Government’s policy in Aboriginal Affairs is to promote self-management and self-sufficiency for Aboriginals. To this end the Government will be considering ways of providing opportunities for Aboriginals to play a significant role in setting their long-term goals and objectives, priorities for expenditure, and in evaluating existing programs and formulating new ones.

The Government will introduce legislation to establish a new Home Savings Grant Scheme. The Government will review the Housing Loans Insurance Scheme.

The Government is conscious of the need to protect and improve the nature of the environment.

To provide a coherent national approach to pollution control, the Government will discuss national environmental standards and criteria with the States. As soon as those discussions have been concluded, legislation will be introduced.

The implications of the affirmation by the High Court that the Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973 is valid for the administration of all offshore operations, are now under close study and appropriate revised arrangements are being worked out in cooperation with the States. In these consultations the Government will seek to work out an appropriate basis of cooperation with the States not only in relation to particular industries but in particular for the protection of the marine environment.

The subject of privacy will be referred to the Law Reform Commission. The terms of reference will be settled after consultation with State Attorneys-General. After consideration of the Commission’s report the Government will introduce appropriate legislation.

The Government will continue to implement the Family Law Act.

Australia has a fine record of achievement in the creative and performing arts.

It is the Government’s intention to encourage their continued growth and development, and to emphasise the development of young talent. The Government also believes thai the States and private interests can play a crucial part in the healthy and vigorous growth of the arts.

The Government will give effect to the National Gallery’s policy of giving first priority to purchasing Australian Art. Australia’s National Gallery should hold the very finest work of Australian artists of all periods.

The Government will support a more vigorous sponsorship of exhibitions which will give more Australians ready access to the art and culture of other countries.

The Government will continue to encourage the rapidly growing Australian Film and Television Industry.

Further development of the creative and performing arts will add greatly to the depth and value of life in Australia.

Senators and members,

The purpose my Government has set itself is not merely to give Australia prosperity, predictability and stability. It is also to develop in a rational and sensible fashion a new and exciting role for government- one which places more reliance on the commonsense and reason of the Australian people.

Australians are increasingly well educated, they have a high capacity to participate in and shape the decisions that determine their future. My Government is determined to develop these possibilities in the process of government in a manner never before undertaken.

We have a unique opportunity to establish in Australia a truly liberal and humane society- to demonstrate that independence and freedom are not only compatible with action to assist the disadvantaged but inseparable from it.

The Government is not concerned with power for itself. It is the servant of the Australian people. Its purpose is to work with the people to create an Australian democracy which will be an example to the world of what a free people can achieve.

I now leave you in the faith that Divine Providence will always guide your deliberations and further the welfare of the people of Australia.

(His Excellency the Governor-General and members of the House of Representatives retired)

Sitting suspended from 3.47 to 5 p.m.

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