Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen Opens The 34th Parliament

This is the text of the Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen’s speech opening the 34th Parliament.

The 34th Parliament met for the first time on Thursday, February 21, 1985, following the election of December 1, 1984, at which the Hawke Labor government won a second term in office.

Speech by Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen opening the 34th Parliament.

Honourable Members of the Parliament of Australia:

The 34th Parliament assembles following general elections on 1 December 1984 in which the people of Australia confirmed their choice of national direction by returning the Government with a substantial majority.

The Government is pledged to carry out the clear mandate of the Australian people to build upon the achievements of its first term in creating a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australian society.

In its first term of office the Government received the support and co-operation of Australians in embarking on a course never previously attempted in Australia during peacetime-a course of national reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction. The Government is confident that the co-operation so essential for Australia’s success will be maintained.

In the period since Labor won office Australia has experienced its strongest and most sustained economic performance for decades, the inflation rate has been brought down from twice the rate of other industrial countries two years ago to a level now close to the OECD average, and the unemployment rate has also been drastically cut during the period. At the same time the Government has created a strong momentum toward the change which is necessary to eliminate unemployment, poverty and inequality in our society.

The Government is determined to maintain strong economic and employment growth with low inflation, to ensure that the benefits of a growing economy are fairly shared in the community, and to sustain the sense of national purpose that has returned to Australia.

You, the members of the Parliament of Australia, have been called together to provide the legislative basis upon which the commitments made by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government at the recent election will be carried out.

The Economy

The Government’s major task in its first term was the revival of the nation’s economy. Economic policy was directed toward the simultaneous reduction of inflation and unemployment. The success of this approach in the past eighteen months has been clear. The economy has grown rapidly and the conditions have been established for further strong growth in the period ahead.

The Government intends to maintain the approach to economic policy which has been so successful in its first term of office. It will continue to pursue responsible economic policies which will lead to continued growth in the Australian economy, particularly in the private sector.

The Prices and Incomes Accord has played a crucial role in Australia’s economic success. The Accord will continue to be the centrepiece of the Government’s economic strategy and the basis for sustained non-inflationary growth. The Government maintains its commitment to the policies in the Accord and will give particular emphasis to the maintenance of an effective wage fixing system to protect real living standards whilst ensuring moderation in labour cost increases.

The Government proposes a major review of the Australian tax system during 1985. The Government has given the people of Australia explicit commitments regarding the budget deficit, budget expenditures and taxation. None of these will be increased as a proportion of gross domestic product in 1985-86 and over the Government’s second term.

The taxation review will be undertaken within the framework of the nine basic principles and objectives enunciated by the Prime Minister on 31 October 1984. These are designed to ensure that reform will make the tax scheme simpler, fairer and more efficient. An integral part of the taxation review process will be a National Tax Summit, with full community representation, to be held in the first week of July this year. The Government will also continue to give the highest priority to measures against tax avoidance and evasion. It will reintroduce the ”bottom-of-the-harbour” bills rejected during the last Parliament.

The Government will move further towards its objective of removing unnecessary controls in the financial system and increasing the efficiency of the financial and business sectors. The successful applicants for new banking authorities will be announced shortly. Legislation will be introduced if necessary to ensure the adequacy of arrangements for the prudential supervision of banks and insurance intermediaries following a review of existing provisions.

The present arrangements for determining general revenue assistance to the States expire on 30 June 1985 and the Government will conduct a comprehensive review of Commonwealth-State financial relations early in its term of office. This will include a special Premiers’ Conference in May of this year in addition to the regular June Premiers’ Conference and Loan Council Meetings.

Employment and Industrial Relations

The Community Employment Program was launched in August 1983 and by December 1984 nearly 57,000 jobs had been created under the program.

During the current financial year up to 65,000 people will be assisted under the Community Employment Program. The possible extension of the program in the private sector will also be explored.

In conjunction with State and Territory Governments, a New Enterprise Initiatives Scheme will be established on a pilot basis during 1984-85. This will enable unemployed people with viable business propositions to be eligible to receive continued income support for up to a year while they establish their own small enterprises.

The Government remains deeply concerned at the disproportionate share of unemployment which is borne in Australia by young people. In its first term the Government undertook a range of specific measures to improve youth employment prospects. These included greater support for apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training, work experience opportunities, and community youth support programs.

Now, on the basis of recommendations received from the independent Committee of Inquiry, chaired by Mr Peter Kirby, the Government intends reforming labour market programs to give greater emphasis to improved training and work skills development. Particular emphasis will be given to providing broad skill-based training as one way to improve the opportunities open to our young people in the labour market, and especially for young people who have experienced prolonged unemployment or who are otherwise disadvantaged. The Government will be undertaking extensive consultations with State Governments, unions, employers and other groups concerning the implementation of policies in this area.

Further, the Government will give high priority to reforming the industrial relations system in the light of the report of the Hancock Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems and to implementing a comprehensive national occupational health and safety policy. Legislation will be introduced to establish the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission on a statutory basis.

Community Welfare

The Government believes that economic growth is not an end in itself, but a means to greater ends-a means towards the achievement of high social goals of equity and fairness. On the basis of the strong economic growth achieved, the Government during its first term provided low income groups with substantial additional assistance.

Unemployment benefits for single adults were increased by over 25 per cent. There has been a real increase in pensions, and the tax burden on low income families, including pensioner and beneficiary families, has been reduced.

In its coming term the Government will continue to give a high priority to improving the living standards of the most needy in the community.

Reflecting the priority the Government attaches to ensuring more equitable access to a range of community services the Government has established a new Department of Community Services which will ensure that services are equitably distributed and better co-ordinated with those of States, local government and community groups. Those requiring special assistance will have greater access to the resources of our society.

In its second term of office, the Government will ensure the maintenance of the Medicare program which has extended health services and an insurance system to all Australians on a fair, affordable and stable basis. The Medicare levy of 1 per cent of taxable income will not be increased during the Government’s second term. Medicare will be extended to provide reciprocal health care arrangements for countries with which Australia has close ties.

The Government has demonstrated its firm commitment to the veterans who have served this country. A comprehensive review of the Repatriation Act and associated legislation is nearing completion which will consolidate and clarify the present complex series of Acts. The new legislation, to be introduced in the Autumn Sittings, will not adversely affect current beneficiaries.

The Government regards a sound housing and construction industry as an important social and economic objective. It will continue to give priority to this sector. The highly successful First Home Owners Scheme will continue and the new ten year Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement will make a direct attack on housing related poverty.

Education

The Government is convinced of the primary importance of enhancing the quality of education at all levels of the education system in Australia. The Government is already committed to directing greater financial resources to the education sector to meet this need.

The Government is committed to providing both government and non-government schools with substantial real increases in funding over the next eight years. The forthcoming report of the Quality of Education Review Committee chaired by Professor Peter Karmel will be an important further step in developing the Government’s policy of using education funding to produce the most effective and highest quality education system possible.

Measures which the Government has already introduced to improve resource levels and increase participation and equity in tertiary education will be continued. The Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission will soon report on measures to further increase tertiary participation and on ways to improve tertiary education output in terms of employment related skills.

Industry Development

The Government remains committed to developing a strong and competitive manufacturing industry. In its first term long range plans for the revitalisation of the steel industry, the passenger motor vehicle industry and the shipbuilding industry were set in place.

The Government will continue to formulate positive policy approaches to industry development. One of our objectives is to build closer links between industry and research, so that Australian industry gains the greatest benefits possible from the work being done by the CSIRO and tertiary institutions.

The major review of business regulation which is already underway will be carried through. The Government will thoroughly examine current and proposed law and regulations, liaise with State Governments to harmonise regulatory regimes and implement deregulatory procedures as soon as possible.

Primary Industry

The revival witnessed in the last two years in the rural sector has emphasised the important contribution it makes to the general level of Australia’s economic activity and, more specifically, to Australia’s export earning capacity. A major report on primary industry to the year 2000 will be developed this year.

The Government will continue to place great importance on the rapport it has achieved with rural communities, industries and their representatives. The Government will soon meet with the executive of the National Farmers Federation to examine increasing farm costs. The Government will also continue its vigorous efforts to secure and further develop overseas markets for Australia’s rural producers.

Measures will be taken to assist the restructuring and revitalization of industries such as fishing, sugar and dairying which are facing long term, market related, structural difficulties.

Trade

Australia’s export performance in recent decades has declined significantly. Our trading prospects now, particularly in commodities, are uncertain. New forms of protection and export support are proliferating around the world, food self-sufficiency is increasing and increased competition in minerals and manufactured exports is coming from developing countries.

The Government is determined that Australia will be in a position to meet this challenge by targeting particular markets and products and, through co-operation with the countries in our region, seeking ways to reduce barriers to trade and promote the interests of the people of the Pacific region.

Recognising that growth in world trade is in manufactured goods and services, the Government will continue the steps being taken to ensure the close integration of our trade and industry policies which is needed to reflect these changing opportunities.

Resources

In its first term the Government established the Australian Coal Consultative Council and the Iron Ore Consultative Committee. Changes to the coal export duty have assisted the coal industry, and improved taxation arrangements have allowed mineral exploration to be deducted from income from any source, a measure which has benefited all mining and mineral industries.

In its second term the Government will continue the support which it has given to petroleum exploration and development in offshore areas. The Government will introduce legislation to establish a resource rent tax to apply to new petroleum developments offshore in place of royalties and excise which would otherwise apply. The Government will introduce a cash bidding system for highly prospective petroleum areas in the territory of the Ashmore and Cartier Islands and will hold discussions with the States with a view to introducing the new tax regime in other offshore areas.

The Government will also introduce Nuclear Non-Proliferation Safeguards legislation and create a successor to the Atomic Energy Commission.

Foreign Relations, Disarmament, Defence and Security

Australia was elected to membership of the United Nations Security Council for 1985-86. As a member of this and other United Nations bodies the Government will be active in seeking peaceful, practical solutions to global problems.

The Government remains deeply committed to advancing the cause of peace, arms control and disarmament. At the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be held in Geneva in August and September this year, the Australian Government will make efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and will continue to urge the nuclear weapon powers towards a complete ban on all forms of nuclear testing. It will actively promote programs for the International Year of Peace in 1986, and will advance the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone proposal.

The Government will continue to give priority to developing Australia’s relations with our neighbours in South East Asia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the South West Pacific, the Indian sub-continent and the Indian Ocean region. In the wider Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s very significant and wide ranging relations with Japan will be maintained. The Government will continue to give very high priority to further diversifying and deepening relations with the People’s Republic of China. The Government will continue to support economic co-operation among countries of the Pacific.

In its second term the Government expects to continue to enjoy a mature relationship of mutual respect and close co-operation with our major ally the United States of America. The relationship between Australia and the United States under the ANZUS Treaty remains as firm as ever, and Australia’s rights and obligations assumed under the Treaty are undiminished. Australia will continue to maintain defence co-operative arrangements with New Zealand.

During the Government’s first term Australia’s development assistance was substantially increased. In its current term it will be giving particular attention to maximising the effectiveness of Australian aid.

Urgent attention has been given to the needs of people whose lives have been affected by natural disasters or civil conflict. Australia will continue to play its part in the international effort to give relief and emergency aid to Ethiopia.

Australia’s own substantial defence effort is fundamental to our security.

The Government has initiated a major review of the content and priorities of defence forward planning. The principal aim of the review is to examine systematically Australia’s major defence capabilities so that the Government can see the options available to it and take the necessary decisions.

The Government will continue to attach the highest importance to its efforts to achieve defence self-reliance. Within the parameters of economic policy, it will increase investment in the capacities of Australian industry to design, manufacture and maintain Defence Force equipment.

The acquisition of new diesel submarines for the Royal Australian Navy will provide a substantial boost to Australian industry, and the Government is in the process of reaching a decision on the awarding of contracts for project definition studies.

A major advance was made in the arrangements for fixing the pay and financial conditions of the Defence Force when the Government established the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal.

In 1983 the Government appointed a Royal Commission with very broad terms of reference to inquire into the roles and functions of all Australian security and intelligence agencies. The final reports of that Royal Commission have now been presented to the Government, and will assist it in deciding future policy with respect to all the security agencies.

Transport and Communications

In the period since gaining office the Government has undertaken a comprehensive review of Australia’s transport industry. Reviews of the road freight transport industry and of aviation cost recovery have been conducted. Other inquiries have been commenced into land based shipping costs and overseas liner shipping arrangements. A study of the current economic regulatory arrangements for domestic aviation will begin this year.

The Government will legislate both to establish a land transport program to continue the major road building effort and to provide funding for mainline railway upgrading as part of a rail industry restructuring package which will be negotiated with rail unions and management.

The Government is looking closely at the developments in communications services which will accompany the introduction of the Australian domestic communications satellite. This major advance in technology will provide all Australians with the opportunity to enjoy enhanced broadcasting and communication services and keep the nation abreast of current developments in satellite communications technology.

Social Policy

In its second term the Government intends to review the Racial Discrimination Act, review the structure and operation of the Human Rights Commission and enact legislation for the adequate protection of privacy in areas of Commonwealth concern.

The Government continues to place great emphasis on achieving a cohesive multicultural community in Australia in which all residents can expect justice and equity regardless of ethnic or cultural background.

The Migration and Citizenship Acts have been amended to remove any discrimination on the grounds of sex, ethnic origin and nationality, and action has been taken to ensure that human rights and civil liberties are fully recognized at all stages of the migration process. In the coming term the Government will continue to promote good relations between groups in Australia.

In its first term of office the Government paid particular attention to advancing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Every regard has been paid to the principle of self-determination, and Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders will enjoy, under the law, the same rights and obligations as all other Australian citizens.

The Government will vigorously pursue the programs in health, housing, education and employment for Aborigines which are now in place and initiate new ones where necessary. A Committee of Review into all Federal employment and training programs for Aborigines has been established.

The Government recognises the fundamental importance of the land to Aborigines. Extensive discussions are in progress with relevant groups with the object of establishing principles for national land rights legislation.

In 1985 young Australians will be participating in International Youth Year activities. Our participation provides the opportunity to examine the issues affecting young Australians and to give new emphasis and direction to youth affairs including youth employment as earlier mentioned.

The Government is acutely aware of the threat that drugs pose to all Australians and Australian youth in particular. Moves will be made soon to introduce a national campaign against drug abuse. State Premiers have been invited to attend a meeting in April to discuss ways in which the campaign can be implemented and financed. The campaign will place a strong emphasis on educating our youth about the damage caused by drugs and on rehabilitating those with drug-related problems.

The Government regards organised crime and drug trafficking as a scourge in our society. The Government is firm in its resolve to fight organised and drug related crime and the National Crime Authority, established last year, will lead and co-ordinate the attack on a national basis. All of the references sought by the National Crime Authority have been granted. Any legislative changes sought by the Authority will be promptly and sympathetically considered.

The Government is equally committed to supporting the Australian Federal Police and other Commonwealth and State law enforcement agencies. In particular, AFP staff levels will be further expanded at the national level and its computer capabilities greatly enhanced.

The raising of the status of women in all parts of our society will remain at the forefront of the Government’s policy objectives. Many measures to remove discrimination against women in Australia were initiated in the Government’s first term.

The Affirmative Action Pilot Program is well under way. Participating companies and higher education institutions have introduced affirmative action in the workplace and are providing valuable input to the Government’s Working Party on Affirmative Action.

In its coming term the Government will establish a National Consultation and Assistance Program for women, create an additional 20,000 places in child care and, through the Office of the Status of Women, continue its review of the implications for women of Government policy on employment, taxation, industry and the public sector.

Legislation which contravenes the Sex Discrimination Act will be amended before 1 August 1986.

Arts, Heritage and Environment

In the last Budget the Government substantially increased its allocation to the Australia Council. The Government will ensure that sufficient additional funds are available in this financial year to maintain the real level of funding for companies of excellence in the performing arts.

The Government will continue to foster the development of the national collections.

The Government will be taking new measures to preserve our natural environment. These will include the development of a National Conservation Strategy to protect Australia’s renewable resources, the further extension of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and the regulation of tourist installations on the Great Barrier Reef. The Government will continue, in consultation with State and Territory Governments, to explore ways in which the long term protection of Australia’s rainforests can be achieved.

Tourism, Sport and Recreation

The Government recognises the importance of tourism to the Australian economy and in particular its significance as an employment generator. The Government will maintain its major initiatives in tourism development in Australia and continue the promotion of tourism domestically and internationally.

During the last term of Government, sport and recreation was accorded a much higher priority than under previous governments. In this session of the Parliament the Government intends to introduce legislation to establish the Australian Sports Commission as a statutory body. The Commission is expected to increase the level of direct involvement by the sporting community in defining the priorities for sport in Australia, and to help in the generation of private sector funding.

Government Administration

During the Government’s first term, measures were taken to reform Australian government budgeting, to enhance financial and staff management in the Public Service, and to make the Public Service more efficient, responsive and accountable. The Government will continue to pursue these goals and intends to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Public Service by strengthening its management systems.

Legislation will be introduced in this session to reconstitute the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust as a body able to operate on a fully commercial basis in the interest of contributors.

. . .

The program I have outlined is a program for consolidation of the great gains which have been achieved in the past two years. The Government and people of this nation have, by acting in concert, brought a new approach to solving the problems facing Australia. It is the Government’s desire that the momentum which has been thus built is not lost.

As you consider the program which has been put forward, I ask you to remember that the people of Australia have placed upon you, as their representatives, a trust and a duty of the highest order.

I have every confidence that you will carry out your task to the utmost of your abilities. I leave you to your high and important deliberations.

Print Friendly