Governor-General’s Speech Opening Parliament: 1987

Following the Hawke Labor government’s re-election on July 11, 1987, the 35th Parliament was opened by the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, on September 14, 1987.

Address by Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen at the Opening of the 35th Parliament.

Honourable Members of the Parliament of Australia:

At the elections for both Houses of Parliament held on 11 July 1987, the Australian people once again elected the Labor Government and, with an increased majority, decisively renewed its mandate to pursue the task of national reconstruction.

The Government enters its third term in office with a full agenda of reforms to continue this essential and historic task.

Like the policies implemented by the Government in its first two terms, these new proposals are designed to work towards two overriding and complementary goals.

They seek to build a stronger, more competitive and more efficient Australian economy, and a fairer and more compassionate Australian society.

The nation has made considerable progress towards these goals since March 1983.

If the Australian people are to overcome the basic problems which confront us, further restraint in government spending will be required. The more efficient employment of our human and physical resources, the careful rethinking of inherited attitudes and the continued acceptance by the whole community of the need for hard decisions, will also be necessary.

Because this is a task for the whole nation, it is fitting that the Government’s program will encompass the period of our Bicentenary celebrations next year.

These celebrations will generate great national pride and redouble our sense of national purpose and partnership. The Bicentenary will enable Australians to reflect and to build upon their substantial achievements in all facets of human endeavour.

The Government believes that this renewed national spirit will be an essential element in the successful reconstruction of the Australian economy to meet the challenges of our third century of European settlement.

The Government believes it is essential, as we come to the Bicentennial year, to recognise that 200 years of European settlement come after over 40,000 years of Aboriginal history. The Government will explore how best to reflect that recognition and the obligation which this involves for the whole community.

This Government has directed and coordinated all aspects of government activity towards the task of reconstruction. Macroeconomic policy has been complemented by appropriate policies directed to the primary, manufacturing and services industries, education and training, foreign policy and overseas trade, the encouragement of research, the improvement of the nation’s infrastructure and the streamlining of the public service.

Social welfare policy has been progressively reformed to ensure that those Australians who are worst off receive the greatest possible assistance, while those who should not rely upon the government safety net find it more difficult to do so.

The agenda for the third term reflects this coordinated and farsighted approach to the continued challenge of reform.

The Australian Economy

Reflecting the sharp decline in our terms of trade, the major preoccupation of economic policy over recent years has been to redress the consequent deterioration in our balance of payments and foreign debt positions. Corrective action on those fronts is essential to establish the pre-conditions for sustainable growth in economic activity and living standards. The Government’s monetary, wages and fiscal policies have been geared towards these objectives, while seeking to spread the burden of economic adjustment fairly across the community. Structural policies also have been receiving particular emphasis.

These policies are now bearing fruit. While the task of restoring external balance will take some considerable time, there is increasing evidence that the necessary structural adjustment processes are occurring. The current account deficit has been moving downwards and this is forecast to continue.

While the Government acknowledges the need for responsible macroeconomic policies to be maintained, increased efforts will be made to improve efficiency and to remove constraints on improved output performance in the private and public sectors. That, ultimately, is the basis of the improved living standards to which we all aspire.

Further steps will be taken to reduce the public sector’s call on national savings for as long as economic conditions require. The Government expects all levels of government in Australia to contribute to the restraint that will be necessary to achieve these objectives.

The Government will continue its wages policy which over the past four years has, together with the mature cooperation of the trade union movement, provided the foundation for outstanding employment growth, increased economic competitiveness and enhanced industrial stability. The continued reform of outmoded work and management practices to raise productivity will also receive the attention of the Government over the life of this Parliament.

During its second term, the Government was presented with the Report of the Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems. Following extensive consultations with the major parties, the Government will be reforming the industrial relations system without changing existing sanction provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and other relevant legislation.

The Government will also be finalising its policy on employee participation and industrial democracy following a period of extensive consultation.

The Government will reintroduce legislation to establish the Office of the Insurance and Superannuation Commissioner and to set operating standards in respect of superannuation funds.

In the area of taxation, the Government will be giving top priority to the legislative and administrative completion of its tax reform measures and to continuing its strong support for vigorous enforcement of the taxation laws.

The Australia Card Bill will be reintroduced in the first week of the sittings. The Australia Card program is an integral part of the Government’s tax reform package and is a fundamental instrument in improving the fairness of the Australian taxation and social welfare systems. It will stop individuals taking more from the welfare system than is their due. It will ensure that all Australians pay a fair share of taxation. The legislation for the Australia Card, and the Privacy Bills, will ensure full protection of civil liberties.

Industry Policy

Throughout the past four years, the Government has implemented an industry and technology strategy which has aimed to build the competitive strength of Australian manufacturing and service industries to world standards. The Australian economy has been opened up to the challenges of international trade. Its emphasis on inward looking protectionism has been progressively shifted to the competitive search for overseas markets.

Some notable successes have already been achieved. There is, however, still a long way to go in changing attitudes, marshalling the innovative skills of the Australian people, gaining the best value from our abundant resources and generating new technologies.

The Government plans to implement a development strategy for the Australian information industries to link them into world markets and expand our capacity to develop new information industries, products and services.

It plans also to implement policies to encourage more value-added production in Australia, particularly through further processing of our mineral and agricultural resources, and to develop the full export potential of these industries.

One of the objectives of Government purchasing policy will be to encourage the development of the Australian high technology industry.

The Government will also seek to improve links between industry and CSIRO and education institutions to promote the kind of research and development vital to future wealth creation in Australia.

The Government will proceed with the formation of an Australian Research Council to enhance further the excellence of Australian research and its contribution to national economic and social development.

Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Government will continue to assist Australian companies gain access to international markets and join in the dynamic growth of the Pacific rim economies. It will search for a more open trading system, particularly in agricultural trade. New initiatives include enhancing the effectiveness of AUSTRADE, and designing and implementing a strategy to attract productive foreign investment to raise our industrial capacity, quicken the transfer of technology and managerial know-how, and widen our access to foreign markets. The Government will facilitate international co-operation agreements between firms to develop and exploit new technologies, and to help Australian companies market their own technological innovations. The Government will develop a cooperative regional strategy, with the aim of helping Australian high technology industry tap the enormous potential of the ASEAN and Pacific regions.

In its international policies, the Government will consolidate and develop relations with neighbouring countries in the ASEAN and South Pacific Forum regions. It will work for a lessening of superpower rivalry, particularly through the achievement of effective and verifiable arms control and disarmament measures. It will further our alliance relationship with the United States under ANZUS. It will promote effective development assistance programs to developing countries within the means available to it.

Defence

The policies outlined in the Defence White Paper presented to the last Parliament will further enhance Australia’s defence capabilities and increase the involvement of Australian industry. The Government will continue the Defence investment program and will ensure that our Defence Force structure and capabilities are developed within the policy of greater defence self-reliance and have prime regard for the security interests of Australia.

Major capital equipment initiatives, including the construction of eight light patrol frigates and six conventionally powered submarines, will benefit significantly our self-reliant defence capability and our indigenous industry.

Other Defence priorities include the continuing rationalisation of Defence factories and dockyards and further improvement of conditions of service in the Australian Defence Force.

Primary Industries and Energy

In addition to the encouragement and promotion of Australia’s traditional primary industries, which must remain a very high priority, the Government will help rural and provincial Australia gain greater access to Government programs.

The Government will make every effort to ensure that Australian products meet international and domestic standards for chemicals associated with their production. It will introduce improved methods for clearance and registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals for use in Australia.

In conjunction with the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, the Government will set in place legislation to replace the existing River Murray Commission with a Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

Responsible and environmentally sensible management of our forest resources will remain a priority for the Government and a broadacre afforestation program will be introduced. A balance must be maintained between the sustainable commercial use of these production resources and the conservation and protection of areas that are sensitive or have special environmental value.

In the resources area, the petroleum sector will be a focus for much Government action. Legislation necessary to give effect to the Government’s decision to deregulate crude oil marketing with effect from 1 January 1988 will be introduced.

In its third term, the Government will introduce legislation to give effect to its commitment to reduce the top excise rate on `old’ oil. This measure is expected to lead to considerably higher rates of production and to guarantee new expenditure in petroleum exploration, both onshore and offshore, and substantial new investment in Bass Strait.

The Government will, as a matter of priority, re-introduce its resource rent tax legislation to replace the royalties and excise on new offshore petroleum developments.

Monitoring of coal export contracts will be maintained and the Government will be prepared to use its export control reserve power if it is necessary to protect the national interest and ensure adequate returns to Australia from the export of its coal resources.

Transport and Communications

Early in these sittings, the Government will introduce motions in both Houses formally to give the required three years’ notice to terminate the Two Airline Policy and will also be shortly spelling out its plans and objectives for the domestic aviation industry.

The Government made an in-principle decision, in its second term, to establish a Civil Aviation Corporation to improve the efficiency of support for the aviation industry. Refinement of this concept will take place in the coming year.

The Government is also examining reforms to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the shipping industry, with particular emphasis on the operation of the waterfront. There will also be an examination of air charter arrangements.

The last four years have seen unprecedented changes in Australia’s broadcasting environment. Legislation will be introduced to complete the reform of ownership and control rules for television and to make some much-needed changes to parts of the Broadcasting Act dealing with public broadcasting, licensing and Australian Broadcasting Tribunal procedures.

The telecommunications industry is a vital part of Australia’s economic infrastructure and a dynamically growing industry in its own right. The Government will ensure that its telecommunications policies are adapted to the changing international environment and facilitate the use by Australian industry of the most modern technology.

Tourism

The success of the Government’s tourism promotion campaigns overseas, coupled with the depreciation of the Australian dollar, has resulted in a boom in international travel to Australia. Tourism is now one of Australia’s largest and fastest-growing industries, and the Government will continue to pursue policies which maintain the competitiveness of our tourism-based industries.

Legislation will be introduced during the Budget sittings to restructure the Australian Tourist Commission to enable it to operate as a much more efficient marketing organisation.

Administrative Reforms

The Government’s determination to improve overall economic efficiency has already led to a substantial reform of the public sector. The Government’s first act of its third term was the introduction of new administrative and ministerial arrangements which will strengthen ministerial control, streamline administration and improve both the efficiency and the economy of the business of government.

The introduction of a two-level ministry.

Legislation will be introduced to replace the Public Service Board with a single, full-time Public Service Commissioner, and a part-time Management Advisory Board.

The Government will continue to give consideration to the most efficient and effective methods of providing its agencies with common services, such as design and construction of public works and property management.

From the reconstruction of the nation’s economy, I turn now to the Government’s proposals to develop the nation’s greatest resources, its people, so they too are equipped to manage the challenges ahead.

Education and Training

The Government’s policies on education and training are designed to ensure that young Australians have the greatest possible opportunities in life ensuring that we build an economy capable of prospering in an increasingly com- petitive world.

The Government’s immediate priority will be to direct education resources to alleviating Australia’s skills shortage, particularly in high technology fields, and to widening our overall skills base.

Industry must also play its part, by developing links with schools, higher education and technical education, investing more heavily in research and development, and maintaining an open dialogue with educational institutions.

The Government aims to continue its progress in lifting Year 12 retention rates to at least 65 per cent by the first half of the next decade.

The apprenticeship system will continue to be a major source of employment and training opportunities for young people, providing about one third of all full-time employment opportunities for school leavers. In addition, the Australian Traineeship System will provide increasing opportunities for young people to undertake high quality training in non-trades areas.

The Government is committed to funding a National Policy on Languages which aims to ensure that all Australians master English, our common tongue, and that more Australians learn a second language. This will contribute to improvements in the skill level of the labour force, to diversification of employment opportunities and to the advancement of out trade and economic interests abroad.

Job creation programs will be increasingly replaced by vocational training initiatives, to help equip people, through training or retraining, with the skills they need to compete in a changing job market.

In making education more relevant to the economy, the Government will maintain its commitment to equity in education. The Government will continue targeting those disadvantaged in the labour market to receive special assistance with education and training.

Social Security, Community Services and Health

The Government’s goal is that, by 1990, no Australian child need live in poverty. Accordingly, in this Parliament the Government will undertake a major restructuring of government support for children. To this end, and in fulfilment of an election promise, a new Family Allowance Supplement will be introduced to rationalise existing programs and provide substantially increased levels of support, subject to a family income test. Reforms to rental assistance and improved financial help for children with disabilities will also be introduced.

In addition, in the Budget sittings of Parliament the Government intends to introduce legislation to establish the Child Support Agency as part of the Australian Taxation Office. This agency will ensure the efficient collection of maintenance payments.

The second stage of the child maintenance reforms will be legislated in 1988. The Government is determined to safeguard the rights of children to adequate support and to remove the burden on the taxpayer where parents have the capacity to pay.

In its first two terms of office, the Government increased the standard rate of pension from 22.7% of average weekly earnings to 24.4%. The Government will seek to make further increases where economic circumstances permit.

At the same time, the Government has the objective of restoring parity between the single adult pension and benefit rates.

Medicare, now endorsed by the electorate on three occasions, will remain the basis of health insurance in this country, thereby ensuring fairness and universality in health care provision.

The Government will begin negotiations with the States on the funding arrangements for State public hospitals as the present Medicare agreements expire next year.

The Government will also provide State and Territory Governments with extra funds over the next two years on a dollar for dollar basis to assist them to reduce waiting times in public hospitals.

The Government recognises the importance of prevention as well as cure and will continue to promote activities directed towards better health. It will be developing with the States the first comprehensive set of national health goals and strategies.

The Government is conscious of the enormous and continuing debt of gratitude we all owe to the veterans’ community. It will introduce amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act and the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Act to ensure that Special, that is TPI, and Intermediate rate pensions, once granted, continue to be payable indefinitely, except where there is evidence of fraud, significant improvement in health or resumption of employment.

Full medical and hospital treatment will also be extended to all returned ex-servicewomen from the Second World War, and special compensation will be provided to surviving Australian ex-servicemen illegally interned in Nazi concentration camps for protracted periods during that war.

In its third term of office the Government will continue its major reforms of residential care services for aged people, ensuring a balanced provision of appropriate accommodation and services. Enhanced assessment services will provide a better match between care needs and services.

To ensure better coordination and equitable distribution of community services the Government has entered into joint funding and co-operative program arrangements with the State Governments. The Government will seek to redefine and develop these programs to ensure they remain effective, efficient and relevant.

The fight against drug abuse in Australia will be continued under the National Campaign against Drug Abuse, to build on the achievements gained since the Campaign’s establishment in 1985.

The Government will continue to fund AIDS education programs and prevention and research activities.

In this the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, the Government’s commitment to public housing is demonstrated by its guarantee to provide over $2.1 billion in grants under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement over the next three years. The highly successful First Home Owners Scheme will continue.

Aboriginal Affairs

I have already referred to the Government’s intention to explore how best to reflect the recognition of over 40,000 years of Aboriginal history and the obligation which this involves for the whole community.

In its first two terms the Government has increased real funding on Aboriginal programs by 50%. The Government will vigorously press on with a range of programs designed to improve the living conditions and future prospects of this group of Australia’s citizens.

Of particular importance will be the further development of the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy, designed to provide a range of measures to enhance Aboriginal economic independence.

A Royal Commission to enquire into the tragically high number of Aboriginal deaths in custody has already been announced, and a series of discussions with the States has begun. This is a serious and complex problem but the Government believes a sympathetic and concerted effort by all can only achieve positive results.

The Government proposes to establish a new Commission to replace the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Development Commission, and legislation will be developed-for introduction, if possible, in these sittings-to this end.

Women

The Government is particularly proud of its record of achievement in regard to women’s issues. It will continue to act to improve the quality of life for women-those at home and those in the workforce-by giving women a greater say, a better range of choices and a fair go.

During its third term the Government will complete its promise of 20,000 new child care places and will implement major initiatives to improve the health of Australian women, involving a three year program of evaluation and trials of breast and cervical cancer screening procedures.

The National Agenda for Women will be finalised and released, as the blueprint for future Government action to improve the status of women in Australia up to the year 2000.

The Government will commence a $1.6 million education campaign with the objective of reducing the incidence of domestic violence in the community.

Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia-to be developed over the next two years in conjunction with the Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs-will give definition, direction and drive to the policy of multiculturalism. At the same time the Government’s access and equity strategy will help ensure that Government services and programs are available fairly to all Australians. I referred earlier to the National Policy on Languages which will specifically address Australia’s language needs.

The Government will ensure that its immigration policy remains relevant to Australia’s contemporary needs and has accordingly commissioned a review of Australia’s immigration policies. The examination will be conducted in close consultation with interested community groups, including ethnic organisations.

Equally, the Government is determined to maintain those essential services required by migrants on arrival in their new homeland. Additional funds will be provided for settlement services in 1987-88, based on increases in the Migration Program, including for the Adult Migrant Education Program which plays such a key role in successful settlement.

Law and Justice

The Constitutional Commission, established by the Government to consult widely with the community and to recommend changes to the Constitution, will report in 1988. The Government will consider closely the report of the Commission.

The Government will develop further measures to improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to counter major crime. It will introduce the Cash Transaction Reports Bill, which lapsed on the dissolution of the last Parliament, to ensure adequate machinery to trace cash transactions in its effort to eradicate organised crime.

The Government has now completed a review of Australia’s extradition legislation and a Bill to consolidate and modernise the extradition laws will be introduced during these sittings.

In accordance with the Government’s response to the report of the Review of Material relating to the Entry of Alleged War Criminals into Australia, legislation to amend the War Crimes Act will also be brought forward.

The Bankruptcy Amendment Bill will be introduced during these sittings. That Bill will include measures to deal effectively with tax evasion and insolvency fraud.

Another priority is to revise the National Companies and Securities Scheme to address inadequacies of the present system to ensure it operates as a genuinely national scheme in a way which will enhance our international competitiveness.

Adequate consumer protection is an essential part of the Government’s policies to ensure a fairer society. Government activity in this area will complement the national Price Watch network, a system of community-based committees to monitor and report on local supermarket prices.

Legislation will be introduced during these sittings to amend significantly the Family Law Act to implement a reference of powers from some States on ex-nuptial children and to make the Court more efficient.

Parliament

The Government supports an increase in the term of the House of Representatives to four year to give greater stability and to encourage longer term planning. Fewer elections would also result in less cost and inconvenience to the electors. Legislation for a referendum on a four year term will be introduced in the life of this Parliament to allow Australians to have their say on the matter.

Environment

The Government’s agenda for environmental action includes completion of the Commission of Inquiry into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania and a policy response to the findings of that inquiry.

The Government will also consult with the Queensland Government and other interested parties in proceeding towards nomination of the wet tropics of North-East Queensland to the World Heritage List by the end of 1987.

The Government has nominated Kakadu National Park Stage 2 and Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mt Olga) National Park for inclusion on the World Heritage List. The Government will continue to protect the unique natural and cultural heritage of these and other Australian areas already on the list.

The Government will introduce a program for the greater protection of endangered species and, cognisant of Australia’s international responsibilities, will sign and ratify the Vienna Convention for protection of the earth’s ozone layer.

The Arts

The Government will continue to pursue an uniquely Australian national arts program aimed at the development of excellence in the arts across a diverse range. It will continue to foster the widest public access to and participation in the arts. To this end, amendments to the Australia Council Act will be introduced.

The Government will maintain Australian film production at a high level.

Local Government

The Government’s commitment to the further development of Local Government-a commitment demonstrated so clearly in the initiatives of the past four years-will be continued with the aim of enabling Local Government to participate as an effective partner in the Australian system of government. Attention will be given to arrangements for the devolution of programs to Local Government.

Honourable Members of the Parliament of Australia:

The Government believes the initiatives I have outlined today are essential to continue the reconstruction of the national economy and the creation of a fairer society.

It is your legislative task to consider and debate these initiatives as they are progressively introduced into the Parliament.

As the representatives of the Australian people, whose interests these proposals are designed to advance, you bear a grave responsibility, and I wish you well in your task ahead.

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