The Role of Government is one of a series of “headland speeches” delivered by John Howard, leader of the Liberal Opposition, in 1995.
THE MENZIES RESEARCH CENTRE – 1995 NATIONAL LECTURE SERIES
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP – LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
It gives me a great sense of pleasure and pride to deliver this inaugural Lecture in the Menzies Research Centre’s 1995 National Lecture Series.
This is one of a number of headland speeches I am delivering covering a wide area of government activity. Tonight I want to examine the role of government itself in a modern Australia.
The Liberal tradition has always held that ideas are not political ends in themselves, but the basis for developing practical policies that work for the common good.
The Menzies Research Centre has an important role to play in contributing to that tradition.
It has been established to promote ideas for public policy based on greater individual freedom and dignity, fairer and more competitive enterprise, limited and more accountable government, and a more genuine sense of national community.
In the great debate of ideas for Australia’s future, it is very appropriate that a Centre such as this bears the name of Sir Robert Menzies.
At his retirement press conference in 1966 he cited the massive expansion of university resources and the availability of a university education for Australians as one of the great achievements of his long period as Prime Minister of Australia.
Of his many achievements, one of Sir Robert’s most significant was the bridge he built between the generators of ideas in Australian society and those charged with the responsibility for public policy.
Menzies had a rare capacity to embrace and promote those new ideas which he successfully judged would strike a chord with the broad cross-section of Australian society.
He set out to give new life to the world of ideas in Australia and to enable more Australians to participate in it through broadening their educational opportunities.
Menzies’ success in achieving both these objectives fundamentally changed Australian society for the better.
In applying ideas drawn from the liberal tradition to the great challenges now confronting Australian public policy, the Menzies Research Centre has an important contribution to make and I wish it every success.
I might add that Menzies would have smiled to himself, as I did, when, after a week of us fighting for the interests of the Australian battler, and our decision to increase the intensity of the battle of ideas tonight, the Prime Minister decided he had better find some way to stop all of this. Now, just coincidentally, tomorrow night we will finally see the details of the Keating Republic.
Not the people’s view about their Constitution but the Keating view.
One of the great myths about Menzies was his alleged subservience to the British and subsequently the Americans.
The passage of time has begun to correct this gross distortion.
Alan Martin’s splendid biography has destroyed many of these myths and demonstrated what a robust Australian he really was.
OUR NATIONAL IDENTITY
This is an appropriate time to say something of the issue of Australia’s national identity.
The Australian identity is the possession of all Australians. It ought not to be the political plaything of one or other side of politics. We should not politicise the Australian character.
It is not for governments, or indeed oppositions, to impose their stereotypes on the Australian identity.
Australians have little patience with either politicians who seek to use nationalism as a partisan political divide, or self-appointed cultural dietitians who seek to implement their own agendas in the area of national identity.
The enduring national symbols of Australia have emerged either after long years of usage and acceptance or, in the case of the ANZAC legend, from a cataclysmic event in our nation’s history.
None have been the product of partisan political fiat.
THE PEOPLE’S PERCEPTION OF GOVERNMENT
The prevailing mood towards governments around the world today is one of mistrust. There is intense cynicism, especially amongst the young, towards most aspects of government.
There is a widespread belief that governments have few answers for contemporary problems. They are variously seen as the puppets of special interests or composed of people bent on self-promotion rather than the enhancement of the national interest.
This harsh judgment has a strong resonance in Australia.
Numerous surveys have revealed public indifference towards, even disdain for, the political process.
The reasons for this malaise are complicated. In part it is due to the perceived inability of governments to solve basic challenges and to cure the many social ills, and arrest the processes of disintegration which have overtaken so much of western life in past decades.
In fact, many of those disillusioned with the political process believe government actions have at times contributed to some of the social problems.
On the economic side, since the first oil shock in the early 1970s, which triggered a world-wide bout of high inflation, the economies of most industrialised nations experienced almost continual economic turbulence, which has severely tested their flexibility and adaptability.
Australia has been no exception. In the 1950s and ’60s federal elections more often than not were fought and determined on non-economic issues. Not so for the past 20 years.
To many citizens the failure of governments to produce permanent solutions to apparently intractable economic problems has weakened their conviction that governments can ever provide the answers.
The 1980s saw a world-wide shift to the right in the policy debate on economic issues.
This, coupled with the end of the Cold War, has resulted in a less ideological political debate. That is not to say ideology has gone from politics.
In Australia these developments have contributed to the de-tribalisation of politics. The number of rusted-on supporters of both the Labor and Liberal Parties is lower than in earlier years. Uncommitted and swinging voters are more numerous. Consequently, election campaigns themselves have assumed much greater significance.
Such changes have produced something of a vacuum which has only been too readily filled by well organised, articulate single issue groups. The rise of single issue politics has been one of the principal features of the changed political landscape of recent years.
Although single issue politics has involved many more groups in the political process, paradoxically it has heightened the general level of cynicism towards that process.
There is a frustrated mainstream in Australia today which sees government decisions increasingly driven by the noisy, self-interested clamour of powerful vested interests with scant regard for the national interest.
The power of one mainstream has been diminished by this government’s reactions to the force of a few interest groups.
Many Australians in the mainstream feel utterly powerless to compete with such groups, who seem to have the ear completely of the government on major issues.
This bureaucracy of the new class is a world apart from the myriad of spontaneous, community-based organisations which have been part and parcel of the Australian mainstream for decades.
These trends reflect a style of government which will change profoundly under the Liberal and National Parties.
Under us, the views of all particular interests will be assessed against the national interest and the sentiments of mainstream Australia.
For the past 12 years Labor has governed essentially by proxy through interest groups. Identification with a powerful interest group has been seen as the vehicle through which government largesse is delivered.
Increasingly Australians have been exhorted to think of themselves as members of sub-groups. The focus so often has been on where we are different – not on what we have in common.
In the process our sense of community has been severely damaged.
Our goal will be to reverse this trend. Mainstream government means making decisions in the interests of the whole community, decisions which have the effect of uniting, not dividing the nation, drawing upon the numerous community-based organisations which are the natural expression of the sense of neighbourhood which so many Australians have.
It is undeniable that a major cause of the reduced respect for government, specifically in Australia, has been the deterioration in the simple trust and confidence which used to exist between people and their governments.
Although federal politics in Australia has been relatively free from corruption, the same cannot be said of State politics. These breaches of fundamental ethics have added massively to the disrepute of governments.
But particularly at the federal level, exaggerated election promises, followed by seemingly guiltless repudiation shortly after an election, have also fuelled growing cynicism and resentment.
To many Australians the apotheosis of this behaviour was reached by the Prime Minister with his blatantly cynical grabbing back – after the election – of the so-called L-A-W law tax cuts, his indirect tax hikes in the 1993 budget, despite having campaigned against a GST, his latest broken promise on the Medicare levy, and his recent budget decision to lift company tax, despite having previously proposed a cut in company tax as the main element of his business policy for the 1993 election.
Many of the so-called true believers harbour deep resentment towards both a Prime Minister and a Treasurer who induced Australians to buy shares in the Commonwealth Bank on the back of a solemn promise that majority government ownership of the bank would be retained, only to find their Labor leaders subsequently jettisoning that promise when it was politically expedient to do so.
As well, honesty is being swamped by cynical election campaigns based on fear, or the big scare, or the massive lie.
REBUILDING TRUST IN GOVERNMENT
Any intelligent examination of the role of government in modern Australia must start with a firm commitment to restoring a proper sense of trust and confidence between the people and their government.
Rebuilding that trust will not be achieved speedily. Moreover, it will require action on a number of fronts. I intend to introduce many improvements which in the end will clean up government and clean up parliament itself.
That must start with economic honesty, where people can have an honest account of the state of the nation’s finances and the plans the government has for the future.
Both Peter Costello and I are committed in government to introducing a charter of budget honesty.
We will take the people into our confidence on our fiscal policy intentions, set benchmarks against which fiscal performance can be assessed and make it easier for people to follow the budget papers.
We will minimise the scope for budget fiddles and accounting tricks and there will be no more fiscal sleight of hand.
We will separate clearly the recurrent and capital sides of the budget.
We will tackle debt levels and achieve an appropriate balance between operating revenue and operating expenditure.
This approach will provide a degree of predicability about the level and stability of tax rates for future years.
A Commission of Audit will be appointed immediately after the election to report on:
- the contingent liabilities of the Commonwealth;
- the impacts of demographic change of Commonwealth outlays and how to make
provision for them;
- the preparation of a full Commonwealth Balance Sheet;
- the state of Commonwealth infrastructure and the private and public measures
required to restore it to levels required for the next decade;
- financial performance targets for Commonwealth Departments; and
- the level of duplication between Commonwealth and the States in the delivery
of services and the measures necessary to promote more efficient delivery.
This commitment is a practical gesture towards the broader goal of rebuilding confidence in the annual accounting process, via the Federal Budget, to the Australian people.
Care and responsibility in the making of election promises will be a key element in rebuilding trust.
It is neither the time, nor does Australia have the resources and economic infrastructure, to underwrite the huge fiscal shifts which would be involved in massive election promises.
The Australian public, now long accustomed to their expectations being disappointed, would greet such an approach with deserved cynicism and contempt.
I would rather promise half of what people might want and honour 100 per cent of it than commit myself to everything and deliver only half of it.
That does not mean we will be saying nothing new or not offering substantial improvements in various areas. We will. But they will be affordable, achievable commitments.
THE LIBERAL TRADITION
In sketching a contemporary approach by the Liberal Party to the role of government, it is first desirable to say something of the special character of the Liberal Party of Australia.
The Liberal Party, unlike the Labor Party, is not beholden to any one sectional interest group. It is a party made up of people from all walks of life and it is one which governs for all Australians. The Liberal party is not shackled by any ties which could inhibit responsible decision-making.
Atypically, of centre right parties, the Liberal Party of Australia is a blend of classical liberalism and conservatism.
We are the custodians of both traditions in the Australian polity. We have been distinguished for our long commitment to individual rights and beliefs, but have also fought to preserve those traditions and characteristics of our past which remain relevant for the present, and continue to serve the national interest.
The art of good statecraft has always been to preserve from the past that which continues to serve the national interest, whilst discarding the tired and the failed.
Both traditions of the Liberal Party of Australia are on display at present.
It is the Liberal Party which is resisting current assaults on free speech by the Labor Government, which is the dangerously imprecise proposal to gaol journalists who publish certain material.
On the subject of constitutional reform, the Liberal Party is not saying that our Constitution is immutable. We do, however, advocate an effective mechanism to ensure that if change is to occur it will only be because the Australian people believe our quality of government will be enhanced as a result of that change.
I have never seen economic rationalism, economic efficiency – or call it what you will – as an end in itself or a stand-alone political credo.
Sound money, responsible budgets and efficient markets are nothing more than the mechanisms to deliver rising living standards and stable employment, which are so necessary for united families and communities.
Australian Liberals are not blindly hostile to government but they are profoundly suspicious about what governments can achieve and are concerned about the concentration of power now in the hands of government. For Liberals the role of government should always be strategic and limited.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF GOVERNMENT
In expounding on the role of government, we must not only delineate its responsibilities but also define its limits.
A proper balance must be struck between a healthy scepticism about what governments can achieve, and the Australian tradition of believing that there is a role for government which goes beyond it being a mere keeper of the ring.
Australians may not want government out of their lives, but they do want it off their backs.
Most political reflections on the role of government approach the issue only in a quantitative sense. It is either a matter of expanding or reducing government’s percentage share of GDP.
This must always be an integral part of any Liberal approach. Liberals will always remain committed to restraining the role of government in people’s lives.
However, as well as the purely quantitative approach there is a need, frequently overlooked, way of addressing the role of government, and that is to define what ought essentially to be the responsibilities of government in the modern Australian context.
We need to address the quality of government as well as the size of government.
The modern responsibilities of government in Australia essentially fall into four categories. They are:
- To lead and unite
- To secure
- To expand choice; and
- To care
The leadership role includes the responsibility of government to address the principal economic and social problems, to define future challenges and goals for our nation and to unite Australians by engendering a sense of common purpose and community co-operation.
The security role covers the responsibility of government to maintain effective defence against external attack, and to preserve internal law and order.
The choice role involves the responsibility of government to expand and
enhance individual liberty, freedom, opportunity and choice, to help people
The caring role is that real responsibility of government to ensure that there is a fair safety net for those in the community who, through no fault of their own, require special assistance.
THE LEADERSHIP ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
The first responsibility of any government is to unite the community and to provide leadership to the nation.
A conspicuous feature of Labor Government during the past 12 years has been the way in which it has deliberately pursued policies which have divided rather than united the Australian community.
Central to my beliefs about the Australian character and the way in which Australia should be governed is the simple proposition that those things which unite us as Australians are infinitely greater and more enduring than the things which divide us.
Most Australians believe that as we approach the centenary of federation and a new millennium, we could all do with a heavy dose of those things that unite us and bind us together, and not those things which pull us apart.
When I speak of the things that unite us, I have my own idea of the Australian dream:
- I have in mind our great commitment to personal freedom and liberal
- I have in mind that all Australians should enjoy equality of opportunity and social mobility, that we live out the great Australian inheritance of a classless society;
- I have in mind the critical importance of strong family life to the Australian community;
- I have in mind a decent social security safety net, a strong health system and expanding educational opportunities;
- I have in mind giving people incentive to take risks and display business flair;
- I have in mind restoring a sense of progress, where our children are better off than we are, that once again our standard of living will be amongst the highest in the world;
- I have in mind a nation continually renewed by our vibrant cultural and artistic life;
- I have in mind a united community, not an aggregation of separate interest groups with little in common;
- I have in mind taking the best of our past, our identity and our traditions and blending them with the challenges of the next century to produce a prouder, stronger nation.
There are three paths that leadership in modern Australia can take. It can take the path of blind economic efficiency for its own sake. It can take the path of social and political change for their own sakes, inevitably promoting the current fad of the time and adopting the agendas of vociferous interest groups. Or it can choose the path which sees leadership as uniting the strengths of the Australian people to a common purpose, and which recognises that good government is always about achieving a synthesis between the best of our past and the desirability of positive change for the future, between the imperative of a modern globalised economy and the innate belief of Australians in a fair go for all.
I want a nation of caring achievers, a nation based on hope, reward and incentive for the individual, confident of its history and its place in the world and determined to extend practical mateship to those in need.
As well as uniting the country a government providing true leadership will identify and address the major national challenges of the time. I will address many of them in future specific speeches but there are a few areas I wish to cover tonight.
Improving the Economy
Firstly, let me deal with the economic challenge. If we do not succeed there every other ideal we share will be unachievable. The challenge is to deliver sustainable economic growth, rising real incomes and living standards for all Australians and, most importantly, overcoming the unacceptable shortage of paid employment which Labor’s policies have produced.
At the broadest level that requires economic modernisation to lift our growth and policies to address the current account deficit and inflation, which are the constraints on sustained growth.
Substantial aspects of that challenge remain unaddressed and they never will be addressed by a government which sees itself as the defender of powerful, entrenched vested interests.
The recent mammoth OECD jobs study highlighted the lack of economic flexibility in the OECD area as the main reason for rising structural unemployment since the early 1970′s particularly in Europe and Australia/New Zealand.
The OECD countries have not dealt very well with the fallout of the two oil price shocks of the last twenty or so years.
In Australia, unemployment has trended upwards from less than two per cent in the 1960′s to 6 per cent in the 1989 and 8 per cent today.
Greater economic flexibility will reduce but not remove the need for counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies from time to time.
A Coalition government, however, will allow cyclical changes in the budget balance to occur in response to changes in the economy.
To preserve policy flexibility and prudent public debt levels, the corollary is that governments will need to run budget surpluses in the upswing to increase public saving, which is vital to curing Australia’s current account deficit problem.
However, until our arthritic industrial relations system is reformed, our waterfront brought into the twentieth century, the coastal shipping cartel removed and our transport infrastructure modernised, we cannot hope to be permanently competitive and able to sustain high growth in real incomes and living standards.
Some say things are a little better than they used to be, but a nation does not compete against its past. Unless we keep pace with our trading rivals our current account problem will only worsen and our living standards will fall further behind others in our region.
Notwithstanding the Government’s Hilmer mantra, much remains to be accomplished in the field of structural reform and economic modernisation.
Microeconomic reform has either stalled or is going backwards in the areas which are the direct responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. The record is sad but clear:
- The wholesale exemption of relevant areas from the scope of national competition policy, most importantly the labour market.
- The removal of the secondary boycott provisions from the Trade Practices Act, which were put in the Industrial Relations Commission and the substantial weakening of protection for employers against secondary boycotts.
- The failure to remove the Trans-Tasman Accord, whereby industrial bans are imposed on shipping between Australia and New Zealand in support of Australian and New Zealand flag ships.
- The Government’s refusal to allow international competition in coastal shipping.
- The back down on the One Nation promise to introduce a single trans-Tasman aviation market.
- The back-flip on the 1992 decision to remove restrictions on parallel imports on compact discs.
- The retention of Part X of the Trade Practices Act which regulates outwards cargo (liner) shipping services operated by cartels (known as conferences). Meanwhile, our transport and communications infrastructure cries out for reform and remains well below world best practice. Efficiency and productivity in our ports remains well below best practice. That means we are adding to the cost of doing business and adding to the price of our goods, and that results in under-achieving possible sales figures. That in turn means fewer job opportunities and that affects all Australians.
- Ship turn around times averaged 44 hours at the beginning of the reform program in September 1989 – the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority identified a turn-around time of 27 hours as its target. International competitive standards are for turn-around times of 23 to 25 hours, less than half those of Sydney. In the final quarter of 1994, average turn-around time in Sydney was 53.4, and could be as much as 129.3 hours. In Melbourne, the average for final quarter 1994 was 47, and could be as much as 118.3 hours.
- Australian Liner Shipping Services Ltd conducted a survey of eight container vessels trading between Australia and Japan/Korea and Hong Kong/Taiwan. For those vessels the number of containers handled per port hour have declined over the past year by 25 per cent in Sydney, 18 per cent in Melbourne and 25 per cent in Brisbane, while turn around times have increase by 46 per cent in Sydney, 43 per cent in Melbourne and 22 per cent in Brisbane.
- The report by Contship shows that Australian ports have declined in the productivity ratings they give the 46 ports they visit – with Sydney sliding from 24th place to 31st, and Melbourne from 28th to 37 the. Melbourne is only 39.9 per cent as efficient as Antwerp and only 66 per cent as efficient as our direct trade competitor, Auckland.
A Coalition Government will revitalise the microeconomic reform process.
It might be boring to many but any government interested in its country’s economic future and jobs for its people must get on with the task of improving its efficiency. The better we are, the better off we’ll all be.
These actions, combined with other incentives, will be required if we are to fire up Australia’s engine room of jobs – our small business sector.
The problem of finding lasting jobs for young Australians in the years ahead will only be solved when the potential of our small businesses is unleashed.
I commit a Coalition Government to a major assault on the regulations and other disincentives which are suffocating small business enterprises, including the complexity of the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax.
Another of Australia’s great challenges is to establish a proper, lasting regime for sustainable development of our nation’s natural resources and the protection of our environment for the benefit of this and future generations.
Australia is rich in minerals and is a world-class agricultural producer.
The potential for efficient and environmentally responsible value adding is immense.
Finding a lasting accommodation between the economic imperative of sensibly developing our primary industries, yet protecting our natural environment, is a national challenge of the highest order.
Concern for the environment is a proper and permanent part of the political landscape in Australia.
It is not a passing fad. Wanting to protect our environment is not a plaything of minority groups, although like all issues it has its extremist outriders.
It is a mainstream issue of continuing concern to Australians of all generations.
As the Coalition’s land and water management policy, released last January, demonstrated, the Liberal Party of the 1990s understands fully the balance needed to nurture our environment and at the same time develop our resources.
Instead of playing interest group politics, which has been the wont of both the Hawke and Keating Governments, the Coalition has sought quietly and patiently to build credibility by seeking out the sensible common ground, the ground that will allow sustainable development.
Much of the decision-making process which affects the environment rests in local or State hands, yet there is a legitimate national dimension to environmental policy.
There are national environmental assets. The Liberal and National Parties recognise this.
It is not, and never will be, the policy of the Coalition to use the external affairs power to systematically alter the federal balance. That is what Labor has done in a multitude of areas, including the environment and industrial relations. That power would only be used by the Coalition as a last resort.
The Communications Revolution
There is also the challenge of understanding just how dramatically another environment – the working environment – in Australia will be transformed in the next generation.
The Prime Minister speaks volumes about the information superhighway. He likes to portray himself as the gifted guru when it comes to the communications revolution.
Yet it seems that in his blinkered vision the communications explosion is all about the dazzle of media technology.
He evinces precious little understanding of the extent to which the communications explosion will dramatically alter both the role and character of work.
These changes will have a massive impact on employer/employee relations. They will also forever change for many the interface between work and family responsibilities. They will challenge the traditional notions so many of us now have of going out to work. They will alter the views of so many as to what is desirable work.
Our work horizons will significantly expand and, rightly managed, great job opportunities will emerge.
They will give a further impetus to the shift now going on towards the service sector of our economy.
Vastly more people are likely to work from home and the trend towards smaller business units will accelerate. Retailing in particular will change dramatically as traditional consumer point of sale methods are altered.
This transformation has great implications for our industrial relations system.
It will further expose the antiquated, old-fashioned character of the existing system, spawned at a time when work for most people was about large numbers of employees congregating in one place and receiving instructions from a superior.
Even now that notion is for many employees a thing of the distant past, yet incredibly enough our industrial relations system remains based on it.
It will also be important – through education and training – for the benefits of the superhighway to be accessible by all Australians.
The Asia Pacific Region
No issue has commanded more Prime Ministerial pronouncements during the past three to four years than Australia’s relations with the Asia Pacific region.
Like some modern day Marco Polo, Paul Keating would have us believe that he first, amongst all Australian Prime Ministers, actually discovered the importance of the region to Australia’s future.
Once again the facts haunt him. The great foundation stone of Australia’s economic association with Japan, and therefore the entire region, was laid in 1957 through the Australia-Japan Trade Agreement – which incidentally the Labor Party opposed.
Successive Australian Prime Ministers on both sides have stressed the importance of our relations with nations in the Asia Pacific region.
The next Coalition Government will continue this pattern.
Australia has a permanent interest in close and lasting economic, political and social ties with the region.
Our association with the nations of the region must be built on both realism and mutual respect.
Our society is different from the societies of the region, who in turn themselves differ very sharply from each other.
The fact that we are different can be the basis of a more positive relationship, particularly if those differences are both understood and respected.
Building a lasting and fruitful relationship with the region involves achieving a unique synthesis between a comfortable acceptance of Australia’s past, a confident assertion of its on-going values and traditions, and a positive readiness to understand, accept and embrace new associations.
Few people are more ill-equipped to achieve this than our current Prime Minister.
His strident and often factually ignorant repudiation of past Australian associations and traditions betrays an unseemly desire to ingratiate rather than a capacity to present Australia as an honourable, different but nonetheless wholehearted participant in a new partnership carrying mutual benefit to all.
Once we start disavowing our history, or disowning our values or changing our institutions simply because we think regional countries will respect us more for doing so, then we will be badly mistaken.
Future constitutional arrangements or national symbols are exclusively a matter for Australians. It both trivialises relations with the region and is an unwarranted act of national self-abasement to believe particular changes can win or lose friends in the region.
There may be reasons for change in all these areas, but they must be reasons of substance in their own right and not mistaken beliefs about what other countries may think of us or what supposed economic benefits others will bestow if only we made such changes.
There is no ‘quick fix’ to earning respect and building economic advantage in an increasingly competitive world.
That comes only through making our own economy internationally competitive and through developing long-term political relationships on the basis of trust and honesty.
The blunt reality is that our great economic thrust into the region will fail unless our domestic economy is put in order by the reforms I have outlined tonight.
I have covered some areas where leadership will be required in the years ahead, such as in the Asia Pacific area, in communications, in the environment and in the economic area. As I said, I will be addressing a number of other areas in the period ahead.
THE SECURITY ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
The responsibility to provide both external and internal security ought to be accepted as a prime responsibility of government – probably the prime responsibility – without comment or debate. That means ensuring we have a defence force ready to support Australia’s security objectives, nurturing traditional alliances, forging co-operative defence arrangements with regional powers and focussing our foreign policy to meet our security and economic interests.
Internal security or, as most Australians would describe it, law and order, is overwhelmingly a State Government responsibility. That is not to say the Federal Government does not have a major role through its Customs surveillance, anti-terrorist personnel and international crime prevention links.
While the day-to-day management is plainly a State one, there is clearly a leadership role for the Federal Government in harnessing community resources to help combat some of the real causes of crime, such as high unemployment, family breakdown, drug abuse, a lack of support systems, a sense of desperation and helplessness and a loss of self-esteem and confidence.
Let me say that in the ebbing and flowing debate on the availability of weapons, I am firmly on the side of those who believe that it would be a cardinal tragedy if Australia did not learn the bitter lessons of the United States regarding guns.
I have no doubt that the horrific homicide level in the United States is directly related to the plentiful supply of guns. How else does one explain the simple fact that in the United States the murder rate is 10 per 100,000, against one per 100,000 in England and Wales and 2.0 in Australia.
Whilst making proper allowance for legitimate sporting and recreational activities and the proper needs of our rural community, every effort should be made to limit the carrying of guns in Australia.
I might also state in passing that I view with real concern the possibility that Australia might go down the United States path of widely televising court proceedings.
I can see no merit at all in television cameras being allowed into courts, particularly for criminal trials.
The high farce to which television has helped reduce the OJ Simpson trial should be lesson enough for those in Australia who believe in their misguided way that proceeding willy nilly down an American path in this area is in the national interest.
Australia’s criminal justice system is far from perfect. However, it is unlikely to be enhanced through copying American practices.
The activities of courts, which often decide the future freedoms and choices of individuals, are some of the most serious deliberations in our society and they must never become an arena for those wishing to perform in front of the media, nor should their deliberations be influenced by media exposure or become a vehicle for sheer voyeurism.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN ENHANCING CHOICE
The next great responsibility of government is to expand and enhance freedom of individual choice.
So often government has been looked at in the light of whether or not its powers should be used to curtail individual liberty or choice in the presumed common good. There has been far too little focus on what governments can do to expand individual choice, freedom and opportunity.
It has always been part of the Liberal tradition in Australia to expand the horizons of individual choice.
One of the great legacies of the Menzies period was the massive contribution made in the early 1960s in expanding freedom of choice in education.
The decision of the Menzies Government in 1963 effectively to introduce direct government assistance for independent schools not only helped to demolish almost a century of sectarian division, but also struck a mighty blow for freedom of parental choice.
In so many areas, the divide between Labor and Liberal in the 1990s surrounds individual choice.
The essence of the Coalition’s industrial relations policy is an unswerving belief that individuals should have the right to decide. They should be free to join or not to join a union. They should be free to choose their own workplace arrangement. They should be free to conduct any negotiations on workplace arrangements themselves or to have someone do it on their behalf.
If they decide to join a union, they should be free to join the union of their choice. Moreover, any group of employees should have the right to form a union centred on their workplace if that is their choice.
These ought to be simple unarguable rights in a free society, yet incredibly enough advocating such basic freedoms continues to draw fierce resistance. That is because there are some who still believe there should no choice. They think that the only way is the union way.
The philosophical underpinning of the Coalition’s industrial relations approach is its staunch commitment to individual freedom and choice. The policy is not driven by hostility to unions.
Trade unions will be welcome participants in the industrial relations system of tomorrow, provided they play by the rules applicable to all other participants.
They will not be disadvantaged players. However, their capacity to thrive and succeed will be determined by the quality of the services they offer to their members and not by a special privilege conferred by law.
Expanding choices available to Australian families will be a major component of our policies for government.
Governments should take a comprehensive and integrated approach to family policy.
It should not be a footnote to industrial negotiations with the ACTU, nor should it be a footnote to taxation, welfare or health policies.
Too often in the past Australian families have been required to mould and modify their behaviour and their decisions and to limit their choices to accommodate the on-going requirements of existing practices and institutions.
That process ought to be turned on its head.
It is the institutions and the practices which should be tempered and altered to meet the contemporary needs of Australian families.
It is not the role of government to dictate family behaviour. It is not for politicians or bureaucrats to determine how many breadwinners there should be in each family. It is not for government to dictate the choices parents make regarding child care arrangements.
These are matters which should be resolved by families and parents.
It is the clear responsibility of government to provide a framework which enables the maximum range of choices to be taken by Australian families.
Access to quality, affordable childcare is essential. Present formal childcare arrangements are a mess. They are increasingly unaffordable and complex. A federal government that can work effectively with the States to sort out Labor’s childcare is essential.
Increasing the ability of families to make their own choices is why I strongly advocate a more pro-family industrial relations policy.
Juggling the often competing demands of work and family is much harder than it need be for so many Australian parents in the 1990s.
We need workplace agreements which enable Australian parents to arrange hours and conditions of work which best suit their family responsibilities.
Those who defend the present system fail to understand how it limits the freedom of choice for Australian families.
There is no doubt that existing taxation and welfare provisions disadvantage sole income families who have decided that one parent should be at home whilst children are very young.
It should be remembered that families which take this option forego substantial amounts of income.
Once again, it is not a question of favouring one lifestyle choice over another. It is a question of giving parents the right to choose, in the knowledge that the government has provided an economic framework which accommodates the different choices which might be made.
The Coalition’s commitment to arrest the steady haemorrhage of people from the private health insurance system likewise reflects a commitment to choice.
Maintaining choice between public and private health care with the underpinning of the Medicare system is the preferred option of a great majority of Australians.
They want Medicare kept, and the Coalition is fully committed to that. We will also retain bulk billing and community rating.
Australians also want affordable private health insurance.
To many Australian families the latter is no longer a realistic option. There is no incentive for them to take private cover. The band-aid responses of the Keating Government in this area reflect its ideological hostility to private health insurance and to the private hospital system.
That means under-utilisation of private hospitals and overcrowding in the public system, which results in people having to wait and wait for some health services, even for essential surgery.
Clearly this area cries aloud for government action to expand and facilitate individual choice. It is a prime example of how government decisions can match their responsibility to provide maximum choice for all citizens.
That is part of the equation. The other part is the active promotion of healthy outcomes through preventative health programmes.
We like to think of ourselves as a healthy nation. Yet on international lists we rank as low as eleventh on health.
The fact is Australia does not have the world’s lowest childhood mortality – we could. We do not have the greatest longevity – we could. We do not have the highest childhood immunisation – we could. Indeed, no better example exists than childhood immunisation. Today Australia ranks 26th out of 28 among western nations for completed childhood immunisation. This neglect condemns Australia to epidemics of such preventable infections as whooping cough, german measles and measles.
It is unacceptable that in 1995 more than 40 per cent of our children are not immunised and this must be addressed as a matter of high priority. What greater vision could a nation, a government and its people have than to ensure its children are protected against disease?
In government we will, in co-operation with State and Territory Governments, help co-ordinate a national immunisation programme which will achieve as close to 100 per cent immunisation levels as is practicable.
THE CARING ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
Caring for the genuinely disadvantaged, the unlucky and the under-privileged is the fourth great area of government responsibility.
Despite noisy rhetoric to the contrary, the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically in Australia in recent years.
Recently, for example, the Bob Gregory/Boyd Hunter ANU study found that since the mid-1970s the average real household income of the poorest five per cent of suburbs dropped 23 per cent, while the richest five per cent increased their incomes by 23 per cent. The income gap has widened 92 per cent, or $20,000 in 1995 dollars. In particular, males in the poorest half have lost jobs or been forced to take low paid ones and the proportion of working women from poor areas has slumped 40 per cent. There are now substantial areas of non-employment. Worryingly, higher levels of education are now needed to get the same income or a given level of education brings a lower income.
This evidence is part of the proof which supports our case that Labor has let down the true believers. The battlers have taken a fearsome battering from the boy from Bankstown. It is little wonder that he is seen increasingly by Labor’s traditional constituents as a remote, elitist figure, comfortable with the chattering classes but decidedly uncomfortable with the rank and file who spawned him.
Support for a decent, fair social security safety net is a bipartisan given in Australian politics today.
The Australian ethos is one of caring for the less fortunate. It is an extension of our great tradition of fairness and mateship. Many of the great social welfare initiatives in the post-World War II period have come from the Liberal and National Parties.
It is not the role or purpose of this speech to canvass social security policy in detail, but rather to underline the Coalition’s commitment to the maintenance of a proper safety net and to recognise that the fundamental causes of the blow-out in Australia’s welfare budget have been due not to massive extortion of the system but rather to economic and social breakdown.
Any study will reveal that the two major causes of the rise in welfare payments over the past 20 years have been the steep climb in unemployment and the major increase in family breakdowns.
Both of these reflect deep-seated economic and social changes. Unemployment has trebled from 250,000, or 2.4 per cent, in 1974-75, to just under 800,000, or 8 per cent, now, and one in three marriages is now ending in divorce.
Voluntary Support Agencies
The Coalition is a strong believer in the important role played by the great voluntary welfare agencies such as the Salvation Army, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the City Missions and the broader volunteer network in the provision of welfare services.
Their compassionate yet shrewd responses to the distressing circumstances of needy Australians are matchless and have wide community support.
Their agenda is simply to help people, not to engage in social engineering or to play out politically correct fantasies as to what society’s structures and institutions ought to be.
The tendency of government to dictate in excessive detail how these agencies will go about their tasks is another example of where government has its role out of focus.
The next Coalition Government will ensure that in the vital tasks of family support, assisting the unemployed and the homeless, experience and capacity of these agencies is respected and that they have the resources and the flexibility to undertake their role in the community.
It should be understood that in no way do we contemplate that such agencies
should in any way be involved in administration of the payment system.
Few Australians would dispute that the living standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people require our urgent focussed attention.
However, many Australians are exasperated and perplexed that so much could have been spent and apparently so little achieved. A prime example of this is the National Aboriginal Health Strategy.
The whole Aboriginal policy area has been hijacked by the social engineers, the politically correct and other sundry groups more intent on dividing than uniting our community. They have been aided and abetted by the Prime Minister, whose policy approach once again has been to create divisions and unrealised expectations within the Australian community, including amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I make it clear on behalf of the Coalition that the focus of policy in Aboriginal affairs will be on improving standards and opportunities in health, employment, education and housing.
It does remain a national disgrace that these fellow Australians should suffer such continuing deprivation and under-privilege on the eve of the 21st century.
The Coalition will yield to none in our determination to achieve improvements.
The Mabo decision was a milestone in Aboriginal affairs. For my part I found no quarrel with the High Court decision. It seemed entirely appropriate to the circumstances of the Mer people in the Murray Islands.
That is not to say that every ingredient of the Native Title Act was a justifiable legislative response to the Mabo decision.
However, the High Court of Australia has now spoken the final word on the constitutionality of the Native Title Act. It will not be repealed by a future Coalition Government.
However, we reserve the right to amend the Act to ensure its effective operation. Instead of attacking the Western Australian Government, the Prime Minister should behave like a true national leader and recognise that the impact of the Native Title Act varies throughout Australia. It is elementary that if 93 per cent of the land mass of Western Australia is potentially claimable, Western Australians will have a heightened interest in the operation of the Act.
All Australians have a solemn moral obligation to achieve lasting improvements for our Aboriginal people and the maximum tolerance and justice for all our citizens.
The actions we take must be within the framework of one undivided Australian nation with a common respect for the one body of law, to which all are equally accountable and from which all are entitled to receive an equal share of justice.
The Public Service
The fierce commitment of the Liberal Party to private enterprise and business does not connote any inherent hostility to those who work in the public sector.
A professional, dedicated and efficient public service will be essential to the achievement of the goals of the next Coalition Government. We should never make the mistake of believing that denigration of the public service enhances the role and strength of the private sector.
Before concluding, I wish to address some other issues which are relevant to the role of government in the modern Australia.
THE ROLE OF PARLIAMENT
No address on the role of government can ignore the role of parliament itself and the community’s view of the institution, particularly since the televising of parliament.
No person who holds parliamentary sovereignty dear could be other than disturbed at the steady decline in both the actual power and the reputation of the parliamentary institution.
Much of the responsibility for this can be fairly sheeted home to Australia’s Labor Governments of the past 12 years.
Question Time has been debased, parliament relegated to second best through major statements often made outside parliament even when in session, and of course the speakership has been undermined by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself.
Reversing this trend uniquely lies within the power of the government of the day.
Our party system dictates that if the executive has a will to bypass parliament, only a major revolution from within the government party – which might imperil the government’s very existence – can prevent that occurring.
For that reason I wish in advance of the election of a Coalition Government to commit the next government of this country to a series of reforms which will restore greater authority, dignity and meaning to our parliamentary institutions.
The Coalition will seek to invest the Speaker of the next parliament with greater independence, similar to his or her counterpart at Westminster. This will require the positive response of the Labor Party. For our part the commitment is genuine and on-going.
The absurd and cowardly Question Time roster for Ministers will be discontinued. As Prime Minister I will attend all Question Times when Parliament sits. Australia will no longer have a part-time Prime Minister. In addition it would be the intention of the Coalition that Parliament sit for
We will establish a completely independent Auditor-General so that a fearless and authoritative surveillance of government departments can occur without intimidation from the Executive and without the threat of a Treasurer tapping an Auditor-General on the shoulder and telling him “to get off Trevor’s back”.
Under the Coalition the Auditor-General will be an officer of the Parliament. He will be funded from the Appropriation for the Parliament.
The Coalition in government will also establish a stronger comprehensive committee system for parliamentary scrutiny of all government legislation and we will examine ways to extend the televising of parliament, either through pay TV or existing media outlets.
These reforms will go some way towards restoring the proper role of parliament and, I hope, a return of some respect and trust and a greater understanding of what occurs inside Parliament House.
THE FEDERAL SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
Our highly successful Constitution, which incidentally was both written and approved by Australians and not by the British Colonial Office – as falsely asserted by the Prime Minister – was and remains a unique blend of practice drawn from many sources.
The federal system of government has been well suited to our first century as a nation.
Yet even the most benign observer must concede that it is not functioning as freely and as fully as it might.
The most recent attempt to achieve a thoroughgoing overhaul of the federal system was launched by Bob Hawke in 1990. He received bipartisan support from the then Liberal Premier of New South Wales, Nick Greiner.
The Hawke/Greiner plan to reform Commonwealth/State financial relations was cynically torpedoed by the current Prime Minister, whose sole motive then was to wound his now erstwhile Labor Party opponent and not to advance the national interest.
I do not have false hopes about what can be achieved on this front. I do, however, have a strong commitment to a more rational revenue-sharing approach.
In government the Coalition will allocate a fixed percentage of tax revenue to the States. We will revert to the practice of former Coalition Governments of winding back section 96 for specific grants to the States. That will mean States themselves will have greater freedom of choice when deciding their programmes and priorities.
It will be a specific brief of the Audit Commission, to be established upon the Coalition’s assumption of office, that it examine existing areas of duplication between the Commonwealth and the States. Few will dispute the proposition that duplication of functions between the various levels of government in Australia is causing our taxpayers dearly.
Tonight I recommit the Coalition to having a People’s Convention in 1997 to examine to the Australian Constitution. Not only will the Convention examine the various proposals for an Australian Republic, but it will also have the scope and the authority to examine any other proposal to alter the Australian Constitution.
As the moment approaches for the Prime Minister finally to deliver details of how the Keating Republic would operate, doubts are building about what is involved.
However much the Prime Minister and other pro-Republicans will argue that a relatively simple change is involved in creating an Australian Republic, the reality is utterly different.
Our goal is to give the Australian people the Constitution they want. Mr Keating’s goal is to give the Australian people the Republic he wants.
Even Republican ranks are now rumbling with discontent.
If tomorrow night the Prime Minister fails to spell out what might be the reserve powers of an Australian President, he will have failed a crucial test.
There is widespread disquiet, especially in some States, at the illicit use of the external affairs power of the Constitution which has occurred during the past 12 years.
A Coalition Government will itself propose to the People’s Convention an amendment to the Constitution to re-define the external affairs power.
In the meantime the Coalition will in government refrain from using the external affairs power in the wilful, capricious fashion adopted by the present government.
This address represents a framework for a future Coalition Government.
Our goal will be to end the drift, the division, the favouritism and the peripheral agendas which have been hallmarks of the past 12 years.
The enduring strength of the Liberal Party has always been its capacity to include and represent all Australians. We have never been a party of privilege, of sectional interests or narrow prejudice.
More than at any time in our nation’s recent history the people of Australia want a government that unites them in the common purpose of building a stronger, more secure and more prosperous society – a society built on individual effort, business flair and the incentive to achieve, yet a society which cares for the less fortunate.
With energy, unity and commitment the opportunity to deliver that goal is ours.