John Howard: The Australian Way

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has delivered a speech outlining his government’s priorities for 1999 and beyond.

Howard addressed the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Text of Prime Minister John Howard’s speech to the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

John HowardThe success or failure of a nation essentially begins in the homes of its people.

And as we stand on the edge of the new millennium, Australia’s fortune lies not so much with parliaments or business, or political parties or money markets but with individual Australians – young and old, men and women, Australians by birth or choice.

Each one of us responsible for building our own lives and the life of our nation. All
of us accountable to ourselves, to those around us, to the future itself.

It has always been so. A century ago, Sir Henry Parkes – that great hearted champion of federation declared Australia ready for unity, for the dazzling prize of nationhood because of, in his words, the vigour, the industry, the enterprise, the foresight, and the creative skill of its people.

He knew, as I know now, that self confidence and self esteem, that determination and fair play, success itself, can be the characteristics of a nation only while its citizens possess these virtues and hold dear those values.

This does not mean that governments do not have a role in promoting the values of society. Indeed they have an important obligation to encapsulate community aspirations, define objectives and to spell out how to reach them.

So it is that in this address I will define the main domestic goals of the Government in 1999, indicate a significant strengthening of the application of the principle of mutual obligation and announce Commonwealth assistance for a major resource project here in Queensland – a tangible demonstration of our commitment to nation building as we move into the next century.

The Government has five broad goals in the year ahead.

We are resolved to pursue policies that are most likely to maintain our remarkable rate of economic growth and strength.

We are absolutely committed to the implementation in full of our visionary tax plan endorsed by the Australian people at the last election.

Thirdly, we will not tire in our efforts to further reduce unemployment which, although now at an eight year low, remains unacceptably high.

Fourthly, we will further extend our commitment to the principle of mutual obligation in Australian society.

Finally, we will work to create an even stronger social coalition to more effectively remedy areas of disadvantage and underprivilege.

These goals are not mutually exclusive nor are they the sum total of what the Government wants to do over the next twelve months. Rather, they are a mixture of specific policy commitments and broader social goals which collectively remind us of an important truth of public policy. That is that economic growth and economic efficiency are never ends in themselves, rather they are a means by which we can deliver more fulfilling lives for our fellow Australians.

In pursuing our goals for the coming year we build on the strong foundations of what has been achieved over the past three years. These have been years of remarkable consolidation, strengthening and reform of the Australian economy.

Three years of achievement which have seen Australia return to economic strength unknown for three decades.

Three short years during which we took decisive measures to strengthen our economic foundations, retire government debt by a third, turn a $10.3 billion deficit into surplus and deliver the lowest interest rates and inflation in a generation. And all achieved without new taxes or tax increases.

Years during which we stared down the worst of the Asian economic collapse – our exporters replacing their lost markets with new ones elsewhere. A time of economic growth almost a third more than other industrialised nations and jobs growth more than double the rest of the world because of our early efforts to fortify our base.

Years which have seen productivity growth, the prerequisite for sustainable wages growth, reach double the average of the Labor years. An achievement which has allowed real wages to rise by 10 per cent in less than three years, compared with 6 per cent over the previous 13 years, in tandem with higher profits – allowing lasting jobs and rising living standards to grow together, rather than one being sacrificed for the other.

All achieved peacefully with industrial disputes down to an historically low level and federal unfair dismissals down by nearly half.

Years which have seen privatisation help build a nation of shareholders with almost 4 million Australians directly investing in the share market. In less than four years more than one in ten adult Australians have become shareholders for the first time. Nearly 2 million Australians have purchased shares in Telstra. All of them have a direct stake in the growth industries of the future.

Today’s economic strength and prosperity is the nation’s reward for the economic reforms and sacrifices of earlier years.

How has this been achieved? In my view we have secured these outcomes because we govern with a clear and steady focus on those issues important to people, not on distractions or the whims of pressure groups.

We’ve responded to those issues that affect Australians in their daily lives – their mortgage repayments, their shopping bills, the security of their jobs, their plans for retirement, choices for their family’s health and schooling, the taxes they pay.

And we’ve tackled the most fundamental challenges facing Australians today by drawing on their own strengths and values – individualism, a willingness to take on responsibility, the desire for choice and opportunity.

In conception and practice, our policies have mirrored the Australian character, Australian priorities, in short – the Australian way.

Our approach has had at its core commonsense Australian values – the responsibility to secure the nation’s economic foundations, workplace reforms to allow employers and workers to get on with the job, education for our young people to equip them with skills, projects to empower voluntary organisations and work for the dole to inculcate a work ethic in the young.

We have built upon Australia’s position in the world where we occupy a unique intersection of history, geography, culture and economic circumstances. We draw strength from important bonds with all parts of the world – our language, law, cultural and historical ties with Europe, strategic ties with North America and new economic and people-to-people links with our neighbours in this region.

Where would we be today, if in denial of these ties with the entire world, we had
pursued some of the narrow ‘Asia only’ policies of the past?

As Mr Campbell Anderson, the President of the Business Council of Australia wrote earlier this week, “our good fortune has little to do with luck”. He’s right – we’ve proved the lesson that economic fortune favours those willing to drive through strong hearted reform.

And just as economic reforms of the past have delivered strength and prosperity now, so it is the reforms of today and tomorrow that will deliver the higher economic growth, employment and living standards of the future.

Let no-one sell Australia short by understating the impressive economic achievements of recent years.

This recent economic success has given us a renewed sense of confidence and optimism not experienced for many years.

Australia’s economic fundamentals are stronger now than at any time since the 1960s. That strength is a marvellous foundation on which to build for the new millenium.

RESOLUTIONS FOR THE MILLENIUM

As 1999 begins we naturally project forward to the new millenium. As always Australians have a choice. We can resolve to maintain the momentum of recent years and move forward to improve the lives of individuals and families, the success of business. Or we can take fright and abandon the challenge of further reform.

Economic Discipline

The Government will further strengthen our economy.

Guaranteeing our hard won gains – high growth, low inflation and interest rates, falling government debt and unemployment and rising share ownership – is reasonwhy I will forge ahead with overhauling a tax system which, in its current form, can’t deliver new growth, or encourage new businesses, or provide new jobs.

Australians should receive the personal tax cuts they deserve with four out of five taxpayers paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar in income tax.

Workers should not be penalised by punitive tax rates on their incomes and savings, punished for working harder or longer or seeking a promotion. Parents should have greater freedom to choose the caring arrangements for their young children which best suit their needs.

Our tax reform will see pensioners keeping more of their pension for extra income earned and being assured that their hard earned pensions will remain ahead of prices. And provisional tax abolished once and for all.

Our reforms will mean that most small businesses will be able to pay all their taxes once a quarter on just one form. Our exporters can take on the world, bringing wealth back to Australia, without the burden of sales and consumption taxes. And those in the bush will face much lower transport costs through the reduction of 25 cents a litre in the diesel fuel excise for heavy transport.

And finally, our States and Territories will have a secure funding base to provide the road and bridges, the schools and hospitals all Australians need.

Failure to pass our plan will keep $10 billion of taxes on business and $4.5 billion of taxes on our exporters. Funds which would otherwise be spent on development, marketing, production, sales, jobs, people.

Failure to pass our plan will keep $13 billion of personal income tax on individuals and deny them another $2 billion in family benefits. And will maintain wholesale sales tax and nine other hidden taxes.

In short, failure to pass our plan will mean we have let pass a chance to make things right.

Further efforts to reduce unemployment

As we look ahead we resolve to continue the fight to further reduce unemployment.

Australia’s prosperity, its social stability, the quality of life enjoyed by individuals and families – all these things rely upon building a nation with jobs in abundance.

Lasting and fulfilling jobs are at the heart of personal and family security. They also reflect our values of self esteem and self-confidence and are the means by which we each demonstrate personal responsibility.

I don’t claim that this government, after just under three years in office, has solved the unemployment problem. But we have made significant progress.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 per cent – the lowest jobless rate in 8 years. In our time, we have created almost 400,000 jobs, over half of them in small business. And in the year to last December, we have created an average of 14,800 new jobs each month.

We have instituted a new Job Network to bring together employers and jobseekers faster, with less cost and less bureaucracy, with a focus on results not process.

Despite the carping criticism of many the new system is superior to the one it replaced. Let me tell you why.

There are now more than four times as many sites to apply for jobs as there were through the Commonwealth Employment Service. And those best qualified to provide services to the unemployed – business, community and charitable organisations such as Drake Australia, The Salvation Army and Mission Australia – are already outperforming the old system.

In December, the Job Network placed 17,600 people into jobs, twice the number placed by the old CES a year earlier. And employers have given a vote of confidence in the new arrangements by listing 34,000 new vacancies with the Job Network in December which is in contrast to only 13,000 listed by the CES in the same month of 1997.

Lower unemployment depends upon strong economic growth, renewed efforts to remove the disincentives which exist in our welfare system and greater labour market flexibility. This greater flexibility should respect the Australian way and the Australian tradition of a social safety net.

A strong job market needs to be flexible and competitive and we have set about building a system based on common interest not on conflict. With co-operation and common purpose there is less need for regulation, red tape and legalistic rituals.

Under the new system some 180 awards have been simplified, and 40,000 Australian Workplace Agreements and 805 non-union agreements covering almost 100,000 employees have been approved.

Consistent with my pledge that no worker would be worse off on an Australian Workplace Agreement compared to their award, we’ll continue to simplify and enhance the new workplace relations system to secure and promote jobs.

And there is much more to do. We will stand by our exemption for small business from unfair dismissal laws to create extra jobs which may number as many as 50,000.

The jobs of 420,000 young Australians on junior wage rates will be protected by retaining age based youth wages.

We will maximise choice at the workplace by encouraging mediation services as an alternative to arbitration and by simplifying the approval of agreements.

And the interests of individual workers will be promoted over union bosses by introducing secret ballots for protected industrial action and preventing victimisation.

In summary, I resolve to elevate individuals, their choices, their responsibilities above the interests of institutions and pressure groups because that is what Australians want.

Comalco Project

The Australian way has also always involved great projects of national development.

The Government’s strategic investment co-ordination function, that Mr Bob Mansfield has been implementing, has continued to make good progress. The Government’s recent announcement on providing financial assistance of $40 million to the Visy Pulp and Paper Mill in Tumut was the first project as a result of these efforts.

Excellent progress has been made in discussions between Mr Mansfield and Comalco in order to encourage them to finalise a decision to build a greenfields alumina refinery in Gladstone. The project will involve an investment of $3 billion in current prices and involve three stages of construction. The first stage would occur from 1999-2001 and involve an investment of $1.4 billion and result in direct employment of 1300 people. It is an investment with undoubted significant long-term benefit to Australia. The Commonwealth Government is prepared to provide financial support exceeding $100 million to enable the project to proceed.

The issue of commercial negotiations between Comalco and potential energy suppliers to the project remains to be settled before support commitments can be finalised. The Government has done all it possibly can to ensure this investment is made in Australia and urges the various parties to finalise energy supply negotiations in order to bring this major project to reality quickly.

Creating a strong, social coalition

Few Australians would deny the proposition that Governments alone cannot solve immense social problems. They need the help and understanding of great community organisations, dedicated individuals and the corporate sector.

In reality we need a social coalition which unites all of those within the nation who seek to address in an effective way poverty and disadvantage – each being encouraged to share responsibility for providing opportunity, each being provided with incentive to offer a fair go to those in need and each being rewarded by playing a greater role in the decision making process.

I am resolved to provide a modern safety net which encourages responsibility and embraces prevention as much as cure. Traditional state-centred welfare has failed to prevent social problems and has perpetuated dependency rather than re-engagement with work and the community.

This does not mean winding back government assistance for those in need or for those who support them. We will enhance the role of community organisations not increase the burdens they carry.

Every day organisations like the Salvation Army and the Society of St Vincent de Paul display their capacity to enhance the welfare of those in need. Each day they address the very personal impact of social problems in ways that governments simply cannot.

I resolve to build on the initiatives of our first term which, for the first time, involved community organisations in the design and implementation of our Tough on Drugs programme and Youth Homelessness pilot projects.

I resolve to build a stronger social coalition, renewing my call to business both large and small to play their part. To give back to the community from which they profit, to follow the example of many genuine Australian philanthropists, to advise, to donate in cash or kind, to mentor.

And I resolve to leave a legacy of this International Year of Older Persons by paying due tribute to older Australians, truly valuing Australia’s wealth for their toil.

We have already extended the Seniors’ Health Card and the Veterans’ Gold Card and provided the farm families assets test concession just as we have recognised the desire of older Australians to be cared for in their own homes through our Staying at Home package.

Building on our Staying at Home package announced last year and our co-ordinated care trials I want to provide better health care for older people in their own homes. I also want to enable them to remain active participants in their local communities consistent with the Australian way of a fair go for all.

I have asked Dr Wooldridge to report to Cabinet on plans to implement these principles and announcements will be made in the months ahead to help care for older Australians particularly those afflicted with chronic and complex illnesses.

Such a goal can only be achieved by involving the health care industry and the medical profession in particular and I look forward to their co-operation.

Mutual Obligation

The dole system that we inherited sent the worst possible message to young Australians. It told them that dropping out of school, out of their communities, escaping personal responsibility, was acceptable and that the taxpayer would foot the bill.

The dole system should be about choice and responsibility – providing young people with the opportunity for training and education but at the same time making them fully responsible for their choices and for themselves.

This principle underpins our youth allowance which encourages those in receipt of government benefits to finish school and better themselves.

And it holds true for my government’s work for the dole scheme.

Under the Government’s Work for the Dole Scheme 2,000 applications have been received for projects, 410 have commenced and over 18,000 young Australians have benefited from their personal involvement in work for the dole.

Young Australians have helped make good damage caused by landslides and flooding after cyclones hit Magnetic Island last January, specialised gardens have been constructed in Parkes for dementia sufferers, specifically designed boats have been built so that people with disabilities can experience the joy of sailing, historic wooden railway carriages restored to their former beauty, walking tracks, tourism projects. Projects to help the frail and aged, the sick, the disabled, projects to help children, other unemployed Australians, the homeless.

Work for the dole has not only provided young Australians with training and skills, social contact and restored the links with their communities. For so many, it has ignited the work ethic fundamental to sustaining lasting work and broken forever the cycle of boredom and despair that was the bane of the young unemployed.

Nearly a third of scheme participants have gone on to fulfilling jobs.

During the election campaign, I announced a further 25 per cent expansion of work for the dole by requiring all year 12 school leavers on the full rate of Youth Allowance to join one of the scheme’s projects once they have been unemployed for three months.

Overall, this means up to 124,000 places will be provided over four years.

Where some would scrap work for the dole I remain passionately committed to extending the principle of asking people to give back something to the community in return for assistance in times of need. Work for the dole is an important part of our focus on boosting jobs.

Exactly a year ago – in my first Federation Address – I announced a major extension of my Government’s mutual obligation initiative. Now that we have the benefit of another year’s experience, we propose further improvements.

The first area we are going to change is the obligation to improve literacy and numeracy skills. We know that a school child without basic reading and writing skills will not be able to realise his or her full potential.

That is why I commit my Government to requiring unemployed young people who fail basic literacy and numeracy tests to undertake appropriate remedial courses if they are to continue to receive their full dole.

Previously, young people on the dole were able to satisfy their obligation by taking up one of a number of options. But I believe, and most Australians would agree, that reading and writing properly are the most fundamental prerequisites for getting a job.

So to enhance our mutual obligation policies this Government will require young people who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills to undertake training in those areas as a condition of receiving their full unemployment benefit. Refusing to learn how to read and write will deny young unemployed the full dole.

Further work is being undertaken on improving compliance and extending the coverage of mutual obligation.

CONCLUSION

Ladies and gentlemen, as this century nears its conclusion, let us reflect on a nation which has remained true to its spirit. Mistakes have been made, tragedies borne, unspeakable sacrifice endured but, at the end of the century Australians remain the enterprising, vigorous and creative people of whom Parkes spoke so lovingly.

We retain an echo within us of the yearning for a better life which drove our ancestors to build this country. That spirit was captured very well by the eminent journalist, Henry Gullett, in his description written many years ago. He marvelled at their courage and ability which he ascribed to the fact that all were pioneers, or the children of pioneers, the children of the most restless, adventurous and the most virile individuals.

As federation fervour ran through the country Gullett also wrote “Seldom in the world’s history, have a people entered into possession of their heritage under circumstances so auspicious and with an outlook so full of dazzling promise”.

When I consider the talent, the energy, the potential amongst us, when I think of how the whole world will turn its focus upon us next year at the change of the millennium, I can’t help but conclude that Gullett’s words are even truer today – that seldom in the history of the world will a people enter into possession of the new millenium under circumstances so auspicious and with an outlook so full of dazzling promise.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email