John Howard: Four Distinct And Enduring Australian Values

This is the text of a speech by Prime Minister John Howard to the Melbourne Press Club.

In the speech, Howard outlined a series of “values” he said underlined his government’s approach. He said these values are “self reliance, a fair go, pulling together, and having a go”.

As the centenary of Federation approaches, he said they were “four distinct and enduring Australian values”.

John HowardIntroduction

In only a few short weeks, Australia will celebrate a century of nationhood. A century during which only 4 generations fashioned a unique culture, created a decent, tolerant and cohesive society, built a thriving modern economy, nurtured some of the finest democratic traditions ever practised and earned gratitude and respect from nations around the world.

And it was the century when our distinctive national character was formed, marked by good humour, a sense of fair play, generosity of spirit and independence.

Despite the distance travelled, we approach the Centenary of Federation confronting many of the same broad issues as faced our forebears a hundred years ago.

Now, as then, there are those torn between protecting the status quo, between protecting narrow vested interests or pushing boldly on with necessary reform.

Now, as then, the decisions we make as a nation in coming years will determine our prosperity over many years.

Now, as then, fundamental and unprecedented challenges lie ahead.

Economically, the forces of globalisation, access to new technologies, enhanced communication capability and highly mobile labour and capital markets present us with both great opportunities and great risks.

The same forces are also driving immense social change.

Our social cohesion, flowing directly from a quite unique form of egalitarianism, is arguably the crowning achievement of the Australian experience over the past century. Yet this cohesion will be tested if wealth and opportunity can’t be fairly and broadly distributed across society as they have in the past.

And importantly, public policy needs to factor in the growing power, and attendant responsibility, these changes have placed in the hands of individuals.

In the past, Australia has been successful in reforming institutions where necessary to meet modern needs whilst retaining institutions and practices which continue to serve the best interests of the country.

It’s this vital aspect of statecraft I wish to speak of today – how we’ll continue to maintain this balance in future decisions and deliver constructive change, economically and socially, to the Australian people.

The Liberal Party of Australia is the trustee of both the classical liberal and conservative traditions in Australian politics.

We have, therefore, pursued what I have called in the past liberalisation in economic policy and modern conservatism in social policy.

Australian Values

The detailed policies we have implemented in government have followed a clear set of principles which in turn have been reflective of the Australian people. This will continue to be our approach in the future.

In a world driven by competitive pressures, national character is an important factor in achieving prosperity. No-one doubts that the self confidence and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people fuelled their rise to world power. No one doubts that the success enjoyed by many Asian countries over past decades was underpinned by the tremendous work ethic and single-mindedness of their citizens.

The Australian people too have outstanding qualities which set us apart. There is an Australian Way – different and so often better than that of other comparable societies.

For example, the choice available to Australian parents in school education, between and within the public and independent spheres, is more comprehensive than probably anywhere in the world. Our policy delivers good standards, appropriate levels of competition and provides an expanding horizon of choice in the years ahead.

Over the past four and a half years, my Government has created a correlation between the principles, the priorities and the aspirations that Australians carry within themselves day to day, and the policy development framework of their national government.

Specifically, we’ve sought to constantly relate four distinct and enduring Australian values to the circumstances of our own time. And, let me be clear, these values not only have a sound philosophical base but have been applied in a practical way to the deliberations of government.

Governments are presented every day with an astounding array of choices – the responsibility is heavy and the judgements made can affect the lives of millions. Without fixed principles against which to measure all of the options available, it would simply be impossible to govern effectively.

Political leadership should be about certainty of purpose. These values allow us to provide that certainty to the Australian people.

Self Reliance

The first of these principles goes to the heart of the Australian ethos, to the heart of our national self-image and to the hopes we hold for ourselves and for our children – Self Reliance.

We believe, as we always have, that “the only real freedom is a brave acceptance of unclouded individual responsibility”.

And in making policy since we took office, that encouragement of self reliance, of giving people choice, of rewarding those who can and do take responsibility for themselves and their families has been at the forefront of our efforts.

In my view, this is the most fundamental difference between our own beliefs and the ideology of our political opponents. In championing the continuance of institutionalised and organised labour, of highly regulated industrial relations policy, of intrusive bureaucracies, of the legitimacy of the traditional welfare state where citizens are conditioned to long term dependence, the Labor Party is marching to the beat of an old and worn-out drum.

In contrast, Australians are in step with the times – they have and always will place great store in encouraging independence, initiative, of individuals being accountable to themselves.

For instance, the community has overwhelmingly accepted the value of mutual obligation, and in particular ‘working for the dole’. Not to punish young people anaesthetised by passive welfare but to develop their skills and awaken an enthusiasm for independent life. The facts speak for themselves – over 91,000 participants involved in 4 thousand community projects. 84% believe that their involvement has been worthwhile, improving their skills and restoring their morale.

Similarly, the Tough on Drugs Diversion Programme offers a foothold for young drug offenders sliding down towards lifetime addiction and crime – but only if they’re prepared to take personal responsibility for their recovery.

The far reaching and fundamental changes to industrial relations law give back power to individual workers.

The incentives for private health insurance encourage people to accept responsibility for their own family’s health.

The child immunisation programme encourages parents to protect their own children.

The changes to education funding improve the choices available to parents.

Our support for self funded retirees, for share ownership, for first home buyers, for elderly Australians wishing to remain in their own homes longer – all these initiatives have as their foundation, a desire to empower and enrich the lives of individual Australians – to make and keep them self reliant.

‘A Fair Go’

And yet whilst self reliance is an ambition being pursued throughout the world, the Australian way also emphasises a balance with the other principles we hold dear.

And the second of those is to ensure equality of opportunity and equality of treatment, of ‘doing the right thing’ and ensuring that all Australians are given ‘a Fair Go’.

This nation was built upon the principle that whatever your birth, whatever your starting point, each one of us is owed a chance to succeed. Each one of us has a right to health, education and opportunity. And ea! ch one of us deserves a leg up if times get tough.

For this reason, we have held as immutable an unwavering commitment towards both Medicare and the social security safety net. Despite my political opponents attempt to portray the Government as forsaking those in need, the reality is we’ve sought to lift them out of isolation and hardship. I resolved, as Prime Minister, to provide a modern welfare system – not one entrenched in the past – which embraces prevention as much as it affords cure.

This is another example of where the Australian way has been better.

We have avoided the relative harshness of the American approach where the needy can often be left penniless. Yet we’ve eschewed the excessive paternalism of some European societies, which leave individuals dependent on bloated and unsustainable public sectors.

The principle of ‘a Fair Go’ has been at the core of decisions to improve basic services to rural and regional Australia. For instance, over a half a billion dollars has been directed towards improving medical, health and aged care services in the bush.

Australian families, struggling to juggle the demands of their busy lives have been assisted through increased family payments.

Similarly, we’ve done the right thing by workers, with a safety net protecting their entitlements in the event of employer insolvency.

And the principle of a ‘fair go’ underpins our belief that practical reconciliation – giving indigenous Australians equality of opportunity in respect to education, employment, health and housing – is the best way forward to redress past wrongs and ensure national unity.

In many ways, it has even been one of the drivers of the tax reform agenda – we determined to give a fair go to Australian workers, 80% of whom no longer pay more than 30 cents tax in each dollar earned. And to Australians who’ve worked years to acquire their assets ! by reducing Capital Gains Tax.

Finally, no one would dispute that the courage and commitment of the Australian Defence Forces ensured a fair go for the East Timorese people, struggling to rebuild their shattered lives and safeguard their hard won freedom.

Pulling Together

Self reliance and the concept of a fair go are values prized by individuals, but Australians also have a particular way of seeing themselves collectively as a people.

Our third guiding principle is the notion of communities and families ‘pulling together’. Particularly in times of trouble or challenge, this willingness to unite, to help others remains intrinsically ingrained within Australian culture. It’s a pioneering virtue, the mark of a young country with talent and enthusiasm freely shared and bent towards a common goal.

We see it in the sheer scale of generosity when good causes seek support. We’re seeing it now throughout New South Wales as communities battle floods to save their homes and livelihoods. We saw it with the magnificent efforts of the volunteers at the Olympics.

It is something quite special yet we accept as normal a level of goodwill towards each other, utterly unknown in many, indeed most, countries around the world. At the Sydney Games, the world may have been astonished but we shouldn’t have been surprised. It was simply our daily lives writ large and on display for all to see.

The Government is committed to draw upon that sense of unity, not ignore it.

Social coalitions, in direct and marked contrast to Labor’s enthusiasm for bureaucratic intervention, harness the diverse skills, energy and resources of the various levels of government, the corporate sector, charitable institutions, communities and individuals in order to achieve better outcomes.

Families and close-knit communities provide the moral support, advice and comfort that no government could or should try to replicate.

For these re! asons, under the overarching value of ‘pulling together’, we’ve brought about relationships from across the full social spectrum to address major issues and to strengthen families and the communities in which they live.

There is no better example of this concept than the establishment of the Job Network – an initiative leading the western world in creatively tackling unemployment.

As has been said many times, the Government believes that people motivated by high ideals, stirred by a sense of vocation, guided by local knowledge of their communities, and unashamedly desiring reward if successful at their task, can help job seekers better than a bureaucracy forced to work to rigid regulation.

And so it’s proved. By creating a strong and robust economy, by making it easier for businesses to employ and by implementing new ways to tackle seemingly entrenched unemployment – new ways such as Job Network – there are now 200,000 fewer Australians living on the dole than when we won office and now able to enjoy the benefits of self reliance.

We’ve moved to encourage greater corporate and individual philanthropy.

We’ve established the Community Business Partnership programme seeking tangible linkages between businesses and the communities that support them.

We’ve established the Australian Rural Partnerships Foundation to attract contributions to assist projects in the bush.

Through the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, we’ve provided practical skills and support to help young families with parenting. And, amongst a multitude of other targeted programmes, we’re helping local groups instigate community projects such as converting unused buildings into local community centres.

Many of these initiatives were not supported by our opponents.

This is a path down which Labor, constrained by old loyalties, burdened by old ideology, simply cannot travel. The new concept of working through others, of being ally not superior, is simply impossible for a party historically committed to bureaucratic intervention and for a party so utterly dominated by the trade union movement.

They simply cannot accept that others can be trusted with resources and with responsibility. The reality is that Australians, when allowed to pull together, can achieve anything.

‘Having a Go’

Of course, great achievement comes about only when people are animated by a sense of purpose. When they set goals and have the commitment and the nerve to set out after them.

This, the fourth of our key values, is an important concept because arguably, our willingness as a nation, to ‘Have a Go’ will determine the quality of our future. The world is changing and most Australians accept that unless we change also, we’ll be left behind. We’d bequeath to our children a nation far diminished than that we inherited ourselves.

But again, having a go is a great Australian virtue. Calculated risk taking, creativity and having the courage of your convictions are innately part of the Australian psyche.

You need to look no further than Australia’s dynamic and highly successful small business sector to see that our people are willing to pursue their dreams.

One of the primary responsibilities of national government is to create the conditions by which its citizens can dream, can succeed and can have a go.

As a Government, we’ve tackled the fundamental structural issues that would have held Australia back in the decades ahead and stopped individuals and businesses fulfilling their potential.

The old tax system was unfair, uncompetitive, and in the long term, unsustainable. We knew it, the Labor Party knew it, the Australian people knew it. But, unlike Labor in 1985, having the courage of our convictions, we fixed it.

We’ve modernised industrial relations and the workplace environment. We’ve delivered the more deregulated arrangements needed to reflect the changing nature of work in the information era. The move towards services, the shift to smaller, decentralised operations and the differing ways in which people will want to combine work and family commitments all required a new creative approach.

I can’t stress enough the importance of these two most fundamental of reforms. They will underpin the capacity of businesses, large and small, home-grown and those attracted here from overseas, to grow, to innovate, to take risks, to employ and to prosper.

And we did it all despite the constant spoiling tactics of the Opposition. Despite obstruction by people who knew these reforms were in the long term interest of this country. People prepared to place political point scoring ahead of the progress and prosperity of those they’d claim to represent.

In contrast, this Government is seeking to foster a climate of entrepreneurship and confidence in the ability of Australians to achieve anything they set out to do. The Olympics proved, beyond doubt, that we are a can do country, able to match the best in the world.

And we’re practising what we preach. Working with the states, with corporate consortiums, with communities and with talented individuals, we’re having a go at some of the major infrastructure issues left by other governments for decades.

The Alice to Darwin rail link is an exciting and highly visible example of a government focussed on enhancing Australia’s physical assets. Promised 100 years ago, some would still say that the economic case for its construction has not been fully proved. But, just as we seek to encourage others to follow their vision, we’ve determined to invest funds into this remarkable undertaking.

And we’re supporting men and women at the very cutting edge of research and development, men and women genuinely having a go. The doubling o! f support for health and medical research by an additional $600 million – building on our world class achievements in this area, our funding of comprehensive R & D across a wide range of areas but noting biotechnology and IT in particular, the financial assistance given to private consortiums engaged in ground breaking developments in science and industry – are all proof that this government passionately believes in Australians striving for excellence.

Responsible and Competent Government

These then are the four principles, on which we have and will base our Government – self reliance, a fair go, pulling together and having a go.

And yet, unless a political party offers responsible and competent government, then policies which encourage independence, equity, shared endeavour and bold enterprise can never be implemented.

The benefits that come from responsible and competent government – national security, strong and sustained economic growth, lower interes! t rates and inflation, declining public debt, falling levels of unemployment and high rates of investment – are the foundations upon which everything else can be built. Over the past four and a half years, our delivery of responsible and competent government has made possible the implementation of policy reform in accordance with the principles I’ve outlined.

Time and time again, in stark contrast to our political opponents’ ever changing and populist agenda, this government has proven its willingness, its courage to do what’s good for the country, whatever the short term political costs.

It’s borne results. Our businesses are thriving; more Australians are now working than at any other time in the history of this nation; more Australians own shares than ever before; home loan interest rates remain at levels unknown for a generation; and by June next year, we would have paid back more than $50 billion of Labor’s mortgage.

Our young people are increasingly engaged with their communities, volunteering their enthusiasm and their effort, and actively participating in national celebration and commemoration.

Moving Forward

By any measure, Australia is ready to face this new century. And it’s encouraging to realise that values, developed within a people over a century or more, can apply so readily to today’s issues and those of tomorrow.

I have previously foreshadowed significant decisions in a number of critical areas.

The forthcoming Defence White Paper will involve a considerable increase in resources and the most significant reshaping of the Defence Forces in decades. Without belittling the value we place on our alliances, we intend Australia to exhibit national self reliance in relation to security matters.

By tackling salinity and ground and river degradation – a problem that affects every Australian, whether they live in the bush or in the cities – we’ve set for ourselves an immensely ambitious goal. In short, we’re having a go at a major problem that’s been sucking the life out of the land for decades.

We’ll have a go at building Australia’s scientific and research capability by a detailed and effective response to the two innovation reports we earlier commissioned. We’ve agreed with those reports that enhancing the nation’s intellectual capital will directly influence our capacity to compete internationally in the years ahead. We don’t intend for Australia to be left behind.

And our broad support of the directions set out in the McClure Report is based upon the recognition that they encourage self reliance without removing basic fairness. And the ideas suggested will utilise the talents of many within the community, all pulling together to achieve specific solutions tailored to an individual’s circumstances.

Our decisions in regard to each of these, and indeed to the! entire policy programme planned for next year, will reflect a strongly Australian perspective and apply the same values of those they are intended to benefit.

For this reason, next Sunday, I look forward to announcing with the Deputy Prime Minister a significant roads package that will give a fair go to Australians isolated from basic services and a fair go to all, in cities and in the bush, dependent on effective local road systems for their welfare and their livelihoods.

Whatever Labor might say, Australians do want well maintained roads on which they and their families can travel safely, quickly and easily. They want funds spent on national assets that will last decades and benefit millions. And this long term investment plan, in addition to all else, will deliver fair outcomes.

You know it’s easy to be cynical, to sit on the sidelines and snipe, to come up with glib words and slick phrases instead of proposing real policies and real solutions. That’s the real boondoggle – that’s what’s trivial, wasteful and unnecessary.

In closing, I’m once again reminded of the words of Sir Henry Parkes, that great champion of Australian federation. Over a hundred years ago, he declared Australia ready for unity, for what he called the dazzling prize of nationhood because of ‘the vigour, the industry, the enterprise, the foresight, and the creative skill of its people’.

Those words are truer now than they were then and I have no doubt that Australia stands on the threshold of a century of even greater achievement than that which has gone before.

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