Howard Lecture: Tony Abbott Introduces William Hague

This is the text and audio of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s speech to the Menzies Research Centre, in Sydney.

Abbott

Abbott introduced UK Foreign Secretary William Hague who gave the John Howard Lecture.

After Hague’s speech, Abbott spoke to the media.

  • Listen to Abbott’s speech (7m)

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  • Listen to Abbott’s media conference (8m)

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Speech by Tony Abbott, introducing UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

It is terrific to see in this room just about every Australian who is not actually at the beach at this time. I particularly want to acknowledge the presence of my Shadow Cabinet colleagues, George Brandis, Andrew Robb, Malcolm Turnbull, Sophie Mirabella and Philip Ruddock.

I wish to acknowledge the presence of my other parliamentary colleagues, Senator Sinodinos, Senator Ryan, Kelly O’Dwyer, Senator Eggleston, Senator Fawcett, Jamie Briggs, Josh Frydenberg, Jane Prentice, Wyatt Roy, Senator Mason and John Alexander. Thank you for being here. We could just about have a Shadow Cabinet meeting after this event but they are here for our former Prime Minister and to hear William Hague deliver the fourth John Howard address.

William Hague is abundantly welcome to Australia as the Foreign Minister of Australia’s oldest ally. He is especially welcome here in Sydney, a city that, after all, is named after a former British minister of the crown. This is not the first Liberal gathering in Australia that William Hague has addressed. In early 1998, he addressed the Federal Council of the Liberal Party, the Conservatives in Britain had just suffered their worst ever electoral defeat. The Australian Coalition had recently won one of its greatest ever victories and the then British Opposition Leader recounted the then Australian Prime Minister’s advice. John Howard said to William Hague, “Just pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get back into the fight.” I have to say, it is advice I have taken myself.

Every time I meet William Hague, he reminds me that throughout the British Conservative Party’s long purgatory in Opposition, John Howard was a frequent visitor and a constant source of advice and inspiration and I should say that in the three years that I have been Opposition Leader, my British colleagues, particularly William Hague, have likewise been a great encouragement. It is fitting that William Hague should be the fourth John Howard lecturer. William Hague is a minister in a Coalition government of British Conservatives and British Liberals.

There is a sense in which an arrangement of this kind has been institutionalised here in Australia and it was John Howard who declared that, in this country, the Liberal Party is the custodian of both the Liberal and the Conservative political traditions. In Australia, as in other countries with a British inheritance, liberalism and conservativism have been easy allies. In our political culture, respect for tradition has gone hand in hand with a love of freedom.

It’s also fitting that William Hague is here in Australia for the AUKMIN talks, the annual meeting of Australian and British Defence and Foreign Ministers agreed in 2006 between John Howard and Tony Blair and continuing uninterrupted under governments of different political persuasion.

These talks, these permanent talks, are a tribute to the enduring community of interest and values between our two countries. It was in fact a war-time Labor Prime Minister John Curtin, better known for his “Look to America” statement, who said of Britain and Australia, “We are one people” and went on to say that Britain’s struggle for liberty was just as much a part of the history of Australia as it was a part of the history of Britain. Now we know that times change. Britain is more engaged than ever with Europe. Australia is rightly more focused on Asia. But both countries appreciate that you do not win new friends by losing old ones.

Britain is the second largest direct foreign investor in the country, by far Australia’s largest trading partner in Europe. It is America’s most important and most reliable military ally and it is the world’s sixth largest national economy. As William Hague said in a memorable tribute to Margaret Thatcher, circumstances change, values endure. At all times our two political movements instinctively support policies which protect the family, which support small business and which uphold traditional institutions. The liberal part of our soul wants smaller government, lower taxes and greater freedom. The conservative part cherishes the family and values institutions which have stood the test of time.

The patriotic part supports policies that pass the common sense test and can clearly be demonstrated to work to make our countries stronger. As Tom Harley has already mentioned, after Prime Minister Cameron, William Hague is the senior serving British Conservative. As the author of acclaimed biographies of William Pitt the Younger and of William Wilberforce, it is arguable no serving Conservative politician has thought more deeply about what conservatism means and how it speaks to people today. Therefore, there is no more fitting person to deliver this lecture in honour of Australia’s greatest living political leader.

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