Rebuilding Australia: Warren Truss Addresses Nationals Federal Council

The Leader of The Nationals, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, has addressed the party’s Federal Council meeting in Canberra today.

Abbott-Truss

Truss said The Nationals had made the “strongest contribution to the election of a Coalition Government in some three decades”, with a party room that now numbered 21.

He told the Council: “We did not create the economic mess that besets our country, but we were elected to fix it. And, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, the Coalition has set about the task with determination and commitment.”

Truss said the government had “effectively stopped the boats” and ended the “ridiculous carbon tax”. He outlined a series of roads and other funding measures the government has undertaken in rural and regional areas.

Truss was introduced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said the government was “getting the fundamentals right”. Abbott said Truss was at “the heart of this government”. He described the Rudd-Gillard government as years “for the locusts to eat”.

  • Listen to Abbott’s speech (10m)
  • Listen to Truss’s speech (31m – transcript below)
  • Listen to Truss’s media conference (14m)

Transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss’s Address to The Nationals Federal Council meeting in Canberra.

To my friend and the Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott welcome.

Doug Anthony, Peter Nixon, Nationals President Christine Ferguson, Ministers, parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Well, it is now almost exactly 15 months since our last Federal Conference – and what an extraordinary year – and a quarter – it has been.

When we last met Julia Gillard was still Prime Minister… just.

Kevin Rudd’s coup was a bit over three weeks away, and the election day that had been scheduled, extraordinarily since January, for September 14, was three months off – and then came back a week.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the result of the election on September 7 was that The Nationals made the strongest contribution to the election of a Coalition Government in some three decades and bring to an end six years of the worst government in our history.

It is, therefore, a great pleasure, and a great honour, to address this 2014 Federal Council of The Nationals as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia – leading a strong and united Nationals team.

Our task is not an easy one.

With our Coalition partners, we have set about rebuilding this great country with an economic inheritance, probably the worst since federation.

We have made a strong start in what is a daunting, and a difficult job, but before I go to the significant achievements and the scale of the task that remains, we should all enjoy for the record, celebrate our strong performance of September 7, 2013.

All of our sitting members in the House were returned, barring Tony Crook who did not recontest O’Connor, while our gains – in New England, via Barnaby’s gutsy move; by David Gillespie’s terrific win in Lyne, by Kevin Hogan’s victory in Page, and Michelle Landry’s great win in Capricornia, gave us a party room that is now 21 strong.

Holding, let alone gaining seats, is obviously fundamental – and that is especially the case where new candidates sought to take over from popular, long term, members.

The wins of Keith Pitt in Hinkler, succeeding that extraordinary Nationals stalwart in Paul Neville, and Andrew Broad’s win in taking over from one of the great models for local representation, John Forrest in Mallee, were tremendously important victories for The Nationals… and for the communities they serve.

Others who managed that vital task of holding were, of course, Luke Hartsuyker in Cowper – who is now the Australian Government’s Assistant Minister for Employment.

Darren Chester won again in Gippsland, and is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for defence.

Michael McCormack breezed in, again, in Riverina, and is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance.

Mark Coulton, our Chief Whip, improved his already strong majority in Parkes – and that is true also of John Cobb in Calare.

Bruce Scott, an institution in Maranoa, is Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives.

George Christensen in Dawson and Ken O’Dowd in Flynn managing, with style, the always nerve-wracking job of consolidating their first term wins.

And of course there was plenty of positive action in the Senate as well.

We welcome Barry O’Sullivan, who filled the casual vacancy in Queensland created by Barnaby’s move to the House of Representatives.

And we welcome Matt Canavan, who was elected on September 7 but had to wait until July to take his place.

And of course we can’t mention the Senate (especially in relation to Queensland), without acknowledging the tremendous contribution of Ron Boswell, whose retirement paved the way for Matt’s election. We welcome Ron back today.

John ‘Wacka’ Williams was re-elected in New South Wales.

Nigel Scullion was re-elected for the Northern Territory and is Minister for Indigenous Affairs, as well as being our Leader in the Senate. He joined Barnaby, as Minister for Agriculture, and myself, in Federal Cabinet.

Barry, Matt, Waca, and Nigel are supported in the Senate by Fiona Nash, our Deputy Leader in the Upper House and Assistant Minister for Health, along with Bridget McKenzie, so that our team in the Senate is six strong.

I want to also pay tribute to those who, despite big swings to them, fell just short.

Michael Johnsen has made the once Labor strong-hold of Hunter a marginal seat with his 9% swing. Matthew Fraser in Richmond did a fantastic job, clawing back over 16%. Angry Anderson doubled The Nationals vote in Throsby.

Tina Macfarlane almost took Lingiari. Noeline Ikin’s herculean effort in Kennedy took over 16% off Bob Katter… another new marginal seat that is now very much in play.

And Chub Witham in O’Connor and Shane Vanstyn in Durack came very close.

Members and supporters, the strength of The Nationals has always been its branches and members. The electoral victories of recent years are yours too. So many stood by us when Labor was in government and I thank you for that support.

Thank you to Christine, John, Pam and out federal management team and, particularly Scott Mitchell and Brad Henderson the whole Secretariat team.

Paul Davey, well known to all of us as a former federal director of our party, and as the historian for The Nationals, wrote a chapter in his book Ninety not Out, in which he reflected on the scale of the challenge we confronted after a disappointing result in 2007 that had some in the commentariat writing our obituary.

Paul wrote that, to assure our future, The Nationals needed to return to at least 15 Lower House seats, and six or seven Senators.

He wrote that while such an achievement wasn’t impossible – it was, as he put it, a “tall order.”

It is, therefore, very pleasing Paul to make the point… humbly… that The Nationals have filled that tall order and in quick time.

I’m sure that if we all work as hard as we did in the years leading up to 2013, that we can improve on that resurgence and consolidate our long held position as the third major force in Australian politics, and maintain it deep into the future.

While we naturally enjoy the victories, we never lose sight of why we are here.

We did not create the economic mess that besets our country, but we were elected to fix it.

And, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, the Coalition has set about the task with determination and commitment.

That our country is emerging from one of the bleakest periods in its history and we cannot afford to fail.

This brochure outlines 25 of our top achievements so far.

We have effectively stopped the boats.

One of the biggest of the many – the serial – policy failures of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government was the undoing of the Howard era policies that dramatically reduced illegal arrivals, and the tragic loss of life at sea.

Under Labor our borders became porous. The deadly people smuggling racket resumed under Labor and grew and grew.

In every Budget they cut expenditure on boarder protection – customs, quarantine, policing, security services.

Scott Morrison, and the men and women of our border protection service and the military, have done a fantastic job in stopping the boats and restoring that common sense edict that John Howard issued in 2001: “We will decide who comes to this country – and the circumstances in which they come.”

And the ridiculous carbon tax is gone.

The reality is that global emissions are growing each year by more than Australia’s total annual emissions – so that even if we stopped emitting our 1% of global CO2 emissions overnight, it would be meaningless to the climate of the planet.

Taxing carbon to make some in the community feel better about themselves is a nonsense, and has cost jobs and made our industry less competitive.

Unilateral action that adds greatly to the cost of running a household, and that reduces the competitiveness of our industries, is just self-harm and makes no sense.

The Nationals were right in leading the charge against the stupidity of the tax, as far back as 2009.

Stopping the boats, and ending the carbon tax, were two of the key commitments of the Coalition as it came to office.

Both have been delivered.

And in the weeks ahead we will give the Senate the chance to get rid of the mining tax – the tax that was to fund $7 billion of expenditure, but raise only hundreds of thousands.

The biggest underlying task now, of course, is to fulfil our major commitment: To end the reliance on debt and deficit that was the absolute hallmark of Rudd, Gillard, and Rudd again – so that we can rebuild the budget – restore sanity to budget priorities and create room for the economic growth that underpins jobs and quality of life.

Amazingly, this seems to be a contentious issue, with argument raging – inexplicably – around whether we actually confront a crisis or not, and whether we actually need to be taking any action at all.

In my view, a country that is headed for debt peaking at $667 billion – if we stick with the blueprint we inherited – is undoubtedly a country in a Ruddy mess.

A country that is paying $1 billion a month in interest, and headed for a monthly bill of $3 billion – is a country that needs to be rescued, while there is still time.

A country with $191 billion in accumulated deficits – is a country mired in serious economic issues.

Yet, Labor is in denial – they say it doesn’t matter.

Not only have they not apologised to the Australian people for squandering our surpluses and imposing a lumbering debt on future generations – they make it clear that if they were given another chance they would do it all again.

We now know then-Treasurer Wayne Swan admitted to Bob Carr that ‘the fiscal situation is ruinous’. But now he denies there is even a problem.

Labor votes against our measures to bring spending into balance. They are even voting against measures they announced in their own Budgets – sometimes years ago – but never legislated, even though they were banking the theoretical savings from these measures in their Budgets.

There is no doubt that we are at a turning point in relation to the economic malaise that we are suffering – brought on because Labor was spending more than we have.

Spending money that future governments will have to raise – that children and grandchildren will have to pay for. Every months we could be building a major hospital if we were not paying Labor’s interest bill.

We could afford the NDIS without a special tax.

In six months we could pay for the complete upgrade of the Pacific Highway. We could afford every item on this Federal Council agenda.

At the simplest level, Labor was chronically spending more than its income. And not only was that the case throughout its period in government, it built that same ratio – of outgoings exceeding revenues – into the future – beyond, even, the forward estimates in its last budget.

That is as irresponsible a format for the future of Australia as we have seen from any government in our history.

It is a crisis, not only in basic arithmetical terms – but in terms of where we are headed as a country.

It is a crisis of policy, and of leadership, and direction, as much as it is of the budgetary position – and it has to be dealt with – urgently.

We are determined to do that – and we are doing it.

Clearly, given the state of the parliament, that is not proving to be easy, and it will not be easy at any time in this term, because of the extraordinary state of the Senate.

Having a Senate where we do NOT have a majority is obviously not in itself novel. It is actually much closer to the norm, so that negotiation with the Senate, to get a budget through, is actually a typical circumstance.

The difference in the past has been a willingness of the parties to work through issues in the national interest – whether we or Labor were in government. Now grandstanding, posturing and pure obstructionism for its own sake are the norm.

What is different, this time, is the novelty of the make-up of the Chamber.

There are several Senators who, when they entered the campaign last year, would not have expected – in their wildest dreams – to be elected – but have been, and are now in the early stages of learning the ropes, and discovering what it is that they actually stand for.

Some will become more mature, more considered, more trusting on how they go about that than others and it is going to be an ongoing task for the Coalition to get the support, especially from such a varied group, to support as many of our substantive measures as possible.

Parliament resumed this week, for the Spring session, and we will soon have a much clearer idea about the fate of some measures in the Budget that will be subject to decisions in the parliament – but the results on those matters ought to be seen in context.

The simple fact is that most – indeed all but about 1% – of the Budget expense measures over the forward estimates has passed the parliament.

All but $20 billion of $1.8 trillion over four years.

These are just the beginning of the job that’s underway – and by no means the only measuring stick of the Government’s first year in office.

The $1.8 trillion dollars, or almost 99% of the Government’s program that is law, represents some fundamental changes in the pattern and the direction of spending, with the aim of restoring both business and individual confidence in where this government wants to lead Australia.

For example, of particular relevance to the regions, is a $50 billion commitment focus infrastructure spending in this country on lifting national productivity.

This is the largest commitment to infrastructure in Australia’s history.

You have heard of big projects in our capital cities, but many hundreds of projects that will be funded, and I want to emphasise today that regional Australia is a major beneficiary – and just some of the projects are:

$6.7 billion to fix the Bruce Highway and make it safer and more reliable.

$5.6 billion to finally complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway within this decade.

$2.1 billion to extend Roads to Recovery – the popular local roads and streets programme and abiding achievement of John Anderson.

Up to $1.3 billion for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.

$508 million to upgrade the Warrego Highway.

$308 million for the Great Northern Highway and $174 million for the North West Coastal Highway in WA.

$263.4 million for the Western Highway and $185.5 million for the Princes Highway in Victoria.

And that is just some of the highlights.

There is $565 million for Black Spots on roads, and $100 million for mobile phone Black Spots.

We have funded a new $300 million Bridges Renewal Programme.

In addition, and for our constituency, there is a new $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund.

Barnaby was instrumental in getting a $320 million drought relief package, pending the outcome of a review of wider, longer term, drought policy.

We are delivering $100 million extra for rural research and development, $15 million to support market access, $20 million extra for bio-security and $8 million to increase access to safe effective chemicals for farmers.

This week we delivered yet another important tranche of our infrastructure and regional development agenda, with the passage of the $2.1 billion Roads to Recovery programme through the Senate.

Inexplicably, Labor voted against the legislation in the House of Representatives that guarantees the $2.1 billion for local roads and streets. On Thursday they didn’t oppose it in the Senate.

This funding is expressly for local roads and street work needed in local communities.

The $2.1 billion that flows from the passage of the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 will make a real difference to the ability of councils to deliver the better, safer local roads and streets their communities need.

This Government is committed to building the infrastructure Australia needs… from the local level up.

We have re-opened the live export of sheep, cattle and goats to Bahrain, Iran and Egypt, while re-building the live cattle trade with Indonesia.

We have signed Free Trade Agreements with South Korea and Japan, and China is in the offing.

We have completed agreements with all states and territories to implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which involves well over $2 billion in infrastructure upgrades to improve the productivity of our crucial irrigation sector. It also gives Basin communities greater certainty and security.

The report of our dams taskforce, to see where we can improve access to water to boost agricultural productivity, and urban water supplies, is imminent.

Our White Paper on Northern Australia is well advanced, in concert with the governments of Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Our blueprint for agriculture is also well advanced, with a Green Paper imminent.

We have provided swift environmental approvals for $800 billion in job creating projects around the country.

Delegates, this is a strong list of achievements for the government in its first year… and is on top, as I said at the beginning, of stopping the boats and axing the carbon tax.

Legislation to end the flawed mining tax, which has delivered a tiny fraction of what Labor said it would – but which became a veritable Magic Pudding for unfunded spending commitments has passed the House of Representatives.

All of these measures, in the end, have a singular purpose – and that is restoring the prosperity and the security of all Australians.

Issues surrounding a very few Budget measures have distracted from very significant progress, across this very wide range of areas – but that distraction cannot hide the reality that this government is delivering – and delivering strongly for Australia.

And we will continue to do so.

I am confident that, as the measures we have already put in place, and will put in place across the remainder of this term take hold, recognition that the adults are back in charge of the country will come – and our efforts will be recognised positively.

Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, on current Labor policies, would be Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard mark two.

For all that they have wrought on this country, Labor has learned nothing from its 2007-13 episode in ineptitude.

They have the same policies and even continue to espouse the same nonsense.

Labor’s fellow travellers, the Greens – effectively the former Left of the Labor Party – are living in the same cuckoo land.

Only the Coalition has its feet on the ground and achieving a second term for this government is a truly crucial task for us all – because the damage that Labor and co have done will not be – cannot all be – fixed in one term.

Australia cannot afford to be governed by Labor again in this, or the next, decade.

For years to come, for terms to come, Australia needs the sort of a strong and united Coalition government that it has now – and it is our responsibility to ensure that happens.

Thank you.

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