Prime Minister John Howard announced the 1998 federal election on Sunday, August 30.
The announcement of an October 3 election came at the conclusion of a government advertising campaign to promote ANTS – A New Tax System. The proposed Goods and Services Tax was the centrepiece of the government’s election policy.
In his announcement, Howard said the main issue of the campaign would be economic competence.
- Listen to Howard’s announcement (19m)
Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference announcing the date of the 1998 Federal Election.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This morning I called on His Excellency, the Governor-General and recommended to him that the Parliament should be prorogued, the House of Representatives dissolved and an election held on the 3rd of October for the House of Representatives and half of the Senate. And His Excellency has accepted my advice and an election will be held on the 3rd of October.
The main issue in this election campaign will be that of economic competence. The main issue will be whether the Coalition or the Labor Party, at a time of economic uncertainty, even turmoil in some parts of the world, whether the Coalition or the Labor Party should be placed at the helm of economic management in Australia.
The circumstances of the world economy reinforce the absolute need that the economic foundations of Australia be as strong as possible. And in the weeks ahead, I and my colleagues will contrast the record and the competence of the Government I lead against not only the record of Labor in office but also the record and the behaviour of Labor in Opposition.
My Government and the Government of which I am proud to be the leader has restored the strength of the economic foundations of Australia. We have demonstrated in recent weeks that we clearly have a plan for Australia’s economic future. In the area of taxation we have a plan for the nation’s future. Labor has a series of promises to buy votes.
I am very proud of the record of economic and other achievements of the Government that I lead. We have turned a deficit, inherited from Mr Beazley and Mr Keating, of $10.5 billion into a surplus a year earlier than predicted. We have delivered the lowest interest rates in 30 years for both homebuyers and small business. We have delivered the lowest inflation rate in the OECD area. We have record levels of business investment. We have generated 300,000 new jobs. We have maintained the social security safety net. We have modernised industrial relations. We delivered on our commitment to sell one-third of Telstra and to establish the Natural Heritage Trust, the greatest ever capital investment of any government in Australia’s environmental future. We resolved the native title impasse, probably one of the most difficult issues to confront any modern government in Australia, despite the negative opportunism and the obstruction of the Australian Labor Party from start to finish. We delivered our family tax initiative and we have generated new areas of choice for Australian parents in relation to the caring arrangements of their children. We have not sought to dictate a stereotype, rather we have sought to maximise choice and encourage Australian parents to exercise that choice. We have delivered on our commitments to small business. And I am particularly proud that we have made Australia a safer country through our initiative in 1996 on uniform national gun laws.
Ladies and gentlemen, all elections are about the future of a nation as well as a stocktaking of the past, but they are overwhelmingly about the future. And as we move towards the next millennium, as we move towards the closing stages of this century, the Australian people will be asked to make a decision as to which government, to which side of politics, is better able to lead this nation into that millennium; a government that has made Australia secure in a very turbulent and hostile environment; a government that was prepared to take the hard decisions from the very beginning to get Australia’s economic house in order; a government that was willing to strengthen our economic foundations and a government which took the actions that it meant. But now, as we look out at an unfriendly even hostile economic world around us, we are able to say that Australia has weathered that storm remarkably well. And the reality is that if we had not done what we did, if we had taken the advice of the Australian Labor Party, we would not now be weathering that storm as well as we are. We would not have the lowest interest rates in 30 years. We would not have strong levels of business investment. We would still be in deficit. And what would be the world view of Australia’s economy if we were still now in deficit, the $10 billion that we were in deficit just over two years ago.
But having said something about the past, let us also, more importantly, say something about the future. In the last few weeks we’ve had a debate about taxation and the difference between the two sides of politics could not be more stark. We do have a plan. It’s a courageous plan. It’s a plan that recognises something that Australians have known for a long time, and that is we cannot go on forever with the outdated, ramshackle taxation system that we now have. And we have a plan that recognises that. We have a plan that says to the Australian people: we must seize the moment to reform this increasingly unworkable system. We must confront the need to have reform as well as relief. We must recognise the reality that you can’t have the good bits about taxation change without some of the harder bits.
We have put the national interest ahead of individual sectional interest in saying to the Australian people now is the time to reform our taxation system. And we should reform it for one reason and one reason alone, because taxation reform will make Australia stronger, and a stronger Australia will mean more jobs, more investment, a more secure economic future. A stronger Australia will mean that we’ll be able to resist what is happening in other parts of the world. A stronger Australia will mean a stronger future for the young, particularly in the new century.
But it’s not only an election about economic policy and about taxation policy, it is also an election about the kind of society we believe Australia ought to be and the sort of values that we all hold dear as Australians. I’m happy to say that despite the onset of an election campaign, there are still many Australian values that are shared across the political divide and it will be my hope that that remains the situation throughout this campaign and forever, so far as Australia’s future is concerned.
But there are some differences in political and social values of great importance. We in the Coalition believe in equity, we believe very strongly in equity, that is why we maintained the social security safety net. But we also believe in incentive. We believe in rewarding effort. We don’t believe in punishing effort. We don’t believe it’s rich for the combined incomes of households to be $50,000 or more. We believe that equity and incentive must be balanced. We do not punish success, rather we encourage it and reward it. We have a positive and optimistic view about the capacity of Australians to debate issues, the capacity of Australians to adhere to the values that unite all of us as Australians. And we have great faith in the talents of the Australian community to create a greater future into the next century.
I embark upon this election campaign with tremendous enthusiasm. I believe that the Government, over the last two-and-a-half years, has done the right thing by Australia. Not every decision we have taken everybody has liked, but we have kept our eye on the national interest above the sectional interest on all occasions. And I believe that we’ve demonstrated in recent weeks that we have the courage to present a plan about Australia’s future to the Australian community. And I look forward, with great relish, to the weeks ahead and the opportunity to advocate those things that I believe very strongly in to the Australian people and to ask for their support.
And can I say that I embark upon that campaign and that political journey very confident that I have by my side a great Deputy Prime Minister and a great Australian in Tim Fischer. One of the proudest things that I’ve been able to do in my political life is to forge the Coalition in government again between the Liberal Party and the National Party. And I want to put on record my immense debt to Tim Fischer for the job that he’s done as Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister in the Government and the fine job that he has done in representing the interests of rural Australians and also the fine job that he has done as a Deputy and a very good friend. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you guarantee, will you give the same guarantee that Tony Rundle did that you won’t use One Nation to help govern after the election?
HOWARD: I will make no deals in Government with One Nation, none whatsoever.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why are we having an early election?
HOWARD: Because I believe now is the time for the Australian people to be presented with the opportunity of making a decision. We do have a clearer choice now certainly in the area of economic management and economic competence. There is an uncertain world economic environment and I think now is the time for the Australian people to decide whether they want Kim Beazley and Gareth Evans at the helm in those uncertain economic times or do they want to return the Government led by me which has strengthened the economic foundations of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Do you fear economic deterioration in the months to come?
HOWARD: I think the economic outlook, Dennis, is difficult and that’s all the more reason why you have got to have a plan. That’s all the more reason why you have got to have a surplus rather than a $10.5 billion deficit. It’s all the more reason why we should be grateful that we have got low rather than high interest rates. It’s all the more reason why we should be grateful that we have got high levels of business investment. I mean the more difficult the economic climate the more important it is that you examine the economic credentials of those in charge and you examine the economic record of those who would want to be in charge, not only in Government but also in Opposition. Because it is not only Mr Beazley’s economic management in Government that I criticise, it is also his irresponsible economic approach in Opposition. Not only did he leave us with a $10.5 billion deficit, but he tried to stop us getting it back into surplus and now he is shedding crocodile tears about the surplus.
JOURNALIST: What will happen to Tasmania if the hydro isn’t solved, will you still help them with their debt?
HOWARD: Well we made the point very, very clearly that we thought the sale of the hydro was an historic exercise in self-help and self-adjustment by the Tasmanian community and that we were prepared in the spirit of the Nixon recommendation to make a contribution if that were to go ahead and that offer stands irrespective. The offer I made a few weeks ago stands irrespective of the outcome of the Tasmanian election.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given the response to your plan and given your overwhelming majority, do you go into this election with more than just enthusiasm but with a degree of confidence?
HOWARD: Fran, these days you can’t take any election outcome for granted. It is for the Australian people to decide the outcome and there is one thing I won’t be doing in this campaign is being a commentator on the outcome. I will be an advocate about what the outcome ought to be and I go into this campaign believing very passionately that the Government has done a very good job by the Australian community over the last two-and-a-half years. And believing with equal conviction that we have a plan for Australia’s future, the Labor Party doesn’t. We have a faith in Australia’s future, the Labor Party clearly doesn’t. In so many areas Labor is going back and we are throwing forward and I have a great deal of enthusiasm in presenting that contrast. But I don’t know what the outcome is. I don’t take my fellow Australians for granted. I know that I have to earn their support and their respect throughout this campaign, I certainly don’t take them for granted. I hope I win but I, as always, allow for defeat and that is the intelligent thing to do in politics.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can you guarantee there will be a surplus, come what may, in each of the next three years of Government?
HOWARD: All of the information available to us, George, suggests that allowing for the taxation package and other contingencies that it’s reasonable to allow for that there will be a surplus and that is based on the advice that we have received from the Treasury and the Department of Finance. And you will, of course, see in accordance with the charter of budget honesty that has been implemented by this Government to prevent the shambles that occurred last time when Mr Beazley said we were in surplus but we were in deficit all the time and he knew we were in deficit and he wouldn’t tell us that we were in deficit. You will see that what I am saying is based upon the advice of the Treasury and the Department of Finance.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Labor’s tax package?
HOWARD: Well I haven’t done a detailed analysis of the Treasury advice but you don’t need the advice of the Department to know what’s wrong with Labor’s tax promises. To start with, it is not a plan. It is just an incoherent grab bag of promises designed to exploit class prejudice in the Australian community and completely squibbing the challenge of reform. I mean we have a plan because we have embraced reform. You can’t have tax cuts and tax relief without having reform. I mean that’s what was offered in 1993. In 1993 Mr Keating and Mr Beazley promised the Australian public tax cuts without a GST. They won the election on that subterfuge and as soon as they got in they took away the tax cuts and they brought in their own version of a GST and there was no compensation for the pensioners or the battlers for all of those increases in indirect taxation. And they don’t have a mechanism in their grab bag of tax promises to prevent the indirect taxes under the wholesale tax system going up. There’s no State veto on increases in wholesale tax if Mr Beazley were to become Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] your request to Sir William Deane this morning?
HOWARD: Well I will be, Dennis, releasing in accordance with the normal procedure I will be releasing the exchange of correspondence between the Governor-General and myself. But, essentially, they were the reasons that I outlined in answer to the question asked by Mr Farr.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what happens to your tax package if you do get re-elected and the Senate says ‘no’?
HOWARD: Matt, my view is that we should listen to the verdict of the Australian people. And I would hope, and expect, that if we win the support of the Australian people given the centrality of tax in the economic debate, not only now but in the weeks ahead, that those who might control the numbers in the Senate would look favourably upon that decision and would listen to the verdict of the Australian people. But, Matt, can I just say that I will be going flat-out to get a majority in both Houses. I know it’s hard in the Senate. Everything’s difficult and everything is a challenge but I’d be saying to those after the election, if we are fortunate enough to win in the House, but not fortunate enough in the Senate, I’d say listen to the verdict of the people and I think that would be the view of the overwhelming majority of Australians.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why were the tax ads running this morning two hours after you saw the Governor-General?
HOWARD: Well I am not aware of the arrangements regarding that but obviously when the caretaker arrangements come into operation they will cease.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the concentration on the economic debate in this campaign will overshadow One Nation? Do you think One Nation’s influence may have peaked?
HOWARD: Well, Lenore, I have said all along that the way to deal with One Nation is to offer the Australian people something better. And that is the injunction that I gave to the Liberal Party when I addressed the Western Australian State conference a few weeks ago. And it’s the injunction that I would give to all of my colleagues, Liberal and National, throughout this campaign. You beat somebody, be it One Nation or Labor and on economic policy One Nation and Labor are virtually inseparable –virtually inseparable. You beat them by offering the Australian public something better. And we are offering the Australian public a plan, we are offering the Australian public a projection into the next century, we are offering the Australian public a view of how we see the early years of the next century, a plan for those early years unlike either the Labor Party or the Democrats or One Nation. I don’t want to make any predictions about how One Nation or, indeed, anybody else will do. I said a moment ago I am not going to be a commentator, I am a participant in this election campaign. I am advocate of the outcome, I am not a predictor of the outcome and I want there to be an outcome that is favourable to us and I am not going to give a running commentary on how we are going.
JOURNALIST: Will you be announcing promises on the basis of the social bonus from the sale of Telstra even though you don’t have that legislation through Parliament?
HOWARD: All of that will be unveiled as we go through the campaign.
JOURNALIST: The election date that you have chosen, Prime Minister, is a public holiday and is Labour Day, does that scare you?
HOWARD: Some might say it amuses me.
JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, do you believe the worse of the Asian crisis will hit Australia after the election?
HOWARD: I think it is very difficult to be mathematically accurate about that. I think you’d have to say that Australia will be affected – has been affected by what’s occurred in Asia. The important thing is that we would have been affected a lot worse if we hadn’t have got rid of that $10.5 billion deficit and we hadn’t got our interest rates down, if we hadn’t have strengthened the economic foundations. And we will be affected a lot more in the future if we don’t fix our tax system. I mean the reason we will be stronger as a result of fixing our tax system is that we will be making exports cheaper and we will be reducing the costs of doing business in this county for all business operators.
JOURNALIST: Is the worst yet to come?
HOWARD: I don’t think it’s possible to predict that. There is some evidence that one or two of the economies that have been badly effected have already bottomed, but perhaps you can’t say that as much about other countries in Asia. I just can’t really say with any precision. I don’t think anybody can. But all I can say with absolute certainty is that the stronger Australia is the better we are able to withstand it and that brings you back to the central issue of this campaign and that’s economic management. I mean if you want a strong Australian economy, you want to change the Government and put Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley in charge of the economic management of Australia or do you want to maintain the present Government? Do you want to go for a list of tax promises that maintain the present failing system or do you want to embrace a Government that has the courage to commit itself to fundamental reform of the Australian taxation system, knowing that that reform is not easy, recognising that reform is never easy but it is in the national interest and I will hope that in the weeks ahead the Australian people will agree with me. But I don’t take anything for granted. I’ll have to work hard to win their support and to persuade them that Australia’s national interest is involved in further strengthening Australia’s economic foundations. Two more questions.
JOURNALIST: The current economic turmoil and its potential impact here the deciding factor for you in calling an election now?
HOWARD: There’s never one deciding factor Fleur. The clarity of the choice that the Australian people are now offered, more than anything else has dominated my thinking. I mean you do have a clear choice. The Coalition has a plan. The Labor Party has a list of promises. The Coalition has proven economic competence. The Labor Party has a dismal track record in Government and in Opposition of economic failure and obstruction. Now that presents a very clear choice to the Australian people. It couldn’t be clearer or sharper. It’s as sharp and clear as this beautiful spring morning.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Parliament this week?
HOWARD: Because I decided now is the time to have an election.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your tax cuts are not funded by GST revenue so what’s the link between the two?
HOWARD: Well an enormous link. Oh Now George, what’s the link between the two? I mean the interlocking and the interweaving. They are inextricably bound up, one with the other. I mean you can’t, for example, have the PAYG element of Labor’s promises without having the GST. I mean that is one of the many things that you can’t have.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Charlie Bell who headed your task force on small business, said that you could.
HOWARD: If you imagine that you can have those altered timing payments without the benefit of the cash flow of the GST Matt – go away and think about that. You can’t because it’s the cash flow from the GST that makes many of those things possible.
JOURNALIST: Liberals have lost the last two major electoral battles, Queensland and Tasmania. Could this be seen as an omen federally?
HOWARD: No because they were fought on State issues. State and Federal election campaigns for years and years and years have gone in all sorts of different directions. I mean, you know that Michael, there’s a long history of that going right back to the 1970s when Wran won a few months after Fraser had been returned with a thumping majority. I mean there are an enormous number of examples so I don’t think you can make any…draw any conclusions.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask: how do you explain why that hasn’t developed jobs?
HOWARD: Well it has developed… I mean 300,000 jobs in two-and-a-half years is hardly a lack of development of jobs.
JOURNALIST: It’s back under 8% though…over 8%.
HOWARD: Look we will never cease to try and do even better on the employment front but 300,000 more jobs in two-and-a-half years, and there would have been more jobs in small business if Labor had not blocked the unfair dismissal law in the Senate. And we will of course, if we’re re-elected, we’ll be presenting that legislation yet again. One last question.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] said you hadn’t made up your mind on the timing of the election. When did you settle on October 3? Was it watching the Rugby last night or yesterday at the soccer, or over breakfast this morning?
HOWARD: Oh, I think it was probably some time shortly after I saw my son score a goal. Thank you.