After a dramatic week in Federal politics, the Prime Minister, John Howard, has opened the Liberal Party’s campaign for the Ryan by-election on March 17.
The Liberal Party holds Ryan with a margin of 9.5%, but its candidate, Bob Tucker, faces a difficult task to retain the seat.
The government has this week reversed a number of previous policy positions, notably the decision to cut the fuel excise by 1.5% and remove indexation of petrol prices.
The Ryan by-election was caused by the retirement of John Moore, the former Defence Minister. The Liberal candidate is Bob Tucker. The ALP candidate is Leonie Short.
Text of John Howard’s speech at the opening of Liberal candidate Bob Tucker’s campaign for the Ryan by-election.
Well thank you very much Bob, to Greer and the other members, all generations of the Tucker family, Con Galtos, Shane Stone, other parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
Bob was right when he said this by-election is primarily about what kind of person you want to represent the electorate of the Ryan in the national parliament. He was also right when he said it was going to be a tough fight. By-elections are always unpredictable and it’s important that none of us take this by-election for granted. Bob is not taking it for granted, he’s out there doorknocking, he’s drawing on his vast experience as a long time president of the area and participant in the affairs of the electorate of Ryan. He brings to his candidacy a number of great strengths. The first and most important thing he brings is that he understands the people of this electorate. He is no blow in, he’s somebody who knows what type of communities make up the electorate of Ryan. He also brings an understanding of, may I put it this way, the ethos of a large part of Brisbane, and a large part of Queensland. And that is the idea that you go out there and start building something and by the sweat of your brow and your commitment you make something of your life, you accumulate a business, you gather around you a family and you gather around you a successful enterprise. I mean if the Liberal Party means anything it means creating an environment where people can start with nothing and build a business and make a success of their lives.
Australia, Queensland, areas of Australia like Ryan have been built by small entrepreneurial efforts. The are the heart and soul of what our community, in the end, is very much about. And Bob epitomises that, his local involvement and commitment, his family commitment, his business and his business success. You need people in parliament who can articulate what you believe in, and you need people in parliament who stand f! or what you believe in. And that is the quality that Bob brings as the Liberal candidate for the seat of Ryan.
By coincidence today is the 5th anniversary of the defeat of the Keating Government. Give or take a few days, it’s five years since I became Prime Minister. And it’s also five years since Kim Beazley became Opposition Leader. And it is important, at a five year period, to reflect on what has happened and who’s done what and who’s achieved what over that five year period, because in public life it’s not only people in Government who have responsibilities, people in Opposition have responsibilities as well. The notion that an Opposition does nothing and sits there and waits for the Government to fall over has always been wrong. And I look back over the last five years, I look at the fact that we have put almost 800,000 more Australians in work, I look back at the fact that when we came into Government the accumulated Federal Government ! debt of this nation was almost $90 billion. $90 billion, and it has been run up five successive deficit budgets presided over by the Finance Minister in the Keating Government, who was Mr Beazley. And in the five years that I have been Prime Minister we have reduced that Federal Government debt by $50 billion. And that’s not an economics statistic, what’s been delivered is lower interest rates.
If there’s one thing I will forever associate with Labor Governments in this country, if there’s one thing every small businessman and every farmer in Australia should forever associate with Labor in this country is high interest rates. You remember the days when they went, the bill rate went to over 22% and 23%, when it was normal to borrow at 17 or 18% if you were lucky. That was what Labor delivered, that was the hallmark of economic management in the Keating, Beazley years.
But we’ve not only reduced our debt, we’ve not only deliv! ered lower interest rates, but we’ve also delivered very strong levels of economic growth, last year probably the best in the industrialised world. We’ve reformed the industrial relations system, we’ve reformed the taxation system, we’ve resuscitated from its death bed private health insurance. Private health insurance was on the way out until this government introduced tax incentives that have drawn people back into private health insurance. They may have said that they will keep it for the purposes of the election but fundamentally the Labor Party hates private health provision. They believe in a government monopoly in this area and they could never be trusted to keep the private health insurance tax rebate intact if they ever won federal government.
So ladies and gentlemen over that five-year period we have done many things. We have not been reluctant to change and reform where it’s been necessary. We could have taken the easy lazy option of absolutely sitting there and doing nothing. I made a number of promises to myself when I became Prime Minister. One of them was that I would not lose the opportunity that office gives you to actually make a difference. There is nothing to be gained by sitting in the office and thinking isn’t nice to be Prime Minister. The only way that you can make a difference is to address the challenges and the problems of our society.
And we haven’t restricted our initiatives to economic ones. We are not just a government concerned about economic conditions. We are also a government that believes in a society where you have the right balance between care and compassion on the one hand and self-reliance on the other.
I’ve just come from the Brigidene College where I’ve launched an initiative that’s part of our Tough on Drugs Strategy which is designed to educate the young people of this area about the danger of starting drug taking in the first place. I’m not one of those who believes that you’ve got to some how or other encourage young people how to safely experiment with drugs. I’m a person who believes they should be persuaded by every appropriate means not to commence drug taking in the first instance.
There’s nothing soft about our approach to drugs. We also recognise, and this is why we’ve committed $500 million over the last two years over and above funding commitments at earlier levels, to helping the state governments in the campaign against drugs you’ve got to tackle it through education, you’ve got to tackle it through law enforcement, and you’ve also got to tackle it through rehabilitation. And slowly we are starting to have some wins. We’re starting to see some evidence in some of the states of a fall in the number of deaths from heroin use. But it’s a long tough campaign, but it’s a campaign that is vital to the future of our ! children and for future generations.
We’re also a government that has been strongly committed to the concept of choice in education. I went to a state government school in Sydney and I’m very proud of the education that I received from the New South Wales education system, and I exercised my choice as a parent to send my children to both state government and also independent schools. I believe that choice should be available to every parent in Australia. I believe in choice. I believe in a system of education that has first class government schools and first class independent schools. And one of the things that we have done is to give choice to low income people to send their children to non-government schools if that is their wish. It’s all part of our philosophy of choice. Political parties have got to believe in things as well as governing well, and one of the things we believe in. It’s reflected in relation to health insurance, it’s r! eflected in relation to education. We believe in the notion of individual choice, particularly parental choice.
We’re also a government that is very proud of how we’ve made our community safer. I’ll always be proud of the role we played in bringing in national gun control law almost five years ago. But I’m also very proud of the role that Australia has played in the world over the last five years. This country is more widely respected, is seen as having a more confident stance, and is seen as being economically less vulnerable than probably at any time over the last 25 years. And the policies of this government have played a major role in that.
Now ladies and gentlemen, as you look back over the last five years on the eve of this Ryan by-election you look at what we have done. We have made our mistakes, but I referred to one of them yesterday. Prime Ministers and political leaders should never confuse strength with stubbornness. Occasionally, occasionally we get it wrong, and when we do we ought to fix it and acknowledge it and move on with the business of government. But over the last five years the balance sheet is one of very great achievement and it is a balance sheet of hard working people. It is a record of achievement.
But as it’s a by-election, and in by-elections you’re meant to choose. Let’s have a look at the other side. It’s now five years since they went into Opposition. I said on radio this morning in comparing the present Opposition Leader with a former Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam, who incidentally was the worst Prime Minister Australia has had in the last 40 years. But paradoxically enough he wasn’t a bad Opposition Leader. He actually did something. He actually became Opposition Leader early in 1967, and five years later he’d actually tackled the problems of his party. He tackled the weakness of many of the state branches. He developed an alte! rnative program and people actually knew what the Labor Opposition stood for, much and all as they detested it they knew what it stood for at the beginning of 1972 and so did most of you who were around then.
But I don’t know what this Opposition stands for except they’re against us. I know that. And every time there’s a problem for us, and every government has problems, they’re in there having a go. Now that’s fine if you’ve also got an alternative vision and you’ve got an alternative philosophy. But this is the most policy lazy Opposition that this country has had. And when you come to by-elections you do have to make a choice. I mean if people give policy laziness the tick they’ll only encourage them to continue it. If people think oh well I’ll vote Labor as a protest, what are you protesting against? You’re voting in favour of an approach which says we can take the Australian public for granted. We ! don’t believe in that. I’ve never taken the Australian people for granted. Bob Tucker is not taking the people of Ryan for granted. He’s not saying oh I’ve got a 9% …(inaudible)… from the last election. I’ll just sort of, you know, put out a pamphlet and write ‘em a letter and man the polling booths. He’s out there with his coat off from day one working hard because he doesn’t take the people of Ryan for granted. But my political opponent is taking the Australian people for granted. The normal ebb and flow of the difficulty that any Government has particular (inaudible) a reforming government is going to put the Lodge in his lap. He was on television a few weeks ago saying “Look I expect to be in the Lodge in a year’s time”. Well I was asked the same question and I said “I don’t know. I don’t know whether I’ll be in the Lodge in a year’s time or not. That.! 217;s a matter for you to decide, for the Australian people to decide, and I’ll never take it for granted”. There’s a sense of complacency developing already but after five years you’d think we’d have an idea of what they believe in and what they stand for but we don’t.
So my friends, 27 years of politics has taught me to always expect something unexpected, it’s never a dull game, something comes out of a clear blue sky. It’s interesting, it’s the best game in town in terms of personal fascination of interest but the most important thing that we have to understand as Liberals is that what matters in the end is how we serve the Australian people. And you serve the Australian people through a combination of what I might call the two L’s, Leadership and Listening. On some occasions where you have to say ‘I stand here and irrespective of what you say I’m unmoveable because this is what is right for my ! country’ there are other occasions where you must be willing to listen and you must be willing to demonstrate some flexibility. A flexibility that is always consistent with the long-term national interest of this country.
That is the philosophy and the approach that I have tried to bring in the five years that I have been Prime Minister. It’s important that the people of Ryan in choosing who to vote for. There’s only effectively two alternatives, the Liberal Candidate, Bob Tucker and the ALP candidate. It’s important that they reflect upon the sort of choice that I’ve outlined over the last few minutes. Warts and all we’ve tried to do the right thing for Australia, we’ve been active, we’ve tackled the problems, we’ve not been frightened to take some very big and difficult decisions. And we may in the process have upset some people but we’ve had a go and we’ve been in there fighting for what we think is! right for the country. By contrast, we have a group of people on the other side who think politics is all about cheap opportunism and waiting for the inevitable adversities of politics of incumbent Governments to deliver you office. I don’t think that’s good enough. I ask the people of Ryan on the 17th of March to decide if it’s not good enough either.