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Howard Launches Government Campaign With A Billion Dollars Of Promises

  • First Child Tax Refund For Families
  • More Money For Aged Care
  • Law Enforcement Summit
  • Anti-Drugs Initiative

Prime Minister John Howard12.30pm – The Prime Minister, John Howard, has delivered the coalition’s policy speech in Sydney. In a speech that concentrated on domestic issues, the Liberal Party leader promised around $1 billion of new spending if his government is re-elected on November 10.

The centre-piece of the policy speech is the proposed First Child Tax Refund. This would cost around $400 million over 4 years and would provide assistance to families following the birth of their first child. The scheme is akin to income equalisation that currently applies to farmers and artists.

Other measures included more money for aged care, a law enforcement summit with the States and an anti-drugs initiative.

Howard made no mention of whether he will serve a full three years if he wins, although he made it clear that he believes his experience and commitment suits him for what he repeatedly described as “difficult times”.

Howard said there are three things people need to do on November 10:

  1. Assess the past record of the government
  2. Consider who is best able to manage events in these difficult times
  3. Assess the respective offerings from the main parties

As the speech unfolded, Howard:

  • talked of the importance of defence and said that the government made a decision in 1996 not to cut defence, despite having to find cuts to repair Labor’s $10 billion deficit.
  • said the government had done much on science and innovation, citing the funding offered in the Innovations package earlier this year. Howard said Australia is “punching above its weight” in this area.
  • said welfare reform was working and claimed low income people were better because of welfare reform and income tax cuts. He spoke of giving incentive people to reduce welfare dependency.
  • said primary and secondary education had benefited under his government and claimed that standards were as important as spending more money. He disputed the claim that the government had discriminated against government schools in favour of private schools. He said there had been a 43% increase in funds for government schools, whilst enrolment in government schools had only risen by 1.3%. He proclaimed himself as a product of government high school in Sydney. He said government schools receive 78% of all funds, a higher proportion than the enrolment numbers. We “genuinely believe in the absolute importance of parental choice” in education, Howard said. He claimed that the education unions, the ALP’s “masters”, had as their aim the elimination of all funding of non-government schools.
  • praised the Education Minister, David Kemp, for his work in improving literacy standards in schools, saying the number of students who cannot read has fallen from 28% to 13%. This was more of an achievement than “the politics of envy”.
  • said private health insurance had been revived under his government. He reminded his audience of the ALP’s opposition to the legislation that introduced the 30% health insurance debate.He said the amount of money going to the States for health was now 28% higher than it had been under the last year of the Keating government. He said the amount of money going to medical research had been doubled and praised the work of Michael Wooldridge in preventative medicine. Childhood immunisation rates were around 50%, but were now more than 95%. He talked of measures to increase the number of doctors in country areas.
  • said Australia had never had a better Minister for the Environment that Senator Robert Hill, citing the National Heritage Trust as the most important environmental restoration in the nation’s history.He spoke of the problem of salinity and water quality and praised Hill’s work in this area.
  • said Australia would not ratify the Kyoto agreement until the implications for Australian industry and jobs was known. He said the only effective way to have an international greenhouse emissions policy was to have the United States involved.

Howard then moved to new proposals for “strong, stable, united, loving families”. He said every arm of government policy should be directed at strengthening and assisting families. For this reason, low interest rates were important, reminding his audience that the average home buyer was paying $350/month less under his government.

The Prime Minister said families had benefited from tax cuts. These had not been for the big end of town, but for families. He then said the following measures would be introduced in the next term of government:

  • The problem of balancing work and family would be addressed by assisting families at the time of the birth of a child. He said this was often when the family lost one income for a time. He said fluctuating incomes for artists and farmers had been allowed to average their incomes and that this would now apply to families when the first child was born. The first child tax refund would be introduced on July 1, 2002. It would be capped at $2500. The benefit would be payable for five years. A guaranteed minimum payment of $500 would be made for income earners on less than $25000.
  • The care of the elderly was the next policy area raised by the Liberal leader. He announced a $416 million package to provide more places and better care for the elderly. $100m would be provided as capital funding for aged care in fringe urban and rural areas. This would include funding for carers. The government would review subsidies to nursing homes. He said the number of aged care places would grow from 160,000 to over 190,000.
  • New scholarships would be introduced for students undertaking training in the aged care area. Howard said these measures in the aged care area went much further than anything announced by the ALP.
  • Howard said he had taken a “relentless personal interest” in the scourge of drugs and claimed his government had taken many steps to tackle the drug problem, citing drug seizures and the reduction in the number of deaths from heroin overdoses. He announced a $109 million package, including $60 million for non-government organisations, $14 million for community partnerships and $28 million over 4 years for the development of retractable needles. Howard said the government would continue to oppose heroin injecting room trials, saying the government did not want to give aid and comfort to drug dealers like the ALP does.
  • Howard moved to policing, referring to terrorism and international crime as reasons for new measures. He said the government had enhanced the role of the Federal Police and would announce more measures later in the campaign. “The current environment calls for more co-ordination and a much greater role for the government in law enforcement.” Howard said a summit of state and territory leaders would be held to consider national measures to deal with organised crime and international crime, including the referral of powers by the States.

Concluding, Howard said this campaign was being fought against the background of two over-riding issues: national security and economic management. He said September 11 had “changed our lives” and caused Australians to reflect on the values they shared with the Americans. He said the terrorist attacks were also an assault on the values Australians held dear.

Howard also referred to “border protection”, receiving strong applause from his audience when he talked of the protection of Australia’s sovereignty. He singled out Philip Ruddock for congratulations.

He said the contrast was amazing on the day the Tampa crisis erupted, saying Beazley said he did not want to be a “carping” Opposition. “We have had a single irrevocable position” on this issue, Howard said.

He expressed his gratitude to the Australian Navy for its compassionate approach to boat people.

Howard stressed the importance of economic management to the achievement of other aims and dreams. He praised the job performed by Peter Costello over the past 5 years. “Just think where we would now be”, he said, if over $50 billion of debt had not been repaid, or if interest rates had not been lowered, or if the taxation system had not been reformed.

Howard said the the coalition in opposition had supported good measures for reform when Labor was in government, such as allowing foreign banks or the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank.

He said Labor had committed a “double political and economic crime” by running up debt and then trying to prevent the coalition paying it back.

Howard said he “grieve” most in the event of an election defeat over what would happen to industrial relations. He claimed “coast to coast” Labor governments would tear down the Reith reforms, abolish individual contracts and secondary boycott provisions. He cited increases in productivity as evidence of the success of his government’s industrial relations reforms.

“We had the guts to do these things”, he said and singled out Peter Reith for his “courage” during the waterfront dispute of 1998. “They said it couldn’t be done”, Howard said, citing increases in hourly crane rates on the wharves.

Howard said taxation reform had been “difficult, but necessary”, saying he had gone to the people in 1998 and asked to be judged on whether or not the people wanted taxation reform. He said deep down he thought people accepted the need for taxation reform, even if they didn’t like every part of it.

“It has made a difference”, Howard said. He said the CPI effect of the GST had had an effect, but this was now past. He reminded his audience that the company tax rate had dropped from 36% to 30%.

“Going back to Labor at this crucial time in out history would put so much at risk”, Howard said, ridiculing “born again” ALP claims that they supported surplus budgets, low interest rates and job creation.

Howard said the last 5 years had been an occasion of immense privilege and opportunity. He said his government had been beholden to no group in Australian society. He referred to his victory in 1996 when he promised to govern for everyone, that the Liberal leader was “now owned by anyone”. He said “we are the great believers that the people hold it in their own hands to achieve”.

Howard said he had never felt such a depth of enthusiasm and dedication as at the moment. He said these times would be a test, but he was comforted by two great things: an economic and social strength, and, even more powerful, the spirit of the Australian people, their great capacity to reach out and work together, their essential decency and willingness to have a go, to require of everyone that they do their bit for the common good.

Howard said he wanted to be part of seeing the nation through difficult times. “My sheer commitment” best equips me, he said, citing his experience and achievements to date.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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