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John Howard Addresses Liberal Party Federal Council; Emphasises Defence And Terror Issues

Prime Minister John Howard has addressed the Liberal Party’s 49th Federal Council meeting in Canberra.

Howard discussed a range of issues, including the economy and the party’s success in last year’s election.

Howard stressed the importance of defence and the fight against terrorism. He said: “Australia some time ago recognised the need to increase our commitment to defence. And in December of the year 2000 we brought down a Defence White Paper. It provided for the largest increase in defence spending in more than a generation. Over a 10 year period it provided for significant increases in our financial commitment to the defence of Australia in all areas. And I would remind you that that White Paper was bought down before the events of the 11th of September and it was bought down before the need for this country to invest additional resources in the pursuit of the protection of this country’s borders against illegal immigration. And when you assess the world scene at present you see the wisdom of the Government’s decision to produce that White Paper almost 18 months ago.”

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Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s Address to the Liberal Party 49th Federal Council, at the Hyatt Hotel, Canberra.

Well thank you very much Peter, Mr Federal President, my fellow Liberals, ladies and gentlemen. I thank you very warmly for that welcome. I feel a very great sense of privilege and a great sense of moment and occasion to address this 5th gathering of the Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia since our magnificent electoral victory in March of 1996 which ended 13 years of Labor rule in Australia.

As I survey the national scene, as I reflect with you on the state of the Australian nation, we see a nation stronger, prouder, more respected and having a brighter future than was the case in March of 1996. We see a nation with an economy restored. We see a nation whose economic strength is now increasingly the envy of the rest of the industrialised world. But we also see a world less certain, less predictable, more challenging, more dangerous than was the world we faced in March of 1996. And it is as well ladies and gentlemen that the domestic strength of the Australian economy and the spirit of the Australian nation is what it is now because all of that strength and all of that spirit will be needed to deal with the less certain and more challenging world economic and political environment.

As we look over the last six years we have seen this country stare down two major international economic challenges. We stared down the Asian economic downturn of 1997. And last year we stared down the impact of the contraction in the American economy and the great economic uncertainty that followed the events of the 11th of September.

Make no mistake my friends, Australia’s esteem and respect around the world is higher now than it has ever been in its history. We are seen as a successful, progressive, modern, competitive nation. We are a nation that has punched above its weight in so many areas, both economically and politically. We remain widely admired and respected for the leadership we displayed in relation to East Timor. Without question the most positive and noble act by Australia in the area of international relations in the last 20 years. We are seen as a modern progressive and open society by reason of the magnificent success of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. We are seen as a nation that is able to contribute because of her domestic economic strength increasingly in the activities and the councils of the world.

Our foreign relationships now are as strong as they have ever been. Next month I will welcome the Prime Minister of Japan and the Prime Minister of Thailand. The leaders of two nations whose economies are very important to this country and the leaders of two nations that have very close links with the Australian people. In addition I will visit China at the end of May in order, amongst other things, to press the case for export of LNG from Australian sources into the Republic of China. It will also give me an opportunity on behalf of the Australian people to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the People’s Republic of China.

It can fairly be said that the alliance between Australia and the United States, so vital to the defence of Australia in the 1940’s in World War II, of continuing fundamental relevance to our security and our defence, that alliance has never been stronger and has never been closer. And the way in which we were able in the appropriate fashion to argue successfully our case in relation to the application of steel import tariffs imposed by the American administration, such that 85 per cent of the exports of BHP to the United States will not be affected by those tariffs was a token and a real earnest of the closeness of that relationship and I record my gratitude to the administration for the way in which it responded.

Our relations with the United States of course were cemented further in the aftermath of the tragic events of the 11th of September. For the first time we invoked the ANZUS treaty, we demonstrated to the President and to the people of that great society our commitment to the common values that our two peoples share, the common values that we have been prepared to fight for in every major conflict over the last 100 years. The war against terrorism goes on. It is not over, it will not be over until all the potential sources of terrorism, of the type that was unleashed on the people of New York and the people of Washington, are addressed in the appropriate fashion.

As I’ve said on many occasions ladies and gentlemen when we came to office we sought to rebalance the foreign relations of this country. Australia’s primary area of concern will always be the Asian/Pacific region. It is our region to which we as a people can contribute in a unique fashion. But it is not the only region that is important to Australia. And I have sought, and I believe successfully, in co-operation particularly with Alexander Downer who’s done an outstanding job as the Foreign Minister of this country since March of 1996, I have sought to rebalance those relationships so that we can quite rightly speak of the closeness of our association with the nations of the Asian/Pacific region, but we can also speak very proudly and strongly of our association with the people of North America. And not to forgot the special links historically, culturally and also economically that we have with the United Kingdom, Ireland and the other nations of Europe.

We are as a nation at the beginning of the 21st century in every sense a true citizen, not just of our region but a citizen of the world. A nation that is seen as successful, strong, free and open. And that is the kind of society that it has always been the dream of Australians to create. And it’s a society that we can proudly say does exist in Australia and is seen so around the world in the early years of the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, we do live in a world which is in greater turmoil and more challenging than it was a few years ago. The tragic events of the conflict in the Middle East where all semblance of trust and reciprocity and respect appears to have disintegrated is a cause of enormous concern to me and I know to all Australians. We endorse very strongly the efforts now underway by the American administration, particularly the visit to the Middle East by Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. Although it seems a long way off and although it seems beyond hope and beyond reach we must never despair of the possibility of achieving a peaceful settlement in that very troubled part of the world. And the basis of that settlement must always be the undeniable right of the people of Israel to exist behind secure, defensible and internationally respected boundaries. And it must also recognise the right of the people of Palestine to aspire to and to have a home land. That was the basis of the Oslo Accords and that was the basis of the peace negotiations that occurred just under two years ago between Chairman Arafat and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And it remains to me, and I know to millions of people around the world, a great tragedy and a sense of great loss that the prospects of peace that existed so brightly just under two years ago did not come to reality.

Australia some time ago recognised the need to increase our commitment to defence. And in December of the year 2000 we brought down a Defence White Paper. It provided for the largest increase in defence spending in more than a generation. Over a 10 year period it provided for significant increases in our financial commitment to the defence of Australia in all areas. And I would remind you that that White Paper was bought down before the events of the 11th of September and it was bought down before the need for this country to invest additional resources in the pursuit of the protection of this country’s borders against illegal immigration. And when you assess the world scene at present you see the wisdom of the Government’s decision to produce that White Paper almost 18 months ago. That White Paper has laid the foundation of the increase in our defence capability that is required to respond to the challenges that have come and may in the future come from the changed and more difficult economic circumstances in which we live. And while that White Paper made the appropriate provision as we saw it, it may well be that in the years ahead this country will need to make an even greater financial provision in the area of defence.

Ladies and gentlemen as we look domestically we see the challenge of the next two and a half years as very clear. That challenge is first and foremost to further secure and maintain the economic prosperity of the Australian people. We have achieved levels of economic growth as I said at the beginning of my remarks that are the envy of the industrialised world. We haven’t achieved those levels of economic growth by accident. We haven’t achieved them by good luck. We’ve achieved them because we have been willing to take the decisions that are needed to lay the foundation of enduring national economic prosperity. Economic and political success is never conferred by providence of by accident on any political party. It is earned by dint of hard work, steadfast commitment to policy and a willingness to pursue over a period of years a forward and progressive economic agenda. There would have been five years ago many people in this room who would never have imagined that we could have come the distance that we have over that period of time. And we look at what has been achieved domestically in our time of office, it does represent a mammoth achievement in transforming and further modernising the Australian economy. But the process of economic change and economic improvement is never completed. The Australian people know that we live increasingly in a borderless, globalised world economic environment. We cannot close our eyes to the rest of the world, we cannot seal this country off from the impact of world economic change and world economic developments. We must be part of world economic change, we must benefit from it and we must contribute to it. And all of the policies of your Government have been designed to achieve that purpose.

We now have low inflation. Falling unemployment, record low interest rates, a more flexible labour market, effective competition policies and internationally an economy that is seen and has experienced an increasingly level of competitiveness. But over the next two and a half years we must pursue further change and a further agenda which increases the modernisation and the competitiveness of the Australian economy. We must recognise, as I did lay out in the speech I delivered to the National Press Club in July of last year, that over the next decade this country will face a number of very important medium and long term challenges. Like all Western societies we will face the challenges of an aging population. We must address that challenge frankly, but we must not be panicked by it. We must recognise that policies are needed to allow older Australians to contribute longer and more positively both through work and other activities in the life of our nation. We must recognise the importance of policies that encourage the maximum possibility for family development, for young couples to have children and if they desire to do so, to have those children earlier in their lives. We must recognise that one of the great continuing challenges of our modern society is the need to find the right balance between the responsibilities of work and family. And when I spoke to the Women’s Forum on Friday I reminded those there of the policies that the Government had implemented in this area which have provided not only increased child benefits but cheaper, more available child care. And I made the observation which I repeat here this morning that the responsibility of balancing work and family is not only the responsibility of Australian women, it is equally the responsibility of Australian men. Because we live in a society where people do want greater choice, they don’t want to be told by the Government what their family arrangements should be. They want the government to provide an economic and industrial framework that enables them to work out the balance that they regard as most important.

We’ll also face, and we are beginning to respond to this challenge in a cooperative way with the States of Australia, a number of long-term environmental pressures. And the most important of those in my view is the challenge of salinity. Salinity is destructive of the economic capacity of this country. Salinity is a problem all over the nation and can only be challenged and solved in a cooperative effort between the Commonwealth and the States. And long before the last election I put to the State governments of Australia a proposal involving in the first instance the expenditure of $1.4 billion to deal with areas of salinity earmarked in a cooperative way between the Commonwealth and the States. And that process will go on. It will go on for years. But it is an area which is fundamental to the credibility of any environmental policy that this government might have.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the more immediate future, our responsibility is to implement specific commitments that were laid out in the election campaign. The area of welfare reform, and I’m very proud of the fact that it will be a Coalition government and not a Labor government that will undertake the first major restructuring and reform of the Australian welfare system for many decades. Not only has the government I lead maintained the social security safety-net; not only has the government undertaken policies that have led to the creation of almost one million additional jobs in the Australian community since March of 1996, but the government will also be the group of people who will tackle the longer term challenge of welfare reform and welfare dependency, and to implement policies that will speed the transition from welfare to work and will provide as any modern welfare system must, greater incentives for people to leave welfare and to enter the paid workforce.

It will also be our responsibility over the coming months to implement the superannuation changes that were laid out in the election campaign, opening up amongst other things for the first time, the possibility of superannuation provision for children immediately after they are born. Providing greater incentives and opportunities and choice in the superannuation area for married couples, particularly for women who have been out of the workforce for a long period of time and either go back part-time or never return because of family responsibilities. And we will also of course, in this term, begin the processes committed of reducing the superannuation surcharge.

It will also be a continuing priority of this government to pursue further workplace reforms. As I indicated at the breakfast yesterday morning, one of the stand out achievements of the Australian economy has been the dramatic improvement in productivity over the last six years. It’s that productivity improvement coming off the back of reforms to the Australian workplace which has made such a tremendous contribution to the economic strength and the economic growth of the last six years.

But there is, my friends, more to be done in the area of labour market reform. We can create the circumstances where even more jobs can become available, particularly in small business, for all age groups within the Australian community if only we were able to secure the passage through the Australian Parliament of our unfair dismissal law. We have been trying for five years, ladies and gentlemen, to get the unfair dismissal laws through the Federal Parliament. And on every occasion until now we have been blocked by the Labor-Democrat majority in the Senate. Let me say to you this morning, that that Bill is in the Parliament again. It will, after it returns from the Senate Committee, be voted upon by the Senate, and I again ask the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats to allow that Bill to go through.

We have much lower unemployment now than we had in March of 1996, but given the level of economic growth we are now enjoying, we could have significantly lower unemployment if further changes were made to the workplace laws of this country. And I say very directly to the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats – if you are interested in a greater dividend from the magnificent economic growth we now have, via even lower unemployment, then you have an opportunity to join in delivering that dividend to the unemployed of Australia by allowing the passage of that legislation through the Senate.

And could I also say to them that if that legislation is not passed on this occasion it will be presented again to the Parliament, because we are determined to create greater opportunities for job generation. We are determined to create greater opportunities, particularly for people in small business to achieve their employment goals. With a growth rate of 4 per cent, or thereabouts, this country can and should have even lower unemployment than the level of 6.3 per cent which was announced and recorded last week. But the only thing standing in the way of still lower unemployment and the generation of even more jobs, particularly in small business, are the continuing barriers to job creation represented by many of our outdated industrial relations laws that we have not been able to remove because of the attitude of the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats in the Senate.

It is of course, my friends, important on an occasion such as this not only to reflect as Australians on the state of our nation and the esteem and the place of our nation amongst the nations of the world, but it is also important as Liberals to reflect upon the journey of the last six years. We are entitled in an appropriate way to feel a sense of pride and a sense of celebration about our victory in November of last year. That was a victory against many of the odds. It was a victory that few would have conceded the possibility of a year ago. It was a victory widely unexpected, not only by our critics, but indeed by some who had a more neutral attitude, or even those who may have wanted us to achieve a victory.

And it is important to understand why it was achieved. And there are lessons in that, not only for us at a Federal level in the future, but also for our colleagues at a State level. In celebrating that victory and reflecting with pride, never forget that it was in part the product of the success of the very policies that I have talked about over the past few moments. It was also the product of a superb campaign which saw the optimum level of cooperation between the parliamentary party and the organisation. As somebody who was in every sense of the word a child of the Liberal Party organisation, I have always respected and treasured its role and its capacity. And I have never believed that it’s possible to win an election, from either Government or Opposition, unless there is total faith, total trust, and total cooperation between the parliamentary party and the organisation. Whenever they get out of sync, whenever they lose contact with each other, they lose elections. And that is a message not only for the Liberal Party, but it’s also a message for our political opponents.

But we won that election in November of last year also because we retained contact with the mainstream of the Australian community. That’s an expression that I have used on numerous occasions, and it’s an expression that we should continue not only to use but to also understand what it means. The great majority of the Australian people want their leaders to do good things for them and good things for our country. They are interested in outcomes, they are interested in results, they are interested in what leaders can achieve. They are more interested in those things than they are in ideology. That doesn’t mean to say that values and commitments and beliefs aren’t required to underpin the day-to-day pragmatic actions of people in government. But we did demonstrate particularly in relation to issues such as border protection and many other areas, a capacity to relate to the concerns of the mainstream of the Australian community. And that capacity played a very major role in the victory that we were able to achieve.

But I think the other reason why we were successful in November of last year was that our political opponents played the lazy game. They played it from the very moment they went into Opposition in March of 1996, and if ever you wanted a metaphor for the policy laziness and the policy failure of our political opponents, it was that near-pathetic sight of the former Opposition Leader literally walking the shopping centres of Australia with a policy sandwich board saying “this is what I stand for”. Well I can say to you, ladies and gentlemen, very simply that if after five and a half years the Australian public has no idea of what a political leader stands for, he or she has no earthly hope of communicating what he stands for in the space of a few weeks of an election campaign.

And there’s a message in that, may I presume to say, to all of my State colleagues, sadly at present in Opposition. You never win elections in the modern environment believing you can profit only from the failures of your opponents. It is because we live in an increasingly detribalised political environment where political allegiances are volatile, they are mobile, they are not as fixed, they are not as driven by family voting patterns, they are far more transient than ever before. It is precisely because of that environment, that you have to put on display well before an election the essence of what you believe in and what you stand for.

And I can proudly say that over the last six years, even if many of the things that I have stood for have been criticised, even detested by some people in the Australian community and by some media commentators, there has never been any doubt in the minds of the Australian public as to where I stand on issues or what the government I believe stands for. Because in the end your first responsibility as a political leader is to communicate to the public you seek to lead and to influence what your beliefs are, what you stand for, what your hopes and your dreams and your prayers are for the country you seek to lead. And there is a message in that, may I respectfully say to all of our colleagues, and there is also a message in that to instruct in the future the Federal Government and the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party.

Finally, can I say a very simple thank you to everybody in this room, and through you beyond to the great Liberal family around Australia. It is an immense privilege, one that is awe-inspiring to me every day, to be the Prime Minister of Australia. It is a privilege that has come my way because the Liberal Party chose me as its leader and the Liberal Party, through its combined resources, was able to command the respect and the support of the majority of the Australian people.

Our success in November of last year, our success over the last six years has been a team effort. And I do want to record my very deep gratitude, particularly to Peter Costello as the Deputy Leader of the Party, and the person more than anybody else who has carried the grind and the day-to-day burden of economic management and economic policy. He’s done a magnificent job, and I record my thanks to him.

To Robert Hill, now Australia’s Defence Minister, a crucial, sensitive portfolio at a crucial, difficult time for Australia’s Defence Forces. To Richard Alston and to all of my other Parliamentary colleagues, can I record my profound thanks and my profound gratitude.

I will always be in debt to the Liberal Party organisation. I said yesterday, and I repeat it today, that Lynton Crosby is a superb Federal Director of our Party. He’s also the outstanding political professional around Australia at the present time, irrespective of what Party you are looking at.

And to those of you who were at the dinner last night, I had the opportunity of addressing a few remarks about my friend Ron Walker, and I simply say again Ron, how profoundly I am in your debt, the Party is in your debt, the nation is in your debt for the contribution that you have made to our collective cause over such a long period of time.

And finally, to Shane as President. I want to thank you for the organisational leadership you have brought, for the political understanding, because of your past years of being in office in the Northern Territory, the friendship you have displayed towards me and the zeal and the commitment you have. And through you I address my thanks to all of the State Presidents, and all of the State Directors for their magnificent work.

The final thing I say to all of you ladies and gentlemen, is this – that the political challenge never ends. The political stage must always be occupied with activity, with purpose, and with commitment. We have come a long way over the last six years together. We have seen Australia transformed both domestically and in terms of her international esteem. We have, through the combination of the government’s policies, a domestic strength which will be needed and will be drawn upon in great measure in the time immediately ahead of us because of our difficult international political environment.

But the lesson of the last six years is that you always push forward. The task is never done. The reform process is never completed. The economy is never perfect. Our international relations are never completely right, there are always challenges ahead, and we have over the next two and a half years, the challenges that I have outlined. And if the Liberal Party together can respond in the way that we have responded over the last six years, there is no reason why we cannot gather again after the next election and with quiet pride and satisfaction celebrate another victory. To all of you, thank you for your support. I value it greatly. It means a lot to me. It means that together we have achieved so much for Australia.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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