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Howard Pledges Industrial Relations Reform, Derides “Cut And Run” Policies

Legislation to re-introduce the redundancy payment exemption for small business has been promised by the Prime Minister, in an address to the State Council of the Victorian Liberal Party.

HowardReminding his audience that winning a fourth term will be “a very big fight”, Howard said “there is no threat contained in alternative Labor Government at a federal level which is more lethal than what it would represent in terms of industrial relations changes. The abolition of Australian workplace agreements, the almost unlimited right of entry for unions whether they’re wanted or not, the removal of the secondary boycott protection under the Trade Practices Act which is so important for small business.”

On Iraq, Howard said: “It is not in the best interests of our country to cut and run from Iraq. It is in the best interests of our country and in the best traditions of our country to finish the job and to see it through until the circumstances have arisen where out of proper regard for the security of Iraq and proper regard for the interests of our allies and proper regard for sending a united, unambiguous message to terrorists that we will not have our policy dictated by threats of violence and the actuality of violence in other countries.

Transcript of the Address to the Victorian Liberal Party State Council meeting in Hawthorn, Melbourne, by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Thank you very much Peter for that spirited welcome and introduction. Helen Kroger, I join in congratulating you on your re-election unanimously as President of the Victorian Division. I welcome my federal parliamentary colleagues, and especially I join in welcoming Senator Mitch Fifield, the newest member of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party. And to the many other people who are here today, may I especially single out the former Premier Lindsay Thompson and can I say what a stirring, passionate, moving address you gave in the Great Cathedral of this city only a few days ago in memory of your former colleague. It was a gathering of the Liberal family and the community of Melbourne and the community of Victoria in a most representative way, and it was an honour for me to be part of such a fine memorial to a person who gave so much to our party and to the state of Victoria.

I start by thanking the Victorian Division again for the very dedicated way in which it has set about preparing for the upcoming federal election. We face a great challenge. Winning for the fourth time is always hard. There is always temptation to think when things are going well that the nation essentially is on autopilot and it doesn’t really matter who is in charge, it will keep going well. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. And we’ll face in this state, as we will around the nation, we will face a very big fight when the election is held. But the value of the strength of this division will once again be something that will be important if we are to achieve ultimate victory. I’m impressed with the quality of the candidates chosen and the sense of commitment and zeal of the division at an organisational level.

The stakes are very high. If we lose federally, there won’t be a Liberal Government anywhere in Australia for the first time probably since the party was formed in 1944. So we do carry a very heavy responsibility. But more importantly even than the responsibility we carry for the future of our party, will be the implications that that will have for the future of our nation.

And over the past two weeks in federal parliament, we have seen open up a very clear division on something that is very important, not only to the way in which the world responds to the modern and horrible threat of terrorism, but also very important to the reputation and standing of our country around the world. Australians have never cut and run. Australians have always finished the job. Australians have always seen through until their responsibilities have been fully discharged. We may as a nation have differed and quarrelled about whether we should have made the original commitment in Iraq, but I do not believe the great majority of Australians differ and quarrel when it comes to a choice between cutting and running or staying and finishing the job. I believe the great majority of Australians believe that at the present crucial, difficult time in the wake of the bombings in Madrid, in the wake of a resurgent concern about terrorism around the world, I believe that the majority of Australians want us to go the distance and finish the job in Iraq – not separate ourselves from our allies in the United States and elsewhere.

This is not a time to be seen to be dividing the free world. Rather it is the time for nations and countries of goodwill and commitment to stand together in a united fashion. And I say that out of a sense of deep conviction. I say that in the face of an Opposition Leader who out of opportunism and populism invented a policy on a radio programme. You don’t make good policy in answer to radio interviewers. You don’t make good policy in the full morning flush of having read a couple of good opinion polls in a newspaper. You make policy over the long term out of consideration for what is in the best interests of our country. And it is not in the best interests of our country to cut and run from Iraq. It is in the best interests of our country and in the best traditions of our country to finish the job and to see it through until the circumstances have arisen where out of proper regard for the security of Iraq and proper regard for the interests of our allies and proper regard for sending a united, unambiguous message to terrorists that we will not have our policy dictated by threats of violence and the actuality of violence in other countries. We will make our policy according to what we believe is in the long-term interests of the Australian people.

Not only has the debate on Iraq in Federal Parliament opened up a very clear policy difference between the Government and the Australian Labor Party, but it has also exposed the opportunism with which the alternative Prime Minister of this country approaches policy making. And over the last two weeks we’ve seen that on display, and the other thing we have seen on display over the last two weeks is the policy weakness of the Australian Labor Party in so many other areas. We have seen their continuing incompetence and ineptness when it comes to the making of economic policy, as Peter has pointed out, it is some one per cent, $8 billion!

And if that were not enough, we had hastily released last Wednesday a new baby care policy. Now it had two mistakes, not one. The first of those was that it was $350 million under funded. Somehow or other, they got their sums wrong yet again. And the other great mistake it had was that it was partly funded out of the introduction of a new tax because under the Labor Party baby care policy, for the first time since 1971 we will have a federally imposed payroll tax. Although it is represented as a tiny addition to the superannuation guarantee levy, it is in reality a payment, an impost on business, a tax on business that will not go towards people’s superannuation. It will go into consolidated revenue. And the last time I checked, when the Government charges you something and it goes into consolidated revenue, that’s a tax. I don’t know what else it is. I mean I don’t think economics has changed that much since I tried to learn something about it a number of years ago, and I don’t think the world has changed so much that somehow or other you invent something that is, although it looks like a tax, it quacks like a tax and it seems to be a tax, in reality it is not a tax because it mysteriously changes its character, even though you pay it and the Government gets it. I think all Australians understand that when we pay and they get, that’s a tax. But it represents again an illustration of the incompetence and the naivete and indeed the priorities of Labor, not only as an Opposition, but Labor as an alternative Government.

And we’ve also seen over the past two weeks on display yet again the Labor Party’s continued subservience to the dictates and the interests of the trade union movement of Australia. Of all the many reasons why it is essential for the long-term economic interests of this country that we preserve Federal Government for the Coalition and we prevent the emergence of wall to wall, coast to coast Labor Governments, Labor everywhere, none is more important than what that would represent by way of turning back the clock on industrial relations.

I believe that if you look at the history of this country’s economic development over the last 20 years, it should properly record that no reform has been more important than the reform of our industrial relations system. No reform has been more important than the breaking of the stranglehold of trade union power. No reform has been more important than the removal of the threat and the reality of union thuggery, not only on small business, but particularly here in the state of Victoria the challenge it still represents in areas such as the construction industry. And there is no threat contained in alternative Labor Government at a federal level which is more lethal than what it would represent in terms of industrial relations changes. The abolition of Australian workplace agreements, the almost unlimited right of entry for unions whether they’re wanted or not, the removal of the secondary boycott protection under the Trade Practices Act which is so important for small business. The hideous proposition that if you enter into a contract with the Federal Government as a condition of entering the contract you will have to disclose the identity of your sub-contractors so that presumably the union secretary and a few others can pay them a friendly social call for a cup of tea. Now that is a measure of the change that would occur and it’s a measure of the threat that a Labor Government would pose in particular to the small business community of Australia.

Over the last eight years the small business community has made a massive contribution to employment growth in this country. We have 1.3 million more jobs in Australia and we can largely thank the small business community for that job growth. Large corporations are always by dent of circumstances looking for the ways of downsizing and maintaining what they see the economy’s relating to their employment levels. It’s when you get a strong economy that you get a strong growth in small business and as a result of that you get a strong growth in employment. And we as a government want to do everything we can to remove the hurdles that still remain in the path ahead for small business. We’ve given them low interest rates, we’ve given small business low inflation, we’ve given small business as well as large business lower corporate taxes, we’ve given small business strong and effective and fairer industrial relations. And we want to find new and different ways of further assisting the small business community. But we also as a government are not willing to stand by idly if we see new burdens placed on the small business community.

That is why the Government was frankly disappointed to say the least at the decision of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission only a short while ago to remove the small business exemption that applied to redundancy payments and that is why I’m pleased to announce this morning that the Government will legislate to overturn that decision so far as it affects small business under federal awards.

We see no reason why this additional cost burden should be placed on small business. If it is left untouched it will result in fewer jobs in small business. Just as the unfair dismissals laws that we have been trying to reform for eight years and have been continuously frustrated in that effort by the Senate, or by the opposition parties in the Senate, so it is to impose this new burden on small business will make it harder for them. And I want this to be seen as a strong and powerful signal to the small business community of Australia that we have not lost our commitment to them, we have not lost our stomach for the fight on behalf of small business because we regard the small business community as very much the engine room of the continued growth and strength of the Australian economy.

I’m aware that when the case was argued before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that at least three of the Labor states in fact supported the Commonwealth Government’s position, the governments of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia – not, I note, the Labor Government of Victoria – but the Labor Governments of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia opposed the removal of the small business exemption. So I would therefore expect in the name of consistency that those states would also follow the Commonwealth and legislate to prevent any flow on of the AIRC decision to small business awards operated at a state level.

Let me simply finish this issue by saying we’re not talking here of taking away something that people have, we’re talking here of preventing the imposition of a new burden on the small business community of Australia.

My friends, I said at the beginning of my remarks that what is ahead of us is a very big and historic political fight. There is much at stake. Over the last eight years we have seen Australia’s reputation around the world grow to levels that many of us would not have believed possible. We are seen rightly as a stellar economic performer and nobody in the Government deserves more credit for that international reputation than does my colleague and friend Peter Costello, the Federal Treasurer and Deputy Leader.

We see an Australian nation that is regarded by the world that is willing to stand up for what it believes in, willing to take some short term risks for long term security and long term benefit. We have an Australian nation that has been able to build ever closer links with our traditional allies and friends while at the same time building uniquely close relations with countries such as China and preserving our strong economic and political partnership with nations such as Japan and South Korea, symbolised as it was in the national parliament last year by successive addresses to the National Parliament from the President of the United States and the President of the People’s Republic of China.

We have put on display in major international events the great openness and the friendliness of the Australian people. We are seen as a strong independent self-confident nation, not striving to be like anybody else but striving all the time to be what we have always been and that is 100 per cent Australian. We’ve seen a nation stare down some very great difficulties and that nation has been led by a united government, its been led by a great team and effort and I pay tribute to the contribution that all of my colleagues have made, all of my senior ministers and all of my Federal parliamentary colleagues. We are a strong, united, determined team. We know the challenge, we’re determined to preserve what has been achieved for Australia over the last eight years. We will not lightly run the risk of surrendering an achievement that has given this nation its strongest economy since World War II, has given this nation a unique position of influence in the councils of the world, which has given this nation a unique international trading springboard through a combination of the United States Free Trade Agreement as well as the development of ever closer economic links with Asia.

This is a story of great achievement, but there is much still to be done, nobody should assume that the Australian economy can not be destroyed if the wrong polices are introduced, we are strong economically because we have done right thing by the Australian economy, we did the right thing in Opposition when we supported any sensible reforms put up by the former Labor Government and we have done the right thing in Government by introducing so many reforms of our own which have underpinned the current day strength of the Australian economy.

But that will change if Labor wins, Labor has a record of bad economic management, they have committed themselves to economic polices that will undermine the strong base from which our economy is now working. Their policies will result in higher interest rates, their polices through the reintroduction of industrial relations constraints will reduce employment rather than lift it. Their polices will inevitably lead to a return to the high debt situation that we inherited in 1996 and that we have worked so hard to remove with great success over the last eight years.

There is much at stake, there is much to be achieved, and if the unity and strength and purpose that we have displayed over the last eight years is maintained, as I know it will be, we can win, we’ll work hard, it’ll be tough but in the end we will be successful.

I thank you all.

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