Prime Minister Tony Abbott has welcomed world leaders to the G20 meeting in Brisbane.
Speaking in the former Legislative Council chamber of the Queensland Parliament, Abbott said: “This room symbolises the limitations on our power.”
Abbott emphasised the importance of economic reform. He told the gathering his government had repealed the carbon tax, stopped the “illegal boats”, started building roads and getting the Budget under control.
Abbott said the deregulation of universities was an issue he wished to lay before his “colleague leaders”. He said his government had found it difficult “to inject more price signals into our health system” via a $7 co-payment.
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Transcript of remarks by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the G20 Leaders’ Retreat at Parliament House, Brisbane.
Remarks at G20 Leaders’ Retreat, Brisbane
Thank you, everyone. It’s a real honour to have so many of you here in the beautiful city of Brisbane for this first ever G20 leaders’ retreat.
I’m very conscious of the fact that the people around this room are some of the most influential and powerful people in this world – indeed the most powerful and influential people in this world.
The people around this room today are responsible for 85 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, 75 per cent of the world’s trade, 65 per cent of the world’s population. Nowhere on earth will there be a more influential gathering than this, and yet, as we all know, our power and our authority is circumscribed.
We are meeting in the Legislative Council chamber of the Queensland State Parliament and back in the 1920s, the Queensland Government abolished the Legislative Council because it was too much of a restriction on the power of the then Premier, who was in the Legislative Assembly. So, this room symbolises the limitations on our power.
We have heavy responsibilities – all of us. The world is looking to all of us right now to try to demonstrate to an uncertain and at times anxious world that there are people who know what they’re doing, that there are people who have a plan; a plan for growth and for jobs. That’s our challenge: to leave this G20 meeting in 48 hours’ time having instilled more confidence in the people of the world that there is a better and brighter future for all of us.
But the limitations of our authority, the clash of policy and politics, the difficulty of trying to put good economics into practice given the political constraints that we all have, that’s what I would like us to be able to discuss very candidly over the next hour and a half, hour and three quarters.
We all know what we would like to do, but we all know that there are many constraints on what we can do. What I hope in the next hour and three quarters we can do, is speak candidly and openly amongst ourselves.
We may not always be able to agree, but I hope we can at least be open with each other over this time.
Obviously, I would like this discussion to focus on the politics of economic reform. That’s what I would like the discussion to do – to focus on the politics of economic reform. In the end, though, this is your retreat; it is open to any of you to raise any subject that you wish. The only rules, as far as I’m concerned, are if we can speak from our heart rather than from a script, that would be good. If we could be reasonably concise – five minutes, please, at the most – that would be good and if we could use first names that would be good as well, because whatever disagreements we might have, I think it helps if there can at least be personal warmth amongst us.
If I could kick off very briefly by saying that when I was elected – my Government was elected – 14 months ago, I made four promises to the Australian people. First, that I would repeal the carbon tax, and that’s gone. Second, that I would stop the illegal boats that were coming to our country, and they have, thank God, stopped. Third, that we would start building roads in particular which had been long neglected in this country. Fourth, I said I would get the Budget under control.
Now, I have to say that this has proven massively difficult – massively difficult – because it doesn’t matter what spending programme you look at, it doesn’t matter how wasteful that spending programme might appear, there are always some people in the community who vote, who love that programme very much. So, getting the Budget under control has proven extremely difficult. If I could speak candidly with you, what I have tried to do is not only get the Budget back under control, but also try to bring about important economic reforms, important liberalisations at the same time.
Two issues in particular that I lay before my colleague leaders: we have tried to deregulate higher education, universities, and that’s going to mean less central government spending and effectively more fees that students will have to pay. We think that this will free up our universities to be more competitive amongst themselves and more competitive internationally but students never like to pay more.
The other reform that has proven very, very difficult for us is to try to inject more price signals into our health system. For a long time most Australians who went to see a doctor have been seen at no charge and we would like to see a $7 co-payment for people who are going to see the doctor. In most countries this is not unusual. In most countries, this is standard that the doctor can charge a fee, but it is proving to be massively difficult to get this particular reform through the Parliament.
I don’t have any magic answers to the problems that we face. I think that all we can do is explain the reasons as carefully as we can and to persist for as long as we can with these reforms. But the more gatherings like this can affirm the importance of good policy. The more gatherings like this can affirm the importance of governments not overpromising things that are unaffordable and undeliverable, then I think the easier it is for all of us to deliver good policy to the people of our countries.
So, that I hope is what we can do over the next hour and three quarters or so: have a very candid and very honest discussion about where we think our countries can and should go, both individually and collectively over the next few years.