Address to 138th Victorian State Council, Shepparton

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Appointment of Chair of the Australian Accounting Standards Board
November 6, 2003
Appointment of Ms Louise Sylvan as ACCC Deputy Chair
November 10, 2003

Address to 138th Victorian State Council, Shepparton

Keynote Address

138th Victorian State Council

Eastbank Centre


Saturday, 8 November 2003

11.00 am

Sophie Panopolous, Madam President Helen Kroger, to your team, to our State Director Julian Sheezel, to our State Leader Robert Doyle, and to the wonderful delegates of the best Division of the Liberal Party of Australia, the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party.

To me it’s a wonderful privilege to be here and to be able to speak to my own home division. It takes me back over the 24 years or so that I have been coming here to these State Councils, and I remember some great characters over those years that have led our Party, people who I have looked up to and admired, some of whom are still part of this Division, and still work for this Division, and still carry the fortunes of this Division.

And do you know we don’t recognise the people who have been our own heroes enough, but I do want to pay very strong tribute today, because he will be retiring shortly, to Senator Richard Alston, our Senate team leader who was first elected in 1986 to the Victorian Senate, he has been a Deputy Leader for us, he has been a Senior Minister for us, he has been a Party President for us, and to Richard Alston, we will have the opportunity to thank him in other ways, I want to say thank you for wonderful service to the Victorian Liberal Party.

As I drove up here this morning, I don’t know whether it was the sun that was shining on green fields, or whether it was the birds that were tweeting in the paddocks, whether it was the fresh air that I could smell, but my spirits became higher and higher and lifted, and I got happier and happier, and I realised that I was driving into the seat of Murray, the strongest Liberal seat in Australia.

Sharman Stone doesn’t like to advertise this, but you’re only on a 22 per cent margin up here Sharman, do not rest, do not rest. And I kept thinking about two years ago, because on Monday two years ago was the last Federal election. Those of you that know the Federal Constitution, will know that the term of the House of Representatives is 3 years. But if we’ve finished two years since the last election, that means that within the next year there will be another federal election. Don’t they go quickly?

And we go into this federal election holding 17 seats with the National Party, out of 37 here in Victoria. On a re-distribution and one extra seat here in Victoria, we will go in holding 18 out of 38. It is not a majority. We ought to go into this election, aiming to hold all of our marginals; to hold Deakin, to hold McEwen, to hold La Trobe. This will be a tough order, with the retirement of that fantastic servant and representative of the Liberal Party, Bob Charles. Where are you Bob? Stand up and take a bow. There are a lot of people who have said you can’t hold La Trobe without Bob Charles, well no-one wants to prove them more wrong than Bob Charles, and me, and the rest of the Victorian Liberal Party.

If we want to go out of the next election with a majority in Victoria, we have to start winning back some of the seats that we have lost in the past. Seats that we lost in 2001, like Ballarat, seats that we lost in 1998, like Chisholm, and Bendigo. We have to go into this campaign with a strategy which will hold our marginals, which will deliver seats that are notionally ours, like McMillan, with Russell Broadbent coming back to re-take the seat of McMillan, I hope, for the Liberal Party.

And we must go further to take back some of the seats that we lost in 2001 and 1998. And these are the seats that we have to focus on in the next federal election; La Trobe, our new candidate Jason Wood, well-known, picking up from Bob Charles; McMillan with Russell Broadbent; in Ballarat, with Elizabeth Matushka; and in Bendigo with Kevin Gibbins. Delegates this is the task that we have to hold and advance in the next federal election.

We have 12 months in which to do it. We want to make Victoria proud again of its Members of Parliament in the federal arena.

We have been served by some wonderful Ministers, and some wonderful Members, and let’s send a few more back to Canberra to continue the good work which is being undertaken by this Government.

It will be a hard election, we know that. We know that after a time notwithstanding the performance of a Government, people start to wonder whether they can take a chance on the alternatives. I’ve said it before, here in Australia there is a tendency amongst the electorate to say well, we’ll vote the Liberals in to fix things up, and once they have been fixed up the Labor Party can come back and make some whoopee. My message to those people is, you can’t afford the whoopee of the Labor Party. The whoopee of the Labor Party would take us right back to where we were in 1996. There is no point saying, whoops, they’re making whoopees after the event.

We have come a long way since 1996. When our Government was elected in 1996, the home mortgage variable interest rate was 10 per cent. There has been a focus on interest rates this week because the home variable mortgage interest rate has moved to 6.8 per cent. But let’s have a perspective as to where we’ve come from.

In fact, during the 13 years of Labor Government, home mortgage variable interest rates averaged at 12 per cent, averaged 12 per cent. About double the rate that they are today. And on a standard variable mortgage, the average mortgage holder in Australia today is paying $585 a month less than when this government is first elected to Parliament.

And Sophie said, that on Thursday with the release of the Labour Force unemployment fell to 5.6 per cent, the lowest in 22 years, taking us back beyond the so-called “recession we had to have.” When this Government was elected, unemployment was 8.2 per cent.

When this Government was elected our Budget was in deficit by $10 billion, we drove that Budget back into surplus, and we delivered 5 surplus budgets, and a sixth this year. When this Government was elected our credit rating had been twice downgraded. We got it back, we drove it to a AAA rating and made Australia in many respects, the envy of the world. When our Government was elected Commonwealth debt was $96 billion, and today it is $30 billion. We have paid off $66 billion of the Labor Party debt.

In many respects, the hard work of the last seven years has got us back to pre-recession Australia. I said this week, I finally feel that we undid the damage that the recession Keating said, we had to have. It was a recession we should never have had. It did such damage, the people that were put out of work, small businesses who lost everything they had saved for, home owners who lost their houses. The truth is, it was the recession that we should never have had, and it has taken 7 years to get us back to where we should have been. The truth is that the Labor Party ran Australia down, we brought Australia back.

It wasn’t an accident, it is not some kind of fluke, if economic management were easy, then anyone could do it. If it were easy Simon Crean could do it. But it is not easy, it takes work, it takes dedication, it takes commitment. These haven’t been easy times for our country, we have been through a financial crisis in Asia, the United States, the powerhouse economy of the world, has been in recession, we have had our worst drought in a hundred years, and we had to fight every step of the way.

We had to fight to re-build Australia’s opportunities. The deepest desire the Labor Party now is to inherit the work that we have done, that is their deepest desire. They fought us every way when we were reforming Australia’s tax system, and now they want to keep it. During Question Time in Canberra this week, we were talking about the tax system, and I stood at the dispatch box and I said, “The Labor Party fought the GST every step of the way, every inch of the way, and now they want to keep it.” And I stopped, and I waited for the interjections. And the silence continued. I said, “And now they want to keep it.” And they looked at each other and said, “Do we interject, or not?” Trick question. And now they want to keep it. Having fought us every step of the way, now they want to inherit it. They fought us every step of the way to balance the Budget and they want to enjoy it. They fought us every step of the way when we re-paid $66 billion of Labor debt, and now they want to take advantage of it. Well, I have a message for them, if you do the work, you can have the results, but if you want to loll around and run a lazy campaign, of interference and obstruction, then the results are not yours to take. The results are not yours to take, and they are not the results which the Labor Party could be trusted with.

I feel in many respects that we are now getting back to where Australia should have been, before the disastrous Keating recession. I remember in my first 1996 Budget, I said this, we have not created this problem, but we will fix it, we will fix it. And for the last 7 years, that is what we have been determined to do.

Our economic strength can now give us the basis for social policy. Don’t get me wrong about this, there is not much you can do without economic strength. It is economic strength that gives you the basis for defending your country. It is economic strength that gives you the basis for health systems and education. Look at the countries in Africa, do you think those countries are against strong health systems or strong educational systems? Of course not. Do you think they would be against pristine environmental policy? Of course not. But if you don’t have the economic strength you don’t have the capacity to deliver these things. Defence and health and education and environment comes out of economic strength.

I have said before, it is like breathing in and breathing out – economic strength, social policy, economic strength, social policy. It is the economic strength that gives you capacity to go for those social goals, and this is a point that the Labor Party has never understood. The Labor Party will always go after spending programs, but it will never have the discipline to go after the economic strength which makes it happen.

You know, I keep saying in the House of Representatives, when 1.3 million jobs have been created over the last 7 years, you have got to understand this point, there is no job for an employee unless there is an employer. The employer creates jobs. An employer cannot create jobs unless there is a strong business environment. You can talk all you like about job creation, but if you don’t have an employer you won’t have jobs.

And I never say by the way that the Government created 1.3 million jobs, the Government didn’t create the jobs, the employers created those jobs. What the Government can do, is it can run an economic environment which will allow businesses to prosper and create jobs. And it is the private sector of Australia that has delivered that jobs outcome, and we shouldn’t be afraid of low unemployment in this country.

There are some people that say unemployment is low, it is at 22 year lows, we haven’t been through 6 per cent for a long time. It must mean that the economy is overheating – no, no, no.

Low unemployment is the object of economic policy. The object of economic policy is not, good though it may be, to see rising asset prices.

It is not good, though it may be, to see budget surpluses. The object of economic policy is to grow an economy where business can make profits and provide jobs and people who want to work can work. That is the object of our economic policy.

We should not be afraid of low unemployment, this is the object, this is what we have been driving towards, this is what we have wanted, all of these years. We are not going to shy away from it now that it looks like it might be coming within our grasp. So, don’t get me wrong, there is not much you can do on social policy without economic strength, but economic strength now gives us the capacity to go further. Our cherished goals of liberty, personal responsibility, care for the aged, protection of the young and the vulnerable, these are the things we now want to go further and start delivering on the quality of life which a strong economy can afford us.

We know that some of these things, some of these important social aspirations that we have are outside government control. They are rooted in our values and our faith. They are rooted in our community. We know that the strength of a community comes out of its voluntary engagement. We know that its people that make the community.

When we as Liberals see people joining together and making a community, we think that is a wonderful thing. When the Labor Party sees people joining together and making a community, they think you need to set up a departmental inquiry to find out about it. Bring a few public servants down to try and institutionalise it maybe. Impose a new tax to fund it in the future. Get it under a particular departmental structure. Because their view of community is a community that flows down from government. Our view of community is quite different, it flows up from the individual, from our faith and our values, and concepts of liberty and personal responsibility.

And one of the wonderful virtues of civic engagement is political participation, which you people engage in, not because anybody directs you, not because the trade union leader says you must go to this conference and vote in a particular way, but because you believe in the community and the society that grows out of it. And our economic strength can now give us the opportunity, I believe, to go out and reclaim some of those values, and to strengthen our communities, and to expand the area of the personal liberty, and at the same time to ask for personal responsibility, to protect the weak and the vulnerable, and to care for the aged.

Our economic strength also gives us the basis for foreign policy and defence. We’ve announced as part of a Defence Capability Review, yesterday, substantially enhancing Australia’s defence capability. These are very long projects. They are expensive projects. But they are projects which Australia if it wants to be a confident, outward-looking and independent country must engage in. And will be done off the back of our economic strength.

Our economic strength has given us a lot of respect in this region and beyond. The week before last, in two days, Australia had the President of the United States, and the President of China address its Parliament. Within 24 hours of each other. It’s an episode which has no precedent in terms of foreign visitors. The President of the United States, the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest military power, and Australia’s strongest ally, came out to Australia to address our Parliament.

And President Hu Jintao, President of China, the world’s most populous nation, the emerging economic power of the world, came to discuss economic prospects 24 hours later. As John Howard said in welcoming President Bush, our forces have fought together as allies since the First World War, since Americans went into battle under Australian command in the First World War, in France. And since then we have had a military alliance which as has been based on mutual interest and protection, and strength and honesty.

And when the Members and Senators assemble in a joint sitting of the Parliament in Canberra, they assembled to hear President Bush. We could have summoned a joint sitting to hear the Prime Minister, and we would have got most of the Members and most of the Senators. We could have had a joint sitting to hear me, and you would have got most of the Liberals. And if we had a joint sitting to hear Bob Brown, you would have got two people there. That joint sitting was not assembled to hear Bob Brown speak. He can speak in the Parliament any day of the week, and he often does for hours at a time. It was assembled to hear President Bush, and frankly we didn’t care what Bob Brown had to say on that particular day. He can say it as long as he likes, any time he likes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But you know what I found very interesting about the Leader of the Greens, when he interjected so rudely on that speech, he didn’t interject in support of old growth forests, he didn’t interject in relation to the Kyoto protocol. What he interjected on was an issue of foreign affairs and defence policy. Australians who had been captured in military action against the Taliban and Al Qaida, surely the most repressive regimes in the world.

And it tells you something about the Greens – they are a bit players on the environment, but it masks a hard line left-wing agenda on defence and foreign affairs. And people should know that. Green is the camouflage, but underneath, there is a hard line left-wing agenda. And Australia’s relations with China, in this region, whilst we recognise the political shortcomings and the lack of open freedoms which we in Western societies would demand and we in Western societies believe people have the right to, our relations are growing with China, which will be the economic power of the twenty-first century, are important to our children and their future.

We are living in a competitive world. We want the best for our children, and the relations which Australia is developing on the international stage, the respect that we have got from our reform programs of the last seven and a half years, is giving us opportunities which weren’t open to us in decades previously.

Now this is not to say that all that needs to be done in Australia has now been done, that now we can sit back and say the work is accomplished, we can retire on our efforts. Delegates, as much as we have seen occur, the milestones which we have achieved in the last seven and a half years, the only thing that I regret is that we haven’t done more, that we could have done more, that with the support of our legislative programme in the Senate we could have had higher achievements. And we still have a very large agenda to accomplish.

One of the things that I regret because I think it needs dramatic improvement in this country, is the operation of the Federal system. Federalism is failing in Australia. When we reformed the taxation system we gave the States a growth revenue, GST. Because their complaint always was that they didn’t have growth revenues, that they didn’t have the financial capacity to meet their legitimate and just obligations as sovereign governments.

For the first three years the total GST revenue delivered to the State of Victoria was $17,057 million and in this financial year it will be $6,650 million. It is a growth revenue, it grows as the economy grows. And it is not as if they don’t have other growth revenues. Stamp duty on property, Mr Bracks.

The idea was that with growth revenues States would start taking accountability for the things which were their responsibility. Accountability for running the hospital system, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Accountability for drought funding, do you know, and Sharman Stone will tell you this, when the Commonwealth announced drought assistance to areas like this, the Victorian Government said, now that you have a source of income from the Commonwealth Government, we will withdraw our own drought funding. They constituted Commonwealth assistance as income and on an income testing basis, withdrew drought funding here in northern Victoria in the worst drought in a hundred years.

Accountability, accountability for administering the First Home Owners Scheme. When I found out that the Victorian Government had paid First Home Owners Grants to 38 toddlers who apparently had bought homes here in the State of Victoria. When they made their application to the State Revenue Office and had their name put on the title at the Land Transfer Office and registered in the Victorian Office of Titles, Mr Brumby said, I only did it because the Commonwealth made me.

Well blow me down, when will they take responsibility for their schemes? When will they be held accountable? They now have a growth revenue, they have the capacity to fund their legitimate and just obligations and they should behave as a sovereign government should and be accountable for it.

And I want to pay tribute to Robert and his team who are beginning to hold the Victorian Government accountable for all of the things for which they have run away from responsibility over recent years.

Which brings me to one last issue, the Scoresby Freeway. The Scoresby Freeway, as the name implies, is designed to be a freeway, not a freeway on which you pay tolls. Under the Roads of National Importance Program the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments have agreed to jointly fund a freeway. The Commonwealth has allocated $445 million which is sitting ready for construction. And we have signed an agreement with the Victorian Government that it will pay 50 per cent of the cost on the condition that the freeway is a freeway. That is the signed agreement.

Before the last election the Victorian Government promised if it was elected it would build the Scoresby Freeway, solemnly promised, the Premier, the Roads Minister and all of the Members and candidates running for Labor in the outer-east of Melbourne. After the election the Victorian Labor Government announced it would not honour that promise; that it would build a tollway financed by the private sector and withdraw $445 million of Victorian Government funding from the project.

Now I want to make this clear, the Commonwealth stands ready and willing and able to put its $445 million into a freeway project and calls on the Victorian Government to match it as it promised to do before the last State election. We will not allow the Victorian Government to walk out of that an ask the users to pay the Victorian Government’s share.

Now when the Victorian Government announced that it was going to renege on its promise and break its word and let down all of the electors of Victoria’s eastern suburbs, it said that the reason why it was withdrawing its $445 million was it could no longer afford it because of the drought. Good news Mr Bracks, the drought is breaking. The drought is breaking. The construction of Scoresby can begin.

And people say to me, what do you do in a situation where you have a signed agreement, a Commonwealth/State signed agreement for the construction of a road, which is a freeway, when one of the parties wantonly and flagrantly refuses to abide by it. What do you do? The answer delegates is – I don’t know. Because there is no State Government that has ever walked out of a signed agreement for the joint funding of a road before in Australian Federal history. I don’t know, no other Government has ever tried it. No other Government has so flagrantly and wantonly looked at an agreement signed and said we will not honour it. And people say, well can you take these things to the courts? I don’t know. It has never arisen before. There has never been a need to investigate the question. And I hope that it doesn’t have to arise this time. I say to Mr Bracks, and I say to Mr Batchelor, honour your word, deliver your promise, and build the Scoresby freeway.

It will be Robert and his team that will be holding this Labor Government accountable here in Victoria. I promise you that we are going to hold Simon Crean and his team accountable in Canberra. We are going to hold them to account for the unfunded promises which they are making, for the economic risk that they pose for Australia, we are going to hold them accountable on defence and foreign affairs, we are going to go into this next election in the next 12 months not just focussing on where we have come from, but focussing on where we want to go to. Building on our economic strength in a way which will let us pursue our social goals and ambitions, building on our economic strengths and it has brought the respect for Australia, defence, foreign affairs. Building on our economic strength not to be afraid of achievement but to warmly embrace it so that our Party will always be renewed and refreshed and re-invigorated and it will re-invigorate the nation to fulfil the opportunities which we believe it should have. We have a fine team of people that carry our hopes in the Federal Parliament and they are carrying the hopes of a nation.

People say to me – why do we run in elections? We run in elections because we believe the public needs good Government, that is why we run.

The public needs good Government, it needs Liberal Government so that it can have the opportunities which it deserves in the future. And you are part of that, you the delegates that support us and raise money for us, and campaign for us, and hand out our how to vote cards, you are so much a part of that. And I want to say thank you today for all that you do, thank you to our State office bearers for all that they do and can I ask you to rouse yourself one more time for another Federal election and for the opportunities that Australia deserves.

Thank you very much.