The Bulletin 120th Anniversary Lunch: Sydney Opera House

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February 22, 2000
ABN, gambling, Packer/Murdoch, FBT and charities, GST pricing
February 25, 2000

The Bulletin 120th Anniversary Lunch: Sydney Opera House





Well thank you so much for that very warm and generous

introduction James and I want to thank you for all that your family has done for the

Australian media. Your family has been a great Australian media family. And it has shown

great commitment to this, an Australian media icon. And when I next see my father-in-law

I’ll ask him if he’s still looking for his redundancy payout.

Can I acknowledge Max

Walsh, the Editor, Kerry Chikarovski, distinguished guests.

As James said, the Bulletin is older than Australia. It first hit the streets in 1880.

And that was the year that Ned Kelly was hanged. It was the year that Peter Lalor, the

rabblerouser of the Eureka Stockade, became the Speaker of the Victorian Legislative

Assembly. It was the year the Queensland Premier got into a bit of commercial difficulty.

It was the year when diggers rushed to Temora for a new gold rush.

The Bulletin was born at a time when bushrangers roamed and rabblerousers became

respectable politicians. Not much has changed in Australia.

The Bulletin was born when Queensland Premiers had commercial troubles. It was born

when you could strike it rich in a day. Not much has changed in Australia.

You can still strike it rich in a day but these days you don’t dig, you float.

Gold is spelt ‘dot com’.

And one hundred and twenty years ago on the top fold of the first edition of the

Bulletin, there was an article complaining about Government secrecy. The headline was

“Press Snubbed.”

And this is what it said:

“It is hardly likely that the Sheriff would on his own responsibility have

excluded reporters from the gaol on the occasion of the execution of the Wantabadgery

bushrangers, it may be fairly assumed the action alluded to was solely a result of

instructions received from the Colonial Secretary…

You’ll actually notice that the, the way of writing in the 1880s was to coin the word

rather ‘prolix’.

… it may fairly be assumed that the action alluded to was solely a result of

instructions received from the Colonial Secretary. Sir Henry Parkes, now a professional

politician, was once a pressman himself…”

Complaining that Parkes of course had been once a journalist and in government had

become secretive against journalists.

Well, in my experience most journalists are frustrated politicians. Many journalists go

on to become politicians.

Bob Carr was once a journalist on the Bulletin. Tony Abbott was a journalist on the

Bulletin. Malcolm Turnbull, who is here with us today, once a Bulletin journalist went on

to become a politician of sorts.

My father-in-law, an editor of the Bulletin became a State and Federal MP and then he

became a writer again. The fall into politics and the redemption back into grace.

In 1857 a young and eager journalist began work as the London correspondent for the New

York Herald Tribune. 1857, London correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune.

Journalism did not suit him and he had an argument with his editor and he left to take up

another profession.

His name: Karl Marx.

I wonder how the world would have worked out if he had stayed in journalism. I wish his

editor had done more to keep him on staff.

Max, there’s a lesson there for you. Many of your journalists could do an extreme

amount of damage if they ever get out into the outside world.

The Bulletin has over the years been a magazine that’s covered literature, journalism

and business. You will hear of many of its triumphs today. But I want to just dwell on one

of its not so great triumphs: the short-lived programme it initiated in the 1980s for

business awards.

Some of the winners of the Bulletin’s business awards went on to great success. Some

went to gaol. Some are still overseas. Now, you might think at this point that I am

referring to Christopher Skase, himself a former journalist. He never actually won a

business award from the Bulletin, he was on the panel which chose them.

In 1984 that panel chose as its Young Executive of the Year the managing director of

Tricontinental – Ian Johns.

It has always been a colourful magazine. You heard from Maxine two of its founding

proprietors ended up in the Darlinghurst gaol. And as you heard from James, in 1908 its

masthead had the infamous motto “Australia for the White Man.”

And that lasted until Donald Horne became Editor and ACP became the owner. And over the

course of the years since 1880 there have been four proprietors but twenty editors. And

the turnover of editors has seemed to be a lot higher in recent years.

It is a rare feat to go publishing for 120 years on a weekly basis. Other publications

have come and gone – Punch, Nation Review, National Times, the Independent Monthly. Even

Playboy has come and folded.

And the Bulletin over the century has championed some great causes. Some were bad –

White Australia was bad. I also argue, perhaps with James, its championing of protection

over the course of the Australian century was not a good cause.

Some have been great causes, the great cause of Federation, the cause of the Republic,

the causes of literature.

And so as the Bulletin moves into the next century, and as Australia moves into the

next century, I think it has every reason to look forward to great publishing successes. I

think we as a country have every reason to look forward to great successes in the future.

I still think Australia’s best years are in front of it.

I still think our best years are in front of us.

Over the last four years, our economy has been strong – growth has averaged 4.1 per

cent compared to 2.7 per cent in the first part of the decade. Six hundred thousand new

jobs have been created, over the last four years. Our unemployment is the lowest in a


Our inflation has averaged 1.1 per cent over the last four years compared with an

average of 6 per cent per annum in the 15 years previously.

Productivity has picked up from an average of 1.5 per cent under the previous

government to 2.7 per cent over the last four years.

Interest rates are at 30 year lows.

We outperformed the region and most of the world during the Asian financial crisis, the

great economic calamity of our time. Writing in the Bulletin last year, Max Walsh said

this: “we are reluctant optimists, which is why it has taken some time to accept the

hard evidence. We are on an economic roll”.

When Max Walsh finds it hard to be gloomy, something is happening in our economy.

This financial year will be our third Budget surplus in a row. And it’s the Government

policy to keep that Budget in surplus and to make sure that we continue to pay off

Commonwealth debt. Do you know, that if the Senate were to pass our legislation for the

privatisation of Telstra, we could eliminate Commonwealth debt. Our debt to GDP ratio

would be zero. We would join about three other countries in the world. We would go into

the next century as a Government owing nothing.

Now the Leader of the Opposition is running around at the moment saying that he can’t

actually explain what his tax plans are because he’s not sure what the surplus will be in

a year or two or three. Can I just make the point, it’s a luxury, it’s a luxury to be

arguing about the size of surpluses in future years. Before I became the Treasurer in

Australia there was no argument about the size of surpluses. The whole argument was about

the size of deficits. And in the last five years before I became Treasurer they

accumulated $80 billion, 80 thousands of millions of dollars.

I wasn’t in opposition running around arguing about sizes of surpluses, we were then

arguing about sizes of deficits, overhanging debt, and the need for Australia to balance

its Budget. When our Government came to Office in March of 1996 we set ourselves the

objective of putting the books back into the black. And we were fought every step of the

way. It was said then by the Opposition that a surplus Budget would kick the economy into

recession. It was said then by the Opposition that it was mean spirited – the action and

work of accountants. It was said then by the Opposition that it was putting numbers in

front of people. We were fought every step of the way.

You can imagine how you’d feel if you’d been the designer of the Sydney Opera House and

weathered all of the criticism about its design and its building, only to see your

opponent demand to turn up on the opening night and take possession of a magnificent

structure. You can imagine what it was like to be fought every step of the way as you were

trying to drive the Australian Budget into balance, to have those opponents, whose

greatest success was their failure, to turn around and now argue about the size of Budget


You’d be surprised wouldn’t you, if in relation to tax reform you were fought every

step of the way on tax reform by some opponents who are so opposed to your tax reforms

that if they ever get elected they intend to keep them.

This is the argument that has been going on in Australia over the last four years.

Our opponents are so opposed to the GST that if they ever get elected they want to keep

it. And when I handed Mr Beazley a blank sheet of paper in the Parliament last Thursday I

asked him a simple question, if you’re so opposed to it, write a pledge that if you are

ever Prime Minister you will repeal it. He went out and confirmed that he would keep GST.

He confirmed he would guarantee all of the revenue from it and then he said he would roll

it back.

On GST his policy is roll back. On income tax rates his policy is roll up. On spending

his policy is roll out the barrel. And on unions his policy is roll over. It’s a rolled

gold recipe for disaster.

And now he says you can’t be expected to tell you where or how or when or how much or

how it’s to be replaced. I mean these are questions about his policy. You know, the high

road in the tax debate, the big picture in the tax debate was always how we were going to

base an indirect tax system which grew in line with the economy.

When we introduced wholesale sales tax in this country in the 1930s we were a

goods-based economy. We are now a services-based economy. That means year by year the

indirect tax base shrinks, without anything happening. And if you want to preserve the

indirect tax base you have to have it on goods and services. This is not a new proposition

to Australia. There are 150 countries in the world that have either introduced value added

taxes or GST. The argument that Australia would go it alone, that 150 countries in the

world were wrong, and Australia was right, the argument that only we and Botswana and

Swaziland with our wholesale sales taxes had figured it out. Whereas the Germans had got

it wrong and the French had got it wrong and the Japanese had got it wrong and the

Singaporeans had got it wrong and the Scandinavians had got it wrong, was always a

monstrous argument. It was always a monstrous argument. It was the kind of argument which

sought to seal the country and ignore the world.

Now it’s been said in modern politics that political leadership is about those people

who understand the changes that are needed, decide to embrace it and manage it, and those

people who Canute-like will try and stand, and in a populist sense, benefit from it by

promising to stop it.

There’s been a bit of argument in the papers over the last day or two that somehow the

Opposition is taking some kind of high road in its policy to drive up income taxes. Let me

tell you it’s the low road. It was the low road in the tax debate despite what they knew

was necessary. It was the low and populist route to fight on the grounds that people are

naturally resistant to change, against something that had to be done in this country to

bring us into the modern world. And that’s come unstuck this week.

The problem didn’t arise from taking any high road, it’s arose from taking a low one.

Back in the 1980s Labor had taken the view, before that Howard had taken the view, the

whole of Europe had taken that view, Asia has taken that view. Leadership is about

recognising the changes that have to be made, harnessing them and providing the best

outcomes for your people. Rather than holding out false hope that somehow they can be

stopped; somehow we can close ourselves to the world and somehow our problems will

disappear if only we shut ourselves up.

And there have been political parties of reaction in this country and elsewhere that

have tried that kind of course, but in the long run it’s holding out nothing but false

hope which will inevitably be dashed.

You know, I think that just as we see the benefits now from some of the changes that

we’ve put together in our country, some in the 80s, more in the 90s, it’s the changes of

today that are going to bring us the benefits in 10 years time, when you look back and

you’ve said we did it. This idea, by the way, that 150 countries in the world can have a

value added or GST and that only Australia can’t. This idea that it can be managed in

other countries, advanced economies, but not in Australia, is the kind of argument which

flies in the face of reality.

I think our prospects, the prospects that are in front of us are as good as they’ve

been. As you look back over the 120 years of the Bulletin you’ll see some things have not

changed that much, as I said in my opening. And yet in many respects things have changed

so greatly. But if the Bulletin wants to survive it will mirror the times. The Bulletin is

not going to find a readership by going back to the masthead of 1900. It’s not going to

find a readership by going back to all of the points of change read out.

The Bulletin’s readership is going to come by understanding where its market is going;

where journalism is going; where our communities’ aspirations are moving and how it can

reflect them. And that’s the process in relation to economic change. People say when will

economic reform end? I think the truth is it just goes on. It moves on. It moves on in the

tax system and when we move through the tax system we’ll move on to other areas. But we’ll

have the comfort of knowing we didn’t just take easy decisions, we took hard ones. We

didn’t just take short term, we took long term. We determined to set our future and to

capture the potential which lies in front of us.

To the Bulletin. Well, as a practising Member of Parliament, sometimes I love you and

sometimes I hate you, but I always read you. Good luck for another 120 years.