... Coalition falling. John Howard's 'vision for 2020' seems from the news reports to have been more about what the future isn't (it isn't about climate change, it isn't about workers rights) than what it will be. Full text below for your comments ...
SMH poll on "Who do you agree with on climate change?" has been fairly consistently running 76% Rudd to 18% Howard, so this looks like another one where the famous Howard political antennae are twitching in the wrong wind.
Nonetheless, you have to see this as an attempt to get a late entry in the "great speeches of our time" polls. Who can resist a rallying cry like: "(in per capita terms) the largest middle class in the world" ... Makes your heart palpitate ...
Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard's address to the Queensland Media Club, Sofitel Hotel, Brisbane
Queensland is a big part of the Australian success story in the early 21st Century. Perhaps the closest analogy is California’s hold on America’s imagination last century – the magnetic pull of a better life; a place where dreams are realised and trends emerge that alter a nation’s temper.
My speech today is about the future of our nation. It looks ahead to an Australia rising to the challenges of the next decade and beyond – to an Australia within reach.
This is the first in a series of speeches I’ll make in coming months on a wide-ranging future agenda: an agenda that includes further strengthening our economy, education reform, new social policy challenges, climate change and Australia’s APEC agenda this year.
Next month’s Budget will outline a forward-looking strategy to further build Australia’s prosperity. Consistent with the last 11 years, the Government’s core objective is to keep the economy strong and the nation secure so Australians can plan for the future with confidence.
I want to begin by sketching the sort of world Australians are likely to be living in a decade from now; for argument’s sake let’s say by 2020, when most of today’s children will be young adults.
Liberal democracies will flourish, yet their purpose, patience and resolve will continue to be tested. For a country like Australia, there’ll be no holiday from history or from the long struggle against terrorism.
This fight is a different type of war against a different type of enemy. Our interests and ideals demand we stay engaged in the world and in the global battle of ideas.
Australia’s defence forces must be combat ready and well-resourced and our alliances close and strong in 2020.
We will continue to carry a heavy burden for order and stability in this part of the world. One of the most far-reaching national security decisions this Government has taken was to end a posture of benign neglect in the Pacific. There will be no going back from that commitment.
In 2020, policy makers will still be grappling with the great disjunction of our age – between a globalised economic order and a fragmented political one. Australia has a profound interest in a stable, cooperative and market-oriented global system underpinned by stable, cooperative and market-oriented nation states.
No-one should pretend the nation state is going anywhere. People will continue to express their demands for security, economic wellbeing and identity primarily through national politics. And the duty of political leaders will still be protecting and advancing the national interest.
It will be a world where economic and geopolitical power is more evenly distributed; more so perhaps than any time since America’s rise in the late 19th Century.
The human face of globalisation in 2020 will be increasingly Asian and middle class – as our region becomes the epicentre of history’s first truly global middle class.
It will be a world of intense competition for markets and for global talent. Australia must work hard to earn our place in a fiercely competitive global economy. We must ensure Australia retains and attracts our share of the best and brightest – the researchers, scientists, innovators and risk takers who’ll generate the ideas for a rising Australia.
Australia’s workforce will continue to face challenges from demographic change, from technological change and from globalisation. The Treasurer’s Intergenerational Report earlier this month showed that we have made progress in meeting the challenge of an ageing society.
Many families are confronting these pressures directly with the rise, for example, of the so-called sandwich generation. More and more baby boomer women in particular carry heavy responsibilities around caring for ageing parents and for children still at home, while also holding down a job in the paid workforce.
All this points to the need for governments to become even more nimble and responsive to individual needs in the next decade. The old rigid welfare state models have become increasingly obsolete.
It also underlines the need to maintain a strong economy. Despite the challenges we face, there’s no reason why Australia should not be even more prosperous by 2020.
But it means becoming even more competitive through economic reform. It means keeping the size of government and our tax burden down on workers and risk takers. It means keeping downward pressure on inflation and interest rates through budget discipline and a flexible workplace relations system.
It means creating the conditions for growth so business will continue to invest and create jobs. It means ensuring our schools, tech colleges and universities are institutions of excellence. And it means investing in our people so they have the skills required in the 21st Century.
In the late 20th Century, the great genius of our democracy was the ability to reform Australia’s economy while not leaving behind those who felt threatened by economic change. A rising tide that lifts all boats is our abiding national challenge – a calling for our time and for all time.
I spoke about this last year at the National Press Club in Canberra. I talked about the best kept secret of the Australian achievement – our national sense of balance.
This sense of balance is the handmaiden of national growth and renewal. It means we respond creatively to an uncertain world with a sense of proportion.
What helps us keep our balance? To me, it’s no secret. It’s economic growth, leavened always by Australian commonsense.
Just as we face a global battle of ideas so there is a battle of ideas going on here at home over Australia’s future. A battle over which side of politics has the policies, discipline and experience to foster a rising Australia that can prosper in a fast-changing world.
One side – we in the Coalition – aims to build on what’s been achieved over the last decade. To build on policies that have helped sustain the longest economic expansion in our modern history, created 2 million new jobs, slashed unemployment, cut welfare dependency and given more Australians a stake in our economy.
The other side wants to tear down this achievement. It wants to go back to government by a few mates for a few mates – where favoured groups get a special say in our workplaces, in education policy, in environment policy and in welfare policy. Where the national interest gets squeezed out in favour of noisy sectional interests; and where the quiet voices of those who work hard, pay taxes, take risks and contribute to their communities get drowned out.
It’s critical that Australia not slip back to the ways of the past. It’s especially critical there be no roll-back of the reforms that have kept our economy growing through a turbulent decade.
Any step back will see Australia fall behind in the global economy, reducing our capacity to create jobs, to innovate, to care for the sick and the aged and to help those who need a leg up in today’s competitive world.
This is not simply an economic argument. It lies at the heart of our quest for a better society. Ultimately, it is a moral argument that bears on what I call the human dividend of economic growth.
It’s a moral argument because of what growth means for a fair and decent society. The American economist Benjamin Friedman argues this point at length in his book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.
Broadly distributed economic growth, he notes, provides benefits far beyond the material, supporting political and social stability, fostering tolerance and enhancing opportunity. It’s crucial not just to meeting our economic challenges but to meeting our social and environmental challenges as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen, priorities matter in politics. My government’s number one priority is strong growth, greater prosperity and wider opportunity. An Australia rising to new heights while preserving our great traditions of a fair go and pulling together in times of adversity.
An Australia where people have more choice in their daily lives and a strong sense of social cohesion. I’ve never understood or accepted the argument of those who say one detracts from the other.
By raising families, by employing other Australians, by giving back to their community, Australians show every day how the two go together.
I want Australia in 2020 to still be the best country in the world to live, to work, to start a business and to raise a family.
As a Government, we’ve made decisions in the last 11 years that impact directly on the lives of Australians. No doubt we’ve made our mistakes. All governments do.
But we have never lost sight of the big things that affect people’s lives – their jobs, the wellbeing of their families, decent health care, genuine choice in education and a good social safety net. We’ve never lost sight of the human dividend of a strong, growing economy.
We’ve also never lost sight of the need to strike a balance between different interests and objectives. That’s not the same as always seeking consensus and always looking to please.
It often calls for hard choices:
• putting the budget into surplus;
• reforming the tax system and the welfare system; and
• abolishing laws that protect a few jobs but destroy many, many more.
Hard choices imply trade-offs. When these are ignored, when ideology takes over, that’s when costly mistakes are made. It’s when unintended consequences multiply.
Why do I dwell on this? Because my political opponent pretends to have discovered a different brand of politics – a politics without hard choices, without trade-offs and without unintended consequences. A politics of gestures and good intentions and little else.
Mr Rudd argues that in this world Australians face one overriding moral challenge – climate change. I’ll talk more about this challenge in a moment, but let me say where I stand on priorities, on decision-making and on the moral challenge of our time.
Climate change is a serious policy challenge and a major priority of the Government. At the same time, we know independent action by Australia will not materially affect our climate.
No-one – not the IPCC, not Sir Nicholas Stern, not even Al Gore – makes this argument. Australia emits less greenhouse gases in a year than the United States or China emit in a month.
Do we need to lower carbon emissions over time? Of course we do.
But to say that climate change is the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation of Australians is misguided at best; misleading at worst.
It de-legitimises other challenges over which we do have significant control. Other challenges with moral dimensions just as real and pressing as those that surround climate change.
It also obscures the need for balance in government decision-making. It feeds ideological demands for knee-jerk policy reactions that would destroy jobs and the living standards of ordinary Australians.
To me, the moral challenge of our time is not vastly different from the challenge earlier generations faced. It’s to build a prosperous, secure and fair Australia – a confident nation at ease with the world and with itself.
It’s to give every generation of Australians the chance of social mobility. That’s why jobs and economic growth are so important.
Our economic challenge
A generation ago, this challenge revolved squarely around reversing the decline of our economy. This has been the work of both sides of politics in government. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the work of both sides of politics in opposition.
Looking back, broad consensus surrounded the need for five major structural reforms to give Australia a shot at prosperity in the 21st Century. The big five were financial deregulation, tariff reform, privatisation, tax reform and workplace relations reform.
I have always paid credit to the former Labor Government for its reforms regarding financial deregulation and tariffs. The Coalition has gone further with tax reform, privatisation and workplace reform making our economy more flexible and competitive.
Where the Coalition supported all the big reforms undertaken by the former Labor Government, the Labor Party in opposition has fought every major reform we have taken to strengthen our economy.
Labor in 11 years has not developed a coherent alternative plan to keep the economy strong, has totally indulged in the negative and on the eve of its national conference in an election year is still bereft of a credible, forward economic agenda.
Labor has opposed our policies for macroeconomic stability and disciplined fiscal management. By balancing the budget, paying off government debt, establishing the Future Fund and confronting the challenge of an ageing society, we have laid the foundations for a new era of growth, prosperity and opportunity.
But the job is not done. While Australia has lifted its game, so have our competitors.
We must stay the course on economic reform, including workplace reform.
Australia’s workplaces are the arteries of our economy. Clog them up with more and more regulation and you slow our economic pulse. WorkChoices is not just about more jobs and higher wages, compelling as that case is. Its importance extends to the macro-economy.
We all know Queensland is doing well from high commodity prices in the mining sector. In the past, under centralised wage fixing, a terms-of-trade boost like this would have triggered a wages break-out across the economy. Manufacturing would have been decimated.
This time that has not happened because relative wages have reflected industry fundamentals and because overall wages growth has been well-behaved. This is an historic achievement for modern Australia in a time of prosperity. Quite simply, it never happened under the old centralised, union-dominated system.
It’s meant inflation has been contained which in turn has limited upward pressure on interest rates. It’s meant the Reserve Bank hasn’t had to slam on the economic brakes. It’s meant Australia can continue to grow, now for the 16th year in a row.
Crucially, the industrial relations system that Mr Rudd has promised to give us will bring back the worst excesses of centralised wage fixation.
Higher wages paid in very profitable sectors of the economy will flow through to other industries which can’t afford them with adverse economic consequences including job losses.
There’s also a microeconomic case for WorkChoices that often gets overlooked. Flexibility at the workplace creates an environment that encourages innovation, the acceptance of new technology and the development of worker skills.
Without genuine flexibility the underlying dynamism of our economy ebbs away; the spirit of entrepreneurship (especially in small business) is crushed and Keynes’ ‘animal spirits’ become very tame and timid beasts indeed.
A rising Australia needs that entrepreneurial spirit. It needs the enterprise workers in our mines, factories and services firms who’ve transformed our workforce and its aspirations.
Mr Rudd has made his work choice. He has put union power ahead of workers’ jobs.
The risk takers in our economy need to know that they will not have Julia Gillard, Greg Combet and Sharan Burrow looking over their shoulder every time they employ a person or restructure their firm. Not to mention Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, Jenny George and Bill Shorten.
Mr Rudd can’t have it both ways. He can’t prattle on about productivity while proposing to hand over power to people who have never taken a business risk in their life.
Underlying competitive pressures in our economy remain strong, as illustrated by the rebound in productivity growth in the December quarter. It’s increasingly clear, as noted by Treasury and the Productivity Commission, that the lower productivity growth of earlier periods was the result in part of an established pattern of employment in mining growing well ahead production in the initial phase of a commodities boom.
Labor’s real agenda isn’t productivity. It’s power – and for that it’s prepared to undertake the first major reversal of economic reform in Australia in 25 years.
Continued economic reform remains a vital part of the National Reform Agenda being pursued by the Australian Government together with the states and territories. At the COAG meeting this month we agreed to take forward reforms that will deliver more competitive energy markets, better transport infrastructure and less red tape.
We also agreed to invest more in our people.
Some pretend that structural reform is all that matters for future productivity growth. Others claim that the magic bullet lies in that wonderful technocratic term, ‘human capital’.
In reality, we must do both – press on with ensuring our markets and tax system are competitive and continue to invest in our people.
On human capital, at COAG I put on the table $100 million to tackle diabetes, to be matched collectively by the states.
I believe the Commonwealth should take the lead on an issue like this, where there is a clear policy case for a new initiative to address a critical health issue that affects peoples’ capacity to work and to lead a full life.
The Australian people expect the national government to provide this sort of leadership. But they also expect the Australian Government to look after taxpayers’ dollars.
That’s why I made it clear to Peter Beattie and to the other Premiers at COAG that the Commonwealth will not write open cheques for states and territories when they fail to meet their basic responsibilities.
All levels of government in our Federation must live up to their responsibilities. In the end, this is only long-term answer. The only sustainable federalism is a federalism based on accepting responsibility.
Mr Rudd claims he will end the blame game in the Federation. What he’s really saying is that all criticism of state and territory governments (all of which happen to be Labor) is off limits. The only game he plays is absolving Labor Premiers of any and all responsibility in areas like education, health and water management.
He talks about saving money by getting rid of duplication. Yet all his actions point to more overlap and duplication.
A large slab of his so-called ‘education revolution’ is nothing more than allocating Commonwealth money to things that States have already said they’ll fund or where they have failed to deliver good outcomes.
There’s a particular irony in Mr Rudd saying he’ll reform national education standards given his time in the Queensland Cabinet Office. A scathing assessment of those years by Professor Ken Wiltshire of the University of Queensland points to a litany of failures to implement proper assessment, quality assurance and a core curriculum based on high standards.
Mr Rudd made much of discovering the link between education and the economy earlier this year – a link by the way that would hardly have surprised Adam Smith. Yet he fails the basic test of economic literacy by focusing almost exclusively on inputs into the system rather than the quality of outputs.
The economic literature is very clear about what makes the difference. It’s education quality.
Julie Bishop has outlined a wide-ranging agenda to raise standards and the Australian Government is spending record amounts on education, offering parents more choice than ever before on where they send their children to school. That is the terrain the government is fighting on – choice and quality – an education system that puts the needs of students and parents ahead of education bureaucrats and teachers’ unions.
That is the new frontier of education policy – higher standards, greater national consistency, greater transparency and more power to parents, principals and school communities to shape what happens on the ground.
Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned earlier the important challenge posed by climate change. Climate change is, in essence, a large and highly complex global coordination problem.
It’s a challenge for all nations. Currently, there is a lot of talk about targets in the context of debate over a possible emissions trading system in Australia. I have appointed a joint Government-Business Taskforce which will report on this issue at the end of May.
Of course, Australia already has an emissions target for the period through to 2012. And unlike many of the European countries who regularly lecture us on this issue, we are on track to meet it by our own efforts.
Any decision on a future (post-2012) long-term target will be the most important economic decision Australia takes in the next decade. It will affect every industry and every household. It will change the whole cost structure of our economy.
I want to ensure any decision is made very carefully in a way that takes full account of jobs and investment in Australia, of climate change action by others and of global technology developments. As the Productivity Commission has warned, there are potentially very serious costs to Australia from acting alone and getting this decision wrong.
Australia fully accepts its responsibility to constrain emissions, to improve energy efficiency, to invest in new technology and to further the transfer of clean energy to poorer countries. We have committed more than $2 billion to climate change action involving regulation, economic incentives and voluntary measures.
But I will not subcontract our climate change policy to the European Union.
Indeed, I worry about the consequences for Australian families of Mr Rudd’s policy of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels. I worry about the impact on jobs in places like Moranbah, Mackay and Gladstone.
Like Michael Chaney of the Business Council, I worry about targets being plucked ‘out of thin air’ without any analysis of the consequences for Australia’s economy. I worry about policies whose main target is a preference deal with Bob Brown and some cheap applause at a Labor Party conference.
My government will continue to place the highest priority on working for an effective global response to climate change, through our global forests initiative and other practical initiatives, especially with our economic partners in the Asia Pacific region.
That’s why I have made this a key topic for discussion by Leaders at APEC this year. Initiatives like the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and our clean coal partnership with China are focused on what ultimately matters – breaking the nexus between economic growth and greenhouse emissions.
It’s here where the divide over the future is very stark. Mr Rudd made his big pitch as a man of ideas last year railing against ‘the forces of economic liberalism’. He panders to the gesture politics of anti-capitalism. His hand-picked environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, said not so long ago that economic growth ‘almost always’ leads to a worse environment.
Both are wrong. Both start from a false premise. History shows that economic growth and technological change have given mankind not just greater material wealth, but also cleaner air and water.
In the end, it is technological progress funded by economic growth that holds the key to environmental progress. In the end, our environment is too important to be left to the opponents of growth and economic liberalism.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Australia may never be the most powerful nation in the world. But we can be an even greater nation.
We are here in the Asia-Pacific region, a region which will be the cockpit of history in the 21st Century. We have enormous assets with which to meet all the challenges of the next decade.
Many years ago when I was Treasurer, I first met Alan Greenspan before he became head of the US Federal Reserve. He said something to me that I have never forgotten. He said: ‘of course, Mr Treasurer, you come from Australia. That country has (in per capita terms) the largest middle class in the world.’
Eleven years ago, we inherited a country where that great social achievement seemed to have slipped far from reach. And while we still have a way to go, Australia is on the road back.
Today, with effectively full employment and the strongest economy in decades, Australia is again in the top tier of the world’s economies.
My commitment to the Australian people is to work as hard as possible to keep us at the top. To ensure greater social mobility for as many of our fellow citizens as possible in the 21st Century.
To build towards a new era of growth, prosperity and opportunity – a rising Australia; an Australia within reach.