Address to the 55th Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia
Posted on Saturday, 25 June 2011
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On this weekend exactly a year ago, when we last met, the Labor government was 10 points ahead in the Nielsen poll and Julia Gillard was 21 points ahead as preferred prime minister.
Some difference a year makes!
Over the past year, this great party has deprived a first term government of its majority, brought a returned government to its knees, and now has despairing Labor MPs thinking about Kevin 11.
And Barry O’Farrell has won the biggest landslide in Australian history campaigning against the carbon tax.
If only we’d taken the advice of the pundits!
The most positive thing we can do for our country right now is save Australia from a carbon tax; a carbon tax that will destroy jobs and the raise the cost of living for Australia’s forgotten families.
And the best way to stop the carbon tax is to change the government.
I thank everyone in this room and Liberals right around Australia for your hard work to expose the faults of a monumentally bad government.
I thank my parliamentary colleagues especially my senior shadow ministers led by Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey.
I thank Alan Stockdale for being the kind of president a parliamentary leader can normally only dream of; and Brian Loughnane for being the best political operator in our country.
Most of all I thank the Australian people for keeping their faith that government doesn’t have to be as bad as this.
On her first day as Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that the government had lost its way and that she was taking control.
One year and one day later, the government is dying in a political desert and the transition from Rudd to Gillard has been as effective as changing from Burke to Wills.
Some say that this government is the worst since Whitlam, but that’s unfair – to Whitlam – who was utterly incompetent but never sold Labor’s soul to the Greens.
When a government loses its way, sooner or later the country loses its way too.
That’s Australia’s problem right now.
There’s nothing wrong with the Australian people but there’s almost nothing right with the Australian government.
If the government had any real achievements to its credit, the Prime Minister would have been prepared to defend them in the parliament this week rather than hiding in the Whip’s office for a Tim Tam and a cup of tea.
Julia Gillard is now treating the parliament with the same contempt that she showed to voters last year when solemnly declaring that there would be “no carbon tax under the government I lead”.
· There was grocery watch and fuel watch that were abandoned almost before they’d started.
· There were the 260 promised childcare centres dumped after just 38 had been built.
· There were the 2650 trades training centres of which just 70 have so far been opened;
· the 64 GP super clinics of which just 11 have been opened with none offering a real after-hours service;
· the computers in schools programme that was $1.4 billion over budget and now involves a charge to parents; and
· the $16 billion spent on over-priced school halls; and the $150 billion in accumulated deficits over just four years.
This government has the Midas touch in-reverse and it never learns.
After spending $2.4 billion installing and then removing combustible roof batts, the government is now spending $300 million installing set-top boxes for pensioners at twice the price of the private sector.
Then there was the East Timor asylum seeker processing centre announced before the East Timorese government had heard of it; the Manus Island centre announced before the PNG government had agreed to it; finally there was the Malaysian people swap announced before any of the details had been finalised – which is not a done deal seven weeks later, and still, the boats keep coming.
This government’s a bit like the Irishman who lost ten pounds betting on the Grand National and then lost 20 pounds on the action replay.
When the government can’t restart the live cattle trade with Indonesia because the Prime Minister won’t let the Foreign Minister do his job, the whole country starts to cringe with embarrassment and yearn to have adults in charge.
I can assure the Australian people that the next Coalition government won’t have to learn on the job because it has done the job before.
No fewer than 16 members of the shadow cabinet have already been ministers in a government – the Howard government – that fully 50 per cent of Australians now nominate as the best in 30 years.
The Menzies government stood up for the forgotten people when Labor wanted to nationalise the banks.
The Fraser government got Australia back on track after Whitlam had wrecked the economy.
The Howard government rescued Australia after Paul Keating had turned his back on the values of middle Australia.
Now it’s our turn to save Australia from another Labor government that’s lost its way.
The Prime Minister can’t nominate a single substantial achievement after a year in the top job.
This week, she urged caucus to have the “courage of its convictions” but it’s hard to find a single conviction that Julia Gillard hasn’t changed.
She thought sending boat people to Nauru was costly, unsustainable and wrong in principle but now she prefers Malaysia because Nauru isn’t tough enough.
She boasts about increasing pensions but argued against it in Cabinet.
She sabotaged Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme but now claims that she’s always believed in a carbon price.
Then there was her claim that Labor was the “party of truth-telling” which has turned out to be as accurate as her declaration six days before the last election, that there would be “no carbon tax under the government I lead”.
It is indeed “all hypocrisy and no democracy” as we said in the parliament this week.
In 13 years in the parliament, the Prime Minister’s policy achievements have been Medicare Gold which her colleagues described as a “turkey” and the original Fair Work policy that Kevin Rudd rejected as an ACTU wish list.
The next election will be a clear choice between a prime minister who’s all announcement and no delivery and an alternative who gets things done.
My record includes: the Green Corps which gave thousands of young people six months’ hands-on environmental work; the Job Network which massively outperformed the old Commonwealth Employment Service at getting people into work; work-for-the-dole; the construction royal commission which helped to bring the rule of law to our most troubled industry; solving the medical indemnity crisis; the introduction of the Medicare safety net; and the extension of Medicare to allied health professionals including dentists.
Over the years, there are two significant issues on which I’ve changed my mind; in both cases, I’m confident, on the prompting of the “better angels” of our nature.
With Geoffrey Blainey, I used to worry that multiculturalism would leave us a “nation of tribes”.
That was before I became executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and discovered that some of the Crown’s strongest supporters had not been born under it.
Liberals should never be more proud of our country than when migrants choose Australia.
They are the ultimate vindication of our country as a land of hope, reward and opportunity.
Migrants to Australia have always been determined to make the most of their new home by working hard, starting businesses and raising families.
That’s why the Liberal Party should be their natural political home.
The other issue, on which I have been brought around by my wife, my daughters and my female parliamentary colleagues, is paid parental leave.
It gradually dawned on me that families needing two incomes to survive weren’t going to have more children without a proper parental leave scheme.
I’m proud to be leading the political party with by far the best paid parental leave policy because it shows that Liberals “get” the realities of modern life.
As liberals, we believe in smaller government, lower taxes and greater freedom. As conservatives, we support the family and values that have stood the test of time. As patriots, we back policies that work and that will build on the enduring strengths of the Australian people.
The next Coalition government will be a reforming government but these will be reforms designed to strengthen our social fabric not to change it and to build on the best values of the Australian people rather than to enshrine political doctrine.
We will be a government that thinks before it acts, listens before it decides, conserves before it rebuilds and intervenes only when we’ve counted the cost of change.
We will only change what has to be changed to address the challenges our country faces.
We respect the Australian people too much to fiddle with what works or to engage in dangerous social experiments with people’s lives.
We will end the insidious culture of insiders and outsiders that contemporary Labor governments always cultivate.
People won’t have to agree with the prime minister or attend party fundraisers to get a respectful hearing from the next Coalition government.
We’ll take unions seriously but they won’t control government policy.
Business won’t call the shots either but we’ll never take for granted the productive enterprises on which our prosperity is based or assume that government always knows best.
We understand, in a way that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating grasped but that Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd seem never to have learnt, that you can’t have a society or a community without an economy to sustain it and that you can’t have an economy without businesses that are allowed to make a profit.
Business should never feel the need to apologise for making a profit because profitable businesses mean more jobs, higher pay for workers and higher dividends for retirees.
We want business to harness the intelligence and creativity of its workers so that they can earn more and the business can prosper.
We don’t think that people who work hard for their pay are ripping off someone else; or that people paying a mortgage and raising a family on $100,000 a year are rich. They embody the instinct to make more of their lives and to provide for their families that is the very foundation of a good society.
Since becoming Liberal Party leader, I’ve travelled to many parts of our country and met a huge number of my fellow Australians.
Whether it’s workers whose insulation businesses have been destroyed by bad policy, parents outraged at the poor value for money of school hall projects, farmers whose livelihoods have been needlessly threatened by the proposed Murray Darling Basin Plan or by the suspension of live exports to Indonesia, householders whose streets could be dug up for fibre, miners whose companies could leave Australia thanks to the mining tax, or, most recently, everyone affected by the proposed tax on carbon dioxide emissions, there is a common theme: they feel badly let down by a government that’s turned out to be both incompetent and untrustworthy.
At last year’s election, the Coalition presented a prudent plan for more responsible government, more responsive institutions and more productive people.
It was a positive plan to help households and businesses to address the challenges we face as a nation.
Our plan included:
· relocation allowances for young people who moved to take a job and agreed to stay off welfare for at least six months;
· commitment bonuses for long term unemployed people who found a job and kept it;
· subsidies for employers who took long term or older welfare recipients back into the workforce; and
· a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme so that women would finally have a real chance to combine work and family.
We proposed direct action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through more tree planting on otherwise marginal land, organic rather than chemical fertiliser to boost soil carbon, and using power station emissions to produce stock feed and bio-diesel.
This is the smart way to reduce emissions because it doesn’t raise prices for consumers or cost jobs in export industries.
We proposed a standing Green Army, 15,000 strong, to complement the work of farmers, volunteers and council workers tackling feral animals, noxious weeds and land degradation.
We proposed more people power for public schools and public hospitals with independent community boards and school councils to appoint CEOs and principals and to manage institutions’ budgets.
All of our proposals were to be paid for through $50 billion of savings over the forward estimates period.
Overall, debt would have been $30 billion lower and the fiscal balance would have been $11 billion better over the period. This would have reduced pressure on interest rates and there would have been no need for new taxes.
Since the election, the Coalition has committed to further policy initiatives:
· a new approach to water management with new dams;
· a tougher anti-dumping policy;
· a $1.9 billion mental health initiative that shamed the government into improvements in the budget; a new intervention in Alice Springs and other Territory towns to arrest the social disorder that threatens to overwhelm them;
· setting mandatory targets for every government department to reduce the red tape burden on small business; and
· a four point plan for participation reform, including mandatory work for the dole and income quarantining for the long term unemployed, an end to “parking” older unemployed on the disability pension, and suspending the dole for young people in places where there’s unskilled work.
As well, we are committed to strengthening Infrastructure Australia and tasking it with preparing a national infrastructure plan prioritising major new projects based on published cost benefit analyses.
Sometimes, government will decide to fund projects on national interest grounds but it should be prepared to make the case for these exceptional decisions, not to avoid criticism by neglecting proper analysis.
The current government has neglected to publish a single cost benefit analysis for any project, including the NBN, despite a promise to do so in 2008.
The next Coalition government will use the Auslink funds first set aside under the Howard government to drive a more rational approach to infrastructure investment. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth each need an integrated motorway network and improved urban rail systems under metropolitan transport plans.
As someone who lives and works in Sydney, I understand that roads alone can’t solve the transport needs of an ever-growing metropolis.
I understand that new road and rail projects are often too big for the states – even the states under better economic and political management – to handle on their own.
I understand the need for better connections between regional centres and our big cities and for better connections between the outer suburbs and the metropolitan heart.
Above all, I understand that Australians stuck in daily traffic jams or waiting for public transport that hasn’t arrived want their leaders to solve this problem, not just analyse it.
Getting people to the workplace faster is a productivity reform. Transporting goods more efficiently is an economic reform.
The Pacific Highway in Northern New South Wales urgently needs to be duplicated. Duplicating the Princes Highway from Geelong to Adelaide will be the last link in a vital chain: the four lane highway that should finally link our big east coast cities.
Rail freight bottlenecks need to be eliminated and port infrastructure upgraded especially for coal and iron ore. The Bruce Highway along the Queensland coast needs major upgrades to service big increases in population and the resources boom and, within a decade, inland rail will be needed from Melbourne to Brisbane.
All of this will take time and targeted investment, usually with the states and often with the private sector.
Still, after years of neglect and ad hoc decisions, the Australian people need to know that there is a credible plan and a credible timetable for the economic infrastructure needed to maintain our prosperity and our living standards in the years ahead.
At last year’s election, the Coalition promised to release the secret working papers prepared for the Henry tax review, to hold a tax summit within 12 months of taking office, and to seek a mandate for comprehensive tax reform at the following election.
Tax cuts are in our DNA.
Real tax reform means lower, simpler fairer taxes.
It doesn’t mean robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Real tax reform requires a more productive economy and a more frugal government which is why Labor will never deliver it.
The next Coalition government will build on the Howard legacy of reducing personal income taxes for everyone and especially delivering a fair go for middle income families with children.
As I said in my maiden speech and have been repeating ever since, middle income families with children are Australia’s new poor.
It was the Menzies government that first introduced child endowment as a form of equity between taxpayers without family responsibilities and those with them.
It was the Howard government that introduced the Family Tax Benefit as a form of wage justice for families with children.
It included a universal payment to principal carers in recognition of the contribution they make to the human capital of the future.
It was official acknowledgement that having children is not a private indulgence but essential for the survival of the nation.
The next Coalition government will further simplify the family payments system.
Family payments must recognise particular families’ circumstances and they have to provide encouragement for family members to be better providers for their own children.
This is a policy priority for the Coalition that I will have more to say about closer to an election.
This is the direction I will pursue in government, once future surpluses make it possible to improve the system without being unfair.
Political parties, after all, should have long-term aspirations for our country as well as policies that can be implemented immediately and need to plan for the next generation as well as for the next election.
The comprehensive tax reform that Australia needs can only be started, not concluded from opposition.
Especially in the absence of a parliamentary budget office, oppositions lack the resources to model and cost detailed and systemic tax changes.
Our job as an opposition is to hold the government to account for its failures and to offer the Australian people a new direction based on the enduring values of our party.
So far, the only tax cuts delivered by the current government are the tax cuts copied from John Howard and Peter Costello at the 2007 election and responsibly funded from the consistent surpluses built up by the former government but squandered by the current one.
The only tax policy the current government has is to increase tax, not to reform it.
So far, the government has increased taxes on superannuation, employee share schemes, cigarettes and alcopops.
Coming fast are the flood levy, the mining tax and the carbon tax.
The current government’s approach is: “If it moves, tax it, if it keeps moving regulate it, and if it stops moving subsidise it”, to use Reagan’s immortal phrase.
The carbon tax is perfect Labor policy because green evangelism is cover for a massive and permanent increase in the size of government.
There’s a new tax, a new slush fund, a new politicised bureaucracy and new politically targeted handouts and they’re all justified by the need to save the planet.
I have news for the Labor party.
The Australian people won’t be fooled by a tax policy masquerading as an environmental policy and would prefer to reduce emissions through direct action than to make everyday life more expensive especially when other countries have no plans to put the same hobbles on their own prosperity.
The Prime Minister is trying to fight a growing mutiny with assurances that the Coalition can’t match her carbon tax compensation.
But voters are not mugs.
They know that compensation is what you give people who have been injured by your actions.
They know that a tax reduction to compensate for a tax increase is not a cut but a con.
They also know that any tax cut won’t keep pace with a carbon price going up and up and up in order to force changes in the way everyone lives and works.
At the next election, the Coalition will deliver tax cuts that are not just compensation.
It will be a tax cut without a carbon tax.
Our tax cuts will recognise the cost of living pressures that are hitting families and small business hard.
Our tax cuts will be designed to restore people’s hope; to reward harder work with higher pay; and to foster opportunity without the need for a jobs-destroying carbon tax.
The Coalition will fund these tax cuts through prudent economies in government spending and through policy-driven improvements in the productivity of our economy.
Labor’s tax cut won’t even be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It will be taking money out of one pocket to put some of it back in the other.
Our tax cut will be a permanent reduction in the size of government to fund a permanent increase in people’s prosperity.
I have more news for the Labor party.
It’s not bad polls that are killing this government but bad policy.
Labor doesn’t need to change its leader.
It needs to change its policy.
But the only way to change the policy is to change the government.
A new Labor leader won’t drop the carbon tax especially if he thinks that climate change is not just an issue but no less than the greatest moral challenge of our time.
A new or recycled leader won’t drop the mining tax especially if the tax he actually proposed involved taxing Australian miners at the world’s highest rates.
A recycled leader can’t stop the boats when his policies recreated a problem which was previously solved.
A new leader won’t end the waste because the authors of the roof batts scheme, the school hall programme and the NBN just can’t help themselves.
Only a new government can end the waste, repay the debt, stop the big new taxes and stop the boats.
Australia can’t afford another two years of this government.
Changing this bad government is the supreme challenge of my life so far but the effort shouldn’t be for me or even for our party.
It has to be for our country.
That’s why I am so determined to lead a party that delivers hope for the future, reward for hard work and opportunity for all.