Address to Australian Liberal Party Tasmanian Division State Council
Posted on Saturday, 25 August 2012
Ladies and gentlemen, it is great to be here in Tasmania on my sixth visit to the great city of Launceston since Andrew Nikolic was endorsed as our candidate for the next election. He was the first candidate to be endorsed for the coming election. He was the original and many would say he is the best. Andrew, it's great to have you on our team.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is always good to visit this magnificent island state. It is a state which has so much to offer: great people, great soil, great inherent riches, but I regret to say, consistently bad government and it is our duty as we gather here today to commit ourselves ever more strongly to change the government, both in Hobart and in Canberra.
This is by no means the only phase of my relationship with the great island state of Tasmania. I first started coming to this state back in the early 1990s when I worked for the then Opposition Leader John Hewson. There are some people in this room old enough to remember back then and that the one big issue that dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s in Tasmanian politics – and also to a considerable extent, national politics, too – would we have a pulp mill at Wesley Vale? Well, 22 years have passed. We don't have a pulp mill at Wesley Vale. We don't have a pulp mill at Bell Bay. We don't have anything like the same great businesses here in Tasmania and the obvious cause of this is 20 years of state government dominated by the Labor Party and the Greens. Our challenge in this state and now right around the country is to banish Labor-Green government which doesn't understand the simple truth that we cannot have strong states, strong societies and strong communities unless we have strong economies to sustain them and you can't have a strong economy without profitable and growing private business. That is the problem.
No one knows better than you Tasmanians the damage that Labor-Green governments can do and that's why it is so important that the whole country look at the example that Tasmania has given over the last 20 years and avoid it. That's what we have to do. I don't say that in any sense of criticism of the people of Tasmania. It's your government that has let you down, not the people of Tasmania who have been doing their best in spite of a bad government. Now, I want to reassure you that as far as I am concerned, I will always fight for the best possible deal for Tasmania.
I am a national leader but you cannot be an effective national leader if you break faith with any of the great regions that make up our country. I want to say to you, quite candidly, my fellow Liberals of Tasmania, that no one fights harder for the interests of this state than my Tasmanian senators. Some of you last night, looking at me closely, might have seen these ears and you might have thought, "That guy played too much rugby and packed into too many scrums". Well, maybe I did. But those ears have got that way because they have been so consistently chewed by my Tasmanian colleagues! They never let me forget about the needs of Tasmania. What Tasmania needs at the moment is not more government, it's not more welfare, it's not more handouts. It needs stronger economic growth. It needs more dynamic businesses. It needs more opportunities for people to show the rest of the country what they can do when government gets off their backs.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I do announce this morning the establishment of a new Liberal Party taskforce comprising my distinguished Tasmanian Senate colleagues that will be talking to people around this state over the next few months to unlock your ideas on how this state can grow its economy. I want to unshackle the potential of this great state.
I want to invite the people of Tasmania, I want to invite the businesses of Tasmania, to talk to me and my colleagues not about how we can get a bigger share of an ever-shrinking pie, but how we can grow the economic pie and make this state great again. That is my objective. I want to let the people of Tasmania be as creative, as dynamic, as productive as I know they can be, as you know they can be and that is the mission which I have given this taskforce which will be ably led by my senior Senate colleague, Eric Abetz.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, here in Tasmania you have seen for the best part of two decades the damage that Labor-Green governments can do. I regret to say that we are seeing a taste of the same thing on the mainland. By far the biggest event of the last week was the announcement of the indefinite postponement of the Olympic Dam mine expansion. This is the largest single mining development in our country's history – or it would be if it goes ahead. A $30 billion investment that will create 4,000 production jobs, 8,000 construction jobs, 13,000 associated jobs and a mine with a life of more than 50 years, one of the greatest mines in the entire world. It's been put on hold, at least in part, because of the policies of the current government. Everyone in the mining business is saying that at current Australian dollar values, at current commodity prices, at current cost structures in Australia, it is no longer economic to make major new investments. There's not a lot we can do about world commodity prices. There's not a lot we can do about the value of the Australian dollar but there is so much we can do about cost structures here in our country and the problem is that we have a government which is constantly adding to the cost structures of our country and the principle culprits, the culprits that government can do the most about immediately are the mining tax and the carbon tax. But what did we have from the Government in Canberra this week? We had a series of lies about the Opposition and a whole lot of hyperventilating about the Prime Minister. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don't think the Australian people are for a minute fooled. The Australian people know that the job of our Parliament is to tell the truth about the Government, not to tell lies about the Opposition. Truly, ladies and gentlemen, we have a low, mean and dishonourable Government in Canberra. We know that, the people know that and that's why the Australian public are yearning for the next election.
Let there be no doubt that this Government has put Australia's economic future at risk. We had Marius Kloppers, the head of BHP, telling the world back in June that Australia, because of factors such as the carbon tax, had gone from being a low-cost to a high-cost place to invest. We had Jac Nasser in May, the chairman of BHP, you could hardly get a more middle-of-the-road business leader than Jac Nasser. Jac Nasser said, "I can hardly overstate the level of concern about the tax policies of Australia". We had Ivan Glasenberg, the head of Glencore, the world's largest resource company, talking about the damage to investor confidence done by the mining tax and the carbon tax and we had Tom Albanese, the head of Rio, saying that people just don't know what's going to happen next with taxes in Australia. These mining leaders, these great captains of industry, are telling the truth. The only people who are in denial about what this government is doing to Australia is the Government itself and it's our duty as a Liberal National Coalition, to remind people every day of that fundamental truth that you cannot have a strong country, you cannot have strong communities without a strong economy to sustain them and strong economies require strong and growing businesses.
Ladies and gentlemen, I didn't come into the Parliament simply to hold office. I didn't come into the Parliament simply to enjoy the perks of public life, such as they are. Along with my great Tasmanian Senate colleagues, I went in the Parliament to try to build a better country. It's tough. It's particularly tough when you are fighting against a feral government and a very difficult public culture, but the fact is we do have a vision for our country. We do have answers that will produce a country that is so much better than it is now and what I want to do for to do for the next few minutes is just give you ten key ways in which our country will be different and better under an incoming Coalition government.
To start, there would be no carbon tax because we don't believe that we should shackle the economy of this country for no conceivable environmental benefit. I just want to remind you briefly of what the Government's own modelling says about the impact of the carbon tax. I'm often accused of running a scare campaign about the carbon tax. Well, I invite people who think that I could be exaggerating the impact of the carbon tax to look at the Government's own modelling. A 21 per cent decline in steel production, a 61 per cent decline in aluminium production, a reduction in coal-fired electricity generation from over 70 per cent of our total, absent carbon capture storage, to under 10 per cent and, yes, the initial impact of the carbon tax may not be absolutely catastrophic but I ask you Tasmanians to understand the logic, if there is any, in a five-and-a-half per cent increase in your power prices because of the carbon tax, even though some 80 per cent of your electricity is hydro-generated? What kind of a sense does a carbon tax make if this is the impact of the carbon tax on Tasmanian power prices?
If you look at the Government's own modelling, Australia's gross national income per person will be almost $5,000 less. That's $5,000 less in your pocket by 2050 with a carbon tax than without one. Our cumulative gross domestic product will be $1 trillion less by 2050 with a carbon tax than without one. It's as if our country were to shut down for a whole year because of the carbon tax. Now this is an unmitigated economic disaster for our country. It is unquestionably an act of economic self-harm. It is undoubtedly an economic own goal unparalleled in our history and yet that is what this Government has done knowingly, willingly, deliberately to our economy, all to save this Prime Minister's political hide when she effectively lost the last election and had to negotiate her way back into The Lodge with Bob Brown.
So, ladies and gentlemen, that is the first and fundamental difference we will make: there will be no carbon tax. There will be no mining tax because the last thing that a sensible government should do is penalise the most successful part of its successful part of its own economy. There will be strong borders under a Coalition government because the first duty of any government is to preserve the sovereignty of our borders and we know how to do it because it was done before. We need rigorous offshore processing in Nauru, we need temporary protection visas to deny the people smugglers a product to sell and we need the willingness to turn boats around when it is safe to do so. Now, I congratulate the Prime Minister for belatedly – after four long years and some almost 400 boats, almost 22,000 illegal arrivals – I congratulate the Prime Minister for finally seeing sense on just one of the three policies necessary to stop the boats. But if you want to get John Howard's results, you have to show John Howard's resolve and so far we have seen none of that from this Prime Minister. That's the third way in which our country will be different and better under a Coalition government.
The fourth way is that there will be less that there will be less wasteful and unnecessary government spending. Apart from anything else, there won't be the $4.7 billion in budget blowouts that the border protection disaster has given us. There won't be the $1.3 billion that we will now need to spend on the additional refugee and humanitarian intake which the Government has just promised us. We can get government spending down and the best way to get government spending down is to avoid the kind of reckless and wasteful programmes that we have seen again and again from this government, particularly the Building the Education Revolution programme, overpriced school hall after overpriced school hall and who was in charge of that? None other than Julia Gillard.
There will be higher productivity – this is the fifth thing that will be different under the Coalition – because for a start we will immediately restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission which came about because of the Cole Royal Commission which I established as the relevant minister and which created more than $5 billion a year in productivity improvements in that vital industry.
We will have higher participation – this is number six – because we will try to ensure that working-age people are in fact working, preferably for a wage, but if not, for the dole. We will have a decent paid parental leave scheme at last and I'm proud to be the first leader of the Coalition which is promising is a fair go for the women of Australia, which is promising policies which will ensure they will have a real choice to be economic contributors as well as social and cultural contributors.
There will be a cleaner environment under the Coalition, not because we have saddled our economy with economy with an unnecessary new tax, but because there will be a Green Army, 15,000-strong, marching to the rescue of the land care groups, the volunteers and the councils which have done a lot but are struggling to maintain the environmental integrity of our country.
There will be better infrastructure and we in Canberra will do what we can to ensure that the state governments can do what they must to give our country the better roads, the better rail and the better ports that it needs. We will commit some $400 million to the duplication of the Midland Highway between Hobart and Launceston. The Midland Highway is the backbone of Tasmania. It is the essential artery linking the two great cities of this great state. It should not be a goat track. It will be a four-lane highway thanks to a Coalition government.
There will be better services, in part because we will ensure that the public schools and the public hospitals of our country are more responsive to the community and less ridden by bureaucrats in head office. There will be community controlled public hospitals. There will be independent schools because we will work with the states, particularly the Coalition states, to bring that about and finally, number ten, there will be greater engagement with Asia under the Coalition. We won't do things like ban live cattle exports to Indonesia in panic after a television programme. I've been the victim of a few bad television programmes in my time, ladies and gentlemen, and I don't panic in the face of a television programme and no government that I lead will panic in the face of a television programme and do what this government did to our live cattle trade with Indonesia. We will restore language training, language literacy in our schools. We will get to the study of foreign languages up to 40 per cent within a decade because we need to be culturally literate with our trading partners. We can't expect them simply to be culturally literate where we are concerned.
Ladies and gentlemen, ten simple, clear, achievable ways in which our country will be different and better under the next Coalition government. This is how we will deliver the hope, reward and the opportunity that Australians are yearning for right now.
I want to assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that the Coalition is up to the task of government. I want you to think back to the work of the Howard Government. John Howard and Peter Costello inherited a $10 billion budget black hole and turned it into consistent $20 billion a year budget surpluses. We inherited $96 billion worth of net Commonwealth debt. We turned it into $70 billion worth of net Commonwealth assets. By contrast, the current Government turned $20 billion of surplus into deficits averaging $40 billion-plus every year. They took $70 billion of assets and have turned it into a net $130 billion-plus of debt. Peter Costello, his four last budgets were the four biggest surpluses in Australia's history. Wayne Swan's first four budgets were the four biggest deficits in Australian history. We know what it is like to be a good government because we have been a good government. Sixteen members of the Shadow Cabinet were ministers in a successful government. We won't have to learn on the job because we’ve done the job.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am confident that person for person, pound for pound, my frontbench is as good as any frontbench that has ever contested a federal election in this country. I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, and I'm not one for boasting, but when I was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Julia Gillard was running the Socialist Forum in Melbourne. When I was putting in place the Medicare Safety Net to protect the health of Australians, Julia Gillard was dreaming up Medicare Gold described by the President of the Labor Party as an “absolute public policy turkey”. When I was putting in place the Cole Royal Commission to bring the rule of law to the construction industry of our country, Julia Gillard was dreaming up Forward with Fairness, an industrial policy so enslaved to the union movement that Kevin Rudd had to order it withdrawn and rewritten. Then, of course, this is the Prime Minister who has given us the border protection debacle, the live cattle disaster, the carbon tax which is a bad tax based on a lie, and finally the ethical disquiet which so many Australians now feel whenever they think about our national government in Canberra.
Let's just think of this Prime Minister's record when it comes to trustworthiness. Kevin Rudd couldn't trust her over the Prime Ministership. Andrew Wilkie couldn't trust her over poker machine reform. Harry Jenkins couldn't trust her over the Speakership and the Australian people couldn't trust her over the carbon tax. That is the problem. We have a government which is incompetent and untrustworthy and that is why it needs to change and it needs to change soon.
Ladies and gentlemen, the journey from opposition to government is a long one and a hard one but I know we are up to the task. The journey from opposition to government is not, in the end, about us. It's not even, in the end, about our party. It is about our country. It is about doing the right thing by our country. I know, you know, every Australian knows that right now we are a great country let down by a bad government. I know, you know, most Australians now know, that there is almost nothing currently wrong with our country that wouldn't be improved by a change of government. We all know that this is not a great time for Australia. The problem that we all sense in the marrow of our bones is that we are not as good as we could be right now. Something is holding us back and our challenge as Liberals is to remove that which is holding us back so that every Australian can come closer to being his or her best self. It is a noble task. It is a great mission that we have set ourselves to give a great country the better government that it deserves.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am extremely honoured to be the leader of the Liberal Party and the leader of the Coalition. It is a heady responsibility but it is a great privilege. It is by far the greatest honour that could ever come to me and I want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for the support you've given me. Thank you for the support that you've given to Eric and our Senate team. Thank you for the support that you are giving to Andrew Nikolic and Eric Hutchinson. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But most of all, thank you for being proud Australians who want to stand up for this great country.