Today, Saturday, I attended the Liberal Party (Victorian Division) State Council.
This is where Liberal Party delegates debate and vote on a wide range of motions put forward by Branches and other Party bodies. It’s a marvellous example of democracy at work.
One of the highlights of the day was the speech by Prime Minister, John Howard.
Mr Howard’s speech made many pointed observation about the Labor Party being captive to the Union movement. And, significantly, he made very clear that Australia should mine and sell Uranium and should open the way to nuclear power generation.
Here are some excerpts …
… Political parties, be it the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or indeed any other party are judged not only by what they plan for the future, but also by what they have done in the past.
And this applies to political parties, whether they are in government or opposition.
You can’t pretend to be a serious political party, by adopting the approach that it doesn’t matter what we do in opposition, it’s what we do in government that is the only thing that matters.
Yesterday, before he made his speech, I said that the greatest challenge my opponent [Kevin Rudd, Australian Labor Party] faced was to outline a clear and coherent plan, a credible plan to keep the Australian economy strong and prosperous into the future.
I listened, I listened very intently to everything he had to say, every single thing he had to say, and I listened in vain. And the Australian people listened in vain for that coherent alternative, credible, economic plan [that would clarify] how he, if he became Prime Minister, might keep Australia strong into the future.
And when it didn’t come across I said to myself, why on earth wouldn’t he, at this of all conferences, outline his plan for the future, to the Australian people:how a Rudd government would keep the economy strong?
And I came to the conclusion that maybe, maybe he has realised to his great embarrassment, the fundamental dilemma in which the Labor Party now finds itself.
You see, it wants the Australian people to take good economic management and the prosperous times we may have as a political campaign given.
In other words he runs around Australia and says “now look we are responsible economic managers, we believe in keeping budgets in balance, we believe in strong fiscal policy, we believe in low interest rates, we believe that the future of Australia can have as its starting point, the strength of today”.
Yet his deep and abiding problem is that he opposed the creation of the strength of today.
His deep and abiding problem is that at every turn he opposed this government building today’s prosperity; he opposed getting the Budget back into surplus; he opposed paying off $96 billion of debt; he opposed the privatisation of Telstra which helped pay off that $96 billion of government debt; he opposed the reform of the waterfront in 1998; he – along with his colleagues – opposed the… industrial relations reforms of 1996; he opposed taxation reform; and he opposed the latest round of industrial relations reform.
In other words …he wants to have it both ways. He wants to be excused of his follies of the past as a member of an opposition that has been the most negative in recent Australian history – but take, as his starting point, the very strengths of the Australian economy which the effort of the Australian people, encouraged by the policies that we have produced has helped bring about!
Can I say to you my friends that political parties have responsibilities in opposition as well as in government, and when we were in opposition, we supported those sensible economic reforms that the Hawke and Keating governments introduced.
We supported the deregulation of the financial system, that after all had been a policy I developed when I was Treasurer. We supported the removal of tariff protection that was having a stultifying effect on the competitive efforts of the Australian economy. And we in fact gave more support to the rather tepid efforts at taxation reform that were undertaken when the Labor Party was in government.
So, it’s not surprising that in opposition, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Rudd and his colleagues find it difficult to articulate an alternative economic plan, because they know in their hearts [that] the very prosperity we have now, which is the foundation for what we might plan for in the future, was opposed every inch of the way by the Australian Labor Party.
They cannot have it both ways, they can’t claim the current strong economy as a bipartisan given, when they have opposed every major reform effort of the last decade.
Now as I listened to that speech [by Kevin Rudd] yesterday, I kept hearing this expression:
“Mr Howard is out of touch!”
And I thought dear oh me! I thought, dear oh me, that is a withering assault! I’ve never heard that allegation made by one political leader against another in my life. [Prodos: Mr Howard is joking of course].
I thought dear, what a novel proposition! And then I said to myself, am I really out of touch? Maybe I am, and I looked around and said to some of my staff, “Am I out of touch?” And they reassured me I wasn’t, of course. “No you are not, you are not the least bit out of touch” [they said].
And I thought more seriously, I thought to myself, is it really “out of touch” to have a 32-year low in unemployment? Is it really “out of touch” to have seen long-term unemployment in this country decline by almost a quarter in the last year? Is it really “out of touch” to be Prime Minister of a country where housing interest rates are now 8 per cent and not 17 per cent or 21 per cent for small business, or 23 per cent for those poor struggling farmers on their bill rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s? Is it “out of touch” to have paid off $96 billion of the nation’s debt and is it “out of touch” to have pulled off the foreign policy double of the decade, having built ever-closer relationships with the United States, whilst building a deep and productive friendship and partnership with China -for all… that means for our future and for the future of our region.
And finally, I asked myself the rhetorical question, is it really “out of touch” to have put the jobs of northern Tasmanian timber workers ahead of blind ideology as I did I 2004.
And let me take[this] opportunity of saying directly to the coal miners of this country, that in developing policies to deal with climate change, my Government will never put ideology and blind populism ahead of the jobs of Australian workers.
But as I listened to that speech I saw a slogan … What the [Labour Party] slogan said was:
“fresh ideas, new thought, new visions, fresh hope, new ideas”.
And I thought well, we’ll all listen for them!
They didn’t come. But then I am out of touch. May be I wasn’t listening properly. 😉
Then I thought to myself, funny about that slogan. This conference is all about “fresh ideas”, yet the two things that are dominating the conference, are what?
Uranium mining, and industrial relations.
And if ever there were two issues where the Labor Party is bereft of fresh ideas and new hope and new inspiration, it’s uranium mining and industrial relations!
In the area of industrial relations – and they are debating it as I speak to you – the Labor Party is mired in old-fashioned thinking. The Labor Party has delivered a policy that will return control of industrial relations in this country to the union bosses. They have put union power ahead of workers’ jobs.
They promised to destroy a policy which has seen over the last year, 263,000 new jobs created, 90 per cent of which are full time.
A policy which has seen a continued rise in real wages so that in the 11 years of the Howard Government, real wages in this country have risen by 19.7 per cent. Yet in the 13 years of Labor, they actually declined by 1.7 per cent, and we now have the lowest level of industrial disputes in Australia, since a year before the outbreak of The Great War since 1913!
You have to go back to 1913 to find a level of industrial disputation in our nation that is lower than what it is now.
And Labor would destroy all of that in the name of ideology, in the name of bowing before their union masters. And if you think that is mere rhetoric, let me remind you that 70 per cent of the Labor Party frontbench is made up of former union officials.
There’s a long honour roll of them, that goes one after the other. You’ve got Martin Ferguson, you’ve Simon Crean, you’ve got Jennie George, and you are going to soon have Bill Shorten, and you will soon of course despite any protestations to the contrary, you are going to have Greg Combet.
But they are the well-known ones. The not so well-known ones of course comprise the rest of the frontbench and they all have had various positions in the union movement.
I don’t denigrate the role of trade unionists in our society, I don’t for a moment gainsay the situation where a reasonable number of them are members of parliament, but when you have only 15 per cent of the private sector workforce now belonging to a trade union, there is something hopelessly, dare I say it, OUT OF TOUCH!
… So, the industrial relations mantra of the Labor Party is mired in the past.
This week we had, unveiled [by the Labour Party] Fair Work Australia, which is a new all-embracing completely unconstitutional body.
I mean one of the things I do remember from my constitutional law lectures back in 1957 was that you can’t have a federal body which exercises both judicial and non-judicial power, and for a trade union-dominated party, I am surprised that they have forgotten the relevance of the Boilermakers case, which was precisely the case that decided that particular issue.
So, Labor would return industrial relations in this country to the control of the union bosses, and it would represent a triumph of union power over the jobs of workers, and the rights and interests of workers.
Everything that [Australian Treasurer] Peter Costello said about the evils of centralised wage-fixation would be brought back.
The affordable high wages in the mining industry would flow relentlessly through the economy, and they would lead to a fall in profitability, thus a fall in employment, and with the human consequences of that involved in the rest of the economy.
And of course, the worst commitment of all that Labor has made is to bring back the nightmare of unfair dismissal laws for small business.
Small business is breathing fresh air like it’s never breathed before over the last year, because of the removal of the unfair dismissal laws.
Every man and woman in this audience that’s in small business, and there are hundreds of you, because that’s the nature of our great Party, know just how crippling those old “unfair dismissal” laws were.
The way in which they discouraged people from taking on new staff through fear that if something didn’t work out, you couldn’t let them go without being told by some official, some industrial relations official that you had to pay them $30,000 or $40,000 go-away-money, so that you could get on with running your business. And $30,000 or $40,000 is often the difference between a pittance and a reasonable living for many of the small business men and women of Australia, and that’s the sort of misery that this Labor opposition would visit on small business again.
So my friends, there’s nothing fresh, although there is plenty of ideology about the commitment of Labor to bring back the old ways in the area of industrial relations with enormous consequences for our economy, and for the levels of employment.
And the other issue my friends that the Labor Party is debating today is the issue of uranium mining.
Now we all know what the result is going to be, I mean I said the way they talk about debates at these ALP Conferences is a little bit how they … used to talk about… elections in the old communist Russia.
You know, they use to line up and cast their ballots, and they’d say surprise surprise, Nikita Khrushchev got re-elected.
I mean let me tell you, Mr Rudd will win the debate. Of course he will, they can’t do anything else. They’ll deliver him a victory on uranium mining.
But in the modern world it’s all irrelevant. We resolved this more than 25 years ago.
Margaret Guilfoyle … and I were part of a Government that established something called the Ranger Inquiry, and it was presided over Mr Justice Fox. And what did he find?
He found that we ought to … mine and export uranium in Australia from any where, provided it was done under proper safeguards, and he laid down what the safeguards should be, and that’s how the law and the operation has been in this country for the last 25 years, except, of course, that state Labor governments have never cooperated in fully implementing that policy.
And what the Labor Party today will go through, and they’ll go through all the charade, in the end, there’ll be a triumphant victory for the leader of the Labor Party in getting them to embrace a policy that we embraced between 25 and 30 years ago. And then they will have the nerve to go out say this is a “fresh idea”!
The reality ladies and gentlemen is that the two issues that dominate the agenda at this ALP Conference are issues that communicate to the world that the Labor Party is still fighting the battles of yesteryear or mired in the ideology of yesteryear.
And what they have to say about the future of our nation in areas like this is absolutely zero. We resolved the issue of uranium mining more than 25 years ago. And uranium mining and the associated issue of nuclear power is once again deservedly front and centre of debate. Not only here, but around the world in relation to the important issue of climate change. [Prodos: Unfortunately, the Howard Government seems to be at least partly embracing theempty rhetoric of “climate change” and theunproven notion of man-made global warming]
I believe that this nation, along with others, must take steps to deal with the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions.
Whatever our range of views may be about the scale of the challenge, and the intensity of the threat, it is prudent and sensible and good public policy[and] the right thing for Australia to be part of the process. And we have to tackle this problem on every available front, and we must tackle it free of ideology, and we must tackle it based on science and based on good healthy Australian commonsense.
We have to understand the nature of our economy.
Our economy is virtually unique; a low population, a very high standard of living, vast amounts of fossil fuel and other resources and a huge largely uninhabited continent.
Now there aren’t many other countries in the world that can answer that description. And the last thing that we should do -and this is meant in no way disrespectfully to our friends in Europe –we shouldn’t adopt the European solution for an Australian problem.
We need to examine every option. We need to embrace clean coal technology. The cheapest source of electricity generation in this country is obviously coal, it’s very cheap, it’s very plentiful, it’s very available but it’s also very dirty in its combustion.
And if you are to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions you must progressively find an alternative to what you can loosely call the current use of coal.
And that inevitably brings you into clean coal technology, and as you do that, you must accept that the cost of generating electricity is going to go up because using clean coal is dearer than using existing coal.
And as you use the dearer coal, something else becomes more economic, and something that’s even cleaner than clean coal, and that, of course, is nuclear power.
And the advice I have, not from a pollster, or from anybody in the business community, but by somebody no less then the Chief Scientist of Australia, is that there are only two sources of power generation that can sustain the power plants that we need, the base load power plants that we need in this country, and that is fossil fuel or nuclear power.
And inevitably part of the solution, part of the solution, must be to admit of the use in years to come of nuclear power in this country.
And that is why I’m announcing today a strategy for the future development of uranium mining and nuclear power in Australia.
Because I believe it to be our responsibility if we are serious about tackling the problem of climate change to embrace and promote clean coal technology, to put the nuclear option on the table, to acknowledge and promote the use of renewables where they can make a contribution.
Wind and solar power can make a contribution and they deserve appropriate levels of encouragement and support, but you cannot run power stations on wind or solar power.
You can only run them on fossil fuels or on nuclear power.
Now that is the stark reality that we must face and if we are really serious about, years into the future, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must acknowledge at least the contribution that in time nuclear power can make to that.
And I’m not talking here about something that’s revolutionary and untried.
Fifteen per cent of the world’s electricity is already generated by nuclear power.
France generates 80 per cent of her electricity by nuclear power.
California, 27 per cent of her electricity is generated by nuclear power.
And although it is some years into the future, it’s not economic now, of course it’s not, because it’s still very economic to continue with current coal use, but if we’re serious we can’t do that indefinitely. So we really then have to move on from that to clean coal, and that’s dearer and that makes uranium produced nuclear power more attractive and more economic.
And that is why if we’re fair dinkum about this climate change debate, we have to open our minds to the use of nuclear power.
Yet the Labor Party today will solemnly go through this old fashioned, meaningless ritual of repealing their three mine policy, something that we dealt with more than a generation ago, and say they are a party of fresh ideas, yet they will set their faces forever against embracing nuclear power and pretend, when they know in their hearts, it’s an invalid proposition that you can somehow run power stations into the future. … [???] or solar power.
So ladies and gentlemen we need to take action now to prepare the way for the contribution that nuclear power will make to challenging the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
And it’s very important that we plan now so that as the introduction of clean coal technology creates pressures for cheaper and cleaner alternatives we are ready to provide them. And we need to take some immediate action to remove unnecessary constraints impeding the expansion of uranium mining, and to make a firm commitment to Australia’s participation in the Generation IV advanced nuclear reactor research program.
There’s a great scare campaign always conducted by some when you talk about nuclear power. The reality is that the modern generation for nuclear power plants are very safe, safer indeed than many alternative sources of power generation.
So ladies and gentlemen if we are serious about tackling, in the longer term, the challenge of climate change, and we all are and we all must be because it will affect all of us, we must be honest enough and courageous enough to put all of the options on the table.
And could I just say one other thing about climate change, and that is this.
It’s not a question of choosing between the planet and the economy.
It’s a question of choosing between solutions to climate change that will destroy the economy and destroy jobs, and solutions to climate change that will promote economic growth and preserve jobs.
Placing a target, or embracing a target on greenhouse gas emissions, imposing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, to which this country commits itself, will be one of the momentous economic decisions that any country can take. It will affect every part of the economy as we move towards it. And in those circumstances we should not embrace a target unless and until we know what the consequences of embracing that target will be. We should not as Labor has done pluck a target developed by the Europeans for European circumstances and not for Australians circumstances out of the air and say, we’re going to commit to that.
And the other night Mr Swan on television was asked about his 60 per cent target, and he was asked whether he knew what the consequences were, and he says “no I don’t”. I mean how on earth can you claim to be the alternative treasurer of this country when you cannot tell the Australian people what the economic consequences of your climate change target might be. It is the height of political and economic irresponsibility.
We at the moment are awaiting, and I’ll get it next month, the recommendations of a task group involving the Government and the business sector in both resources and energy about the development of an emissions trading system in this country. [Prodos: Unfortunately, another troubling development.]
We have to be part of that, but we’ve got to do it in a way that protects Australia’s competitive position. We’ve got to do it in a modern way that takes account of technology and future developments and we’ve got to do it in a way that is compatible with developments in other parts of the world. And I simply make this commitment to the Australian people;
that if my Government embraces a target in this area it will be a target that will protect the economic strength and maintain the full employment world in which Australia now inhabits.
…think of an Australia at the end of the year with wall to wall Labor governments. [Prodos: Currently, the Labor Partygoverns in all Australian states, butJohn Howard’sLiberal Party governs federally.]
Labor governing without lead or hinderance, without check or balance, at every level of government in this country, and in the full knowledge that when it comes to things that affect our lives, they will be told what to do by their union masters.
They will not only be told what to do by their union masters, but a large number of the ministers of that government will in fact be recruits from the ranks of the union bosses.
Now that is the kind of challenge we face and the implications of that for governance in this country, the absence of the checks and balances that are so important in any democratic society, or on it’s own to be a cause of concern and an added impetus and an added way in which we recommit to the great cause, a cause to re-elect a government that has kept faith with the promise that I made at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney on the 2nd of March 1996, that we would govern for those who voted against us as well as governing for those that voted for us.
… I am proud to say that our tax and welfare policies have resulted in a redistribution of support to the lower end of the income earning brackets of this country; that is why I’m able to say that survey after survey does not reveal that the gap between the rich and poor has widened, the reality is that the rich have got richer, but the poor in our community have become less poor because of the policies of this Government.
And the greatest thing that we have done for the less well off in this nation is to give them a chance of a job.
And a Labour leader that I do admire very much, Tony Blair, had something to say about this after he became Prime Minister of Great Britain.
He said that fairness in the workplace starts with the chance of a job.
And that is a mantra and that’s a statement of the obvious that the leader of the Australian Labor Party could well take to heart because, unlike Mr Blair who had the courage to tell the trade union movement before he became Prime Minister that it had to abandon its opposition to the industrial relations reforms of the former Conservative government, Mr Rudd has lacked the courage to tell his union masters that his party should do the same.