Date: Wednesday, 3 December 2014
Thank you very much Nick. It is a great privilege to be launching this first Menzies essay here today - “Quiet Achievers – the New Zealand Path to Reform”, in particular in the presence of Heather Henderson and also my good friend, Senator Bob Day and the High Commissioner for New Zealand, Chris Seed.
The most important lesson out of this book in my view is that if you want to know where you are headed, if we want to know as a country where we are headed, the most important thing is to look at the trajectory we are on. The trajectory we are on is way more important than the starting position. What I would refer you to there, in particular, when you read the book there is a graph on page 34 which shows very clearly that back in 2007/8 after nearly 12 years of strong Coalition Government, the Australian economy was stronger than the New Zealand economy. We went into the Global Financial Crisis here in Australia in a stronger position in terms of our Budget and in terms of our economy than New Zealand. But if you look at what has happened in New Zealand since the Global Financial Crisis, on the back of the economic reform agenda pursued by the Key Government, they have been able to get themselves into a better position than we did here in Australia.
I thought that Nick was being quite benign in the way he described the actions of the previous government. If personality fights and press releases had been the only thing that they had done in their six year period in Government, we might have got away more easily in terms of the impact on our quality of life, on the strength of our economy and living standards. The problem is that unlike other governments around the world, unlike the government in New Zealand, which focused on New Zealand’s international competitiveness, which focused on reducing the cost of doing business in New Zealand, here in Australia we had a Government that kept putting more and more led into our saddle bag, arguably at the worst possible time.
When we talk about repeal of the carbon tax, repeal of the mining tax, getting rid of unnecessary red tape to reduce the cost of doing business in Australia, these are not ideological pursuits. These are not things that we are doing because it was a political campaign slogan. These are things that we are doing because we think it is so important to put Australia back on a stronger trajectory for the future, a trajectory where we are more competitive internationally, where we can grow the economy more strongly, where everyone has the opportunity to get ahead and where we ultimately are able grow jobs more strongly again for people across Australia.
When we came into Government in September last year, we inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment, low consumer and business confidence and a Budget in very bad shape. Now we are one year in, a bit over a year in, and there is still a lot more work to do. But if you look at the foundation that we have been able to put in place over the last 12 months, we believe that we are on a similar trajectory to the one that has been pursued in New Zealand now over six years. The opportunity for us is that in five years from now, we will be able to look back on similar achievements. And it may be in five years from now that in New Zealand, somebody will write a book about the Australian experience and how people in New Zealand can learn from us.
Just to dwell for a moment on that point in relation to our trajectory, before launching the book formally. Here in Australia we know that this is true too because we have been on a different trajectory in the past as well. Back in 1996 the Coalition Government then inherited a situation where the Budget was in need of repair, where there was a need for economic reform. After a serious effort to repair the Budget, after a serious effort to initiate economic reform, we gave ourselves the space to pursue tax reform, which in itself continued to give us the opportunity to build a stronger, more prosperous economy and we ended up in this virtuous cycle that New Zealand is in now with income tax cut after income tax cut and the capacity to provide a social dividend by boosting government payments on health, education and social services. Our objective, what we are trying to do now here in Australia, we are trying to get ourselves back into that virtuous cycle where in four or five or six years time, we can look back and say: “okay, how did we get here into this strong position from what was a challenging starting position back in 2013.”
New Zealand is five years further down the track than we are because they have had five more years of good Government. After five more years of good Government here in Australia, hopefully, we will be able to demonstrate that it is ultimately the trajectory that we are on that is going to determine whether we will be able to improve our living standards, improve opportunity in the future instead of what happened sadly over the previous six years.
So without any further ado, thank you very much for inviting me to launch this book. This is a very important contribution to the public policy debate here in Australia. I commend it to you. Hopefully in five years from now we will be able to have a conversation about how the Abbott Government have been the quiet achievers and have taken Australia on a strong path to reform that has led to increases in living standards and improved opportunity for all. Thank you.