Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Liberals, thank you so much. It is a real honour and a real thrill to be here, the first State Council of our Liberal Party around Australia that I’ve had the chance to address as Prime Minister.
Before I commence this address, let me simply take a few moments to remember all of those people in New South Wales who have lost homes because of the devastating bushfires over the last couple of days. We remember them, we remember their communities, we remember all of those who are on the frontline of the fires: the fulltime professionals, the part time professionals, the volunteer professionals, in the state emergency services and the rural fire services. We remember all of them and we send our best wishes to them as they confront loss, as they confront challenge, as they rally together as Australians always do in difficult times.
South Australia is a state which understands fire, which has suffered its own fire emergencies on numerous occasions. It’s happened in the past, it will happen in the future. When South Australia suffers, the other states rally to your cause. When New South Wales suffers, I’m sure South Australians would wish to acknowledge that and to send nothing but best wishes beaming across the distance to all those people in New South Wales.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a real thrill to be here in Adelaide for your conference. An important conference for our party because it marks a transition from Grant Chapman, one of my former parliamentary colleagues who has been an outstanding President, to Alexander Downer, another one of my former parliamentary colleagues who I know will be an equally outstanding President. I salute Alexander. I am grateful for our friendship. I acknowledge the fact that Alexander was a truly great Minister in what was arguably one of the very greatest governments our country has had and I know he is absolutely the man to lead and guide the party as you approach the vital election in March of next year.
Here in South Australia, our party could hardly be in better shape. I salute my Senate team: Cory Bernardi, Sean Edwards, David Fawcett and Anne Ruston. I salute our House of Representatives members: Rowan Ramsay, Andrew Southcott, Tony Pasin, newly elected for Barker, and of course marvellous Matt Williams, magnificent Matt Williams, the newly elected member for Hindmarsh.
But I particularly salute and pay tribute to those outstanding members of the new executive Government: Simon Birmingham, who will ensure that our water is right, that we appropriately manage the balance between the environment and the needs of our agricultural industries and the cities and towns of the Murray-Darling Basin; Jamie Briggs who is going to be at the forefront as the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, at the forefront of delivering the roads of the 21st Century; and of course my friend and colleague the Hon. Christopher Pyne, Leader of the House of Representatives and Minister for Education.
It’s nice for the first time in almost six years to have at the federal level a Minister for Education who doesn’t think that more money is the solution to every problem. It’s good to have as Minister for Education at the federal level someone who appreciates that the key to better schools, the key to better educational institutions is not just more money, but it’s better teachers, it’s better teaching, it’s more principal autonomy, it’s more community engagement and it’s more rigorous curricula. That is the key to better education in this country. Christopher Pyne understands it and thank God we have someone who does.
I want to say thank you to all of my federal colleagues for the support that they have so consistently given to me over the last four years almost since I became the leader of our federal party. But most of all I want to thank every one of you in this room for the support that you have given to them. We have been a good team. We have been a happy family. Sure, from time to time we’ve had our discussions, we’ve even had our arguments, but we’ve treated each other with respect and we’ve resolved them like adults and that’s why we are now in Government in Canberra.
Can I also say thank you to the South Australian Division for a very strong result at the recent federal election. We had a five and a half per cent two party preferred swing to the Liberal Party at that poll. It’s our best result in almost a decade and of course, the icing on the cake was an almost eight per cent swing in Hindmarsh to give us that seat. Well done, South Australia.
But of course, even elections which we win have their bittersweet moments. It doesn’t matter how well you do, there are always some who are disappointed. I pay tribute to our candidates who fought the good fight but sadly are not with us in Canberra: Tom Zorich, Sue Lawrie, Carmen Garcia, Damien Mills and Nigel McKenna. You did the right thing by our party. You did the right thing by our country. You had a go, and sure, it wasn’t quite enough to get there but in the end we are judged not so much by what we have done but by what we have tried to do. You tried to do something magnificent and we salute you.
So my friends, there is a new Government in Canberra. We inherited a mess but we have made a good start. We inherited a mess but we have made a good start. Think of the legacy of the departed Labor government in Canberra: 200,000 more unemployed, a commonwealth gross debt skyrocketing towards $400 billion, the five biggest deficits in our history, and worst of all, more than 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat under a government which had completely lost control of our borders.
We were elected, my friends, because we promised to fix this. We promised to stop the boats, to get the Budget back under control, to scrap the carbon tax and to build the roads of the 21st century. That is what we will do and that is what we are doing. Yes, we’ve only been there for one month and one day but we have made a good start.
I said on election night that Australia was under new management and Australia was open for business. Well, I can report that on that very night, by our election, we saved the motor industry of this country from Labor’s $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax hit on company cars. So at the very least, on the day after our election the motor show rooms of this country were once more open for business.
We said we would launch Operation Sovereign Borders, and we have. Lieutenant General Angus Campbell is running Operation Sovereign Borders. Former Major General Jim Molan is my special envoy for people smuggling, working already in the capitals of our region. We said we would reintroduce temporary protection visas and we have. The message has gone out – no one coming illegally to Australia by boat will ever come to this country. The message has gone out – no one who has come to Australia illegally by boat can ever expect to receive permanent residency of this country. That is the message that has gone out and I have to say it is a message which appears to have been heeded.
Never forget that in July, just three months ago in July, the worst month in our history for illegal boat arrivals almost 5,000 came in a single month. They were coming in July at the rate of 50,000 a year.
Now, we can’t work overnight miracles. We have no magic wand. But there’s no doubt the difference that new policies and new resolves make. So far in the one month and one day that this Government has been in place, illegal arrivals by boat are running at the rate of just 10 per cent. They’re down 90 per cent on what was happening at its worst under Labor.
Now I don’t pretend that the people smugglers won’t test us. I don’t say that there won’t be worse months as well as better months in the time ahead. I don’t pretend that the boats have already stopped. But I can say to you with great confidence, my friends, they are stopping. They are stopping and they will be stopped.
We said we’d have an indigenous advisory council and a business advisory council and we do.
I said that my first overseas trip as Prime Minister would be to Indonesia and it was. I think leaders of other countries have been quite pleased to go to a meeting with an Australian Prime Minister and for the first time in six years not get a lecture. I will stand up for Australia, I will sing our praises but I don’t pretend that I have all the answers for other countries. Lord knows it’s hard enough to have the answers for your country let alone to have the answers for every other country in the world! So we will never make the mistake that was made so frequently by our immediate predecessors.
And yes, we are negotiating free trade agreements. We are accelerating those negotiations. I hasten to say, free trade agreements that are in the best interest of our country as well as in the best interests of other countries; free trade agreements that will have significant benefits for us as well as significant benefits for our partners.
We said that there would be a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals and I’m pleased to say that yesterday in Brisbane, I signed a memorandum of understanding with Premier Campbell Newman to ensure that within 12 months that will be a reality.
We said that the Australian victims of overseas terrorism would receive modest compensation along the lines of the compensation available to the victims of domestic crime here in Australia and within a week or so, that compensation will be flowing.
Ladies and gentlemen, we said above all else we would scrap the carbon tax. Well, this week I released an exposure draft of legislation to do just that.
Let’s be under no illusions about the carbon tax. The carbon tax was never an environmental measure. Look at the former government’s own figuring and it made clear that despite a carbon tax tipped to be some $37 a tonne by 2020, Australia’s domestic emissions were going up, not down, from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes. The carbon tax was never an environmental measure. The carbon tax was always socialism masquerading as environmentalism. That’s why the carbon tax must go.
When I released the exposure draft legislation this week, I was able to say, based on the official advice that I had received, that abolishing the carbon tax would mean a nine per cent cut in power prices, a seven per cent cut in gas prices, a $200 a year reduction in your power bill, a $70 a year reduction in your gas bill, a $550 a year benefit to households. Wouldn’t that be a nice Christmas present for the people of Australia? But who’s the person who wants to steal Christmas, at least when it comes to abolishing the carbon tax? Who’s the person who quite likes to see those electricity bills nine per cent higher than they should be? Well it’s none other than the new Leader of the Opposition, good old ‘Electricity Bill’ Shorten.
Look, I know that the new Leader of the Opposition is beholden to the Greens. I know that the new Leader of the Opposition doesn’t want to repudiate too quickly the legacy of his predecessors. But unless Mr Shorten is prepared to accept the will of the Australian people, unless he is prepared to accept that the carbon tax is nothing if it’s not a tax on your power bills, I’m afraid his tenure at the top is likely to be very short indeed – notwithstanding all the changes to the Labor Party rules designed to ensure that the leader can never lose his job – because every time those power bills come through, people will be thinking, more bill shock! What’s his name? Bill Shorten? Bill Shock? What is it?
That’s what people will be thinking unless the new Leader of the Opposition is prepared to do what we were prepared to do after the 2007 election and that is to accept that in the end, we might be Liberal, we might be Labor, we might be National, but first and foremost we have to be democrats. In a great democracy like this, we have to accept the verdict of the people. We have to understand that the Australian people have said, let’s scrap this carbon tax. Let’s scrap this toxic tax. And that is exactly what we will be doing once the Parliament resumes in the middle of November.
It is always a thrill, my friends, to be here in Adelaide. Adelaide is a fabulous city. South Australia is a great state. I regard Adelaide as probably the world’s most liveable city. Great people, great climate, terrific restaurants, art, culture. This city has got everything going for it except, I regret to say, the strong economy that the people of South Australia deserve. It is so important that we scrap the carbon tax and scrap the mining tax as soon as we humanly can because as long as those taxes stay in place there will be a permanent handbrake on the economy of this great state.
I can’t guarantee that without the carbon tax and without the mining tax the Olympic Dam mine expansion will go ahead but I can guarantee that with the carbon tax and with the mining tax it will never happen. It will never happen. For the sake of the people of South Australia, for the sake of the future of this great state, for the sake of your children and grandchildren, we must push on with the abolition of the carbon tax and the abolition of the mining tax and we must succeed.
My friends, not only must we reduce tax, not only must we cut red tape, not only must we get government spending under better control, but we must build the infrastructure of the future and this is where I am so happy to be working hand-in-hand with my friend and colleague, the state Liberal leader, Stephen Marshall. Stephen Marshall is a very sensible man. Stephen Marshall is precisely the kind of person who will get things done in this state.
As you know, a few months ago the federal Coalition committed to spending half a billion dollars on the North-South Road Corridor. We committed to spending half a billion dollars on what was the number one priority for upgrading the North-South Corridor, the Darlington Project. Well, the day after we made that commitment, the day after Stephen Marshall enthusiastically backed that commitment, mysteriously, the Darlington Project disappeared from the State Labor Government’s website. It had been the number one project, the number one priority on the State Labor Government’s North-South Road website. The instant the Coalition committed to it at federal and state level, it disappeared and since that time the State Labor Government, the Government which has so monumentally failed when it comes to delivering any serious infrastructure to the people of this state, the State Labor Government has been saying forget Darlington, let’s get on with the Torrens Project.
Well, I say that Stephen Marshall is the kind of guy that gets things done. Stephen Marshall is the kind of guy who would never want to see happen in this country the kind of hyper-partisan deadlock that we have seen recently in the United States. Stephen Marshall came to me the other day and he said, ‘Tony, let’s do them both. Let’s do them both. And while we are on about it, let’s try to get the whole North-South Road Corridor upgraded within a decade.’ Let’s face it. We’ve been talking about it since 1968. A story which we have been telling since 1968 should finally come to a satisfactory conclusion and that is exactly what will happen with Liberals working together at both the state and federal level to get things done.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will get these projects done. We will have cranes over our cities. We will have bulldozers on the ground. I am so pleased that to drive all of this, particularly here in South Australia, we have one of the most dynamic, young politicians in our country, Minister Jamie Briggs, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. Jamie, you have a heavy responsibility and I know you will not let us down.
My friends, this is a great city, in a great state, in a great country. We all know that for the last few years we have been less than we could be. We have been less than we should be. But we all know that things are changing. We all know that things are changing for the better and things will have changed for the better in March of next year, when not only do we have a Coalition Government in Canberra, but we have a Liberal government in Adelaide. Let’s make a new start, not just for our country but for our state. That’s why I am so pleased to be here today, to applaud and to thank the Leader of the Opposition Stephen Marshall and to say thank you to South Australians for everything you have done for our party.