PM Morrison writing at his desk in his prime ministerial office

2019 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture

Speech
12 Mar 2019
Melbourne, Victoria
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much for that very kind introduction. I want to come back to Josh in a sec, but first let me begin by also acknowledging our traditional owners the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation here in Melbourne. Can I also particularly acknowledge the servicemen and women who are here with us today and any veterans today. I simply say to you, thank you for your service. There are few things that I have greater pride in than saying to an ex serviceman or woman or veteran around the country, to simply offer them appreciation for their services wherever they happen to be and I know those in this room certainly share that view, as many do and I’d say all Australians do around the country. Can I start particularly by welcoming Michael McCormack the Deputy Prime Minister here today.

[Applause]

Is there anyone who knew better than Sir Robert Menzies the importance of a Coalition partnership to deliver good government to Australia? No one knew that better than Sir Robert Menzies and in fact when he went to Albury and to other places when he would speak, he’d say that was the key to good government in Australia and the partnership that we have with our colleagues in what was then the Country Party, today is the National Party. And can I tell you, the relationship I enjoy with Michael is a strong one, but importantly it’s one based on our shared values and our shared passion for our country and our absolute commitment to ensure that Bill Shorten never sets foot in the Prime Minister’s shoes in this country.

In the same way that Ming and Black Jack worked so well together over all of those years, I can tell you that ScoMo and Big Mac over here –

[Laughter]

We’re doing exactly the same thing today. It’s a strong bond and it’s a partnership that is important for our nation and for the things that we hold dear as Liberals. To Josh, yes, you will get to deliver that surplus Josh and you deserve to, the way you’ve applied yourself as Treasurer, the way you’ve gone about the task. I know what that task involves and I know that you’ll deliver in just under a month’s time, what will be the first time this country has seen a surplus Budget in a decade and more.

To all my other colleagues who are here, there are too many to mention so I won’t do that today. But I do want to acknowledge all the tremendous work that you are doing as we prepare for what will be the battle of battles, that is the next election. It will be just that, it will be just that. I know it, I’ve known it from the day I stepped into this job just over six months ago. I knew what was riding on it, I know what is at stake and I never take on a task that I don’t believe I can accomplish. I’ve had experience in politics where there have been people telling me that; “This can’t be achieved and that can’t be achieved.” I go quietly about the business and on the other side, I remind them of what they’ve said before.

To Ron Wilson and Members of the Sir Robert Menzies Lecture Trust thank you very much for what is a very humbling invitation to come and to join you all here today as Prime Minister, to deliver what is an important address in the history of our movement and in the life of our movement. Feel free to book me in for next year so I can match John’s two in a row.

[Applause]

I’m sorry John can’t be here because I suppose between Josh and I we bring together the finest of the Menzies and Howard traditions as a partnership as we look to our heroes in the Party. It’s great to have Menzies family members represented here today and one of the finest and loveliest moments I’ve had as a Prime Minister is one day when I was with my daughter Abbey at the Federal Secretariat in Canberra, Heather was there and they got to meet each other. They told wonderful stories to each other about her time when she was the Prime Minister’s daughter the first time around, because they were about the same age at that time. They talked about the room they stayed in and things like that, it was a beautiful moment for a father and daughters bring tremendous joy to fathers. My daughter’s name is Abigail which mean’s ‘father’s joy’ and that’s certainly the case, as is Lily.

To Gerard, thank you very much for hosting us here at EY today. You’re a great partner in these events and we thank you for it. To Nick Cater of course and the Menzies Research Centre, I congratulate you on your announcement today about the establishment of the Robert Menzies Institute located at Melbourne University. That’s a tremendous step forward and well done. So thank you again for the invitation to give this lecture during what is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Liberal Party and the 70th Anniversary of Sir Robert Menzies’ historic win in 1949. I intend to repeat that in the true Liberal tradition.

In the history of nations there are always giants. They are the handful of men and women who through their courage, their perseverance, their intellect, passion and will, they change the course of their nation. In the life of Australia, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies certainly fits that bill. He is one of our greatest, if not our greatest giant when it comes to the history of modern Australia.

For those interested in records; thirty years on the front bench. Almost twenty five years as a party leader. Eighteen and a half years as Prime Minister of Australia. These are records that will never be broken.

But for others and I suspect all of us here, myself included, the significance of Sir Robert is not the records he broke – because that’s not what it was about, I believe for him – it’s the Party he built, the movement he founded and the values he championed that we have inherited and now have the privilege to steward and I do, as the party leader today and as Prime Minister.

Menzies did not name the Party after himself, that’s for populists, that’s for those who don’t look out into the future. Instead, he reached out and built a Party based on enduring truths; the truths of liberalism and liberal democracy that outlive any one individual or the fashion of any one time, truths that unite a rich breadth of thought across our community. He understood, as Margaret Thatcher said in her Menzies Lecture almost forty years ago that; “Pragmatism is not enough”. Unlike Labor, we are not the party of shallow deals, transacted by vested interests to favour some, in order to punish others. That’s not how we roll, that’s not what we are about. Our Party is based on the individual beliefs that guide the decisions that we make in our own lives, that we make in our own families and our communities. Our values and our beliefs come from the ground up, they are proven in our own individual experience, they’re not appropriated from above. They come from in here and then they come together with others.

Our foundation is the personal responsibility and unique worth of the individual, drawing meaning, purpose and strength for life, for our families and for our participation in the community.

Our families and the homes we live in are the scaffolding of our character and the values that will sustain our lives. It’s why Menzies spoke of; “Homes material, homes human and homes spiritual”.

From this sure foundation, comes civic mindedness, mutual respect, personal responsibility and a people that understand that the most satisfying thing is to contribute in life, rather than take.

As my parents taught me, they said; “Scott, life is not about what you accumulate, it’s about what you contribute.”

This is the wonderful, civilising tension that Sir Robert understood - that people need incentive, reward and opportunity to carve out their own path. But equally, that nations are not just the sum of individual efforts, they are also the result of the ties that collect us all up together. It is these ties that responsible political parties always seek to strengthen.

It’s why, Liberal and National Coalition Governments govern - in the words of John Howard - not for some of us, but for all of us. Our nation is named after that very pact, known as the ‘common wealth’ of Australia. A Commonwealth is a shared future, it’s a commitment to each other.

When individuals grow and prosper, we all benefit.

When one excels, we all cheer, because it lifts all of us.

We know that effort, work, drive, enthusiasm and risk-taking is the foundation for all human progress and when individuals face lifes’ trials, we support each other. Because lending a hand is the foundation of what it means to be genuinely human.

We understand that a strong economy is the foundation by which we can provide Australians with the essential services they rely on and they need. That the prosperity we are creating lifts all and we keep faith with each other and with future generations by focusing on this.

Under our Government, over 1.2 million new jobs have been created in the last five and a half years. These demonstrate the values that Sir Robert gifted to us. The women’s workforce participation rate is at an all time high. Women are in 712,500 jobs that they weren’t in when we came to Government, that’s how many jobs for women have been created under our Government. That’s over 55 per cent of all the jobs created under the term of our Government.

Participation by Australians over the age of 65 is also at a record high. Australians are living longer and healthier and this is also a positive sign reflecting a better view of ageing in our workplaces. As we remember Menzies today, it’s worth recalling that when he retired at 71, he handed the reins to a man he called “young Harold” who was 57. Seeing more older workers remain in the workforce, because they choose to, is a trend that will continue. As well, young people - a lot younger than “young Harold” and me - are benefiting absolutely from this jobs growth. Nothing brings me greater joy, previously as a Treasurer and now as Prime Minister, than seeing a young person get a job, because it transforms a life and indeed can transform a generation.

Last financial year, young people aged 15 to 24 filled more than 100,000 jobs in this country, which is the strongest level of youth jobs growth in Australia’s economic history. Of all the things our Government has achieved, I can’t nominate one of greater importance than that.

Because we have the right settings on taxes, trade, skills, small business and infrastructure, we can confidently set a target based on our track record of performance, of delivering 1.25 million new jobs over the next five years, by sticking to the economic plan that has delivered so handsomely for Australia over the last five and a half years.

“The strivers, the planners and the ambitious ones”; this is what Menzies described when he referred to the mums and dads, the small business people and workers that our country relies on. That’s why we are against Labor’s taxes – higher taxes on your electricity, taxes on your property, taxes on your retirement and more taxes on your income. Because it’s an attack on the true strength of Australia; ordinary Australians having a go, who should be able to keep more of what they earn.

A fair go for those who have a go, I’ve described it as. We do understand these “strivers, planners and ambitious ones,” as Sir Robert described them, that they are standing beside millions of small businesses that are propelling Australia forward and providing these jobs and they’ll continue to under the policies of our Government. But it’s at great risk under the polices of the alternative in Labor.

We are a great nation of entrepreneurs and may it always be. Under this Government, 230,000 additional small businesses have been created. In coming years, our country’s 3.3 million small and medium businesses, employing around seven million people – that’s more than half the workforce in Australia - will benefit from tax cuts that we’ve introduced and have brought forward recently by five years.

Tens of thousands of Australian businesses export overseas and they are being strengthened by export agreements with countries such as China, Japan, Korea and the 10 other nations of the Trans Pacific Partnership. As of last week, you can add Indonesia to that, with an export agreement signed by the Minsters for Trade both in Australia and Indonesia just last week. A deal that Labor are threatening even as we speak, on their hit list for their abuse of power should they ever be elected to government. Under this Government, the coverage of our trade agreements has increased from 26 per cent of our two-way trade, to nearly 70 per cent. That is transformational. That has taken place in only five and a half years.

With more jobs, more businesses and more trade, we are bringing the Budget back into balance. We have maintained our AAA credit rating under extreme international pressure and we are providing much needed tax relief to Australian households - legislated - and Australian small businesses. In addition to tax cuts for Australia’s small businesses, our Personal Tax Plan will see 94 per cent of taxpayers pay no more tax than 32.5 cents in the dollar, by 2024/25. We are abolishing an entire schedule in the tax system. There are Australians who will enter a decade under this plan, who will never face bracket creep throughout their entire working life, because of our reform to the tax system.

Now, this is not a goal that Labor shares. They have actually rejected it. They have taken a $144 billion plan and they say they will reverse, that they will abolish, they will rescind this plan if they are elected to Government. They’ll strip out $70 billion in tax relief to hard-working Australians. They don’t share our views and that’s what they will do. 

Unlike the false promises of higher taxes, the prosperity of a stronger economy is what guarantees the essential services that Australians rely on. That’s what enabling us to keep our Commonwealth compact to look after each other. Labor thinks higher taxes deliver hospitals. No, it just slows your economy down so you can’t afford hospitals. Under our plan for a stronger economy, we have the highest level of hospital funding in Australia’s history.

Under our Government, our pharmaceutical benefits scheme has listed 2,000 new life-changing medicines worth over $10 billion, helping countless Australians who are facing illnesses and sicknesses of almost every kind. And it was under Labor that they didn’t list medicines, because their Budget couldn’t support it. That is the cost of the alternative set of values which drives our opponents.

Bulk billing rates are at record levels and we’ve committed to a new hospitals agreement, providing around $30 billion in additional funding over five years. Medicare has never been stronger than under this Government, quite contrary to the lies Labor told at the last election.            

We’ve fully funded the National Disability Insurance Scheme, without an increase in the Medicare levy. We’ve backed in the system because we know the NDIS is all about enabling people living with disabilities, for them to realise their potential.

We are keeping our compact with future generations of Australians with $37.6 billion in additional funding for schools.

And we are supporting Australians suffering from drought and flood all around the country - I’ve met with them, I’ve walked with them and I’ve held them - with record funding and urgent action, most recently up in far north Queensland where the livestock industry has been almost literally washed away.

We are providing over $5.7 billion – and I acknowledge Michael McCormack – from day 1, as a team, $5.7 billion to help combat the unrelenting pressures of drought. That includes the $5 billion drought future fund, which we passed through the House of Representatives - and the Labor Party, amazingly, voted against - for the formation of a future drought fund.

We have kept faith with what it means to be a Commonwealth, by reforming the GST distribution system that was corroding our federation, to ensure a fair go for all States and Territories. We did what other governments hadn’t dared to do. We got in there and we fixed it.

I have said many times in recent months that this Government will keep our economy strong, keep Australians safe and keep Australians together.

The strength of Australia is in our economy, it’s in our security and it’s in our cohesion as a society well. Sir Robert understood this; the social fabric of a country matters. It’s a foundation as much as our economy and our security. It is real and we understand the role that schools, sporting clubs, environmental groups, service clubs and suburban churches play in strengthening the bonds between us all. Keeping Australians together is about the values and beliefs we hold, together as a community.

Ensuring older Australians are treated with dignity and respect and can maintain their independence and choices in retirement, including accessing the care they need – which is why I initiated the Royal Commission into Aged Care soon after becoming Prime Minister.

Raiding their savings, the savings of retirees and pensioners, through Labor’s retirees tax, defiles these principles.

Keeping Australians together is also about listening to and encouraging young Australians. Now, having a Budget under control and that won’t rack up debt in into the future, that means future generations are not saddled with maintaining our way of life, maintaining our services and dealing with our cost of living. Keeping our intergenerational compact with a cleaner environment, meeting our responsible commitments – not the reckless targets of others - but the responsible commitments to reduce our carbon emissions by 2030, without denying future generations the economic opportunities we have enjoyed. That’s really what Labor’s 45 per cent emissions target does; it steals the opportunities of future generations that we ourselves have enjoyed. How is that fair? That we have been able to enjoy our prosperity and opportunity in life, but they want to deny to future generations? This is why we have responsible targets and we’re not drawn to extremes.

Our liberalism is about strengthening the bonds between all of us and in lifting all Australians, no matter their age, their gender, their religion, class or sexuality. Our approach is not to pitch one Australian against another, to punish one in order to reward another. We do not believe one Australian has to fail for another Australian to succeed.

This is a fundamental difference between the movement that Sir Robert Menzies started in the Liberal Party and our opponents in the Labor Party - that is the politics of envy, to see one Australian fail, so another can succeed.

Our Party, the Party that Sir Robert started, is the Party of aspiration, not the Party of envy.

Our Party understands that mums and dads who are investing in property are not rorting the system, but providing for their future out of their own hard work and effort.

Labor will deny them this opportunity at the next election if given the chance. It’s another one of their envy taxes. They aren’t wealthy these Australians who are doing this, they’ve paid their own way and their investments support the supply of much-needed rental accommodation without which rents – as the Treasurer, as Josh will tell you – will only rise.

As Liberals we see a champion in every Australian, regardless of their abilities and regardless of their life’s circumstances.

By contrast, Labor sees only victims and oppressors, ensnaring Australians in a prison of want and envy, unable to see their true potential and worth.

That’s why I say under our movement, which I know is shared in the National Party, we see a champion in very single Australian regardless of what age they are, whatever level of ability they are, whatever challenges they face. There is a champion in every single Australian and it’s our job as custodians of the movement which Sir Robert started, to ensure those champions are realised.

Labor thrives on conflict, with policies designed to turn Australian against Australian. Menzies called this the class war, a false war. It’s why he warned us against those who focus on sectional interests, rather than national interests. So we aren’t about turning retirees against pensioners; or setting parents of students at state schools against those at independent schools; or Catholic schools against other schools; or small businesses against large businesses, or people from one suburb against someone from another. Unless it’s about AFL, same as the NRL I assume.

[Laughter]

Or the city against the bush, which our great partnership with the Nationals demonstrates, that this is a common project.

The class war has no place in Australia Bill Shorten, no place whatsoever and we stand here to defy that thinking, as Menzies did. It was not right in Menzies time and it is not right today. To extend, as Labor seek to do – Margaret Thatcher had that great saying about socialists; eventually, their problem is they run out of other people’s money. I’ll extend that; under this politics of envy, you run out of other people to blame. That’s  what it means; Labor will run down this hole, they’ll want to blame anyone for people’s life circumstances. Our tradition is different. Our tradition begins with the personal responsibility of every single Australian. That’s where you start and when you set Australian against Australian, as Labor propose, all you do is make our country weaker.

I’d like to finish today and I appreciate your patience, by sharing my experience during my most recent annual summer break which is a wonderful time I get to spend with Jenny and the girls. We’ve been going down the south coast of New South Wales for many, many years to different places. There we were, locals, holiday-makers staying at local caravan parks, small business people from western Sydney – we were staying at a house just outside of town - members of the local surf and fishing clubs were there, as well as the rural fire service. There were professionals, kids, mums, retirees, pensioners. You find yourself at these little village communities on the coast of New South Wales, as I know you do across Victoria. There we all were, enjoying the flathead and chips at the Heads Hotel overlooking the wonderful Shoalhaven River, raising money for a whole bunch of charities and organisations. All of those people, Sir Robert called the forgotten people, I call them quiet Australians.

You won’t find them among the angry, shouty voices on the fringes, pretending to speak for all Australians. You won’t find them there, those shouty voices telling us all what we’re supposed to be angry and outraged about every single day. They haven’t got time for that. They’re too busy paying taxes, raising kids, helping with homework, running their businesses, going to work, paying power bills, caring for their parents, looking after their grandkids, putting out the soccer nets on a Saturday morning, doing their patrols for the local surf club or working at the roster at the RSF, or working at the school canteen, the list goes on. That’s what they’re busy doing. They haven’t got time for armbands and all the rest of it, trolling people on Twitter and all of that nonsense. They’re too busy creating a very strong Australia.

And you know, while confronting their own challenges in life, those I met, that wonderful group of people, they all had their challenges, but they maintain a refreshing and positive outlook on life, thankful that whatever they’re facing, they know they are ahead because they’re facing it as an Australian in Australia, which is what gives them the advantage. As I have travelled this country, not just in my role as Prime Minister but as I have in other roles, I have listened to and I’ve heard the stories of quiet Australians all around this country. 

Here’s what they’ve been telling me.     

They say; “We want secure jobs and to be treated fairly and with respect at work.

We want our economy to be strong.

We want our incomes to keep up with the cost of living and even better, allow us to get ahead. But we know that money doesn’t just fall from the sky and governments can’t just produce money from nowhere for people’s wages.”

They understand that the company they work for has to actually do well in order for them to do well. That’s why they work so hard, they know someone has to pay for it.”

“We get,” they say to me, “that we have to pay taxes, but you know, politicians should be keeping their spending under control and not waste money, so those taxes can be as low as possible.”

They say; “We want the services we rely on like Medicare and affordable medicines through the PBS taken care of, no excuses, full stop. That’s your job.” 

They’re more than happy to pay for a welfare system. Australians are generous, but they’re not mugs. They know they need a system that looks after those who are less fortunate and they’re always quick to recognise those who are doing it tough. But welfare should never be a free ride, there’s a mutual obligation. There should rules and obligations at the end of the day, because they know the best form of welfare is a job.

They say; “We reckon small and family businesses and farmers deserve a fair go,” because they know how hard they work, the risk they take and the sacrifices they make.

“We want to take care of our environment” they say, “especially locally.” That’s where they play and live with their families. “So we’re sympathetic to the big global environmental challenges, because we owe that to our kids. But we also know the need to get the balance right.” So let’s just have a sensible plan and get on with it. “But please, can we do it without being asked to pay higher and higher and higher taxes, or shell out unaffordable taxpayer funded subsidies for the privilege?”

“Of course we want our schools and hospitals to be well-funded. That’s what the Government is supposed to do”, they say, and fair enough. But they also say; “Surely we can do this without having to raise taxes all the time to do it, that just makes it harder on all of us. Get the spending under control and make sure the economy is running well and we can have the schools we need.”

“And we’ve been around long enough,” they say, “to know that it’s not only about the money in education. Give me a good teacher for my kids over a new school hall any day of the week. We want our kids to be safe and not get bullied at school and to spend time with them as a family as often as possible. We just want to see a smile on their face.” Gold.

That said, I’m a parent, Josh is a parent, we talk about this a fair bit – we really worry about the world our kids are going to live in. It’s all much more complicated now. Of course we worry about their education, the skills they need and jobs that will be there for them, but we have all know kids and families who haven’t been able to cope - eating disorders, depression and the tragic and devastating impact this has on families - it scares the hell out of us.

“And we have nothing at all,” they say, “against migrants. We understand that migrants helped build this country. Seriously, just because we are frustrated with traffic jams or crowded trains, does not mean we want to shut the place down or insult our neighbours. Just get the migration settings right,” they say, “make sure we build the houses and roads we need and get migrants into jobs and not onto welfare.”

Sounds like a plan. That done, how good is it in Australia, that we all get along as well as we do? With so many people from so many different backgrounds, starting with our Indigenous Australians who were here first and we deeply respect.

“And we want to be kept safe. Whether it’s our kids at school or predators online, women and older Australians from the cowards who abuse them, or when we’re out and about at the beach, the local park or mall with our families, to be kept safe from terrorists.”

This is the Government’s most important job.

“We expect all those we ask to do the job of protecting us, our police and our defence forces, to get the resources they need and the respect they deserve.” That includes our veterans. Thank you for your service.

“We know,” they say, “that Australia is not perfect. But we’d rather be here than anywhere else in  the world. Sure, there are things we could have done better,” we are an honest people, “but we’d rather be here than anywhere else in the world. There are things we must do better in the future, but there is no place like Australia and we want to keep it that way.”

That’s what they’ve told me. That’s what I believe, that’s what my team believes. I said it in my maiden speech to Parliament eleven years ago:

“My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous. Strong in our values and our freedoms, strong in our family and community life, strong in our sense of nationhood and in the institutions that protect and preserve our democracy. Prosperous in our enterprise and the careful stewardship of our opportunities, our natural environment and our resources. And above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of a compassionate heart and a desire for justice.” I think Sir Robert would have approved of those words.

There will be a clear choice at this election, between aspiration and envy.

Between a stronger economy with lower taxes under our Government, or a weaker one with higher taxes under Bill Shorten and Labor.

A safer Australia under the Coalition, or a nation with weak borders under Bill Shorten and Labor.

A Party that understands that the strength of our country is best found in a united people, or a Labor Party under Bill Shorten that thrives on conflict and division, setting Australians against each other.

It’s a choice between a stronger Australia and a weaker Australia.

Our Government has the record and the plans to keep our economy growing, to keep Australians secure, to keep Australians together.

To keep Australia strong, staying true to our Menzian tradition.

Thank you so much.

[Applause]