Image: AAP Image / Simon Dallinger
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Sussan for the very warm welcome to Jenny and I, and to my senior colleagues here particularly my Deputy Leader here, Josh Frydenberg and I, the ‘ScoJo’ team, as we’ve been dubbed amongst other things. I don’t know if that one will stick Josh, but let’s see how we go. Can I also acknowledge the Indigenous people and the land on which we stand and where we meet today, and acknowledge elders past and present and pay my respects to them, our first Australians.
I like rituals. I’m a keen fan of rituals. I try and create rituals in my family, Jen and I, we have a number of rituals with our kids. We had them when I was growing up as a kid. They’re important because they help you connect and remind you about the things that matter most. They connect you to your past, and they help you connect your past to your future. Just as Indigenous peoples have been doing for centuries, thousands of years. I like rituals.
One ritual we have as a family, as a broader family, is every year, on my grandmother’s birthday, we called her Mardie, and we loved her dearly. She was the matriarch of the family who kept everybody together because we’re a pretty disparate family. Very disparate. All different views, all different walks of life, all different ages. But we all love each other, because Mardie always brought us together. After she passed away, we were a bit worried that, well, how are we all going to stay together. We live such different lives. And we had this idea. We said let’s get together on her birthday, all of us, and we do it down on the South Coast of NSW, where a lot of my family also live. We get together and we tell our kids who didn’t get to know Mardie, because she passed away before most of them were born. And we tell stories about her and all the funny things she used to do.
The ladies were out there making the embroidery, there was a rug, a crochet rug they were putting together. Mardie crocheted us all a rug as kids. We call it the Mardie rug. Now, we call this get together the ‘Mardie Gras’. I know there are other events that have that name and good luck to them too. But what it does is we get together and we remember what holds us together as a family. The things that she taught us, the things that we loved.
This is why I’ve come here today with the next generation of the leadership of the Liberal Party. This is an important ritual, for us to come here today where Robert Menzies came all those years ago. To come here and pledge to that legacy, to that heritage, as a ritual. To show the things that we believe in today are the things that he believed in then and the things we will always believe in as a Liberal Party. After the 1943 election, it was a horror election for what were known as the non-Labor parties. They were wiped out. You’d think after a big election loss like that, that everyone and I’m sure quite a lot of them were, they were in the grumps and the mopes. That ‘it’s all done’, ‘it’s all finished’, that ‘the Labor Party will run the country forever’, it ‘was all doomed’, all that sort of thing. But Robert Menzies at that time, 75 years ago, almost to this day, it was in August 1943, he wrote to the President of what was called the Australian Council of Retailers, a fellow called Mr Lamp. And he said this to him in his letter, he said, “There is a great opportunity if we are ready to seize it.” That’s what he said. Now Mr Lamp thought this was just ‘Ming’ going off again. He was an enthusiast.
Fifteen months later, here in Albury, not far as you’ve just heard, they were putting the final touches and bringing together the formation of the Liberal Party, which has been the most successful political party at a federal level of any party. Of any party. And including most recently – six out of the last eight elections.
They write us off every time, and every time we come back and we come back hard. Because of the things that we believe in. Now on that day, when he brought everybody together, there were 18 different political organisations and parties. Eighteen!
He got them together, and the only thing they had in common up until that point in time was what they were opposed to. They were known as the non-Labor parties. There was one great one, it was called the Australian Women’s National League. The Liberal Party was founded on both the capital and the volunteers of one of the most successful Australian women’s movements in our country’s history. They got together, and what held them together at that point loosely was what they were opposed to. But Robert Menzies brought them here to unite them about what they believed in. Because you can’t just be about what you’re opposed to. You’ve got to be about what you’re for. As a country, as a political party, as an individual, as a family. It’s about what you’re for, not just what you’re against.
So those 18 organisations came together and Robert Menzies brought them together, and he didn’t come with a to-do list of stuff, and I haven’t come to you today with a to-do list of stuff. All the journalists who were hoping I was going to make 17 policy announcements and all the forms are out there and you can pore over all the documents, and there’s Morrison’s manifesto… No, it’s not happening today. Sorry to disappoint you.
I’ve come to talk to you today about what’s in here, and what’s in each of their hearts and in every heart and in every mind of my team. When Menzies came here, he didn’t bring a to-do list or a manifesto. He brought a list of beliefs that they had agreed in Canberra a few months earlier.
Let’s talk about what some of those beliefs were that he brought together. Menzies’ vision, and all of those who joined him, it all began and started with the individual. It’s all about the individual, and the capacity and the value and sanctity, the inherent virtue of every single human being that has the privilege to call themselves an Australian whether by birth or by pledge.
He understood that for the individual to be successful in life, and to be able to realise what they wanted, to realise for themselves, they needed some very important things. If they were fortunate enough, they would have a family that loved them, and not all Australians have that. If they were fortunate enough they would have a family and the family would support them. That is the first building block of any successful country, community, society, is family. That’s what it is for me and Jen, that’s the family we’ve come from, and we have been blessed beyond measure when it comes to the love of family. And my heart breaks for those Australians who don’t know that. I hope that they will. In one way, shape or form.
Then there's the community. So the individual, the family, the community that you're part of – a wonderful community, Susan here has represented today. All walks of life. People from school, people volunteering for Emergency Services, people just getting together and crocheting. A community supporting itself. An individual can thrive in a community like that.
But it's more than that. Menzies talked about the other things that were needed. You know, he talked about a ‘comfortable home’ and an ‘affordable home’. As important today as it was then – one of Menzies' greatest achievements was the increase in home ownership, and affordable home ownership. I think it went from around 40 per cent to around 70 per cent. We've slipped back a bit from there. We need to do better on that score. He talked about health services being accessible to all. Adequate health services. What's more important in regional parts of the country and remote parts of the country than ensuring we have accessible, adequate – indeed, better than adequate – health services accessible to all Australians?
He talked about having a stable job and good pay. Those who think that the Liberal Party aren’t interested in pay – we are. Because we know a job changes a life, and a wage changes a life and a family. I know Kelly O'Dwyer, my Minister for Industrial Relations, which we say proudly, is very keen on ensuring that people get good wages in this country, and that they have jobs. Menzies talked about employers and employees being on the same page. He talked about protecting Australia from ‘aggression’ – was the phrase they used back then. Having still been in the Second World War at the time that meant something real. We must continue to do the same thing today.
And he talked about the importance of freedoms. Of faith. Of religion. Of speech. Of association. That's a great place to start a party, I reckon, and it's a great place to continue to run a party from.
So, in coming here today, a new generation of Liberal leaders are embracing all of those beliefs. They remain as relevant today as when he first said them. This is what Robert Menzies said, though, as they broke up that meeting in Albury, he said this – I'm sorry I have to write these down – Josh has a much better memory than me. I wasn't very good at remembering verses at Sunday school either, but Jenny was a cracker. She used to sing them, too. I don't think she's going to do that today... [LAUGHS] I'll be in trouble... Robert Menzies said this in Albury: "No party seizes the imagination of the people unless the people know the party stands for certain things. And we'll fight for those things until the bell rings." Well, we're here today to affirm ourselves to those beliefs that I've just outlined, and pledge ourselves to them until the bell rings. Until the bell rings. Just like Robert Menzies did, and his team, and they went on to do great things for Australia.
Let's fast-forward to now. As we go forward as a party, under a new generation of leadership. In just 24 hours’ time, tomorrow, we will mark five years since the Coalition Government – the Liberal and National parties – formed government. Tony Abbott led us back into government after those six years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labor administration. I pay my respects and my honour to Tony for what was a Herculean task, to take our party from opposition back into government. Over the last five years, both under Tony's leadership and under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership – who I also pay respect and honour to today for his three years of service, of service to his country – over those five years, we've been doing what we said we would do at that election. We said we'd stop the boats, and we did. We said we'd get rid of the carbon tax, and we did. We said we would repair the budget that had been put into recklessness and mismanagement by the Labor Party, and we have been. We said we would create a million jobs within five years, and we have. Including 95,500 jobs for young people in the last financial year – 2017-18 – more than half of them full-time jobs, the single largest growth in youth employment in 30 years. Nothing, as these guys know, gets me more fired up than seeing a young person get a job. Because I know from when I was Social Services Minister, if you get a young person into a job and not on welfare, by the time they're about 22 to 24, you save them from a life on welfare. That's generational change. And particularly in Indigenous and remote communities, the impact is even greater.
Creating jobs is the best job there is, isn't it, Kelly? It's the best job there is as a politician, to see Australians get into work. And that's what we've been about. We've opened up new markets, new trade. I was up with the President Widodo on the weekend, and we'll finalise that most recent agreement to add to the work that was done under Tony and Malcolm, whether it was on the China Free Trade Agreement, and Simon's here carrying on that work. Or the Japan free trade agreement. I spoke to Prime Minister Abe last night, and we're continuing that relationship. Whether it's the work we've done with Korea, the work we're doing in the Pacific, opening up new markets, backing small businesses and medium-sized businesses. The biggest changes to taxation arrangements for small and medium-sized businesses in decades. Backing small business to create jobs.
We've been meeting our emissions reduction targets in a canter. We smashed the Kyoto 1 and 2 and, I believe, we'll absolutely be able to deal with our present target out to 2030 with no impact on electricity prices at all. That's why we're focusing on getting electricity prices down – simply by the key measures that relate to how energy is priced, how energy is delivered, and how the regulations protect those – us as Australians from the companies who can sometimes take a bit of a loan of us.
So we are making progress. Infrastructure. Nation-building and congestion-busting. Our Defence Forces back up on its way to 2 per cent of expenditure, as a share of our economy. Rebuilding. Rebuilding. But you know what, that's an impressive list of achievements, and it's a list that we will continue on.
But that's the "what?" Australians are asking me and my team more questions about the "why?" Between now and the next election, you will hear a lot of promises. You know that. You've heard politicians make promises for decades. You'll make up your mind about whether you believe those promises or not. But I'd give you two suggestions about how you can weigh them up. Can they pay for them? If you don't have a strong economy, it's not worth the paper it's printed on. A strong economy enables everything else to happen. And the other thing is – do you trust them that they believe it? You assess that based on their own beliefs.
Because you know, when it gets tough – I remember when we were stopping the boats and there were some tough days in that process. Now, you're only going to do that if you really believed it. Because there were some hard choices, and heavy burdens that you had to carry. And it's the same in putting a budget back together, and the difficult choices. When it's just you and your Cabinet or your other colleagues sitting a in a room, there’s no cameras, there’s no one else, and you’ve got to make those calls – what is going to make sure you deliver is whether you really believed it in the first place.
So it's about the "why?" and I want to tell you about my "why?" Like Menzies, no to-do list today. This is my why. These are the things that I believe in. I believe in a fair go for those who have a go in this country. I think that's what fairness means in this country. It's not about everybody getting the same thing. If you put in, you get to take out, and you get to keep more of what you earn. That doesn't matter what your level of ability is.
The reason I was in Yunkar yesterday up in Brisbane with young, disabled Australians who are an inspiration, because they're having a go. They wanted to live on their own. They wanted to be in their own accommodation, living together, having the same choices as other young Australians. They're having a go and they're getting a go. If you're running a small business, you want to have a go? You should get a go. That’s why I think your taxes should be lower, if you’re running a small or medium-sized business, and that’s what I’ve delivered. A fair go for those who have a go.
Secondly, we've got to look after our mates. That's what I believe. Every Australian matters, and that's why we have a safety net in this country – to protect people – but it works as a trampoline, not as a snare. The best form of welfare is a job. And our safety net – our social safety net – enables people either to bounce back up and to get back up on their feet, or it provides them with that place of comfort and support that they need during challenging times in their lives. As Australians, we look after our mates. If you're wondering, perhaps in the future, "What's the Prime Minister going to do when he comes to thinking about the social safety net? About Medicare and things like that?" Remember, my value is: we look after our mates.
As Australians, our goal is to make a contribution, not to seek one. It doesn't matter what walk of life you're in. We always want to look in our community – and this room is full of people who always make that choice – wanting to make a contribution rather than take one. See where they can contribute rather than whether they can take out. That is what creates a noble society. That's what creates a growing and benevolent society. A caring society. Always looking to see where you can make the difference.
Here's a key one for me. I think this is where there's a key difference between us and the Labor Party today. Particularly today. I don't believe that for you to do better, that you have to do worse. I don't think you need to be taxed more for you to be taxed less. I don't think that, for someone to get ahead in life, you've got to pull others down. I believe that we should be trying to lift everybody up at once. That we get away from this politics of envy.
I know things are tough for Australians right across the country. Some are doing well. I've been in drought-stricken areas and I know how tough they're doing it, I'll talk about that in a few minutes' time. But we don't get anywhere by trying to say, "Well, it's all their fault, it’s their fault..." "We bring them down, I can go up." That's not fairness in Australia. That's just ugly envy. And I have no truck with that whatsoever. I want to see all Australians succeed, and none at the expense of another. That's an important value.
Now the touchstones that I have as a Prime Minister will be these, and I'll be laying these out in more direct presentations over the next few months. I want an even stronger Australia based on the values. We are a strong country. We are one of the most – if not the most – remarkable country on earth, and we are all privileged to be here. We celebrate it all the time.
But we can be even stronger if we adhere to these values. We'll be a stronger Australia on the basis of my plan, which is about keeping our economy strong so we can guarantee the essentials that Australians rely on - the services, the Medicare. On the weekend, we announced a new drug under the PBS. A drug for cystic fibrosis which will extend the life of Australians by 20 years. We were all thrilled when John (Millman) won the tennis, but I tell you what – the thing that makes me a passionate Australian is when I know that we can list a drug that does that. We can do that because we have a strong economy. We can do that because we're a generous society. Our kids are growing up in a country where that happens. That's something you can celebrate on Australia Day every time. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The pension. The Disability Support Pension. The National Disability Insurance Scheme. All of these things are made possible because of the sweat and the work of Australians who create a strong economy that make all that possible.
That's why we keep Australia strong and we keep our economy strong. You can't take it for granted, can you, Josh? 3.4% growth through the year. He's only been Treasurer for two weeks and he's already smashed my growth records. [LAUGHS] I know Mathias would have a lot to do with that. That's the consistency. Unemployment coming down. Youth unemployment down to 11.1% – the best in five years. That's – they’re great numbers, but it's what it enables us to do which is important.
In regional Australia, keeping the economy strong. Let's talk about the drought for a sec. I've been out in those drought-affected areas and I have been listening, and we have Major General Stephen Day out there doing the same thing, coordinating our response. I've been talking to the Premiers. And of course we've got Barnaby Joyce out there as a special envoy as well, working with the other ministers, listening hard. It's a big task. There are all levels – different levels of support, whether it's the feed, whether it's the farm household assistance, and making sure a form that takes seven hours to fill out – which is not good enough, it should take a tenth of that – that that can get the support where it's needed, that the water turns up where it needs to. It's a big mobilising effort, and we're on the task.
But the one thing we need to remember is keeping those towns alive. It's great to see it raining here in Albury today. I pray for that rain everywhere else around the country. And I do pray for that rain. I'd encourage other – others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that. To everyone else who doesn't like to do that, you just say, "Good on you, guys,” and “You, you go well." And think good thoughts for them. Or whatever you do. But putting the money into the towns – $1 million for every shire that's out there – to keep the money flowing in the towns, keeping those towns alive. We can't make it rain, but we can keep those economies going until it does. Because what really thrilled me when I went to Quilpie was this – I didn't find despair, I found hope. They've been going through the drought for six years. I found young families with kids, little dogs running around, kids going to school... I found hope. They showed me a photo of the pasture which had grass up to here 2 and a half years ago. They said, "We know this – we know this place can work. We've just got to get ourselves to that point, and we thank Australians for backing us in." But let's not think of those who are going through there, only having, dealing with despair, and I know many are, and that's why we've got the mental health counsellors out there. But let's get give them hope as well, and let's encourage them in how they think about hope.
The second one is we're going to keep Australians safe. Our government can always – a Liberal National Government, a Coalition Government – can always be counted on when it comes to national security. I've already talked about the achievements of our Government and how we're continuing to work in areas of cybersecurity to keep our kids safe from predators and the work that's done by the team, and I commend Peter Dutton for the work that he's been doing, particularly. You all know about stopping boats and things like that, which I know a bit about too. But one of the things that Peter has done and been passionate about is making sure our kids are safe from predators, and kicking those out of this – kicking those people out of this country who would be predators against them. They’re the people we've got to keep an eye on. So, keeping Australians safe is important. But there's one great principle that John Howard, I think, put it best in Sydney many years ago: "Our sovereignty in keeping Australians safe is critical,” and that means – we decide. We decide, as he said, who comes to the country. But we decide the things of national security that determine our future. That's very much a key direction from my government.
And thirdly, we want to keep Australians together. I don't want to set Australians against each other. I want to bring them together. I'm bringing my party together around the values and the beliefs that I've outlined to you today. Beliefs I hold. You know, values are things politicians talk about. Beliefs are things that, you know, you and I talk about. You talk about what you believe to your kids. You talk about what you believe as a community. And keeping Australians together to ensure that we respect our senior Australians so they have dignity in those years, that we respect our young Australians by listening to them about their hopes for the future and their concerns for the future.
Where it's environment issues in particular, my ears are very alert. The War On Waste – yes, I have seen it, on ABC – the War On Waste. I get it. That's what's focusing and concerning them, so that means it matters to me too. That's how you bring Australians together. You take all of their concerns seriously, and you work with all of them, and you listen to them. That's why, coming back to those fundamental freedoms of the individual, of their faith, of their association, of their right to free speech and all of these things are so critical. Because you know, I'll finish where I started – I'll finish where Menzies started. It all starts with the individual. I love Australia. Who loves Australia? Everyone. We all love Australia. Of course we do. But do we love all Australians? That's a different question, isn't it? Do we love all Australians? We've got to. That's what brings a country together. You love all Australians if you love Australia. Whether they've become an Australian by birth 10 generations ago, when my ancestors came – not by choice, but in chains, rocked up in 1788 – they did alright. Or if you came last week. If you've chosen to be here in this country, that's even more special, in some ways, isn't it? Mathias knows that.
Let's love all Australians. Let's love this wonderful country. That's what I believe. That's what you can expect from me. That's what you can demand from me. That's what you can hold me to account for and all of my team. So we're just going to get on with it. Thank you very much for your attention.