There I was at the National Press Club, to hear the new Prime Minister. Some years have passed since I was last there. Often the take-home message has been given to the media, so you know what the speech is all about. But not this time. I had my recorder on, and I can tell you that this is exactly what he said.
Friends, he said, I have heard a lot of people speak in this renowned venue, and most of them look happily to the future, because of what they and their government, or their corporation, are going to do. They tend to pass quickly over the problems that will face them in achieving their goals. I understand the reasons all too well. I am going the other way, and what I say may not make my listeners happy. But there is no help for it. These things have to be said, and they should have been said many years ago.
First, governments can’t do everything. Indeed, they should not try to do everything. They should not set impossible goals. One of my distinguished predecessors set the goal of no Australian child having to live in poverty. We still have poverty. Governments do not control all the factors that lead to poverty. But there is a widespread perception in our country that if there is a problem ‘they’ will fix it. ‘They’ means our government, at whatever level. Some problems are not fixable now, and some may not be solved at all. It is easy to throw money at problems, a sign that the government takes the problem seriously. It is easier to talk about the problem, even to set up a committee or a commission, which will report in a year or two. When the report arrives, there will be new problems. You have all seen this process. My government won’t be going down those paths. We will say, most of the time, that some of these are problems that people have to solve for themselves, or learn to cope with. Tough? Yes, but necessary.
Second, there is no money tree. We could, if the electorate were so minded, raise a great deal more money to fund even more services. In my view it is better for people to use their own money to make good decisions for themselves than it is for governments to tell people what to do and how to do it, using the same money, or even more. Yes, there have to be safety thresholds, but the ordinary expectation is that these safety markers are for emergency, not as standard practice. My government can provide information to help people make better decisions, especially in areas of health and welfare. But if people choose not to profit from this information, then that is a decision that they make. We are not there to pick them up when they fall down. That is a job for their family and friends. They have no family or friends? Then it is a job for the charities. We may very well support the charities in some of their work, but government itself is not a charity.
Third, my government will concentrate on what I see as its core functions: defend the nation, with the States and Territories help to maintain law and order, ensure that essential infrastructure is there, and maintain cordial relations with other nations. Though Australia is a member of the United Nations, we do not see global governance as the right aim. We first need to ensure that all nations have approximately equal standards of living. We will not sign up to any UN treaty or agreement that is not squarely in Australia’s interest. Indeed, we will be much more interested in bi-lateral agreements with other nations than in universal treaties that do not work very well, that are high in aspiration but low in the possibility of implementation.
Fourth, we have a new religion in our land, and it exists elsewhere as well. It is a sort of environmentalism, and its current manifestation is a call for Climate Action! Let me make clear that whether or not we are heading for hell in a hand-basket in terms of fossil fuel usage is a matter about which there is considerable disagreement. Given what I have said before it is important that my government takes this matter seriously. But that does not mean that we take one side or the other. It is most important that our nation has a reliable, accessible, safe and cheap supply of electricity. That cannot come simply from so-called alternative sources. They are erratic and expensive of land use. We have abundant coal, and should use it until there are better sources. My government is not against nuclear power, but it is expensive, and building nuclear reactors will take much time. We cannot avoid the use of coal, at least for the next twenty or thirty years. But my government will put funds into better research into climate factors, taking both sides equally seriously.
Finally, you will see that this manifesto of mine makes something of a break with the past, and I will need to persuade the Australian people that this is the right way to go. A lot of people will be upset, especially those who form lobby groups whose aim is get government to do something they want done, at the expense of the rest of us. My advice to them is to explore what can be done without government intervention, though community action especially. Government, to repeat, is not there to do everything, but to a do a small number of things very well. If it does those well, there will be less need for intervention in other areas. Where something ought to be done at a level lower than that of the nation we will support the relevant State or Territory to do what we all agree should be done. The same will apply to local issues, where the right body will be the local government council. Again, we will support it and the State, without wishing or trying to take the matter over. It might have been better at Federation had the founding colonies agreed to become agents of the new Commonwealth. It might have been better, but it didn’t happen, and was most unlikely to happen. Still, 120 years later we can see that the growth of central power, not just here but across the world, has reached the point where a lot of what central governments do is almost counter-productive. The right decision will be made locally, not centrally.
Thank you for giving me your attention. I am willing to take questions.
It was at that point that I woke up. It had been a dream.