Keynote Address - Toowoomba, Queensland - Thursday, 1 February 2018

February 1, 2018
Speeches
Transcripts

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Keynote Address

Toowoomba, Queensland

E&OE…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well thank you very much, Barnaby, thank you so much. Thank you John for your very warm introduction. Thank you Uncle Darby for your welcome to country, really warm and generous. Thank you all so much. It's great to be here, back in the garden city, back in Toowoomba and the Mayor has given me the Toowoomba city pin, so I've got that now.

Now my friends, Professor Michelle Simmons, our 2018 Australian of the Year, said she left the United Kingdom to come to Australia because she believed our nation was the best place in the world to realise her dreams.

And while her dream of building the world's first quantum computer stretches our imagination as much as it does our comprehension, she spoke for all of us and she set us a challenge; to ensure that Australia remains the best place to realise your dreams, raise a family, build a business and when work is done, retire in security.

In a world that is changing at a pace and scale unprecedented in human history, leaders in government or in business will need to steer a course through many challenges, but in doing so, never lose sight of that goal.

The best compass for that course will always be our Australian values;

Freedom, democracy, mateship, a fair go, mutual respect, the equality of men and women, the rule of law, a fair go to get ahead and the certainty of a helping hand if you fall behind.

Now, these values are not unique to Australia, but the combination of them is uniquely and especially Australian. We must defend and cherish them and never take them for granted. After all, we are the most successful multicultural society in the world, a world which for all of its science and technology, seems to be becoming less respectful and less tolerant, where diversity is all too rarely matched with harmony, as it is here in Australia.

Now, these are the values that guide me as I work to create more opportunities, greater prosperity and economic freedom for all Australians.

The task I set when I became Prime Minister in 2015 was to provide the economic leadership that Australia needed. We've set out to build a stronger economy that will enable us to seize the opportunities of these remarkable times. The reason we talk so much about economic growth and more and better-paid jobs, is because that is how we become an even greater place to live, work and raise our families, to realise our dreams.

A strong economy is the only way to secure the quality health and social services we need, to pay for the generous welfare system that we want and to afford the standard of education that our children deserve.

And it's the bedrock on which businesses have the confidence to invest. And the more businesses invest, as we know, the more jobs are created.

That's why our policies are designed to drive confidence, investment and growth; the ingredients for more and better-paid jobs.

Now, creating more jobs was our focus during the 2016 election campaign. Over the eight weeks of the campaign, you may have heard us mention jobs and growth from time to time.

[Laughter]

Some of us were saying it in our sleep. But it was at the heart of the 2016 Budget and all our policies since.

Our Enterprise Tax Plan, building an advanced local defence industry with the high-tech jobs to support it, more export opportunities through our free trade deals, record infrastructure investment, reducing youth unemployment.

2016 and 2017 were years of reform and this is the year we really start to see the rewards of that hard work.

In 2018, lower tax rates will kick in for businesses with a turnover up to $50 million. Genuine, needs-based funding begins for our schools for the first time in our history - national, consistent, needs-based funding.

Childcare will be more affordable for low and lower middle-income families from July.

And we’ll continue to put downward pressure on energy prices.

Now, we're starting to see what happens when government policies are all pulling in the same direction to build a strong and resilient economy that gives every Australian the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Business and consumer confidence are both up.

There's been more investment and record jobs growth.

We've seen the manufacturing index up again today.

Our business tax cuts in 2017 helped create a record 403,100 jobs in that year, 75% of them full-time and a quarter of those were in Queensland, 102,000 new jobs in this state alone.

Our free trade deals are boosting the economy, especially in regional Australia. By opening the doors to markets around the world we're creating more export opportunities and more jobs.

Our Innovation Agenda is building confidence by helping businesses be more competitive. And it's not just about start-ups, it's about businesses in every sector, new and old, constantly looking for ways to improve, to do things better, faster, more efficiently and to create more jobs

Despite the naysayers, of which there are many, it's delivering.

Last year, there was a record $1.32 billion in venture capital raised in Australia for Australian innovation and technology. Think about that, a massive amount of money that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago

Of course Toowoomba has always been a centre for innovation, as we discussed in the trivia night at the Spotted Cow last night, John. The Southern Cross Windmill, not to speak of the Lamington, was invented here a century ago. Today John McVeigh and I visited Gary Gardner’s Pulse Data Centre, the first of its kind, the first Tier-3 data centre in regional Australia.

Last year, moving on to the industrial scene, we protected workers by making sure that unions can't do corrupt or secret deals with employers. Can you believe the Labor Party opposed that tooth and nail? That they opposed a law which did no more than say that workers - members of unions - should be told the truth about what was going on between the union and the employer.

Anyway, we got that through, by improving accountability, transparency and integrity for both unions and employers. Workers will now know exactly what deals have been made when they're considering enterprise bargaining agreements.

We passed laws to protect the 1 million workers and 300,000 small businesses from bullying and lawlessness in the construction industry. Again, the Labor Party opposed that tooth and nail. We had to have a double dissolution to get it done.

That industry is now booming, with another 101,300 workers finding jobs.

We're also investing record amounts to reequip our armed forces. And we're not just building ships and planes and armoured vehicles but we're creating a new cutting-edge defence industry that's already delivering thousands of high-tech jobs and with massive spillover benefits for the broader economy. Ensuring the safety of our nation and its people today and into the future is the most solemn responsibility of government.

Whether it's giving our Defence Force the 21st century capabilities they need, defeating terrorists at home and abroad, or ensuring our political and public affairs are free from foreign interference, we are relentless in keeping Australians safe. There is no place for ‘set and forget’ or complacency in national security.

Now, we've also begun the biggest federal infrastructure programme in the nation's history, all designed to improve our lives and create jobs.

The Western Sydney airport, completing the NBN, duplicating the Pacific Highway, investing $6.7 billion in the Bruce, and of course as Barnaby described, building the Inland Rail.

I know Barnaby is limbering up to lay the first new tracks, personally; 165 metres each, made from Australian steel in Whyalla. He'll be doing that in the next few months.

Now, naturally, these projects will bring enormous benefits for Australian companies who are preparing to bid for the work. From local road projects like the Warrego Highway Upgrade I visited this morning with John, to the biggest road, rail, energy and airport projects in a generation, including Toowoomba's and Ian Macfarlane's own $1.6 billion Second Range Crossing.

We've also taken action to make energy more reliable and affordable. Now, 12 months ago, I said that pumped hydro needed to be a vital part of our energy plan; the storage that makes renewables reliable. The feasibility study for Snowy 2.0 proves the project is technically and financially viable. Work is on track to start later this year. This, again, is nation-building infrastructure that will bring thousands of jobs to regional Australia.

Now, we've already reduced wholesale energy prices. With the help of the competition regulator, those savings will be passed on to customers. Longer term, the National Energy Guarantee will lock in those gains. Independent analysis commissioned by the Energy Security Board predicts that wholesale electricity costs will fall by 23% over the decade. Those actions, along with Snowy 2.0 and others, will cut the average household energy bill by $400.

So 2017 was a year of delivery, a year in which we worked hard to deliver on all of our promises and on the issues that matter to Australians.

Everywhere I go, I meet people who are making the most of those new opportunities. Only last week, just a few hours down the road at Narangba, north of Brisbane, I met Tom Eckersley, who runs Eckersley Print Group, a great Australian family business. He told me that, year after year, they ploughed their retained earnings back into the business.

That's what family businesses do; investing in growth, creating more jobs.

So with our tax cuts for small and medium businesses, he and thousands of other businesses like his, can invest more and employ more.

He's also used our PATH Program to train and hire two young Australians, John and Jarrod, who had been struggling to get into work, potentially facing a future on welfare. Both have now started apprenticeships.

That's why we've introduced programs like PaTH and ParentsNEXT, which help parents of young kids get back into the workforce; to ensure that everyone who wants to work, to get ahead and support themselves and their family, can share in the record jobs growth we're experiencing.

So we're seeing growth, investment and employment right across our country, not just in the big cities.

Our first City Deals for example have been established in regional cities. They'll harness the attention and resources of all three levels of government to pursue common development and investment goals for cities. The Mayor Paul Antonio and I were talking about this just a little while ago; how rare it is - Toowoomba is a great exception and Macca, you and your colleagues at state and local government level have really led the way here - it's an exception for federal, state and local government to work hand in hand. Often they're like ships in the night; broadly going in the same direction but not working with each other.

The City Deals are changing that. It's a big innovation at a federal level. We have got two up running in Townsville and Launceston. Last month, I signed a memorandum of understanding, John McVeigh was there, with the Victorian Government, to negotiate a city deal for Geelong. A key focus of those deals and those to come in other centres such as Hobart and Western Sydney, is job creation.

In the past year, 120,000 jobs were created in regional Australia, outpacing growth in the working-age population by nearly two to one. In regional Queensland alone, 49,000 new jobs were created, nearly as many as in greater Brisbane.

Now, the right mix of policies, combined with our commitment to budget repair that will return the budget to balance in 2020/21, means our economy is much stronger.

That means we can pay for the services that Australians expect.

I mean, put simply, a strong economy means better schools, better hospitals, better essential services that Australians use every day.

We've secured Medicare with the Medicare Guarantee Fund. That is the law of the land. We have guaranteed Medicare. And here in Toowoomba, as around the country, bulk-billing is at an all-time high.

We've also ramped up spending on mental health services and medical research and placed a record number of life-saving drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. That's in marked contrast to our predecessors, the Labor Party, when they were in government.

From today, for example, the drug Ocrevus will be cheaper for 5,000 Australians a year who need it to combat Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, the most common form of MS. By listing the drug on the PBS, we're cutting the cost for those patients from $35,000 a year to $79 or $12.80 a year for concessional patients. That is life-changing medicine.

That is what you can afford with a strong economy and a well-managed budget.

Now, that also enables us to invest in businesses like Vanguard Laundry Services right here in Toowoomba. Vanguard’s mission is to give people with a history of mental illness a job and an employment pathway.

As John reminded us earlier, our government committed $1 million along with business and philanthropic donors, to get it up and running. I want to thank all of those who supported Vanguard Laundry, many of whom are here today, including the Managing Director, Luke Terry.

Luke says that business is now thriving with 83 customers, up from one when it launched only a year ago. Of the 48 employees at Vanguard, 32 had a mental illness that had kept them out of the workforce for an average of five years.

Research by Swinburne University found that after just one year, those workers were much less likely to rely on welfare. A quarter had withdrawn from Centrelink entirely. They were less likely to visit hospital and above all, 80% said they simply felt better. That's something the entire community here in Toowoomba should be very, very proud of.

Of course it's not enough to just have good policies. Those policies have got to work together towards a common goal. Our commitment to free trade is a great example.

Our trade deals have helped Australian businesses export to new markets worth trillions of dollars. We've also cut business tax so they can take advantage of those opportunities, by investing and hiring.

Australian workers, farmers and businesses are already reaping the rewards of our trade deals with China, Korea and Japan. Last year we signed another one with Peru. We have reinvigorated talks with India and this year we're focused on completing a deal with Indonesia. None of this is easy, by the way, as those that have been involved in trade negotiations in the past - and I'm looking at Macca here - know very, very well.

But last week, we agreed to the 11 nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Remember all those people who said it was dead when the Americans pulled out?

We stuck with it. Stuck with it and now it's agreed.

That's a deal that opens the door to markets worth $14 trillion, massive new opportunities.

Exports continue to grow apace and in particular agricultural exports are up by 20.3% over the past year, much of that growth from here on the Darling Downs of course.

Barnaby is a former Agriculture Minister - so am I, actually, only for five weeks – but Barnaby always said it was a ‘golden era’. He's being very generous.

[Laughter]

But last night, we landed at the Wagner family's Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport. That airport is an incredible achievement. Really, a remarkable achievement. It's opening up new markets for passengers and products throughout Australia and the region. No Government money in the airport itself, but as John and I were discussing last night at the Spotted Cow, the Second Range Crossing helped make it possible. It's a good example of the way in which public infrastructure supports private infrastructure and vice versa.

But what vision and what timing have the Wagners shown? For more than a year now, Cathay Pacific has been running a weekly 747 cargo service from Wellcamp to Hong Kong, taking up to 60 tonnes a week of Australian goods and produce to markets in China and beyond. As we continue to pursue free trade agreements with our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific, the markets for products that can use Wellcamp as a gateway to our region will continue to grow.

One company that's grasped this opportunity is Oakey Beef Exports, about 30km west of here, as you know. What started as a trial of flying fresh meat from Wellcamp to Hong Kong has now become a regular trade. With new markets opening up, Oakey has invested $30 million and is on track to more than double its throughput to 575,000 head a year, by next year sending Darling Downs produce to 36 countries around the world. The company employs 750 local workers, increasing to about 1,300 over the next few years. As the general manager Pat Gleeson says – and Pat, you’re here today too -  the company and farmers that supply it, are enormously excited about the TPP, which will for the first time, allow them to break into markets such as Mexico, with its population of 120 million.

Now, we know that our plan is delivering for Australians. The challenge now, is to stay the course, follow through in 2018 and beyond.

Everything I know about business and creating jobs comes from experience. All our lives Lucy and I have created businesses and invested in them. Some of them have done well, some of them you'd rather not remember but, you know, we've got to be resilient and enterprising.

We’ve hired a lot of people over the years. We know what it means to invest money and try to build something.

When I travel around the country, I see that same spirit of enterprise everywhere. I see it in the eyes of men and women who are investing their time, their money, their heart, their passion and having a go. I see it in their workforce, in the faces of staff who have just been hired, because the business is expanding. The most important engine for economic growth, investment and employment is business and in particular small and medium businesses, overwhelmingly owned and operated by Australian families.

That's why we work so hard to secure the passage of important tax relief for small and medium businesses up to a turnover of $50 million a year. That's as much as we've been able to get through the Senate so far.

Now, a business that size is not a giant. But those 3.2 million businesses employ well over half of the private sector workforce.

It's those workers who benefit from these tax cuts.

When Parliament resumes we'll again present legislation to reduce tax for all businesses, not just small and medium ones, to 25%.

With the US cutting company tax to 21%, the need to remain competitive is more intense than ever.

We know that if you reduce business tax, you get more investment. If you get more investment you get more and better paid jobs.

Now, you don't have to take my word for it. The IMF, the International Monetary Fund, just lifted global growth forecasts off the back of the Trump Administration's tax cuts.

Let's be very clear about this; the laws of supply and demand have not been suspended.

Wages growth will come, because a stronger economy results in more investment, more jobs and more intense competition between employers for workers.

Now, we won't compromise our return to surplus in 2020/21. But our next priority in terms of tax, is further tax relief for middle income earners. Last year, as you know, we lifted the second highest income tax threshold to $87,000. That kept about half a million Australians from moving into the second highest tax bracket. The Treasurer and I have been working over the Christmas break on how we can provide more tax relief for middle income Australian families and - at the same time - meet our commitment to bring the budget back into balance.

The stronger the budget becomes, the more we'll be able to give back to hardworking Australians.

So 2018 will be about delivery and the dividends of reform; more money in the pockets of more hardworking Australian families.

In 2018, we’ll also continue our important reforms in school funding. We have delivered the biggest reform to school funding in our nation's history, including an extra $23.5 billion to schools nationally. And now David Gonski's second review will make sure that extra money improves results and gives our kids the world-class education that they need.

Funding at schools like Toowoomba State High will increase from $3,315 per student this year from the Federal Government - this is to a state high school - to $4,970 per student in a decade.

Our reforms to childcare will make it more affordable for families and make it easier for mums and for dads to combine family with work.

So let me finish where I began, with our Australian values. Freedom, democracy, mateship, a fair go, mutual respect, the equality of men and women and the rule of law.

We believe in giving everyone the opportunity to get ahead, giving everyone the opportunity to get a good education, to get a good job, to keep more of their own hard-earned money.

That's a fair go.

Our plan will ensure Australians can get a fair go and realise their dreams, whether it's building the world's fastest computer or getting a first job, starting a small business and employing someone or breaking into a new export market.

Despite Canberra being a hothouse which thrives on pessimism and political distractions, we delivered on many of our plans last year and we have more to do now.

And Standard & Poor’s ensured we had a ‘triple A Australia Day’.

We cannot afford to put at risk everything we have worked so hard for together.

If we keep following our economic plan, there is no limit to what we can achieve as a country.

With your support, with your enterprise, with your drive to succeed and to grow, we will continue to deliver the jobs and growth Australians deserve today and tomorrow.

Thank you all very much.

[Applause]

[ENDS]

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