Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gillard's gauntlet, such as it is

17 JULY 2010

"Good afternoon Australians one and all.

Can I say good afternoon to members of the Canberra press gallery and at least say to them they’ll be relieved to know their days of standing on street corners waiting for the election to be called are over.

And can I say to Australians on the 24th of June I had the very great honour of becoming Prime Minister of this country, the greatest country of all.

And on that day I acknowledged that I had not been elected by the Australian people. And I said then to the Australian people that I would ensure, that in the near future, they would to able to exercise their birthright, their vote, to select their Government and their Prime Minister.

Today I honour that pledge, and today I seek a mandate from the Australian people to move Australia forward...

This morning I asked Her Excellency, the Governor-General, to dissolve the House of Representatives so that elections can occur for the House and half of the Senate on Saturday, August 21.

This election, I believe, presents Australians with a very clear choice: this election is about the choice as to whether we move Australia forward or go back.

Our great nation, our very great nation, has been built by generations of men and women who had the courage to move forward.

Moving forward, of course, requires conviction, it requires confidence, it requires a willingness to embrace new ways of thinking, accept new challenges, to listen and to learn and to embrace new solutions.

Moving forward with confidence also requires a strong set of convictions and a clear set of values.

All of my adult life I have been driven by a very clear set of values and over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to share those values with the nation.

I believe in hard work, I believe in the benefits and dignity of work, I believe in what comes as an individual when you do your best and you earn your keep.
I believe fundamentally in the importance of respect and valuing other people, something that can be shown from simple courtesy to making sure that we give each other a helping hand in times of need and times of distress.

Overall, and most importantly, I believe in the transformative power of a high quality education, the kind of high quality education that with rigour and discipline enables a child to get the skills and the character that they will need for the rest of their life.

Now I learned these values in my family home, from my father and my mother who migrated to this country and, like millions of other Australians, worked unbelievably hard so that their children could have opportunities that they could never have dreamed for themselves.

Throughout my adult life I have learned to face the future with confidence; I believe our nation too can face the future with confidence.

I believe absolutely, I believe to my core, that the best days of this nation are in front of it not behind it, and there’s no challenge too big, no challenge too tough, that we can’t conquer it if we work together.

And so in this, the forthcoming election campaign, I’ll be asking the Australian people for their trust.

I will be asking Australians for their trust so that we can move forward together.

And moving forward means moving forward with plans to build a sustainable Australia – not a big Australia.

Moving forward means making record investments in solar power and other renewable energies to help us combat climate change and protect our quality of life.

Moving forward means moving forward with budget surpluses and a stronger economy that can offer Australians the opportunity to get a job, keep a job, learn new skills, get a better job and start their own business.

A stronger economy that offers Australian families security, opportunity and fairness at work. A stronger economy that builds on what we’ve achieved by working together, employers and employees alike, in the face of the Global Financial Crisis and global economic uncertainty.

And of course that uncertainty is not behind us yet and economic challenges are still very much with us, and hard-working Australian families, who are doing it tough, can attest to that.

Moving forward of course means bringing the Budget to surplus by 2013 – three years ahead of schedule, a surplus that I will protect in this election campaign by not going on an election spend-a-thon, by making sure that any promise we make to spend money is offset by a promise to save money.

By making sure that the Budget bottom line doesn’t change by one cent during the election campaign.

Moving forward also means moving forward with stronger protection of our borders and a strong plan, a real plan, that takes away from people smugglers the product that they sell.

Moving forward means first-rate services for hard-working Australians.

In health, it means increasing our expenditure on hospitals by 50%, it means training 3,000 nurses and 1,300 General Practitioners over the next three years, all the while as we expand our GP Superclinics and implement our health reforms.

And moving forward above all in our schools means putting at the centre of our agenda getting every child, every child, a quality education. I believe so passionately in this because a high quality education has been the centrepiece of my life.

I have worked hard to increase information and choices for parents through the My School website, and we will build on it, and we will deliver our new national curriculum with its focus on the basics of reading and writing and mathematics.

We will move forward with our plans to deliver better quality teaching, computers in schools, Trade Training Centres so that we can train students and apprentices. I want to move forward so that young people in this country have real skills for real jobs.

And so this is my commitment to Australia:

Under my leadership we will move forward, we’ll move forward together with a sustainable Australia; a stronger economy; budgets in surplus and world-class health and education services and other essential services that hard working Australians and their families rely on.

Now my commitment to this country stands in stark contrast to the commitment of the Opposition. Their gaze is fixed in the rear view mirror rather than on the road ahead.

The Coalition proposes to take this country backwards, backwards to the days when people somehow believed you improved education and health by cutting funding to them.

Mr Abbott, who of course cut $1 billion from our public hospitals – enough to rip away 1,000 hospital beds, has a track record in cutting health.

He’s now calling for that same backwards looking approach to other services that hard working Australians need. Instead of creating GP Superclinics, he would eliminate them. Instead of expanding Trades Training Centres, he would end them. Instead of providing computers to children in schools, he would see none of that.

The Opposition’s economics approach is also backwards.

When the Global Financial Crisis hit, they opposed the stimulus package, they would have sent our economy downwards into a spiral of lower incomes, lost jobs, and reduced services. Now that’s a spiral that they would have recommended for this country but the wrong thing for Australians, it would have taken us backwards.

And now, Mr Abbott, whatever words he tried to camouflage it in, remains committed to bringing back the worst aspects of WorkChoices.

In terms of the words he seeks to disguise his intent with, we’ve heard all of that before.

Mr Abbott is also trying to hold Australians back by making them afraid of the future.

Instead of moving forward to tackle climate change, Mr Abbott is in climate change denial. Instead of building a national broadband network – the electronic infrastructure we need to modernise our economy and help regional communities grow - Mr Abbott would down tools.

Instead of supporting computers in schools and e-health, he would abandon all of it.

Mr Abbott would even deny hard working Australians increased superannuation, he would even deny regional communities new infrastructure, he even wants to stop small businesses getting the tax relief my Government will provide.

Now at this moment there is clearly an opportunity for us to look forward in this nation. Australia needs many changes, this is not a moment to turn back. We’ve come too far as a country and we’ve evolved too much as a society to risk that kind of backwards-looking leadership.

Instead, I believe this is a moment for all of us to strengthen, to innovate, to learn - in short, to move forwards, not backwards.

This choice is very, very clear, and I look forward to presenting our case for judgment to the Australian people over the weeks ahead.

Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: This is the first winter election for nearly a quarter of a century. Is your decision to sort of go now and not wait a bit longer motivated by any sense you needed to have your own personal mandate and that your Prime Ministership wasn’t quite legitimate?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I made a pledge to the Australian people on the day I became Prime Minister that they would, soon, be able to exercise their birth right, their choice of who should lead this nation. So I’m delivering on that promise today. I believe today is the appropriate time. Matthew.

JOURNALIST: Why should anyone believe any of your promises since you failed to deliver so many of the ones that your predecessor made in 2007?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I believe that overwhelmingly when one looks at the Government, we’ve been a good Government. Yes, there have been some problems. Yes there have been some lessons learnt and I’ve acknowledged that we’ve learned some lessons along the way. What I intend to do in this election campaign and you would see from the nature of the financial commitment I’ve made, we won’t have an election spend-athon. We won’t have big spending promises. We will be making sure any dollars spent are offset. We will make a modest set of commitments to the Australian people and we will honour those commitments. Latika.

JOURNALIST: When you say moving forward, are you moving forward from Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott?

PRIME MINISTER: We’re moving the nation forward to deal with the challenges that the nation faces and to deal with those challenges with confidence and optimism. Yes.

JOURNALIST: When you stepped up to the Prime Ministership you said you did it because the Government had lost its way. Now that was barely three weeks ago. Why would voters vote for a Government, re-elect a Government, that haa lost its way? And what changed in the intervening period?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe some important things have changed in the intervening period. I’ve made it clear to the Australian people that I support a sustainable Australia, not a big Australia, and we will develop, through our Minister for a Sustainable Population, strategy, a plan for a sustainable Australia. I’ve moved to strengthen border protection with a real plan for the region and for a regional processing centre. Of course, I moved to resolve the issues around the mining tax to make sure that the nation, our mining industry and our mining communities could move forward with confidence. I believe through doing those things I’ve demonstrated to the Australian people the kind of way in which I will lead the nation – talking to people, working with people, making decisions, moving forward, embracing new solutions and changes. I’ll go to Michelle and then come back through. Michelle.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, do you believe that there have are circumstances in which a Prime Minister can reasonably break a promise?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe that Australians understand that there are some times where objective circumstances change. I’ve canvassed that as Deputy Prime Minister where we faced objective circumstances that changed in child care. That is, in the 2007 election we did not know that the biggest private child care provider in this nation was going to collapse. I think when something like that happens, people understand objective circumstances have changed. But obviously, obviously, in giving commitments in this election campaign I will be giving commitments that we will implement, that I will want to implement, intend to implement, that I will be determined to implement. And can I say again we will make sure, in making commitments, that we protect the Budget coming back to surplus in 2013 – three years earlier than originally anticipated. Kieran.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us a sense of the emotions as you approached Government House today to seek the start of the campaign and secondly the standard of the campaign. Do you give a commitment not to make, or make personal attacks a central part of the Labor campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: Well on the emotions going to Government House – this is a big day, obviously a big day for me personally. But what’s more important is getting the opportunity for the nation to choose its Government. The start of an election campaign is a big day for the nation. So I felt that. I felt that moment as I went to meet with the Governor General and I feel too a real sense of confidence and optimism and enthusiasm about the future of this country. And that’s what makes, you know, having a say, having a vote in a nation that can have a greater future as I envisage for this country, a genuinely uplifting experience.

On the election campaign - I expect a robust election campaign. I think that’s a good thing. I think Australians believe that election campaigns should test their leaders. I believe we’ll all be tested in this election campaign. I think that is appropriate because Australians want to know and understand how I would lead. They want to know and understand what my opponent puts forward and I’ll be saying to the Australian people as I go about this election campaign, that we can move forward. We can move forward with a real sense of confidence together.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister-

PRIME MINISTER: That wasn’t Dennis, that was Patricia.

JOURNALIST: You said things have changed in the intervening period on the issue of population, refugees and, of course, the reverse decision on the mining tax but you’ve said nothing on climate change and we’re going into this election with the Government saying basically nothing on this issue which is obviously a key issue for you. Why have you not chosen to say it while you were still Prime Minister and not now in campaign mode?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I will be having more to say about climate change during the campaign and what I can say very clearly and guarantee for you, that as we announce those policies, my policies, they will be policies coming from a person who believes climate change is real. Who believes it’s caused by human activity and who has never equivocated in that belief. Dennis.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you took over from Kevin Rudd you listed a series of priorities which you said you intended to fix as the Government had lost its way – border protection, population, health and climate change and the RSPT. Given that the RSPT is still a work in progress, the offshore processing centre is unsettled, the health deal is still not finalised, do you feel that you have actually addressed those priorities in the last three weeks?

PRIME MINISTER: I feel we’ve made some big strides forward, I think, with the question of the taxation of the mining industry. We’ve obviously been able to enter a breakthrough agreement with some of the biggest miners in the country. An agreement that’s given them certainty, that’s given mining communities certainty and we’ve got a leading Australian, Don Argus, working through implementation details. I think anyone who deals with mining communities can see the sense that certainty is back and people are moving forward.

On border protection – I’ve moved to make some changes on border protection that influence events right now. For example, I announced that we will be providing additional assistance to the Indonesian Maritime Police with surveillance material and policing resources. Those things are taking effect now. And I’ve announced a plan for a regional framework and regional processing centre and we are in dialogue right now. I believe that that is also a big step forward and can I say on the question of asylum seekers, I do think that the discussion that has followed my speech on this matter last week is a discussion which is actually enabling us to see some emerging points of agreement. I think Mr Abbott agrees with me about a regional framework. I believe he agrees with me about a regional processing centre. I believe he agrees with me that that should be in a Refugee Convention signatory country and I believe he agrees with me that asylum seekers, particularly women and children, should be treated decently. I think that those emerging points of agreement are a step forward too but we’ve got, we’ve got more to do to take this nation forward. I will be outlining that during the election campaign and I’m outlining my attitudes to taking the nation forward today. Yes, Andrew.

JOURNALIST: How do you propose to progress the discussions on the health reform with WA? How do you propose to cut a deal with them that is not going to anger people like Mr Brumby and secondly, you talked a lot about education but as we’ve seen in the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a great deal of discussion about the places of innovation – universities? What are you proposing to do for them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the second I couldn’t disagree with you more. We’ve outlined a big sweeping set of reforms for universities and as a result of those reforms there are more than 40,000 extra university places this year, and the enrolment growth that is happening most quickly is amongst those Australians from poorer backgrounds who have been under-represented in university education. I think that’s a huge change, a huge change to spread opportunity to Australians to do what I passionately believe in – to make sure that people can get better access to a life-transforming educational opportunity. And at the same time we’ve made big investments into trades training education and, of course, it is Mr Abbott that would stop the delivery of our trades training centres in schools.

On health for Western Australians, we will continue to be rolling out our new health programs and plans. I have signalled that I want to, as Prime Minister, continue to have a dialogue with the Premier of Western Australia to see if we can resolve the outstanding concerns there, that remains my attitude. We’ll just go here and here and then here. Yes.

JOURNALIST: What choice have the voters got of making a reasonable assessment of either side in this election if Tony Abbott pledges this morning that he’s going to keep your IR laws and you’ve effectively called him a liar in your first statement?

PM: Can I say about Mr Abbott’s statement this morning, I think Australians will be saying to themselves as they see that statement from Mr Abbott, haven’t we heard all this before? These words to camouflage his intention, haven’t they heard all that before? What I can say to Australians about WorkChoices is that I’m opposed to it today and I’ve always been opposed to it. I always thought WorkChoices was wrong. Mr Abbott has always thought WorkChoices was right. Go there and there.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, on your way into Government House, there was some protestors who were backing Kevin Rudd. Do you expect to experience any kind of backlash against Labor because of the leadership transition and, particularly in Queensland, how do you plan to gain ground there?

PM: Well, I will be saying to Australians right around the country, including in Queensland, that the choice in this election I think is a very clear one between going forward and going back. I believe Australians will be assessing me, they will be assessing the choice, they will make their judgments – that’s what the election campaign will be all about. And I have commenced the election campaign because it’s the right of Australians to make those judgments based on whatever they want to take into account. So we will be campaigning in this election, campaigning hard on the things that I believe in and the steps that will take this country forward.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if you don’t win the election, will you be moving forward to the backbench?

PM: Patricia, such an optimist on the first day!

JOURNALIST: You spent the last day before calling an election on the streets of Tasmania, how crucial is that going to be to you winning the election, and is that a sign that Labor is still losing its grip on the state?

PM: I did go to Tasmania. I had the opportunity to be there in Launceston, to be there in Burnie, to meet with Tasmanians, to visit a very important centre in Burnie where we are developing a child care centre focused on the needs of children with autism. I then returned to my own electorate in Werribee, the electorate of Lalor, Werribee – a very important suburb, and whether I was in Tasmania or in my own electorate, I’ve been having the same conversations with people and it’s the conversation I will have with the whole of the Australian nation in this election campaign about moving forward. We’ll just go here because we’ll try to be fair. Yes?

JOURNALIST: Voters will be wondering what your top priorities are. What are the first three things you intend to do if you are re-elected?

PM: Well, I think my priorities are as I’ve outlined today. They are keeping the economy strong so that people can get the benefits of work. Keeping investing in education, reforming education, so we can truly offer children in this country – every child, no matter the circumstances of their birth - the opportunity for a great quality education. And thirdly, and very importantly, I would be saying to Australians, and the way I would govern as Prime Minister, is to say you don’t have to be afraid of the future. We can master big challenges like climate change by working together, going forward with confidence and optimism. That’s what I’d bring to the job.

JOURNALIST: Will you have some more to say on tax return throughout the course of the campaign, in particular some of the outstanding issues flowing from the Henry Review?

PM: Well, I’m glad you raised the question of tax because I think Australians will find it very interesting indeed that the Liberal Party goes into this campaign with a plan for increased company tax. I go into this campaign with a commitment to reduce company tax.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor fully ready to go into the election or will Cabinet need to meet before you dissolve the Parliament?

PM: That brings me to an important question. The writs will be issued at 6pm on Monday, 6pm on Monday, and I would want to say to Australians who may not be on the electoral roll that the cut off for new enrolees is 8pm on Monday.

JOURNALIST: You were in Tasmania the other day, the question of logging came up. The Federal Government’s involvement in any resolution to the for discussions that are going on down there, do you envisage having to make a decision during the campaign or is it something you don’t envisage addressing until after the campaign, say in a jobs package?

PM: I said in Tasmania yesterday that I understand that there are discussions happening between people who have spent a lot of their lives arguing with each other. That’s a good thing but those discussions as I understand it have also got some way to go.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, leaving aside the traditional statements at these press conferences about close battles and hard fought and wanting to be the underdog or whatever, the betting market does have Labor as a very firm favourite. Are you confident - do you expect to pick up seats or lose seats?

PM: I’m not a betting person and I expect this to be a close, tough, hard fought campaign. I think we’ve seen all of the signs of it so far. I do genuinely believe this is a close election, very close election, and it will be a very hard fought campaign. For me, I will be doing my best every day to be talking to Australians about the future of this country and about my plans to take the nation forward.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you were in Opposition you wrote an extensive paper about reforming Question Time. If you are re-elected will you look at doing that - reforming Question Time and reforming how the House works?

PM: With the greatest respect to the question, I believe hard working Australians, thinking about what an election means for their nation, with the election being called today, may have their minds on other matters than Question Time. They may have their minds on matters like jobs and hospitals, GP super clinics. Whether or not their son or daughter is going to get an opportunity of a trades education in a trades training centre. For Question Time, for those matters, I’ll defer that to Anthony Albanese in his job as Leader of Government Business.

JOURNALIST: Given your list of policy priorities at the beginning, are you offering more of the same to voters or a change in anyway? Is there anyway in which Labor in its second term would be different to Labor in its first?

PM: I think we will be different. I am obviously a new Prime Minister, I’ve outlined the things that drive me. The things that drive me and that I bring to the job as Prime Minister. I also believe we would go into our second term with some lessons learnt, and with the benefit of those lessons we would be able to implement and deliver programs differently than we have in the past. I’ve acknowledged, for example, a program I was directly responsible for, the Building the Education Revolution program, there have been lessons learnt. Ok, we’ll go Phil and then here and then we might call it a day.

JOURNALIST: Labor said at this time at the last election they wanted three election debates. Will you have three election debates and if not, why not?

PM: I’ve spent a fair bit of time debating Tony Abbott in a lot of circumstances. Morning television, in the House of Representatives, in earlier election campaigns, at the Press Club and so on and so forth. The actual arrangements for the debates are being worked through by the respective party secretaries. I said last question here, I think it was?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve been pushing for young voters to get enrolled before this election. How are you going to ensure that they’ll vote for you and how are you going to address their concerns on issues like mental health and climate change?

PM: It’s not a question of who people are going to vote for. Whatever way they’re going to vote, people should enrol to vote. I get the opportunity to speak to young people, I speak at schools and meet a lot of 17 year olds who are going to turn 18, and I always say to them around our world, there are people who literally fight and die for the right to vote. Having that ability to vote is a very, very precious thing and people should get themselves on the rolls. In terms of the policies of the campaign, I believe young people are interested in the future of this country. They’re interested in going forward, they’ll be interested in what I’ll be saying about strong economy, prospects for work, prospects for them as they move into the workforce, what we’re saying about education, what we’re saying about health. They’ll be interested in our climate change policies. And I also believe young people particularly will be interested in our plans to keep developing the National Broadband Network – something that would be lost under Mr Abbott.

Thank you very much.

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