...The party I lead is – politically, spiritually, even literally – the party of work.
The party of work not welfare, the party of opportunity not exclusion, the party of responsibility not idleness.
That central purpose – work for all who seek it – stands, after all the transformation in our understanding of the economy in the decades since. And it stands for the future.
Throughout our history many Governments have faced economic circumstances which forced them to question long-held personal convictions or cherished party platforms.
In this sense, I am fortunate: the boom, the participation challenge and the opportunity to cut long term welfare dependency mean that some of my own firmest political convictions are in fact the most urgent practical necessities of our day.
The values I learnt in my parents’ home – hard work, a fair go through education, respect – find themselves at the centre of Australia’s economic debate, in the challenge to cut long term welfare dependency.
As Prime Minister, I see a real chance, driven by the economy, to achieve goals I have always held dear.
I want young people to have a fair go, to have an opportunity in life, never to be held back by economic circumstance or social expectation.
I’ve worked to ensure this in education.
Our reforms have been founded on high expectations.
That all children can learn.
That you don’t settle for failure or disguise failure with low expectations. That there is no one who cannot benefit from new skills.
I have fought the prejudice that said some kids can’t learn, that they are better off at the back of the room doing busy work and being passed on up to the next grade. That fight goes on.
And I am extending this campaign of high expectations to welfare as well.
Our reforms are founded on high expectations.
That everyone who can work should work.
I will fight the prejudice that says some people’s lot is drawing a fortnightly cheque, that we shouldn’t expect anything more of them and it doesn’t matter if they are forgotten by policy makers and the society around them.
The social and economic reality of our country is that there are people who can work who do not.
We know there are 230,000 people who have been unemployed for more than two years.
That there are 250,000 families where no adult has been working for at least one year.
And that the youth unemployment rate is still double the overall unemployment rate.
The Government’s approach to this is practical and realistic.
We know that not everyone on a welfare benefit can work.
Some bear disabilities or caring responsibilities that mean paid work is impossible. These Australians deserve our greatest respect and ongoing support.
Others on a benefit can work but not right away. Some need practical help to overcome ill-health or meet family responsibilities.
Some should take up obligations which may not involve working now but will prepare them for work in the future.
Things as simple as learning to read and write at a higher level.
The right mix of incentives is vital to all.
Relying on welfare to provide opportunity is no longer the right focus for our times.
Our strong economy gives us a real chance to create opportunity from the cradle to the grave.
The problem of long term welfare dependency has been long discussed but the new realities of our economy create quite a different policy environment from the recovery of the 1990s or the growth of the last decade.
Because we have unprecedented demand for skills and labour, this is possible.
Because the people I am talking about have been bypassed by the economy for so long, this is difficult.
I want to help individuals, families and communities whose worklessness has seen them excluded from society and the economy through decades of economic growth.
Understand – the people I am talking about include people whose lives present “hard cases”.
There will always be an argument to focus on someone else.
But I am firmly convinced that the economic and social policy arguments for getting these people into work are overwhelming.
People whose problems keep them out of work ... and whose problems are made worse by the lack of work.
All of them people who will be better off with work.
In today’s economy, inclusion through participation must be our central focus.
It’s not right to leave people on welfare and deny them access to opportunity.
And every Australian should pull his or her own weight.
It’s not fair for taxpayers to pay for someone who can support themselves.
There is much the Government has already done.
The Budget will provide another way to extend greater opportunity and to put more responsibility into the system.