IN A CHOICE between dignifying the puerile drivel and arrogant hubris being indulged in by opposition “leader” Bill Shorten — or a statesmanlike address to the country by the Prime Minister, filled with humility, direction and fresh ideas — this column today inclines to the latter; there is a path through the ostensibly unworkable Parliament Malcolm Turnbull has been handed by voters. Whether he elects to pursue it is a matter for him.
MY FELLOW AUSTRALIANS,
I want to begin my remarks today with an apology.
Last Saturday, you spoke to us through the ballot box — to me, to my government, and to all of us in politics — and you told us, loudly and clearly, that you were not happy.
Today it is my duty to accept the opportunities and challenges that go hand in hand with another chance to form government in Australia, and in doing so can I simply say that I am humbled and excited to have been given that chance.
I accept that by entrusting my colleagues and I with the task of governing Australia, the very notion of “trust” is one we must work hard to rebuild: I have heard your message, and over the next three years my colleagues and I look forward to spending more time with you, talking about the issues that matter in your lives and your communities, so we can better understand what you want from your government and take steps to ensure that we deliver it.
For too long in Australia and especially during the recent campaign, politics has been conducted in an atmosphere of abuse, of fear, and sometimes — regrettably — hatred.
I’m not going to dwell on that today and in fact, I want to make an attempt to put that behind us, so we can get on with building Australia, working to resolve her problems and to encourage the hopes and dreams of our fellow Australians, and to make sure this remains the best country in the world for decades and generations to come.
And for that reason, my government will be making a very big invitation to the deputy leader of the Labor Party, subject to discussions we seek to have with our opponents, to join the government as minister for Health.
During the next three years, we face unprecedented challenges, imposed upon us by your will: a close result in the lower house and a fragmented Senate will make the job of governing difficult, but I believe it is not impossible and we will do our very best to live up to the clear expectation for improvement that you told us last weekend that you expect.
I accept that we have made mistakes and I accept, that since becoming Prime Minister, I have made my share of those.
But I firmly believe that today is a new day, and in that spirit we will seek to work with Mr Shorten, and his colleagues, to explore ways in which we can improve how we do our jobs, and to explore ways in which we can resolve some of the great differences that have always existed between his party and our own.
As a Liberal Prime Minister, it is my responsibility to my party — and to the millions of people who have once again invested us with their trust — to deliver truly liberal and conservative policies that we believe can improve the lives of all Australians.
But in seeking to work in partnership with Labor, we acknowledge that if we are to ask for something, we must give something in return, and for this reason one of the differences we intend to try to resolve is the eternal bickering over Health and Education, both between the Liberal Party and Labor, and between the Commonwealth and the states.
My people have developed proposals in these two critical areas that we believe can fix our healthcare systems and our schools, and it is on the basis of these we initially seek the co-operation of the ALP. It may be that nothing comes of those discussions, but we intend to try: and once we have discussed our ideas with the Labor leadership and provided we are satisfied there is scope to work together, we will make these plans public.
But more broadly, we want to try to reset the tone of debate: less abuse and fearmongering, and more productive outcomes.
We took a policy of tax cuts for business to the election; not because we wanted to give “handouts to millionaires,” as our opponents said, but because we genuinely believe that taking the burden off business is the best way to create jobs and growth.
Labor took a policy of abolishing negative gearing to the election; they said they believed this would increase housing affordability for young people, whereas we genuinely believe that such a policy could have catastrophic knock-on effects for the property industry, for rental affordability, for the value of the homes of ordinary mums and dads, and for the economy itself.
Where we differ, we should reach decisions on how to proceed through a battle of ideas, not abuse; by debate, not frightening people.
What I will say today is that we certainly shouldn’t lie to you: and speaking of the grand plot we supposedly had to privatise Medicare, I would simply say to Mr Shorten that you know it was never true, so let’s not hear another word about it.
Over the next three years, my government will be working to implement as much of the plan we took to the election as we can, and I acknowledge that with the numbers in Parliament being so tight it simply may not be possible to legislate all of it.
We know — from our members talking to people in their electorates, that there were some things we got wrong, and which in all likelihood contributed to the swing against us.
We will consult on controversial initiatives — such as our changes to superannuation tax concessions — and where we are satisfied improvements can be made, we will do so.
But with an eye to the future — and to the very real challenges we now face in Australia — we have a responsibility to fix the way we are doing things in certain areas if we are to leave behind a country that is great for our children and grandchildren; one where they can continue to enjoy the freedom and the way of life we cherish so dearly.
Putting aside the politics, I don’t think anyone really thinks we can continue to live beyond our means.
We now owe the rest of the world a half a trillion dollars — a figure growing by $50bn every year. The interest bill to service that debt is a billion dollars a month: money that could pay for schools, or hospitals, or infrastructure in regional centres, or a stronger safety net for those in our society who most desperately need it.
We are prepared to set aside the blame game — who did what, who started it, whose fault it is — and to work with our opponents to develop a solution to this problem that enables us to once again balance our budget and to begin to pay back some of that debt.
We have a rapidly ageing population that is already straining our health and welfare systems. We want to help older Australians, who have worked all their lives to make Australia a better and stronger society. But an ageing population throws up challenges: from the increased cost of looking after older Australians to the shortages of skills and labour their absence from the workforce creates.
We seek to explore, with Labor, ideas to overcome these challenges.
Mr Shorten and Labor have a choice: to work with us in genuine partnership to try to fix some of these problems, or to behave like opposition politicians and try to stop us from governing.
Either way, we are ready to act in good faith. There is a seat at the Cabinet table on offer if it is possible for us to work with our opponents, but whether we can or not I think it is critical that we make the overture if a difficult Parliament is to be made a success.
We understand you are not happy; we know this because of the swing against our government. We know because of the feedback our booth workers received on polling day. We know because of the record number of votes cast for independents and minor parties.
It is an article of faith in a democracy that the voters are always right, but it worries me that so many people have chosen to vote for parties and candidates who prey on what frightens or angers them, rather than for those who may smooth those fears and reservations, and it is our job to try to restore your trust in us as a party of government.
Over the next three years — beginning next week — there will be a small number of changes to my ministry; clearly, some of our ministers lost their seats at the election, and those vacancies will be used to promote new talent to the frontbench to ensure the government continues to renew itself and does not stagnate.
There may, as I alluded at the outset, also be a place for Ms Plibersek depending on the outcome of the discussions we seek urgently with members of the ALP leadership.
But during the three years of my government, our team will also be working on comprehensive policy ideas to continue the reform process. Further taxation reform. Further industrial relations reform. Ways to improve how our Parliament is elected to make it more representative and more responsive.
These — and other areas of reform — are always complex issues, and I understand many people can feel apprehensive and alienated in the face of change.
But it is my promise that any major reform will be laid out before the electorate, in detail: and then you will have the opportunity to vote on it at an election, with any of the changes we propose to take effect during the Parliament after this.
Fellow Australians, I truly believe the best days of our great country are in front of it; and I believe — to quote John Howard — that the things that unite us as Australians are more stronger and more enduring than the things that divide us.
I know you have heard me say it a lot lately, but there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian; our challenge now is to ensure that that always remains the case, and to ensure that the generations who follow us can be as excited — and as proud — about their country as I am to have the privilege to lead it.
Thank you very much.
This is obviously a parody, but if Malcolm Turnbull were to deliver this speech, upon formally claiming victory in the 2016 election, what sort of response do you think he would receive?
Oh, and a note to Liberal Party backroom people: if you’re interested in the reform ideas on Health, Education, or parliamentary reform that flesh out the rhetoric in this hypothetical victory speech, you know where I am. We don’t need to telegraph those today.