Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Abbott to churches on parental leave, smaller government, families and more

Opposition leader Tony Abbott addressed thousands of Christians around Australia through the Make it Count webcast on Monday, night. In his 20 minute speech, he acknolwedged achievements of the Howard era and covered issues such school chaplains, reduction of government waste, paid parental leave, and his values as a person and politician. Read the full text of his speech:
Jim Wallace: I should explain that this is a sitting week in Canberra and far from sitting around, as I know many of you out there will probably think is the case, for our politicians. They are in fact very much at work in the parliament and into the later part of the night. That of course makes it all the more incredible that both leaders should give us their time. And should make us all the more appreciative. In the case of the Opposition leader, the honourable Tony Abbott, he has also to fit in his extraordinary physical regime as well (laughter) so we are doubly-appreciative of you being her Mr Abbott and I would invite you to address both the audience here and on the webcast throughout Australia. Thanks very much (applause).

Mr Abbott: Jim, thanks very much for the invitation to be here. Ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much for the warm welcome. Our civilisation is inconceivable without the influence of Christian faith. The defining feature of our civilisation is respect for the rights and the dignity of each individual. And flowing from that, an expectation that everyone should be treated equally. The essential teaching, it would seem to me, of Jesus of Nazareth was first that we should love the Lord God, with our whole heart and our whole mind and our whole soul. And second, that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Now it’s not strictly necessary to accept the first commandment to accept the second. But it took people of faith who accepted the first to popularise the second. The idea that we should treat others as we would have them treat us is not the copyright of Christians, it can be found 500 years before Jesus’ time in the works of the Greek philosophers. Nevertheless, in our culture, it has been very much carried by people who accept the Christian faith. And even a post-Christian society should respectfully acknowledge the debt it owes to Christianity. So I want to say to you Jim, and everyone else here tonight, that I welcome the presence of so many Christian leaders here in our capital, because I know that you are calling all of us, Christians and non-Christians, to be our best selves. And let me concede that sometimes we do need to be called to be our best selves.

This is of course an election year and you are here because you want to get to know party leaders better. Now you probably know, [webcast freezes] … politician. And I’m not asking Christians to vote for me because I am of like mind, I am not asking that. I am asking people to vote for me because I am an effective politician. For me, religious faith matters. It hasn’t made me better than the next person, but I think it has made me better than I would otherwise be. Faith has influenced my life, but it does not, and I believe should not, shape my politics. Let me make it very clear, that as far as I am concerned, Jesus is not a member of any political party. And I would never try to recruit him to my own political party (laughter) because his kingdom is not of this world. And there is no evidence, no evidence whatsoever, that Jesus took sides, for or against people, on the basis of their politics. There is no evidence that he was for or against people on the basis of what they thought of the Roman occupation or whether they believed in local or imperial government, as the case may be. As best as we can understand these things, he merely wanted people to love their neighbour and to act towards others in a spirit of love. But, sometimes to be sure, it was tough love.

Now I would never adopt a political position based purely on faith. Indeed it would be a betrayal of faith as I understand it, to seek to make a general rule on something which is only accessible by faith. It’s worth remembering , I think, particularly in this context, that the authors of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, were themselves mostly devout Christians. As private citizens they rendered to God what they thought was his. But as public figures they properly understood what belonged in the world of Caesar. Now there might sometimes only be Chinese walls between religion and politics, but these walls are important and they come down only at the risk of damaging both religion and politics. In any event, Christian faith, properly understood, is genial and inclusive, more given to forgiveness than judgment, and conscious always of Jesus’ hope that we should have life, and have it unto the full.

Now ladies and gentlemen, for nine years I was a minister in the Howard government. For seven years I was a cabinet minister in the Howard government. There has been much written and spoken about the alleged influence of religion on the Howard government. Books have been written about God under Howard. Let me say that I cannot recall a single discussion with anyone in that government that turned on a person’s religious faith. Or an issue that was decided on the basis of the teaching of any church. The decisions of that government, quite properly, were all based on senior members’ conceptions on what would help people live more satisfying lives. The decisions of that government were meant to boost prosperity and to improve services. Of course there are others that would argue that prosperity would be better boosted and services more improved by pursuing other policies through, for instance, more government regulation or more direct service provision by government rather than was more often the way under the former Prime Minister, of using the market more. Still, the fact that under the Howard government, there were two million more jobs, a 20 per cent increase in real wages, and a doubling of real net household wealth, shows that those policies, whether people agreed or disagreed with them, did not entirely fail. I am only too conscious that this audience, of all audiences, would say that man does not live by bread alone. Yet prosperity is a good thing and governments should do what they can to foster it. I suspect that the Christians in the Howard government were no more or less conscious of the parable of the Good Samaritan as the Christians in the Rudd government, it’s just that we didn’t habitually identify the Good Samaritan as a government official (laughter).

I wish, ladies and gentlemen, if I may, to mention a few of the specific policies of the former government. First, the delivery of employment and other services through community agencies, including some of the great Christian charities, rather than through Commonwealth bureaucracies. This was a remarkable institutional change and in my judgment led to the delivery of far more effective services to people in need. Second, the abolition of the new schools policy, more commonly known to those who suffered under it as the no new schools policy, which has led – its abolition – to a proliferation of independent schools in our country, many of them schools based on faith and all of them, I believe, delivering excellent educational services. Third, the introduction of the baby bonus, a very important social reform, designed to recognise the real costs of motherhood. And which I believe has had a significant influence of the uptake in recent times in Australia’s birth rate. Fourth, the introduction of government funded school chaplains. Education should not necessarily be driven by doctrine, but it should never be free of decent values and chaplains are excellent at providing values. And I should note that the Coalition has promised to continue funding for the school chaplaincy program through the end of the current forward estimates period in 2014. Fifth, a measure for which I was very much personally responsible, or at least, personally responsible for initiating, the pregnancy support counseling service, the national pregnancy support hotline. It was supported at the time by the then Opposition. The current government, to its credit, has maintained it, although I note in recent times, has rather changed its focus. The final matter I would like to mention from the time of the Howard Government, is this – when a senior member of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission proposed the application of anti-discrimination principles to church based bodies delivering government services, an application which would have enormous implications for the employment practices of those church based agencies, I publicly indicated as the relevant minister, that this smacked more of freedom from religion, a very bad thing, rather than freedom of religion, one of the principles on which our society is quite rightly based.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to say that any government I lead will in many respects be an orthodox, Liberal conservative government. It will try and eliminate wasteful government spending. For instance, under the next Coalition government, should it come to power any time soon, unspent ‘building the education revolution’ monies will be provided directly to school communities, rather than spent through state education bureaucracies that don’t have quite the same commitment to value for money as do parents and teachers.

The next Coalition government will try and get the budget back into surplus quicker and we will try and do so via the high road of lower government spending and higher productivity, rather than the low road of higher taxes. And my distinguished colleagues, the shadow treasurer and the shadow minister for finance, have so far indentified $47 billion worth of cuts to capital and recurrent spending that they think can be made without damaging government services. And certainly ladies and gentlemen, we will oppose new taxes that penalise success and jeopardise our must successful and productive industries.

But any government that I lead, will also be a progressive government. Now, no one puts the former Prime Minister on a higher pedestal than I do, but he was very much a man of his times; that is not a criticism. That is simply a fact. Values should stay the same, values do not change. And yet how they express themselves in policy should and can change over time.

Now I’m pleased that the Coalition supported the apology to indigenous people that the Prime Minister made back in February of 2008. Now the challenge remains to translate the noble words of that apology to more effective action so that the first Australians are not second class citizens in their own country. That means getting all the kids to school, all the time. It means getting all the adults to work, all the time, preferably in real jobs but if not, in some form of community work. It particularly means not putting obstacles in the path of indigenous economic development. And that’s why, with the encouragement of Noel Pearson, our most significant and visionary indigenous leader, I want to overturn the Queensland Wild Rivers legislation - at least so far as it impacts on the economic development of Cape York.

Now I’m pleased that the Coalition supported the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. We only have one planet and as far as is possible we should tread lightly upon it. I’m pleased that the Coalition has an effective policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. In fact at the moment we are the only major political party that actually has a policy to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. But we have no policy, and never will have a policy, to damage our economy and hurt our people through futile gestures which are not matched by others.

And now if I may Jim, I want to turn to a policy that hasn’t pleased some in this audience, namely the Coalitions policy on paid parental leave. Our policy, as many of you would know, is for six months pay at people’s full wage, funded by a modest levy on businesses with a taxable income of more than 5 million a year. Let me make it clear. I want larger families with more children. I think Australia’s children are the greatest vote of confidence we can make in our future. Most families though, most modern families, need more than one income to survive. In fact, 62 per cent of all mothers today are in the paid workforce shortly before they have their baby. So this policy will help all of them. It won’t just help women in the full time paid workforce, it will help women in the part time paid workforce too. Please note that I am not taking anything away from those mothers who are not in the paid workforce at all, and I am not making a judgment against stay at home mums, I never have and I never would. But I am saying that we have to acknowledge that these days, the family is a little different to what it was a generation or two ago. And if we want to encourage the family, all families, we have to have effective policies in place that recognise the social changes that have taken place over the last couple of generations. Now I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this, but I hope everyone will reflect on how we best help families in modern Australia and I do stress, that there will be further policy from us on this subject between now and the election.

Let me close, if I may, with a brief statement of some of my values. As a Liberal I support smaller government, lower taxes and greater freedom. As a conservative I support a fair go for families and a respect for values that have stood the test of time. As an Australian, I support policies that work and that don’t trifle with our future. As a Christian, I believe that people are basically good and that life does have purpose and meaning and I believe that we should all do more to count our blessings. As a politician, I am determined to do my best to build a better world and a better country. This is the supreme challenge of my life and I will do my best over the next few months to be the kind of leader that Australia needs now. Thanks very much (applause).

Speech length: 19 mins, 58 secs

1 comment:

  1. Boy Abbott is a hypocrite:
    "The defining feature of our civilisation is respect for the rights and the dignity of each individual. And flowing from that, an expectation that everyone should be treated equally. "

    Well.. Except for gays who Abbott certainly does not treat equally and will not support equal rights for marriage.

    As for his speal about keeping walls between religion/politics and not letting it run his decissions: how does he explain RU486 having ministerial control when he was health minister? That wasn't a medical based decision, nor one with the interests of women in mind: it was enforcing a religious view on the public.

    Also: you can't have freedom OF religion without freedom FROM religion. Freedom to be christian = freedom to not be Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Scientologist etc etc.. How can one choice (athiesm) be regarded as a very bad thing and being christian (but atheistic towards every other religion) be a very good thing? Pfft..