Well Peter, thank you very much for your warm words of introduction.
To Jess as well, thank you very much for having us here at the University.
To all of our distinguished guests.
I want to say firstly, thank you very much to the University for hosting tonight.
It’s a very important occasion.
Peter, it’s great to see you again.
As you said, maybe a decade?
It’s been a pretty rough decade for me, the ageing process, so you’re very kind to ignore that.
I want to acknowledge David Fawcett of course, my parliamentary colleague.
To Alexander and Nicky Downer, thank you.
To Amanda and to Tony Vanstone.
To my state colleagues.
To all that are here tonight.
I want to say thank you and it’s a great honour to deliver the Sir John Downer Oration.
Like speakers in previous years, I certainly too acknowledge Sir John’s magnificent legacy and his contributions to our great country.
Sir John was the barrister who became a Q.C.
He was the Q.C. who, of course, became a member of the South Australian House of Assembly.
He was the member who became an Attorney-General.
He was the Attorney-General who became Premier, twice.
He was the Premier who became the federalist campaigner.
The campaigner who became one of South Australia’s first senators in the federal parliament, as Peter pointed out before.
And ultimately, the federal senator who returned to state politics.
Sir John was a legal reformer, an advancer of women’s rights, an economic pragmatist, a constitutional author, a national visionary, and a patriot of our country.
Amidst his many successes, Sir John had setbacks, of course.
Such is the nature of politics.
I want to begin my remarks this evening on that theme.
The Liberal Party has obviously suffered recent setbacks at the federal and state levels.
Labor is in power across mainland Australia.
I know that many Liberals – whether it’s our members or our rusted-on supporters – are feeling despondent and disillusioned.
But in the cycle of politics, parties will be down, but, of course, they are never out.
We have been there before.
And we’ve come back.
Winston Churchill of course said famously, of his own trials and tribulations that ‘this is the lesson: never give in, never, never, never.’
And that must be the approach.
Political parties need to go through lows to rediscover and regenerate themselves.
Menzies knew this.
Howard knew this.
Abbott knew this.
It’s in our darkest hours where we find the courage, the camaraderie, the commitment, the conviction and the confidence for revival, for resurgence and for victory.
Our political opponents, of course, are again hubristically trumpeting their success.
But remember how those trumpets fell silent in 1996 and 2013.
They say the Coalition has no chance of returning to government in 2025.
Some in the media – including those driven more by advocacy than journalism – are saying that this is the end of the Liberal Party.
But remember how wrong they were when they made similar predictions in 2007.
They argue if only the Liberal Party could be more like the Labor Party they would be able to vote for us for the first time!
But I think the next election will be one of our finest hours.
I am determined more than ever to show Australians that we have listened to them and that we have learnt from past mistakes.
I am determined to demonstrate to the Australian people that prosperity and progress come not from the radicalism Labor is peddling at the moment.
But instead, from the tried and tested liberalism which is in our bones.
I am determined to ignite in Australians a great sense of national pride in who we are as a people.
To renew our optimism and to give us new energy to confront any challenge and create new opportunities.
Our return to government will of course require many things.
Above all, unity.
We have unity and maturity as a Party at the federal level.
Ours is a very different opposition than that which we experienced in 2007 following John Howard’s loss.
We haven’t torn ourselves apart through in-fighting.
We are a united, experienced and formidable opposition.
One that tolerates and thrives off differences of individual opinion – unlike our opponents who are only dealing, at the moment, in groupthink.
And we face a government which, for all its current arrogance, I believe is deeply flawed.
A government which says one thing and does another.
A government which continues to break its cardinal promises.
And a government which – through its policy-making on the run – is making bad decisions and making hard times even harder for Australians.
The ramifications of its policies will become, I think, even more evident in the times ahead.
By the time of the next election, Australians will reach a fork in the road.
It will be a choice, a very significant choice, between ongoing policy of taxing and spending and fulfilling the union wish list under Labor.
Or restoring policy grounded in reason under the Coalition.
That choice – more than at any recent election – will define our country’s history and our future.
Our return to government will also require bold and visionary policies which have wide appeal among Australians.
Policies which are necessarily different from those of the Labor Party.
Policies which do offer Australians a clear choice.
We will not adopt a cowardly small-target strategy.
Many in the media, as I say, want us to announce our policies today.
Even my opponent says quite freely that we should have our policies out there right now.
But I’ve seen over the years it’s not always that wise to take advice from your opponents as to the best prospects for your own future.
I wish that the media had have tested the ALP at this point in opposition by the same standard.
But that’s not the environment in which we operate.
We’re only at the 11th month mark of this government’s tenure.
The Coalition, of course, will release costed policies at a time of our choosing.
In my budget in reply speech in last October we made announcements, a very important announcement, particularly in a tight labour market.
In relation to liberating those who are on pensions – either aged pensions or service veteran pensions – who chose to work additional hours.
A ready workforce of literally hundreds of thousands of people.
I want to assure Australians that we will not release the policies that we are working on now – that we will augment that which we have already announced – at the eleventh hour of an election.
I assure Australians that we will keep our promises.
I believe that it will be in contrast to what we have seen so far and what is to come from the Albanese government.
Our return to government will also require pre-selecting and fielding known and respected local candidates early.
Candidates who are decent, hard-working Australians with broad life experience.
We’re doing that legwork now.
We have just preselected our first candidate, at the 11th month mark in a three year term, for the next election in the Tasmanian seat of Lyons.
We’re also working to end the self-serving factionalism which has plagued our Liberal Party for far too long.
Most importantly, our return to government begins by returning to the core ethos of the great Party that Menzies founded.
And articulating those values in a way which resonates with Australians today.
Liberal values will be the focus of my remarks tonight.
Liberal values are not just our party’s values.
They are values which come from within the individual.
Values which have been carefully sculptured by many for more than 2,500 years.
From Ancient Greece to Magna Carta.
From the Enlightenment to the American and French Revolutions.
From the post-war order to the civil rights movements.
Those values have been the motor of human progress.
They have formed a guiding philosophy across the Western world.
They have helped shape our nation into the great success story that it is today.
The long history of the formation of liberal values did not escape Robert Menzies.
He drew on that history and thinking as he developed The Forgotten People radio broadcasts.
In 1954, on the tenth anniversary of the Liberal Party, Prime Minister Menzies published his ‘We Believe’ statement.
He articulated the values of the Liberal Party.
These timeless values are even more important today.
They are a fountain of freedom, of entrepreneurialism and of opportunity.
They are a shield against the resurgence of authoritarianism in the world.
They are an antidote to the poisonous appeal of socialism among people living in democracies.
The same socialist ideas which have devastated nations wherever and whenever they have manifested.
Now drawing on Menzies with his ‘We Believe’ statement, I’d like to put forward the following five principles.
The principles don’t replace Menzies’ points.
Rather, I want people to see them as a contemporary view of values particularly relevant today.
These can help guide our policy development and engagement with the public.
The five principles could be described as follows:
Our hand on our heart as Liberals and our handshake with the Australian people.
The first principle is that we are for small government which promotes freedom.
As such, we are against big government which seeks to control.
Business and industry are the engine room of our economy.
From the sole trader, to the small business like the suburban store, to the large city business, to the country farm, to the industrial manufacturing facility, to the mine.
We know that jobs, enterprise and prosperity are generated by making society freer.
By unshackling the chains of government.
By giving businesses and industries autonomy, rather than by seeking to take their autonomy away.
Herein lies a key difference between the Coalition and the Labor Party.
We respect business and industry as autonomous partners.
We want the private sector to be masters of their fate and captains of their souls.
We believe in the free market.
That’s why we seek to reduce regulatory burdens, promote choice, and incentivise change.
In contrast, our opponents see business and industry as an instrument of government to further its agenda.
It seek a coercive and controlling environment.
That’s why the Albanese government is increasing regulation, limiting choice and seeking to compel change.
Consider these examples:
Labor’s carbon tax – which is three times the size they first proposed only a few years ago – will force businesses and industries to meet aggressive emissions reduction targets or pay hefty fines.
The government wants to put its ideological, green agenda ahead of commercial viability.
In contrast, we trust businesses to set their own pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.
Indeed, their investors, their stakeholders, their shareholders, their capital, require it.
It’s about balancing commercial viability with national environmental goals.
Many businesses and industries will not be able to afford Labor’s new carbon tax.
They will have no choice but to pass costs onto consumers at exactly the wrong time.
Others will take their business and manufacturing offshore.
The cement industry is one such example:
It’s very prospective that that will move offshore.
There will be no net benefit to the environment, no net reduction in emissions.
The carbon tax will only cause economic self-harm and have a de-industrialising effect.
A loss to the Australian economy and productivity.
A loss of Australian jobs.
And all we will do is import that cement back into Australia, and it’s but one example.
The government has also interfered, as we know, in the gas market with price fixing.
Yet prices aren’t coming down.
Infact, they are set to rise by up to 33 per cent on the 1st of July for almost 250,000 small businesses and 1.6 million households.
Price fixing discourages production, it reduces supply and it drives-up prices for Australians.
Labor’s intervention in the energy market is creating sovereign risk, it’s jeopardising Australia’s energy security, and disincentivising international investment.
In contrast, we know that if we get more gas supply into the domestic system, then energy bills will go down.
We seek to work with gas companies rather than control them.
The government’s industrial relations policies are also about control.
Thousands of small businesses are predicted to be dragged into multi-employer bargaining arrangements against their will.
These unprincipled laws – which harp back to a period even before the Hawke-Keating period – will allow union leaders to influence how people run their businesses.
Forced into unfavourable agreements, employers may have to pay wages and entitlements that the business simply can’t afford.
The unions see these laws as a vehicle for resurrection – to gain control again over more of the labour market and the economy.
Whereas we don’t want to control employees or employers.
We know that the best conditions are negotiated between them – striking a balance between what employees want and what an employer can afford.
In its desire to control private enterprise through its interventional energy and industrial relations policies, Labor is undermining the competitiveness and choice which makes our economy tick.
We will always be for small government which liberates, not big government which seeks to control.
The second principle is that we are for policy grounded in pragmatism.
As such, we are against policy driven by ideology.
Energy policy is a prime example.
Labor is not technologically agnostic. They are ideologically driven.
The government’s policies are forcing the early closure of coal plants.
It’s killing off gas projects, including through lawfare.
It’s switching off the two systems which provide around 65 per cent of the power today before the new system is ready.
By 2030, the government needs to build 40 wind turbines every month and construct 22,000 solar panels every day to meet its 82 per cent renewables target.
I don’t believe it is achievable.
In addition to that it requires the roll-out of some 28,000 kilometres of transmission wires by 2050 costing at least $100 billion.
All of which will be passed on to consumers.
It’s a roll-out on a scale that I believe is fanciful with a huge environmental footprint which includes productive farming land and national parks.
The government is pushing ahead knowing full-well that renewables are not technologically sufficient to ensure affordability and reliable power.
They need to be firmed up – when the sun isn’t shining, when the wind isn’t blowing, or when weather causes outages.
We know that.
But the latest battery technologies – deployed in this very state by AGL – lasts for between one and two hours.
And hydrogen isn’t yet a commercial reality.
In undermining reliable and affordable baseload power and rushing to renewables, Labor’s policy will see Australians’ energy bills continue to go up and up and all of the costs incurred by the companies compliance will be passed onto consumers.
The Liberal Party isn’t against renewables, but we are the most hopeless at selling our great record in renewables investment.
From 2017, we oversaw a $40 billion dollar investment in renewable energy.
We co-invested with the private sector to improve technologies and to make them more cost-effective.
But we recognise their current limitations.
That’s why we’re pushing for a discussion on next-generation, zero emission, small and micro nuclear technologies which countries around the world are investing in.
These reactors can plug into an existing distribution network.
Similar technology in the form of sealed nuclear reactors will power our future submarines for up to 30 years – equal to the life of the boat.
They will be based here in South Australia.
Nuclear power within the energy mix has the potential to help us meet three obligations:
To improve our environment by reducing emissions.
Ensure Australians have affordable power.
And create a dependable energy system which supports our businesses, industries and households.
And that is policy pragmatism.
We also believe in a managed migration sydtem underpinned by pragmatism.
One which is aligned with skills shortages and attracts and brings in skilled workers in a carefully calibrated way.
Whereas at the moment government is dramatically increasing numbers under a ‘Big Australia’ agenda.
Across this and next financial year, around 650,000 migrants will come to our country.
It will be the biggest surge in the history of our population.
It will occur amidst the housing and rental shortage.
Migration on this scale will put even more pressure on transport, on classrooms, on hospitals and on other services.
Education is another area where we need pragmatism.
Ideologically driven advocates have too much influence over what is being taught to our children.
We want our children to be educated, not indoctrinated.
Our kids are being taught ‘what to think’ – not ‘how to think’.
The government is endorsing a highly politicised curriculum which seeks to entrench views.
We seek to address the alarming drop in standards by again making the basics a priority – reading, writing and maths.
Our Party’s position on the Voice is also grounded in pragmatism.
We oppose the Prime Minister’s Canberra-based Voice bureaucracy.
It’s a model which is enshrined in the Constitution.
As opposed to what has happened here in South Australia – and in other jurisdictions – when Labor Premiers have committed to a state-based voice.
But without exception, they have been, or are all to be legislated – not implemented through an amendment to the Constitution.
The Prime Minister’s approach is divisive.
It will fundamentally alter how our democracy operates.
And it will disrupt the work of government.
But we support seeing Indigenous Australians recognised in the Constitution.
The Liberal Party is the Party of Neville Bonner.
And I was pleased and proud to announce today the appointment of Kerrynne Liddle and Jacinta Price.
Proud indigenous women; Kerrynne a Liberal and Jacinta Nationals member.
And we seek to establish a ground-up model of local and regional bodies where we can hear from Indigenous leaders so that we can deliver practical outcomes in a more timely way.
It is a classic Liberal approach to resolving what’s a fundamental issue that needs to be urgently addressed.
So, whatever area of policy – in energy, in migration, in education, Indigenous affairs or otherwise – we seek to be led by pragmatism; not to be driven by ideology.
The next principle is that we are for lower taxes and incentivising aspiration.
As such, we are against higher taxes and driving over-reliance on the state.
The Liberal Party recognises the intrinsic value of work and of enterprise.
Work and enterprise give people meaning and self-worth.
The working individual supports themselves, their family, their community, their fellow Australians, and their country.
People should be rewarded for their hard work not penalised.
That’s why we believe people should keep more of what they earn.
In keeping more of what they earn, Australians have more freedom and more choice.
With more freedom and more choice, Australians can realise their aspirations and the aspirations of their children.
Every extra dollar Australians get to keep is a step closer to making their own dreams a reality which is in our country’s best interests.
The dream of studying, of travelling, of educating children, of starting a business, of owning a home, of retiring comfortably, or of treating loved ones – particularly in aged care.
The killer of aspiration is taxation.
That’s why we want the government to deliver Stage Three of the Coalition’s legislated tax plan in full.
Tax cuts which will see 95 per cent of Australians keep at least 70 cents in every dollar they earn.
But already, we’re seeing the government’s eagerness to tax.
It’s abandoned the tax to GDP cap of 23.9 per cent.
Over the next four years, the tax paid by Australians will increase by $142 billion dollars.
Labor has also proposed doubling the tax on Australians who have more than $3 million dollars in super fund.
That will, over time, affect literally millions of Australians.
Being spared by the Labor shark today doesn’t mean you won’t be on its menu tomorrow.
The government is also talking about a tax on unrealised capital gains.
Most recently, on the eve of Easter, Labor axed our government’s low-and-middle income tax offset.
It means that at the wrong time, around 10 million Australians earning under $126,000 dollars will now be up to $1,500 worse off.
I don’t believe that over a long period of time, including during this period, that Labor can manage money.
When it can’t manage money, it seeks more, which is why it taxes and spends.
Higher taxes means less money in Australians’ pockets.
That means more Australians are dependent on the state.
The Liberal Party absolutely supports a sustainable social safety net.
In addition to making sure that we can help people achieve their dreams and aspirations.
The government must always show compassion and to provide assistance to our fellow Australians who are unable to work or have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.
It’s the whole reason we seek to manage the economy and to balance the budget so that we can provide that support across the economy.
But an important goal of governing is to nurture greater self-reliance and personal responsibility.
Prime Minister Menzies knew that the best way to empower Australians was through home ownership.
That’s why the Coalition has re-committed to allowing Australians to access their superannuation to buy their first home.
With an obligation to put money back into super with the uplift so that it can compound by the time they reach retirement age and reap the benefit.
I have extended our scheme to women escaping domestic violence and needing a new start – particularly a bit later in life after a messy separation.
We want to see more Australians own their first home.
We want Australians to keep more of their own money.
Because then they have more freedom, more choice and opportunity to realise their aspirations.
The next principle is that we are for government which governs for the many.
As such, we are against government which shows favouritism to the few.
When asked, who does the Liberal Party represent, it’s an easy answer:
We seek to serve and support all Australians.
Women and men.
People who are single.
People who are in relationships:
Heterosexual couples, same-sex couples.
Families of all make-ups:
Children with a mother and father, with same-sex parents, with a single parent, with a step-parent, with no surviving parents.
We seek to serve and support all Australians wherever they live:
In our cities, on the coast, or in the countryside.
In regional towns or in remote communities.
We seek to serve and support all Australians regardless of their colour or creed.
Indigenous Australians, Australian born, or those who have come from around the world to make modern Australia the great success that it is today.
Australians of Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and other faiths – and indeed no faith.
We seek to serve and support all Australians regardless of their calling.
The full-timers and the part-timers.
Those who have taken time off to raise children.
And those who have ‘called time’ after a life of hard work.
We serve and support all Australians because we respect individualism.
We cherish freedom of thought, speech, worship and association which underpin our democratic society.
We know that these freedoms are preserved by our respect for the rule of law and our democratic institutions.
Our respect for individualism does not diminish our unity.
Our love of family.
Our appreciation for friends and colleagues.
Our attachment to community.
Our pride in our country.
Our sense of duty.
Our desire to protect democracy.
Regrettably, social media in the modern age and the prevalence of identity politics in our society goads us into focusing on our differences, at the expense of what we have in common.
The atomising nature of social media and the appeal of identity politics has seen Labor become a party of the city elite, the unions and green activists.
Labor has not just forgotten many Australians – it has deliberately disregarded them.
We as a Liberal Party, will always push back on identity politics, we will push back on class warfare and special interests by having a reverence for individualism and the things which unite us.
We will govern for the many.
The last principle is we are for responsible government.
As such, we are against reckless government.
Just as families must live within their means, so too must governments.
When Labor left government in 2013, debt was projected to reach $667 billion dollars.
By 2019, the government brought the budget back into balance for the first time in eleven years.
Then the pandemic hit – the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Our measures kept 1 million businesses alive.
And 3.8 million Australians in jobs.
Labor supported every cent of our $343 billion dollars expenditure in those support measures.
But it went beyond that. It proposed an additional $81 billion dollars.
So yes, the Coalition government incurred covid debt.
We went against our primary instincts as Liberals – spending big to save lives and livelihoods at a time of global catastrophe.
But I promise to the Australian people that as a government, we will return to living within our means.
We will get debt, deficit and inflation down.
We will balance the budget.
We will be responsible economic managers in the Howard-Costello tradition.
One of the great honours of my two decades in Parliament is having worked as the Assistant Treasurer to Peter Costello.
I learnt a lot during those years, and I admire both he and John, Alexander, Amanda and many others in that period of government because of the tough decisions they made that were in our country’s best interests.
Labor’s reckless spending, the careless cutting, and the undisciplined saving is only going to increase economic pressure over the coming years.
Its tendency to squander taxpayers’ money means less funding for the things that Australians need:
For schools, for roads, for hospitals, aged care, housing, infrastructure and social services.
When we manage the economy, we will not neglect our national security.
We will carry forward the AUKUS agenda with gusto.
President Reagan often spoke of finding peace through strength.
Right now, under AUKUS, we must find strength through speed.
We must speed up the delivery of defence capability and South Australia and Western Australia are absolutely central to that task.
A government I lead will prioritise deterring aggression together with our allies, keeping Australians safe online, and thwarting foreign interference in our democracy.
Only through security can we safeguard the conditions which support the prosperity of all Australians.
Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude:
We are for small government which promotes freedom.
We are for policy grounded in pragmatism.
We are for lower taxes and incentivising aspiration.
We are for government which governs for the many.
We are for responsible government.
This is our hand on our heart as Liberals and our handshake with the Australian people.
We draw on our age-old values and apply them in a modern context.
I’ve said before that we are not the ‘Moderate Party’.
We are not the ‘Conservative Party’.
We are the ‘Liberal Party’.
A centre-right party of the classical liberal and conservative traditions.
A party which seeks to preserve what’s good about our society, but always looks to improve it.
To do what is in our country’s best interests.
These times will not be about the Liberal Party’s demise, but about how we will rise again.
Thank you very much.