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Be optimistic, work hard: Abbott and Shorten on 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a press conference
PM Tony Abbott says Australians should enter 2014 willing to help build the future of the country.
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In his first New Year’s address as prime minister, Tony Abbott says Australians should enter 2014 full of optimism and willing to have a go at making Australia a better place.

He said the strength of the country is in its people’s willingness to better their lives.

“This is the year I hope more of us than ever will ‘have a go’,” he said in a new year’s message.

“We’ll start new businesses, we’ll build new houses, we’ll undertake further study, make investments and plan a future because that’s how we build the stronger and more prosperous country that we all want.

“May we all be nearer to our best selves in 2014, government included.”

He said the nation would begin to celebrate the centenary of the Anzac, which will be held in 2015, and start a conversation about a constitutional referendum to recognise the first Australians.

Mr Abbott’s intention was welcomed by Warren Mundine, the head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

But Mr Abbott said more debate was needed to build a strong case for change.

“For it to be successful, the proposed wording will need to be right,” he said. “It’s not only just about the majority of people supporting it, but you have to get a majority of states.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said in 2014, Australia would be rewarded by its resilience, hard work and the creativity of its people.

But he said keeping people in work would be among the biggest challenges the country faces in 2014.

“For all of us, the new year presents a renewed opportunity to focus on the things that really matter – our families, our community and our nation’s future,” he said in a statement.

“Keeping Australians in work will be one of the biggest challenges we face in 2014. The kind of job losses that occurred towards the end of 2013 can’t be allowed to happen again this year.”

To confront these challenges the nation’s resolve must be durable and unwavering, he said.

“We must continue to fight for the fair go and ensure every Australian has the opportunity to reach their full potential – through education, proper health care or a hand when they need it most,” he said.

“No matter what is ahead of us, I know our nation will continue to be rewarded by the resilience, hard work and creativity of its people.”

Cabinet papers released

As the current leaders looked ahead, cabinet papers of 1986 and 1987 released yesterday recalled a time time of political upheaval, when Paul Keating warned Australia could become a “banana republic”.

The then-Labor federal government led by Bob Hawke was grappling with the breakdown of the old economic order and moving steadily toward policies based on freer markets.

Tensions within cabinet were high, the rivalry between Hawke and his treasurer Paul Keating was rising, and an election was looming.

Keating used an interview with influential 2UE Sydney radio broadcaster John Laws on May 14, 1986, to make clear the importance for reforms that were riling Labor’s union base.

“If this government cannot get the adjustment, get manufacturing going again, and keep moderate wage outcomes and a sensible economic policy, then Australia is basically done for,” he said.

“We will end up being a third rate economy … a banana republic.”’

The banana republic comment caused a political firestorm. But it’s generally agreed he was right to make the case, cabinet documents for 1986 and 1987 released by the National Archives of Australia show. (Read more here.)

Hawke’s Aboriginal death probe

With Australia’s bicentenary approaching, the government led by Bob Hawke decided something must be done about a rising tide of complaints that indigenous people were dying in suspicious circumstances in police cells.

Cabinet papers for 1987, released by the National Archives of Australia, show the government decided there had to be a royal commission, with the hope that it could all be wrapped up in six months.

In reality, it continued for another four years, with the final five-volume report and its 339 recommendations tabled in April 1991.

All up, the commission cost about $40 million, with another $400 million to implement most of its recommendations.

The cabinet documents featured only the government’s decision, made on August 11, 1987, and no actual submission canvassing the merits of the inquiry.

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