Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told a group of senior Canadian politicians and business people that their two nations must lead the Group of 20 countries by implementing reforms that will boost global growth and said he hoped to visit Ottawa later this year, his first visit to Canada since taking office.
“If the G20 is to be more than a talk fest, at least some countries must show that their actions match their words,” Mr. Abbott told a high-profile crowd at the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Melbourne on Monday.
The remarks are Mr. Abbott’s first since Australia hosted a G20 summit of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s largest economies over the weekend. As the host nation of the G20 this year, in a weary post-financial crisis era, Mr. Abbott has used his international podium to push a global agenda that is very close to what he wants to see implemented in Australia – an era where governments step back, cut red tape, reduce the size of government and enable businesses to invest and create jobs. Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, who was also in attendance at the Monday speech, took centre stage at the G20 over the weekend, hosting numerous press conferences that drove home Mr. Abbott’s message.
Mr. Abbott said the two countries have much in common, such as successful mining companies, but also shared challenges like ensuring “first peoples are not second class citizens in their own country.” He also noted that, as part of the G20 summit of finance ministers and central bankers, which took place in Sydney over the weekend, both Canada and Australia would prepare, submit and share plans for policies and reforms to be taken after the larger G20 summit in Brisbane later this year.
“This does amount to a kind of peer review process for each government’s economic policies,” Mr. Abbott said. “And I’m confident that Canada and Australia will bring a shared perspective to the G20 talks.”
The high-profile dinner was attended by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Foreign Minister John Baird, and was held in a room on the 46th floor of a Melbourne skyscraper that had a clear view of the city. The guest list also included the Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, who hosted the G20 summit, and a host of Canadian CEOs, including Open Text’s Mark Barrenechea, TMX Group’s Tom Kloet and OMERS Strategic Investments head Jacques Demers.
Mr. Abbott, who referred fondly to a painting commemorating the battle of Vimy Ridge that he has hanging in his office, pledged that he would get rid of a divisive tax on the country’s powerful mining companies, as well as slash regulations, cut the civil service and put the country on track to have a surplus in three years.
The prime minister peppered his speech with references to small government, getting people off welfare and killing a carbon tax regulation. He also singled out John Walsh, the president of Canada’s Conservative Party, and praised him for advising Mr. Abbott’s right-leaning Liberal Party of Australia, which triumphed in an election last year and now governs as part of a coalition.
At home, Mr. Abbott’s conservative Liberal government has pledged to cut spending initiated under the previous government. He has also taken a much harder line on Southeast Asian immigrants coming from Indonesia, tactics that have seen the Australian Navy turn back boats amid international condemnation that the actions may be breaching international law. A recent riot at an offshore detention center on Manus Island, off the coast of northern Australia, left one dead and many others seriously injured. Defending his Immigration Minister in the wake of the riot, Mr. Abbott said, “You don’t want a wimp running border protection.”
Canadian firms have billions invested in Australia. A couple of Canadian pension funds, including OMERS, were in attendance on Monday since several have big investments in Australia – such as in the Melbourne convention centre. The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec owns roughly one-third of the Port of Brisbane, on the east coast of Australia.
IAIN MARLOW – ASIA-PACIFIC CORRESPONDENT
MELBOURNE — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 24 2014, 6:44 AM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 24 2014, 11:13 AM EST