Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged in a Diet speech Thursday to carry out the most sweeping reforms seen in Japan since the end of World War II.
Saying that he had a mandate from the people, Abe said his administration will revive the economy to reach every corner of Japan, revamp social security, overhaul the agriculture sector, rebuild the Tohoku region, and empower more women.
The prime minister also said Japan will never give in to terrorism and will fulfill its role in the international community's fight against terrorism by extending food and other humanitarian assistance.
In his 45-minute policy speech, Abe said the people of Japan had sent him a message in last December's lower house election. "They have asked me to press forward ever more dynamically along this path, under stable political conditions," he said.
"None of the paths for these reforms will be easy, as they will be the most drastic reforms since the end of World War II. We must, however, press forward with these reforms undaunted, clearly discerning a vision for the future of Japan."
Referring to agriculture, Abe said sweeping reforms of agricultural policy can wait no longer as the average age of persons engaged in agriculture is over 60. He said the current structure of centralized cooperatives as provided for under the Agricultural Cooperatives Act will be abolished, and the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-ZENCHU) will become a general incorporated association. Agricultural cooperatives will also be obliged to undergo an audit implemented by a certified public accountant. Agricultural businesses with ambition and drive will work together to combine their strengths with those of regional cooperatives to open up a new future for agriculture in Japan, including the development of branding for local produce and overseas business.
Discussing health care, Abe said the government will establish a new patient-oriented medical care system to ensure that global top-level care can be received in Japan. "Responding to the wishes of patients who are fighting difficult-to-treat illnesses and based on their requests, we will make it possible for patients to receive cutting-edge medical care in combination with medical treatment that is covered by insurance. Furthermore, if safety and effectiveness can be established, we will ensure that cutting-edge medical care is covered under the national health insurance system," he said.
Abe said the distribution and transmission networks that are a fundamental part of the energy market infrastructure will be separated from power generation and retail power, allowing fair access for all. The retail gas business will similarly be fully liberalized, thus eliminating all barriers to market entry.
"The increase in electricity tariffs caused by the dramatic surge in fuel imports is placing a heavy burden on the daily lives of Japanese citizens, as well as small- and medium-enterprises. Nuclear power stations that have been approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as conforming to the new regulatory standards will be restarted, paying the greatest attention to scientific and technological determinants. With the support of the national government, we will advance work to develop thorough evacuation plans. In areas where nuclear power stations are located, we will provide careful explanations to gain the understanding of local governments and others concerned."
Abe said there will be no change to the government’s long-term policy of reducing our degree of dependency on nuclear power.
Abe said: "The three arrows of economic policies that we have pursued over the past two years are steadily generating results. The number of bankruptcies of small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) reached its lowest level in 24 years last year. Over 80% of prospective graduates have begun the new year with unofficial job offers in hand. The percentage of university graduates with unofficial job offers is the highest in six years, and is the highest in 21 years for high-school graduates.
"Last year, the highest wage increases in the past 15 years were achieved. This spring also, expanding corporate earnings will lead to wage increases. Furthermore, it is becoming easier for SMEs to pass on their raw material costs to prices, and the positive cycle of the economy will be sustained. That recognition is shared by the Government, labor and management.
"To ensure breaking free from deflation, I postponed increasing the consumption tax rate to 10% for 18 months, and will implement it from April 2017. The wage increase trend will continue in spring next year and spring of the following year, and we will spread the warm winds of economic recovery to everyone throughout the country. And as a result, the three targets of economic revitalization, fiscal rehabilitation and social security reform will be attained simultaneously."
Abe said assistance for medical expenses for people suffering from incurable diseases will be substantially broadened. He said the government will promote measures to counter dementia. Alongside enhancing fiscal support for the national health insurance system, its fiscal management will be shifted from cities, towns and villages to prefectures in order to strengthen the foundation of universal healthcare.
"We will reduce nursing-care insurance premiums for households with low-income senior citizens. Remuneration of caregivers will be improved by the equivalent of 12,000 yen per month, and we will also strive to enhance services. At the same time, nursing-care costs overall, which continue to grow, will be held down in order to alleviate the burden shouldered by users and rein in premium increases.
"We will assist households that are raising families. The new system for supporting children and childrearing will be implemented on schedule from April. We remain resolutely committed to eliminating childcare waiting lists. Remuneration of people involved in early childhood education and childcare will be improved by the equivalent of 3%, and we will respond solidly to various childcare needs, including expanding the after-school kids’ clubs that utilize elementary schools’ classrooms, and enhancing weekend and evening childcare and childcare for sick children."
Abe said he has firm faith in the power of women. "I intend to create a society where all women who play active roles at home, in their communities, and at their workplaces can shine with confidence and pride in the lives they are leading," he said. "We will resubmit the bill to promote women’s empowerment and act to pass this bill at an early date. Through the country, the local regions, companies, and other social actors working in unison, we will create an environment in which it is easy for women to be dynamically engaged. We will press ahead with reforming the consciousness of our entire society.
"Starting this year, the percentage of women among all newly hired national public servants will exceed 30%. Our goal is to achieve a society in which the share of women occupying leadership positions in a multitude of sectors is at least 30% by 2020. To this end, we will support companies that make proactive efforts to recruit women, such as releasing information about female executives and offering assistance for vocational training to female employees on childcare leave.
"We will provide diverse employment opportunities for senior citizens. Silver Human Resources Centers will be asked to enhance their functions as providers of employment. Meticulous support will also be offered to expand employment opportunities for those with disabilities, intractable diseases, and serious illnesses.
"To realize this goal, we must dramatically reform the existing work system with its uniform working hours, along with our social mindset. The options available for employees will be expanded to allow for flexible and diverse work arrangements tailored to each person’s individual circumstances, including childcare and nursing care needs. A new national campaign will be launched to transform summer lifestyles. During the summer when the days are long, people will be able to go to work earlier in the morning and enjoy time with family and friends in the evening.
"Expanded flextime arrangements will allow employees to opt to work longer hours before their summer vacations to take longer breaks at the same time as their children. For highly specialized jobs, I will see that a new work arrangement becomes an option, allowing employees to be evaluated based on performance rather than work hours.
"Long work hours will be kept under control by raising the increased rate paid for overtime work, among other measures. Furthermore, we will move forward to prevent overworking and create a society that promotes work-life balance through the creation of schemes that ensure that employees fully take annual paid vacations."
70 Years after the War
Abe said the path Japan has taken as a peace-loving nation will remain unchanged.
"Japan has earnestly built up a free and democratic nation based on feelings of deep remorse regarding World War II and contributed to peace and prosperity in the world. Taking pride in this, we must be a nation that contributes even more to peace and stability in the world. As we head toward the next decades to come, I intend to convey to the world the message of our strong resolve in this regard.
"This year also marks 70 years since the atomic bombings. As the only country to have suffered atomic bombings in war, Japan will lead the international effort on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Japan will bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. We are determined to play a major role in reforming the U.N. in a manner suitable for the 21st century."
Abe said the Japan-U.S. Alliance is the linchpin of Japan's diplomacy. "We will also proceed with the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements."
Abe concluded his speech by asking all lawmakers to work together across party and faction lines to pave the way for Japan’s future and "shine once more on the world’s center stage."© Japan Today