Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday took aim at what he termed four deep-rooted problems plaguing Hong Kong, in a speech to Legco that amounted to a mini policy address.
Identifying the issues as housing, the environment, poverty and the elderly, he said sustained and higher economic growth was needed to provide the resources to tackle them.
On housing, he said measures already introduced to stabilise the property market were only the start and he had more he could launch as needed "just by making a phone call".
Leung stood firm against calls for concessions in the means test for the new old-age allowance but promised to study a possible universal retirement protection scheme - a pledge certain to trigger a heated debate.
Breaking tradition, Leung delayed his first policy address from this month until January, saying it will give the government more time to consult lawmakers. But yesterday he presented a de facto policy address without fresh policy initiatives.
He spelled out his governing philosophy, such as a more proactive role in economic development, and elaborated on his positions on such thorny issues as the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Leung also acknowledged growing anti-mainland sentiment in some areas, saying: "We shouldn't close our borders and live in isolation. Hong Kong's core values are widely recognised by members of the public and will not be undermined by interaction with the mainland and other countries."
Leung said the government would introduce further timely measures to ensure steady development of the property market.
At a meeting with senior editors after the speech, Leung said: "I have some measures in my pocket and can announce them just by making a phone call."
The Monetary Authority moved on September 14 to cool the city's overheating property market by making second mortgages harder to get.
This came a day after the US Federal Reserve unveiled a third round of quantitative easing measures (QE3) to provide liquidity and to keep US interest rates low until 2015.
Leung told the editors that apart from the living allowance for poor elderly, he would study the universal retirement protection scheme.
A working group on social security and retirement protection will be set up under a soon-to-be-revived Commission on Poverty, which is expected to define a poverty line for Hong Kong.
But Leung said there was little the government and employers could do if Hong Kong failed to maintain a higher pace of economic growth.
Professor Joe Leung Cho-bun, of the University of Hong Kong's social work department, said given the complexity of the issue, it was unlikely anything would emerge on the retirement protection scheme in the next five years.
Leung also said the government would not relaunch the embattled government restructuring plan in the near future, as reported by the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit dismissed Leung's address as a "waste of time". "It's so hollow that there were echoes in the Legco chamber," Leong said.