Subjects: Visit to Toowoomba; cost of living pressures; Labor deliver hollow energy deal; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; gas supply; housing affordability.
It’s great to have Peter Dutton here with us. He’s been a bit of a frequent traveller up to Toowoomba. We had him out at the base in Oakey not that long ago and a hall in Goombungee for a great visit. So, it has been wonderful to have him here and to get to really know the electorate.
What Peter’s going to be up here doing is listening to a lot of the concerns of the people in the electorate up here. He’ll be talking to people who are families, households, workers, small business owners, business leaders across the community. It’s important we do that listening to make sure that we can take their concerns back down to Canberra so we can really hold this government to account.
I know what I’ve been hearing, and I’m sure Peter will hear about that today; is people’s concerns about the cost of living pressures that we’re experiencing right across the country at the moment, and you’re seeing that right across the economy – whether it’s at the bowser or at a fruit and veg shop, like we are here today at Betros Brothers – the other concern people are raising is that there is simply no plan from the government as to how to address these cost of living pressures. That’s very concerning because that has an impact on decisions people are making.
It’s very hard for us to look ahead with confidence without knowing that there’s no plan in place, particularly at this time of year. Coming into the Christmas season, we want to be getting together, having fun, focusing on family, instead we are worrying about the economy and where the government is heading. So, at a time we should be with our loved ones enjoying ourselves, instead unfortunately these cost of living pressures are playing out in our lives.
But look, with that, it’s a great pleasure to have Peter Dutton come to Toowoomba.
Garth, thank you very much. I want to say thank you to the incredible Betros family for having us here today. This is an iconic family name and known now for 84 years in the local community, providing service and support and generations of kids now coming through the store here, working part-time and then working here as adults as well. It’s a remarkable success story, but it’s only possible because of the decisions that they’ve made over generations to make this a successful business, through their hard work, through their business acumen. So Bevan, and to you and your family, thank you very much for having us here mate, thank you.
Garth wanted me to come down here, to this store in particular, because we are really concerned for Australian families. With the cost of living crisis, people are seeing their mortgage rates go up, they’re hearing the government predict that there will be an eight per cent inflation rate next year. The cost of electricity continues to go up, the cost of gas continues to go up, every input into a family household budget, or into a small business budget is going up under this government.
For six months now, the government’s had time to work out what it is they’re going to do, and we’ve got the Prime Minister out now saying that they’re still putting together the plan, the legislation is not yet complete, and they’re planning on introducing it into Parliament next week.
What it demonstrates is that the government’s been flying flags for months now because they don’t know what to do. They finally landed a position last Friday. It was a compromised position, it has all sorts of unintended consequences I think will play out over the course of the next 12 or 18 months, and they’re putting the legislation together as we speak.
I think it shows a lot of insight into this government and the panic that they are experiencing at the moment. You’ve got somebody like Chris Bowen, who was the worst Minister in the Rudd-Gillard years. He was the architect of FuelWatch and GroceryWatch and many other disasters during his time as Minister. He’s the one who is putting together this crazy plan, and you’ve got a Prime Minister who is like a deer in the headlights, doesn’t know which way to turn, and Australian families are the ones who are suffering.
As Garth points out, coming up to Christmas, you want it to be a good time, not a time of pressure and stress, and families are feeling that stress from this Labor government at the moment because in the budget that they presented just last month, they predict after two years of Labor the price of electricity will go up by 56 per cent, the price of gas will go up by 44 per cent. We had a Prime Minister who promised the Australian public – not just on one occasion, but on 97 occasions – that their power bills would come down by $275. He has never mentioned that price, that $275 since the election. Not once, and yet he promised it 97 occasions before the election.
They are now talking about $230, which is another figure that’s been plucked out of the air. No wonder that all sorts of issues now are being raised about whether there is sovereign risk – companies like Glencore and BHP have already decided that they aren’t going to go ahead with investments that would have created significant numbers of jobs in our economy at a time when we need it.
So, what you’re seeing from the Prime Minister at the moment is more like Gough Whitlam than it is like Bob Hawke. That is a huge concern because if you pull the wrong economic levers, particularly in an economic downturn, then that will be catastrophic for families and businesses.
This Government is rushing us toward an energy plan which is not ready yet. You can’t turn off the old system before the new system is ready. If you do that, you’ll jack up prices, you’ll have blackouts in the system, and if we get that unreliability, then manufacturers and businesses like this that are running cold rooms, will find it very hard to operate day-to-day.
I’m very happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, the Coalition has been very critical of the government’s energy relief plan, what short term measures should the government be considering instead?
Well, the government’s just been elected. I mean they were elected six months ago, and they were elected saying that they had a plan to deliver a $275 electricity cut to families. Now, they haven’t honoured that plan, and it’s clear that they don’t have any plan. I think families are really quite bewildered by this Prime Minister who promised on 97 occasions that he would reduce the price of electricity bills by $275, and he just hasn’t done that.
So, the government’s just been elected and they can detail to the Australia public how it is they’re going to deliver on their promise to deliver a $275 cut to the power prices. It’s not going to happen, and this is a government that has mislead people, particularly at the last election.
I think when you cut through the smoke and mirrors of what they’ve announced now, all we’re going to see under Labor is an increase in your electricity bill and I think great uncertainty over the next couple of years about the reliability of power as well.
Are you really willing to vote against the plan and potentially block energy relief to households and businesses?
We’re not going to support a plan that is going to have devastating impacts in the medium and long term on our economy. We’re not going to support a Prime Minister who says before an election that he’ll cut power prices by $275 and never mentions it once he’s elected. You can’t trust this Prime Minister and he doesn’t have the instinct to make the calls on the economy.
He’s had six months to come up with a plan and we find out now that the plan he announced on Friday, is not even properly drafted yet. He said in interviews over the course of the weekend and the train wreck press conference he had on Friday that this was a plan that was put together, but now it turns out that they’re still drafting it. So, I think Australians are rightly shaking their heads at a Prime Minister that has promised so much but is delivering so little.
Can you explain what your concerns are with the temporary price caps?
Well, if you’ve got a situation where you are having more and more demand in the system for gas and you’re restricting supply, the prices will go up. We have been very clear for a long period of time now, you need to introduce more gas into the system. That is the advice that’s there from Treasury, from industry and from every economist that looks at this debate, they’re all telling the government to put more gas into the system. Yet, in the budget this government funded the environmentalists who are taking court action against the companies, that want to bring more gas supply into the system.
So, you can’t have it every way and the Prime Minister, on the one hand, is providing relief and on the other, is making decisions to restrict supply into the system, which is going to drive up prices. What you know in this situation that the government’s presiding over, is if you provide more pressure on inflation, you’re going to see interest rates go higher than they otherwise would be and that’s always been the case under Labor. You always pay more in your mortgage payments each month under Labor than you do under a Coalition.
Aren’t you then voting for higher power prices?
No, we’re not because the government is not providing any guarantee that you’ll see a reduction in power prices, or gas prices in what they’re doing. If you speak to many small businesses and medium sized businesses, they’re already locked into contracts for the next 12 or 18 months and this government just hasn’t been able to explain how they’re going to deliver their $275 cut in electricity prices, that they promised on 97 occasions before the last election, that they haven’t mentioned once since. They’ve introduced this figure now of $230, but they can’t explain how they’ve arrived at that figure and they’re taking gas out of the system, not putting more in, which is going to drive prices up. We’re not supporting that sort of witches’ brew of disaster.
Does the reasonable price measure amount to the nationalisation of our energy companies?
There are lots of analysts that are out there at the moment who are saying that this is the worst energy policy decision that they’ve seen in at least two decades. Now, that would take you back to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, which was a disaster for our country.
We spent years trying to deal with that mess, and to clean it up and as we know with the Whitlam Government, as we know with the Keating Government, as we know with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Governments, a Liberal government is always elected to clean up a Labor mess, and we’re seeing history repeat itself with a Labor government that might have good intent, but has no capacity to deal with the issues that our country is facing at the moment.
We’re not going to support a government that has no idea what they’re doing and in the short and medium term – and in certainly the longer term – you’re going to see companies who will withdraw their applications for developments which will result in job losses, in less economic activity in our country and emissions that will just take place in other parts of the world – so there’s no environmental benefit out of that either.
I think the government is floundering at the moment. They don’t know what they want to do. The Prime Minister’s got the theatre, and you know the hype of calling back Parliament like that’s some big move, but all that will remind people of is that this is a bad government making a situation worse for Australians.
What do you propose is the solution to the cost of living crisis?
Well again, this government’s just been elected. They went to the election saying that they had a plan. They’re not implementing the plan because clearly they don’t know which way to jump and they’ve been suggesting every idea of price caps, super taxes, all sorts of issues that they’ve raised over the course of the last couple of months, but in their budget, in their document, where they detailed their plans, they were honest with the Australian people when they said that under Labor, after two years of Labor’s energy policies, you’re going to see electricity go up by 56 per cent and gas prices go up by 44 per cent.
On the issue of housing availability, the state and federal governments combined are looking at building 20,000 new social houses over the next five years. Frontline organisations say that’s a shortfall of 500,000. What are your thoughts on the plan?
Well again, we’re in December, the budget was in October. Remember that they made a promise in relation to housing in the October budget, it was that they were going to create a million homes. Now, that hasn’t been spoken of since the budget. So, it’s bad enough a Prime Minister who promises six months ago – it’s not that long ago – six months ago that they would cut power prices by $275.That’s been forgotten about, he doesn’t mention that figure. So, families can forget about that promise.
Now in a budget, two months ago, they promised to build a million homes and they are now walking back from that figure. So, I just don’t know that you can trust this government and again, maybe it’s not born of bad intent, but the incompetence that now is on display with Jim Chalmers and Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese…I mean this should ring alarm bells and for families who are starting to struggle with all of the cost of living pressures, this is a government that’s got no idea what they’re doing.
Thank you very much.