Subjects: Visit to Central Queensland; Cost of living Pressures, the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Labor’s history of cutting defence spending; Labor’s crab walking away from legislated tax cuts; support for Ukraine; nuclear energy.
It’s great to be at Dobinson’s Springs in Rockhampton today and this is a third generation business that supplies springs all over the world and a great business for local production and so many local jobs are here. I’m very pleased today to have Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition here and Ted O’Brien, who’s the Shadow Minister and we’ve got Shadow Cabinet in Rockhampton today which is very important.
This just goes to show that the Coalition is out in the regions talking to the people. So, a lot of my shadow ministerial colleagues are out and about all over Central Queensland talking to different businesses, listening to what the issues are, listening to what the problems are. There are a lot of people that are really hurting at the moment, but I’m really pleased that my colleagues are here because there’s just so much going on here in Central Queensland – from the amazing Alliance Airline project, to the billion dollar Ring Road, to the defence projects that we have here – it’s just absolutely booming at the moment and we are crying out for workers. So, I’ve been very pleased to show Peter and Ted around today and I’ll now hand over to Ted. Thank you.
Michelle, thank you very much and just so happy to be here in Rockhampton with you, and of course with our leader, Peter Dutton.
Well, Labor promised us that power prices were going to go down – they’re going up. Here we are at yet another family-owned business – third generation no less – that have been serving the world with their manufacturing capability. With 30 per cent of their cost base being electricity, you can imagine what’s going to happen if the 35 per cent increases that are forecast to electricity prices come to bear at this business, next year. That’s over a 10 per cent increase in their cost base.
This is a company that competes on the global stage against major countries, including China, that can deliver products extremely cheaply. We need to ensure that we remain competitive as a nation, but that’s not going to happen when we have Labor’s pathway to 2050, which is vastly different from the pathway that the Coalition was on. We are seeing power prices go up, we are seeing a lack of supply in the market. Labor is looking at restricting dispatchability when we need more, restricting gas when we need more, and this is why we have on the ground level, companies such as this that are doing it tough and they’re going to do it a lot tougher as time goes on, not just here in Rocky, in Central Queensland, but across Australia if Labor continues to tell people they’re going to get power prices down when we all know the truth – they’re only going up.
Well, thanks very much, Ted. Thank you firstly, Michelle to you and to the team here. Look, we were really keen to get the Shadow Cabinet to come to Rockhampton into Central Queensland and to get a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground in businesses like this, in manufacturing and farming and mining – many sectors that contribute significantly to the Australian economy.
Michelle is a champion here in Rockhampton and for her local community. There are many projects that she’s fought for, she worked very hard to secure additional jobs in her region as a result of the defence support at Shoalwater, and the multiplier of that through the economy is quite phenomenal. It means extra people are employed in local jobs, it means that they can pay their mortgages or their rent, it means they can contribute to their local community, spend money at local shops, buy vehicles and really give back to the local economy here in Central Queensland. So, Michelle, thank you very much just for your passion, for your genuine concern and desire to help people on the ground and your colleagues recognise that and it’s a big part of why we’re here today.
Thank you also to Ted, who is just leading the charge for the Coalition on what’s one of the most incredibly important debates in our country, not just today, but over the next decade. Families at the moment are getting their power bills and their gas bills each month, and they’re struggling to pay those bills now. Many of them voted for Anthony Albanese at the last election because he told them – looked them in the eye and promised them – that those power prices would go down by $275. He promised it on 97 occasions, he’s not mentioned it once since the election, and the figure now, of course, which is in people’s minds, is that electricity prices under Labor will go up by 35 per cent over the course of the next year and much more into the future beyond that.
So, Labor promised people that they had a plan to deal with power prices. The fact is they don’t have a plan. They haven’t rolled anything out over the course of the last five months and in this Budget, they’ve made it very clear that they don’t have a solution to the cost of living pressures that families are under at the moment. So, it’s not just for families, but for small businesses and for businesses like this.
I want to say thank you very much to Ben and to the Dobinson family, for the three generations they’ve employed local residents here. They’ve exported, and continue to export to all parts of the world. They can compete in the Asian market, they export to the Middle East, and they provide local jobs here for local residents who want to live in Rocky and live in the general vicinity, and put their kids through school, and without these sort of businesses, people wouldn’t be here in the community – that’s incredibly important.
So, the Coalition is absolutely determined to make sure that we can help families and small businesses with their cost of living pressures, and that’s why we’re here – particularly in regional areas – listening to local residents about ways in which we can improve their situation. By the time of the next election, we’ll have those plans very clearly announced and annunciated to the Australian public. So, thank you all for being here, and a special thank you to Dobinson’s for the work that they do.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, you talked about power prices, what could the government do to ease power prices? Should they be giving payments to lower income earners? Could they do that without worsening inflation?
Well, I think what they should be doing is implementing that plan that they announced before the election. Their plan was that they would reduce power prices by $275. They promised it on 97 occasions – they’ve not delivered on it; they’ve not even mentioned the figure, $275 since then. If you listen to Richard Marles and his interview this morning on Channel Nine, it was a complete train wreck. I mean, Richard Marles was sent out by Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers to create a distraction away from the debacle of last week where the government was contemplating – and seems still is contemplating – abolishing their plans to honour their election commitment to stage three tax cuts.
Richard Marles was asked on six separate occasions in a train wreck interview whether he committed to the $275. He couldn’t give a straight answer. So, he was out there trying to create a distraction and throw this red herring in to try and distract us from the debacle of last week on tax cuts, where Anthony Albanese was in favour and then against and Jim Chalmers was against during the week, and you had other members and ministers out there with every position in between, and it’s still not clear because the Prime Minister refuses to front the media to explain whether he can guarantee he will honour his election commitment when it comes to those tax cuts. But again, he looked the Australian public squarely in the eye, made a promise which he is now squibbing on.
Those tax cuts go to support families on incomes of $45,000 to $200,000 a year. They abolish the 37 per cent tax rate and they reduce the 32.5 down to 30 per cent. The Labor Party still haven’t made it clear whether they will adopt that policy right through to the next election or whether they’ll change it in the next budget. People need to plan. They need to make decisions about the mortgage that they want to take out. They know that interest rates are going up under this government and they thought there was some support coming their way, but it seems under Labor, there’s just no certainty. With that sort of indecision, they kill confidence, and that’s what I’m worried that this Budget will do for families and for small businesses, and we don’t want to see confidence attacked at the moment.
Independent MP Monique Ryan says that the opposition has wedged the government on stage three tax cuts and the way you’ve gone about broken promises is unhelpful. What’s your response to that?
Well, Monique Ryan, again made a promise to the people of her electorate at the last election that she would support stage three tax cuts. At no stage did Monique Ryan tell the people of Kooyong that she didn’t support the stage three tax cuts. There is overwhelming support in her electorate for these tax cuts to be delivered, and she campaigned on a platform of integrity and honesty, and she hasn’t been honest with the people of her electorate. I think Monique Ryan needs to come out and apologise to the people of Kooyong for, at the very least, being deceptive before the election. But she has thrown her constituents under a bus in a haste to join the Labor Party in what she thought was going to be their position, it may still be their position, but we don’t know. If she didn’t support the tax cuts and she wants to see an effective tax increase for people on incomes of $45,000 to $200,000, she should have told her electorate that before the election.
The Alinta Energy CEO said prices could go up 35 per cent if coal generators close without sufficient renewables in place. What’s your response to that?
Well, I just think, again, we’ve got to get back to the reality that we live in at the moment. It would be great to have more renewables in the system, but you need to firm them up. So, if we can take away the emotion and just have an honest debate about where Labor is taking us. If the solar panels worked over nighttime, that would be fantastic, we’d all be very happy with that, but the fact is that they don’t, and if it’s an overcast day, or the wind’s not blowing and the turbines aren’t working in providing that energy generation, you need to firm it up. You need to back it up with an energy source that allows the business here to keep the lights on when the workers are here. Because if the lights go out, because if you’re just relying solely on renewable energy, the lights here can’t stay on, and the workers can’t do their work and the business closes. I mean, it’s as simple as that. In Los Angeles at the moment, in California, you’re seeing the prospect of rolling blackouts. In Europe, people this winter are talking about either heating or eating, but not both – and we don’t want to go down that path, but that is the path Labor’s taking us down. So, if you don’t like coal and you don’t like gas, what firms up the renewable energy? It’s not hydrogen. Hydrogen uses between seven and nine litres to produce one unit of hydrogen. You haven’t got hydro that’s going to be scaled up. You don’t have a battery, because the battery lasts about 75 minutes at the moment and the companies will tell you they need about two weeks of firming. So what is it that’s going to firm up that renewable energy? If you have unreliability for businesses like this – for manufacturing businesses, or you have prices that continue to be driven up by that uncertainty under Labor, then those jobs will go offshore, these Aussie jobs will go and there will be no net benefit to the environment. So, Labor needs to deal with the reality because families certainly are dealing with the reality of higher power prices under Labor and they’re promising not to go down, but promising to go up over the course of the next 12 months and beyond.
Well, we’ve started a debate in relation to nuclear energy, which is a safe modular reactor energy that is being adopted by Canada, by France – already on significant scale, by the United States, by China, Germany is looking at nuclear technology, because it has zero emissions and it firms up those renewable inputs into the grid. The Labor Party is talking about spending a couple of hundred billion dollars-plus on rolling out new poles and wires around the country at the moment, and as we saw in Germany, they decided to stop that because the cost ultimately is going to be passed on to consumers and it’ll make the 35 per cent increase look like a walk in the park. So, I worry most about families and businesses who are facing higher power prices under Labor and the Coalition is working on sensible plans that we will deliver to the public by the time of the next election. But the government has just been elected on a plan that they said would reduce power prices by $275. We find out now under Labor that with their policies power prices are going to be jacked up by 35 per cent over the next year.
A new poll shows 33 per cent of voters think the government should put the budget savings into defence, over cuts to the health system, aged care and NDIS. Would allocating funds in this way be a mistake?
Well, what I know about defence spending is that over the last five months since the election when Richard Marles has been the Defence Minister, he’s made no decisions, he’s just commissioned further reports and enquiries. That’s not going to deliver a single ship. Now, when we were in government – over our eight or nine years in government – we commissioned 64 subs or surface fleets, so ships or submarines. The Labor Party, over their six years in government, produced not 64, not 16, but zero. Now we live in a very uncertain time, and we need to invest in defence and obviously the agreement that the Coalition struck with the US and the UK through AUKUS, not only will deliver us submarines, but also technologies in space and in AI and many other areas where defence is doing considerable work. We invested into underwater technology, autonomous vehicles and the like. There are over 120 major projects that Defence is working on at the moment and Richard Marles, instead of talking down the ability of the Australian Defence Force to deliver these projects, should start acting like a Minister for Defence and explaining to the Australian public how it is, in a very uncertain environment, he’s going to make decisions and help keep our country safe.
Should Australia be offering more support to Ukraine and what should it look like?
We should be offering more support to Ukraine. As Defence Minister, I was very proud to deliver support of over a quarter of a billion dollars. They were weapons systems, the Bushmasters that President Zelenskyy himself had asked for. It’s not obvious to me what it is the Labor government’s actually delivered to Ukraine since they were elected in May from their own announcements. I know the Prime Minister made an announcement for some further Bushmasters when he was in Ukraine, but I’m not aware that they’ve been delivered. I hope they are and we would be very supportive of the government in delivering more support to Ukraine because the barbaric acts that are being committed on innocent men, women and children in Ukraine by President Putin at the moment are an abomination and the world needs to unite to further strengthen the sanctions, to make sure the sanctions that are in place now are being used effectively and are being honoured to the letter of the law and in the spirit that countries have signed up to it. There should be no subverting of that process and I think there is a renewed effort that’s required and again, we would support the government in those efforts.
The government’s [inaudible] Ukranian troops, can that be done without putting Australians at risk?
Well, there’s a classified element to that offer of assistance and it may be that training can take place, but it’s in a covert way and maybe that’s because of the host country and their desire to acknowldege that other troops are there training. There may be for strategic reasons as to why Richard Marles wouldn’t want to release that, but we would support that, in principle: not troops going into the Ukraine, but in adjoining or adjacent countries or third countries otherwise, where we could deliver assistance to Ukraine soldiers and to those on the ground to help them get the most out of the equipment that we are delivering to try and keep people safe in that part of the world.
You spoke about this earlier, Jim Chalmers is going to the US to discuss the global economic outlook. Given the state of the global economy, would the government be right to break election promises?
The government knew about the state of the Australian economy – the level of debt and the rate of unemployment, the participation rate – they knew all the indicators before May. Nothing substantive has changed in the intervening period. So Dr Chalmers is out there saying that they need to break election promises or Mr Albanese is saying that, despite promising on 97 occasions that they would undertake to do a certain thing. Look, there’s no justification at all for broken promises from the Labor Party. It’s very clear that Labor inherited an economy with very strong fundamentals, unemployment at a 50 year low. A situation where the US and the UK might likely to go into recession over the course of the next calendar year, but the Australian economy is unlikely to go into recession unless Labor makes really bad decisions in this Budget.
If Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese continue to kill the confidence of Australian consumers and Australian small businesses and manufacturers, then they will drive us into recession. That’s not something that we want and I hope that Dr Chalmers can start talking up the Australian economy instead of talking it down. But they went to the election with a plan, we need to see the plan, and Australians voted for the Labor Party based on that plan being delivered. At the moment there’s no sign of it so the Budget is their opportunity to live up to their promises and if they’re intending on breaking promises, or implementing new taxes, then they should be very clear and upfront with the public, that they have broken that trust, and the faith that people had placed in Mr Albanese, I think, will be tested by the time the Budget’s delivered.
Thank you very much.