02 May 2023
Subjects: Visit to Padstow; cost pressures on Australian manufacturing; cost of living pressures; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Jobseeker; vaping regulation; Scott Morrison.
Welcome and thank you for coming to join us here at A.H. Beard. A.H. Beard is 123-year-old, fifth-generation bedding manufacturer, proudly supporting Australian-made and owned manufacturing here in Australia. Obviously, the conditions out there in the market are pretty challenging at the moment, both in terms of consumer demand and the rising cost of manufacturing, not least of all things like electricity and transport costs. It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to invite Peter, Angus, and David here – and I thank them for coming out and spending some time with our team today to understand some of the pressures that manufacturers here in Australia are facing at the moment. So, thank you, gentlemen, for being here, greatly appreciated.
Thanks, Tony. Good morning. Terrific to be here at A.H. Beard. A remarkable Australian success story going back to the 19th century that in that time has employed literally thousands of Australians and some 470 people today – one of the largest employers in my electorate of Banks. I want to thank Tony and Allyn Beard for hosting us today and telling us about some of those issues that Tony mentioned, particularly around the rising cost of electricity, which is putting manufacturers and large employers like A.H. Beard under significant pressure at the moment, but it’s great to be here and thank you to A.H. Beard for hosting us.
Thanks, David. Great to be here at A.H. Beard with Tony and hearing about the real pressures that this business and as we’ve seen with other manufacturing businesses, are facing real pressures right across Australia right now, both on the customer side where we’re seeing customer sensitivity to high interest rates, high inflation and customers are responding to that, and that’s creating real pressures for Australian businesses. But also, on the operational side of business itself, facing those cost pressures and having to manage those cost pressures. But despite all of that, A.H. Beard is an Aussie world leader. It’s exporting to the world, exporting mattresses, absolutely a brilliant product to the world. But sadly, Australia is a world leader in the wrong way, in a different way right now, and that is we have the highest core inflation in the G7.
At 6.6 per cent, we’re ahead of the US, we’re ahead of the UK, we’re ahead of Europe, Italy, you name it, country after country, Australia has the highest core inflation of the G7. This is not something to be proud of. It’s why this upcoming budget is so crucial. Labor has missed the opportunity to deal with these inflationary pressures. We’ve seen rising interest rates as a result, and let’s be clear, this is inflation that is home-grown. It is home-grown. It is not coming from Vladimir Putin. It’s not coming from Russia. It’s coming from Canberra. It’s not coming from the Reserve Bank. It’s coming from the government.
Now we need a government that deals with this head-on and that means a budget that is focussed on budget balance. Labor took budget balance out of the fiscal strategy at the last budget. It needs to be returned, and with that we need to see a surplus this year. It’s achievable, we’ve heard economists today, credible economists today saying this can be achieved and we need to see the government focussing on balancing the budget because that will help Australian businesses and households to balance their budgets, taking pressure off inflation, taking pressure off interest rates. As we see there’s another Reserve Bank decision that’s got to be made today, but we know whatever that decision is, that it is absolutely crucial that we see a budget that takes pressure off the Reserve Bank, and takes pressure off inflation and interest rates.
Now, the real test of this budget is not just balancing the budget, it’s also making sure that the government doesn’t raise taxes and impose extra costs on Australians, slow the growth of the economy, and we need to see a budget that takes red tape off businesses like this one, that makes sure they’re given every chance to succeed in the world as this business here is today. Over to you, Peter.
Well, firstly, thank you very much, Tony, to you and to Allyn, to the entire workforce here at A.H. Beard. This is an incredible Australian company with a very proud heritage, and the family should be very proud of what they’ve been able to create in this fourth generation and going into the fifth. We have far too few manufacturers in our country because of the input costs, and we’ve heard some of that story here today. So, Tony, to you and to the tenacity that you have, it’s a great credit, and I just want to say thank you very much for having us here and learning more about the story, the export opportunity, the sales into the domestic market, the manufacturing processes here. It’s all been fantastic to see.
I want to say thank you very much to David Coleman, who is renowned amongst his colleagues in the Coalition for being a great marginal seat campaigner and you’ve seen the affinity that he has with his constituents, and the way in which he’s connected into small businesses, manufacturing businesses, right across the electorate. It’s a great effort by David and really pleased to be here with him today. As I am with Angus Taylor, who obviously has been doing a mountain of work in calling out this government who’s making it harder for Australians at the moment.
It’s incredible to see a lot of families in the position that they are today compared to where they were 12 months ago. But there are a lot of Australians who are doing it incredibly tough today because of decisions that this government has made which has fuelled inflation and a lot of people aren’t interested in economics, but we do know that when inflation is running at seven per cent – and that’s well above the target band for the Reserve Bank – that interest rates aren’t coming down any time soon. I worry for a lot of families who have big mortgages, who thought they heard the Prime Minister say that he was going to lower the cost of their mortgages before the last election. The Prime Minister promised on 97 occasions that he would lower electricity prices by $275, and I can’t find an Australian that can show me a bill that indicates that their power prices have come down by $275 under this Labor government.
So, we’ll wait and see what they have in store in the budget next Tuesday, but I do worry for a lot of small businesses who are seeing a softening in the consumer market at the moment, and that will flow onto employment. It will mean significant pressure on inflation if we continue to see a lot of those cost increases passed on to families, particularly energy costs. I just can’t emphasise enough the pain that families are going through when they get their gas bill and their electricity bill, because it comes on top of what they’ve seen in their insurance bill and what they’re paying at the bowser, and what they’re paying in the supermarket, and under this government, they are making it much harder for Australians at the moment. I hope that they can make the right decisions in next Tuesday’s budget.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, do you see any merit in lifting the JobSeeker rate for over 55s?
Well, there’s a lot of speculation around at the moment on what the government will do. We will wait for the budget next week. We need to make sure that we can increase participation in our country, not decrease it. So, we want incentives there for people to be able to work if they have the capacity to work. Last June – 12 months ago, almost, we made an announcement in relation to providing further incentive into the system for people on age pensions and those that are on military pensions who want to work extra hours if they choose to do so, without it penalising or reducing their pension. So, I hope the government’s able to make decisions that aren’t going to fuel inflation because we’ve seen a lot of that over the course of the last 12 months. The industrial relations changes are still going to impact in a very negative way over the course of the next 12 months, so there are a lot of worrying signs, but let’s wait to see the announcements of next week.
Would you be able to survive on $49.50 a day?
Well, clearly, for a lot of Australians, it’s tough and the government’s making it tougher. We want to see more employment opportunities, not less. At the moment the government is making decisions which will make it harder for businesses to employ people. Unemployment at the moment’s at three and a half per cent – an historic low, but it should be lower and there are jobs out there at the moment that just can’t be filled. We want to see more people in to work and we don’t want to see a government that is making it harder for Australians.
As a former health minister and a father, do you believe recreational vaping should be stamped out?
Well, a couple of points. Firstly, as Health Minister, I was proud to set up the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. We increased the number of GP places, we increased spending right across the portfolio, in particular into public hospitals, where during my time, spending and our investment into hospitals went up by 16 per cent. On the issue of vaping, again, we will wait to see what the government has to say, but I do think there is a significant problem in our country, it needs to be addressed, and we would support the government in sensible measures which saw a reduction in the vaping rates. In government, again, one of my proudest achievements as Health Minister following the work of Tony Abbott and others, was to see the smoking rates reduced to some of the lowest in the world. I don’t want to see those smoking rates go back up. I don’t want to see vaping as a gateway into smoking. I want to see us prioritise the health – particularly of young people. So, we will support sensible measures, but we haven’t seen anything yet from the government by way of detail, so we’ll wait to see that.
The Nationals want to go the other way in government and regulate vaping the way cigarettes are. Do you back that move?
Well, we’ll have a discussion once we get the details from the government.
Has Scott Morrison told you he’s resigning from Parliament soon?
No, he hasn’t. I had dinner with Scott the other night. He’s obviously a distinguished former prime minister of our country and in relation to his own future, well, that’s a question for him.
Are you looking forward to another by-election, hot on the heels of Aston?
Well, as I say, his future is a question for him and he can make a comment in relation to that at the appropriate time if that is necessary.
All good? Thanks very much, guys. Thank you.