I’m very pleased to be back here in Perth. Thank you very much.
My programme’s been a bit disrupted, I’m sorry to say.
There was a very significant rain event in my electorate overnight – some swift water rescues I understand, and people who have been inundated with floods, and the rain is still continuing.
I’ve spoken to the Premier this morning and to our local Mayor, and I’m on a flight back straight up this morning.
So, I’m sorry I can’t stay here with you in Perth, but I’ll be back soon enough.
My colleagues are here in great number to be deputised and continue the work of Shadow Cabinet and our engagement with the great state of Western Australia.
I want to acknowledge all of my colleagues who are here today – I might ask them to stand and do a job lot, because what happens in this job is if you miss one, you’re not too popular.
But they’re an invaluable part of my team. I’m very proud of the collegiate nature of the team that we’ve got.
Going into opposition is always a miserable place. I say to people in business – and I had a business career before I came into politics as well – it’s like going bankrupt on Saturday night, the bank turning up, taking the keys, kicking you out of your building and then you’ve got to recreate the opportunity and amass your fortune over the next three years. And you can only do that if you have a tight team.
In 2007, when John Howard lost the election, we weren’t a tight team – we saw some of that evidenced on the ABC last night. But we’re in a very different space now, we’re a credible opposition, and part of that is the very significant engagement being undertaken by my colleagues.
So, I’d just like to ask them to stand – Michaelia Cash is our senior WA rep, and Andrew Hastie as well.
David Coleman, great to see you here.
As well as Jonno Duniam, Simon Birmingham, and Ted O’Brien.
Barnaby Joyce, you might have heard of – a great supporter of the sector.
Annie Ruston, Matt O’Sullivan, who does a great job here as a local Senator.
And Dan Tehan here from Victoria.
So please, make them welcome.
Rebecca, to you, I want to say thank you very much for your engagement, your willingness to speak to us, to give policy ideas – it is invaluable because you don’t have the resources of government, and necessarily, you want to continue to build those relationships. You’ve been incredibly easy to deal with and full of good ideas – most of them cost money, of course, on behalf of your members but that’s your task.
I also want to say thank you very much to Brandon for your leadership – coming to an end – both for the company and for the organisation. But thank you very much for the leadership you’ve provided and for your warm welcome this morning.
The Chamber certainly does an outstanding job in representing the interests of Western Australia’s resource sector – doesn’t matter whether that’s in relation to policy, research, media, industry support, but much, much more.
To all the members here today – to the leaders and representatives from small businesses through to large businesses – I want to say thank you very much for the work that you do.
You are nation builders and nation boosters. The rest of the country should be reminded of that on every occasion.
I’m very pleased that in the last 20 months, as Leader of the Opposition, one of the upsides of this job is the ability to travel from one end of the country to the other.
I was in Tasmania on the weekend looking at some of the work of the EDO down there, trying to cripple the aquaculture industry, and I’ll come back to that in a moment.
I’ve visited every state and territory, obviously.
I’ve been in Parliament over 20 years, and this must be well over 100 trips to WA, but it’s 12 during my period as Leader.
We’ve had great engagement, as I said before. We’ve listened to families, to small businesses, to workers, to manufacturers, to farmers, to young Australians in their first job, and to older Australians who have retired.
The visits to WA have been in-and-around the suburbs of Perth and Fremantle.
We’ve been to Kallaroo and Joondalup; and down to Mandurah and Bunbury.
We’ve been to Leonora, out to Laverton.
We’ve been to the Woolorama sheep event, which is a must do for those of you who haven’t been up to Wagin for that particular event.
We’ve been out to the Pilbara, to Roy Hill, and seen many fly in, fly out workers here in Perth and around the country.
They tell an incredible story of a dynamic state.
WA truly is a remarkable place.
It’s the fourth most populated state, as you know. But WA punches well and truly above its weight.
Over the past five years, WA’s economic contribution to the nation has been about 20 per cent – which is double its 10 per cent of the population share.
Indeed, per person, as you know, WA’s economic contribution is 60 per cent higher than the national average.
So why would we try and adversely affect it?
Last financial year, Western Australians generated almost $450 billion towards our country’s GDP.
Yours is a strong and multifaceted economy – it’s one characterised by producing, by providing, and by prospecting.
Doesn’t matter whether it’s in agriculture or viticulture, forestry or fishing, construction or defence, education or energy, manufacturing or mining, the endeavours of Western Australians resonate around the country.
Your resource sector, I think, is particular in the way in which it has set up our country for success.
WA’s abundant resources, or raw sector, deliver some $250 billion of mineral and petroleum sales last financial year.
In the Treasurer’s speech in the last budget, as you’re aware, he referred to the export of ‘things’, but he couldn’t bring himself to mention the word ‘mining’.
It gives you some understanding of the culture of the current Government.
But I do want to pay particular credit to the members of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA for the jobs you create, the prosperity you generate, and the opportunities you make.
But ladies and gentlemen, I am concerned about our national economy and the wellbeing of Australians – including here in the West.
WA is more resilient for the reasons I’ve just outlined, but wherever we go in the country at the moment, Australians are telling me one thing:
That they are being crushed by cost-of-living pressures.
The effects are visible everywhere.
People’s optimism has been replaced by demoralisation.
People are working harder but not getting anywhere.
Business confidence has collapsed with many struggling to stay afloat or having no choice but to close their doors permanently to stem the bleeding.
Industries are struggling and even moving offshore.
A key cause of Australia’s cost of living crisis, of course, is inflation.
Australia’s inflation is running at 4.3 per cent.
It’s persistent, it’s entrenched, it’s stubbornly high and it’s well above the 2 to 3 per cent target range for the RBA.
But even more telling is Australia’s core inflation – which is actually the best measure of inflation – it’s 5.2 per cent at the moment.
But that is higher than the core inflation rates of the United Kingdom, the US, Spain, Germany, France, Singapore, the Netherlands, Italy, South Korea, Canada, Japan and the entire Euro Area.
The Prime Minister says that it’s because of external factors – well, of course, they feed in.
He points his finger to the aftershock of the pandemic, and the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the impacts of shipping disruptions in the Red Sea.
As I say, there is always global factors that will feed into inflation.
But the Reserve Bank Governor has rightly pointed out that Australia’s inflation problem is indeed homegrown.
There’s two key points I want to press home today:
Firstly, the Federal Government is making bad economic decisions which are amplifying financial pressures and keeping inflation high.
Secondly, and more concerningly, I believe the Government is implementing ideological policies which are proving lethal for our national economy.
These policies are squarely targeted at those industries and sectors which make your economy tick – including the resource sector.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced that he would re-write the Coalition’s stage three tax plan.
In making the announcement in Canberra, the Prime Minister omitted this fact from his speech:
That under Labor’s tax changes, Australians earning between $135,000 and $200,000 will pay a top tax rate.
Millions of hard-working Australians who have saved, sacrificed and planned for their future and the future of their children – and who are also plagued by cost of living pressures – will receive a tax increase under this Government, instead of tax relief.
Many in this room today and beyond this wonderful building are working in the resource sector and they will be hit squarely by the blow of these tax changes.
It’s an attack on aspiration.
Now, the Parliamentary Budget Office’s SMART model forecasts that 240,000 hard-working Western Australians will lose out because of the Prime Minister’s tax changes.
Worse, that number will more than double to 510,000 by the end of the decade.
And it’s not just their families, it’s the fact that people decide not to go out to the restaurant, not to buy a new car, or not to invest more into their local community. It has a significant knock-on effect.
For so many Australians, the Government’s re-writing of stage three will hinder aspiration, crush confidence, and obliterate opportunity.
In retaining tax brackets which were to be abolished, of course the Government has been quite smart because they will take an additional $28 billion in tax from Australians over the next decade.
Again, something that was omitted from the Prime Minister’s speech to the Press Club.
By 2033, four million Australians will lose out simply because they are hard-working and aspirational.
The Prime Minister’s re-writing of the legislated stage three tax cuts, I think, is a most egregious broken promise.
It was a promise made on 100 occasions. I don’t think Australians will easily five or forget him for that breach of trust.
But I think Australians will also be asking, ‘what’s the next broken promise?’.
I know the Treasurer’s been out there reassuring us, despite calls from the backbench that there will be no changes to negative gearing.
But what we know is that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister will promise that 100 more times before they are then open to breaking that promise. That’s now their track record.
Will they get rid of refundable franking credits?
The Prime Minister’s refused to rule out a change in taxing arrangements to the family home.
Will farmers and miners lose the Fuel Tax Credit and instead have to pay a road tax for their vehicles and machinery that don’t even use public roads?
While the Government has put much attention on its re-writing of the stage three tax cuts, it’s failing to deal with the primary problem of inflation.
At a time when the Government needs to reduce inflation by spending less and saving more, it’s indeed saving less and spending more.
The Albanese Government has banked only 50 per cent of revenue improvements.
And we know there has been a staggering $209 billion spent since the election – that’s $209 billion more than what we had projected in our Government’s last budget.
The Government has now presided over two budgets.
There were spending initiatives which of course we supported, in childcare, in aged care, in taking care of people with disabilities, lower cost of medicines, combating domestic violence – among other measures.
But both of Labor’s budgets have been characterised by inflationary, reckless and useless spending, and that’s why we find ourselves in a unique position relative to many of our trading partners.
If such spending is causing inflation, then the Government’s over-regulation and excessive intervention is also damaging our economy.
Too many ideologically-driven Labor policies are harming businesses, de-industrialising our nation, and undermining productivity.
What is the point of closing down a mining operation in Australia, given the level of environmental approvals required, the standards, the scrutiny from media and others, when that mining operation will pop up somewhere in Africa or elsewhere?
At a higher net emissions cost to the global environment, we lose the Australian jobs, and we lose the economic productivity for this state and for our country.
The Government’s adopted policies which are hostile to sectors like agriculture, like mining, manufacturing, forestry and small businesses.
The industrial relations changes haven’t yet been felt by small businesses, but there are many people within supply chains who are going to have engagement with unions, including the CFMMEU, who have never seen a union rep in their business from the day they started.
And I think it’s going to be disruptive.
Environmental approvals for projects are harder to obtain, slower to authorise, and more expensive.
And as I said before, the Environmental Defenders Office has been given millions of dollars of ongoing funding by the Albanese Government to wage lawfare.
They’re a proxy for the Government’s true intent in relation to addressing projects which have already had valid approvals.
Santos’ LNG project in the Barossa field offshore of Darwin was in their sights, as you know.
But the EDO lost their Federal Court case with the Judge determining that evidence was confected and lacked integrity.
This is a body being funded by the Albanese Government.
Despite that humiliating defeat – and despite, to the credit, of the former WA Premier, Colin Barnett, calling for their abolition – the EDO is doubling down.
The same activists are now seeking to use the courts to thwart Woodside’s $16.5 billion Scarborough offshore gas field project here in WA.
Whether it is the Government’s environmental policies, or its funding of advocates to wage that lawfare, the goal is the same:
It’s to stymie existing projects.
It’s ok to have Madeleine King in the West saying that ‘we’re fully in favour of mining’ and then have Chris Bowen and Tanya Plibersek and others on the left on the East Coast saying, ‘we’re taking every step we can to close it down’.
It does stymie existing projects and it does stop new endeavours from taking off.
And to curtail investment in these sectors is just short-sighted.
Across our most three major exports – iron ore, coal and gas – there has been an 11 per cent drop in projects from 2022 to 2023.
We’re almost 60 per cent worse off, for all these projects have been delayed, stalled or cancelled altogether.
And that comes at a cost of a loss of $68 billion in investment.
The Government, as you know, also wants to phase out live sheep exports.
The industry is worth some $85 million, but again, it’s another example of the demand for that sheep continuing and another market replacing what we were able to export in a responsible way.
We lose the jobs, we lose the productivity – particularly in regional areas. We lose the viability of some of those towns when these decisions are made.
If advocacy wins out against economic pragmatism, and against the science, then the activists will turn their attention to other live exports, to other sectors, and it’s not productive for our future.
Western Australians know all too well that their forestry industry has been targeted at a time when timber supplies are critical for home building.
Are we going to stop using timber in our country?
No, we’re going to import it.
And we’ll lose the jobs, and we’ll lose the economic productivity, and we’ll end up paying a higher cost for that input product.
It’s a sector which remains essential for producing high-grade products, and we know that it’s a similar story in relation to silicon. Are we going to stop using solar panels? Or glass? Or plastics?
No. We’re going to import the product from China or from Maylasia or wherever else it may be produced, and there are limited places, as you know.
Why would we land that blow to the WA economy?
So today, I commit a future Coalition Government to cutting all Commonwealth funding from the Environmental Defenders Office.
We’re not going to allow activists to hold sway over our industries, our economy, and our elected Governments.
Small and family businesses across the country are suffering due to the Government’s antiquated views and union-appeasing agenda on industrial relations.
And it’s another prime example, as I said before, there will be an engagement people have never experienced before.
But an effective 21st century economy is one underpinned by flexibility, by choice and competitiveness – the very features undermined by the IR regime that’s coming into place.
Last year, more than 9,000 businesses went insolvent – that’s a return to the levels that we hadn’t seen since Labor was last in Government.
And I think these industrial relations changes are going to have a huge impact.
Consider the Maritime Workers Union at the moment, the strikes at DP terminals around the nation – including here in WA.
It’s caused a backlog of 55,000 containers costing the economy $23 million a day.
It’s disrupting businesses across the country.
To what end?
And the Prime Minister won’t intervene because he won’t overrule the boss of the union.
I think there is a lot of work to do, and I think we should rely on the fundamentals of our economy: of the marketplace, of the free market, to be able to allow people to invest, and to make sure that they can do so with certainty.
But it’s not going to happen under this Federal Government, because the expand of the control of the state, the curtailing of the individual enterprise through over-regulation, through excessive intervention and ideological policy is just not conducive to growth in any economy.
The greatest handbrake on our economy across the country right now is skyrocketing energy costs.
We know prior to the election, the Prime Minister promised to bring the bills down by $275.
Not an Australian I can meet anywhere says that their bill has reduced by $275.
That’s the reality – and we need to be very conscious of that.
We’ve moved around the country, we’ve spoken to Australians – not a single person.
We know, in fact, that electricity and gas prices have gone up by 23 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.
And that is just the start, because there is a $1.3 trillion transition cost of what Labor’s proposing with their ‘renewables only’ grid.
And it doesn’t provide the baseload that’s required for the certainty that we need.
Why would we be telling businesses in the current global demand environment that they need to phase down their production during particular times of the day.
When they want to employ more people, they want to produce more, their customers are demanding of it, but we’re doing so because of ideological reasons.
I think there is a lot of work to do.
Ted O’Brien’s the man who’s up to that task.
But we have to make sure that we have secure energy, that it’s cheap, and we need to make sure that industries and businesses have plenty of options available to them.
There’s only so much businesses can pass on.
There’s only so much people can absorb.
And ultimately, though, consumers pay the price.
Businesses will move offshore, as we’ve seen, where cheaper energy – in the United States at the moment, a third of the cost of what people are paying here.
Or they can shut up their shop altogether.
And again, we lose the jobs.
So we are looking at the idea of small modular reactors and the use of nuclear technology.
We’ve started this debate – and it’s gone unbelievably well, I might say.
It was 31 per cent support to start. It’s moved to 52 per cent, and particularly for a lot of younger people who are well researched on the topic, we’ve seen the fact that 50 countries are embracing nuclear technology.
We’re the only G20 nation in the world that hasn’t embraced nuclear technology for domestic needs or are in the process of doing so.
And I think, very clearly, we need to have a national debate about how we can provide support to renewables going into the system, as the transition of our energy system takes place, and we’re all embracing that.
But we need to make sure that it is done in a responsible way and where it’s conducive to value add, to further investment, and that’s what we’re committed to.
So I want to say today, thank you very much to the sector.
Thank you very much for the sacrifice that you make.
I spoke in my opening remarks about the fact that there is some awareness, at least on the East Coast, of what happens here in WA.
But there is not enough.
And we do need to recognise the economic powerhouse of Western Australia.
We need to make sure that we can provide support so that that continues, because there is not a replacement income for schools and for infrastructure costs on the East Coast or indeed here in WA.
The Government can close down mining tomorrow, they can say to countries like Korea and Japan and others who are worried about sovereign risk at the moment, that they can go elsewhere, but that would be devastating to our economy.
I think the Government needs to reconsider their approach.
The Coalition has a track record in providing support to the sector.
And I want to give you an assurance that if we’re elected to the next election, that will continue.
And we want to work very closely with Rebecca and her team to make sure that we develop the policy which is relevant to your businesses, and to make sure that in a global environment where there’s great competition for capital, that we can grow and expand the market here in WA.
That is going to provide our country with the greatest of futures.
We live in the best country already, we shouldn’t take it for granted, and we should fight for what we believe in.
That includes pushing back on bodies like the EDO.
I’ll finish with this story, where I started.
As I said, on Sunday I was in Strahan in Tasmania. Macquarie Harbour is seven times the size of Sydney Harbour.
The aquaculture industry in Tasmania employs 5,000 people and generates $1 billion worth of effort for that economy.
The Bob Brown Foundation and the EDO have joined up to petition Tanya Plibersek to review decisions which have been properly made, and environmental approvals which have been given and granted to three companies who are operating salmon farms – and Jonno Duniam was there.
They take up 2 per cent, about 2 per cent of the harbour, right?
We’re not talking about blanket salmon farming across the entire Macquarie Harbour.
It is the latest example of environmental madness.
And it’s not going to be replaced if it’s closed down by any other sector, or any other industry. It’s an isolated environment.
I believe that we need to have a Federal Government prepared to stand up for local communities, and prepared to stand up even when it’s not popular on social media, to make sure that we have a very bright prospect ahead.
So, thank you all very much for being here, and thank you very much for your time, and thank you for your engagement with my colleagues. They’re particularly keen to hear your ideas – even where great expense is involved.
Thank you very much.