Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Liberals, thank you very much.
It’s a very warm reception. I’m very grateful for it.
It’s nice to be here in the calm before the storm. You all are very civilised at this point in the weekend – tomorrow might be a different story.
Could I say thank you very much, firstly, to the President of your Division, Jason Falinski, for his friendship, for his leadership of the Party and for his contribution to our success at the next State election and the next Federal election as well.
Thank you very much to Mark Speakman for, again, a very decent presentation. A presentation of a future Premier, somebody who has already worked out the measure of this Premier. Well done Mark.
Could I also acknowledge Chris Stone, who’s given eight years of loyal, dedicated service to our Party here in New South Wales. And offer my commiserations to Richard Shields, who’s taking up the role. They say the Opposition Leader position is the worst one in politics, but I might say that the State Director of the New South Wales Division can’t be a distant second.
The secretariat and all of the staff, the work that they do, the fundraising that they’re undertaking, the change programs that they’re implementing – it’s always difficult – but I do want to pay special tribute to our staff today because they are integral to our success, both in Opposition, but more importantly when we’re in Government and many of them work tireless hours, well beyond what they’re paid, and like all of you, are dedicated to our Party. So please, would you also recognise all the staff of the Division.
Now, I joined the Liberal Party at the age of 18, which, as you can tell, is a long, long, long time ago; but like you, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without the support of this movement.
There are many Australians right now who are the forgotten Australians.
The creator of our great Party, Robert Menzies, spoke at great length over many decades about their attributes and about their contribution to our country.
As we move around New South Wales, as we move around the country, speaking to small business people and families and people who are working a second or third job now just to pay the bills. They need our support more than ever. More than ever.
We can provide that support to them if we win the next election, and we’re now moving into the second half of this election period.
This election period started on election night in 2022. It’s a three year campaign, and that’s the way that we’ve been treating it.
We are going to be successful at the next election.
I notice there’s been some media speculation around what my two-term strategy might be. There is no two-term strategy. Our strategy is one term, and for the sake of the Australian public, for the sake of our economy, to restore integrity to our national security and to make sure that we’re the best country that we can be, that is exactly the sole focus for me and for my team.
We’re in a strong position because of a couple of reasons:
One is, it’s a bad Government and they are making decision after decision which is negatively impacting, as I say, not just families, but small businesses, our economy, our international reputation. So we need to take that argument up to the Australian people that they’re a bad Government.
But they are first term Government – they’re not a nine year old or a 12 year old tired Government.
There wasn’t will for change in the first 12 months of this Government’s term, but there is now because we’ve been able to put pressure on a bad Prime Minister and on a bad Cabinet.
The only reason that we are in the strong position that we are today, the only reason that we are united together is because of the team that I lead.
And I’d like to ask each of my federal colleagues to stand now so that I can do a quick call out to them.
Would you please give Gus and Maria, Andrew, Jenny, Hollie, a great round of applause. Thank you. As well as Julian and Fletch – Fletch is doing numbers down the back of the room there; he’s hiding, hiding away, never stops working.
I want to give a special call out today to my Deputy, Sussan Ley, who has done a wonderful job.
We entered the Parliament together in 2001. She’s a champion for regional and rural Australia. She has a great CV. She’s loyal to the hilt and is a very important part of our narrative and communicating with the Australian public.
But I also want to give a very big shout out today to Angus Taylor, who I think does have the toughest job in Opposition.
I was the Shadow Minister for Finance and Competition Policy back in the Nelson days, and at that stage Malcolm was the Shadow Treasurer and it wasn’t an easy job then either.
But the work that Angus has done, the credibility that he has with the business community, the economists and many others across the country is well recognised.
He’s a very significant contributor to our leadership group, to our economic narrative, which will be central to our success at the time of the next election. So Gus to you, I just wanted to say thank you very much for what you’re doing.
Now, when this Prime Minister was going for his time, as he saw it, his fate, he saw himself as a Howard or a Hawke type Prime Minister. That’s what he told the Australian people – and I do believe that he goes to bed each night believing that he’s Bob Hawke – the trouble is he wakes up each morning as Gough Whitlam.
Every day he demonstrates that you can turn a good situation – a strong economy that you were bequeathed, strong borders, strong national security policy – that you can turn that into disaster day-by-day. Not just the Prime Minister, but the Energy Minister as well.
You would have seen Chris Bowen, one of our favourites. Any Chris Bowen fans in the house? No, no. Good, sound Liberals. It’s fantastic. You can pick a Labor dud a mile away.
He had his Energy Ministers’ meeting yesterday.
They are creating essentially a replication of the ‘pink batts’ scheme when Chris Bowen was last a Minister.
This is a giant ponzi scheme where they’re going to underwrite contracts for energy companies regardless of whether prices fall or rise in the contracts that will be long run and put the Australian taxpayer on the hook for years and years, indeed decades to come, at a time when Australian families can’t afford it.
We know that over the last 12 months, energy prices are up by 18 per cent.
We know that gas prices are up by 13 per cent.
We know that the energy regulator is now talking about a situation where there could be disruption to supply over the course of this summer.
So in the 21st century, in our country, we’re de-industrialising.
We’re saying to businesses you need to ration power.
That instead of putting more workers on and creating greater economic productivity, the time for you is to turn off your electricity during peak periods.
And not only that, but you’ll pay three times the price for your electricity to comparable countries like the United States, where businesses like BHP and other manufacturers – if their businesses close here today, they’re not re-establishing those businesses, they’re taking them offshore.
The cement industry is likely – under the current energy policy – to have to move offshore.
Now, I don’t even think that Anthony Albanese believes that our country can continue without the use of cement or concrete.
Now, he’s got some crazy ideas, but surely that is not one of them.
So in that scenario we lose the industry here, we lose the Australian jobs, we lose the multiplier in the Australian economy, and emissions go up because the product will only be reimported from Malaysia.
The same for our aluminium sector and the same for other sectors that use energy in a very intensive way.
Our country should be about providing stability so that we can be a destination for investment.
We know at the moment in a sector which is underpinning the Australian economy, in the mining sector, they contribute $39 billion worth of company tax each year and $24 billion worth of royalties.
One in three company tax dollars paid by the mining sector goes to pay for roads and infrastructure, schools and education and policing. And this Government is seeking to close it down.
You’ve got a situation now where trusted partners and destination markets for us in Japan and South Korea are starting to talk about sovereign risk for the first time.
There is huge demand for our resources, for our critical minerals across the world.
As economies transform, as they decarbonise, as populations grow, they are looking to Australia to invest and they are going to Africa.
If we want to pay off $920 billion worth of debt and growing under this Government, if we want those businesses to stay here, not to be forced offshore, if we want to provide the funding that is necessary in an uncertain age to keep our defences strong, to preserve peace in our region, we can only do that from a position of strength, not weakness.
We will need to grow the mining sector and every other sector to make sure that we can pay for those bills.
If we want to fund the NDIS, and if we want the infrastructure projects to keep up, we need to find the money from somewhere.
We need to play to our strengths, and that’s what Liberal Governments, that’s what Coalition Governments always do.
The first priority, though, and the first charge of any Government, of any Prime Minister is to keep their people safe.
Our strength is economic management and there is a huge Whitlam-style mess being created now that we will have to clean up when we’re elected in 2025.
But the first charge is to keep our people and our country safe.
As the Prime Minister rightly says, our region is at the most precarious point since the Second World War. And he’s exactly right.
That’s the advice he’s receiving from our intelligence analysts. It’s the advice that he’s receiving from our Five Eyes partners, and it reflects the reality of the world in which we live.
We know there’s great uncertainty in Europe where Russia has gone into Ukraine. We know that Australia has been a significant and first mover partner to provide support to Ukraine, something of which the Morrison Government should be especially proud.
We know that there are European nations worried about a spread of that war into Europe.
You’re getting European nations investing in defences, joining NATO for the first time since the Second World War. They are worried.
We’re seeing the atrocities committed by terrorists against Israel at the moment.
People are worried about whether Tehran steps up or through proxies with Hezbollah and others, broadens the fight out to a broader Middle Eastern conflict. That is a real prospect.
We’re worried about the South China Sea, where we see conflict between China and the Philippines, between China and Cambodia, between China and Japan, other countries in the region, and acts against our own Australian Defence Force personnel in recent days.
And the Prime Minister, when he’s asked about the fact, did he raise the issue where our Defence Force personnel had been injured with President Xi, our Prime Minister can’t even give a straight answer. He cannot look the Australian public in the eye and say whether or not he called out this behaviour.
Now, the Communist Party is saying that the conduct ‘didn’t happen’, but somehow our Australian Defence Force personnel were injured.
We have an incredibly important trading relationship with China. It’s sacrosanct and we’ll continue to build it.
We have an amazing diaspora community of people of Chinese heritage in our country who we celebrate every day as wonderful Australians.
But this country is not going to cower.
This country should not take a backward step in standing up for our national interests.
We should always be on the front foot in standing up for our values and making sure that we push back against actions which are against our national interests.
And Australians thought that in May of ’22 that they had such a Prime Minister, but as it turns out, the Anthony Albanese of today is not the person that people voted for 18 months ago.
People don’t want a weak Prime Minister at the moment, when the times demand a person with strength, but he doesn’t have that strength of character.
We’re seeing it in the domestic debate at the moment in relation to the rise, the appalling rise, of anti-Semitism within our community.
We have Jewish friends across New South Wales, across Victoria, Queensland, right across the country, who at the moment are living in fear in our country. And instead of speaking with a united voice, the fact is that the Prime Minister is leading a divided Party and many leaders within the Jewish community have called that out, and rightly so.
That people can’t wear their Star of David, or that they can’t wear any symbol which identifies them as being of the Jewish faith, out of fear as to what might happen to them or their children on the way to school, or sitting outside a synagogue or gathering in a place known to be frequented by people of the Jewish faith, is a shocking indictment on our country in the year 2023.
The scenes that we saw at the Opera House, Chris Minns apologised for, should never have taken place, were rightly condemned, and the Liberal Party led that charge, and I want to congratulate Mark again for his strong stance and the strong stance of his team.
We’re a Party steeped in strong tradition of not, in any circumstance, discriminating against individuals.
We’re an egalitarian society, we provide support to people who come from the four corners of the world, but at the moment our Jewish community is feeling a lot of pressure.
I know that I speak for the vast majority of Australians in saying that we want it to come to an end, that we want people to be able to walk freely within our community.
We don’t want travelling protests moving into those communities and causing trouble or provoking people into a response.
The Prime Minister’s difficulty is that he’s got people who are firmly divided in his team and not able to speak up for what is right.
The Prime Minister’s also demonstrated in terms of keeping the Australian public safe, that they haven’t had the agility to respond to the issues and the circumstances, the events before them.
I pay tribute to George Brandis, former Attorney-General, distinguished High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and keynote speaker today, George, who will mop up any of the difficulties or problems or inaccuracies that I’ve delivered in my speech – so thank you, George – but I acknowledge George because of the work that he did as Attorney-General in responding to the daily occurrences of court decisions and the issues that face Governments.
There’s always a separation of power, there’s always a respect for the courts and for the judiciary, but Governments need to respond to circumstances of the day; and the fact that the Government was caught flat footed – first understanding in June that there was a problem for them to deal with, with people who are non citizens, but who had committed serious crimes against Australian citizens – there was no draft legislation.
There was no preparedness or preparation for the likely outcome of the finding of the High Court, and the Bill that has now passed into law is a weak Bill because it was drafted overnight by a poorly prepared Attorney-General and Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration.
We now find out that not just 92 people who have gone out into the community – now well over 100 – and advancing potentially to 340 more; these are people who have committed sexual assault, and rape against women and children, who have committed serious crimes as non-citizens, and the Government has no idea what to do.
Our team provided some capacity and support to improve a bad Bill, but that mistake can’t be repeated by the Prime Minister because Australians deserve better than that.
The Prime Minister has also demonstrated – quite remarkably in my judgement – over the course of last week – and we made an announcement yesterday to make very clear the Liberal Party’s position – that is in relation to a proposal put forward by the eSafety Commissioner who is charged with keeping kids safe online.
The fundamental principle that we approach this issue with is that we want the rule of law as it applies in the real world to apply online.
Now, the Government’s taken a decision to reject a key recommendation of the eSafety Commissioner.
The recommendation was that there should be age verification for kids so that they can’t access pornography online. And when you speak to many of the groups – 45 of them who are in favour of adopting that recommendation, that the Prime Minister’s rejected, that we’ve committed ourselves to – these are groups who are regularly involved in the areas of preventing domestic violence or responding to domestic violence.
They are groups who are providing housing to domestic violence victims, they’re groups who are involved in educating kids so that they can be safe online.
We know that the content that these kids are seeing online is graphic – not just talking about nude images or non-confrontational images that people might instinctively conjure up in their mind, but these are graphic videos and they are playing into the young minds, particularly of young boys.
The Prime Minister hasn’t had, as his first thought, how to protect and defend Australian children and Australian families.
He’s rejected the advice of the 45 groups who have given their position to the Government, he’s gone with the pornography industry.
I kid you not, and I have not seen anything as negligent as this in a long time.
So, do I think this is a bad Government capable of being replaced after three years? You bet. You bet.
And not just because they’re bad, but because one of the most important things happening in the background for the Liberal Party at a federal level at the moment is our policy formulation work.
One of the great attributes of Tony Abbott’s leadership, led by Andrew Robb and others, was to apply a discipline when we were in Opposition to craft the policies which would see us re-elected and with a significant mandate and a program to roll out.
People need a reason to vote for us, not just to vote against the Labor Party at the next election and my Shadow colleagues who are here, and marginal seat members and others are contributing to that effort.
There are already a number of policies that we’ve announced, there are many more that are up to the third or fourth or fifth stage. They’re being properly costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office and we will have a bold agenda.
We’ve already taken a decision to start a national conversation, for example, in relation to nuclear energy.
Now, I’m not telling tales out of school, but when I first became Leader and I mentioned to our pollster and Federal Director Andrew Hirst that I was thinking about starting a conversation on nuclear energy in this country, that Andrew was particularly enthused or encouraging. I think he was realistic about the situation and I took that advice.
The polling was showing that there is probably about 30 per cent support for nuclear energy, zero emissions, latest technology in our country. Most people didn’t understand what it was about. Most people were influenced by the incidents of Chernobyl and elsewhere. Some people in the research were influenced by The Simpsons – if you’ve watched The Simpsons – some of the research work demonstrated that people didn’t want a Springfield going up in their backyard. Fair enough.
But what it demonstrated was that particularly for a lot of younger people who are most passionate about reducing our emissions, they understood that Australia is the only G20 nation not to either have embraced or to be on the pathway to embrace a zero emissions, latest generation nuclear technology.
They knew that we were an outlier and that Chris Bowen’s model of renewables only is completely and utterly unsustainable, as I pointed out earlier.
We have the ability to lead this conversation, and indeed, in recent polling that I’ve seen, the Australian public – through what has really been an organic discussion over a number of months, influenced by the decision on AUKUS to acquire nuclear propelled submarines – the polling is now at 52-48 in favour of nuclear in our country.
I want to finish on this note: our Party, as we’ve demonstrated over successive leaders and since the formation by Robert Menzies in 1944, has always been at its best when we stand up for the values that, you, as our members represent, that you embody.
We’re in a strong position now because we took a position on the Voice that we believed was in our country’s best interests.
We’re in a strong position today because we’ve taken a position on making sure that we can credibly meet our emissions reductions commitments, but we can only do that by being in a position to firm up renewable power. We’ve done that.
We’ve only put ourselves in the position of strength today because our team has been united in rejecting the excesses of a Whitlam type government.
There are many issues on which we could have said nothing.
We could have taken a free vote.
We could have let it go through to the keeper.
But we haven’t.
We’ve held a bad Government to account.
And we will be the credible alternative that the Australian public is craving because the Liberal Party, the National Party, a Coalition working together, can provide security for those families who are in all sorts of strife at the moment.
An average mortgage people are paying $25,000 more per year.
People are paying eight per cent more for their insurance premiums.
Twenty per cent more for their fuel under this Government.
And there is no end in sight.
So together, united with your support, we can win the next election.
I want to thank you very much for your loyalty to this Party through good time and bad. Sometimes it is true that the parliamentary wing does test your patience as Liberal Party members.
Having been around since 2001, I’ve been through a few of those tussles and observed up close and from afar some of the trials and tribulations.
But we’re here today having stuck together, having stood up for what we believe in, fighting hard for our values.
If we do that, we can win the next election. We can get our country back on track.
Thank you so much.