Subjects: Small business visit in Albion; Labor’s cost-of-living crisis; US Marine Corps Osprey incident; Yang Hengjun; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal; the ‘yes’ campaign’s “redirection” of voters who ask for detail on the Voice; the ‘yes’ campaign’s description of mining companies as ‘villains’; Wear It Purple Day; David Crisafulli; the Queensland Labor Government’s myriad failures; GST.
Thank you very much for being here this morning.
I want to say thank you firstly to Dan and to all of the staff here at Fonzie Abbott for hosting us. It’s a pretty incredible story, but it’s a very similar story across retail sites – not just in Queensland but across the country – and I just want to pay tribute to the tenacity of our small business owners at the moment who are really doing it tough under this Labor Government.
There have been two budgets; two opportunities to get the economic settings right, and instead of make it easier for small business, it’s clear that with every decision Labor’s made, they’re making it harder for small business; harder to employ people, harder to make their business sustainable.
As Dan pointed out before, during the COVID period, they went through a tough time – like many Australian businesses with the lockdowns. In the floods here, the water was about a metre deep where we’re standing right now, and Dan says even when you compare it to COVID or if you compare it to the floods, this is a tougher period, and that’s a pretty significant statement. I think James and I were pretty shocked by that advice.
So, if it’s harder for small business now, it’s going to get harder as the Government continues with their renewables-only policy. It’s going to drive up prices. Every input cost where energy is involved has to be passed on to consumers – that’s the reality – and that’s why we’re seeing a very significant inflationary period at the moment under Labor.
I want to say thank you very much to Senator James McGrath for being here and for the work that he does – in particular with small businesses. Lots of representations, lots of engagement to understand the issues that are facing them and that all feeds into the policies that we are working on at the moment to make Labor’s bad situation – turn that around and make it into a better situation for Australian families and businesses.
I also want this morning to acknowledge the loss of life in the Tiwi Islands. The United States is our most important military power and friend and ally. They’ve been through thick and thin with us and they were there a few weeks ago when we lost the lives of our airmen in North Queensland.
So, there are five – as I understand it – US troops in hospital at the moment in Darwin, but there were 23 on board that Osprey and this is a very significant incident. So, our thoughts, our condolences, our prayers go out to those who were lost; their families, their comrades, and to all of those who are in the Defence family in North Queensland at the moment, both wearing a US uniform and an Australian uniform, they will be feeling this loss very acutely. So, we pass our thoughts and our prayers onto all of those who are affected by this tragedy.
America is an incredibly important friend. They’re family to us, and this is a very significant event. We know that the Australian Government is doing everything they can, the emergency service workers, the response from the Northern Territory Government – all first-class, and I just want to acknowledge all of that effort and we’ll support the Government in whatever measures are required to address the incident and to make sure that we keep our troops safe.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Detained Australian Yang Hengjun has aired concerns that he might die in prison in China. He has a cyst on his kidney, I understand. Are you confident that the Australian Government is doing everything it can to secure his treatment or his release?
Well, no doubt the Prime Minister will raise this with his counterpart. It’s important that we recognise the human rights abuses. It’s important that we raise issues – particularly where Australian citizens are affected and particularly where there is a threat to life because of a health condition. So, no doubt the Prime Minister will raise this – as the Government should – and we support the Government in those efforts.
The Prime Minister says he believes WA can be convinced to support the Voice. Do you think states like WA and Queensland are in-play, and how significant a role will you play in the ‘no’ campaign?
Well, it’s clear that Australians have just asked, in a reasonable way, for detail so that they can have an informed judgement when they cast their vote. I have a great deal of respect for people, whether they vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I’ll be voting ‘no’ because I don’t believe that the Prime Minister’s proposal on the Voice is in our country’s best interests, and I don’t believe it will provide assistance to people in Alice Springs or Laverton or Leonora or Katherine, wherever it might be, where we see a desperate situation for Indigenous Australians.
I think people living in WA have seen the Labor experiment when it came to a piece of legislation that was disastrous for people who had a quarter of an acre or 1,100 square metres or more to dig a post-hole, they needed to get a cultural survey or report at great cost. Ultimately, that Bill was abolished, and the point here is that if the Voice is in the Constitution, it can’t be abolished. If the Government gets it wrong – as many people believe they will – you can’t undo the Constitution. You can’t out-legislative it. You can’t pass a law in WA or in Tasmania or in South Australia or New South Wales or in Victoria or Queensland. You just can’t pass a law that will out-govern or override the constitutional provision – that’s the reality of our nation’s rule book.
Now, the Prime Minister’s proposing the biggest change to our Constitution since Federation, and he’s doing it on the basis that there’s been no constitutional convention. We’re seeing in the ‘yes’ campaign at the moment, in the material that’s appeared in The Australian newspaper today, that people are – when they’re asking reasonable questions – they’re being “redirected.” The ‘yes’ campaign is taking millions of dollars from mining companies and then making them out to be the “villains” – so the contradictions here, the hypocrisy in the argument from the Government is quite astounding.
I think people in WA are starting to get a real suspicion about this Prime Minister. They talk a lot, but they don’t do much, and when you look at what the Prime Minister’s doing in relation to the Voice at the moment – he’s trying to deceive Australians. I don’t think Australians want to be deceived. I think they want a genuine attempt at helping Australians with an Indigenous heritage and the Government is just not doing that through the Canberra Voice. So, I think the Prime Minister should start being honest instead of deceptive, and he should start providing the detail to the Australian public because without it, how could you vote ‘yes’?
What about here in Queensland? What do you think the feeling is on the ground here?
Look, I think there’s going to be a tight vote across the country. Let’s be very honest, there are a lot of people who are still undecided. They’re inclined ‘no’ because the Prime Minister won’t give them the detail. But the ‘yes’ campaign has $100 million to spend between now and the 14th of October. That is a very significant amount of money – without precedent in our country’s history – that that amount of money would be spent over that short period.
So, people will be bombarded with ads. People will be bullied into to voting ‘yes’. If I thought it was in our country’s best interests, I’d sign up to it in a heartbeat – but it is not. The lack of detail and the permanency, the division that it creates, the uncertainty that it creates, the cost associated with it, the fact that we then move into a Treaty process and Truth Telling – this could go on for decades at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, and we won’t get a better outcome for those young kids in Alice Springs.
I want practical outcomes for Indigenous people – particularly those living in remote communities – but we’re not going to get that through the Voice. You’re going to get another layer of bureaucracy, and I think that’s why the Prime Minister’s not providing the details, the answers, and I think it’s the reason the Prime Minister is being dishonest with the Australian public at the moment.
Given that, will you take a big role yourself in the ‘no’ campaign?
Well, I’ve advocated for the ‘no’ case because my job is to act in our country’s best interests. I’ve weighed all of the detail up. I wrote to the Prime Minister in January asking 15 basic questions on behalf of millions of Australians – he still hasn’t answered any of those questions. If we go to October 14 without even the basic detail being provided to Australians, then I will be advocating that they vote ‘no’.
I believe very strongly that we need to have practical outcomes for Indigenous Australians. I want to listen to people living in Indigenous communities – particularly the elders, the women, the grandmothers – to understand how we can get a better situation, a better future. But a Voice that’s enshrined in the Constitution, that we don’t have any detail about, is just going to be another layer of bureaucracy, and, frankly, I think it’ll make the situation worse, not better.
The lawyers sitting around tables in Sydney and Melbourne for the next ten or 20 years for the Treaty negotiations will be rubbing their hands together, but the kids in Indigenous communities won’t have an improvement in their educational outcomes. We won’t see a closing the gap, particularly in relation to life expectancy or infant mortality, and the fact the Prime Minister is keeping Australians deliberately in the dark, it’s very deceptive, it’s dishonest – and Australians expect more from their Prime Minister.
Defence Force Cadets were last week directed not to dress in military uniform on Wear It Purple Day. As a Former Defence Minister, do you think that’s appropriate?
I think it’s completely inappropriate, to be honest, and I think the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister need to stand up to what’s happening in Defence at the moment. The separation rates are skyrocketing, the retention rates are going through the floor, it’s difficult to recruit into Defence, and this is at a time that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister says that we’re in the most precarious period in a geopolitical sense since the Second World War. I mean, just pause and concentrate – I know that we say that, but the Government is saying on all the intelligence that they’ve got that this is the most precarious period since the Second World War. And instead of concentrating on building our deterrence capability so that we can keep peace in our region, we’ve got virtue-signalling from the Defence Force, and I think the troops at the moment are bewildered as to what’s happening, the way that the Defence Minister has taken Defence off-track.
I honestly believe that we should have respect for all Australians and we shouldn’t discriminate against any Australian, but telling soldiers that they can’t wear their uniform and that somehow that is a sign of disrespect or protest – the Prime Minister, instead of fobbing this question off, should actually answer the question because it’s unacceptable, it should be condemned, it should not be repeated, and the Minister for Defence should give a very definite direction to the Chief of the Defence Force and to those in positions of authority within the Defence Department that it is not to be repeated.
There seems to be some major leadership issues in Queensland at the moment. What’s your view on David Crisafulli as a future Premier?
Well, first point, I think David Crisafulli will be a breath of fresh air for this state. There’s a lot of hard work to go between now and the state election, but, more importantly, Queenslanders will be having to deal with and suffer the consequences of a bad Labor Government. You see, what Labor Governments do is every decision they make is designed to try and please the union bosses. Labor’s long-forgotten about the workers. Labor is no longer the party of Australian workers – the Liberal Party is. We’re a party designed to provide support to the workers here in this business who will otherwise be laid off if Labor continues down their crazy energy policy path.
In Queensland, we’ve got a bad Premier making a tough economic situation even worse for families. We’ve got people now who are employing private guards in their communities to try and make sure that their cars don’t get stolen overnight. We’ve got a law and order problem which is of the Government’s making and Queenslanders are the victim of that. So, no wonder there would be rumblings within the Labor Party. But I mean, who do you go to? Do you go to Steven Miles, who’s the co-architect of the disaster that Labor’s created in Queensland? Do you go to the Treasurer who is as complicit in this as Steven Miles? Do you go to Minister Fentiman, who again has been a portfolio disaster, one after the next, presiding over now the health crisis Queensland?
I just think when Labor continues to appease the unions – which is what we’re seeing at a federal level now – the Australian public pays for it, and the policies are designed not to help workers and families and small businesses, they’re all designed to help union bosses and that’s the difficulty that they’re dealing with.
So, I just think we need to be honest with the public about the price you pay for Labor. You think back 18 months ago, there are very few Australians who could say that they’re in a better position today than they were before Mr Albanese was elected Prime Minister, and the problems continue to mount for this Government because they can’t manage the economy, and when you can’t manage the economy, inflation goes up, debt goes up, deficits go up, and ultimately people are paying more for their mortgages, they’re paying more for the input costs in the businesses like this, which make it hard to survive. As Dan pointed out, and as I mentioned earlier, there was a metre of water through this business – that was a tough time. COVID restrictions – a tough time for business. But this period under Labor is a tougher time for this small business than those previous two events. That is a very significant statement to make, and we should recognise how tough small business is doing it under Labor at the moment.
Crossbench MPs are calling for a conversation on raising the GST along with business groups. Do you think it’s time to consider lifting the GST?
Well, I just think Labor always wants to raise taxes because they have a spending problem and it happens here in Queensland, it’s happening in Victoria, in other states we’ve seen over decades-past, that the Labor Governments have destroyed economies and budgets. Businesses have gone broke because of Labor Party decisions.
So, let’s be honest about the fact that Labor will always look for an opportunity to increase tax. At the moment, I just don’t think businesses on top of what they’re paying for payroll tax, on top of what they’re paying for input costs, etc. etc., that they can afford another Labor tax. I think we should be very clear about that.
Thank you very much.