Subjects: Indigenous Voice to Parliament; the Prime Minister’s 2GB interview shocker; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; gas supply; Australian troops deploy to train Ukrainian forces; Black Hawk helicopters; the QLD government’s maternity crisis.
Thank you for being here. A couple of issues that I wanted to cover today.
As you would have seen, the Prime Minister on 2GB, on the Ben Fordham Show this morning had a train wreck of an interview with Ben – it was just a shocker. So, I’d just say to the Australian public: if Anthony Albanese can’t explain the Voice and Anthony Albanese doesn’t understand how the Voice will operate, how can Australians be expected to understand how the Voice will operate without the detail? Australians are asking for nothing more than the detail, just so they can properly understand what it is the Prime Minister is asking them to vote for. Every Australian wants there to be a closing of the gap, an improvement in health outcomes, in all the indicators that have gone backwards in recent years. There is enormous goodwill within the Australian public to make sure that we address the concerns of Indigenous Australians. But if the Prime Minister wants a model which is enshrined in the Constitution, which is a very big deal in our country, then he needs to explain the detail.
In the Ben Fordham interview this morning, it was a complete train wreck. The Prime Minister didn’t know what he was talking about. When he and the Attorney-General say that there are two questions here, one around whether you support recognition in the Constitution and a question about whether you support the Voice – they’re putting it forward as if they’re two separate questions, they’re not. It’s one question that Australians will be asked and try to give moral cover to the Voice through constitutional recognition is a pretty cheap political trick and frankly, it’s pretty tacky from the Prime Minister to try and conflate the two issues and to try and trick and deceive the Australian public.
So, the Prime Minister needs to explain the detail – that’s all Australians are asking for – and I don’t think it’s unreasonable that the Prime Minister now comes out and provides the detail. When the Prime Minister makes reference to the Calma-Langton report, there are different options in that report. Go and have a look at some of the options that are available in there. The Prime Minister hasn’t adopted the report so it’s completely disingenuous to say if you vote for the Voice in the upcoming constitutional referendum, you’ll get the report. The government hasn’t adopted the report and there are options in the report. So, we don’t even know what the Prime Minister is talking about and if you listened to him this morning on 2GB, the Prime Minister doesn’t know what he’s talking about either so it’s no wonder Australians are confused.
If Anthony Albanese can’t explain it to you, why would you vote for it? He’s got a lot of work to do, because at the moment, nobody wants to see the cause of reconciliation go backwards. If he presides over a model which is botched from the start, then that’s exactly what will happen – and nobody wants that. So, he needs to be very careful with the tricky path he’s taking at the moment. It might be clever politics not to provide the detail, but it’s going to result in a very difficult situation come the second half of this year.
Second issue I just wanted to touch on was in relation to gas. It’s clear that if you restrict supply into the market – doesn’t matter whether it’s gas or motor vehicles or fruit and veg – if you restrict the supply, the price is going to go up if demand remains constant or indeed increases. This Frankenstein gas model that they’ve come up with is going to result in two things and Labor’s energy policy is going to result in two things; it’s going to result in a bills blowout and in blackouts over the next couple of years. They don’t know what they’re doing. If you start restricting pricing and interfering into markets like this, as we’ve seen overseas, it turns out to be a disaster. The Prime Minister promised on 97 occasions at the last election that he would reduce your energy bills by $275 – he’s never mentioned it since. I’d just say, next time you get your bill, whether it’s this month or this quarter, watch it for the next 12 months and see if your bill goes down under Labor, because I suspect it’s going to continue to go up. If bills blow out, and we experience blackouts in our country then that is going to be a disaster for small businesses and for families.
There is obviously welcome news today in relation to Australian troops providing support to the Ukrainians. We work very closely as you know with the Brits and when I was Defence Minister, we provided about $285 million worth of aid to the Ukrainians to help try and repel the Russian forces. It’s an illegal attack and invasion on innocent men, women and children in Ukraine and it needs to stop. But until it does, then countries like ours need to provide support to Ukraine and the sooner the better. So, I welcome very much the news from the Defence Minister that there will be training assistance provided to use the equipment to its optimal level and obviously that’s a continuation of what we did when we were in government, so we welcome that.
In relation to the announcement today on the Black Hawk helicopters, this has been a no-brainer and I don’t understand why Richard Marles has botched this so terribly. The Black Hawks were ordered when we were in government. They were approved for export by the US government and, frankly, the Defence Minister has been sitting on his hands for the last eight months. This was handed to him on a silver platter, and I don’t know what’s gone wrong in his office, why all of these bureaucratic processes have bogged him down, but really there should have been a decision by now, but the acquisition of those helicopters is a great thing. It’s a decision that was made by the Morrison government and I was very pleased to be able to negotiate it with the US and with the company involved at the time. It’s necessary equipment for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and the sooner we get them the better.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, would it be politically impossible for the Albanese government to legislate a Voice to Parliament if the referendum is defeated?
Well, the Prime Minister was very tricky on this question this morning on Ben Fordham’s programme. If the constitutional question goes down, if Australians say, ‘well look, I just don’t have the detail, I don’t understand what the Prime Minister’s talking about’, and they vote against it, then the Prime Minister can legislate in the Parliament in a heartbeat. I’ve made this point with my letter to him a couple of weeks ago. The Prime Minister has control, an absolute majority in the Lower House. He can pass whatever bill he wants when Parliament goes back in a fortnight’s time. He has control of the Senate with the Greens and he can get this Bill through immediately, if that’s his want. But is he saying to the Australian public that if you vote ‘no’ in the referendum that he will then legislate the next day to bring it in? If that’s the case, well, pass the legislation now and demonstrate to Australians how it can work.
We all want to support reconciliation. I’ve called for a Royal Commission in relation to the disaster, the tragedy, that’s unfolding in Alice Springs, and I noticed the news this morning in the Northern Territory newspapers around the Mayor calling the Attorney-General asking for additional resources. I asked this of the Prime Minister when we were in Parliament before Christmas. There will be vigilante action in Alice Springs because people are completely at the end of their tether. Police have just thrown their hands up in the air, they don’t have the resources to deal with it. The social workers delivering kids back into communities who are crying and screaming asking not to be returned back. I asked the Prime Minister to implement anything he could – that we would support it on a bipartisan basis and the pressure cooker that’s the case in Alice Springs at the moment is going to result in tragedy, even further tragedy, than what we’ve seen already, and I don’t know why the Prime Minister won’t act.
If the Prime Minister won’t listen to the voice of the women and the elders in the Alice Springs community, then what hope could we have that he would preside over an effective narrowing of the gap if the referendum does pass later this year?
Mr Dutton, you’ve been extremely critical of the government’s approach to power prices. Household gas prices are now as high as the Treasurer’s worst-case scenario. Your colleague Jane Hume says it’s another broken promise. Considering the cap on gas prices that was introduced last month are there any other tangible solutions to this problem that you would seek to implement?
The government was elected with a policy to reduce your power prices by $275. The Prime Minister promised it on 97 occasions and he’s never mentioned that figure or that promise once in the eight or nine months since he’s been elected. So, I just make that very important point.
The government then had a budget in October where they said that they had a plan. There was no such plan in the budget to deal with the rising energy costs and families are feeling the cost of living pressures go up and up every day. Now, we see the latest iteration of the Labor government’s plan, that is to cap prices, which we warned would be a disaster and we said it shouldn’t be done. They did it and what are we seeing now? An increase in prices.
We suggested at the time – and stand by this policy – that you need to introduce more supply into the system because if you do that, you’ll bring prices down. But instead, Chris Bowen doesn’t want that. He wants you to throw out your gas oven, he wants it to be replaced with an electric oven. The electric oven, unless you’re using the oven through the day and you’ve got solar panels, if you’re using the oven of a night-time it’s going to be running off fossil fuels because the battery lasts about 45 minutes. It doesn’t get you through the hours of darkness. So the decisions that the government is making are all designed to drive up power prices. That’s exactly what’s happening. I think Labor needs to be called out for it and the Prime Minister frankly needs to apologise for misleading people at the last election
Are gas producers addicted to ‘Putin profits’ as Ed Husic claims?
Ed Husic has gone rogue. He’s not conducive to a good outcome here. He’s not a conciliatory operator. He’s not working with the companies and with the operators. When we were in government, Angus Taylor worked very closely with the companies, with the regulators, to provide the best possible outcome. The government knew well before the Russians went into Ukraine that they had the modelling, and they made the promise on multiple occasions before the situation in Europe. Let’s be very clear about that. They made the $275 promise knowing that the Ukraine war had already started. So don’t blame that – that’s a red herring.
I just think Australians at the moment are throwing their hands up in the air because they don’t believe the Prime Minister and the arrogance that he’s showing at the moment on the Voice and on cost of living pressures, I think is starting to upset a lot of Australians and I think they’re right to start to get angry with this Prime Minister because he’s doing something very different now than what he promised before the election.
Just on the first Australian rotation of soldiers is heading to the UK to train Ukrainians. Are you worried about that blowback from Russia?
No, I’m not. We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with countries who share our values and we’ve done that over generations. In the case of the US, we’ve been with them in every major conflict over the course of the last hundred years. Australians shouldn’t forget that we’re an island nation, frankly, in the middle of nowhere of 25.8 million people and we have defended our country, including during the Second World War. When you look at what the Americans did in the Battle of the Coral Sea, when you see what work we’ve done with the Brits in the Middle East and in Europe over many decades, we need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those friends because if we do that in their time of need, they will come to our aid in our time of need.
We support very much democracy – we want to see young girls educated in the Middle East, we don’t want to see women and children being slaughtered in Ukraine and it’s important that we stand up for our values, and that we provide a contribution, a tangible contribution. We’re doing it in a safe way working alongside the Brits – not in-country – and, as I say, that’s a continuation of the model that we implemented when we were in government.
What about providing tanks like the UK is? There are suggestions that Ukraine could end this war if they get more tanks, should we be providing them?
Well, we took a decision in government that we weren’t going to provide tanks, simply because we didn’t have the capacity to do that. But what we made a decision to do was to provide a lot of the equipment that the Ukrainian government had asked for. That included of course, all sorts of defence material – $285 million worth – and they’ve used that to great effect. The Bushmasters, that was a request directly for the President Zelenskyy. We met that request and I think, again, there’s bipartisan support here and we will back the government in any decision they make. I just think they’ve been sitting on their hands a bit in terms of making decisions about sending additional equipment, and I hope that they can consider the request from the Ukrainians more promptly so that the equipment can get across. I just don’t want to see any more women and children, in particular, killed in Ukraine. We want a stabilisation and if the Ukrainian forces are strong, then that will be a greater deterrence for the Russians to continue their acts of aggression.
Mr Dutton, you say it’s a red herring for the government to blame Ukraine for the soaring power prices, but isn’t that exactly what the former Coalition government did when the entire East Coast grid collapsed last summer?
I just think if you look at what the Prime Minister promised – and he promised it on 27 occasions after Russia went into Ukraine – he promised that he would reduce power prices by $275. Now I’d be happy for any Australian to hold up their bill tonight and to demonstrate that their power price has come down by $275 under Anthony Albanese. If it was a genuine promise, if he made that promise believing it, he would have repeated it since. But he goes through all this convoluted language – like he’s doing on the Voice at the moment – trying to run this sort of political tricky line and you’ll pay more for your electricity bill under Labor. You’re paying more for your gas bill. So, I just don’t think they’re genuine in what they’re saying, and I think the Prime Minister should apologise for misleading the Australian public and still not being able to deliver.
If you want to reduce gas prices in our country, then increase supply. They’ve restricted supply, and for ideological reasons, they are interfering in the energy market at the moment. I’ll promise you this – over the next two to five years, you’re going to see your bills blow out under Labor and you’re going to see blackouts in our country. You’re already seeing in Western Australia and elsewhere, companies who are being asked to down tools during the peak period when they should be manufacturing, so that the electricity grid doesn’t collapse.
I want to see emissions reduced, that’s why we’ve spoken about nuclear energy. It’s zero emissions, it’s being used in Canada in a very safe way, it’s been used in France, it’s been used in the United States, in China. If you don’t have the ability to back up the renewable energy going into the network, the lights are going to go out and I just think people need to take a closer look at what the government’s promising at the moment and what they’re delivering. What they’re delivering is a blowout in your bills and an increased likelihood of blackouts in our country over the next couple of years and that’s exactly the opposite of what we want.
We are already one of the biggest gas producers in the world. Is it that neither side of politics has come up with a system to actually prioritise the domestic market?
Well again, I don’t think that is right. If you look at, there’s an effective gas market in Queensland, you’ve got a state-controlled arrangement here in Queensland. If you look at what’s happened on the West Coast, they’ve obviously got a gas reservation and you’ve got a state government in Victoria that won’t explore gas, it won’t bring that into the system, so gas from the north is having to travel south. I’d love to say that the solar panels work day and night but they don’t and until they do, we’ve got to firm up what’s in the system. If you turn off the old system before the new system is ready, you will have disruption. I want to see manufacturing improve and increase in this country, not decrease, because it means that all you’re doing is exporting the emissions overseas, the economic activity still takes place. The widget is still produced but it’s produced in Asia somewhere at a lower cost. We lose the Australian jobs, we lose the economic productivity and there’s no environmental gain. So, what is Chris Bowen doing here? I mean, he was a disastrous minister in the Gillard years, you know, the architect of all sorts of crazy programmes, and he’s now coming up with programmes that are going to increase power prices and decrease the stability in the market.
Should the government honour any referendum result in the event of a ‘no’ vote and rule out legislating a Voice if that’s the outcome?
Well again, I was confused by Anthony Albanese’s disastrous train wreck interview this morning on Ben Fordham. I don’t think the Prime Minister understands himself what he’s talking about and he ruled out legislating and then he ruled it in. So, I don’t know what the Prime Minister is getting at here. I don’t know whether he’s deliberately trying to muddy the waters; to trick people. But he needs to be clear in his language. If there is a referendum and there is ‘no’ result, will he then legislate? Why won’t he legislate now so that you don’t have the risk at the time of a referendum? If the Prime Minister watches this process, then that sets back reconciliation. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants anything other than an improvement in Indigenous outcomes in our country. I hope that the Prime Minister can start being upfront with the Australian people instead of being tricky, because if he continues this trickiness, he will own the failure of the referendum. He could introduce legislation around the Voice today and we could see how that system worked. There are eminent judges who have pointed that out, and I think it’s a reasonable pathway for them to take, but at the moment he’s on this tricky path and I think it’s a disaster.
Just on that interview, Ben Fordham says quote, ‘did you get legal advice from the Attorney-General?’ The Prime Minister says, ‘the Solicitor General is the person that gives legal advice to the government.’ ‘So, did you get advice from the Solicitor General?’ To which the Prime Minister advised ‘no’. So, if there is a referendum, the Australian people are confused?
But who knows? I mean, if the Prime Minister doesn’t understand it, and can’t explain it, how can Australians understand it or explain it? Why would they vote for it? The Prime Minister is making this up on the run. Ben Fordham was clear and straightforward. He couldn’t have been any clearer in the questions he asked of the Prime Minister, this morning. The Prime Minister said he didn’t seek legal advice from the Solicitor General. The Solicitor General is the first person you go to for legal advice if you’re running the government. The Prime Minister has the Solicitor General on speed dial, and he hasn’t sought legal advice about whether this question is going to work or not.
One of the great fears around changing the Constitution is that you involve the courts and as his Honour Justice Callinan has pointed out, this could be a decade of legal palaver in the High Court which is not going to solve the problems that we want solved for Indigenous Australians.
The Prime Minister was all over the shop in that interview this morning. He was very clear in his response, though, on this point that he didn’t seek legal advice from the Solicitor General. I mean, he needs to explain that because that is reckless at least and the tricky political games that they’re playing at the moment, I just don’t think will wash with the Australian public.
Well look, I really feel for expected mums and dads, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. If you live in a regional area in Queensland, you’re at a disadvantage. We know that because the health services aren’t there. But the government’s been warned by the doctors here in Queensland for years and years under this government and you’ve now had the Acting Premier trying to put on a brave face and trying to make himself look like an alternative Premier. He sat around the Cabinet table with Anastasia Palaszczuk and Yvette D’Ath for years and years, making the decisions that have resulted in this disastrous situation.
I just don’t want to see expectant mums going through that anxiety. We should, in our state, be able to provide decent services and they’re not at the moment. If you’ve got parents who are making decisions, mums making decisions to have caesars and bring on the birth of their children earlier because they’re worried about travel, if they live in a regional area, that’s unacceptable. Those Queenslanders pay taxes like those of us do in the cities, and they should expect not a third world service but a service which is going to provide the best outcome for them and their kids.
I don’t think Yvette D’Ath is up to the job, and that Stephen Miles has had to step in and try and sort this mess out, shows how bad it’s got. But it shouldn’t have got to this point. I can understand why the doctors are increasingly frustrated and angry at this Labor government.
Should Minister D’Ath step down?
I don’t understand how Minister D’Ath’s position is tenable. It’s clear that she has presided over disaster upon disaster. They’ve received record health funding from the Coalition and from the Labor government. She’ll turn around and say, ‘you should have given us more money’. She received more money every year, and you’ve now got a situation where doctors are calling this government out. The Health Minister’s position is untenable and even Steven Miles recognises that, and it should be the first step frankly that Anastasia Palaszczuk takes when she comes back from holidays.
What would the Coalition due to lower gas and electricity prices?
We’d bring more supply into the system, and that’s exactly what we did when we were in government. We worked very closely with the regulators and the companies so that we didn’t have this sort of disruption. What we wouldn’t do is introduce price caps which create all sorts of market distortions. Price caps don’t work, or otherwise we’d say every time you get a spike in the price of watermelon, which we saw over Christmas, that you cap the price of watermelon or cap the price of any commodity. It doesn’t work. We have a free economy here. We have all sorts of interventions in the economy. We don’t have price capping like that. The government was warned about this at the time. All it’s resulted in is an increase in prices and greater uncertainty about the stability in the market. If you restrict supply, if you turn supply off at the same time, you know, I mean, we’ve had a pretty mild summer here in Queensland, it’s been much hotter in the southern states, but if you have a very bad winter, or you have the sort of floods or natural disasters that we see that can restrict supply or access to those coal mines or those gas fields, and you’ve got at the same time an increase in demand because people want their air conditioners to be running longer – you’re going to see a disruption in supply. Let’s be very clear about that. Our country shouldn’t be put in that position. But, at the moment we are, and the path that this government is taking us down, there’s talk of rolling out 28,000 kilometers of poles and wires so that they can distribute the renewable energy. It’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen.
They’re talking about running it through national parks and accessing land where they need to negotiate with land holders who don’t want poles and wires running across their farms. So, you’re going to have years and years of litigation. They’re not going to be able to provide the distribution of that energy, and it’s why I just don’t understand why we can’t have a mature discussion around nuclear energy. A small modular reactor, if you Google small modular reactors and have a look at what the company like NuScale is doing. I mean, Justin Trudeau is embracing this. He’s not some right wing Prime Minister, he’s a left wing Prime Minister who is absolutely determined to reduce emissions, and he can do it safely. So, why wouldn’t we look at nuclear in our country?
The Prime Minister says it is too costly, and, you know, ‘do you want one in your backyard?’ Honestly, it’s like, that’s a childish discussion. Let’s have a real discussion. If it’s good enough for Canada, it’s good enough for President Macron in France and it’s good enough for China, it’s good enough to United States, United Kingdom – all of those countries are very clear that they can’t meet their emissions reductions without using nuclear energy to firm up their renewables going into the system. Having renewables in the system is a great thing, but if you’ve got too much reliance on it, then you are going to see a disruption of power in our country over the coming years and that’s going to be a disaster for businesses and for small businesses in particular, as well as families.
On the Black Hawk helicopters, is there a risk that this decision will damage our relationship with France by replacing the helicopter project that they were involved in?
No, it wasn’t. I mean, I don’t believe it will. I think that the French have been very sensible about this. The previous airframe had been grounded on a number of occasions. I’d formed a judgment that it was too risky for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force to fly in. I believe, after a lot of briefings, I believed very strongly that there was no amount of money that you could put into that airframe that was going to make it air worthy into the long run. The cost to run it on an hourly basis was prohibitive, and it was dangerous, and I ordered the Black Hawks because I wanted there to be a safe airframe, I wanted to be able to respond to the needs of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.
When I was up in Townsville, when I was across in WA, and elsewhere, the soldiers and airmen and women were very clear about their preference. It was for the Black Hawk and ultimately, we should be making decisions that are in our country’s best interests and able to keep us safe. That’s the primary consideration and then the other considerations are real, but they’re secondary to keeping the men and women of the Australian Defence Force safe and to keeping the Australian people safe in the work that they do.
Thank you very much.