Subjects: Interest rates; cost of living pressures; the Government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Labor’s crab walking away from legislated tax cuts; Optus data breach; Syrian repatriation.
Thanks everyone for being here today. I just wanted to make a couple of comments.
Australian families are finding it harder and harder as every day goes by under this government – another interest rate rise, petrol prices going up by another 23 cents a litre, an increase in their electricity bills, their gas bills, every cost of living pressure is starting to pile up on Australian families. Before the election the Prime Minister promised on no less than 97 occasions that they would reduce energy prices and that they had a plan to deal with the cost of living pressures on families. Since the election, the Prime Minister has never mentioned that $275 figure again and it’s clear that there is no plan to help families with the rising cost of living pressures on them and in their small businesses.
So, as things start to tighten in the economy, the Australian public wants to know that Mr Albanese and Dr Chalmers have a plan, but it’s clear that they don’t – and families are the ones that are hurting and suffering at the moment. I’m particularly concerned about families when interest rates keep going up and up and up under this government.
We’re watching what’s happening in the UK and the US. We know that the Australian economy is much stronger – the fundamentals here are much stronger – because of nine years of Coalition government. So the US and the UK, it seems are certain to go into recession, but the Australian economy should not go into recession – let’s be very clear about that – unless Labor really stuffs it up. So, people will be watching very carefully what happens in the Budget fairly shortly and if there’s not a plan there to help families, then that will be another broken promise from this government.
Now, it’s clear that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are trying to crab walk away from the stage three tax cuts. That’s despite the fact that they voted for them in the Parliament and they looked the Australian public in the eye and said that they would keep those tax cuts. What it does is it reduces the tax burden on middle income earners. It’s no parallel whatsoever with the United Kingdom and what’s happening there at the moment and that cannot be used as justification for Labor to break another core promise to the Australian public. The top marginal tax rate in the UK was proposed to be abolished, that is not what is proposed here in Australia. What’s proposed here is that the 32.5 per cent marginal tax rate will reduce down to 30 and there will be an abolition altogether of the 37 per cent tax rate. The top marginal tax rate under stage three tax cuts doesn’t change, it stays where it is, and if Labor is trying to pretend that there is some equivalence here and that that’s some justification for them based on what’s happening in the UK, it’s a complete and utter furphy, so they should be called out for that.
It will mean that people on incomes of between $45,000 and $200,000 each year in our country will pay 30 cents in the dollar. Now, that is very significant support and it’s needed because these families are hurting. Now, if it’s okay for Labor to provide support to families on a family income of $400,000 a year and provide support to those families, why are they trying to reintroduce a tax hike for families who are earning $120,000, $180,000 a year, or less than that? So, there are lots of answers that the government needs to provide and let’s hear the Prime Minister explain his way out of the latest mess that he’s in the process of making.
I wanted to make a couple of comments in relation to the proposal by the government to bring women and children back from Syria. Now, I’ve asked for a briefing from the Director-General of ASIO and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner. I’m hoping that that will happen this afternoon. I’m working in with their diaries and very appreciative of how busy they are, but it’s clear now that the Australian government has a plan that they’ve put in place, but we don’t know any detail of it.
We need to know, for example, whether or not all of these individuals are Australian citizens, because sometimes, particularly where an Australian citizen male has gone to fight for ISIL and they’ve been killed in that theatre of war, those orphaned children will end up with other parents. So, I just need some information, I think the Australian public would demand information about the individual cases.
It’s also the case that in Australia here we have a number of high-risk offenders who have been charged with terrorist offences, who have served out their jail terms, who will be coming into the Australian community over the next few years. Now that could cost millions of dollars on an individual case for ASIO and for the Australian Federal Police and the other agencies to monitor those individuals. If you’re going to bring in dozens more of those cases of people who potentially pose a threat in our country, we need to understand how it is with limited resources ASIO and the Australian Federal Police can provide the guarantees to keep the Australian public safe.
We shouldn’t be complacent about terrorist attacks in this country. Thank God we’ve not had one in recent times, but we know that this ideology hasn’t gone away. We also know that the Director-General of ASIO has been very clear, as has the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, that offenders are getting younger and younger. The indoctrination of young people online is a reality that ASIO needs to deal with every day in thwarting those terrorist attacks.
So, do we want to do the right thing by children and women? Of course we do, but we also need to consider the broader Australian public. So, the Prime Minister needs to provide the detail and provide the assurance to the Australian public because these are very serious cases. In some circumstances we don’t – I’m not talking about kids of five and six and seven years of age, we’re talking about young adolescent boys who have been in a camp where they’ve only been socialising with radical people and let’s be very frank about that. I want to do everything I can to keep the Australian public safe and I want to hear from the government about the assurances that they can provide that that is going to be the case. So I’m hoping that I can get much of that detail this afternoon in the briefing and in the interim, the Prime Minister, I think, needs to stand up to talk through the detail – the security arrangements that will be put in place and how he can provide assurances to the Australian people that the broader public will remain safe if some of these people are returned back to our country.
I’m happy to take any questions.
The government has accused Optus of failing to properly communicate with its customers over the breach and also for taking its time to hand over customer data. Are you satisfied with Optus’ response to this breach?
Look, the government should stop trying to pick a fight with Optus and start working with them. The customers of Optus and, frankly, the broader Australian public want to see more from their government. It took Clare O’Neil three days before she came out and made any comment in relation to the Optus data breach and they were potential lost days where the customer should have been protecting their data and their personal information. So, the government here has dropped the ball. Let’s be very honest about this. Optus has an obligation – they should step up, and from what I’ve seen they’ve been doing that. But we’ve got a government that’s keen to pick a fight with Optus because of their own failings and to try and mask what inaction the government has presided over.
So, I think frankly a lot less public commentary from the Labor Party here and more work together to try and protect the customers is what’s required because they’re very serious data breaches and the government really should step up and provide the support to those customers instead of trying to find excuses.
So, the government has then dropped the gun in criticising Optus?
I think the government should spend less time criticising Optus and more time supporting the customers. The customers are the ones who are really in peril and are really at risk here and every day that goes by where the government wants to be out there trying to win the media battle by blaming Optus, they should be working together with Optus. I don’t understand why Clare O’Neil went missing in action in the first instance and frankly, I don’t know why she’s gone missing, other ministers are popping up, but not her. I think most customers, most Australians, would really shake their head as to why that’s the case.
Okay, are there any questions on the phone?
You were talking about limited resources in terms of monitoring those brought back from Syria. Are you concerned that security agencies don’t have the manpower to keep an eye on the entire group?
It’s very clear to me that ASIO and the Australian Federal Police and the other agencies don’t have sufficient resources because it can cost a couple of million dollars at least for each individual to provide that monitoring and to provide the personnel. They haven’t got those spare numbers – and that’s the problem. So, I presume the government is going to announce increased funding for both ASIO and the Australian Federal Police and I would certainly call on them to do that because to provide 24/7 surveillance on an individual costs millions of dollars a year and if you’re multiplying that by 50 or 60 or you’ve got now high-risk offenders coming to the end of their jail terms who still pose a risk, who either conducted a terrorist attack, have radicalised in jail or further radicalised in jail, then that is a very costly business and it’s a very risky business.
There’s no certainty here and it’s no sense, I’ve seen some people say, ‘well, these people can be dealt with by the courts if they commit an act’. We know when it comes to terrorism, allowing somebody to go into a food court to detonate a device, tens or dozens or hundreds of people lose their lives. At that point, they might be able to face the courts or they might indeed be dead themselves. It’s all too little, too late. So, the whole idea in this area of police investigation is to thwart an attempt at a terrorist attack before it takes place, and you need significant resources to be able to do that. We’ve heard from the Federal Police and ASIO that their resources would already be stretched with the people who are planning on or planned to come out of jail if they need to be monitored. If it’s now to be ramped up by a significant factor, then we need to understand from the government where the resources are coming from, but more importantly, the fundamental questions about who these individuals are. Yes, some will face court and potentially a jail term – it might be a suspended sentence, it might be a period where they get parole fairly quickly if they’ve ventured into a designated area, but let’s not forget that the vast majority of these women tragically made a decision to go hand-in-hand with a fighter or were fighting themselves, into a war zone. The kids of teenage years have been radicalised and they’re tragic circumstances if you look at each case, but we’ve got to consider what is right to keep the Australian public safe, and they’re the difficult calls that the government has to make. We want to hear the detail about what it is that they’re putting in place to keep the Australian public safe.
Just on Karen Andrews’ comments as well this morning; she’s saying that there’s concerns around the young male children, in particular, we don’t know the risks that they may pose when they get older in terms of radicalisation. Dr Jamal Rifi has called that fear mongering. Is it fear mongering?
No, it’s not at all. I just think it’s a reflection of the reality of what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with impressionable young minds who have been mixing in camps with people who have been committing terrorist offences, let’s be very clear about it. They’re tragic circumstances and I hate the fact that these children have been put into harm’s way, but we have to make decisions that will keep the Australian public safe. It’s okay for Tanya Plibersek and others to be out there being the big-hearted people, but we need to understand how it is that we’re going to keep the broader Australian public safe.
We have an obligation to Australian citizens – I accept that. But we need to hear from the government about the individual cases, how it is they’re going to provide the assurances of safety for the broader Australian public, what resources they’ve got in place both in ASIO and the Australian Federal Police and the other agencies to thwart any attempt at attack. If they don’t believe that these individuals pose a threat then they should be very clear about that, but so far, we don’t have that detail. It seems to be shrouded in secrecy and I hope that the Prime Minister can explain what next steps the government plans on taking.
Mr Dutton, while the Coalition was in government, you did bring some Australians back. So, if it was okay then, that wasn’t considered a risk then, why isn’t it okay to bring others back now?
Well, we’re asking for the detail on the individual cases. Obviously, as the Minister for Home Affairs – and Karen Andrews, my successor in that portfolio – we looked at each individual case and there was an assessment made and information, intelligence that was relied upon, and I gave very specific direction at the time that we weren’t going to put our people in harm’s way.
If the government is making a judgement that that’s not the case now, that people aren’t going to be in harm’s way and that it is safe to bring the individuals back, well, let’s hear the detail. I want to understand how many children of teenage years we’re talking about, the individual women that are involved – did some go inadvertently? Were some willing participants? Did others commit terrorist offences? We don’t know any of that detail and I think that’s the detail that the government needs to provide, in addition to the additional resources that they propose to give the AFP and ASIO, because it’s a very costly business, millions of dollars per individual, and still no guarantee that you can stop a terrorist attack from taking place.
Just on another matter, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister is visiting Australia, meeting with the Prime Minister this week. Will you meet him while he’s in town?
Well, I haven’t seen any proposal from the government for that. I’d be very happy to meet with him. They’re family in the Solomon Islands, let’s be very clear, and it’s a very important relationship and I welcome the Prime Minister and I’m glad that he’s meeting with Prime Minister Albanese and we’d certainly support a rebuilding of that relationship and ways in which we can offer bipartisan support, we will. We’ve done that in relation to other matters, particularly in the foreign affairs space, as you know, and we’ll continue to do that.
Just one more question, are we headed for a necessary recession?
Well, we shouldn’t go into recession in this country. The circumstances are pretty dire in the US and the UK, but the Australian economy – thanks to nine years of Coalition government – is much stronger than the US and the UK. So, it would take a lot from Labor in this Budget and in subsequent decisions to stuff all of that up, and families don’t need a recession. At the moment, I think confidence is starting to diminish under this government. It’s clear they don’t have a plan to deal with inflation. They don’t have a plan to deal with the support that families need, and businesses need, particularly with energy costs rising and rising rapidly.
So, if that confidence dissipates, then you do see a recession more likely, but I don’t want that for our country. We live in a great country, we’ve got a very strong economy, unemployment is at a 50 year low, debt is low relative to many other countries in the OECD, and if the Labor Party presides over a budget that’s going to put us further toward recession, then I think the Australian public would reject that roundly.
But when you’ve got a Prime Minister who promised to reduce energy prices before the election, promised it on almost 100 occasions and now refuses to repeat that promise, I suppose this government is capable of anything.