Subjects: The government’s energy and gas policy trainwreck; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; gas supply; the government’s hypocrisy on a ‘better Parliament’; Queensland police tragedy; online safety.
Thank you very much everyone for being here this morning. Just a couple of comments obviously, in relation to the Bill that will come before the Parliament today. We received the legislation at 8.45pm last night, so we’ll have a Party Room later this morning, but my recommendation to our Party Room will be that we support the payment, the support to families who are really doing it tough under this government at the moment. These are families that have heard Prime Minister say on 97 occasions that he would reduce their power bills by $275 and then deliver a budget which had no plan whatsoever. This has been a cruel hoax and a con job by the Prime Minister. If people think their power bills are going down under this Prime Minister, just look at his budget document. It says that power prices will go up by 56 per cent, that gas will go up by 44 per cent, and Chris Bowen – who I’ll come back to in a second – Chris Bowen declares that he and the Prime Minister can’t be held to account because there’s no silver bullet and no guarantee that power prices will go down. You know, well, ‘no shock, Sherlock’. I mean, the fact is, that power prices will continue to go up and up and up under this Labor government because they have no idea what they’re doing.
So, we don’t support the price cap and we don’t support market interventions because of the secondary effects that that has, and we’ve been clear about that. So, we will seek to split the Bill. Presumably the government won’t do that because they’re trying to create a political wedge. I think it’s worth pointing out that the government here is more interested, it seems, in the political advantage than in the opportunity to help families.
If they split the Bill, we’re very happy to support the element which provides relief to families and to businesses. They can’t yet define who the businesses are or how the families will be paid, but nonetheless, there’s a package of support there. But we don’t support a market intervention which is going to disrupt investment into our country. We don’t support market intervention which is going to result in higher power prices, less supply of gas into the system, and less Australian jobs. This is a very serious issue.
I lived through the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and this has all of the mayhem and chaotic nonsense that we saw during that period. The Prime Minister had a shambolic press conference last Friday. He promised that there would be legislation and a plan, but it’s clear that they’re still drafting this thing as we speak. So, I think there’ll be a number of amendments, even to the original draft, and it’s clear that the government has made this up on the run, and Australians should take no assurance, no comfort, from the words of the Prime Minister at the moment because he has no plan. He can’t explain to you how power prices will come down. In the budget, of course, they funded activists to try and stop gas coming into the system. If you’ve got increased demand for gas in the system, how can you reduce supply, because you’ll drive up prices. So, on the one hand, the government’s offering support, on the other they are driving prices up.
So, I don’t think this government knows what they’re doing when it comes to energy policy. They had five months to work it out and they should have outlined their plan in the budget – they didn’t. They’ve now had six weeks since the budget and there is still no obvious plan. They’ve cobbled together this arrangement which is not going to be of support to families. I think most families will go into Christmas really angry at this Prime Minister because he’s looked him in the eye, he’s lied in relation to the $275 power reduction – that is just not going to happen, and now he’s got a plan that they can’t guarantee will reduce power prices and by all of the individual analysis will only see power prices go up.
Mr Dutton, you say that you didn’t get the legislation until 8.45pm last night. That’s almost 12 hours before you’re supposed to be debating it in Parliament. What do you think that says about the government when it comes to collaborating with the opposition?
Well, the Prime Minister promised – and you were all excited about it – that this was going to be a new parliament: this is new politics and a new way of doing business. Explain to me how that is the case? Now, either it was a deliberate holding back of the release of the legislation or the OPC was still drafting it after-hours last night. The Prime Minister had all of this put together, he said, in the run up to the premiers’ meeting last Friday, but it seems that this plane is still being built mid-air. It’s shambolic, and, as I say, it’s got all hallmarks of the Rudd-Gillard years. You’ve got Chris Bowen in charge, for goodness sake. I mean, could you find somebody less capable than Chris Bowen to deal with this issue? I don’t think so. I mean, Chris Bowen was the architect of a couple of the most shambolic attempts of the Rudd-Gillard public policy, in FuelWatch and GroceryWatch, and you’re now asking this man to transition the energy market in this country, it is a disaster, and this is just the first installment. This is what worries me most.
We’ve got a transition that’s taking place, we all accept that. But they’re turning the old system off before the new system is built. You’ve seen what’s happened in Europe, not just because of what happened in Ukraine, this was long before Ukraine. If you look at the Germany situation, long before Ukraine. If you look at what’s happening in California and elsewhere, and it is going to result in less reliability, blackouts, businesses questioning their investments in our country. That is going to mean a crunch at exactly the wrong time. We’ve got eight percent inflation next year, you’ve got electricity prices going up, you’ve got mortgages going up, small businesses already paying double digits for their overdraft interest bill and this government now is saying that they are cobbling together a plan, which as you know, was not the original plan. They’ve flown kites on sort of super profit taxes, on all sorts of market interventions, and it seems that they’ve just arrived at this at the 11th hour because they ran out of other options.
That is no way to govern, and it makes a complete mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim that this is a new parliament, with a new culture and all the rest of it. To give the legislation to the independents and to the Coalition last night, 12 hours before it’s to come before the Parliament, just shows that they don’t know what they’re doing.
The Bill won’t by split the government. They’ve got the numbers in the Senate, why would they? Are you really going to stand in the way, at the end of the day, and vote against some relief for households?
I honestly believe that this is catastrophic for economic policy in this country, and as we know, these sorts of market interventions don’t just restrict themselves in terms of the impact to the energy sector, there will be other companies in other sectors who are looking to invest here at the moment, who will be looking at the sovereign risk that’s created out of this and questioning whether they will invest in agriculture or whether they’ll invest in the manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, into the healthcare sector. They will look at this government’s stance and they will see with one commodity where you’ve got a high-inflationary environment, the government is willing to intervene, why wouldn’t they do it elsewhere? It’s a reasonable question for investors to ask, and so there is a very significant economic policy here that’s in question and the Coalition is not going to stand for it.
If the government wants to play political stunts and tricks, let them do that. We made it clear that we would provide support for a Bill which includes relief to people who have seen their power prices go up under this government but if the government blends it in with the price mechanism, we’re not going to support that bill.
So you will vote it down though, at the end of the day? If the Bill isn’t split, you will vote against it?
Well, if the Bill is split, which is our desire, then we will vote in favour of the package of assistance to households. The government can’t yet define what a small business is, incidentally. We are an hour and 15 minutes away from this coming into the Parliament, and the government still cannot define what a small business is or which small businesses will get assistance.
They don’t know in terms of the deal that they’ve done with the Greens, who will get assistance and how that will be rolled out. We do know one thing, though, that the government’s now talking about some sort of government bank – which is Rudd all over again – a government bank to provide assistance to consumers to transition their households from gas appliances, into electricity appliances. I mean, are there alarm bells ringing when Chris Bowen says that he’s going to run some sort of credit scheme to provide interest-free loans or subsidised loans to households? I mean, this guy’s completely out of his depth and it’s consumers and Australian businesses who are going to pay the price for Chris Bowen’s incompetence.
This is a massive con job that’s taking place, your power bills are not going down under this government. They have no idea what they’re doing, and I worry most for those families who are seeing their mortgage payments go up and up and up under this government and if this government continues to fuel inflation, then interest rates will be higher under Labor than they otherwise would be, and you’re seeing a situation where those families and small businesses just can’t afford Labor. Now they’re making it worse by putting in place some uncosted scheme with the Greens to provide subsidised loans. We don’t know the criteria, we don’t know whether people will be credit-assessed, we don’t know the limit of the financial support provided, but where you get a deal on economics between the Greens and the Labor Party, start to worry because it’s your money that’s at risk.
Mr Dutton, just on Robodebt, Minister Shorten said yesterday you were an enthusiastic cabinet minister during that process. He asked if you apologised for your government’s handling of Robodebt. Were you comfortable with Scott Morrison’s evidence yesterday?
Well, I’m not providing any comment on an ongoing Royal Commission. All I’d say about Mr Shorten, I mean his character has been under question since university, so I’m hardly taking a morals lecture from Bill Shorten.
Just going back to Josh’s question, I still don’t think you quite answered it. So, if the government – like you’re talking hypotheticals in terms of splitting the Bill. Labor doesn’t seem like they’re going to do that at the moment. So, what will you do when the Bill goes to Parliament?
We will vote against the Bill – that’s my recommendation to my Party Room this morning.
Mr Dutton, one last on the Queensland shooting tragedy, if I could? This sort of anti-government, anti-authoritarian conspiracy theory sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from some people involved here, should that be of a concern to people here in Australia? Should it be a concern to a law enforcement authority, I mean, you were Home Affairs Minister?
Well, yes, it is. I mean, we invested a record amount into ASIO and the Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission, other agencies and they worked hand-in-glove with their state authorities. Like we’ve seen in recent years, the spread of disinformation on the internet and the way in which that infects people’s minds and changes their whole persona, their whole perspective and causes them to commit or contributes at least to them committing extreme acts should be of concern to any right thinking Australian.
So, this is why we’ve had a debate in recent years about encryption, where there are messages and encrypted messaging apps, and an exchange of information, of disinformation, between these groups. I mean, we only know what we’ve seen publicly in relation to the incident in Queensland. So, no doubt, all of that investigation is still underway. But it should be a real concern.
So, when we’ve spoken for many years about the concern that police agencies and intelligence agencies had where they just can’t get access, as they normally would, with an exchange years ago of a telephone call or a handwritten letter or messages which could be discovered with a warrant. Now, the police can’t discover that information. So, when you’ve got that environment where there can be no transparency and there can be no discovery, then you will have these groups manifesting their lunacy and reinforcing each other’s ideas and prejudices and it manifests in tragic ways.
So, we should be very realistic about the benefit of the internet in many ways in our lives, but also the downside that really causes me great concern not just as a leader in our country, but as a parent, as well, because you worry about the information that your children are accessing online. Impressionable young minds – as we’ve seen in recent years – can be encouraged to go off to conflict. They can be encouraged to spread all sorts of conspiracy theories and subscribe to those and spread that hatred and we should be very concerned about that.
We would support the government in any measures they had to hold some of these companies and these platforms to account, because if a court issues a warrant, that information should be discoverable by police. Like the knocking on a door and not giving them access to a safe because, even if they had a warrant, are you saying that they can’t get into the safe? It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s just a technology issue and we’re allowing these people to manifest their crazy ideas online.