Subjects: Visit to the Mornington Peninsula; cost of living pressures on Australian families; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; gas supply; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; Alice Springs crime crisis; Australia Day; Australian politics course at risk of being cut from Victorian education system.
Hello everyone. I am Zoe McKenzie, the Member for Flinders. It is great to have you down here, but it is especially great to have the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton down here today in Flinders. We have a full day of activity. We’ve been here at Esso walking around the plant, seeing the sea trains, seeing the operations room, meeting some of the apprentices – Charmaine and Tom – Tom’s a fourth generation employee here at the plant. It is just fantastic.
From here we are going to Mornington to meet with some small businesses and talk to them about what’s mattering to them at the moment. Things like cost of living, local taxes, the challenge of being metro Melbourne rather than regional Victoria, and from there we’re probably going to go down to Jetty Road, a long standing commonwealth project which hasn’t yet been built and indeed Point Nepean National Centre for Coasts and Climate. But it’s my great honour to have Peter here and to welcome you all, of course, to the Peninsula as well. I’ll hand over to Peter.
Thank you very much. I want to say firstly, thank you very much to all of the staff here at Esso. It was a really enlightening tour, and we had a look at some very significant infrastructure here, obviously a big local employer, the apprentices that Zoe spoke about – the company has been recognised in the last couple of years for their investment back into young people and those people are really wedded to this company. Quite amazing some of the stories of people who’ve been long term employees of the company and they get a great sense of pride knowing that they are helping contribute to the energy that’s required to keep our country going.
We all know that we’re transitioning and that we want renewables into the system, but the fact is we have to firm up those renewables because if we don’t, we’ll see manufacturing jobs go offshore and the emissions still going into the environment, so there is no net benefit to the environment, but we’ll lose that economic activity and lose those jobs.
Now, school’s just about to start back or is starting back in some parts today and there are a lot of families who have just paid the bill for school uniforms, for schoolbooks and all of the expense that goes with sending kids off to school, but at the same time, they’re also getting their electricity bills, their gas bill, whenever they fuel up their tank in their car, whenever they go to Coles, Woollies, you name it, at the moment, people wherever they’re tapping and going, they are seeing a big hit on their hip pocket.
I just don’t think that people can continue to afford Labor because the Prime Minister before the election promised that interest rates would go down, he promised that your mortgage would go down, he promised that he would have a $275 bonus for you and that you would see that relief in your energy bill. Well, none of that has happened and the government’s now eight months in, they’re presiding over a massive energy crisis that’s just building by the day, and I don’t see any families or small businesses across this country who believe that this government has a handle on how to deal with the problem that’s before them.
What you’ve seen through some of the decisions they’ve taken already, it’s actually putting upward pressure on prices; so we’re going to get bills blowing out and we’re going to get uncertainty. That’s the reality. So, if you get uncertainty, those jobs will go offshore. It means for families and for small businesses, they’re just going to continue to pay and pay and pay under Labor.
So, there is a lot that the government has to do. They’ve created a few big messes and in the May budget Australians will expect them to start to deal with some of that, but there’s no sign of that yet. I’m happy to take any questions.
The energy crisis that we’re seeing, interest rates going up, cost of living pressures isn’t unique to Australia. What would you say to that? It’s happening around the world.
Well, the Prime Minister promised on 27 occasions after the Russians went into Ukraine that he would reduce your power bill by $275. Ninety seven times in total he made that commitment. Since he’s been elected from May of last year, he’s never mentioned that $275 again. So, they knew about the circumstances in Europe, they knew about the conditions, and all of the assumptions that they made were based on a war in Ukraine already underway.
So, either he was fibbing before the election or he’s doing it now. But what I know Australians heard was that Anthony Albanese promised them that he would reduce their power bill by $275, and all that’s happened under this government is that prices keep going up.
What would you like to see happen?
Well, we need to see more supply into the system. You can’t have a state like Victoria where during winter, people have got heating requirements, they’ve got all sorts of energy needs in their businesses, if they’re manufacturing and employing local apprentices, they need to keep the lights on and they need to keep their machinery running.
So you need more, not less gas into the system, because if you restrict gas, if you turn gas off before the renewables are ready, then you’ll see the lights go out and you’ll see the bills blow out.
That’s the path that Labor’s got us on. It’s a European path and we shouldn’t have it in our country. We’ve got an abundance of natural resource, we should be having downward pressure on energy prices, not huge price increases as Labor’s presiding over at the moment.
Noel Pearson’s leading a Voice to Parliament campaign. He says he feels that yourself and other Voice sceptics are calling for more detail as a diversion to talk down the proposal and it could cause the Referendum to be lost. What would you say to that?
I think there are a lot of Indigenous leaders, really, who are shaking their head in bewilderment at the Prime Minister at the moment because he won’t provide the detail. The fact is…I think I frankly speak for millions of Australians who just want more detail. They’re being asked to vote for a very significant change to the Constitution and people want to understand what that means.
Everybody wants to see a better outcome for Indigenous Australians and those kids who are in Alice Springs committing crime at the moment – in many cases because the environment at home is not safe to go back to, so they’re out of a night time causing trouble and involving themselves in crime. They’re sleeping during the day, so they’re not going to school. That’s a terrible outcome.
So of course, all of us want to see a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, but the Prime Minister’s proposed this change to our Constitution – the most important document we have in our country – and he’s not willing to provide any of the details.
So, I just think if people in capital cities who are on big pays don’t want to provide detail to the Australian people, then I think the Australian public will start to shake their head, and if there’s a problem, if they’re starting to lose people from the ‘yes’ vote on the referendum, well that’s the responsibility of the Prime Minister because he refuses to provide even the most basic of detail.
We don’t know whether we got a straight answer from the Prime Minister last week about whether he’d sought legal advice from the Solicitor-General. It would be very strange that he didn’t because the Solicitor-General is the Chief Legal Counsel to the Prime Minister, and yet we saw the Prime Minister’s Office doctoring a transcript after that interview with Ben Fordham – it was quite bizarre.
There are many other basic questions that need to be answered. The detail of people being paid is within the Langton-Calma Report, but the Prime Minister knew nothing about it when he did the Ben Fordham interview last week.
So, if the Prime Minister doesn’t have the detail or if he hasn’t read the report or understand the report. How can he expect Australians to know what it is that he is talking about?
You describe that ongoing crisis in Alice Springs as a national disgrace. What would you do? Would you do what the town’s Mayor has asked for and send federal police or the army? Should that happen and when?
Well, I applaud the bravery, actually, of the Mayor from Alice Springs. I think him coming out, is frankly just reflective of the reality on the ground. We were up in Alice Springs just before Christmas and I spoke to whistleblowers up there, people who had been a part of the public service, who have retired or are out on stress leave, because they’re taking kids back into an environment where the kids are screaming that they don’t want to go back into that environment because it’s unsafe, and it’s unconscionable.
I promise you if the level of violence, of crime, of sexual assault and domestic and family violence was occurring in Brisbane, or in Melbourne, or in Hobart, or in Sydney, there would be outrage. The premiers in those states would be calling for additional resources from their police departments to go in and restore law and order.
Now, it was clear to me when we went up to Alice Springs that this issue was beyond the resources of the Northern Territory Government. When I came back, I met in private with the Prime Minister and I pleaded with him to say this is not a partisan issue, this is an issue that is highest priority for our country, but there is going to be tragedy in Alice Springs, and I think there’ll be vigilante responses because the police are throwing their hands up in the air, they’re overwhelmed with the amount of work.
So, do I think the Australian Federal Police should go? Absolutely. I said that to the Prime Minister before Christmas, that we would support any decision he took to put in extra resources to restore law and order and then to put the wraparound services in place to help those families, to help those kids reduce the truancy rates, allow them a safe environment. The prevalence of sexual assault in children is quite unbelievable, and in our country it is a national disgrace. If it was happening in any capital city otherwise in Australia, people would frankly be marching on the premier’s office. We should all be – as Australians – outraged that Indigenous kids are being treated with such contempt.
The Mayor says that it’s a crisis should be treated like it’s a flood or a fire. Should the PM be there as he would in a flood?
Well, I think again, the Mayor’s spoken up against a lot of naysayers, and I saw some comments the other day from Northern Territory Police Minister; it was just so out of touch and so disconnected from what I saw in Alice Springs and from what the Mayor’s relaying to Australia at the moment that it was startling. If you’ve got that level of denialism from that sort of community leader, a Minister in the Northern Territory Government, then I think it is brave that the Mayor has spoken out, to be honest, and he’s spoken out on behalf of his people, and good on him.
The Prime Minister should visit Alice Springs. I would go with the Prime Minister tomorrow to visit Alice Springs because this is an issue that is beyond politics. It is about a bipartisan position to offer support to the government in whatever way, to pass whatever law is required, but those kids deserve the same start in life and the same safety that we expect for our kids living in communities here in Flinders and in my electorate and around the rest of the country. It is completely unacceptable and the Prime Minister should have been there by now, but he should go tomorrow and I would be very happy to travel with him.
I wrote to the Prime Minister, as you know, before Christmas calling for a Royal Commission into Alice Springs and what was happening in the Northern Territory. I still haven’t received a response to that letter.
Victoria is axing its Australia Day parade. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think that’s overkill?
I’d just make this point about Australia Day; we should be incredibly proud of who we are as a nation. We’ve got the very proud Indigenous heritage, we’ve got a very proud British heritage, and we’ve got a very proud of multicultural heritage. Those three, as Noel Pearson and others have pointed out, that blend is what makes us the envy of many other countries around the world. There are tens of millions of people who want to come to Australia tomorrow.
So, we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by who we are, we should be more proud of who we are. We don’t need to tear down one part of our history to build up the other. Let’s work together as a nation and make sure that we respect the good and the bad of our history, as does any country. Let’s make sure that we celebrate our country, what it means to live in Australia.
We live in the best democracy in the world. Young girls can go to school, they can be educated, they can have opportunities in life, and we want more opportunities, but you don’t do that by denying a part of history, or by trying to make sure that you cancel ceremonies and the rest of it. That’s not how we should be celebrating our great country in the year 2023.
If people take these political decisions to grandstand, then that’s an issue for them.
Do you think the date should be changed?
No, I don’t support a change in the date. As I say, I think we should be celebrating who we are as a country, the journey that we’ve taken. Accepting the good and the bad mistakes that were made, the travesties, the terrible crimes that were committed, plus all of the good and let’s blend all of that together, and recognise that people who have just come here who will become Australian citizens on Australia Day, have come from countries where their grandparents or parents couldn’t imagine what it is to live in our country.
So, let’s not be ashamed of our past. Let’s make sure that we learn from the mistakes. Let’s make sure that we work together to have a great future of what I think is the greatest country in the world.
What’s your feeling on big business and some universities giving staff the option to take another day, rather than January 26?
I’d just refer you back to the comments that I made. I don’t think we should be embarrassed or ashamed about who we are as a country. We live in the greatest country in the world. We have a very proud Indigenous heritage, we have a very proud British heritage and we have a great multicultural community in our country.
We should celebrate every part of it, and we don’t need to pull down or trash one part of our legacy to build the other up. Australians should be uniting on Australia Day, not others trying to divide us.
How will you vote in a referendum to the Voice to Parliament?
Well, we’ve made comments in relation to the Referendum. I think like millions of Australians we want to see the detail of how it is that this is going to help those kids in Alice Springs and elsewhere, and how it’s going to reduce the infant mortality rates, how it’s going to increase life expectancy, how it’s going to reduce incarceration rates. I mean they are all important elements of practical reconciliation that we want to see. If the Prime Minister is saying that he wants you to vote for a change in a referendum, then he needs to explain to you what that means and how it would work.
In its current format how would you vote?
Well, I’d just refer you back to my last answer.
In Victoria, only 200 higher education students studied Australian politics last year. I think they are going to abolish the subject and wrap it into global politics. What do you think about that?
Well, I’m disappointed to hear that. Again, I think sometimes we take for granted what we have in our country. We lost troops over a 20 year conflict in Afghanistan, where today, as you know, women can’t be seen in certain parts of the country, they can’t attend public settings in certain parts of the country, young girls are prohibited from going to school.
People have fought for our country and for all of the values that we embrace in our country, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by those, we should celebrate it. Younger people having a greater awareness of our history, and certainly history more broadly is very important so that we don’t make mistakes of the past into the future.
I think particularly for those who are going on to teach in our secondary schools and universities, I think that’s an important part of their syllabus in university. So, I hope that more can take up places because we should never be ashamed of who we are as Australians, we will live in the best country in the world.
Thank you very much.