Subjects: Visit to Perth; Visit to Leonora and Laverton; cost of living pressures; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Labor’s abolition of the Cashless Debit Card; crime crisis in Indigenous communities; Aston by-election; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; superannuation; WA Liberal Leader Libby Mettam.
SENATOR MATT O’SULLIVAN:
Well, it’s terrific to be here in the corner of the Tangney and Fremantle electorates with Peter Dutton and Michaelia Cash over here in Western Australia, speaking to people about issues that really matter in this community, and what we’re hearing here at Chorus is there is a big impact that’s happening right now on cost of living and the impact on the services that they’re delivering. So, thank you Michaelia, for being down here, and to you, Peter.
SENATOR MICHAELIA CASH:
Great to be with you, and it is fantastic to have Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition here today joining Senator Matt O’Sullivan and I, but in particular as we visit small businesses and places like Chorus Kitchens and talk to people about the matters that are actually affecting them.
As we know, prior to the election, Anthony Albanese made a number of promises to Australians and to Western Australians. He has failed to deliver on any of them. He said, ‘I’ll reduce your power bill by $275’. They can’t even mutter the number $275 any more. They said they’d tackle interest rates, they said they’d tackle inflation. Inflation is at a 30 year high. We’ve had eight interest rate rises since Mr Albanese was elected as Prime Minister. You have 800,000 families across Australia currently on fixed term mortgages who will soon move to variable rates and Mr Albanese does not have any answers for them.
The question that Australians are now asking is why do families always seem to end up paying more under Labor? And of course in the employment portfolio we had the labour force figures come out last week. We have now seen an increase in the unemployment rate – but not only that, the economy’s shedding in excess of 43,000 full-time jobs, So Mr Albanese, in touching down in Western Australia later today, makes a lot of promises to us, but the policies that he is implementing – or, alternatively failing to implement – are doing nothing to actually address the actual issues that are facing Western Australians.
But of course having Peter Dutton here, Peter Dutton is listening to the people in Western Australia, but in particular the people in Laverton and Leonora. As we know since the Albanese government abolished the Cashless Debit Card, the shire presidents in both Laverton and Leonora have been screaming out for Mr Albanese to listen to the voices on the ground. They warned Labor before they made this move, ‘please don’t do it’, but Labor didn’t listen. They still abolished the Cashless Debit Card and what do we now see today? Well, the cash is now flowing, the alcohol is being bought. In fact, to quote shire president Patrick Hill, ‘they are drinking bottles of Jim Beam as if they are Coke’. The kids are now wandering the streets, they are not getting fed, and Mr Albanese, what does he say? Absolutely nothing. He is silent on the issue. Mr Albanese comes to Western Australia and doesn’t do what we as Western Australians ask him to do. Go and talk to the people on the ground in Laverton and Leonora.
Peter Dutton, on the other hand, comes here, listens to small businesses, listens to people who are doing it tough, but as he knows, gets on a plane later today and will actually go and meet with the people in Laverton and with the people in Leonora. That is true leadership for Western Australians.
Michaelia, thank you very much. Thank you also to Matt for the work you’re doing locally here on the ground, supporting Chorus Kitchens here. They’re an amazing organisation. They’re desperate for cash at the moment and like many other organisations, particularly in food preparation, they’re just seeing a massive spike in the increase of all of the raw materials – all of the vegetables, the meats, and the ingredients going into their products otherwise, and the incredible work that Dan and Mandy and Ryan were telling us about before.
It’s not just about delivering meals to people who might be in a very difficult position, might be aged at home, not wanting to go into an aged care facility, just retired, people with all sorts of reasons to have these meals delivered. They’re doing it really tough, and I think the Prime Minister should have a chat to the people here because there is a change in the funding model that’s required. There is more assistance that’s needed for Meals on Wheels. It’s not just about delivering a meal to an elderly resident, somebody who may or may not have contact with family, maybe the family doesn’t get to visit, or maybe they’re living in another part of the state or the country and just can’t keep an eye on their mum or dad. So, there’s that social aspect to Meals on Wheels as well. The support that they can provide when they turn up, just a welfare check to make sure that they’ve got their medication, to make sure that they’ve got the meal, that they’ve eaten the meal from yesterday. We know with the early onset of dementia and other medical conditions as well, the Meals on Wheels volunteers do an incredible job not just in delivering food, but to delivering a hand of support and help to those who really need it.
So, I hope that the government can provide some additional support to Meals on Wheels, and we would certainly be very supportive of that. There’s a budget coming up in May and that would be the obvious point to provide more support for Meals on Wheels and like services. But I just want to say thank you very much to Chorus today and to the volunteers there. Michaelia, Matt and I went around and helped prepare a few meals, but they deliver 200 meals, and at the pace we were working at, we weren’t going to be finished by lunchtime, so we handed over to the professionals to finish it off.
Just a couple of other points. It’s not just here, this business and this organisation, that’s feeling the real squeeze when it comes to cost of living. As you know, the inflation rate is higher here in Western Australia than it is in the other states and territories. There are families now who are coming off packages that have had fixed interest rates and are now going on to variable rates or a new fixed package and they’re finding it really hard and it’s going to get harder this year by all accounts. At a time when the government should be trying to make it easier for families, the Albanese Government is making decisions which frankly make it much, much harder for families. If you’re taking decisions like the introduction of a new carbon tax that is three times higher than what Julia Gillard was proposing, the businesses aren’t going to wear that cost. They’re not going to see a reduction in their profits, they’re going to pass that cost on to families and you’re going to see an increase in electricity prices, in gas prices, in food prices at a time when families and small businesses just can’t afford it.
So, I really worry about the Australian public at the moment, who are, you know, frankly, as Michaelia pointed out, looking to a Prime Minister and shrugging their shoulders because he promised before the election he had a plan, he promised on 97 occasions that he would reduce power prices by $275. It just hasn’t happened, and we’re seeing, at the moment, a lot of decisions which will contribute to an upward pressure on interest rates at a time when families can least afford that.
Now, not only in our country at the moment is there a cost of living crisis, but there is also a crisis when it comes to law and order and a breakdown in many of our Indigenous communities, not just in WA, but in the Northern Territory. You’ve seen the headlines on Alice Springs. There are a lot of mayors here in WA at the moment in regional and remote areas who are very worried that they’re heading down the Alice Springs path and the Albanese Government – one of their first decisions that they took was to abolish the Cashless Debit Card, and by abolishing the Cashless Debit Card, the rivers of grog have just reopened. They’ve started to flow and we’re seeing a step up in violence again.
Now, I’m really pleased that we’re going to head to Laverton shortly to meet with the mayors and some of the local communities there and also to Leonora as well, to have a chat to those people and get a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Only 40 days until the Aston by-election and it’s now been confirmed for April the 1st. How close are you to having a candidate and what will your main message to Aston voters be?
Well look, the first point is we’ve got some amazing candidates who have stuck their hands up and it’s an issue for the Victorian Division, but the decision will be made very quickly and we’ll be able to make an announcement in the not-too-distant future. But I think the people of Aston are worried about the fact that five significant infrastructure projects have been cut in Aston. It was one of the government’s first decisions. There is a lot of cost of living pressure on those families in that local community, and I think people, again, like here in WA, across the rest of the country, are really worried about how they’re going to continue to pay their bills under an Albanese Government.
Would you prefer a female candidate?
Well, I’ve expressed my view that I would very much like – in a democratic process that we have in the Liberal Party – for a female candidate to be selected in Aston. But, ultimately, that’s a question for the division in Victoria so we’ll work on that.
What chance do you give yourself in the seat and what would it mean if you lost?
Well look, I think it’s a tough seat for us to retain. Alan Tudge has done a great job as a local member, but it’s a tough and difficult circumstance in any by-election. The government’s still in its honeymoon and there are a lot of local issues at play, but I’m confident ultimately that we can win but I think it will be a tough fight and I think we go into it clearly as the underdogs.
The Prime Minister is meeting with Indigenous leaders here in WA regarding the Voice, and he has said that there would be a network of local and regional voices that feed into the national Voice. If you could get that assurance that that would happen, would it help reassure you that the Voice could have a practical impact, if there are local voices as part of the structure?
Well, I mean, we went to the last election with a policy of wanting local and regional Indigenous voices to feed into policy and to provide that advice. Now, the government’s – it seems in the last 24 hours – stepped back a bit from that. I don’t quite understand the announcement from the Prime Minister, but we’ll get more detail. But he’s made reference to the Calma-Langton report, the 272 pages, and said look, if you want the detail, look into the Report. Well, then we had Senator Dodson saying that the Voice would have a say in National Cabinet. Linda Burney stepped that back and the Prime Minister ruled it out. So, we don’t know whether that would be part of the negotiation with the legislation if the Voice was to be successful. Second point is that the Prime Minister is now saying that the local voices that the Calma-Langton Report recommended in their 272 pages may not be a feature of the Voice. So, I just think Australians want to get a better understanding, particularly when the design keeps changing and they want an understanding of what it is the government is proposing. Because ultimately every Australian wants a better outcome for Indigenous Australians. We want to see a better outcome for those kids. We don’t want to see the violence on the ground. We want to see people in work, getting a good education, and contributing and being a part of society as you would expect anywhere else.
What do you make of Treasurer Chalmers’ push today to lock away superannuation for retirement? Does early withdrawals hurt Australians more when it comes time to retire?
Well firstly, I mean, some people have to withdraw from their superannuation because they’ve got a terminal illness or another life-changing event in circumstances where there’s been a late in life separation, particularly for women. It’s very hard to find the money to get into housing and we went to the election with a policy that would allow women in that situation to access their superannuation so that they could buy another house for themselves and in many cases for their young children. The policy required, though, that people, when they sold the house and there was an uplift in the value that they contributed that money back into their super so that they can benefit from the compounding of it by the time they retire. So, it’s a sensible policy.
But under Labor, the proposal is that the super fund can use your money that you’ve put into your own super fund to buy somebody else a house, but the Treasurer is proposing that you can’t use your own super money to help you get into a house as a first home buyer or as I say, a woman escaping domestic violence or wanting to restart her life after a messy separation. So, I think that’s the first point. The second point is that when you hear Jim Chalmers talk about wanting to redesign the market and when you hear about him, you know, talking about superannuation, it’s all code for more tax. In the May budget, I suspect we’ll see more and more taxes at a time when Australians can afford it less and less. That’s always the price of the tax and spend approach of Mr Albanese and Mr Chalmers has been on display, and I suspect you’ll see it in May as well.
You mentioned cost of living being a major issue at the last election and obviously still today, but so was climate change. You lost your safest seat in Perth over the issue. How can you assure voters that you’re listening and learning if you’re still opposing measures to combat climate change?
Well, there were many factors in the election, and we’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do in WA – there’s no doubt about that. We’ll continue to have policies which are relevant to people. We have a commitment to the zero ’50 target. I think the difference on us at the moment in relation to the mechanism – most Australians would never have heard of, but it requires the top 215 emitters to reduce their emissions and for some of those businesses, they’re going to take their operations offshore. So, you’re going to see no reduction in the global emissions. You’re going to see a reduction in the number of Australians employed, particularly in those manufacturing industries and you’re going to see a lack of investment and it will spread to other sectors.
So, everyone’s in favour of reducing emissions, but we don’t want to export Australian jobs and just see the emissions go into the air in another part of the world. I mean, there’s no environmental benefit out of that and if people think that these companies are just going to wear the cost and not pass it on to consumers or not reduce their wage bill or the money that they’re putting into the community otherwise, well, I just think Labor’s kidding themselves. So, this is a carbon tax which is three times what Julia Gillard proposed – three times – and it’s all going to be passed on to families and to pensioners, people that are already struggling to pay their power bills, and their gas bills, and their petrol bills, that’s the reality of it. So, I think in terms of our policies, our policies are designed to take pressure off, not put pressure on families and pensioners and people on fixed incomes and small businesses. At the moment, every economic decision that Labor’s making is putting upward pressure on interest rates and upward pressure on cost of living.
You met with Libby Mettam this morning – what do you make of her chances of saving the Liberal Party in WA from the brink of extinction?
Well, a couple of points. I mean, I spoke to Libby immediately after she was elected to the position just to congratulate her and offer any support that I could and I had a really good conversation with Libby this morning. I think she’s a breath of fresh air for the Liberal Party to be honest. I think she has an ability really to take the fight up to Mark McGowan. I think she has the capacity to put policies together which are going to be relevant to the people of WA. I think she’s really going to call out the Prime Minister when he refuses to go to places in WA that he should be going to right now. You can’t have a Prime Minister who’s just for the inner cities. You’ve got to have a Prime Minister for all Australians and if I can find the time to go out to some of these Indigenous communities, then, the Prime Minister should be able to as well.
I think Libby’s really right across all the issues, particularly the cost of living pressures that are affecting families in WA at the moment and she’s a huge supporter of the resource sector. She’s a very proud citizen of WA, a great supporter of my colleagues, and I look forward to working very closely with her in the years to come as she rebuilds and has success against a government that clearly can’t handle the situation in the health space at the moment, the difficulties in WA that Mr McGowan’s presided over, a lot of West Australians are really feeling that pain where they have an interaction with the health system. What we’re seeing with the law and order crisis in Laverton at the moment, the federal government and the state government need to do more to address that situation and, frankly, Mr McGowan should be calling out Mr Albanese in relation to the abolition of the Cashless Debit Card because that is directly responsible for the violence and the crime that we’re seeing in those communities at the moment.
Thank you very much.