Subjects: Visit to the Salvation Army; the Red Shield Appeal; National Volunteers Week; the Coalition’s plan to ban gambling advertising; the Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice proposal; Noel Pearson; Mick Gooda; Federal Budget; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2023; nuclear power; tasing incident in NSW.
MAJOR GAVIN WATTS:
Peter, I’d just like to say a huge thank you for coming to the Salvation Army this morning. We continually value your support, and thank you for being here at Street Level.
It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much, Gavin. Thank you.
Firstly, to Gavin and all of the staff here, just wonderful people and an inspiration. When you look at the work that they’re doing with homeless, and those numbers are increasing every day at the moment. The work of the Salvation Army and so many more organisations across our country is absolutely invaluable and I know truly appreciated and respected by all Australians.
This week, of course, is the Red Shield Appeal* and I would just encourage people, please, to visit the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal website*. It’s a very easy process to donate and in that donation you can be assured that the money is being spent on frontline services like we’ve seen here this morning – the provision of food, the support, the wraparound services that are required, and the work of Moneycare here as well, which is a Salvation Army programme.
Again, like others around the country, designed to help people who are in financial hardship and really up against the wall in many cases. So, I just want to commend all of the volunteers that we’ve met this morning, and this, of course, is National Volunteers Week as well.
Millions of Australians give of their time selflessly and in a big-hearted way, and I really am very grateful. Our country wouldn’t function, the support wouldn’t be provided, without those amazing people. So, thank you very much to every Australian who volunteers – not just this week, but every week of the year.
Last Thursday night, during the budget in reply, I made a very important announcement in relation to advertising of gambling on TV whilst you’re sitting there watching sport. I believe very strongly that on a Friday night, like tonight, footy time is family time. You’re sitting there with your kids, you want to be able to enjoy a conversation about whatever code it is that you follow, whatever sporting event it is that you’re watching on television, and it shouldn’t be a conversation about ‘multis’ and the legs that you’ve got in your multi-bet for that night. It should be about the sport and about the week that you’ve had and what you’re going to do together on the weekend. That’s what it should be about.
I think it’s important for every Australian to be able to be a part of this conversation. I know that there will be some who miss out on advertising revenues or some who see a financial loss in what it is that we’re proposing, but we can’t allow a culture to continue where young people are introduced, at a younger and younger age, to a betting and gambling culture – because for many Australians it becomes unmanageable. Everybody enjoys a bet, but in the end, having conversations on a regular basis with messages reinforced to you every day when you’re watching television about gambling and betting, it’s not a good outcome for our country.
So, that’s why we made the announcement last week, and here at the Salvation Army, you see the frontline service, those volunteers and employees at the Salvation Army who are working with people with addiction – who have a gambling addiction, who have lost a fortune, who have lost their family or their house – and we shouldn’t ever forget that that is a reality in our country. And that’s why we need to be very mindful of the processes that are in place, particularly around gambling advertising, at a time when kids are really absorbing that message.
I’m happy to take any questions.
During Covid, Mr Dutton, a lot of people struggled with addiction when it came to gaming, they were on their phones constantly, which is an addiction in itself, as we’ve seen with children. Do you think it’s like double jeopardy, the gaming apps, in terms of the ability of people to shake what’s become a destructive habit?
It’s a really good question. I think the reality is that, I mean, we talk about our kids, but we do as well, have this connection with a mobile phone or with your device, and that’s fine, I mean, people are watching YouTube videos, you know, kids are on Snapchat or whatever it might be, Instagram, whatever the platform. But, particularly when it comes to gambling, you know, this is not paper money – it’s not a theory – it’s people’s hard-earned cash. People are drawing money out of their credit card to put onto their gambling account. In moderation, like anything, gambling is something that a lot of Australians enjoy. I don’t begrudge that.
My concern is when you’ve got a constant bombardment and a normalisation of these betting ads, conversations with your kids about whether somebody’s scored a try and is X-points ahead of the other team, and if not, it’s been a bad game, even if their own team gets up because they’ve lost their multi or lost the bet that they’ve placed on that game. I just don’t think that is something that we want to engender and that we want to continue to support.
We can have a sensible approach to this and the approach that we’ve proposed is that for the period of the sporting event, or an hour each side of it, there should be a ban on that sort of advertising. I think it’s reasonable. I think it’s measured and balanced, and I’d call on the Prime Minister – who has said nothing about this since the time of its announcement last week. I want this to be a bipartisan position so that we can work together because I think it’s in our country’s best interest.
What did you make of Noel Pearson’s comments about Mick Gooda on ABC Radio National this morning?
Well, look, I’d say of Mick Gooda that he’s a person of big heart – enormous heart. He’s a very decent man, and I don’t think he deserved the assessment that was given of him this morning. Noel’s a wonderful Australian, he’s a colourful character, but by his own admission he’s got a pretty sharp tongue and I thought this morning he went overboard in relation to Mick Gooda.
Mick is a decent person, a good man, and he wants what is best for Indigenous Australians and there are many Indigenous Australians who are supporting the Voice, and many who are opposed to it. We should have a respectful debate and that’s what I’d ask of, not just Noel Pearson, but everybody involved in this debate.
Mr Dutton, we saw the AFL come out yesterday and follow the NRL in encouraging a ‘yes’ vote. Do you think that sort of broad appeal to its spectator base, that it diminishes the chances of a no vote? Is that a reality that you’re prepared to confront?
Look, I actually think we’ve got to have an honest conversation here. I think it’s counterproductive for the sporting codes to be out there advocating a position because most of their fans are really scratching their head as to why the elites within the sport, particularly the elites involved in the administration of the game, are taking a position in relation to the Voice, when those who are watching a footy match are happy to hear the arguments for and against and have the detail and understand what it is that they’re being asked to vote for in the Referendum later this year. They’ll make their own minds up – they don’t need to be told by the CEO of an organisation. They don’t need to be told by some multi-millionaire living in a capital city, in a mansion how they should be voting, when they’re struggling out in the suburbs. I think it becomes counter-productive.
I think most Australians – I saw some research on this the other day – there’s a level of frustration that people are feeling that they’re not being trusted with the advice, with the detail, so that they can make an informed judgement when they vote. Never in our country’s history, has a Prime Minister said to the public, ‘vote on the Saturday and we’ll work out on the Monday what it is that you’re voting for’. The design of the Voice doesn’t start until the Monday.
I strongly support constitutional recognition. I think it’s important. And I support a local and regional voice in legislation so that we can have Indigenous people – particularly those that are at the coalface – having a say and a tangible say in the way in which we can improve situations in Indigenous communities or in remote areas more generally. I think that’s an important discussion. But, enshrining the Voice in the Constitution – as the Prime Minister is proposing – and not explaining how it would work. I don’t think people understand the ramifications, but I do think a lot of Australians are starting to work out that all of this chat about Labor and the Prime Minister seeing political advantage out of the Voice being a wedge against the Coalition, it might be part of the motivation of the Prime Minister’s interest in this topic.
Just on jobs, Mr Dutton. On May Day, the Prime Minister marched with members of the energy and mining unions and said, ‘watch this space, in eight days the budget’s going to have answers about the transition of jobs into the renewable sector’. Did you see anything in the budget that addresses the concerns about workers in the Queensland energy sector, for example, still worried about how their jobs are going to be converted into the renewables sector?
Well look, a couple of points here. One is that this was a welfare budget and that’s fine, but there is nothing in this budget for middle Australians and there are many millions of Australians now, who are Labor’s working poor. Because they’re working harder than ever: they might have taken a second job, they’re working overtime, their spouse has gone back to work and they still can’t pay the bills.
The reality is that they’ve got mounting electricity bills, they’ve got mounting gas bills, when they go to the supermarket they know that they’re getting less in their trolley for the same that they paid 12 months ago. That’s the reality for millions of Australians. In this budget, there was nothing. In fact, we know that in the budget projections, your power bill will go up by hundreds of dollars, when the Prime Minister promised it would go down by $275.
So, it’s clear that there is nothing for Australians in this budget. I note that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer never mentioned ‘middle Australia’ in the budget or in the run up to the budget, but since my budget in reply speech, the Treasurer has mentioned ‘middle Australia’ 41 times I think the number is, and the Prime Minister 15 times. So, I think they’re trying to play catch up here, and there are a lot of Australians who are doing it tough at the moment because the government has an energy policy which is driving the power prices up, and they haven’t stopped. Power prices under this budget are projected to go even further.
The Senate Committee looking into a ban on the display of the Nazi symbol has recommended it not be passed because of concerns around the scope and enforceability. Are you open to some suggestions and would you support a more comprehensive bill?
Well, again, I mean, I’m just perplexed as to why the government hasn’t acted here. The government’s at its 12-month mark. The now Attorney-General was advised of this problem and the need to act 12 months ago, and we put forward a bill which made a suggestion in relation to what I thought was a helpful suggestion and a constructive one, and we wanted to work with the government because this rise of neo-Nazi behaviour and conduct needs to be stamped out.
The government has the full resources of the government, the Department of Attorney-General, they have scores of lawyers – they can come up with a bill today. Frankly, they could draft a bill in 24 hours, but they haven’t done it. I would encourage them to do it and we will support the bill because I don’t want to see any encouragement given to people who are preaching hate and those who are worshipping at some ideology which is twisted and sick and somebody who sees a role model in somebody like Adolf Hitler, or a Nazi movement, or the level of anti-Semitism we’re seeing in our country, it has no place in Australia. The government should get their act together here and send a very clear message that we won’t tolerate the display of those symbols and other elements of the bill as they see fit. We’re very happy to sit down with them tomorrow and work through it.
Just back to that gap that many people describe as the hole between rhetoric and reality on decarbonisation. Tony Maher from the Electrical and Mining Union, recently saying that as a representative of workers from Australia’s coal-fired power stations and the coal mines that supply them, he had this concern through profound economic restructuring, this critical element missing – this is just in the last eight weeks – that is, support for the workers who are profoundly affected by decarbonisation. Are you convinced that the Albanese Government has addressed his concerns at all?
Well, I don’t think they have, and I think the concerns, frankly, were probably exacerbated with the Treasurer’s contribution in his budget speech. We’re in a strong position in this country at the moment and we’re able to get back to surplus this year because of nine years of economic management of the Coalition government. This miracle hasn’t happened in the last 12 months.
The government was bequeathed an unemployment rate at historic lows, and whilst they projected the unemployment rate would go up under them and 175,000 Australians, sadly, will lose their jobs under this government over the next four years, the fact is that the economy is strong because of the Coalition management and the revenues that the government is receiving – company taxes and royalties. Look at the amount of money that’s coming in from mining in this country. Now, in the Treasurer’s speech, he didn’t make any mention, it was words to the effect that, you know, the stuff that we export or the things that we export, he doesn’t want to mention the word ‘gas’ or ‘fossil fuels’ or whatever else. But that’s the reality of where the government gets its money from. We pay for schools and for hospitals and for roads because of the work that those workers do, and there are thousands, tens of thousands of Australians who put on high-vis vests, go to the airport, spend a month away from their family, and they create wealth for their families and for our country, and our country cannot survive without that revenue.
Now, I’m all in favour of renewable energy, but I’m realistic about the fact that of a night-time the solar panels don’t work, and we need to be able to firm up because if we don’t do that, as we saw in South Australia with Safcol, they’ve got massive cold rooms that need to run 24/7 or the food spoils and that food can’t be at the supermarkets. The IGA doesn’t function if the supermarket fridges and cold rooms and freezers are only running during the daytime. It’s a matter of logic and physics. So, I just think we have to have a realistic discussion in relation to it. Everyone’s in favour of a situation where we want to see renewables in the system, but they need to be firmed up and at the moment gas is a big part of that picture.
I’ll finish on this point, I think it’s important to note that countries like Japan and Korea and elsewhere at the moment are looking at Australia for the first time and seeing sovereign risk. If there is sovereign risk, there won’t be investment, and if there’s no investment, there’s no jobs and no taxes and we lose the services that we’ve become accustomed to. So, when people ask for more money for JobSeeker, or they ask for more money for hospitals, you need to ask the next question of where will that money come from? And the reality for our country is that we are a population of 26.1 million people and we need to export our products and services and that’s how we generate wealth in this country. So, I think those workers have been left high and dry by Labor and I hope that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer can at some point treat them with some respect.
As an ex-police officer, do you think tasing a 95-year-old was appropriate force?
Well, it’s been a long time since I was a police officer. In fact, it was in the black and white days where there were no tasers. So, not my area of expertise, but obviously any report of a 95-year-old being tasered would shock anyone, and I haven’t seen the facts of what’s happened or the circumstances of it, but obviously the public would want an explanation and I hope it’s forthcoming soon.
You spoke of Korea earlier about power, that country has proven they can roll out a relatively inexpensive and sustainable option for reactors for domestic supply. How does Chris Bowen say that regional Australia would not covet such facilities in their backyard, as he says, when they expect the people of Port Kembla to host the submarines in their harbour? How do they flip that?
Well, again, I don’t understand the government’s logic here. The government has signed up to nuclear powered submarines. The reactor, made by Rolls Royce, is fuelled, it doesn’t need to be refuelled for 30 years. It is the latest technology, and our sailors are safe on those submarines to sail at the bottom of the ocean with those nuclear reactors. The nuclear submarines can come in to a port like Brisbane, or Sydney, or Darwin, or Adelaide or wherever it might be, can tie up at the dock with millions of people are living in adjacent suburbs, and somehow it’s not acceptable for us to have a conversation around small modular reactors.
The beauty of a small modular reactor, as we’ve seen in other countries, including Canada and France and elsewhere, is that you can turn off coal, you can plug the small modular reactor into an existing distribution network, so you don’t need Labor’s $100 billion of new 28,000 kilometre poles and wires – all of that cost will be passed on to consumers – and it firms up the renewables in the system.
When the renewables aren’t working, the nuclear baseload can provide that support. There are 32 countries who are doing this at the moment and 50 more who are looking at it. This is not the 1960s or ’70s or ’80s. This is a technology that has zero emissions, and I don’t believe that the government can achieve its zero emissions target without the use of presumably hydrogen if it’s a reality within sort of a decade, but the nuclear technology that’s available now. Chris Bowen goes off on these juvenile rants, I just think we should have a mature conversation. We deal with nuclear waste now, through the medical facilities. You go into public hospitals or private hospitals now, they deal with that nuclear waste on a regular basis. The government has committed in the AUKUS deal to disposing of the nuclear waste here in Australia and the reactors at the end of their life will be disposed of here in Australia as well, and why there wouldn’t be a discussion around the small modular reactors and micro modular reactors, I think it just goes to show that there is more ideology here than what we realise.
What I want is cheaper electricity prices for Australians, I want zero emissions, and I want reliable baseload – and that’s what nuclear brings – and we should have a discussion about it. I mean, have a look at the work of Bill Gates. Bill Gates is no fool. He is a strong advocate of small modular reactors because he knows that per square metre you get the maximum yield of energy output. This government’s got to install 22,000 solar panels every month. I mean, it’s phenomenal and Australians are paying the price for it and your power bills under Labor are going to continue to go up and up.
*You can donate to the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal at https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/red-shield-appeal/