Subjects: Visit to Wagin Woolorama; live sheep export industry; AUKUS; racial abuse against Latrell Mitchell.
It’s such a great turn out and a brilliant day here at the Wagin Woolorama premier sheep event here in Western Australia. Western Australia is, I guess, the appropriate place to be to talk about live exports because 97 per cent of live exports come out of Western Australia and a great majority of those come out of my electorate, and of course the Member for Durack Melissa Price’s electorate.
Peter’s come here today to talk live exports, to listen to farmers, listen to the suppliers, the people that work in the supply chain, and to give them some reassurance about our position on live exports.
To my other parliamentary colleagues who have travelled from far and wide to be here with us today to show support, thank you very much and certainly congratulations to the organisers of the Woolorama committee – the 51st Woolorama – although actually the 50th because last year was cancelled due to COVID. So a milestone event here today and great to have Peter here today. So over to you Peter.
Well Rick, thank you very much. I want to say, firstly to you and to Melissa Price, thank you for having us here and all of my colleagues. We wanted to send a very clear message today of support to Western Australians. There are many decisions that are made in Canberra without properly considering their impact on the ground. Farmers already face enough in our country through weather, commodity prices, all sorts of natural disasters and they don’t need the government working against them as well.
As we know, the Labor Government in Canberra has made another decision which I think will be detrimental to many people here in this part of the world, many people who are relying for the next generation and the generation beyond that to continue their family dream. They have a huge connection to the land. They work hard, they provide for their family, for their state and for their country and what the Labor Party is promising here at the moment is to bring an end to those producers and their future for their kids, and we’re not going to stand for that.
We’ve been very clear and consistent in our support of the live export industry for sheep. It’s a huge part of the economy here. It’s a big part of the relationship with the Middle East and it’s not just the export of sheep and other commodities, it’s the relationships that are built, it’s the tourism that comes from it, and if there is a sovereign risk element that creeps into negotiations or contracts, then it has a ripple effect in relation to other commodities and other exports in that region.
So there are many reasons why we should stand up, recognise firstly, what the industry has done to improve the situation over the last few years and the dramatic change in the circumstances, the way in which vets have been listened to, the monitors have provided their support, the farmers have worked together to find a better situation because in the end the farmers who are here today, those that are showing their sheep, those who are involved in the supply chain, they want the best for sheep, for the animals as well.
I wanted to make it very clear today that we will support the industry, firstly to fight against Labor’s attempts to close it down and if they do close it down then our commitment to reinstate it because it’s hard to find an alternative for these farmers, for their families. It’s not just the farmers, it’s the stores in town, it’s all of the producers of fertiliser, and the distributors of all of those products that go into making a modern farm work, the tech people that we were talking about before. There are many elements here that we need to protect and this attack on WA just can’t be sustained. We need to stand together and to fight against the Labor Party’s attack on WA and that’s why I’m here today with my colleagues supporting our farming families here.
Happy to take any questions.
An independent panel chosen to provide input into the live sheep export ban includes a former CEO of RSPCA. Do you think the government is making its mind based on animal activism?
Well look, I think the reality is that the Labor Party’s already made their mind up and they’re going through this pantomime. The particular audience that they want to please is in inner city Sydney, in inner city Melbourne and in Canberra. They have no regard for farming families here in the West. What we are here for is to stand up for those families. When you look at the way in which they’ve stacked this inquiry, Warren Snowdon, who is a former Labor member of parliament, he will do as Murray Watt wants and what would he know about the lives of these farming families here? That’s the reality. So, I think there’s already a foregone conclusion. I think it’s disrespectful to the farming families who are here today and to the region and to WA more generally. I think we should call them out on it.
An estimated 3,000 jobs will be lost. Having spoken to these farmers today, what’s your response?
I think some people are really shell shocked because they’ve worked hard for generations to build up an asset. You’re already seeing the government drive up their energy costs. You’re seeing a government make it more difficult in relation to superannuation. We find out during the week that the government’s plan on their new super tax will mean that people that have their farm as an asset in the vehicle of their self-managed super fund, but that farm goes up in value in a year, even if they don’t sell the farm, they’ll pay capital gains tax on the increase during the course of that year. So I mean, what else can Anthony Albanese dream up to make it harder for families and farmers to succeed? I think it really is something that there should be a national spotlight on and the fact that Murray Watt is working against the industry, I think people here that I’ve spoken to today, won’t accept it.
Labor has said the ban won’t come into effect during this term of government, is that any solace to farmers that you’ve spoken to today?
Farmers are making decisions now about acquisition of property. They’re making decisions about how they invest in their property, whether it’s improving the soils or the crops, whether it’s putting in infrastructure – sheds and tanks – whether it’s putting in grain silos, whatever it might be; the fact is that they can’t make those decisions if they can’t amortise that cost over a long period of time.
It demonstrates that nobody on the frontbench of the Labor Party has been involved in farming, they haven’t been involved in small business, they haven’t employed people, they haven’t had an overdraft, they haven’t been the last person to be paid at the end of each week or each month. That’s why they make these decisions, because they don’t understand what it is that it takes to run this business. You can’t say, ‘well, we’ll give you certainty for the next two years, but not beyond that’. Farmers can’t operate in that environment. Bankers and financiers won’t finance an operation with that great uncertainty.
To confirm what you said before – so if the Labor Government was to run for another term and go through with the ban, if the Liberal Party was reinstated, you’re saying that you would lift that ban and reintroduce the live export trade?
Yes, 100 per cent. That’s our commitment to the families and to the sector here. We respect very much Western Australia. Our team here on the ground is passionate about working for and representing their constituents and their constituents have made it very clear that’s what they want, that that’s what they need. There is not a replacement market here. Western Australia, particularly in the Wheatbelt, in this region, as Rick and Melissa and others have pointed out, there is a heavy reliance on this export industry and it does not just stop at the export of sheep, it then goes into cattle as well. If you close down the cattle export industry, which is what the Prime Minister ultimately will want to do, then you close down large parts of Northern Australia and there is not a domestic market for much of that meat product.
There is a market that we’ve established, that farmers have worked hard to establish over a long period of time and we should respect that. They know their businesses. They know the markets available to them. If there was another domestic and easier way to market their cattle or their sheep in WA, or on the East Coast even for that matter, they would do it, but they recognise that this is the market for them and we should be supporting, not working against them.
Is there anything that you would change about the live export trade?
Well, I would change the way in which the Labor Party is casting a dark shadow and a dark cloud over the livelihoods of many thousands of people in this region. There are people in stores, in shops, in towns here who rely on the viability of those farms. People aren’t spending money at the local bakery, they aren’t spending money at the local newsagency, they aren’t spending money at the local car dealership if their business is not viable. The Prime Minister and Murray Watt and others have gone straight from university into a union, into a member’s office, an MP’s office, and then into Parliament. They’ve never run a business, they don’t understand what it’s like to have great uncertainty. I want to be very clear that our support for the industry has been long standing and it will be there into the future as well.
Just on some national issues, Peter Dutton, on the AUKUS deal, there are some reports this morning that Australia will first buy the US Virginia-class submarines first. Are you supportive of that idea?
A couple of points on AUKUS. Firstly, I think great credit to Scott Morrison, who as Prime Minister initiated the AUKUS discussions firstly with the United Kingdom and then with the United States. The deal we have put together with our two most important partners comes at a crucial time because, as you know, as even the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister has pointed out, we live in the most uncertain time since the Second World War and it’s important for us to have the best capability in the world. I worked very closely as Defence Minister with my US and UK counterparts and I really pushed hard for this outcome of the Virginia-class and I’m very glad that the government’s been able to deliver on what the Coalition put in place in relation to AUKUS.
It provides a great deterrence, it will be a huge opportunity when you look at the investments as a government we made here in Stirling and in defence infrastructure right across WA. We want to see more of that and there will be more jobs here in WA, more jobs across the country because of AUKUS and most importantly above any other consideration, we will provide the underpinning of security for our country for the next couple of generations. So, we will wait for more detail next week. We don’t yet have the detail, we haven’t received the briefings from the government, but we will support the government’s decisions because it’s in our national interest to do so, and that’s the commitment that we’ve given and it’s what we will do.
What role does the HMAS Stirling Naval Base have to play in (inaudible) and WA in general?
Well, the naval bases here in WA, all of our defence assets are absolutely crucial to our national infrastructure, to keep our country safe, particularly in an uncertain period. Anyone who wants to predict where the region is in a decade or two or three time, I don’t really think has any idea of what’s going on. It’s very volatile. There is a huge build up by China and that’s a reality that’s been acknowledged by the government. There are very significant concerns out of Europe as to what’s happening in the Indo-Pacific at the moment.
The investment that we made into Henderson, into Stirling, into shipbuilding here in WA, it’s not only resulted in thousands of jobs, but a huge productivity win for the West. We don’t take money out of defence, we put money in. When Labor was last in government, they reduced spending in defence down to the lowest level since 1938 and that had a devastating impact on the local economy here in WA. We restored that funding. We remain committed to our defence industry here in WA, in South Australia, in the other states, but this is a very significant historic outcome for our country and I want to make sure that the government does it right, and we’ll be making sure that we support them in the decisions that they make that are in our country’s best interests.
Just on some other issues, Peter Dutton, Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell says he was racially abused at a footy match last night. Are you surprised that in 2023 players are still being abused for their skin colour?
Well, firstly I want to give every support to Latrell Mitchell. I think the allegations here are disgraceful and I think there should be a life ban as he and others have called for, for people that see fit to make racial slurs against people who are playing footy. These are young blokes who are representing their clubs, representing their local communities and they should be out there with great pride, the same level of pride that we have in them when they run on to the paddock. I want to make sure that we can have an environment where they do it safely.
I welcome the investigation by the NRL, I welcome the investigation by the police and it should be a message to anybody that believes that it’s acceptable to make those sort of comments to Latrell Mitchell or to anybody else. I want it to be a very clear message that our country doesn’t accept it and we’re there to watch footy, to enjoy the game. Thank goodness it’s restarted, it’s great to watch our teams play again across the three codes, but the behaviour as it’s reported, is completely unacceptable and I want to send best wishes and every support to Latrell for what he’s going through. It’s unacceptable that he or his family or his club or the game should have to go through that.
All right. Thank you very much.