Subjects: Visit to Perth; Labor’s split on AUKUS; the ALP National Conference; the Prime Minister’s divisive Canberra Voice.
It’s terrific to be here in Myaree at Grouch & Co. – a fantastic coffee and roastery here in this suburb, serving this community. I just want to thank firstly, Renata, for having us here and hosting us.
It’s terrific also to have Peter Dutton here, the Leader of the Opposition, here in Western Australia. Someone that for a long time has been standing up very strongly for Western Australia and it’s terrific to have Peter here with us and also Slade Brockman; two West Australians supporting the Coalition here. Peter, thank you so much for coming and welcome.
Well Matt, thank you very much. Both to you and Slade; thanks for being here today. Both supporters, very strong supporters, of small business.
I want to say thank you very much to Renata and just the amazing staff that we met this morning; just young people, a young business owner really wanting the opportunity to create a life for herself, to create an opportunity to employ other young Australians, to invest back into the community.
As Renata pointed out, as a local cafe owner, it’s really tough. A lot of WA small businesses at the moment are really doing it tough because of inflation. Renata spoke about all of the input costs going up. Not just electricity, not just energy costs, but other raw material inputs into a business like this continue to go up because the suppliers have an increase in their electricity bill, and the providers of all of the products that they’re selling are facing their own pressures because of inflation.
I don’t think many people across the country, certainly in WA, can say that they’re better off today than they were 15 months ago when Mr Albanese was elected. It’s clear that the government made all sorts of promises and I think Anthony Albanese is turning out to be a big talker, but not a great doer. He always says that he has a plan, but he never implements it.
It was in Perth where the Prime Minister stood up before the election to say that he had a plan to reduce your power bills by $275 every year and that he had a plan to reduce interest rates. Well, as it turns out, there is no such plan. The Prime Minister promised on 97 occasions he would reduce your power bill by $275. He has never mentioned that figure once since becoming Prime Minister. I think it’s quite remarkable, and I think Australians now are starting to see a different side to the Prime Minister – maybe a different person than the one they voted for in May of last year.
I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I think the Prime Minister, frankly, needs to stop focusing on the union leaders and start focusing on the workers, because you’ve got a Prime Minister at the moment who’s in Brisbane for a love-in of the Labor Party. It’s a demonstration to the Australian public how much influence the militant CFMEU and other unions have on policy direction.
The fact that Labor is split on the most important issue for our country, which is national security, is an outrage. You’ve now got 40 local ALP branches who are rallying against the decision of AUKUS when we know that the acquisition of those latest nuclear powered submarines is in our country’s best interests. It provides us the best ability to keep peace in our region and the fact that the Labor Party is split when it comes to national security is quite remarkable.
So, I think the PM frankly needs to stand up for the interests of Australians over the interests of these union bosses, instead of being dictated to and being a puppet of these backroom bosses from the union movement. That’s the position the Prime Minister has put himself into.
Very happy to take any questions.
You’ve noted the pushback against AUKUS from some of the grassroots of the Party. Do you have any doubts about the government or the Prime Minister or his Defence Minister’s commitment to AUKUS?
Well, I think as Simon Birmingham rightly pointed out this morning, it’s not that long ago that the Prime Minister was the leader of the left. He’s been the leader of the left – that hard left in the Labor Party for decades.
So, I think in his core he believes, as the left does, that this is a bad deal, but he knows that he has to sign up to it. We negotiated AUKUS with the United States and the United Kingdom and Labor now has carried it through, but do they truly believe in it? Well, clearly they’re split down the middle on it at the moment.
The Prime Minister, I think, realises he would make a catastrophic decision if he was to walk away from AUKUS. But the Prime Minister has been the Leader of the left for decades and that’s why you’ve seen the Labor Party abandon Israel. People of Jewish faith in our country will be quite astounded by the way in which Labor traded off the interests of Israel for peace within the Labor Party.
I can’t believe that the Prime Minister won’t enter into a discussion for our country – like 32 other countries have – in relation to new age latest technology zero emissions, small modular reactors. But he won’t do that because the left of the Labor Party won’t let him do it – and the point is that the Prime Minister is putting Labor’s interests ahead of our national interests – and that’s not the job of the Prime Minister, but it’s exactly what Anthony Albanese is doing.
The Coalition’s been talking a lot this morning about that potential split in Labor over AUKUS. Doesn’t that conversation fuel that potential division over the policy?
I don’t think you need to fuel the views of the CFMEU, they’re radical enough, and I think many people within the left of the Labor Party are living in the 1950s – but not just in relation to energy policy – but industrial relations otherwise.
Inflation is high in our country at the moment because Labor’s in power. Your interest rates are always higher under Labor and when you look at where we are today; the new home sales for example, are 37 per cent down over the course of the last 12 months. That’s the price we pay for a Labor Government.
They jack taxes up because they have a spending problem and the decisions that they’ve made in the last two budgets haven’t helped families, they’ve hurt them. The families are facing the same pressures as small businesses are. Small businesses are facing rising increases in every budget line that they’re having to deal with. I just think the Prime Minister’s making it much harder for families and for small businesses at the moment when he promised that he had a plan to make it easier – and it turns out that Anthony Albanese hasn’t lived up to his promise.
Just on that division – Labor says it’s normal to debate policies at conferences. Isn’t debating part of a democracy, a functioning democracy?
Well, debate of course is part of a democracy. You know, belting someone in the nose like some of these CFMEU people do, is obviously not part of a normal democracy, but somehow the Labor Party and the Prime Minister tolerate the presence of, the heavy influence of, the CFMEU within the Labor Party. I think frankly, a lot of them are physically scared of some of these CFMEU thugs.
You’ve had hundreds of these CFMEU unionists before the courts on all sorts of charges. They stop concrete pours on building sites and there are many builders who say that the price that people ultimately pay for a new house, or for a new unit is about 20 per cent higher because of the CFMEU input and their practices on job sites.
The Prime Minister tolerates that because they’ve got votes at the National Conference. I think the PM’s completely compromised and I think he’s beholden to and owned by the union bosses, which never works out well for small businesses who always end up paying the bill for Labor.
Just back on AUKUS, it seems a majority of the Labor Party will fall in line in support, but does that allay any concerns about the future direction of the deal?
Well, one of the concerns that we’ve got coming out of the Conference now is that it seems the Labor Party is adopting a position of compulsory union membership if you want to work in the shipbuilding industry in this country.
Now, we don’t have compulsory union membership. We’re happy if people decide to join a union, but less than 10 per cent of Australians outside of the public service join a union, and this is obviously a sop to the union bosses, but the Labor Party’s got to start acting in our country’s best interests, instead of their own best interests and the Prime Minister needs to put the national interests ahead of Labor’s internal interests. I think the US and the UK would be watching on bemused at the moment that the fundamentals of AUKUS are being sold out to the factional interests within the Labor Party.
Do you think the roll out and now repeal of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act has ensured a ‘no’ vote in WA?
Well, I think people in WA, West Australians are very practical people. They’re hard workers, there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in this country, there’s a sense of fair go, and WA know that they underpin the broader economy and I think a lot of people on the East Coast forget – maybe conveniently – just how much significant economic activity is generated in WA.
So, I don’t think people on the East Coast should take that for granted. Sometimes I think the PM does because of their attacks on gas, on mining and particularly when they’re talking to an East Coast audience. So, I think that’s problematic.
I think people will take that same approach to their decision on the Voice. The Prime Minister is deliberately starving Australians of the information that they want so that they can make an informed judgement for the Referendum in October. We’ve asked reasonable questions from day one. We believe in constitutional recognition. We’re happy to listen to a local and regional body – which is exactly what Calma-Langton proposed as the first step which the PM bypassed – and we’re happy to have sensible policies that will provide support and a better outcome for people living in Indigenous communities, particularly in regional and remote areas.
My sense is that most Australians have woken up to the fact that the Prime Minister is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to the Voice. I think there’s a lot of deceptive behaviour, a lot of misleading that’s taking place, and I think Australians smell a rat here.
I think they see the Prime Minister who’s not being genuine or honest when it comes to the Voice debate, and on that basis I don’t believe it’ll be successful. I worry that it will change significantly our system of government, it’ll be litigated in the High Court for decades to come, it will have an impact on every area of public policy and it’ll cost billions of dollars.
The Treaty process that the PM wants to sign us up to is predicted to last 20 to 30 years. You’re talking billions and billions of dollars of legal fees, and I don’t think it’s going to provide the outcome that we want for people in Alice Springs, or Tennant Creek, or Katherine, or Laverton, or Leonora.
Libby Mettam has reversed her position on the Voice. Did you urge or encourage her to do so?
No. I mean Libby’s capable of making her own mind up. I think she’s going to make a great Premier because WA, I think, deserves a Premier of integrity and somebody who can get the state firing again.
I think the position in relation to the Voice that Libby’s taken, frankly, is like a lot of Australians who started out thinking that, you know, we were going to be provided with the detail, the Prime Minister would have read the documents and been informed about what he’s asking the Australian public to vote on, and as time has gone by, I think a lot of people who were initially ‘yes’ are now saying ‘no’, because they’re just, I think frankly, sort of shocked that the PM has taken a deliberate strategy to keep information away from the Australian public.
It’s quite remarkable that the legislation won’t be produced until after the vote takes place. It’s remarkable that there’s been no constitutional convention to debate this and the words are so broad, the High Court has to interpret that they don’t just apply to Indigenous housing, or Indigenous education, or health services, whatever it might be; it applies to every area of public policy – that much is clear – and I think that’s why, as we’ve seen here in WA, demonstrated most starkly, that if the WA Indigenous Heritage Laws had have been in the Constitution, you could never have changed that. You’re stuck with it. There’s no law the Parliament can pass in WA, or in Canberra that can override the Constitution. So this is why it’s very serious.
It’s the most significant change to the Constitution – to our nation’s rulebook – since the federation and the Prime Minister’s sort of half-baked on it. Some days, you know, he’s full bottle, the next day he says, well, this is not his issue, he’s just been asked to do this by Indigenous leaders and I think he’s sort of playing sixes and sevens at the moment on the issue of the Voice, and I just don’t think he’s read the detail and I don’t think he’s across what it is he’s proposing.
Any reason you’re not staying extra days so you can attend the ‘Liberals for No’ event?
Well, I’ve got my son’s second last footy game in Brisbane on Saturday, so I’m very keen to get back for that. I’ve been to WA many times – I don’t just use WA as a fuel stop on my way to Asia, I might say. The PM makes a big deal about coming to WA, but normally it’s to fill up his plane. He barely gets off the plane and then he’s off overseas again somewhere.
I’m happy to come here, and I’ll spend two nights here this trip, and I’ll be here plenty of times. I feel – I’ve said this before – I feel a great affinity with WA as a Queenslander because I think whilst we are a smaller mining state, I think there’s much of the same culture in Queensland, to be honest, as we find in WA and I always find it very engaging. There’s a great mood on the ground here and Slade and Matt and my other colleagues are doing a great job.
And just one more on AUKUS please. What’s your message directly for the Prime Minister about unions attempting to push back against the deal?
Well, my message to the Prime Minister is to put our national interests ahead of the Labor Party interests. You’re elected Prime Minister and you need to govern for the whole of our country. You need to keep our country safe, and the AUKUS deal will underpin the security of our country for decades to come.
As Defence Minister, when we negotiated AUKUS we committed to additional funding in Henderson, for arguments sake; Stirling, and I hope that the Prime Minister can stare down the union bosses and start standing up for our country.
I think the PM’s full of talk and no action and we’ve been hearing a lot from the Prime Minister about plans to reduce electricity costs, to deliver AUKUS, etc. When the rubber hits the road, the PM’s just not across the detail and I think people are seeing a fairly flaky performance at the moment from the PM, not just on AUKUS, but on the Voice as well.
Okay, thank you very much.