Subjects: Visit to Western Sydney; Local manufacturing businesses; The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide; China; Indo-Pacific relations; AUKUS; Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit stunt; Women in the Liberal Party, Defence Capability.
Thanks very much everyone, and welcome to Penrith – the heart of Australia’s manufacturing future. I’m really pleased to bring the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, to Penrith to meet with John and Manufactor and the great local Aussie businesses that are taking risks, they’re being entrepreneurs and are wanting to make their manufacturing future right here in Penrith.
And that’s what it’s all about – creating local jobs for local people, and there is nothing better than what we make in Penrith, and what you found out today Peter, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you very much.
Melissa, firstly, thank you very much to you for the invitation to be here today. This is an incredible site, bringing together that entrepreneurial spirit that Australians know well.
These are huge employers and they provide an opportunity to apprentices, to develop export markets, and to the work that John’s done here, to the vision that he has and to bring all of these businesses together, the synergy is obvious and as Melissa rightly points out, Western Sydney and Penrith here really is one of the manufacturing powerhouses of our nation.
Over the course of COVID and even since well before then I might say, people really started to question supply chains, the supply chain surety, the shipping costs and there is a much greater push now to manufacture onshore and where possible to export that. It means more Australian jobs and it was at the heart of our economic plan when we were in government.
There are a lot of businesses who are concerned about what’s going to be in the October Budget. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there at the moment – given that we’ve got inflation in some parts of the United States in double digits now, and what that means for our country – obviously still the impact from the Ukraine and many other factors that are feeding in, great uncertainty around energy costs, etc.
So, whilst we really applaud the entrepreneurial spirit that’s here today, there’s also a lot of uncertainty still in the minds of business people about what decisions, what levers this government will pull and whether they’ll end up making a bad situation worse, and that’s what we’re really concerned about.
So, really pleased to be here today. We’ve met a number of locals and just talked about issues that are important to them. I’ve been very grateful to Melissa, who’s obviously a great local member and as we move around the country you can see local members who are engaged and connected to their communities and some that aren’t, and Melissa is certainly in the category of being an exceptional champion for her local community. So really pleased to be here and I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, The Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide has made 13 recommendations, including clearing the backlog of DVA claims and simplifying the complex compensation of rehab laws. Does the Coalition supporting these recommendations?
Well, we certainly support getting a better deal for our veterans. We put more money into the last Budget as you know, and we’ve done it successively to provide support to the veteran community. But it is a national tragedy and this is a problem that’s been, frankly, decades in the making, back to the Vietnam war where people were treated very poorly when they came home.
The way in which our country provides support to our veterans should be a source of national pride, not shame. I want to make sure that we can support the Government in every reasonable step that they take in responding to the Royal Commission, to providing additional support, to reducing and hopefully bringing to zero the numbers who seek to take their own lives, and as a Coalition, we absolutely commit ourselves to supporting good measures.
One of the things that I think the Government should be doing is returning the portfolio back into Cabinet. I think the Prime Minister made a mistake when he removed the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio out of Cabinet because it didn’t give it the prominence at the time when it really needed it.
At a time when we should be highlighting and providing more support to veterans, the Prime Minister took a decision to take the portfolio out of Cabinet and put it into a junior portfolio. I don’t think that does it justice and I think a lot of the veterans have been right in expressing their concern and, frankly, dismay at that decision. We will support the Government in investment decisions, in reasonable steps that they’re making and that’s certainly something we’re committed to.
Just a quick follow-up to that, it also found that previous governments have responded to fewer than half of the 57 previous enquiries submitted in relation to defence and veterans’ suicide. Does the Coalition take any responsibility for the failure to respond to successive reports delivered, having been in power for the last nine years?
Well, as I say, I think this is something that’s been going on for decades, back to the Vietnam War. I think there is enough blame to share across both sides of politics, but I think this is not an issue about politics. It’s an issue about how we help veterans and their families and not just about veterans, but their kids as well, who are growing up in environments where they may be domestic violence, where there may be substance abuse etc. and we should be doing more as a country to provide support to those who defend us and keep us safe.
As we’re seeing in the current world, there are signs of, you know, growing concern and the Defence Force of our country are the first people we turn to, to keep us safe and we should provide them with every support in return.
Do you think your government did enough, or anything else that it could have done to address the mental health problems of veterans or the Defence Force culture when you were in office and when you oversaw the portfolio?
Well, I think all Australians want to see us do better as a nation for our veterans, and these problems haven’t occurred overnight and, in some cases, they have occurred or compounded over successive governments. Certainly, from my perspective, we provided every support and including not just through increased funding but additional support through services, mental health services, and the like.
But Australians need to be realistic. We’re asking these soldiers to go into harm’s way – when civilians are running the other way, members of our Defence Force are running into that danger. You saw the intensity and the recurring services that they – or tours – that they gave during the course of their service, when they were in the Middle East, over a 20-year campaign, and that takes a toll and it builds up over time.
So, there will be lots of lessons here for the culture within Defence, within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, across government. I really want to see that portfolio back in the Cabinet because I think it deserves that prominence and certainly from our perspective, our Shadow Minister sits within Cabinet because veterans’ affairs is a very important portfolio.
Just on manufacturing, while we’re here if I may, you said you’re not going to attend the Skills Summit because you think it’s a stunt, but what consultations will you do as Opposition Leader and what will your shadow ministers be doing to develop policy when it comes to manufacturing and skilling?
Well, I mean, exactly what we’ve done here today. Manufactor is an incredible example to the country. It’s not just about John’s vision and the management team’s vision, it’s about the passion that these individual businesses bring.
So, this morning we’ve spoken to a good dozen local manufacturers here, people who have got start-ups, people who have invested their own money, they’ve employed staff, and, you know, they’ve made a decision, which is a gutsy one – to put money into a business, to buy that manufacturing equipment, and we want to back them. So, it’s about listening to their voices.
The problem is for the Labor Party that the voices that they listen to is the union bosses. And the union bosses are always provided with support from the Labor Government over the interests of workers and the efforts of the CFMEU – unbelievable.
At least the South Australian Premier had the decency to hand back the money to the CFMEU or is going to donate that money, because that donation shouldn’t have been received by the Labor Party.
It shows the influence of the unions on the Labor Party and their call for increased taxes at the moment – the ACTU calls for increased taxes – are a disgrace at the time when we should be supporting workers and businesses and it comes at a time when frankly they should be calling out the Government for their broken promise.
They promised a decrease of $275 in people’s power bills. The Prime Minister repeated it 15 times during the course of the election campaign, and now won’t repeat the promise.
In Question Time over the course of the last fortnight, he was asked repeatedly about it, refuses to even mention the promise or to repeat the $275 pledge. So, I think the Jobs Summit is going to be a stunt.
I made the point this morning, I think a very obvious one, that Sally McManus is, you know, no union leader from the 1980s. She’s no Bill Kelty and certainly Anthony Albanese is no Bob Hawke. So, I think if people are predicting a second round Accord, it’s just not realistic.
Mr Dutton, did you misspeak earlier in the week when you described Taiwan?
Yeah, I dealt with that this morning.
Can I just ask one to Melissa, if that’s ok?
Yes please, Melissa.
Just following a report into the Liberal Party post-mortem. There has been some reports into the Liberal Party’s post-mortem over the past few days. There’s been concerns about female representation both in the Party and about how you resonate with voters. How would you like to see the Party address that and would you be open to some sort of temporary quotas [inaudible]?
I’ve been very clear about how the election went for me here on the ground and I very much think we won a local election; I was very focused on that.
So, there’ll be lots of takings from the report that’s coming out, but when it comes to female representation I’ve also been very public in saying that we need to address the culture within the Liberal Party. You can have all the quotas in the world, but it’ll be a revolving door of women unless we make changes when it comes to culture, supporting more women, having programs in place to ensure that women that are coming through the party who have leadership aspirations are supported all the way through to the highest levels.
I’ve been completely clear in my analysis and my own experiences of that. But for me here in Lindsay, it was very much about our community. It’s about this, it’s about manufacturing, it’s about making things in Western Sydney and, as Peter said, you only learn about what people need and what businesses need, not by conferences, but being on the ground and talking to people and hearing their concerns.
Another question for Mr Dutton. The Chinese Ambassador yesterday said the change in government was a chance to reset China’s relationship with Australia. Do you concede that Labor’s relationship with Beijing is more conciliatory than what the Coalition had?
Well, I think you also want to look at the comments by the Ambassador and those comments coming out of the Communist Party in China condemning Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. So, there’s obviously a double talk going on here.
But I support the comments of Penny Wong and Richard Marles and the Prime Minister. They essentially echo the comments that we’ve been making for the last couple of years. We’re in a very precarious time and if we pretend otherwise then it will be a very dire result in the Indo-Pacific.
We’re facing, in President Putin, somebody who has no regard for human rights, somebody who’s gone in there and you see the resulting slaughter of women and children. My only desire is to keep peace in our region and I don’t want to see happen in Taiwan what we’ve seen happen in the Ukraine.
So, everything that we’re doing as a country to keep us safe, the Coalition will support and I’ve been very clear about that.
Can I just get some clarification? You’ve spoken before about filling the capability gap by potentially leasing submarines, with submarines arriving earlier than that late 2030s period, but the current Defence Minister says he hasn’t seen any intelligence to that effect. Are you able to just – to what you can – outline the intelligence that you were told or possibilities you were looking at when it comes to leasing submarines or boats from the US or the UK?
Well no, I’m not in a position to release intelligence, obviously. But I’ve been public in my comments before, and very clearly – we need to acquire that capability. For a long time, as you know, Labor had reduced spending in defence to the lowest level since 1938.
So, when you ask why there are no submarines rolling off the production line today, well, right over the course of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s period they were taking money out of defence – and that meant a reduction in the number of soldiers and sailors and airmen. It meant a reduction in the programs to acquire the capability that we need.
Yes, over the course of nine years we’ve made significant investment decisions. We increased as a government, the spending on defence to over 2% and we’ll see what happens in the October Budget.
So, there’s an enormous imperative for us to acquire the capability, including the submarines. Now the deal that we were able to broker with the United States and the United Kingdom under AUKUS will be the underpinning of our security for the next five or six decades.
I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve there. It’s clear to me that our allies want us with that capability because it adds to their own posture and deterrence effects within our region.
I believe very strongly that the Government has an opportunity to either acquire off the production line, as I’ve pointed out, that was recently criticised, but I see Richard Marles is now saying that that could be possible and I hope that it is for the sake of our country.
We still want to build up that domestic industry so that we can build subsequent platforms here. But, the reality is we need those submarines and we need them quickly and the quickest way to acquire them is to take them off the production line out of the United States.
If we can get something in the interim which is re-fuelled, or jointly crewed, again, I’ve pushed very strongly for that and I did when I was Defence Minister and I hope that the Government is able to build on that work and to deliver the outcome that is obvious in sitting in front of them to give effect to. If they want to play games, they can play games, but we will support the Government on sensible decisions.
I note the comments this morning of Kim Beazley and Brendan Nelson – two highly distinguished former predecessors of mine as Defence Minister – and they are of a similar view. This is a very, very difficult time and you can pretend nothing’s happening in the South China Sea, but the fact is it is happening and we need to be very open about the behaviour of China because if we just close our eyes and ears, the problem is not going to go away, it’s going to compound and get worse.
I want stability and peace to prevail in our region, not just for our country but for the sake of our neighbours as well.
Thanks very much. Thank you.