Subjects: Visit to Ryan Aerospace; lifting the migration cap; housing accessibility; union calls for industry wide bargaining; Labor’s Union Summit; the UN assessment of Uyghurs treatment in China; French President Emmanuel Macron’s expected visit to Australia.
It’s lovely to have our local member Angie here, along with the Leader of Opposition Peter Dutton. It’s great for them to come and have a look at our little local success story. We’re building helicopter and jet fighter simulators and selling them to customers all over the world and we’ve had some real success in the US, especially with the US military. So, it’s been great to have them come along today. Thank you.
Thanks Chris. Terrific to be here in Nerang in the central Gold Coast – the powerhouse of small business and manufacturing here on the Gold Coast – and I’m proud to be here today with Chris Ryan and his successful business, but also to welcome Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition to the Gold Coast.
He’s here for the morning, we’re thrilled to have him here to speak to you this morning and with no further ado, over to you Peter.
Angie, thank you very much. I want to firstly say thank you very much to Chris. The story here is quite an incredible one, where, yes, with some government assistance, but mainly with their own ingenuity and entrepreneurship and credibility that they’ve established over many years of practice, it’s an export success story to the world. They’re creating jobs here directly and indirectly on the Gold Coast.
There are many businesses like it within the defence sector and when we were in government, we had a record spending on defence. Under Labor it had been down to the lowest level since 1938 and we have a lot to do in the defence space. So, to see Australian companies getting contracts from the US Army or US Navy and our allies around the world otherwise, is quite a remarkable story. I don’t think we should underestimate what is being undertaken here, and Chris, to you and to your team, I just want to say congratulations.
And of course, Angie Bell has been a great advocate for small business for her entire working life. It’s her passion and she works very hard to promote local businesses and to work with them to see how she can help them grow and go to the next stage, and I think this is an incredible story here at Ryan Aerospace. So, Chris, thank you very much for having us here today.
I’ll just make a couple of comments in relation to other issues that are around. Firstly, it’s obviously the case now and very clear to all Australians that this was always going to be a union summit and that’s exactly what they’ve delivered. It was good that they invited the Prime Minister and others along, but this has really been a union show. To have a situation in our country where less than 10 per cent of the population is a member of a union working in businesses around the country, but to have out of 142 people there, over 40 either unionists or people who are Labor affiliates is quite remarkable. You’ve got one small business voice around the table and you’ve got others who, you know, pretend to be independent, but clearly are signing up to agreements or at least acquiescing with the union movement.
If we have economy wide strikes, I’m just not sure people quite understand what we’re on the cusp of here. This is a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s where you can have economy wide strikes, which Australians in this generation, for a couple of generations, have never experienced. You can have sympathy strikes, you can have all sorts of workplaces that have no relationship whatsoever with those who are seeking to go out on strike, that will go out on strike. So, it crushes supply chains, it makes it very difficult for there to be stability in workplaces, which leads to higher unemployment, less profitability within businesses and obviously a negative impact over all on the Australian economy.
Now, we want to make sure that workers are properly taken care of, that they’re properly remunerated for their effort, but we also want businesses to be profitable. If we don’t have profitable businesses, we don’t have businesses that can employ Australians in their millions and a summit that’s been organised for and by the unions, which has joined with the big end of town, at the cost of small businesses – that is not in our economy’s best interests, it’s not in our country’s best interests.
We proposed in June of this year, a very sensible policy, which would immediately affect the difficulty in the labour market around the country. It’s a very tight labour market across most sectors and across every jurisdiction, where people can’t get employees into their businesses: in aged care, in childcare, in agriculture, in tourism, in hospitality, in retail, and we proposed an arrangement that would allow those people who are on Age Pension or Veterans on a pension, to work without it impacting negatively on them financially – so their pension wouldn’t be reduced if they chose to work. Now, that is a ready workforce. It should have been adopted in June by the government. I hope that they’re able to adopt it out of this union summit, but that would unleash potentially hundreds of thousands of workers and workdays in aged care facilities, in childcare centers etc, and the government should pick that policy up. They should have done it in June, as I say, they didn’t for political reasons, but the time has come for that policy to be delivered.
A final point is that the government’s made an announcement in relation to the migration program. It’s too little, too late. This is a decision that should have been made 100 days ago when the government was elected, but of course they didn’t do that. They waited for this union summit and we do need an increase in the migration numbers, but we’ll see what the government actually delivers because this can be many, many months, if not a couple of years in the pipeline.
These are all grand announcements. I want to see the rubber hit the road and I want to see the actual numbers, not the projected numbers and see what Labor can deliver instead of what they talk about because businesses and workplaces need that certainty now, and under this government we’ve got a situation that is bad – that is being made worse by their prevarication and their inability to make decisions in a timely way for the benefit of the economy.
I’m happy to take any questions.
On that migration cap, would you support increasing it to 200,000 a year, and if not what do you think is a sensible figure?
We don’t have the benefit of the analysis from Treasury or from the Department of Home Affairs, so the government’s proposed this figure, it’s their figure. We’re not a government in exile, but it’s clear that the number needs to be higher. They just need to calibrate the number because over the next couple of years we are going to see a tightening within some sectors. I hope that they can introduce the Coalition’s policy of allowing veterans, of allowing age pensioners to do more work, if they choose to do so – and potentially for those who are on unemployment benefits as well – so that we can access that training of that workforce sooner than later. That would be the most immediate response.
As I say, in relation to the proposal that the government put forward around increasing the migration cap, well we just need to see what they actually deliver because Labor is great at making grand announcements, but quite often, in two or three or six months time, you’ll find that they haven’t lived up to what they’ve announced. Let’s see whether they put the actions into place and whether the actions match their words.
Are you feeling any sense of regret you are not attending the Summit after seeing how the first day went?
I feel completely vindicated I’ve got to say. Sitting there with some CFMEU thug is not my idea of a fun day out. You’ve got the CFMEU who are storming the Premier’s office in Brisbane, you’ve got all sorts of strike action in New South Wales – this is just a taste of what’s to come.
The unions are being revitalized; this is exactly what they want. You’ve seen it in the union leaders contributions at the union summit already. They are back in town and I can tell you small businesses just want to get on and employ people, they want to build their businesses, they want to help send their kids to school, they want to pay off their own mortgage and they’re the lifeblood of the Australian economy. They don’t want union leaders like the CFMEU leaders coming into their workplace with a clipboard telling them what they can and can’t do in their own workplaces.
The unions are empowered, they’re emboldened and it’s going to be a dangerous period for the Australian economy. If we’ve got economy wide bargaining where we can have economy wide strikes – and they have no regard, as we’re seeing in New South Wales at the moment, for the impact on everyday Australians where people can’t get to work, where they can’t make business decisions to invest because they don’t know whether they’ll be closed down by the unions. The Prime Minister’s promised a lot out of this summit, but the only thing he’s delivered is a big win for the union movement.
You don’t feel like you’ve cut yourself out of the conversation by not being there?
I’ve been visiting small businesses all over the country since coming into this job and for 20 years before that. I come from small business and I believe that we are hearing, frankly, a fairer representation here because there is one industry group representing small business around the table. I believe that we’ve heard a lot more from small businesses, who are anxious about what’s happening in the world of the union bosses at the moment. The union bosses are rubbing their hands together in all these backroom deals that the union bosses do with the Labor Party. They donate tens of millions of dollars, leads to the abolition of the Australian Building Construction Commission, which will drive up the prices of houses and construction in this country, but the Prime Minister is willing to tolerate that because of the cosy relationship he has with union leaders like the CFMEU.
Back on migration and to housing; any boost to migration will put further pressure on housing. How should the government deal with that?
I mean, these are questions for the government. If you’re going to bring in a huge surge in the migration program, where will people go? Already Australians are finding it very hard to find rental accommodation, there’s a very tight housing market out there at the moment, and the government will have to provide all of these answers, but so far they haven’t. So, let’s see what they propose.
On the Jobs Summit from Canberra, you’re obviously describing it as a union summit, it would seem there’s a fair amount of consensus there though, and it seems Labor is getting through reforms the former government couldn’t get through in nine years?
What, like industry wide bargaining? I mean that’s a disaster for our economy and it’s a disaster for small business, and the government will dress this up as a win and as a consensus and as a great outcome, but what it means, when you unpack it all, when you take that present home into you small business, and you unpack it, I’ll tell you what you get: you get the thugs from the CFMEU and other union bosses who are going to be storming across the country wanting businesses and workers to strike and to close down.
I mean we haven’t seen it in our lifetime, but a return to the 1970s, and economy wide industrial action is not good for workers and it’s not good for employers, and it’s certainly not good for the broader economy.
The fundamentals of our economy are incredibly strong; we’ve got unemployment at a 50 year low. We made decisions in government, over the course of the last nine years, which meant that the economy that Labor has inherited is incredibly strong. It’s not the case in the US, not the case in the UK, where those two economies, I think with certainty will go into recession. In the case of the US potentially a deep recession. I don’t want that for our country and Labor would have to make a lot of bad decisions and make a number of wrong calls to send us into recession and I want to fight against that.
I don’t want families to hurt unnecessarily and what the government’s packaging here at the union summit, as a win, is actually a win for the union bosses. When Labor says that this is a win, they’re talking about the union bosses, not the workers. Anthony Albanese is on the side of the union bosses, not on the side of workers. That’s the way the Labor model works. It’s long been the case that Labor’s really been more about the union bosses than the union workers. That’s the reality of the modern Labor Party.
What’s your message to business groups as the government considers legislation for multi employer pay deals?
No business group worth their salt will be supporting the union movement in economy wide action. There is no interest in business that sees an outcome where businesses are forced into an economy wide bargaining position, or an industry wide bargaining position, or an economy or an industry wide strike position. That is not in the best interests of our economy or those businesses, and by definition, those workers.
I would sound a word of caution and the suggestion that some might support the union proposal to automatically sign-up migrant workers to the union, again, is a throwback to the 1970s. It’s a worker’s right to decide whether or not they want to be a member of the union and across the economy at the moment – in the private sector – less than 10 per cent of people choose to do that. If they’re conscripting and forcing migrant workers into union membership, then that is an abomination and it’s something that the business community will have no part of at all.
Just a couple on other topics.
How should Australia respond to the UN report released yesterday which found serious human rights violations have been committed against Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang?
It’s obviously a report of great concern. Australia is a country that fights for human rights and calls out actions where we need to, anywhere in the world. Obviously, we proposed and there was a bipartisan position in relation to the Magnitsky legislation. We take our responsibility very seriously as a global player. You see it reflected in our own standards here in Australia, but also what we espouse in the UN and other international fora as well. So, they are troubling, they are deeply concerning reports. The Chinese Government under President Xi has to respond to this and respond in an honest and open way, and we would support the government in calling for any of those actions.
This is a very serious report, a very serious situation, and it shouldn’t be ignored and the world should pay attention to it. China, obviously, is a very significant trading partner to many countries around the world, and that shouldn’t make people blind to the very serious allegations that have been raised in this report.
French President, Emmanuel Macron will visit later this year, just months after the Prime Minister visited him. Do you think the France relationship is a top diplomatic priority for Australia?
Yes, and it was under the previous government as well. I mean, the current government is critical of the AUKUS decision that we made at the same time they say they support it. We had to make a tough decision in relation to AUKUS and it was a decision, ultimately, that was in our country’s best interests, and as a Minister or as Prime Minister, that’s the decision you make. I’m not going to make decisions as the Defence Minister that aren’t in our country’s best interests and we’ll work very carefully in rebuilding our relationship with the French. I think it’s fantastic that President Macron will visit Australia.
I also note that President Macron, as well as Prime Minister Trudeau and others across Europe, across the world, across North America and in places, are embracing nuclear technology as a way to have a credible path to emissions reductions and the adoption of electric vehicles. France has announced a much greater investment in nuclear power because they don’t believe that they can achieve their emissions reductions without it.
So, I’m very keen to get a better understanding from France about how that investment works for them, how it’s delivered at a lower cost than many other energies, and we would welcome the French President to our country, of course, as a dear friend and a very important ally in the region with open arms.
Thank you very much.