Subjects: ASIO Director-General’s statement; the barbaric attacks on Israel and the ramifications around Australia; the Prime Minister’s lack of leadership; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal; nuclear energy; Chris Bowen’s energy policy crisis.
I’m joined now by the Federal Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton.
Mr Dutton, good morning.
Good morning, Matthew.
You’ve called for protesters to be deported over the pro-Palestine rallies. ASIO’s director warning ‘words matter’ and can inflame tensions. I see today you’ve said in interviews earlier this morning you don’t believe the comments refer to you, but surely you’d acknowledge saying people who might not be citizens, who chant anti-Semitic slogans should be deported, that won’t lead to protesters toning it down, will it?
Well, Matthew, a couple of points. Firstly, Mike Burgess, the Director General of ASIO – he’s a first-class public servant – has made it very clear that he was making no reference to me in his comments. The Labor Party’s been shopping this around, on background, they won’t say it on the record. So, it’s the usual, sort of, university game-type playing that we expect from the PM and others.
I think actually what Mike Burgess was talking about was a very serious issue and the fact that people are chanting ‘gas the Jews’ or ‘F the Jews’ or ‘F Israel’. There are many Jewish Australians at the moment who are worried about sending their kids to school with their Jewish school uniform on. They’re worried about going to the synagogue. I was in Dover Heights in Sydney on Wednesday night where 10,000 people from the community gathered and the raw emotion was obvious there. They know that they’re targeted not because of something they’ve done or because of something they haven’t done, simply because they’re of the Jewish faith, and that needs to be addressed here.
If somebody made a comment, a non-citizen, made a comment of ‘gas the Jews’, ‘F the Jews’, ‘F Israel’, etc., a decision maker in the Department of Immigration wouldn’t grant a visa to a person to come to our country in that circumstance. There are plenty of well-noted cases where people have been rejected, their visa application has been rejected, from being able to come into Australia. So, there’s nothing controversial at all.
In fact, I thought it shameful this morning that the Deputy Prime Minister couldn’t even bring himself to support the comments that if a non-citizen chanted anti-Semitic chants like ‘gas the Jews’, that that person shouldn’t have their visa cancelled and be deported from our country. I think it’s a statement of obvious fact. We’re here to preserve the peace and protect our interests, and those images being broadcast across the world – that is not Australia. Our’s is a peace-loving country. We support people from the four corners of the earth. We’re a great country today because of our Indigenous heritage, and the migration of people here over a couple of hundred years – and we should defend that and protect it. There’s a freedom of speech, but it goes too far when people are chanting anti-Semitic views like that.
That would be a police decision to try and identify somebody in a fairly volatile crowd as to who said what and when and all the rest. Richard Marles, the Deputy PM that you’ve mentioned, says today, ‘politicians shouldn’t weigh in on police decisions’. This this is a little snippet of what he said earlier today:
Turning the temperature down is allowing those processes to work and for us to, you know, do everything we can to be advocating on behalf of social cohesion.
So should politicians weigh in on police decisions?
Well, they shouldn’t be making police decisions, and nobody’s suggesting they are. But attention should be drawn to the fact that, firstly, the protest shouldn’t have taken place, and that’s exactly what the New South Wales Labor Premier has said. He’s apologised to the Jewish community for the fact that the protest went ahead at the Sydney Opera House.
Secondly, we’re dealing with pretty serious suggestions here – or not suggestions, fact. Two hundred and sixty young people were driven into the desert and machine-gunned down. Now that’s an act of terrorism. Bodies decapitated, women raped, 150 hostages still being held – this is exactly the behaviour of ISIL. There’s no moral equivalence between Hamas and the people of Israel or people of Jewish faith or the Israeli Defence Force. The moral equivalence of Hamas is ISIL. There are countless quotes you could get from Richard Marles or the Prime Minister where they condemn the actions of ISIL and suggested that the police or the Australian Defence Force should take action against those barbaric behaviours and conduct. So, there’s nothing remarkable at all.
I think the Prime Minister was caught flat-footed on this issue and frankly his initial responses, even some of the media I’ve seen him do this morning shows an incredible weakness at a time when the Prime Minister should be showing strength and standing up for our national equities.
There’s a pro-Palestinian rally planned for the steps of State Parliament in Adelaide on Sunday, should it go ahead?
Well, I don’t have any problem with peaceful protests and certainly no problem with people of the Palestinian community or people of Islamic faith. I don’t tolerate racism or discrimination on any basis – not on gender, not on religion, full-stop.
What I absolutely abhor and what I would condemn without hesitation is the activities of a terrorist organisation like Hamas. Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation, both parties support the listing of Hamas. So that we would condemn their actions, or that we would condemn individuals, including citizens or non-citizens, saying that ‘Jews should be gassed’, which is obviously a clear reference to the Holocaust and the fact that 6 million Jews were exterminated – how that could be controversial is quite remarkable.
Alright. So you don’t recommend Australia follow in the footsteps of France. They’ve banned all pro-Palestinian rallies overnight, so none to be held in that country. You don’t support going that far?
I think there are legitimate protests to take place, but if the protest is going to give rise to anti-Semitism, to a condoning of Hamas – everybody’s seen the Imam chanting that, you know, he was happy, elated, about the murder, the slaughter that had taken place by this terrorist group – I mean, that is just absolutely contemptible, and it has no place in our debate in our country. If a rally is going to be of that nature, then I would completely support any decision the police made to stop it from taking place. As I said before, Chris Minns apologised to the Jewish community and said that rally should not take place – and he’s exactly right.
Let’s talk about the Voice: you haven’t supported it, as is well-known. If the polls are right, the ‘no’ case will prevail tomorrow night. Is it a lost opportunity? I mean, you’ve promised a Referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution if you come to government. Do you think after the last 18 months, people want to go through this again?
I’ve supported the recognition of Indigenous Australians because of their 65,000 year connection to our country. I think if the Prime Minister had have put that question to the Australian public, we would have had a 70, 80, maybe a 90 per cent support for that proposition and that would have been a unifying moment.
Instead, the Prime Minister has gone down the path of the Voice – and not just the Voice, I mean, he’s committed himself to the Uluru Statement “in full”, which, as Linda Burney points out, means reparations, it means Treaty, it means truth-telling, and it goes on literally for decades and I don’t think will result in the practical benefits and outcomes that we want for Indigenous people on the ground.
That could happen anyway, couldn’t it?
Well, we want better health services, we want better educational outcomes, we want better life expectancy, but we’re not going to do that by throwing additional money after what’s already significant billions of dollars being spent. I think the question needs to be, ‘where is the money being spent wisely and where is it not being spent wisely?’ We’re talking about taxpayers money here. So, I think they’re perfectly reasonable questions to ask.
When you speak to some of the women and some of the elders and people living on the streets in Alice Springs, they’re very, very adamant in their advice about the fact that the leadership is just not there, the money’s not getting to them. There’s this huge funnel that’s filled coming out of Canberra and it becomes a trickle by the time it gets to the people on the street in Alice Springs. And we need to ask: why is that the case?
Why do you think it’s the case?
Well, I think you can look at communities where there’s significant leadership and high attendance rates at schools, the jobs are there, the rule of law is enforced, alcohol is managed appropriately. And you can fly an hour down the road and you go into a community where there’s a complete breakdown of law and order: there are sexual assaults of children, domestic violence incidents are through the roof, no alcohol restrictions or limited alcohol restrictions, and I think it’s a lack of leadership, to be honest.
I know that the construct of the Voice has been created by many of the people – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – who live in capital cities, but I think the leadership is crucial on the ground to make sure that the priorities are being met and the fact that the Prime Minister’s taken money away from an opportunity to put more into local schools in Alice Springs or to build the boarding houses to provide for food and safety and accommodation, I think is a huge missed opportunity.
So, it’s also the biggest proposal to change our Constitution since Federation: a whole chapter is proposed to be inserted, which would give it an equivalence to the High Court, and I don’t believe for a moment that the High Court won’t say, ‘well, this is not just an advisory body –as the Prime Minister says – that’s the job of the Australian Hotels Association, or it’s the job of the Pharmacy Guild or the union movement’. They’re advocacy bodies, but this has got its own chapter in the Constitution. It’s given the Government advice and I think the High Court will hold – as a number of legal people have pointed out – that if they give advice, you need good reason and a very good argument to reject that advice.
That’s why the Prime Minister early on said quote, in a moment of rare honesty, that “it would be a very brave Government that rejected the advice of the Voice”, and I think most Australians, particularly when we don’t have the detail about how it would work, are going to vote ‘no’ – including four out of ten Labor voters who have indicated they’re voting ‘no’ on Saturday as well.
Alright. So beyond what you said about where the money goes – an audit essentially, we wake up on Monday morning, it’s a ‘no’, how do we make the lives of people better? I mean, we’ve tried so many things, without the Voice, do we go back to the same old ways, maybe with an audit to try and cut some of that waste? I mean, where do we go? How do we make people’s lives better to stop those assaults, the violence, everything that happens in remote communities, the health needs they have, etc.?
Well, it’s obviously a great question, Matthew, and I don’t think there’s been a lack of goodwill from Liberal or Labor Governments over a long period of time. People like Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Pat Anderson, they’ve been advising Governments of both persuasions for 30 years. They’ve had the ears of Prime Ministers. Noel Pearson’s had a close relationship with many Prime Ministers, so his voice has been heard over that time, and we are where we are, sadly, today without dramatic improvement that we would like to see.
I believe very strongly that the rule of law and the policing aspect is important to maintain peace so that you can then deliver the health services, you can deliver the educational outcomes. In Alice Springs, you’ve got kids in great numbers who are out stealing cars or racing around of a night time. Why are they doing that? Well, the advice on the ground is, the voice on the ground is, that they’re doing it because they don’t feel safe in their environment at home – and we need to address that.
There’s a lot of cultural aspects that only Indigenous people can advise on, we respect all of that, but I think importantly, you go back to the Calma-Langton Report, which the Prime Minister at the start of this debate used to wave around and say, ‘here’s all the detail’, but he’s never made any reference to the report since then because the Calma-Langton report didn’t recommend a Voice vote at this stage. It’s important to point this out: what they recommended was local and regional bodies, or the ability for that to operate, for it to be demonstrated, and tried, before you put it to a national vote. The Prime Minister’s skipped to the last process and that’s why he hasn’t brought Australians with him.
So, I think it’s important in principle to listen to those local and regional people, and implement, and have the leaders who have the capacity to stop the money being diverted elsewhere, to be spent inappropriately, to be spent on the outcomes that we want. There are huge issues around land title where Indigenous housing can’t be built because of disputes. There are different language groups and it’s difficult to find consensus and there’s not a cookie cutter model that applies to Alice Springs, as it does to Laverton, or Leonora, or elsewhere.
Just finally, Peter Dutton, Chris Bowen has challenged you to come up with costing small nuclear reactors to replace coal fired power stations moving forward. His plan, $387 billion – or his costs, for 71 coal fired power stations. I didn’t realise we had that many, but have you costed it? Do you have a figure?
Well, a couple of points. I mean, Chris Bowen’s sort of become this comical figure, unfortunately, and I think he was embarrassed during the week when a nuclear expert from the United States, who was involved in the rolling out of some of these latest technologies, just, you know, essentially called him a fool. I mean, the numbers he’s talking about are just absurd.
The proposal that we’re talking about, and I think it is time for us to have a discussion about nuclear energy. I know that Peter Malinauskas privately believes in the latest generation nuclear technology and Bob Hawke did, John Howard strongly does. It’s zero emissions, and I don’t think the Labor Party has a credible pathway to 2050 without the use of firming up the renewables through nuclear power.
We want to believe that the battery’s going to keep the lights on of a night-time, but we know that latest battery in South Australia, put in at almost $200 million by AGL, only lasts for an hour. So, the nuclear technology not only has zero emissions, but in Ontario, for example, in Canada they firm up the renewables there with about 60 to 70 per cent latest technology nuclear, and that has a benefit of reducing the power prices to about half of what we pay here in South Australia or other parts of the country.
It also keeps the lights on. AEMO, the government regulator, is warning the lights might go out or power will be disrupted over the summer. We’re telling industries to turn off their production and their manufacturing capability to get us through peak periods, so we’re losing economic productivity and jobs and income, which is madness in our society. We should be trying to build as much as we can here in Australia and create more jobs, so the idea that when you’ve got a coal-fired generation asset coming to end of life, that you replace it and put a nuclear generator in, that Chris Bowen doesn’t even want to talk about that, is just a nonsense.
I think the economic benefit for South Australia in particular would be staggering and we could reduce power prices. Under Labor, their bill is going to run at about $1.2 to $1.5 trillion to roll out their renewables-only policy, and all of that is going to manifest itself in higher electricity costs. I just don’t think families and small businesses can afford Labor’s power bills and I don’t think they can afford disruption. If you’ve got cold rooms down at the local IGA, they’ve got to run 24 hours a day. You can’t turn off freezers overnight…and if there’s a surge of electric cars, that’s great, but if they’re being turned on and it means that people can’t get a sufficient supply of energy for the rest of their household, then that’s a ridiculous situation.
Alright, Peter Dutton. Thank you for your time.
Pleasure, Matthew. Thank you, mate.