Subjects: Labor’s cost of living crisis and energy policy shambles; the Prime Minister’s lack of leadership; Penny Wong fails to visit sites of Israel attacks; nuclear energy; ports dispute proves the unions run the Albanese Government; the Prime Minister playing word games over stage three tax cuts; Labor weak on securing our borders.
We talk every Thursday when we’re on deck to the Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. He’s online. Happy New Year.
And to you too Ray. Thank you.
A lot’s happened since we spoke last, and most of it about the Prime Minister and the Government losing support right across the board and losing credibility. He’s failed to act on cost of living, construction, manufacturing yesterday – insolvencies are soaring – he won’t meet his own housing target, he’s failed to consult with experts on his offshore wind farm delusions – or the delusions of Casanova Bowen – he’s not being honest about whether more criminals were released from immigration over the summer after that court decision, and he’s repeatedly now mixing messages about the stage three tax cuts, and of course a recent poll shows more than half the voters think the country’s heading in the wrong direction. It’s a pretty long list Peter Dutton.
Well, it’s certainly the case Ray. I think the saddest part is that Australians are paying the price for the Government’s inaction, or where they have taken an action or made a decision, it’s actually made the situation worse for Australians. So, I worry most about those who just can’t pay their bills at the moment, those that’ve got a big mortgage, those with a small business where they just can’t make the books balance.
The Prime Minister says a lot, he talks a lot, but he doesn’t say much. The trouble is that, I think he’s trying to speak out of both sides of his mouth and tell everybody what they want to hear; but in the end, he’s got to make decisions and I just don’t think he’s capable of doing that. I think most people recognise that sad reality.
Given that you’ve been in government as a key Minister under Scott Morrison, I’m just intrigued as to how he says he doesn’t interfere with itineraries – and this is about Penny Wong not going to where the mass atrocities were perpetrated on Israeli civilians, October 7th. He said, ‘No, I don’t get involved in itineraries. That’s a decision for her’.
Is it not the case that at the end the buck stops with him? And if a Minister’s making an error in judgement, he doesn’t pull them aside – not publicly – and say, ‘listen, Penny, you’d better drop in and see what’s happening where this all started, not just go to these other places’. How does that work?
Well, of course they do Ray. I’ve worked for Prime Ministers from John Howard on, on our side, and I’ve watched Prime Ministers on the Labor side over the last couple of decades as well. The fact is that the Prime Minister is the boss. If the Prime Minister picks the phone up to a Minister and says, ‘look, I think you’re off the rails there’, or ‘I want you to concentrate on this’, or ‘I think you’re barking up the wrong tree there’, the Minister takes that direction. There’s few times now the Prime Minister has done this to say, ‘well, you know, I don’t know anything about it’, ‘I didn’t hear those comments’, ‘It’s up to her’. He’s the one who’s been elected as Prime Minister.
When you hear the Chinese leadership referring to the Prime Minister as ‘handsome boy’ in a degrading way and in a demeaning way, I just think there’s a time when the Prime Minister has got to show strength of leadership and step up.
It is exactly the wrong thing for Penny Wong to go to Israel and not to visit the sites where the massacres took place. Anybody can see that. But the Prime Minister’s hedging his bets on this issue because he’s trying to play to a domestic audience.
I think the difficulty is, not only is he offending the Jewish community here – who are beside themselves, rightly, with concerns about their own security – it sends exactly the wrong message to our partners and to our allies. I think it’s probably convenient for the Prime Minister not to adjust Penny Wong’s itinerary, or I suspect he probably had a hand in her decision not to go there in the first place.
It does appear that – I mean even with wind and sun and the rest of it that we hear all the time about from Casanova Bowen, and now the polls show that even people in his own electorate, you know, say, as you’ve said before, and other members of your Party have said, ‘can we at least look at nuclear as some sort of option if we’re going away from coal over the next 30 years, can we look at a viable alternative?’. And he just simply said, ‘oh, well, no, it’s nonsense. It doesn’t work’, when most other Western nations, either more powerful than us, or equal to us, have explored it and are using it.
Well Ray, there are 32 countries using nuclear power technology at the moment. It’s the same technology that we’ve signed up to in the submarines from the United States – that’s supported by the Government – and there are 50 other countries who are looking at adopting the latest technology in nuclear power, because they know that it’s got zero emissions and it can firm up renewable energy. It’s just a statement of the fact and it’s why Bob Hawke strongly supported nuclear energy, it’s why John Howard strongly supports nuclear energy.
I think the difficulty at the moment for our country is that we’re losing manufacturing, we don’t have any ability to restart it once it goes, we end up paying a higher price for the goods when they’re just reimported back into Australia on a ship after having been made in Malaysia or somewhere else, we miss out on the economic productivity, we miss out on the jobs. That, to me, makes no sense for our country whatsoever, and it’s why, as you point out, I think many Australians believe that our country under Prime Minister Albanese is heading in the wrong direction.
I really believe there’s an opportunity for us to get the energy policy right. If we do that, we can ramp up manufacturing, we can secure supply chains. If there is a disruption in the South China Sea, at the moment, if shipping containers stopped coming to our country or oil stopped coming to our country, petrol stopped coming to our country, the economy would grind to a halt, but the Prime Minister is not preparing for any of that uncertainty into the future. We need to make these decisions, and quickly, so that we can get our country back on track.
We’ve got companies at the moment who are manufacturing, who are being told to turn off their manufacturing processes, to wind the shift down in the afternoon, because that’s when people get home and turn on their washing machines and turn on the dishwasher and start to make meals and turn the TV on, etc., which is absurd. We should be saying to those businesses; double your shifts if you can because it creates more taxes, it means that we can pay more into schools and health and policing etc., etc. But I don’t understand why the Prime Minister’s just hung up ideologically on his opposition to nuclear power when we should be talking about it.
It’s important you talk about containers there, and that brings me to another point. The missteps he made before being elected Prime Minister: interest rates and not knowing the background on things. So, he talks off the cuff a bit from time to time, and he did it in Adelaide this week and he did it earlier in the week. So we’ve got this battle between the MUA – Maritime Union of Australia – DP World, which is one of the largest operators of containers and ports across Australia, having a blue about a whole range of things. So just pretend for the sake of the argument, there’s fault on both sides. DP World need to share a bit of the wealth, and MUA need to give a bit of ground. So he goes on air and says, ‘well, DP World, they’re an international company, they’re run in the Middle East, they’re making too much money, so it’s all their fault. It’s all their fault’.
So he sends Tony Burke into bat, to try and get them to fair work to try and battle it out and come to a resolution because it’s going to impact on us in the short and long term if we can’t get all those containers into Australia, then unloaded, and he wants to blame the operator, not the union.
I mean, it’s not the statesmanlike thing you expect from Prime Ministers. I mean different Prime Ministers – you mentioned Bob Hawke – he took on unions, he took on unions and said ‘no you’re not going to cripple the airline industry, we’re going to battle with you’. But you’ve got a Prime Minister here who’s just simply compliant and saying, ‘oh, it’s all DP World’s fault. It can’t be the MUA’s fault’.
Well, I think that’s an excellent summary, and I think the difficulty is that the Prime Minister does have the power to, and the authority of office, to step in and say ‘it’s in the national interest for us to solve this problem and to do it quickly’, because we’re an island nation, we need a heavy reliance on our ports – both outbound and inbound – to make the economy work.
If you’re going into Bunnings, or going to a supermarket, or you’re buying parts for your car, it all relies on those shipping containers coming and going. If the MUA, which is one of the –along with the CFMEU – one of the most militant unions in the country, can stand up to the Prime Minister…I saw some comments from union leadership the other day, that said it had nothing to do with the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister just says ‘oh okay, well, I won’t intervene then because I’m scared of the union membership’.
He needs to stand up to them. As you say, as Hawke or Keating would have, as Simon Crean did, as frankly, Kim Beazley did and as even Mark Latham was able to stand up to the unions, Bill Shorten during his period as the Labor Leader; but it seems that Tony Burke and Anthony Albanese are completely owned and operated by these unions, and in that circumstance, again, it’s the Australian public that misses out.
We will end up paying more for prices, or people will lose their jobs because we’re going to see shelves that have got ‘out of stock’ signs on them because they can’t get the product in.
A couple of more things. If you pick up the Herald today, you’d think everything’s hunky dory with the stage three tax cuts on July 1, if you pick up the Telegraph, you’d be scratching your head saying, ‘well, it looks like he’s looking for a way out’. At the moment, what’s your gut feeling about stage three tax cuts? Will he defy Ministers and members of the backbench and go ahead with them?
Well, I think his leadership’s over if he abandons the stage three tax cuts because Australians have seen this movie before and they don’t reward leaders who go to an election with an ironclad guarantee, and then knowingly break it.
Now, there are a number of election promises that he’s broken already – the $275. He’s wasted $450 million on dividing our country with the Voice. The $275 cut in power prices isn’t coming, people’s power prices continue to go up, and there will be a lot of people who make the application to the bank at the moment, maybe to refinance, try and lock in a lower interest rate over the next couple of years if they can find one, and they will be relying on that additional income coming into their budget. If the Prime Minister breaks that promise, then I think his leadership is done, and I think Bill Shorten would be licking his chops at the thought that Mr Albanese is going to walk away from it.
But instead of just a straight answer and being honest, the Prime Minister has to give this coded form of words, as you say, in every tortured press conference that he does, where he says a thousand words, but really doesn’t say anything at all, and he’s trying to play again to the element in his Party Room who are on the phone to him saying, ‘you’ve got to ditch these tax cuts’, and the other half of the Party Room that’s saying ‘you’ve got to honour your election commitments’.
So it’s another example of him trying to play both sides of the street, and it’s the weakest form of leadership you can imagine at a time when our country needs strong leadership.
Now, finally, when you were in the position of determining people arriving here on planes and the like, I remember Kristina Keneally – and I remember you and I talking about it –screaming the joint down ‘Peter Dutton has got no control. Yes, they’ve stopped the boats, but now they’re all coming in planes’.
I get back here on Monday, a record number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by plane, with more than 2,000 new arrivals every month – the largest chunk are from conflict free nations. August to November last year marked four months in a row where more than 2,000 asylum applications were lodged – new data revealed. The arrivals are coming by plane on different visas, then applying for asylum once they get here.
Now, they come from Vietnam, they come from Vanuatu of all places, China, India and the demographic are men aged 25 to 24. So it appears that, as she attacked you – she’s no longer a part of politics thankfully – but as she attacked you, this current Government is doing even worse.
Well, that’s the fact Ray. That’s the fact. And again, it’s not something that the Prime Minister wants to talk about, but if you lose control of your borders, if people smugglers work out that here’s the soft spot, they will exploit it because they’re making money out of it. With social media now, these messages race around the world to say that if you apply for this visa, go to Australia, they’ve got a Minister at the moment in Minister Giles who’s let criminals out, paedophiles out, to walk the streets, to commit more crimes; you’ve got no problems getting into Australia and you can stay there and they won’t deport you. Well, why wouldn’t people be lined up at the airports to come here?
We live in the best country in the world, we should be prepared to defend our values and stand up for what we believe in. We’ve got a wonderful migration story to tell, but only if we know who’s coming, and only if we determine whether or not people of bad character can be deported – because if they’re dictating the terms to a weak Prime Minister, then the system will be overrun and you’ll see dire consequences, as we saw before Christmas when they’re allowing criminals out into the community, and they now refuse to speak anything about it.
There’ll be more victims, and I think we have a very strong argument – particularly at the moment with the uncertainty that we’re seeing right across the globe – to be very selective about who it is we’re bringing in through the migration program, so that we don’t bring in people who may present a risk, and ultimately, that you won’t be able to deport. That’s a fundamental obligation of the Prime Minister, of the Minister of the day, to keep the Australian public safe, and they have failed on that first test.
Thanks as always. We’ll talk next Thursday.
Thanks Ray. See you mate.