Subjects: Labor’s cost of living crisis; military assistance to Ukraine; Fadden by-election; Albanese Government’s failures in economic management; Working Holiday Maker visa fee increase.
Good morning. My name’s Andrew Hastie, I’m the Federal Member for Canning and I represent the Peel Region and the Perth Hills, and this morning here in Mandurah, it’s my pleasure to host the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for a cost of living forum with my constituents. We had about 30 people come together from all walks of life and share the challenges that we are facing as a community.
Just across the road over there, we have the Peel Health Campus, which is currently ranked the seventh worst hospital in the country. We have great doctors, we have great nurses, but this state government has overlooked the Peel Region for too long. This was a hospital built for 30,000 people – this town now is about 100,000 people and growing – and we haven’t seen any investment for the last six years from the state Labor Government. Mark McGowan cut and run and now Roger Cook – the former Health Minister – is yet to act here as well.
So this morning, health is one of the issues that has been identified, there’s a housing shortage and there’s a cost of living crisis and again, state Labor and federal Labor are sitting on their hands and they’re not doing anything to help people down this way.
So it was great for Peter to come and listen. One of Peter’s great strengths is that he’s an excellent listener, and this morning I saw that again. People feeling very comfortable in sharing their very private and personal experiences with Peter, and I want to thank the community for that. Peter, over to you.
Thanks Andrew, thank you very much. Firstly, I just want to say thank you very much to all of the people we met with this morning. There are some inspirational stories from women who have been the victims of domestic violence, stories about people sleeping in cars with four kids – they’re heartbreaking stories – and the sad reality is, as we found out at Foodbank yesterday, and in discussions I’ve had with the Salvation Army and others, these stories are more and more common here in WA and across the country.
The government needs to do more to act, to provide support to those families, to those women and to the communities that want to help and change the lives for the better for those particular women and their families.
There are many people at the moment who are living rough, or finding it hard to find rental accommodation, where they just can’t afford the rent, they can’t find a house to buy, and at that time, we’re seeing a policy of the government to bring in about 6,000 people a week under an unplanned migration scheme. It’s going to put upward pressure on interest rates, it’s going to make it harder for people to afford their mortgages and the government just hasn’t properly planned for it. Migration is good for our country, but we need to make sure that it’s properly planned for, and some of the stories this morning, I think just reiterate that.
I wanted to make another comment in relation to cost of living. It’s obvious now that many decisions in the budget in May, and the budget last October – two budgets now the government’s delivered – have made the situation much harder for families and for small businesses. The Prime Minister promised before the election that he had a plan to help families, that he’d reduce interest rates. He said that he would have a plan to reduce energy bills by $275 each year, and families now know that they’re doing it harder than ever under this Labor Government.
Everything starts out okay when Labor comes into power, but then the economy always sours because they make the wrong decisions and they make the wrong calls. In government, we implemented JobKeeper during the course of COVID. Without it, literally hundreds of thousands of people would have been out of work. The Labor Party would have put money into school halls and pink batts – that’s the difference.
At the moment, we’re starting to see some indicators that have confidence down, that people are not seeing the sorts of outcomes and the lack of confidence since the ’90s recession, and I worry that the situation for a lot of Australian families, as tough as it is now, it’s going to get tougher under Labor over the course of the next 12 months, or whatever period it is because they’ve made the wrong decisions in the budgets; and if you make the wrong decisions, Australians end up paying for it and that is unfortunately being felt by many families who are struggling to pay their mortgages, their food bill, and their other costs of living, and keeping their kids in school. It’s a tough situation for a lot of Australians and that’s what happens under a Labor Government.
Now, I want to make just a couple of comments in relation to the Ukraine commitment that the government’s made. It’s clear that you can’t just clear out the garage from Defence of old vehicles, and vehicles that you don’t want anymore, and dump them into Ukraine – that’s not the response of a developed nation like ours. It’s frankly, embarrassing internationally that as a trusted partner, Australia would be put into a position by this government where we’re offering up equipment that is not fit for purpose.
When you look at the success of President Zelenskyy and his military advisers, against the Russians no less, they’ve got the expertise to know what they need on the ground to be successful, to protect their citizens; the women and children that otherwise would be slaughtered.
When we made a decision in government to send Bushmasters, we did it because we manufacture them here and we can increase the supply so that we can make sure Defence doesn’t go without the necessary equipment that they’ve got, and we did it because that’s what Ukraine suggested that we should provide to them, and we took that advice.
Now the government in this garage sale, of just clearing out old equipment and sending it to Ukraine, has sent a very bad message. It sent a bad message to our allies, and frankly it sent a bad message to Russia as well. The last thing the Russians need to hear at the moment is that countries like ours are running out of interest in helping the people of Ukraine.
I think the Prime Minister should reassess the commitment that he’s made, and I think the Defence Minister should put a better argument around the Cabinet table to get fresh money for Defence. They took a $1.5 billion out of Defence in the most recent budget, and they’re saying to Defence that they need to pay for the equipment that’s being sent to Ukraine. It’s a complete nonsense. Defence should be getting new money to provide support to our friends in Ukraine. If we do that, we can save lives and we can help Ukraine achieve a successful outcome.
Australia was recognised, when we were in government, as one of the most generous and supportive nations of President Zelenskyy, and that reputation is being tarnished by a pretty second-rate offering of old equipment that the Prime Minister announced yesterday.
Happy to take any questions.
What do you think is the real reason Australia didn’t agree to provide Hawkei military vehicles to Ukraine?
Well, I don’t get it. The Hawkei is available. Again, it’s something that’s manufactured here, and you can increase the numbers so that Defence doesn’t go without, and you can get them across there. The Ukraine Defence Minister and the advisers there understand the vehicle very well. They’ve said that that vehicle will provide them with significant benefit in their fight against Russia. Why not take their advice? If there are problems with the vehicle, then let it be sorted out, and the Ukrainians no doubt are aware of that.
So, I don’t understand the Prime Minister’s response here, and I think there are many respected journalists and military experts who have provided a frank assessment about the Prime Minister’s bad decision here, and I hope that he can address it sooner than later because it’s our international reputation that’s adversely affected, but more importantly, we’re starving Ukraine forces of the necessary equipment that they need to keep their people safe.
You’ve spoken about the cost of living, what do you make of S&P’s forecast for Australia’s economic growth being the second worst in the Asia Pacific and what that means for cost of living here?
Well, it’s clear now because of the two budgets – because of the two Labor budgets – interest rates are going to stay higher for longer. So inflation is sticky and it’s well above the 2 to 3 per cent band that the Reserve Bank would want to see. So, I think that is obvious to all Australians and there are decisions the government’s made which will mean that your interest rates are going to stay higher for longer because the government’s not dealing with the issue of inflation – the Reserve Bank Governor has pointed out as much.
I think it’s very important to recognise that without the resources sector – particularly the resources sector of WA, but Queensland as well – I think we would already be in a recession. We would certainly be in a much more precarious position if we didn’t have the royalties from coal, from iron ore, from all of the minerals that we export.
There are a lot of families in small businesses at the moment who are seeing significant downturn in their businesses. Now that will lead, ultimately, to an increase in the unemployment rate and people can deal with a mortgage – even if it’s higher than what they planned in many circumstances by going without, cutting back on other expenditure in their budget – but they can’t afford it if they’re out of work.
We want to be very careful about where Labor’s taking us because I lived through the recession of the ’90s that Labor presided over. Labor always trashes the economy, and unfortunately, we’re seeing a situation now where Labor’s made decisions that are adversely affecting families and they’re paying the price for Labor’s mistakes.
I worry about the S&P advice because they look objectively at the Australian economy and they know too that the government has made some bad decisions and it’s making it much harder for families.
What would you do to protect businesses if you were Prime Minister?
Well, the energy policy of the government is completely manic at the moment, and I really worry that Australians who are going to see on the 1st of July an increase of almost 30 per cent in their power bills, again under this government, that that’s not the end of it, that we’ll continue to see an increase in prices.
Now, if you increase prices for households, you know when you get your electricity bill or your gas bill, it’s gone up from the last quarter or from last year, and it’s hard to pay it; but if you’re in a small business running a cafe, or a butcher shop, or an IGA with cold rooms, all of that extra expense – those thousands of dollars each month or each quarter – they’re all passed on in the form of higher costs and higher products.
We were in the Yarra Valley the other day. The manufacturers there of jams and of soups; every element of their supply chain is going up because of the government’s energy policy, and that’s feeding into inflation. If the prices go high or higher, then you’ll see people not turning up to the cafes or to the restaurants and if you can reduce some of those input costs, particularly around energy, then that’s what we should be doing and that will be a huge win for those businesses.
We also wouldn’t have had some of the policies that you’ve seen in the last two budgets which have increased interest rates and therefore, increased people’s mortgages because a lot of Australians have come off, or are about to come off, a low interest rate mortgage product and they’re going to face a very significant increase in their mortgage repayments under this government.
You’ve got a big margin in Fadden, are you confident you can maintain it?
We’ve got a great candidate in Cameron Caldwell. I think he’s established his bona fides on the ground over 12 years, as a local, he’s a champion for the northern end of the Gold Coast, he knows the area well, he’s delivered projects which have resulted in additional jobs, he’s put money into tackling what’s a very serious issue of law and order on the Gold Coast at the moment, and I hope the Prime Minister when he’s there today calls out the Queensland Premier because she’s presided over a situation where cars are being stolen, houses are being broken into and there’s a crime situation that is of Labor’s making. I hope the Prime Minister can call the Premier out for that because it’s a huge issue in that seat.
By-elections are always tight contest and the Labor Party will have all sorts of dirty tactics and smear campaigns, and I think we’ve got a great candidate, a good story to tell, and I’m confident that we can hold the seat, but by-elections are always difficult.
It’s an opportunity to send the government a message in relation to cost of living, that you’re not happy with the policies that they’ve presided over – and also on The Voice – I think there will be a lot of people in Fadden who want to send the Prime Minister a very clear message that they’re not happy with his Canberra Voice proposal, and they’re not happy that he’s continuing to keep details from Australians in relation to how the Voice will operate.
Is the economy heading the wrong way and what should the government do about it?
I think on all of the objective analysis at the moment – you’re seeing this with the ratings agencies as well – Australia under Labor is heading in the wrong direction. Our economy is heading south because of the policies that Labor provided in their two budgets, and they’ve made decisions, and they’ve squibbed other decisions, which are making it harder for families.
I worry that our country is heading in the wrong direction under this Prime Minister – he’s obsessed in relation to the Voice and other issues – and I think he’s taken his eye off the ball on economic policy and Australians are paying the price for that.
Farming industries are warning that increasing the price of backpackers visas will add to worker shortages. Do you agree that that would have a flow-on effect to consumers?
Yes I do. I really worry about farmers and the agricultural sector as to where they’re going to find these workers because they heavily rely on those backpackers. If the government’s going to jack the price up, which will mean the backpackers – who are very price-sensitive – will just go to another country for their experience, we’re going to see more produce, more vegetables rotting on the trees, or vines, or on the ground and there’s a huge economic loss for our country and for those local communities, but it also makes it less viable for those businesses to continue.
So the Government should be making it easier, not harder, for farmers at the moment, but it seems another decision that they’ve taken will make it harder for farmers. We were at a business yesterday, where they just can’t find flower pickers and they can’t get those flowers picked, which means we’re losing revenue from those exports that otherwise would take place. The export market is phenomenal and that means Australian jobs, it means economic activity, but again, it’s another decision that Labor’s made which is going to make it harder for those farmers to be able to run their businesses.
All right, thank you very much.