THE HON PETER DUTTON MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR DICKSON
JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH MR ANDREW WILLCOX MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR DAWSON,
12 October 2022
Subjects: Meeting with small business owners in Mackay; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; 20th Anniversary of the Bali Bombings; flood warnings in Victoria; $500 million black hole in Labor’s policy costing; division between the Australian Workers’ Union and the Labor Party; hydro power; Voice referendum; military support to Ukraine.
Thanks very much for coming along this afternoon. It’s fantastic to have the Honourable Peter Dutton in town and thanks, Peter, for accepting my invitation to come up. Today we’ve been going around and seeing small businesses. We’ve just had a fantastic cup of coffee with the Connors family, so Madeleine and Dale who have hosted us here. We’ve been talking to lots of different businesses and the sentiments the same for me right the way out through the electorate. People are concerned about electricity prices, they’re concerned about the cost of living, they’re exceptionally concerned about the backflip that the new Labor government has done on the $275 – they promised us that power prices would be $275 cheaper if they took government and of course that hasn’t happened. You’ve just seen the headline in The Australian on Monday that said power prices are potentially going to go up 35 per cent, so that’s absolutely horrendous.
That, on top of the fuel excise coming off, so there we’ve just seen fuel go up, you know, 10, 25 cents at different places throughout the electorate. People are starting to feel the cost of living pressure, the increases under this Labor government. So, Peter, thanks very much for you coming up and I’ll hand over to the Leader. It’s fantastic to have him in Mackay because he’s very interested in looking at all our projects and more importantly, talking and listening to our people, so thank you, Peter, it’s good to have you here.
Thank you mate, very much. Andrew, thank you.
Look, it’s great to be back in Mackay and thank you very much to the crew here at The Dispensary. It’s a great local business and employing local people right across their hospitality network and I’m really very grateful for the way that they’ve shown us around today. It requires an incredible investment and commitment with capital costs and the employment of staff and it’s a great family business and I just wish them every success.
But it’s getting tougher for small family businesses across the country. Cost of living continues to go up so it’s not just families, but businesses as well. There are lots of people who voted for Labor at the last election believing their story that they had a plan to try and reduce the cost of living and reduce the cost of electricity and gas and other inputs into their business and under Labor the costs just keep going up and up. Labor is killing confidence which is going to make it very hard over the course of what I think will be a difficult calendar ‘23 for our economy.
Now, this morning I was in Coogee with the Prime Minister at the Bali memorial service. I just want to pay tribute to the council, to all of the organisers who were there at that service. It was a very emotional service and it marked the loss of 202 people who lost their lives at the hands of evil, and 88 Australians – the families still live with those scars today of their loss and they feel it every day particularly on significant anniversaries like today. They’ve missed out on sharing time together at very important family events, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The emotion that was there at the service today was really obvious and it was a huge turnout and it was great to see young school students there and I think the local council did a great job of that commemoration.
I also want to just make some remarks about flooding in Victoria, but also projected weather events in other states. People really do need to listen – over the course of the remainder of this calendar year and into the next – to the advice that’s coming out from the emergency service authorities. If people are telling you to evacuate, if they’re providing you advice that there may be flooding in your region, then please heed that advice. All of the regular advice we hear about not entering into flooded waters etcetera it’s worth repeating over and over and over again because the temptation is always there to enter into those flooded waters or to allow your kids to have a bit of fun in a swollen creek or where there might be a runoff into a drainage system. It can end in tragedy. So, please listen to all of that advice.
I think it’s important to also point out today that there’s been another economic disaster on Labor’s watch. You’ve got now the Assistant Treasurer at odds with the Acting Treasurer in relation to a $500 million cost blowout and that money is going to have to be found elsewhere in the Budget. You saw today competing interests, and frankly, I think the government is making a lot if this up on the run. They don’t know why they’ve got the costings so wrong, but it’s out by half a billion dollars. Now that’s not unusual for a Labor government but it is the first time this government has presided over such an obvious blowout in their figures and we haven’t even got to the Budget yet. So, I think there is a lot of concern in the minds of Australians starting to build about Labor’s capacity to deal with the issues that are confronting them.
Labor went to the election – as Andrew rightly pointed out – with a plan, with a promise to reduce power prices by $275 and we’re now finding that under Labor prices will go up by at least 35 per cent over the course of the next 12 months and that is just the start. If we get unreliability in our system like we’ve seen in parts of Europe, or the rolling blackouts that we see in places like California, then businesses like this will suffer and you can’t have periods of no power during the day as we’re seeing potentially in other parts of the world. It would be devastating for businesses and the cost is just passed on to consumers.
So, let’s make sure that we have a sensible debate about energy in our country, but I don’t want to see power prices go up and up and up under Labor and I certainly don’t want to see the lights go out because manufacturing jobs will go from our country and they’ll be shifted offshore.
Happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, the Australian Workers’ Union has slammed the government’s heads of agreement with gas producers, warning there is zero chance of Australia revitalising manufacturing under Labor’s existing policies. What’s your response to this and would you back this call for a price control mechanism?
Well, I think today you’re seeing a huge divide between the union movement and the Albanese government. Now, this is the first sign of a very significant fracture, obviously the AWU has condemned the Labor Party in relation to energy policy for a period of time and when the union movement is calling out the Labor Party, you know that there is not just smoke, but fire. The Labor Party promised a plan to keep those jobs secure and as the AWU has pointed out today, Labor has no such plan. The Prime Minister’s plan to reduce power prices and to guarantee those jobs was frankly a line made up during an election campaign and to deceive the Australian public, to be on the back of what we saw last week where the government was jumping all over the place on whether tax cuts would be delivered, whether they would honour their promise – one day they were, the next day they weren’t. The Prime Minister has been missing in action in not answering these questions. So, it doesn’t come as any surprise to me that there is now a very big breakdown in the relationship between the AWU and the Labor Party, which is normally a very tight relationship, and it shows that Labor are not getting the early calls right. Families and businesses should be worried about that because they’re the ones that will incur the pain through their bills which will go up and up under Labor and job uncertainty which is not what we want in the economy at the moment.
Mr Dutton, what’s your position on the state government’s proposed $12 billion hydro scheme, what’s your view on that?
Well, I’ve got to say, I mean, I’ve been through Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay obviously today, and we’re heading to Townsville as well. I think people see what the Premier has announced as not much more than a thought bubble. There are families in communities where there will be resumptions that are really panicking now. They don’t know whether their future is secure, whether their house and their property will be resumed and the Premier seems to be able to provide no detail.
In Queensland, we’ve got one of the lowest inputs of renewable energy into the network. Now, we all support renewable energy and we need to have a serious discussion about how that energy is firmed up because the battery lasts for about 75 minutes which is not going to work during a week of rain. We know that if the wind is not blowing and the turbines aren’t spinning and not generating that energy and we know that the solar panels don’t work once the sun goes down. So, if you don’t like coal and you don’t like gas and hydrogen is at least 10 years away, then what is the answer to firming up? If you’ve got this pipedream from the Premier about a hydro scheme, which might take 12 years – probably longer – to bring online, how on earth are you going to move from low double digit renewable energy into the market, into the mix now, how are you going to get that up to where the Premier wants it? I just don’t think it’s reality. The problem is that if there’s uncertainty in the market, businesses will move their businesses offshore. They’ll go to a cheaper energy market, they’ll go somewhere where there’s a lower wage cost and there is no net benefit to the environment and all we do is lose Aussie jobs. That’s the problem for Labor at a state and federal level, they’re pushing us down this path that Europe is on at the moment, where over this winter, European countries, in some cases, are talking about heating or eating – but not being able to afford to do both. In that environment, over Summer in North Queensland where you can’t turn on the air conditioning, people – particularly elderly – suffer the most. At the moment Labor doesn’t have a plan other than to preside over uncertainty which is going to drive up your electricity bill…
Just to clarify, is it you oppose pumped hydro as a principle or is it this particular project that you oppose?
No, I mean we invested a lot into pumped hydro during our course of nine years in government. We put money into the Tasmania etwork, into Snowy Hydro 2.0. We very much support a mix of inputs into the energy system, but the problem is that there’s no detail here and there is a great deal of uncertainty about where that water will go. How do we disperse it? Don’t forget that Labor are ideologically opposed to dams. I think, frankly, the Premier needs to provide a lot more detail which we haven’t seen as yet.
Just finally, if there is sufficient detail after months of investigation and it’s deemed a feasible project, would you then support it and back it?
Well, let’s see what they have to say. I mean, as we saw with the Prime Minister – Labor promised they had a plan, it turns out after the election, they don’t. The Prime Minister promised on 97 occasions he would reduce power prices by $275 per family, per business. We’re now finding that electricity prices under Labor will go up by 35 per cent. So, I think don’t look at the rhetoric, look at what they preside over, what they deliver, and at the moment Labor is killing confidence in our economy at a time when we really want to be building confidence up. It’s obvious that the United States, the United Kingdom and other economies are going to go into recession, tragically, over the course of the next calendar year. The fundamentals of our economy, given the Coalition management of the economy over the last nine years are very strong. So, there is no reason as to why we should go into any recession in our country, but Labor is very capable – and that’s why we’re watching this Budget very carefully – of making decisions that can make a bad situation worse and could plunge us into recession, which is the last thing that we want for our country.
Do you think donations to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaign for the Voice referendum should be banned?
I think the precedent is there, regardless of what the issue has been. Around the Republic, for example, where there was a lot of deep-seated interest and views both for and against a republic or a monarchy and I think there is precedent there. I think, if you go into a debate, people need to be properly informed and on the Voice, when the Prime Minister first proposed this referendum, his argument was that people could vote on the Saturday and you get the detail on the Monday. That, of course, is ridiculous and unsustainable and the government backflipped on that position and are now talking about providing legislation etc.
I think people should be properly informed about the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ case, the positive and negative of each argument and then allow people to make their own judgment. So, let’s see what the PM has to say about the funding that’s in place but you can’t ask people to go and change the Constitution – regardless of how important the issue is – without all of the facts and understanding the consequences and the implications of changing the Constitution because once you change the Constitution, it’s near impossible to reverse that.
If you change a law, well, you can change the law back or you can abolish it or amend it or add to it, but the change of the Constitution is a very significant step to take and the Prime Minister needs to provide all of that detail.
So, should the government be providing equal money to the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaign?
Well, that’s a question for the Prime Minister. Again, the problem is that they make these announcements and then don’t deliver any of the detail. I think there are a lot of Australians increasingly arguing for and against as they find out more detail, but families across suburbs won’t have heard very much of the Voice at all or will have very little understanding of what it’s about and I think they deserve information. They’ll be strongly in favour, strongly for, strongly against, or they’ll be ambivalent and that’s a decision for them, but they need the detail and that obviously costs money and the Prime Minister should equally fund both sides of the debate. But again, we’ll wait to hear from him.
Mr Dutton, just on those stage three tax cuts. Are you sort of saying you’re worried things will change under Labor?
Well again, I mean, the Prime Minister hasn’t come out to say definitively that he will honour his election commitment. The tax cuts are about people on incomes of $45,000 up to $200,000 – it reduces the 32 and a half percent tax rate down to 30 and abolishes and 37 per cent tax rate so it means that 95 per cent of Australians will pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar.
Now, for people living in Andrew’s electorate here, involved in all sorts of industries, but say in the mining industry, they go away from their families, they work hard day and night, they earn money, they want more of their money because they want to provide more for their family and put their kids through school and maybe buy a rental property to support themselves in retirement. They want more of their own money and they should have that expectation and they especially should have it because that’s what the Prime Minister told them that he would do during the election campaign on many occasions. The PM looked the Australian people in the eye and said that he would honour those tax cuts. Now Labor seems to be saying, ‘well, we’re ruling it out for this Budget, but maybe in the next Budget, or the one after that, we could renege on our promise’ and I think that would be a terrible mistake.
I think lots of people are budgeting on that extra cash flow to their family and if people aren’t on 120 or 140 or $160,000 a year now, there are lots of people who aspire to it, either through their small business, through working harder themselves, through educating themselves and getting promoted at work, or their spouse has gone back to university or gone to get a trade and is now able to work in a higher-paying job. I just think people voted for Labor on the basis that they were going to deliver those tax cuts and now there seems to be great uncertainty about whether the Prime Minister is going to keep his promise or break it.
Should Australia be providing more military assistance to the Ukraine and if so what should that be and how quickly?
The short answer is yes. As Defence Minister, I was very proud to make decisions that saw us send about $250 million worth of aid to Ukraine. It was as a result of our discussions with the Ambassador here in Australia from Ukraine. It was in response to a direct plea you’ll remember from President Zelenskyy who asked for the Bushmasters and we sent those across. We sent weapons systems and provided support to people who desperately need it. The barbaric actions of President Putin at the moment need to be repelled and the Ukrainians can only do that – they can only support the men, women and children that you see affected on the streets now – if they’ve got the right equipment. If Labor is stalling sending equipment, then I don’t understand why that’s the case.
Richard Marles has had five months now as Defence Minister – he hasn’t made a decision. He’s commissioned lots of inquiries and lots of investigations but he hasn’t made any decisions and time is really of the essence here. If Ukraine is asking for defence materiel and support that we can reasonably provide, then the Coalition will provide full support to the government in the provision of that supply. I just think it’s a no-brainer. I don’t understand why there would be a hesitation and if there is a hesitation then Mr Marles needs to explain that. But it’s not clear to the public what support the government has provided since they were elected in May. We were very open and transparent about the dollar amount. There are some classified elements to what we sent across but there was a lot of detail around the Bushmasters and other aspects that we were able to support and I think Labor should follow the same path. As I say, we’d be very supportive of the government if they took a decision to provide more support to Ukraine.
Thank you very much.