Subjects: Visit to Feed Me Bellarine; Labor’s cost of living crisis; nuclear power; Chris Bowen’s incompetence as a Minister; Australia’s soaring energy costs under the Albanese Government; Dan Andrews’ tax on holidays and holiday homes; Victorian Liberal Party; the Prime Minister’s divisive Voice, Treaty, Truth proposal.
Good morning everyone. It’s wonderful to have Peter Dutton here in Corangamite at an incredible organisation: Feed Me Bellarine. We’ve been looking at the amazing work of local volunteers in supplying some 10,000 meals a week, as more and more families are facing cost of living pressures, particularly in the last 12 months.
We were very proud to commit to Feed Me Bellarine at the last election and we recognise and implored the incredible work that this organisation is doing. There is no doubt that Victorians and Australians are doing it very, very tough. As I say, so many people are –including out the front – are demanding the services of wonderful organisations like this, and so really fabulous have Peter here today.
Sarah, thank you very much. Firstly, to all of the volunteers that we’ve met here this morning at Feed Me Bellarine – just amazing people giving back to their community. I want to say thank you to Lana in particular, to Glenn, the Chair of the Board.
Lana’s vision here, the sacrifice she’s made, the people that she’s inspired, the community that she’s supported, it’s quite a remarkable story. I’d say to all Australians; jump online and have a look at the story here, provide support – any philanthropic support you can provide to the organisation helping literally thousands of local families. People who are doing it tough, and as Sarah pointed out, there are more and more Australians in that category. Sadly, that’s just the reality of the cost of living pressures at the moment.
We see a report out today from St Vincent de Paul in relation to energy costs, electricity and gas costs here in Victoria. People are paying more than they ever have for their electricity. Some families now – particularly outside of the inner cities – are paying upwards of $90 a week, which is a big hit on the budget and it’s a big hit when you’ve got an increase in mortgage repayments, you’re paying more at the bowser, you’re paying more when you go into the supermarket, you’re paying more for your insurance premiums, and I’d just say to the Prime Minister; please really consider the policy decisions that you’re making, because in two budgets, they’ve presided over decisions which have made it harder, not easier for families.
At the moment the government’s energy policy, that they’ve reinforced in the last two budgets, it’s making it harder for families. There’s now talk about disruption to supply. When you look at the number of cold rooms and freezers in this facility, they have to run 24/7. They can’t just run 36 per cent of the time, or 82 per cent of the time. Under Chris Bowen’s plan that’s what would happen because you’d need to be able to firm up renewables – and we’re all in favour of renewable energy – but you need to have a constant source of energy supply and it needs to be at an affordable price.
So, there’s a lot that’s going on in the national debate at the moment, but there’s no more important message for the Prime Minister to hear than families who are struggling, pensioners who are struggling, people who are unemployed, and there are a lot of Australians who are working at the moment – probably more hours than they ever have – but they still can’t balance their budget. They still can’t afford to pay the bills, and they’re the families that I want the Prime Minister to be focusing on because I think at the moment, the Prime Minister’s focus is elsewhere, and it’s not on families and businesses who are most in need.
There are a lot of small businesses across this region, and indeed across the country, who just can’t afford to pay their bills either. They’re facing an increase in their electricity bills, their gas bills, their wage costs are going up, the input costs into their business continue to go up. So it’s families, but it’s also the small businesses who are really hurting under Labor at the moment.
It’s good to be here with Sarah Henderson. I just want to say thank you to Sarah for the incredible work that she does in her local community. She’s passionate about this area having been a local member for a long period of time, she has a sense of what’s happening on the ground and you see that in her interactions here today as well.
So, I’m very happy to be here and I’m very happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, is nuclear an alternative to the expensive cost of energy?
Well again, I just think if you look at a region like Ontario, they have 60 per cent of nuclear power there – the new age, nuclear power. It firms up renewables and they’re paying half the electricity bills that Victorians are, or that Australians are. If Canada can do it, if France can do it, if the United States can do it, if the United Kingdom and elsewhere can do it, why can’t Australia? I don’t understand Mr Bowen’s obsession against nuclear, when Bill Gates and others are fully in favour of it, and its zero emissions.
I don’t believe for a moment that Labor can get to zero emissions by 2050 with their current energy mix. There’s no way in the world. They want you to believe the batteries can work – I wish, hope and pray that they could store the energy that we want them to store – but the latest battery installed in South Australia by AGL, at a cost of $190 million, lasts for one hour.
Now, if we get a period of rain or the winds not blowing, the cold rooms in this facility here shut down without a baseload energy. If they’re going to turn off coal and they’re going to turn off gas, then what will keep the cold rooms running here? What will keep the cold rooms at the local IGA or the butcher running? Or what keeps your freezer at home – your deep freezer at home running? The government just hasn’t got any answers for this.
The proposal being put forward by the government at the moment is costed at between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion. So if you think your electricity bill is expensive now, another two, or three, or five years down the track, you’re going to be paying much more than what you’re paying now. I just don’t think Australians can afford it, and over summer or indeed over winter, pensioners are the ones who turn their air conditioning off, or don’t run the lights and then they have a fall of a nighttime – don’t turn their lights on and they have a fall of a nighttime. That’s the reality of what is, you know, it’s a sad reality to be honest for a lot of pensioners and a lot of Australians who are doing it tough already, but will do it much tougher into the future because of Mr Bowen’s approach and Mr Albanese’s approach on energy policy.
The small modular reactor, it’s the same technology that’s being used in the submarines ordered by the government, and it seems the only reason that the Labor Party’s opposed to small modular latest technology nuclear, zero emissions technology, is because of the internal debate within the Labor Party and Mr Albanese needs to act in our national interest. Let’s have a mature conversation about the use of nuclear in firming up. It is cheaper, it is reliable, it can firm up renewables, and it’s the reason that a lot of younger Australians are fully supportive of it because they’re passionate about climate change, they’re passionate about reducing emissions and they’re well read. They understand what’s happening in 50 other countries around the world. So let’s have a mature discussion about it.
If you can reduce power prices in an organisation like this one, like in many small businesses and in many households and manufacturing companies around this state, and around the country, then we’ll increase jobs and we’ll increase economic productivity.
Mr Dutton, you just said nuclear is cheaper, cheaper than what? Cheaper than coal? Cheaper than solar? Cheaper than wind? What’s it cheaper than?
Well, the government’s in – and we support this – in a decarbonising phase of our economy. It’s something that we commit to in terms of the net zero by 2050, and if coal’s not going to be part of that future – I note that Labor at a state and federal level now is talking about extending the life of some of the coal assets – our argument is that the latest new age technology around nuclear – what’s being used on the submarines – it’s zero emissions, you can put it into an existing brownfield site – so when the coal fired generation comes to an end, you can put the nuclear modular reactors into that facility – but here’s where there’s a significant saving otherwise: the government’s proposing 28,000 kilometres of new poles and wires to distribute the renewable energy as they march toward 100 per cent of renewable energy. When you put the small modular reactors into replace coal, you can use the existing poles and wires. So at the moment, the government’s talking about $100 billion of new poles and wires. It goes through national parks, it goes through regional areas, through productive farming land, and our argument is that you don’t need that expense and you don’t need that eyesore.
There’s a huge debate in our country about wind turbines at the moment. People in metropolitan areas, or outer metropolitan areas like mine in my electorate, in this community, don’t want those wind turbines. So why should people in regional areas be forced to take them when they’re not reliable, and you need to firm them up, and if Chris Bowen pretends that his policy is going to cost less than $1.2 trillion, he needs to provide the detail because the experts at the moment are saying that the Labor plan will cost between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion – and Australians will pay for that through increased electricity bills.
Do you think it will be a bit of a hard sell for Geelong residents, Bellarine and Surf Coast, to put a modular nuclear reactor around here?
Well, is there a coal mine that’s operating here at the moment that’s coming to end of life? That’s the…
…there was in Anglesea, yeah.
Well, where we’re talking about – as you’re seeing in Wyoming, as you’re seeing in parts of Europe and parts of the United States – it’s zero emissions technology. I’d just encourage people to Google it and have a look at the SMRs, have a look at the technology that’s being deployed now. It’s the same technology the government’s signed up to on the nuclear submarines, and it provides a firming up of renewables, it can be done in a safe way, and it means that those coal fired generation assets that are coming to an end of life, that do emit, that they’re being replaced with a new technology that can distribute on to existing poles and wires.
People are going to end up with 28,000 kilometres of new poles and wires, which is a considerable eyesore through many communities. All I ask for is a mature debate, and I hope the Prime Minister’s able to join the debate instead of Chris Bowen because he’s behaving like he’s still at university.
Just on another issue: Bellarine, where we are today, Surf Coast and Geelong, I suppose more broadly, really popular holiday destination, particularly Airbnbs – large number of Airbnbs. Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has flagged a 7.5 per cent levy on short stay accommodation, particularly Airbnbs as a way to hopefully free up housing supply, promotes more social housing development. I mean can I just get your thoughts on that?
Well again, I mean Labor’s got a long track record here. Labor will always tax because they have a spending problem, and it happens at a state level, happens at a federal level, and if Labor ultimately runs out of money and they come after yours. I mean there are countless examples of that here in Victoria.
Many years ago the damage that state Labor did to the economy – and we’re seeing that repeated again today – we’re seeing it at a federal level where the government will spend an extra $185 billion in the economy – that’s driving up inflation, which means people’s mortgage rates will always be higher under Labor.
I think an important point otherwise in relation to Airbnb is that there are a lot of families who supplement their income through an Airbnb property that they have. It might be when they’re going on holidays themselves, it might be that they’re a retired couple jumping in a caravan, or going to visit friends in WA, or Tasmania, or Queensland, or somewhere else, and they might rent their house out for a period to help them pay their electricity bills.
So, at the same time that Labor’s driving up electricity bills, they’re making it harder for families to source additional income to help them pay those bills, and that’s why families, that’s why small businesses will always be worse off under Labor – they just can’t manage money.
Tax is always the solution for a Labor Government, and unfortunately when you see a spike in participation at the moment, of women going back to work, it’s a great thing on the one hand because we want people to participate in the economy, we want participation – particularly of women to increase – but what’s underlying all of that, the motivation for that, is that people are having to go back to work for more hours because they can’t afford to pay their bills under this government, and that’s the reality of the modern economy.
So, it’s the reality that Labor runs out of things to tax, and now they’re taxing holidays and holiday homes and they’re starving people of the opportunity to earn a few extra dollars to help pay for their bills.
Given what you’re saying about state Labor, there has been a poll out in the last 24 hours that show that the state Liberals haven’t made any ground on Dan Andrews and Labor. In fact, I think they might have even lost a little bit of ground, surely that must be of concern?
Well look, I think John Pesutto is doing a great job as leader; first point. Second point is that there is an enormous rebuild for us to undertake in Victoria – and I hear very clearly the message that Victorians are sending – particularly at the state level, but at a federal level to the Liberal Party as well. I want our Party to be competitive, I want us to listen to Victorians on the issues that are important to them.
I think there is a desire, certainly it seems within the Labor Party, to change the Leader of the Labor Party here in Victoria – that’s an issue for them – but I think a lot of people who know Dan Andrews best, those who serve in the Cabinet with him, want a change of leadership – that’s an issue for them to work out in time – but I do think that a refresh in Victoria at a political level is important.
The Liberal Party needs to be competitive by the time of the next state election. We need to win more seats at a federal level. I’m down here twice this week. We’re doing a lot in Victoria to listen, to learn and people will see that reflected in our policies by the time of the next federal election. Internally, the Liberal Party needs to clean up its act here in Victoria, and if they do that, I think they will be truly competitive by the time of the next state election because John Pesutto is a good person, I think he understands Victoria, he knows how to manage a budget, as Liberals do, and he wants to get Victoria back on track.
The fact that the Victorian Government is paying out close to half a million dollars for a failure in relation to the Commonwealth Games, that’s $380 million that could be spent helping not-for-profit organisations like this one, or it could be helping pensioners pay their electricity bills, it could be helping build the infrastructure that we need because people are just living their lives in gridlock to and from work each day. So, I think there’s a lot of ground to make up, and I think John Pesutto and the Liberal team here in Victoria are truly capable of making that ground up.
Mr Dutton, just switching back to energy issues again: the Labor Government is continuing on with the Coalition’s opening up of the Otway Basin for gas, etc. – your government was very supportive of it. There’s been some concerns, at least in some of the fishing communities and some local communities there, about the expansion and the size of the gas sector opening up in the Otway Basin. Do you support the continued expansion of the gas sector down there?
Well, there are approval processes to go through in relation to individual projects. There’s obviously a lot of debate at the moment around wind turbines, for example; their impact environmentally on the seabed, the fact that the blades go into landfill afterwards – they can’t be recycled – the fact that they only have a 20 year lifespan, and that’s why it’s important to consider all of the elements that go into keeping people’s lights on and keeping their bills affordable.
You can turn gas off tomorrow – as the Greens advise – but the fact is that you would have blackouts overnight and you would have a huge spike in people’s electricity bills to the point where people just couldn’t afford to run their cold rooms or run their small businesses. So, you need to find the balance, and as Chris Bowen himself has pointed out, even in the last 24 hours – although he’s all over the shop on most of these issues – the fact is you need gas, particularly to transition.
So each of the projects should stand up on their merit or not, but as Bill Gates points out, and I think it’s really instructive, we should be trying to maximise the yield per square metre of energy that we can generate from that per square metre. The government’s got a plan to roll out 22,000 solar panels a day and 40 wind turbines a month. Ultimately, their plan costs $1.2 to $1.5 trillion. People’s electricity bills will go up many times what they are now over a course of time, if that’s the reality, because governments won’t pay for it, electricity companies won’t pay for it, consumers will and small businesses will.
That’s why, I think, we need to have a sensible discussion in relation to the latest technology of nuclear, because as Bill Gates himself points out, in that square metre you could achieve zero emissions, but very little impact environmentally compared to other forms of fossil fuels and renewable for that matter. But we need to get the balance right, we need to have a mature conversation, and that’s what we’re trying to promote at the moment.
You’ve mentioned before that the Liberal Party is listening to what people have to say. Can you just annunciate, I guess, what you’re hearing? What are the issues that are most important? What is the Liberal Party going to prioritise?
I think firstly, people want the Liberal Party to get their own house in order and that is important. John and I are driving that reform, providing support to people in the organisation to make sure that our own house is in order. Labor has all sorts of internal fights, but they never talk about it publicly. People want to know that we’re a steady ship and they’re seeing signs of that, that there’s a stability returning under John’s leadership and under my leadership, and that gives an assurance to the public. I think that’s important.
People want to see the policy work being undertaken, particularly in Opposition, and we’re doing that. We’re sitting down with stakeholders talking about policies around energy, around housing, around economic management, around environmental policy, social policy and many others. That’s an important debate for us to have publicly and privately with many of those stakeholders, and that work is well and truly underway.
People don’t trust Labor when it comes to management of the economy: they see the failure in infrastructure projects – as Sarah rightly has pointed out – there are many local projects that need to be funded that the Albanese Government now has on pause. There are contracts that have been signed or work that’s ready to start that could help reduce congestion, and at the same time we’ve got the government bringing in one and a half million people over five years – 6,000 people a week competing at auctions and lining up to rent properties with other Australians who just can’t afford to get into housing now.
They’re all debates that people want to see the Liberal Party contributing to, and that’s the feedback that we’re getting. There are many other local issues as you move from community to community, that they want their local Liberal representatives involved in and contributing to, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Just a quick one on the Voice: so, only a couple of days ago, literally just a kilometre or so down the road, more than two and a half thousand people marching in support of the Voice, which I know their proponents or their supporters are saying is a big demonstration that, you know, this debate’s alive and well. I mean, what would you say to them?
Look, I just say that firstly people need to contribute to this debate, participate in this debate, respectfully. I saw some footage out of South Australia which is deeply disturbing. People who’ve decided to vote ‘no’ have done so for good reason. They’ve listened to the debates – many of them are frustrated with the fact that the Prime Minister is deliberately withholding information from their consideration – people don’t understand the model, and that’s by design. The Prime Minister has made a decision not to put the design out there. The design of the Voice starts after the vote’s taken place on October 14, which is quite remarkable.
So, the scenes that we’ve seen are disturbing because people are entitled to their views. I have a great deal of respect for people who are voting either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the Referendum vote on October 14.
I strongly advocate a ‘no’ vote because I’ve listened respectfully to all of the contributions. I’ve listened to the legal advice. I wrote to the Prime Minister in January of this year asking 15 basic questions on behalf of millions of Australians; I’ve still not had a response to that letter. The Prime Minister still can’t answer basic questions. I also think that the Prime Minister is being disrespectful of Australians when he says that this is just a ‘simple proposition’. It’s not a simple proposition. It’s a broad form of words going in as a chapter into our nation’s rulebook in the Constitution. It will be open to interpretation by the High Court. It’s not going to provide the practical outcomes that we will want for people, particularly living in regional and remote areas in Indigenous communities and I would just say to people, who are on both sides acting disrespectfully toward other Australians; there’s no place for that.
The Prime Minister’s, you know, frankly disrespect for people who are voting ‘no’ – that now includes one in three Labor voters as well – and I think the contempt that he’s showing to Labor voters, to Green voters, to Coalition voters, who are voting ‘no’ in this upcoming Referendum, I don’t think it’s becoming of the Prime Minister. I also don’t think it’s acceptable for the Prime Minister to continue to mislead Australians in the Voice debate because this is not a simple proposition, it is a complicated change, and that’s why I think Australians in their millions are voting against the Referendum question that’s being put to them on the 14th of October; and it might encourage them to have that conversation with their kids and grandkids to understand that what’s being proposed here, is a very significant change, and it’s not in our country’s long term best interests.
Thank you very much.