Subjects: Meeting with small business owners in regional Queensland; Matt Thistlethwaite’s guarantee of stage three tax cuts forever; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Chris Bowen’s proposed tax on cattle; Paul Keating’s comments on AUKUS; 20th Anniversary of the Bali Bombings; military support to Ukraine; Liberal Party.
Welcome folks, and thanks very much for coming out today. It is indeed a pleasure to be here today with our Leader, Peter Dutton – my friend and colleague. Mr Dutton is actually travelling the area, following on from our visit to Mackay yesterday and coming out to see some of the people in Dawson. We’re working our way up the coast, he’ll finish up in Townsville later today.
What we’re finding, everybody is very concerned about the cost of living. Fuel, in this particular part of the world, really, affects the day-to-day business – everything from taking people to school, to our highway here where we rely on our suppliers coming up from the city and of course, our produce, going back to market. The people that live in this part of the world, we don’t have all the public transport options. You can’t just jump on a train, you can’t just jump on a bus and pay a small fee. Fuel is really starting to bite into what we do.
But it’s fantastic to have our Leader here. The Coalition does support rural and regional Australia. We are the only party that does that. We actually fully understand that farmers feed our nation and we need to actually look after them. We need to make sure that they can make a quid and, more importantly, keep a quid, because without them, we starve.
So, I’ll hand over to our Leader. Thank you very much for coming, and accepting my invitation to be with us and actually get out and about to meet the people in rural and regional Australia.
Thanks mate. Andrew, thank you very much. Firstly, thank you very much to Michelle and Adrian. They’ve got an incredible business here employing locals and really giving back to their local community. It’s not just the produce, rural supplies side, but there’s a café, there’s a hairdresser, they’re a community post office and obviously a really significant hub and part of this local community.
The local farmers here rely on them to produce all of the goods and the inputs that they need to run a cane farm or to plant and harvest pineapples, run cattle, undertake their operations, their businesses, and this is a really integral part of the local community. So, really pleased that we’re able to come here this morning and Andrew is a great local member, he’s really well-connected into his local community and, as he says, people are really worried about just the input costs into his businesses, the doubling of electricity prices for small businesses. We had a Prime Minister who promised that he’d reduce electricity prices by $275 before the election. He promised it on 97 occasions and has never mentioned the figure – $275 – since, and he has now walked away from that promise.
The Prime Minister, before the election promised certainty around tax cuts so that small businesses like this and local families would have certainty in their budgets and yet now he seems to be in two minds as to whether those tax cuts will be honoured or not. There are lots of other input costs that are really putting the pressure on businesses and on families around the country. So, I’m really pleased that our tour continues. We’re leaving Mackay today to head up to Townsville and it’s been an opportunity to listen to the main concerns that people have on the ground.
I think a lot of people have been shocked by the Prime Minister reneging on – or on the cusp of reneging on – his promise on tax cuts. I notice there’s another government minister out today who is at odds: he’s saying that there’s going to be tax cuts, absolutely guaranteed, and that’s at odds though with what the Treasurer has said and indeed, what the Prime Minister has said. We don’t know whether the government’s honouring their election promises on tax cuts, just for this Budget, and it’ll be reversed in the next budget, or the budget after, and we need to hear definitively from the Prime Minister what it means. Because if they’re talking about breaking their election promise, Australians need to know, they need certainty in their own budgeting and in their own lives, that is very important. Happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, Australia is expected to sign up to Joe Biden’s global pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent over the decade. What’s your response to this?
Well, as a country, since 1990, we’ve been more successful than any other country in reducing our methane emissions and better than the United States. So, I don’t think this is an issue that we should take a lecture from any country on. The Coalition will not be applying a tax on cattle and if the Labor Party wants to, well, that’s something that they should explain. But again, it’s another broken promise, because the Prime Minister went to the election, looking farmers in the eyes, saying that there would be no new taxes and saying to them that they wouldn’t sign up to this plan and yet we find out now from Chris Bowen that the Labor Party is going to sign up to this plan, contrary to the commitment they gave before the election. So, if they continue to break promises on a weekly basis, I just don’t know how Australians can trust this government.
The situation is going to get more difficult over the next 12 months, farmers are going to have increased fuel costs, interest rates on their overdrafts and their mortgages will continue to go up under Labor. They’re going to have higher input costs, so fertilisers, the cost of urea, the cost of all of those input costs, as I mentioned before, continue to go up. If they’re now going to have to reduce their herd sizes, or there’s going to be a tax that’s put on them to do that, or to run their herd, their businesses become unviable and those jobs in those local communities will evaporate.
So, I think again, the Prime Minister needs to come out and to correct the position, because surely he can’t break such a core election promise that he made to farmers. Australia is one of the world leaders in terms of our environmental standards, our reduction in emissions, our reductions in methane output and I just don’t believe that the Prime Minister has credibility with the Australian farmers if he signs up to this.
[inaudible] actually say on May 6 that he was open to the pledge. So, he did sort of say that he was open to it at that time. So, it’s not directly correct to say that they’ve broken a promise, per se. But do you still hold concerns for Australia’s agriculture industry?
Australian farmers that I’ve spoken to are very clear on what Chris Bowen said through the election and they heard him say that this wasn’t going to be a tax on cattle. Now, the Labor Party, it seems, is signing up to a tax on cattle. That means a tax on food, because ultimately, consumers will have to pay for that. If you make businesses unviable, you not only destroy those jobs, there’s no net environmental benefit, because other countries will increase their herd sizes. The same methane will still be going into the atmosphere so there’s no net environmental outcome, all we do is kill off Australian jobs, drive up the price of food in our country – to what end? What are they trying to achieve here by making farming unproductive or driving people off the land? If Mr Bowen had have stated the position that he has now adopted and been clear about his position, instead of the mealy-mouthed words that he used, then I suspect there would be a lot of people in rural Australia that wouldn’t have supported the Labor Party. But they thought they heard Chris Bowen say that he wasn’t going to sign up to this, but now he is, and I think we need to call them out on it.
Just on AUKUS, former Prime Minister Paul Keating said the US is exceptionally ungrateful to allies like Australia and has urged the government to walk away from AUKUS security agreement. What’s your response to that?
Well look, I like Paul Keating, he’s a former prime minister, he deserves respect. But I mean, it does remind me of, sort of, Weekend at Bernies, when they wheel out Paul when he, sort of, wakes from his slumber on occasion and he comes out with these outbursts, particularly, generally, based around his hatred of the United States. Paul Keating speaks for a lot of people within the left and the Labor Party. They were dead against the deal that we did with the United States and the United Kingdom.
I’m incredibly proud to have been the Defence Minister, working with Scott Morrison at the time. We sealed the deal through AUKUS and it will provide the security underpinning for our country for the next four or five decades. The nuclear submarines, the work that we’re doing in space, in artificial intelligence, the sharing of information and intelligence was taken to a new level. In a very uncertain world, with what we’re seeing in Europe, what we’re seeing with China, in the South China Sea, Taiwan, we need to have strong and powerful friends like the United States and we need those agreements.
Paul Keating continues down his rant of wanting to break the relationship with the United States, to crush the Quad – but that’s not just his view. That is a growing view within the Labor Party and Anthony Albanese is a smart enough and tricky enough politician to make you believe that the Labor Party actually supports our alliance and our friendship with the United States. But I worry that there are a growing number of people within the Labor Party that would seek to do exactly what Paul Keating was advocating, it wouldn’t be in our country’s best interests and it’s why the AUKUS deal was never done by Labor. They never imagined that it could be done, they never fought for it, and we delivered it. We should implement it as quickly as possible because there’s a huge deterrence effect from any adversary that might seek to do harm to our people or to our country and the sooner we get those nuclear submarines off the US production line, the safer we will be as a country.
Richard Marles is flagging tighter security cooperation with PNG and other Pacific nations. Is that the right move, and should Australia be working closer with those countries?
We will support the government in sensible policies like that. I think it’s a very sensible move and it continues on from the work that we did when we were in government. So, the government has our rock-solid support in terms of these national security issues. But the thing that I worry about, though, is that Richard Marles has now been the Defence Minister for five months – all he’s done is make announcements, but not deliver on anything. It’s okay for him to be out there ordering reviews and having a retrospective look at different decisions that were made in the past – he’s the Defence Minister now and he needs to implement these things.
We also need to hear from Richard Marles about exactly what support the government has provided to Ukraine since May. Because, as Defence Minister, I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to provide over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of defence materiel and support, weapon systems, the Bushmasters etc, to Ukraine to help protect women and children against the slaughter that’s taking place there by President Putin. But, the government hasn’t been transparent about what has actually arrived in Ukraine since May and I think that’s an important question for Mr Marles to answer. I think there is a need for transparency in that process and it seems that they’re not prepared to provide that detail.
Australian families of Bali Bombings victims are outraged at the decision to show footage from the Sari Club at last night’s memorial service in Kuta. What is your response?
Well, I was really honoured to be at the memorial service in Coogee yesterday. I must say, I thought the Prime Minister and the Premier really delivered very salient words, I thought their speeches were excellent. I think it captured the sentiment. The work that Randwick Council did there, through the service this year – but every year since, over the course of last 20 years – was really to be commended.
I spoke to a number of families, listened to some of the loved ones who have lost their children, their loved ones, in that tragic bombing and there should be a level of sensitivity. So, I understand the concerns that people have and as you’d understand, as any of us as human beings, we can understand, the feeling, the raw emotion is still there. To lose a loved one – a boyfriend, girlfriend, a spouse, a son, daughter, a mum or dad, in that circumstance – you will live with that forever and you can understand the sensitivity and my hope, if there are lessons to be learnt, they are learnt. But from my experience yesterday, I think the footage I saw from Canberra, with former Prime Minister Howard speaking, I think it shows the level of respect that we have for those who are lost, for their family members, those who have been scarred and still live with those physical and mental scars since that horrendous bombing.
Ultimately, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia is as strong as it’s ever been. The counterterrorism work that we continue to do together, the joint operations, the exchange of intelligence, which has thwarted additional terrorist attacks – in Bali, here in Australia, and elsewhere – is something that those dreadful people who committed these acts on that night, in Bali, could never have imagined. They brought our two countries closer together and our two peoples closer together.
It’s the anniversary week of the Julia Gillard misogyny speech. What are your reflections on that speech now and is it time to consider gender quotas for the Liberal Party, especially in the wake of the Coalition’s election defeat?
Well, we’ve made comments in relation to the quota element in the past. I want to make sure that we can get more women and more people from diverse backgrounds into our Party and I think it’s fantastic as a country that we celebrate our Indigenous heritage, but we should also celebrate the migrant story of our country.
I was talking to Michelle’s mum here before, who tells an incredible story about her mum coming as a 19-year-old to our country from Malta and her dad travelled here as well as migrants with nothing. As you look around at many of these rural properties here in Northern Queensland – but true across the country – you’ve got incredible stories of people that came with a suitcase and started with nothing and have built up over two or three generations, wealth and their kids have been educated. There have been incredible success stories and I want to see more of those some success stories in our party, running in seats as well.
So, there’s a lot that we can learn internationally, but I’ll give you the example of Kristina Keneally being imposed into the seat, which ultimately, she lost. Anthony Albanese is able to do that because he can override the wishes of his branch members. I don’t have the authority to do that within the Liberal or National Party. Our members demand their vote and they have their vote at preselections and they vote for the candidate on their own values and their own issues that are important to them and that are what they want in a particular candidate. So, we’ve got two different systems to deal with.
It’s also more difficult for a small business owner, for example, to leave her business to run in a campaign for six weeks, to pay someone to work in the business that she’s left, hopes the business is still running when she gets back. If she loses the election, she’s probably in debt as a result of having run over the course of that campaign. If you’re a Labor candidate and you come from the local union, if you’re the local teachers union rep or local education union rep, you get a car, you get a mobile phone and paid for six weeks of full-time campaigning and if you lose, you go back to the job and nobody knows any different. It’s a very different model. Now, big business won’t support women and pay for women from the Liberal Party, whereas the industry super funds do that. There are differences and we’ve got to work through that – they’re the problems. I need to find the solutions to it. We’re embarking on that, but we’ll do that and I think that’s an important thing.
Thank you very much.