26 June 2023
Subjects: Cost-of-living crisis in WA; additional military support for Ukraine; the Prime Minister’s divisive Canberra Voice; Labor’s failure to deliver cheaper childcare for Australian families.
Thank you for coming along today. I’m Kate O’Hara, CEO of Foodbank WA, and I’d like to thank the team from the Liberal Party who have joined us today, particularly to Leader of the Opposition Mr Dutton, and his colleagues that have an interest in seeing a result out of the work we do, which is really trying to deal with cost of living pressures in the services we provide in food relief, nutrition, education and advocacy for those in need.
There is real hardship in community and we’re seeing the numbers increase significantly since COVID. With every interest rate rise, we’re seeing a growth in the demand for our food relief services. June is looking like having an average of 770 people through our network of six branches, nearly 60 mobile stops per week, and it hasn’t even got to the cliff. There’s much to do to support West Australians in need, and I welcome their interest and their enthusiasm for seeing just how Foodbank WA operates. Thank you all.
Kate, thank you for your time today, but in particular, on behalf of the federal Liberal WA team, it is fantastic to have the Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton back on the ground with us in Western Australia. It is a full three-day visit that we have for Peter, but very much focused on the cost of living crisis that all Australians, but also Western Australians, are currently experiencing and that was really highlighted today when we toured Foodbank.
Just in relation to the breakfast program, last year 501 schools signed up for the breakfast program. We’re not even at half-year’s end in June and already Foodbank have signed up their 501st school. We’ve heard about the increase – literally hundreds and hundreds of extra families – who just cannot afford that weekly shop that are now coming to Foodbank so they have that food to eat.
We’ve heard that so many Western Australians haven’t even reached that mortgage cliff yet. That’s not going to happen until later on this year. We know what happens when you reach that mortgage cliff, again, you could be having to find $1,000 extra per month. You get to choose between paying your house off and eating.
I say shame on Mr Albanese because Mr Albanese, he made so many promises to the Australian people prior to the election. He said that under his government he would tackle inflation. Well, guess what? He’s tackling it and inflation is winning.
He said that under his government he would tackle interest rates, and yet what we are hearing time and time again, every time one of those interest rate increases hits the market, guess what? People spending capacity, it again reduces. We heard about Mr Albanese prior to the election saying ‘under my government I’ll give you $275 and I’ll lower your electricity bill’. Well, as we all know, electricity prices and energy costs, they are literally killing families and small businesses.
So it is great to have Peter Dutton on the ground with us here in Western Australia actually listening to what Western Australians need. We’re at a flower distributor this morning, lack of labour – they cannot get access to pickers. If they can’t pick their flowers, they go to waste, they don’t go to market; but also we heard in relation to their freight costs, the rising costs of doing business under the Albanese Government is really starting to hurt.
So Peter again, on behalf of the Western Australian team, it is fantastic to have you on the ground here, but more than that, out and about with us listening, listening to what Western Australians need.
As the Assistant Shadow Minister for Charities, can I extend a very warm thanks and appreciation to Kate and to Ian and to all of the staff and volunteers here at Foodbank.
Charities are the coalface of the cost of living crisis in our country, but let’s reflect, that charities had already been doing an enormous amount of work in our communities, responding to natural disasters, responding to the COVID pandemic, and now on top of that, a cost of living crisis, which is different from previous cost of living challenges.
As Michaelia has said, the cost of living challenge now is affecting a new group of people, and we heard from Kate and others about the working poor. In the period 2020 to 2021 40,000 first-home buyers took out interest rate loans at record low levels. In January 2021, 2,500 first-home buyers. As we know that mortgage cliff is yet to come, and it’s the first-home buyers in our outer suburbs in the north, in the south, in the east, that will feel the cost of living pressures more acutely as they also start to meet those increased mortgage payments.
The cost of living pressure crisis in our country is different from previous challenges. Charities like Foodbank are at the coalface of that and we extend our appreciation and support – not just for the paid workers – but especially, for all the volunteers, because we know an increase in demand for services at a time when Australians are finding it harder to find that extra dollar to give to charities, at a time when people are in the workforce meeting their mortgage repayments, perhaps even having less time to volunteer for important causes like Foodbank. So on behalf of us all, thank you very much to Kate, Ian and to others
Thanks Dean. Well Kate, firstly, I just want to say thank you very much to you for having us here today to Foodbank. Just an incredible staff and volunteers here who are trying to make a difference in the lives of people who are increasingly doing it tougher and tougher. It’s a sad reality in our country that we need to provide support to, as you pointed out before, many hundreds of people each week, tipping over 1,000 in some weeks, and the numbers continue to climb, and the cost of living crisis really is a reality for many, many Australians.
I want to say thank you very much to Linda Reynolds and to Michaelia Cash, to Dean Smith and to Slade Brockman for being here on the visit this morning. They know Foodbank, they’ve been supportive of the organisation for a long period of time.
There are a lot of generous Australians across the country and I just say to those people, if you think about making a donation to a company, to an organisation, that is making a huge difference in the lives of people and their children, then please consider Foodbank before the end of the financial year. It goes a long way. Every dollar that you provide, provides support and food into the mouths of people that otherwise would go hungry.
So I want to say thank you for all of the volunteers here in Foodbank. It’s a remarkable brand across the country. It needs to be in more destinations, but I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to see here this morning.
I wanted to start just by commenting – saying a few words in relation to the passing of Simon Crean. I think all Australians were shocked by Simon’s passing over the weekend and I send my condolences, heartfelt condolences, to Carole his wife and to his children and his broader family and of course, to the Labor family as well.
Simon was somebody that we worked closely with when he was in the Parliament. He was a leader of the Labor Party and he was a very decent human being, a very honourable person. You could shake hands with Simon and you knew that he would honour his word. I had a great deal of respect for him and I’m very saddened and shocked by his passing.
I caught up with him in Melbourne only a couple of months ago. He was a fit bloke. His family will be traumatised and shocked by his passing and I send my best wishes to all those that knew him and loved him. He’s a very significant Australian. He’s a big loss for our country, for the Labor movement, and he was a champion of the Labor Party – very proud of his time as leader – and very proud of his time as the ACTU President, so we mark that today.
The government’s made an announcement this morning in relation to further assistance for Ukraine. There are more questions here than answers really at the moment. We have the Prime Minister saying that Defence would have to find the money to provide this additional support to Ukraine. The Defence Minister saying no defence is going to have to absorb that from their budget.
We know that the Labor Party took about a billion and a half dollars out of the defence budget in the most recent budget in May, and we know that Defence has provided a lot of assistance so far, but they can’t continue to do it from existing resources. They need additional support from the government and this has taken too long and is too little in terms of what’s being provided to Ukraine.
We’ve seen the insanity of President Putin for a long period of time now. Innocent men, women and children are being slaughtered in Ukraine. I was very proud that when we were in government, we provided significant support, including the Bushmasters, because that’s what President Zelenskyy had requested.
President Zelenskyy, along with his military advisers, know exactly what’s required on the ground to have a fighting chance of defeating Putin and his forces. President Zelenskyy is now asking for Hawkeis and other equipment, and the government hasn’t provided it. And, frankly, they should get on with it and provide that support because if they don’t, lives will be lost. So I hope that they can do that as quickly as possible.
It’s welcome news, the High Court finding in relation to the Russian who had occupied the site in Canberra. The government’s position, which we strongly supported, has been upheld in the High Court and that Russian diplomat has now gone from the site – that’s a welcome thing. We should always act in our country’s best interests and where we receive advice from the security agencies, it should be adhered to.
We will work hand-in-glove with the government to make sure that our equities are safe and secure and I welcome very much the departure of this diplomat, if that’s who he was, and I think it should be a very clear message to all state actors and people who are in our country, particularly those in diplomatic missions, they’re here to advance the relationship and the causes of our respective countries. Acting outside the law is totally and completely unacceptable and I’m pleased that he’s left that site now and hopefully the government can get on with applying it to another purpose.
I’m happy to take any questions.
What should happen to that site now?
Well, that’s an issue for the government. I hope that, just given the security sensitivities around that site, that they’re able to make sure that it’s a site that gives us greater assurances around our security, not less.
The security package to Ukraine, as well as including the Hawkeis, should it have been bigger as well?
Of course it should have been bigger. I can’t understand what the government’s doing here, what the hesitation, or reluctance is. Many other countries, including the Brits and Canada, European nations, are providing significant support. The last thing that we want from our Prime Minister is for him to lose interest in what’s happening in Ukraine. If we do that, and we’re not there hand-in-hand with the Ukrainians over the long run, the Russians will just be there until they exhaust the efforts of the West.
We need to stare down what’s happening in Ukraine. We need to stand up for our values, for our beliefs and our fight for democracy. If we stand by Ukraine only for a limited period of time, if there’s an expiry date, then we won’t get the outcome that we want, for the Russian forces to leave Ukraine, and for the Ukrainian people to be free and able to get back to their lives again.
[Inaudible] number beyond $110 million? And how long can the Australian people, how long do they have the appetite to support this [inaudible]?
As long as we have a belief in democracy and as long as we have a belief in standing up for humanity. Australia is an important international player. We’re a middle level power and not the size of the UK or the US, but we can significantly contribute and we’ve done that. The provision of the Bushmasters was at the request of the Ukrainian President and it’s provided a real and tangible benefit on the ground. If President Zelenskyy is now asking for Hawkeis, they should be provided because that will give them the best chance of defeating President Putin.
Does the federal government need to cut spending to bring down inflation, and if so, where?
Well, I’m concerned, as we’ve heard today, that there are an increasing number of Australian families who just can’t afford to pay their rent, or pay their mortgage, pay an increased cost in their insurance bill – every bill in their budget is going up under this government – and yet the Prime Minister promised on 97 occasions, before the election, that power prices would go down by $275.
Now, he hasn’t mentioned that figure once since being elected. We’ve had two budgets now, and the decisions made by the government have actually made it worse and harder for families and for small businesses. As we’ve seen here today at Foodbank, here in WA, but in many other parts of the country, people are struggling to put food on the table.
It’s going to get worse by most predictions over the course of the next 12 months. Heaven forbid, if we have another increase in interest rates off the back of this bad budget because families can’t afford another 25 or 50 point increase by the Reserve Bank – and the Reserve Bank doesn’t have any choice – they respond to the prevailing economic conditions.
I’ll tell you what gives it away is that Australia has a higher core inflation rate than every G7 nation except for the United Kingdom. So, this is not inflation that’s coming out of Europe, or out of Ukraine, or out of the Kremlin – it’s coming out of Canberra. The policies that governments make can be beneficial to a society, to an economy, or they can be a drag, and unfortunately the decisions made by this government – and some that they haven’t made – are making a bad situation worse for families. Every prediction is that under Labor interest rates will stay higher for longer at a time when families just can’t afford that.
Where should they [inaudible] cut spending?
Well, they’re the government. They’ve got two budgets now that they’ve delivered, and they’ve put an extra hundred $185 billion into the economy. They’ve got a union movement that’s happy – but really it could only be the union movement in the country that’s better off today than they were 12 months ago – because they get every wish-list item. Every time the Labor Party comes into power, the unions get what they want, but the workers miss out, and families miss out, and small businesses miss out and I think there are a lot of Australians now saying I was much better off 14, 18 months ago, than I am now under this Labor Government after 12 or 14 months.
Three days here in WA Mr Dutton, will you be meeting and making any public appearances with your WA counterparts here, the WA Liberal Leader?
Well, I caught up with Libby in Canberra last week –I think she’s down south at the moment – but we’ve got a busy day of federal electorates and I’m very happy to catch up with Libby. I think she’s doing a great job and we’ll work hand-in-glove with the WA Liberals because we need to defeat a bad state government and we need to make sure that we put as much pressure on both state Labor and federal Labor because at the moment they’re letting Australians down.
Why do you think it’s a bad state government?
I think there’s a few examples that you can look at. If you look at the way in which they just take, I think, the mining sector for granted in this state. The Labor Party on the east coast sees the resource sector in WA as a milking-cow for pet projects in safe Labor seats.
I don’t think the sector should be taken for granted. I don’t think they should be bogged down in processes and I think that, frankly, we should be liberating the mining sector, the resources sector here, in my home state in Queensland, in New South Wales, elsewhere, so that we can get a reduction in prices.
You see the problem is at the moment, the Prime Minister’s taken decisions to decrease the amount of gas that’s available into the system – which of course has driven the prices up – and that doesn’t just have an impact on your gas bill, but also on your electricity bill and every element of the supply chain at the moment.
We were down in the Yarra Valley the other day, the strawberry growers there are paying more for their energy-intensive fertilisers – so that price has gone up. They’re paying more for their cold rooms because under this government energy prices have gone up. They’re paying more for the glass jars, 20 cents more each jar – all of that cost is being passed on to consumers. So this is why when you go to the supermarket, you pay more and more for less and less.
There are decisions that Labor make that just aren’t in the best interests of the economy, because none of them have ever run a business. They all come from the union movement and families and small businesses end up paying the price.
Does today’s Newspoll about the declining support for the Voice make you feel confident that you’ve made the right decision, as a Party, to oppose it?
Well, I believe that we’ve made a decision that’s in the best interests of our country. Every Australian wants to see a better outcome for Indigenous Australians. We were in Laverton not too long ago, in Leonora, in Alice Springs, up in East Arnhem Land, we’ve been speaking to a lot of Indigenous leaders.
I wrote to the Prime Minister in January and I asked 15 pretty basic questions and I think they’re questions that millions of Australians are asking of the government right now – those questions have never been answered. The Prime Minister has a deliberate strategy not to provide detail to the Australian public and, as we know, the design of the Voice doesn’t start until after the vote, which is without precedent. That’s never happened in 120 years of putting a constitutional question to the people, that we haven’t had a constitutional convention and we haven’t had the detail properly provided to the Australian public.
So, I don’t think it’s any wonder that Australians are saying, ‘sure, I want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, but why won’t the PM explain it to me?’ And ‘why is the PM yelling at me that I’m not smart enough to understand it, or that I’m racist because I don’t support the Voice?’ That’s a nonsense approach.
There are many big-hearted Australians who want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians at the moment, but are really looking at the detail and wondering why the Prime Minister’s keeping that detail from them.
Do you think the Prime Minister should postpone or pull the Voice referendum altogether?
Well, I think until the Prime Minister can explain properly what the Voice is, it shouldn’t proceed. There’s bipartisanship support at the moment for constitutional recognition. We would have 80 or 90 per cent support across the country for constitutional recognition. That is the right and decent thing to do, and I’d sit down with the Prime Minister tomorrow to work that up, to put it to the Australian public in October; but the Australian public is not ready for the Voice because the Prime Minister hasn’t given them the detail, and Australians won’t vote for something they don’t understand.
I believe, very strongly, that the Voice could be legislated, that you could have local and regional voices – which is exactly what Calma-Langton recommended in their report – you could demonstrate that to the Australian public and then potentially have the question sometime down the track; but at the moment, there is support for constitutional recognition, there’s not support for the Voice, and a Canberra-based Voice with academics telling people what they should be doing is just not going to work.
I think the Prime Minister needs to take responsibility here if, as he says, this goes to a referendum in October and it goes down, and reconciliation is set back; well he does that knowingly because the polls are consistent at the moment. It’s not just Newspoll, it’s not just the Fairfax polls, it’s every poll that’s indicating that Australians are losing faith in what the Prime Minister’s proposing.
The Prime Minister’s Voice is not going to get up when he won’t deliver the basic detail and won’t take the Australian public into his trust to explain what it is that this is about. It’s a new chapter in our Constitution, in our nation’s rulebook, is the biggest change proposed to that document in our country’s history and that the Prime Minister would deliberately keep detail from the Australian public is quite remarkable.
You mentioned not wanting to bog down the resources sector, do you have any concerns about the impact of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act here in WA on resources and industry more broadly?
Well, I have enormous concern, and I hope that the Premier can reconsider the position of the previous Premier. I think this is going to have an impact on families and on businesses in a very significant way and there’s a lot of uncertainty still about what it means and how much it will cost. I think the Premier needs to listen to the WA public and I think there are a lot of concerns out there at the moment about how this will function, how it will work, etc. and none of those answers have been forthcoming.
Do you think this Act is a bit of a gift to the No campaign here in WA?
Well, I think the government here in WA, and frankly in Canberra, has to have a responsibility to do what’s in their best interests – either in the best interests of WA, or in the Prime Minister’s case, in the best interests of our country – and if you’re bogging processes down, if you make it more expensive…it’s dividing the country, it’s not unifying the country.
As I said before, in constitutional recognition, it’s a unifying moment for our country – as it was in 1967 – and that’s the opportunity the Prime Minister has here at the moment. Don’t divide a community, unite a community. We’re proposing that you’re better off to unite than divide, and unfortunately at the moment, Labor is taking every decision to really cause a lot of friction within the community and I think it’s unwarranted.
Cheaper childcare for families kicks in next week, do you think it’s going to [inauble] families?
Well, it’s not going to be cheaper is it? Because as we know this government gives with one hand and takes with the other. The government is not increasing real wages, because inflation’s so high as a result of the policies that they’ve implemented in their two failed budgets.
The circumstances have got harder for families, not easier under the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can say, well, childcare is going to be cheaper, but the Prime Minister also says that energy is cheaper – now I challenged him to point out a suburb in the country or an Australian who has a cheaper power bill today, than they did 12 or 14 months ago –it doesn’t exist.
I wouldn’t take the Prime Minister at face value when he says that childcare is going to be cheaper. There’s a lot of upward pressure in the economy at the moment. The childcare centre that’s running an air-conditioning unit all day, that has fridges and cold rooms, all of that additional cost as a result of the government’s energy policy – and their blind pursuit of a renewable policy – that’s all going to be passed on to parents.
So that’s what fuels inflation and that’s why inflation is always higher under Labor, and inflation fuels interest rates, which is why interest rates are always more expensive under Labor. I fear that those families, unfortunately, are not going to get the cost relief that they crave. All right. Thank you very much.