Subjects: Visit to the Northern Territory; floods; the government’s foreign affairs blunder; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; claims China is attempting to recruit ADF pilots; alcohol management in the NT; violence against women and children; proposed changes to industrial relations laws.
SENATOR JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
It’s been a wonderful couple of days showing our Opposition Leader Peter Dutton around the Northern Territory to the various different businesses, community groups, service providers, to make sure that we understand in Canberra, that my team understands in Canberra, what the issues are on the ground for Territorians to ensure that territorians have a voice in Canberra.
We’re here today at Tou’s Garden, which is a mango farm here in the top end, and listening to what are the sorts of challenges that they’re confronted with. We know that there’s a worker shortage across many different industries. It’s right throughout the country, and we’re trying to find solutions to this worker shortage.
We’ll be visiting a barra farm as well to see what’s going on there, what the challenges might be for the fisheries industry, certainly here in the Northern Territory, which is huge, but it has been a wonderful few days and I’m very grateful for Peter to be here, to be on the road, getting around the Northern Territory to understand better the need for terratorians.
I’ll hand it over to Peter now. Thank you.
Jacinta, thank you very much. I want to say thank you very much to all of the workers here who we’ve spoken to. Some from Timor who come down here, they work for a few months picking fruit that otherwise would be rotting on the trees and they remit that money back to their families. One of the workers we spoke to has a young son, and it really makes the difference between them being able to build a house and not. So there’s a huge benefit for our near neighbours and our dear friends, but also economically for our country.
It is tough for businesses like this to find the workers here domestically, particularly post COVID, where we haven’t had the return of backpackers and others and the beauty of the seasonal workers coming each year, means they’re not starting off a zero base, they don’t have to be trained up from a zero base when they come back each year, sequentially.
So, there’s a lot of work that we need to do, and the government needs to really listen to the industry, listen to agriculture, but not just this sector; it’s in tourism, in retail, right across the board. It doesn’t matter where in the territory you go, businesses are talking about the difficulty in finding and retaining staff. It was difficult in Alice, where there were stories of people leaving the community because of crime and law and order issues and the Territory government here needs to address that as a matter of urgency.
I wanted to touch on the situation in Victoria which obviously has taken a tragic turn overnight. Again, it’s a very difficult situation for families who are in their darkest hour, for farmers who are losing crops and huge values that they otherwise would have reaped out of their production, is now lost and the rebuild will be slow and it’ll be costly for them. So, we support the government – both at a federal and state level – in any assistance that is being provided there, and we think frankly, the government should be generous in what they’re offering because it’s not just a reconstruction of those homes and those farms, it’s also the infrastructure in local communities, including roads, etc. So that is a very important point to make.
Secondly of course, I’d just really recognise the work that the councils are doing, the emergency responders, all of those that are helping to evacuate, issue the warnings. Please heed those warnings and I really feel for people who are in a desperate situation. We’ve seen floods over the course of the last couple of years in particular in different parts of our country, and to see it now, in Victoria, is really heartbreaking. I want to lend every support we can to helping those people stay safe and then get through the next phase as well.
Happy to take any questions.
The US has said that it will still recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. How badly has the Australian Government handled this?
Well, I haven’t seen a bigger Foreign Affairs blunder in many years. This really is a very significant mistake that’s been made by Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese. They lied about it, they deceived people in relation to the decision making process. Obviously words went up on the website that they didn’t know about and their first response was to cover it up; and in doing so, they’ve just made a bad situation worse. To damage our relations with a very important partner and ally in Israel, is unforgivable, and I think the government really should be held to account for that.
The way in which Penny Wong instinctively reacted yesterday to somehow blame the Coalition, just showed how much she had to cover up, and her attacks were without any foundation whatsoever.
So, I think Anthony Albanese has made a major blunder here. I think Penny Wong has tripped over her own feet. It has damaged our relations with Israel, and that is deeply regrettable, to say the least. The sooner that the government is able to clean up this mess, the better.
Are you calling on the government to reverse their decision?
I don’t think they’re capable of doing that. I think they’ve just made a decision. The Coalition went to the election with a policy, which we stick with. We had deeply thought about the issue, it’s a vexed issue, and we took to the election a policy, we stick to that policy and people know – particularly our friends in Israel, and the community here in Australia – know that there is consistency in the approach and in the language from the Coalition and we won’t deviate from that.
From the government, you’ve seen again, effectively a broken promise. I mean they broke their promise on the $275 commitment to reduce power prices. They promised it on 97 occasions and they haven’t mentioned it since the election. They promised tax cuts and they’ve been toing and froing about whether they’d cut them or renege on that promise. Now we’re seeing a broken promise, a promise that they made to the Jewish community here in Australia, and they’re now breaking that promise as well. So, there’s a track record that is building for this Prime Minister and it’s not a good one.
For Anthony Albanese to damage our relationships with such an important partner and to send such conflicting messages to an important partner is really ham fisted, to say the least, and he should apologise for the way in which the government has mucked this up.
To announce it on a holiday, in a situation where the embassy here in Australia wasn’t even open, and that this hadn’t been conveyed in advance, I think is really quite farcical and Penny Wong should wear a lot of the responsibility as well.
Defence is investigating claims Bejing is attempting to recruit former and current ADF pilots to train their military. Can anything be done to stop this from happening?
Well firstly, they’re alarming reports. There is a lot of money that we invest into, particularly fighter pilots. Many of them are briefed in at a top secret level. So, the way in which they gained their skills was as a direct result of Australian Government, taxpayers assistance, to bring their skill up to that level.
Now, of course, if they perform such an act, if they worked with an adversary or with another country to share those secrets whilst they were employed in the Australian Defence Force, then that would be a very serious breach of the law and my call today is on Richard Marles the Defence Minister to introduce legislation to deal with this issue.
If there is a hole in the legislation now, the Coalition will support a change which will tighten it up because in the current environment, where the government says that we are living in a more uncertain or at least the most uncertain time since the Second World War, we can’t allow our secrets and our methodologies to be handed over to another country, and particularly not China under President Xi.
So, if there is legislation required, we will support that. If the government is not minded to introduce the legislation, then the Coalition will introduce that legislation into the parliament, which should make it an offence for Australian Defence Force personnel serving or post their separation to disseminate that information to countries where they are not authorised to do so.
The government’s due to have a strategic review of defence handed to them on the 1st of November. Should that review be considering shifting more of our defence resources to the top end of Australia where we are more likely to be involved in conflict?
Yes, it should, absolutely. There should be a greater concentration of assets and investment in the North. When we were in government, it was one of our key priorities to strengthen our responses in the North.
More Australians should learn about the bombings of Darwin and understand the proximity, the geography and the reality of what it means to defend a vast coastline and waterways to our north, and to the northeast and northwest.
There are very significant investments that are required, and again, I hope that the government can take money out of Canberra and put it into the north, because that gives us the best chance of deterrence against any adversary. We had worked very closely with the Americans and with the Brits, and with other allies, to make sure that that investment in the Northern Territory, in WA, in Queensland was a reality, because we need to strengthen our defences on our approaches.
Did you hear of anything like this happening during your time as Defence Minister?
The only comment I’d make in relation to that – because obviously they are sensitive issues – in relation to operations that ASIO would have conducted for example, in relation to espionage matters or countering foreign interference – is not something I would comment on publicly – but suffice to say it’s something ASIO had an interest in, and making sure that they could identify problems – and again, that’s why we put more funding into ASIO. If ASIO requires more support to police this, and to make sure that it’s not a regular occurrence, then we would certainly support that.
The government yesterday announced it wants to end domestic violence within a generation. You’ve been spending some time with Jacinta in and around the Northern Territory. I’m sure she’s informed you of the issues, particularly when it comes to domestic violence, involving Aboriginal women. Is that a realistic goal considering the rates of domestic violence we’re seeing Aboriginal women in the territory in particular face?
Well, it’s an incredible challenge, but it’s one that we should dedicate ourselves to, and there should be a bipartisan position on it, and there is.
I spent my years as a police officer in many areas, I went to many instances of domestic violence and I can tell you those images stay with you – screaming kids, bloodied scenes, crime scenes, horrific scenarios – and I will do everything within my power to support the government and when we win the election in 2025, to dedicate our government to ending this scourge of domestic violence.
Jacinta can talk more about it, particularly in Northern Territory, but the accounts that we heard from indigenous women in town camps and elsewhere within Alice yesterday, and the day before, are harrowing, and kids are being sexually abused and in circumstances where kids are being left in that environment, and kids are repeatedly being abused – not just physically, but sexually as well – that is a very deeply concerning element and it’s not something that we can pretend is not happening.
Some of the accounts that we heard in Alice, frankly, if we heard that in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, let alone Canberra, there would be outrage, and it would be across the front pages of every newspaper. I want to see more being done, particularly in the Northern Territory. Jacinta’s really at the forefront of arguing for an end to that violence, so I might ask Jacinta to say a few words.
JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
Thank you Peter. Look, I think it’s really important that the government understands that it’s not just about throwing money at a situation, that it’s about supporting those service providers that are being effective on the ground. That at the grassroots level, that money is creating outcomes. The sorts of outcomes that they’re aiming for and understanding that – particularly in the indigenous space – that there are a lot of service providers that service the entire community, that don’t necessarily tick the ‘indigenous box’ but are just as important as other services, but given the fact that we have a 30 per cent indigenous population in the Northern Territory, that’s really important going forward.
I think it’s really important to understand all the factors contributing to domestic violence. It’s okay to continue to run the line of colonisation and racism, but there are a great deal of other underlying factors that contribute to domestic and family violence, particularly within the indigenous community. You know, when we have matters of payback, which are cultural matters that instigate violence that continue to ingrain the violence, the acceptance of that level of violence, we have to recognise those as contributing factors if we want to be effective about stopping it within the indigenous community and that takes leadership from within indigenous communities as well.
So, if this government is prepared to encourage more leadership from remote indigenous communities, then I think that’s a good step forward, but there’s a whole deal of factors that I think have largely been ignored, certainly by bureaucracies, about what are the clausal factors around domestic and family violence, particularly in indigenous communities. As well as the alcohol issue, which is huge in the Northern Territory. It’s why I’m drafting this bill to put the handbrake back on alcohol being available to those vulnerable remote communities until such time as a territory government actually creates the right measures. Puts the right frameworks in place to effectively deal with alcohol in vulnerable communities, that we know is a driving factor for alcohol related violence within the Northern Territory.
But I’m very grateful that Peter has been able to see and hear firsthand from individuals within town camps, within communities, who understand what’s going on, on the ground, and has also come to discover that all community members want positive change going forward, whether that’s business owners, community members, service providers, everybody wants for the betterment of all people in the Northern Territory.
Do you have any concerns about the proposed changes to industrial relations laws?
Look, I’m deeply concerned for businesses who will bear the brunt of pattern bargaining. This is a wishlist from the unions and it’s going to result in a higher unemployment rate, and it’s going to result in higher wages which will be passed on to consumers at a time when they can’t afford.
This government said they had a plan to address cost of living pressures. All they’re doing at the moment is adding to that and I think people in business, and workers should be very concerned about this union agenda.
Thank you very much.