Subjects: Visit to the Northern Territory; AFL; floods; Jacinta Price’s private senator’s bill on alcohol management in the NT; Indigenous Voice to Parliament; Middle Arm Sustainable Development Precinct; the government’s scrapping of the Cashless Debit Card; cost of living pressures on Australian families; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Israel.
SENATOR JACINTA NAMPIJINPA PRICE:
I’m very pleased to have our Opposition Leader Peter Dutton here today. We’ve spent the last couple of days in Alice Springs, in and around Alice springs. Yesterday we visited some locals on the ground, talked to community groups, spoke to people in town camps, community members of town camps about their circumstances, what’s going on in their lives, what their needs are. We talked about a range of issues concerning those individuals, but today we’re here at the wonderful Yipirinya Primary School. Prior to the election, I secured a commitment of $8.3 million to support this school to build accommodation that would take care of staff and students.
Students at this school are vulnerable individuals from surrounding town camp areas and they have some very difficult lives and challenges within their lives, and this school does a great job to ensure that they’re catering to their needs. I think it’s a really important commitment that I’m calling on the Albanese government to ensure is honoured because it speaks to a wide range of issues that we’re confronted with. In this community, we have an issue of crime, youth who are on the streets late at night. Part of this accommodation would support those families, those youth, to focus on an education in a holistic setting that supports them. It’s been wonderful today speaking to the children, seeing them in their classrooms, learning Arrernte, Luritja, Warlpiri, the languages that are important to them and being able to share some really lovely moments with myself and Peter today. So, I’ll now hand it over to Peter.
Jacinta, thank you very much. Look it’s great to be in Alice Springs again today. I want to say thank you to all the staff here at school – Bec and Bess have shown us around. It’s just an amazing environment where the volunteers, the teachers, have just given so much of their own time and their own lives to the children and the students here.
As Jacinta rightly pointed out, kids with a varied experience and background and day-to-day life and the experience here both in terms of language, but also the normal curriculum that you would find in schools around the country otherwise, acknowledging and identifying lots of talents within those young kids. It’s a really special place and we committed $8.3 million – as Jacinta pointed out. We remain committed to that because the accommodation would be a game changer here at the school. It would provide kids with a further opportunity to continue their studies, to make sure that the engagement in school continues on, and it’s about choice for communities, for families and for the teachers and students here, as well. So, I just want to say thank you very much to the staff for being so accommodating here and the kids that we’ve spent time with are fantastic.
Thank you very much to Dr Sonja Hood as well from the North Melbourne Football Club who gave us a good kit bag to hand out. Maybe or maybe not some converts to North Melbourne, but we’ll see, we’ll see. A few Collingwood supporters there, I noted. No Brisbane Lions supporters unfortunately, but life goes on!
So, a couple of things. Last night, we had – as Jacinta pointed out – the opportunity to go through and speak with some of the residents in the local town camps. Some pretty confronting stories about violence, about what’s happening in those communities, but also some stories that we should be celebrating more than what we do in this country – about parents educating their children, providing a stable environment, really an incredible story that they have. An inspiration to their own family groups and to their community. So, I really want to say thank you very much to all of those that we were able to meet with last night.
It’s also very tough, of course, for many Australians at the moment, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, but also in Tasmania. Floods in some places are starting to recede and others are continuing to rise, and I want to acknowledge the work of the Australian Defence Force, of the police, the emergency services – all of those who’ve been involved in rescues or responses, providing support to people who are isolated, or dropping food packages – it’s incredible work and we should be very proud as a country of the work that they’re doing.
But people are in their darkest hour. They do need the support. They’re getting the support of all of the local councils. Obviously, they’ve gone through a lot of planning to respond to a natural disaster of this nature and we will continue to provide whatever support we can to the government in their response.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, do you support Senator Price’s private member’s bill to reinstate stronger futures measures across the NT?
Yes, I do. I don’t think you could find somebody who’s more connected with her local community, somebody who understands the practical response that’s required on the ground to provide support. There are many people that we’ve spoken to over the last 48 hours, who have really been concerned about the abuse of alcohol, the implications of the over-use, and people who become addicted, people who are committing crimes as a result of their intoxication – particularly in violence against women. Jacinta is a person who, in her own family, understands this, understands it in her own community, and I’m incredibly proud – not just of the work that she’s doing, but the respect that people have demonstrated to her on the ground. She really is a great colleague, a dear friend, but a very effective senator and somebody who has rolled her sleeves up and listened to the concerns and I think that’s represented in the bill and the work that she’s doing otherwise.
There’s reports it’s increasingly unlikely that the Liberal Party will reach a united position on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. What’s your position on this issue?
Well, as you know, like across society, there are a range of views in our party room. I suspect it’s true in the caucus of the Labor Party as well. I’ve said that I want to listen respectfully to the arguments, and we’ll arrive at a position when the party room is at the mind to settle our position and we’ll announce that in due course. One of the things, though, that I think is worth noting, is that we still don’t have any further detail from the Prime Minister, since the famous press conference. It’s ok to stand up with international sports stars, but Australians deserve to understand even the most basic detail. When the Prime Minister promised originally that people could vote on the Saturday, and they’d get the detail on the Monday. Well, of course that was a ridiculous position, and frankly, it put the cause back further than what the Prime Minister would’ve wanted, I suspect. The fact is that Australians, if they’re going to make a decision one way or the other – to support or not support – they need all of the detail available. At the moment that is obviously not on display and all I’d repeat is my call for the Prime Minister to give more detail to the Australian public so that the most basic questions can be answered.
I’ve met with one of the mining companies in Canberra recently. They have a settled relationship with the elders in their community. They employ the elders into the business, and they put a lot of money back into the local community and really, they’re the lifeblood of that local economy, and we don’t know what the Voice would mean if it was in conflict with the voice of the local elders.
I was on Palm Island last week, where the people we spoke to on the ground there said, ‘well sounds okay, but as long as the voice is coming from Palm Island’, they didn’t want the voice from Townsville to represent them. So, we need all of these questions answered by the Prime Minister, and so far, we haven’t seen any of the detail.
During the election campaign you alluded to a second port being built in Darwin, which could be used for defence purposes. Do you concede now that that was irresponsible?
In what way?
To promise this second port?
But in what way was it irresponsible, though?
I was just sent these questions.
Ok, sorry. So look, I think the point is that we live in the most uncertain time since the Second World War. Now Labor’s recognised that – they’re late to the game, that’s fine, they’ve now received the briefings now that they’re in government. They were critical of comments we made in relation to this being an uncertain period, our concerns about what was happening in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea, on the land border between China and India and many other facts that we raised.
Now, we’ve been consistent in our position. My desire as Defence Minister, as Opposition Leader, is to make sure that our country is making the right decisions to keep our country safe. For the first time, again, since the Second World War, there is a conversation in our country about how you would defend our homeland. That wasn’t the case over the last 20 years, obviously, in the Middle East where we’ve been engaged with our allies. It wasn’t the case through the Korean War or the Vietnam War, or during the Cold War, for example. We’re in a very uncertain period, and you’re seeing that play out in China at the moment, where the words of President Xi himself should be noted. Nobody needs to have a wild imagination for that.
So, I think we should explore all options that give us the ability to keep our people safe. Darwin suffered a particular attack that many Australians should learn more about during the course of the Second World War. I think anything we can do to bolster our defences in the north is important. As a government, we put more and more money into that project, particularly the AUKUS deal with the United States and United Kingdom. There is a big element of that which will see a greater presence in the north, on top of the Marines that are already stationed or based there and we want to continue that. So, we’ll support good policy and I don’t think we should be afraid to speak up in favour of keeping our country safe and defending us and our values and our principles, our rule of law – our value of the international rule of law – which is particularly important to in the current climate as well.
Should the federal government go ahead with funding the $1.5 billion Middle Arm gas export infrastructure in Darwin, when the future of the gas supplied from the Beetaloo Basin and offshore gas project both look uncertain long term?
Well, we certainly support infrastructure investment into the Northern Territory. Beetaloo obviously, is an incredibly important project, which we identified when we were in government. When you look at the prospect of the amount of gas in reserve there. Labor has us on a course, at the moment which is going to see us go down the European path.
Now I want to be very clear with Australians. The Australian Labor Party went to the last election with a promise to reduce power prices by $275. The Prime Minister promised it on 97 occasions, and has not mentioned it since. So, this is about energy security. It’s about how we keep the lights on: when we’re seeing rationing going on in Germany, when we’re seeing huge power price spikes in the UK, when we’re seeing problems across Europe. I don’t want us as a country to go down that path. I want us to have emissions reductions in a responsible way. I want to see households able to turn the air conditioner on during the course of summer, particularly pensioners. I want to see a situation where people can afford to pay their power bills in households and businesses.
So, we need to access additional gas, we need to make that investment, and we were clear about that in government. We’ve been consistent for many years now, and I worry the path Chris Bowen is taking us down is going to see power prices go up and up and up, and we’re going to see unreliability coming into the network, which is not something any business or any family wants to see.
Are you concerned about Alice Springs’ international image given the recent article in the Times highlighting crime in the region?
Well, I want to be part of the solution here in the Alice Springs, which is why we are here and it’s why somebody like Jacinta Price has an incredible contribution to make to the solution here. We need to listen to Indigenous people on the ground. We’ve done that over the course of the last couple of days and I want to continue that conversation. As I say, Jacinta is incredibly well connected into her local community. She understands the concerns that people have. She lives in the community, sees her neighbours, her family members, members within the community suffering as victims of crime and so why wouldn’t you listen to that voice of experience and that’s what we’ll continue to do. I want practical outcomes and solutions. I know that in many cases, it’s a tough job for police, for security services on the ground – alcohol plays a big role. It’s why it completely bewilders me that the Labor government – despite the successes of the card – are wanting to abolish a programme that worked very effectively on the ground, and it’s beyond me why for ideological reasons, and to try and please people in Sydney and Melbourne, they would abolish a card that was effective and with its abolition, we will see a spike in crime, unfortunately.
The federal government has revised the former Morrison Government’s decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What do you make of that?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing, I won’t be taking a lecture from the Labor Party when it comes to Israel. Tanya Plibersek – a senior minister in the government – has described Israel as a “rogue state”. When you look at the various comments from different Labor members over a long period of time, they are completely at odds with what Mr Albanese might be saying publicly. We have been a strong supporter as a country of Israel for many decades, since the 1960s, as you know, we’ve recognised Israel, we were the first to do so and that is a history that we should be very proud of and that has been led by the Liberal Party. The engagement with Israel is important and we will continue that because they are dear friends and allies in many ways, against many enemies around the world and we’ll continue to support the incredible diaspora community here in Australia. So, I certainly won’t be taking lectures from the Labor Party when it comes to the relationship with Israel.
Why should West Jerusalem remain the capital of Israel?
Well again, we took a policy to the last election, we will make an announcement about our policy in the run-up to the next election. But Penny Wong, out there at the moment, looking for a distraction away from what, I think, increasingly is looking like a budget that doesn’t have a plan they promised for cost of living pressures that families are facing now. Frankly, it’s as ham-fisted as we saw Richard Marles attempt to try and throw journalists off the scent. You see some of the proposed spending cuts that the government’s leaking at the moment, why wouldn’t they want to distract from that? Because, it would be a disaster for local communities including here in the Territory.
Just finally, the Treasurer is warning the floods will result in people paying more for their groceries. Is there any particular policy that can reduce the impact for people?
Well, I’d just say this to Dr Chalmers. I mean, Dr Chalmers gained his doctorate by studying Paul Keating of all people – a shocking Treasurer in the end, and he was a Chief of Staff to Wayne Swan, possibly Australia’s worst ever Treasurer. So, I hope that he’s able to shake all of that baggage off him because at the moment, he’s talking down the Australian economy, when the Australian economy is very strong and the fundamentals of our economy with a 50 year low unemployment rate, decisions that we’ve made over the course of the last nine years under a Coalition which have strengthened our economy, will see us through some difficult times over the next year or two.
Now, events always come along. In our country, we’ve always had to deal with natural disasters. There’s always a cost impact, there’s always a price shock, particularly of farmers and the devastation that farmers are experiencing with crop loss at the moment – that shouldn’t be underestimated, and that will flow through, but we see that when we have a drought, when we have fires, when we have floods. That’s the nature of the country in which we live.
The Treasurer will have all of those assumptions in his budget but him constantly talking down the economy, I don’t think we’ll go into recession in our country. I certainly don’t want us to because lots of families will hurt unnecessarily. It seems on everything you read and see that the UK and the US will go into recession over the course of calendar 2023, and if the Treasurer keeps talking down the Australian economy, then that’s the outcome he will assume, and that is not the outcome that our country deserves or needs, or frankly, that would be likely if the government were just able to talk up the economy, talk up the budget that they inherited from us, and accept the fact that they’re going to have to deal with events as they come along. Jim Chalmers making up excuses for a bad budget, I just don’t think it’s going to cut it on Budget Night.
Thank you very much.