Subjects: Visit to Townsville; Labor’s economic mismanagement hurting Australian families; increasing interest rates; Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2023; allegations of Minister Katy Gallagher misleading parliament; the Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice proposal.
It has been absolutely wonderful to have Peter Dutton and the Shadow Cabinet here in Townsville, listening to Townsvillians, listening to North Queensland about the issues that are challenging those of us in this part of the world.
We have such massive opportunities with the critical minerals boom, with a whole range of opportunities for North Queensland and it is up to this Labor Government – both state and federal – to make sure that Townsville businesses, Townsville families, get to be involved in these opportunities. We get approvals going and we don’t continue to drive off investment, particularly in mining, through the layering of legislation like the IR Bill, like gas interventions, like all the various mechanisms that are coming into place, it means that Queensland may not have the opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.
But it has been terrific to have Peter and the whole Shadow Cabinet here talking to us, hearing the issues of North Queensland, seeing our potential and of course enjoying Townsville in winter. I’ll hand over to you Peter.
That’s a great tourism pitch from you Susie. Well Susie, firstly, thank you very much to you. Susan McDonald is a Senator for Queensland, but she really is an expert on all matters North Queensland. We’ve spent a lot of time with her and with Phil Thompson, the local member.
I think it’s been a really enjoyable trip and a worthwhile trip for the Shadow Cabinet to be here. It’s important for our people to get out of the capital cities and into regional areas to hear about what’s going on, to speak to normal people. We were at a coffee shop this morning, their electricity bill’s gone up by 404 per cent. I mean, just think about that; 404 per cent. Where does that money come from? You’re going to see an increase in prices of their food, but only to a point, otherwise people don’t go into the restaurant any longer and they end up putting staff off, and that’s the environment that many businesses are finding themselves in at the moment.
I want to say thank you very much to Mick and the team here at AEP. The work that they do with our veterans – providing work opportunities and transitions out of people in their lives as they knew it in uniform, into the private sector. The work that they’re doing here, the money that they’re pumping into the local economy is absolutely crucial for the survival of the Townsville and North Queensland economy, and there are many businesses like it, but at the moment they are feeling all sorts of pressures.
When you’ve got a government that has now delivered two budgets – both inflationary, both putting upward pressure on interest rates – it’s small businesses and it’s families that will suffer as a result of that. When you’ve got a government presiding over an energy policy which is pushing up the prices of every element of the supply chain, you end up getting higher costs when you go to a restaurant, or when you go to buy a car, or when you go to a supermarket. That’s the reality of a Labor Government. They can’t manage money and they’ve demonstrated it again over the course of the last 12 months.
So look, it’s great to be here back in Townsville and we’ve met with a lot of people. I’m very grateful for the engagement, for the advice and the reception that we’ve received here, it has been very warm – no pun intended – because it’s a beautiful place, particularly during the course of winter.
So, I’m very happy to take any questions.
Just on the banning of Nazi symbols. Will the Opposition be supporting this move going a step further than the bill that was put forward by Michaelia Cash?
Well look, to be honest, it’s just really hard to understand what the delay has been here. I introduced a Private Member’s Bill into the Parliament in March. The Attorney-General says that he’s been working on it since he came into office, and in fact, when he was on the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security, and it’s taken them all of this time to get to a point where they’ve got a deficient Bill, and the Bill only deals with half of the problem.
If people were asked: ‘indicate what you think is a representative symbol or act of somebody espousing an evil ideology like Nazism, what would it be?’ Well, it would be the swastika, it would be a salute, and yet the Attorney-General suggesting that their Bill will only cover some of the symbols, but not the salute.
Our Bill did cover that, and we will be moving an amendment to the government’s Bill to incorporate the salute because that is symbolic. In fact, it’s what gave rise to criticism by the Attorney-General at the time of some of his activity in Victoria.
I don’t understand the hesitation from the Attorney-General, or the game playing that’s taking place, but it is clear that we have a position as a Party and we’ve reflected that in our Private Member’s Bill and comments we’ve made otherwise, that we have absolutely zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and for that sort of racist behaviour and we don’t tolerate that sort of Nazi element within our country.
Nobody should celebrate or glorify that period of history. Millions of people died as a result of that cause, and we should be doing everything as a country we can to stamp out those grotesque acts, and you must include in the Bill the prohibition of the salute if you’re going to be serious about addressing what the government says is a rising problem of these extreme groups in our country.
Should the ban have included the swastika despite that being quite a significant symbol for some religions?
No question, it should, yes. Our Bill did, and if the government’s doesn’t, again, I don’t understand what it’s about. I mean what’s the purpose of their Bill otherwise?
I think they’re just playing games and I think they’re trying to tick boxes and they’re trying to tell the Jewish community that they have a solution here, when actually they don’t. So, if it’s not a meaningful Bill, we will be moving amendments to the Bill, and we would ask for – particularly in the Senate – the support of the independents and of the Greens and of Mr Pocock as well.
What’s your response to David Sharaz effectively saying he wanted to do over Scott Morrison and the former government over Brittany Higgins allegations?
Look, I think there are very serious, very serious allegations here. There’s a multi-million dollar payout. You’ve got the Finance Minister who, on the advice of some, has misled the Parliament – a very serious allegation.
I think in the end, what Australians don’t like are tricky and deceptive politicians, and I think the Prime Minister and Katy Gallagher need to tell the truth here. They need to be upfront and honest about their involvement and tell the truth and then let people decide the circumstances or the outcome from there, but you can’t be tricky and be telling half truths.
The Prime Minister of our country needs to be honest with the Australian people about what’s a very serious issue. I suspect there’s more information to come out in relation to this matter, and again, I think people want to know the facts and not to be misled.
I just call on the Prime Minister to be honest and to fully disclose his involvement and Katy Gallagher as the Finance Minister, her role in signing off on ex gratia payments, etc. All of that should be fully known to the Australian public and there should be transparency in the government’s dealings here.
But there’s obviously been a lot of duplicity, a lot of deal making behind the scenes and a lot of trickery, and I think the Prime Minister owes the Australian public answers in relation to these very serious allegations.
Do you support Linda Reynolds in taking this matter to the National Anti-Corruption Commission?
Very much so. I think Linda Reynolds is a person of great honour and she feels rightly aggrieved in the process here, and she’s asking for an independent analysis assessment of what’s happened. You have serious third party allegations, you have tape recordings, you have text messages, you have other detail that’s being discovered and it doesn’t accord with the public accounts of some senior members of the Albanese Government – and that needs to be explained. I would expect the Prime Minister – in terms of his own comments, but also the actions of his senior people – to be upfront and honest, to forget the tricky and deceptive language and answer truthfully in relation to the allegations being levelled against the government at the moment.
The government says that multi-million dollar payment was regular. How does that sit with you?
Well, the government’s said that they didn’t have any conversations with different individuals, as it turns out now, they did. The government’s given one version in relation to this matter. It doesn’t accord with the version of other key players who have been backed up by messages and by tape recordings etc. So, I wouldn’t take at face value what the government’s saying here. I do think there needs to be honesty from our Prime Minister and there needs to be full disclosure as to the involvement of the key players because we’re talking about significant amounts of taxpayers dollars here and we can’t have a situation where a government’s misleading the Australian people.
Do taxpayers have a right to know exactly how much compensation Brittany Higgins was paid?
I think again, we need to understand all of the facts in relation to this matter. There are now serious allegations senior Ministers may have misled Parliament. Certainly on the public record, they’ve given accounts that don’t reconcile with the accounts of other key players and I believe that there’ll be more detail to surface. So, let’s hear the honest account from the Prime Minister instead of the deceptive approach that we’ve seen so far.
Can we just clarify what specific parts you want to refer? Is it the payout in particular?
Well, I think that’s a matter for the Integrity Commission. They have the ability through, what are wide reaching and significant powers, to explore these matters, and that ultimately will be, I suspect, a decision between the referrer of the information with the organisations as to what can be covered by the corruption body.
Would you take charge of referring this yourself? Or would Linda Reynolds take (inaudible)?
I suspect, given that they can self initiate processes, that this would be one of the first issues that the Integrity Commission would deal with. I mean we’re talking about multi-millions of dollars here. We’re talking about senior Ministers of the government potentially having conspired, or at least having collaborated, with individuals and a lot of that needs to be explained.
I think the Integrity Commission process will kick in, but in the interim, I think the onus is on the PM to be honest and to provide the details to the Australian public. I think as we go day by day, there’s more questions than answers, and I think the Prime Minister has an obligation to provide those answers.
What do you make of Katy Gallagher’s relationship with David Sharaz?
Well again, I’d just refer you back to my previous comments.
When it comes to the Voice to Parliament, there’s been some concerns raised from Palm Island about your visit at the end of last year and not providing enough consultation in that process. What do you say to that?
Well, we had a good trip to Palm Island. I want to say thank you very much to the people we met with on Palm Island. Obviously Phil Thompson, the local member, well known to people in that part of the world.
I hadn’t been to Palm Island since the early 90s, so it was nice to be back there, and I’ve got to say, the people that we spoke to – I didn’t want to speak with academics, I didn’t want to speak with people in high authority – I wanted to speak with people on the ground so that I could get an uncensored view of what was happening in relation to the Voice.
Of course, we also have been to Alice Springs, we’ve been up to East Arnhem Land a couple of times, we’ve been to regional Western Australia as well. We’ve been into a number of communities and spoken to many Indigenous people across the country.
I think the reality for most Australians is that there’s a rising level of frustration that the Prime Minister deliberately won’t provide the detail so that people can fully understand what it is that’s being proposed.
We all want to help Indigenous Australians, we all want to see better outcomes, a reduction in family and domestic and sexual violence, etc, but we don’t want a great big new Canberra bureaucracy and that’s what the Prime Minister’s proposing at the moment, and sadly he’s dividing our country when he has the opportunity to unite our country.
The Mayor of Palm Island, as recently as April, described some of the conversations on Palm Island when you visited as ‘laughable’. Have you spoken with the Mayor and do you plan to visit Palm Island again in the future?
No, I’ve said I didn’t want to meet with people other than those on the street, because I want to understand – as we experienced in Alice Springs, through talking to mothers and grandmothers – what it is that’s going to make for a better life for those kids on the ground.
So, I’m happy to meet with the mayors and happy to meet with councillors and academics, and I’ve met twice with the Referendum Working Group, but I also importantly, most importantly, want to hear from Indigenous residents and people who are the beneficiaries of assistance. I want to know how we can cut the Canberra bureaucracy instead of adding to it under the Voice so that we can get the outcomes for those people as quickly as possible.
Thank you very much.