Subjects: Visit to South Australia; Labor’s cost-of-living crisis; military support for Ukraine; the Prime Minister’s divisive Canberra Voice; Reserve Bank Governor; the Ashes; arrest warrants in Hong Kong.
Absolutely fantastic to be here at La Crema Coffee Roasters, here in Boothby, with the Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton speaking to local business owners to understand what the impacts of increased cost of living, increased prices, are having on their businesses and how they are able to support their customers. We know, standing here in South Australia, we’ve got a government here in South Australia, and a government in Canberra, who went to the election promising all sorts of things – and as we stand here today we see so few of them have been delivered.
In my area of health care particularly, and today I’ll be able to take Peter out to meet aged care providers who are suffering from the consequences of the ill-conceived decision to bring forward the requirement for 24/7 nurses in nursing homes, at a time when we are in the middle of a workforce crisis.
The government here in South Australia, the government in Canberra went to the election promising all sorts of things in health care; how they were going to improve access to healthcare, they were going to deal with hospital ramping and access to Emergency Departments, and as we stand here today, we have a 30-year high waiting list for elective surgery, we have continued ramping at our hospitals that just keeps on getting worse, and it’s never been harder to see a doctor.
But right now, it’s fantastic that we’ve got the Leader of the Opposition here in South Australia, having the opportunity to see firsthand, by speaking to businesses and people in our community about how the policies of this current government are impacting Australians so adversely, and the consequences of that is just that their lives are getting worse. I don’t think there’d be any Australian who could stand here in front of your cameras today and say they feel better off today than they did 12 months ago. So it’s great to have Peter here.
Thank you very much Anne. Firstly, thank you very much to Tony and to the staff here this morning for showing us around. It’s an incredible business and it’s a classic example – it’s a great case study for many small businesses across the country at the moment – they’re seeing in their customer base that people are either down trading, or maybe buying something less, maybe only coming in a couple of days a week for their coffee instead of each day.
There are a lot of families who are struggling at the moment, small business owners who are seeing increased costs in every element of their supply chain, and when you get increases – as I heard from a business owner last night facing a 300 per cent increase in their electricity contract – they just can’t absorb that sort of expense under this government.
The government’s energy policy – when the Prime Minister says that somehow wind and solar is free – you know that’s not true when you look at your electricity bill, or your gas bill and the prices continue to go up under this government. If the prices here, where the coffee beans are being roasted and distributed out to retailers, continue to go through the roof, well of course the price goes up, that’s passed on because of the energy costs and ultimately, that’s what fuels inflation.
It’s what is happening at the moment when Australians are going to the supermarket, they’re getting less for every dollar they spend and as we know, from much of the research and some research that was out yesterday, in the month of May in our country, 40 per cent of mortgage holders struggled to pay their mortgage. Now, that is the most significant number of Australians who are doing it tough since those records were collected. It’s starting to look a lot like what happened in the 1990s when Labor were in government and in that period – and I remember it well – we had a lot of Australians who lost their businesses, who lost their homes, and found it really difficult to balance their budgets.
I worry that Labor with two budgets have made it harder for Australians, not easier, and with Labor’s economic decisions that they’ve made, they’re choking our economy, they’re driving up inflation. It’s no mistake that inflation is higher in Australia than G7 countries around the world – except for the United Kingdom. That core inflation is an indicator that the problem is here in Australia with inflation. Yes, there are international factors, but there always are. The biggest factor influencing inflation at the moment in our country is coming out of Canberra, not out of the Kremlin and the Prime Minister needs to take responsibility for that.
Now, we saw the Prime Minister this morning speaking from his Kirribilli mansion, telling Australians that there was ‘nothing here to see’, ‘nothing to worry about’, that ‘prices are coming down’. I don’t know any Australians at the moment, who are better off today than they were when Anthony Albanese was elected Prime Minister. The decisions he’s made now in two budgets – around energy, around all of the cost of living pressures – you’re feeling that, you’re paying the price of Labor’s mistakes.
We want to put pressure on the government to make it easier for families, and the decisions they’ve made in two budgets clearly have made it harder for families. That’s a very important point to make.
A couple of other issues that I think it’s worth noting; I think there’s a lot of pressure now starting to build from the international community on the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to provide significant, but meaningful support to Ukrainians because the Ukrainians are in the fight of their life against a Russian autocrat.
Men, women and children will lose their lives in Ukraine without the assistance of countries like Australia. When we were in government we provided significant assistance and we listened to the requests of President Zelenskyy. He requested the Bushmasters, we supplied the Bushmasters to him. The Ukrainian defence authorities at the moment, who know the situation best on the ground, have given a list of defence materiel and equipment that they believe will give them the best effort to fight the Russians and the government needs to stop listening to bureaucrats, and start acting in our country’s best interests, but most importantly, in the best interests of Ukrainians who need that equipment to push back against the Russians.
In relation to the Voice, obviously Linda Burney is providing comment today, but nobody’s disputing what Linda Burney is saying about helping Indigenous Australians. We all want to do that, but the problem is that it goes much further than what she’s suggesting today, and this continuous misleading of the Australian public by Minister Burney is only making a bad situation worse for the ‘yes’ case.
As we know from the hand-picked people on the Referendum Working Group, hand-picked by the Prime Minister, they’re out there saying that the Voice by design, will have an influence on every element of government work. It’ll influence the way in which we make decisions in the Cabinet process – that’s just the design of it.
So the situation at the moment is that Linda Burney is trying to pretend that the Voice is one thing, but it’s actually another, and Australians aren’t stupid, they get it. They know that if a bad designed Voice goes into the Constitution, you can’t change it. It’s not like a law, and you can’t out-legislate with a Bill through the Parliament, or an Act of Parliament, to undo what’s in the Constitution – that’s just the reality of the way in which our system of government works.
I think there’s a lot that the Prime Minister needs to answer for at the moment. On the Voice, Australians want to help Indigenous Australians, but we don’t want a new chapter in the Constitution that’s going to change our whole system of government and not produce the practical outcomes for Indigenous Australians. That’s why I think Linda Burney today needs to be honest, instead of trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian public. They’re not going to fall for it. They realise what’s going on here.
Corporate elites, who are out there at the moment telling Australians how they should vote, and that we’ll be a better country, and you can have pride in Australia again if you just follow the lead of some of these multi-millionaires who are running huge publicly-listed companies – Australians aren’t silly, they’re not going to fall for that – they’re going to make up their own minds and they want to base their decision on information that’s given to them. At the moment, the Prime Minister is making a deliberate decision, in relation to the Voice, to keep the crucial detail from the Australian public. I’m happy to take any questions.
Leader, do you regret having a crack at big business of putting money into the ‘yes’ campaign? Aren’t they entitled to do what they like?
I have no regret at all. I think the fact is that many of the listed companies in Australia today, the CEOs are worried about influencers, and they’re worried about the Twittersphere, and they’re less worried about what’s happening to their customer base, and much less the views of their employees.
I think a company for example, to look at Wesfarmers; I think the $2 million would be better off reducing prices in their supermarkets, or reducing prices at Bunnings. When I go to Bunnings, I want to pay less for my goods, not more, and I don’t want to, every time I hand over my credit card or cash at Bunnings, or at Coles, I don’t want part of that money going to an activist CEO. These CEOs who are closer to the union bosses than they are the workers, I think they’ve got a lot to answer for and they’re happier, it seems, in the company of the superfund CEOs and all of those people who are on millions of dollars a year – they’ve lost touch with their workers – and so has the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is happier in that company – with the union bosses and the super bosses and the CEOs of big businesses – than in the company of workers, and the fact is that today, the Liberal Party represents the values of workers, and of tradies, and I don’t apologise for that whatsoever.
What do you think is the number one issue facing Indigenous Australians then?
I think Indigenous Australians, like all Australians, are facing cost of living pressures. They’re paying a lot more for their electricity under this government, they’re paying a lot more for their gas, they’re paying more for their fuel, they’re certainly getting less for their grocery bill when they go to the supermarket and, in Indigenous communities – particularly in remote and regional areas – those Indigenous families are doing it very tough.
I mean in Alice Springs, or Ceduna, or Tennant Creek, or the Kimberleys, Leonora, Laverton – these are areas where billions of dollars of money poured into the funnel from Canberra becomes a trickle into these communities and people are living in squalor without the proper services that we would expect – but the Voice is not going to solve that problem.
The Voice is a Canberra Voice, it’s a grouping of 24 elites who aren’t going to represent the views of Indigenous women and elders in Indigenous communities – I want to listen to those voices and that’s why I visited there – and frankly, I think the Prime Minister, instead of flying his jet across these communities on his way to another international fora, he’d be better off to stop the plane, roll his sleeves up, and get out and talk to real people.
The Prime Minister today, shouting from Kirribilli there, that Australians have nothing to worry about, that their mortgages are okay, it’s a nonsense. He’s out of touch with the average Australian at the moment. We’ve been to Food Bank, and the Salvation Army, and to small businesses around the country at the moment. We know at Food Bank they’ve got a 57 per cent increase in the number of people presenting to just feed their families – that’s unprecedented.
We know as I said before, that 40 per cent of Australian mortgage holders struggled to pay their mortgage in May, and that’s happened under 14 months of Labor’s watch. The official cash rate has gone from 0.35 per cent up to 4.1 per cent and families are struggling to pay their bills under Labor – and that’s very reminiscent of what we saw when Labor was in power in the early 90s – and I don’t want a repeat of that for our country.
Minister Burney will clarify the four key areas an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will focus on while addressing National Press Club today – health, education, jobs and housing. Does that put your mind at ease regarding detail on the Voice?
But that’s not the design of the Voice. I mean let’s not pretend that it’s just restricted to that. If the wording in the Constitution restricted it to those areas, it would be a different debate, but it doesn’t.
As the Chair of the Indigenous Referendum Working Group – appointed by the Prime Minister and Ms Burney – has made very clear, the design of the Voice deliberately means that it doesn’t just impact on those areas, but every other area that the Voice decides to have a say on. That’s the design of it and the Prime Minister has said it’d be a very brave government that said no to the Voice.
So, it’s not just those areas, and this is what I think, frankly, is making Australians mad at the moment – that they’re struggling to pay their power bills; they’re struggling to pay their grocery bills; they’re struggling to pay their mortgage – and they’ve got a Prime Minister obsessed on the Voice, and frankly over the course of the last 12 months, the Prime Minister’s obsession with the Voice means that he’s taken his eye off the ball when it comes to economic policy – and that’s why you’re paying more for your mortgage, it’s why you’re paying more for every element in your family and small business budget, and inflation is sticky. It’s nowhere near the two to three per cent band target range that the Reserve Bank Governor has in mind, and the Prime Minister’s making it much tougher.
So, Linda Burney today needs to be honest with the Australian public, not pretend that the Voice is one thing, when it’s much broader than what she’s suggesting it is, and I think that’s why a lot of Australians are very suspicious about why the detail has been kept from them.
She’ll also say voting ‘yes’ to the Voice is patriotic. What do you make of that statement?
Again, I just think elites like Ms Burney and the CEOs of the big companies yelling at Australians, telling them that they’re racist if they don’t vote for the Voice, or telling them that they’re hard-hearted, or suggesting that our international reputation will be tarnished; that’s not the way to win a vote.
Give people the information, the detail that they really seek, and they want to be informed, and Australians are adults, they can read the detail and make up their own judgement about whether they vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but Linda Burney should be respectful of Australians, whether they’re voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but don’t yell at them and tell them that they don’t understand or they’re not smart enough to know what she’s talking about. Australians are much smarter than what the Prime Minister and Ms Burney give them credit for.
I think they are looking at this Voice very carefully, they realise it’s a new chapter in the Constitution, it’s the biggest change to our nation’s rule book in 120 years and it’s going to change our system of government. If it does that, it’s not going to provide the practical outcomes for people in Indigenous communities, which we all want.
You mentioned the practical outcomes of the Burney speech. What is the point of an independent advisory board if it’s getting the priorities set by the Minister herself?
Well again, I mean the government’s all over the shop here. Linda Burney says one thing one day and something the next, and that’s why Australians understand that the Voice is being built on the run. The other thing that gives it away, which I think Australians have worked out, is that the design of the Voice doesn’t start until after the vote takes place. That is without precedent. There’s been no constitutional convention, so there’s been no exchange of ideas, critique of the wording. The Prime Minister dispensed of all of that.
The design, which is a six-month process, starts on the Monday after the vote has taken place on the Saturday. Again, it’s without precedent and unless you’re playing tricky games, why wouldn’t you have the design done now, so that you can show it to the Australian public and let them make an informed judgement about whether they’re voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
So I think the Prime Minister’s got his priorities all wrong, and there are very few Australians who are better off today than they were 12 months ago when Mr Albanese was first elected.
Jenny Wilkinson is being touted as the next governor of the Reserve Bank. Do you think she would be a good candidate? Do you think it’s time for a change in leadership?
That’s a decision for the government. I think the important point to make about the Reserve Bank Governor is that that person is the messenger. They need to be an independent person, but that person is just the messenger, and they respond to the government’s policies of the day.
It’s very important to point out that interest rates have gone up, not because of a strategy devised by the Reserve Bank, but because of decisions made by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister took office, the official cash rate was 0.35 of one per cent. It’s gone up 11 times, in an unprecedented way, under Labor to 4.1 per cent, but people of course as they know, are paying mortgages in the sixes and sevens, and if you were on a fixed rate of 1.8 and you’re coming off to 6.8, you’ve got to find that extra money in after tax dollars – don’t forget.
This is why, whoever the Reserve Bank Governor is, they’re just going to have to respond with interest rate increases if Labor keep pumping money into the economy and keep making bad decisions that drive up inflation, because when Labor drives up inflation through their energy policy, you pay more for your electricity, but you pay more for your coffee, you’re getting less groceries in your basket when you turn up to the supermarket.
Again, I think there needs to be a reassessment and the Prime Minister needs to get out of Kirribilli, and get off the international flights, and start talking to real Australians to understand that they’re hurting because of decisions he’s made.
What’s your take on controversial Ashes stumping. Do you think it’s in the spirit of the game?
Well, first point; I’m happy for the reprieve to get a good night’s sleep for a few nights because I can stay up until about 1am, I can get to tea, but I can’t get through to stumps…
I’m incredibly proud of the Australian cricket team – both the men’s and women’s team. The work that they’ve done in our country’s name on the subcontinent, in the UK. Cricket’s a part of our national culture and has the Australian team played within the spirit of the law? Absolutely, they have. Do they fight with the same tenacity that the Brits do? Of course they do, and the Ashes has been hard-fought for generations, and many of us have grown-up watching that game, and I hope that it long continues because the competition, at a sporting level between our two countries, has inspired sportsmen and sportswomen for generations, and that should long be the case.
So, it was out?
No question, and I think we should be very proud of the work the Aussies are doing, and frankly, I think Pat Cummins nailed it in his press conference yesterday. So, I look forward to the next test, and we can hope for a five-nil, but we’re two-nil so far, and there’ll be a lot of emotion, but in the end, there needs to be respect.
The British players, frankly, have played for their country and you see the passion that they’ve got, no doubt, exactly the same for the Australian players, but there needs to be a level of respect. The treatment of Usman Khawaja is just completely unacceptable, and that’s been pointed out and I’m glad there’s an investigation on in relation to the treatment of the Australian players, because in the end, it’s a game. It’s a competitive game, it’s certainly a tough battle between the two teams, but it needs to be conducted with a level of respect.
Jane Hume has really backed Philip Lowe to remain as RBA Governor, even though he’s come under immense scrutiny following 12 interest rate hikes. Do you think it’s time for some new blood?
Well again, I made the point before that the Reserve Bank Governor can only implement decisions in response to the government’s policies, and the government’s implemented policies – in two budgets now – which have forced people’s interest rates up, they’ve made the cost of living almost unmanageable for a lot of families.
As I said before, the Salvation Army will say that, tragically, we’re seeing people who have jobs, but are living rough at the moment. You’ve got Food Bank who says there’s a 57 per cent increase in the number of families who are using their services just to put food on the table. That’s the reality of life under Labor at the moment, and I fear it’s going to get worse.
Whoever is in the Reserve Bank Governor position is a decision for the government of the day. Somebody in that role needs to be absolutely independent and the decisions they make to increase interest rates, are only a result of the decisions that Labor’s implemented in their budget. So, the most important element here is to have a government prepared to make decisions to reduce inflation instead of fuelling it.
A $20 million surplus, even you would be hard pressed to say that’s not a job well done on fiscal responsibility. Do you still think the budget was inflationary?
Well again, I mean the government’s pumping $185 billion worth of money into the economy. That is inflationary. There’s no question about that. The government’s made decisions, and they’ve abrogated others, which have resulted in higher inflation here and that’s why our core inflation here is higher than G7 nations, except for the UK. That’s as a result of this government’s two budgets. Yes, a surplus is good, but what’s telling is that there’s no surplus over the forward estimates or into the out years – as we had when John Howard and Peter Costello were in government – I was the Assistant Treasurer to Peter Costello.
The fact is that Labor is only delivering a surplus this year because of nine years of economic management of the Coalition. They can achieve a surplus in year one, why can’t they achieve it in year two, three or four or five? It’s because the decisions that they’ve made in year one and two are souring the economy. Why is our economy souring at the moment? Why is small business finding it harder? Why are families struggling to pay their mortgages and their other cost of living expenses? Because of the decisions that Labor’s made – that’s what happens sadly when we have a Labor government. They don’t understand business. They don’t understand what it means to make decisions in our economic best interests, and unfortunately, sadly, tragically, Australians are paying the price for Anthony Albanese’s bad decisions.
I just have one more question about the Hong Kong warrants. The PM says he’s disappointed about the Hong Kong warrants. Do you think the government’s done enough there to express their disapproval? What would you do if you were managing our relationship with China right now?
Well, I endorse the comments made by the Prime Minister, and this is one of those issues where the Government and the Opposition should stand together. It’s completely unacceptable that Australians should be tracked down, or hunted down in this sort of conduct and I’d support the words of the Prime Minister in relation to this issue. It’s a very serious issue, and it’s been taken seriously by the government and we endorse it on that basis. Thank you.