Subjects: Visit to Western Sydney; the cost of living crisis; Syrian repatriation; Labor’s bleak budget; the government’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; the government’s thought bubbles on gas and energy policy; COP27; industrial relations legislation.
SENATOR MARISE PAYNE:
I’m pleased to be here with the Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton in the centre of Western Sydney in Fairfield, one of the most diverse and vibrant communities you will find across Western Sydney. We’ve had two really important meetings today – here with Tess and her husband, particularly in relation to the cost of living challenges that they find in running their small business; and previous to that, with some very important community leaders: the Mayor of Fairfield Frank Carbone, the Member for Fowler Dai Le, and leaders of the Assyrian, the Chaldean and the Mandaean communities who have expressed to us the genuine and deeply-held concerns about the approach that the government has taken in the repatriation of families from Syrian refugee camps. This is a deeply-held concern in this community and one that, frankly, the government should take very seriously. Thank you very much.
Thanks, Marise. Thank you very much Michael as well for being here. Look, I just want to say, firstly, I really have just been very heartened by the welcome that we’ve received here in Western Sydney. It’s people in this community that heard the Prime Minister say on 97 occasions before the election that power prices would go down by $275, but speaking with the owners of this small business here – Louis, we went through the bills before – going up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars quarter on quarter and they’ve now made a decision to turn off the air conditioning within their own small business. Now, that’s going to help save a little bit on the price, but it’s not going to help them continue to meet the cost of living pressures that continue to mount. For small businesses like this it can be crippling because if the economy does tighten, interest rates continue to go up over the course of the next 12 months or so, then people will have less to spend in these businesses and at the same time as the revenues are coming down, under the Labor Party, as we know, power prices will go up by 56 per cent and gas prices by 44 per cent. So that could have a devastating impact, not just on households, but on small businesses as well.
In the Liberal Party we fight in our heart and soul for those who are in small business because they make a sacrifice to be away from their family, they employ other Australians and help their own families grow and pay their own mortgages, and they’re a very significant economic multiplier into our local communities. So, I am really pleased to be here and to hear their stories because it just makes me more determined to help those people and make sure that we can keep the pressure on the government to keep up to their promise; to be true to the promise that they gave the Australian public on 97 occasions. As we pointed out, off the budget a couple of weeks ago, the estimate is that by Christmas $2,000 a year will be the negative impact on families around the country and that’s going to bite because families already are seeing in many cases their house prices come back and the promises that Labor made at the last election aren’t being honoured.
I also want to say thank you very much to Frank Carbone and to Dai Le this morning for their engagement. The community leaders – some of whom I’d met with before – they are deeply concerned. I don’t think you can underestimate the level of anxiety and concern that communities have got, in some instances because they still have families living in parts of the world where they are still under threat or because they’ve escaped that horror and that tragedy to come to Australia, to live peacefully, to work hard, to educate their children.
They are wonderful Australians but they are deeply concerned by the government’s decision to bring back the ISIS brides and they want to know, like most Australians do, what security overlays are being put in place. We hear advice this morning from the Commissioner of New South Wales that they haven’t been made aware of the circumstances of where these people are living. We don’t know whether or not they’ve been asked to undertake – through some legal document – to conduct themselves in a particular way, to meet a curfew, not to mix with people from, you know, radical elements of the community. I mean, none of this is known because the Prime Minister keeps saying that the Australian public doesn’t deserve to know any of the detail. I think, frankly, communities are really keen to hear from the Prime Minister the logic, what security considerations have be taken into account, and why it is that this doesn’t raise a security risk by bringing these women back into Australia.
Happy to take any questions.
Given these women and their children are Australian citizens, is there a better way of approaching their repatriation?
Well, again, we don’t know because the government just won’t release any of the detail. I think many of the community leaders have really had their grief compounded, because they weren’t consulted before the decision was taken by this government to bring people back. The Prime Minister made no mention of the fact that he was going to repatriate these ISIS brides back into Australia. If you doubt that politics is involved in this decision, well, don’t forget that the Prime Minister’s made a decision to bring people in but he’s holding them somewhere in a hotel at the moment until they can arrive in Australia after the Victorian state election. Now, I don’t know whether that’s at the request of Daniel Andrews or the Prime Minister has made that decision himself, but again, people are guessing because the Prime Minister just keeps giving a sort of five word slogan of ‘it’s subject to security requirements and limitations.’ It doesn’t wash – and I think really the Australian public deserves an explanation from the Prime Minister.
As a former Home Affairs Minister, would you have brought these women and their children back to Australia?
I made a decision based on the intelligence that I received at the time: these women shouldn’t come back to Australia. That was the advice from ASIO, the advice from the Australian Federal Police, from the Australian Defence Force. We had a very significant discussion – multiple discussions – on NSC during the time that we looked at this issue. We made the decision that we wouldn’t do it and I don’t believe that this government should do it either.
Just on gas – do you think that the gas companies are greedy and tone deaf as the Industry Minister claimed?
Well, I’ll just make this observation. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister put together a budget last Tuesday week. The whole idea of the budget was to provide cost of living relief for Australians. That’s what the Prime Minister went to an election promising – that he had a plan to help them out.
Now, the difficulty is, as we know, the Prime Minister is not honouring any of those election commitments. Now, I don’t know how you can deliver a budget on the Tuesday and then a day or two later, start to have these thought bubbles about will there be a price cap? Will we restrict exports? Will there be a super tax on these energy companies? It’s obviously something the government needs to consider very seriously, because if they start to create doubts in the minds of countries like Japan and like Korea about what will happen to their energy supplies, that can affect our income in this country.
If they decide that they are going to put price caps on, does that mean that gas companies are going to withdraw supply from the market? At the same time, you’ve got inflation over 7 per cent. You’ve got a situation where we’re talking about the United States going into recession. The government here is talking about a very significant change to the industrial relations system, as Paul Keating says it takes it back to the ‘80s or to the ‘70s. You know, this could be a perfect brew for a very significant economic shock in our country. So, the government needs to think very carefully through what it is that they’re going to do, but if they had answers, they should have been provided and the plan should have been rolled out and announced in the budget. It wasn’t, and since the budget’s been delivered – every day since – we get a new thought from the government as to what their solution will be. Well, I don’t know whether it’s just their ideas on the run, whether it’s been modelled by Treasury, whether it’s been considered, or whether they’re just reacting to the public reaction, because it was such a bad budget.
That is what happened in the Whitlam era, it’s what happened in the Keating era, and it’s what happened in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. You can get very serious, dire economic circumstances prevailing very quickly if the government doesn’t know what they’re doing, and so far there’s no indication that the Anthony Albanese or Jim Chalmers know what they’re doing because we’ve seen it in businesses like this today, where they are suffering more and more every quarter when they get their bills in.
But do you think those companies are being greedy? Ed Husic says they are often contracts that…
Well, if the government is suggesting that, then they need to need to explain why. If they’re talking about price caps or if they’re talking about super profits taxes, or they’re talking about limiting exports, they need to explain the logic of all of that to the Australian public, because at the moment, all we’re getting from this government is a day by day thought on how it is that they’re going to fix a problem. They said before the election they had a plan and now every day since, there’s just been no evidence of it.
Is there a concrete solution or a short term [inaudible]?
Well again, the $275 promise was made to the Australian public. People voted for this government on the basis that they were going to deliver power price cuts to the sort of bills that we’ve just looked at before. Instead, they’re going to go up by 56 per cent and their gas bills are going up by 44 per cent. If it was just that, it would be bad enough, but it’s power, it’s electricity, it’s your insurance premiums, it’s when you go to the bowser. One of the receipts that we saw before from Louis talked about a fuel charge on the bottom of the bill from their local distributor. It’s in every element of life and the Australian public, I think is starting to understand that the government doesn’t have the answers and they’ve been elected to answer these questions, and so far, there’s just no evidence that they’ve got any idea of what they are doing.
After all the pressure that Labor put on Scott Morrison to head to Glasgow last year, are you surprised that Anthony Albanese is now not going to COP27 in Egypt?
I suspect the Prime Minister’s been very conscious of how much time he has spent overseas. He’s been missing out on the Expenditure Review Committee meetings it seems, because he’s spent so much time overseas and that’s left Jim Chalmers in charge, and no wonder we ended up with such a bad budget. So I suspect the Prime Minister will be reluctant to go overseas as regularly, because leaving Jim Chalmers and Richard Marles in charge is not a recipe for sunshine and success for the Australian economy and the Australian public. So I think he would be worried about some of the decisions – probably that he’s read about for the first time in the budget. He was absent from most of the ERC discussions and that’s really without recent precedent. I think you’ve got to go back to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to see that sort of approach and we got the budget that we did, because the Prime Minister didn’t spend enough time on the detail.
If the government split its industrial relations Bill to remove the multi-employer bargaining, would you support it?
Well, no, because they’re still proposing to abolish the ABCC, which will allow the CFMEU to run rampant on job sites around the country. At a time when Australians are seeing their house prices come back, when they’re seeing building prices increase and the inflation still continues to feed into the cost of that construction, you’ve got the CFMEU running around with their archaic practices, running on building sites, assaulting people, threatening people and ultimately driving up the costs of all of those inputs, that ultimately just gets passed on to consumers. So, I don’t think you can make this very bad bill better.
The fact that the government is rushing it so quickly before the end of the year demonstrates that they know that it’s bad policy. They want to get it off the books as quickly as possible, but as I say, this country could be facing a perfect storm: if you’ve got an industrial relations policy which is taking us back to the ‘80s and the ‘70s, if you’ve got inflation at seven or eight per cent, if you’ve got increasing interest rates, increasing energy prices, increasing gas prices, increasing cost of living right across the board, and this government doesn’t have any solutions to it, then that can be very precarious for households and for businesses. We’re already seeing businesses warn today that they could take their operations offshore – that would be no net benefit to the environment. What you would see, frankly, is a huge loss of Australian jobs and no gain to the environment overall because the emissions will just be released in another country. So, it makes no sense to me but hopefully the Prime Minister can explain it, because so far, his silence, I think, is really worrying Australians.
Thank you very much.