Subjects: Visit to Penrith Community Kitchen; the Government’s failures on cost of living; the Coalition’s positive plan to improve sporting infrastructure and promote female participation in sport; housing; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Labor’s energy mess; the ALP National Conference; Labor’s splits on AUKUS.
Welcome to the beautiful Western Sydney electorate of Lindsay. I’m Melissa McIntosh, the Member for Lindsay, and it’s fantastic to have the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, with me today at Penrith Community Kitchen.
I spoke with this organisation and other housing and homelessness organisations a few months ago and they were raising the alarm bells around cost of living in our community – where they used to feed people experiencing homelessness, they’re now feeding families on double incomes. People are really struggling to pay their bills and to pay their mortgages and their rents.
So I’m so pleased that Peter came out and can see on the ground today just how important organisations like this are, and Second Bite and all the wonderful charities in our community; they’re really holding people’s lives together right now. So, thank you, Peter, for being here. It’s such an important organisation. They’re doing such great work.
It’s fantastic, Melissa. Thank you very much, firstly, for the invitation to be here today. I want to say thank you very much to Gai and to Cathy, to all of the wonderful ladies that we’ve met this morning. The volunteers at the Community Kitchen here in Penrith, they’re amazing people and they contribute to make a difference in people’s lives every day and full credit to them.
I want to say thank you very much to Second Bite and to all of the community support here: the RSL Club, the many individuals who contribute and provide support to the work here and it’s replicated across the country in many communities, because as we know – and as Melissa rightly points out – there are many people now who are in the category of working poor Australians. Australians who are working harder than ever and it’s great to see women going back into the workforce, but let’s be very clear about it, the reason for that is that many families are struggling to pay their mortgages, to pay their electricity bills, and to pay all of those cost of living pressures that continue to mount up. There are a lot of people who are finding themselves in a very, very tight financial situation.
The Government has made decisions now in two budgets, which frankly made it harder for a lot of those families, and there’s no sort of clear pathway for them to see at the moment. So, the work that’s done here, the support that’s provided, really helps many people get through the day, and as was pointed out before, this might be the only meal that a family gets during the course of a day, and that’s in our country, in the year 2023, and we should remind ourselves of those people that deserve help and we should be giving it to them as much as we can.
Melissa McIntosh, a great local member here, helped with a $10,000 grant – only over the course of the last couple of years, and additional support to many other organisations here in her electorate. So, Mel, to you, well done and thank you for the support that you provide to the kitchen here.
Well look, like most Australians, I just have an incredible sense of pride in the effort of the Matildas: not the result that we wanted last night, but an incredible result for our country because the Matildas have come of age and they’re inspiring, not just young girls, but young boys and our Australian kids into sport.
Participation is incredibly important for their health, for their mental wellbeing, for social skills, for gross motor skills and being involved in community. It’s why earlier this week we made an announcement that a Coalition Government would provide $250 million worth of funding to try and improve the facilities that girls can utilise at local sporting clubs around the country – not just if they’re playing soccer or other codes of footy – but cricket, tennis. It’s unacceptable in our country that when we see massive spike in female representation or participation in sport, that we’re expecting young girls to get changed in the car park or to go into the boys toilets or into the boys showers, that’s just not acceptable. So, I want to work closely with the Prime Minister and I hope that he can take this policy up because we believe there’s enormous benefit across the country. It’ll increase participation and it provides equity and it provides a level of service and amenity that’s important to families.
The other point to make, of course, is that many of the clubs are already planning to undertake this work. They’re doing that through either additional fundraising, through debt by a loan from the bank, or more likely an increase in the fees that families are paying for their kids to go and play soccer and AFL or whatever sport their kids might be playing, or an additional levy on those families. So, this investment that we’re talking about of $250 million – which we hope will be matched by the states and territories to bring it up to $500 million, as well as a 20 per cent co-contribution from the clubs themselves – it means that those families won’t have to incur that extra cost, and at the moment, as we’ve talked about here today, families can’t afford another $20 or another $50 a week or a month in their budget.
So, I think there are many reasons why this makes sense. It will help young girls receive the same treatment, equal treatment, as young boys do. It will free up the boys’ facilities just for the boys, and I think that’s a good thing for sports across our country. I think it does a great justice to create a legacy out of this World Cup where the Matildas have just done us so proud.
I’m very happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, just on housing, what do you make of National Cabinet’s agreement yesterday to increase the number of homes built over the next five years to 1.2 million and the Federal Government’s offer of those incentive payments?
Well, it seems to me that this is just another figure that the Prime Minister’s plucked out of the air, and I think for a lot of Australians now, they’re seeing in their Prime Minister, a bloke who talks a lot but doesn’t do anything. All these plans to reduce electricity prices – the PM said on 97 occasions before the election that he had a plan to reduce your electricity prices by $275 every year. Well, every Australian knows that their electricity prices have only gone up, double digit increases every 12 months. It’s quite phenomenal at the moment and it’s only just the start of it. The trouble is with Labor’s energy policy of renewables-only, you’re now going to have to pay for $100 billion of 28,000 kilometres of new poles and wires to go across farming land and through national parks and in communities that don’t want it – and there is a much better way than that, but at the moment that’s the decision the Government’s made.
Now, we know that during the Coalition Government, at its peak, the housing activity in our country was about 149,000 new homes, and we know that under Labor, that has dropped to about 95,000. So, the trouble in our community at the moment, and in our country at the moment, is that there is a confidence crisis under Labor. People are worried about whether a builder is going to be viable or whether they’re going to be able to complete the house, they’re worried about interest rates going up further under Labor and we know that new home sales are down considerably under this Government as well – something like 37 per cent. So there is a big problem in the community when people don’t have confidence in their Government and that is playing out at the moment at exactly the wrong time.
Now, Labor promised a million houses, or they said it was an ‘aspiration’. They promised that in October of last year, and we know that they’re not going to reach that target. So, increasing it to 1.2 million might sound good and the Prime Minister might be talking a big game, but the Prime Minister never delivers. He doesn’t get across the detail and I just don’t think he’s up to the task.
But the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia are in support of the measure. Master Builders has been pushing for this idea of incentives for a few years. So, why should the Australian public listen to your criticisms over industry players?
Well, obviously builders and their representatives in the HIA and Master Builders – they’re great organisations. They will support any measure that the Government puts forward to increase building activity because that’s of benefit to their members. We all want to see more houses, we all want to see more supply come online, because as you bring in a million and a half people as the Government’s proposing at the moment – over the course of the next five years, 300,000 people a year – they’re going to be lining up for rental accommodation, they’re going to be attending the auctions and bidding against Australians to buy those houses. So, of course we want to see more stock come online. My point is that the Government can announce 1 million, 1.2 million, they can announce 1.5 million, why not 2 million houses? The trouble is that the figures don’t mean anything under this Prime Minister, and as we’ve seen in relation to other issues, he just doesn’t get across the detail. He makes the announcement, but there’s no delivery, and the trouble is that investors are looking at the Government now wondering whether investing into housing is a safe asset that it once was. That’s why you’ve seen a massive decline of new home starts, of new home sales, under the Labor Government over the course of just the last 12 months. They’ve had two budgets where they’ve had the ability to make decisions to try and increase that activity, well instead the activity is going the other way – and that’s the problem under Labor, they just can’t manage the economy.
So these payments of $15,000 payments, they’re unlikely to go out the door until after the next election. If the Coalition was to win, would it be fair to say that this isn’t a policy you would continue?
Well, we’ll announce our policy in the run-up to the next election, as is normally the case. But I think we have the runs on the board. You can demonstrate – as I’ve just pointed out – the massive amount of building activity when we were in Government because of the policies that we put in place. Labor gets into Government and 12 months later you’ve got new home starts at a 10-11 year low, you’ve got a Government that’s made decisions that keep inflation high and if inflation’s high, interest rates are high, and people find it hard to pay their mortgages.
You’ve got the talk of the Prime Minister at the moment of capping rents, and for landlords who have got increased mortgage repayments to make themselves, they just don’t invest in housing, and unless the Government’s talking about nationalising rental stock – which I’d be surprised if even the Labor government did that – that would be a disaster. You’ve got the CFMEU now at the conference in Brisbane talking about a 40 per cent tax on builders. Well, that would drive activity down. You’ve got to create an environment where people are prepared to invest. You’ve got partners now who are buying our raw material products who are looking elsewhere because of the sovereign risk that the Government’s created over the last 12 months, and you take all of that economic activity out of the tax system, it means you’ve got less money to spend on needs of communities like here in Penrith.
The Government’s closed down the program that provided funding to this Community Kitchen in the course of the last 12 months. They’re making decisions which are not benefiting the economy and not benefiting Australians more importantly, and I think at the moment Australians are looking at the Prime Minister and seeing somebody very different than the person they voted for less than eighteen months ago.
Just moving on to the ALP conference. First of all, will you be tuning in to watch any of it? And secondly, on the AUKUS deal, is it a little bit of a scare campaign you’re running suggesting that AUKUS could be blown up by the ALP, given that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have been clear they will push ahead with it? In the end, Cabinet has the final say, not the delegates.
Well, I think there are a couple of points here. I mean, one is that we strongly support the Government’s initiative in relation to signing the deal on AUKUS. We negotiated with the United States, the United Kingdom, when we were in power, and as Defence Minister, I understand very acutely that we live in an uncertain time and we need to make sure that our nation’s defences are as strong as they can be because that provides the greatest deterrence against any action of aggression against our country, it supports our neighbours and our allies, and it’s why it’s important for us to be a valuable partner to our key allies, in particular the United States and the United Kingdom, but also Japan and India, and others in the region at the moment.
So, we are hand-in-glove with the Government when it comes to the AUKUS arrangement, but as we’ve seen, you’ve got hard left Labor members – who for decades have been led by the Prime Minister as a leader of the Left in the Labor Party – they are vehemently opposed to the AUKUS deal. There are now 40 branches of the Labor Party across the country who have signed up to the cause to see AUKUS defeated.
It’s also the reason, let’s be very frank, why the Prime Minister won’t initiate or won’t take part in the conversation about small modular reactors, zero emissions. That technology is going to allow us, like other countries, to have zero emissions, to reduce energy costs and to have stability in the energy system. The Prime Minister won’t entertain a discussion, he says, because ‘oh it’s too expensive’, or ‘our country can’t do what Canada and France and the United States and China and other countries are doing’, because he can’t get it through the Labor Party. Let’s be very clear about it. Bob Hawke was strongly in favour, as John Howard is, of the new age technology around nuclear, and I don’t believe that the Prime Minister is acting in our national interest at the moment, he’s acting in the Labor Party’s best interests because he doesn’t want a bloodbath on the floor of the conference. There are plenty of delegates who are promising that. Let’s see if it’s a fizzer or not. But what it shows is that there is a lot of angst within the Labor Party ranks and Australians are paying more and more for their electricity bills under the Government’s failed energy policy.
If you install the small modular reactors into existing brownfield sites, it allows you to turn off the coal fired generation, it allows you to use the existing network to distribute that power so it doesn’t require 28,000 kilometres of new poles and wires at a cost of $100 billion, and there are other countries – comparable to ours, 32 at the moment – who’ve embraced the technology of new age nuclear, and it allows us to keep industry onshore. We’re going to drive manufacturing offshore. A lot of talk at the moment about smelters closing under this Government, a lot of talk about a situation where the cement industry can’t continue because of the Government’s energy policy. We’re not going to stop using cement in our country, all that’s going to happen is it’ll be manufactured, the powder will be processed in Malaysia or in Asia, elsewhere, it’ll be shipped back to our country on a ship, so what happens? We lose Australian jobs, we lose investment in the economy, and we end up adding to more emissions because the product has to be shipped back into our country. So, it doesn’t make any sense to me at the moment, and I think the Prime Minister should put the national interest ahead of the Labor Party’s internal issues, because if you do that you can reduce electricity prices and that would relieve pressure on families and small businesses.
What about the idea, I know some of the unions are going to use this conference to push for new super profit taxes on big businesses. Surely you could see that sort of policy appealing to voters who are seeing, you know, big banks post large profits while they’re struggling, as you say, with cost of living pressures?
Well, again, socialist governments always want to tax more because they can never spend fast enough. The fact is that if you look at a state level where tens of thousands of bureaucrats have been employed in Victoria, or in Canberra, or in Brisbane, they’re adding to layers of bureaucracy, which is why you end up seeing hospital ramping and dysfunction within the health system because the money’s not being spent on additional doctors and nurses, it’s being spent on back-office jobs that add layers of bureaucracy to decision-making and just grind the whole system to a halt.
So, governments of a Labor persuasion will always spend more money, but we know from our nine years in government and from the Howard years – Howard-Costello years, that we know how to manage the economy, we know how to make decisions in budgets which promote economic activity, which ultimately delivers a dividend to the Australian people, and at the moment people get that the Labor experiment with the economy is not working.
Now, I’m old enough to remember the 1990s during the Keating years, in particular. I come from a small business family and our family struggled big time to put food on the table and to pay the bills each month because of a Labor Government – and, sadly, we’re seeing a repeat of that again, because they make decisions and they move to these ideas around super profit taxes and the rest of it.
The fact is that some businesses in good times put money away for bad times and that’s how you survive cycles. Labor don’t get that because they’ve never employed anyone, they don’t understand how to manage money, and you’re seeing the dividend of that at the moment through policies which are keeping inflation higher for longer and inflation kills an economy, and it’s exactly why people who are working two jobs now are turning up at food kitchens like this to get their meal and to provide support to their family just to keep going. That is not something that our country should be proud of in 2023.
That’s everything. Thank you, Mr Dutton.
Okay, terrific. Thank you very much. Thank you.