Subjects: The Tasmanian salmon industry – Maugean skate; the Prime Minister’s shocking betrayal on the stage three tax cuts; the Prime Minister’s lack of leadership and credibility; Labor’s cost of living crisis; the Macquarie Point Stadium development; the Liberal Party in Tasmania.
Well, I’d like to thank the press for making the trip down to our beautiful Macquarie Harbour this morning. It’s important, and as we talk about our harbour, we also talk about those locals that work within our wonderful salmon industry, and the concerns that they have.
We’ve spoken with many families this morning, in fact we’ve just come out of a meeting with beautiful families that are worried and concerned about their future, and they’ve told me about that problem and that concern. I consequently kicked that up the chain and that’s where we’ve come to this morning and our visit from our Premier, and also my Leader, Peter Dutton, and him coming all the way down to Macquarie Harbour to see firsthand what’s going on here in the harbour, to listen to industry experts and to watch that best practice, that world’s best practice in action.
So Peter, thank you. Thank you to the Premier, and thank you for all that’s come along today, and I’ll hand over to Luke. Thank you.
Thanks everyone. Luke Martin from Salmon Tasmania. We’re the industry association for Tasmania’s three world class salmon producers, Huon Aquaculture, Petuna, and Tassal.
Look, it’s fantastic. We’ve had an amazing opportunity this morning to share what this industry does and what it’s about with our political leaders from state and federal representatives of Tasmania, but particularly to welcome Mr Dutton to Tasmania, to the West Coast and to see a salmon aquaculture company.
They’re about 5,000 Tasmanians who are directly interrelated, employed by this industry across the state, and they’re incredibly proud of what they do. They know they produce an outstanding product that’s enjoyed by millions of Australians every week, a product that has become the lifeblood of so many regional communities across the state and particularly here on the West Coast. They’re proud of what they do, they’re proud of the industry that they’re part of, and the chance for us to share that with our political leaders, and for them to see it live and see it in action, is something we never pass up.
So, it’s great to welcome you, Mr Dutton, and particularly have the opportunity to meet some of our workers, locals, husbands and wives and families who are West Coast locals and to actually hear their voice and hear their perspective. One thing about this industry is there’s a lot of scrutiny on it, there’s a lot of people talking intensely about it, and it seems to me too often that some of the local people who live and work in this industry don’t often get heard enough. Today was an important opportunity to do that, and we really appreciate the opportunity from our political leaders at all levels of government here to be able to see that, to meet some of these people.
Well, it’s great to join with Peter Dutton and with the Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, to demonstrate the Liberal commitment to this community and to this industry that actually wants to save the Maugean skate, that is working hand-in-hand with science to make sure that the future of the stake is bright.
We came here today to look workers in the eyes, to understand from them directly how all of these issues that they’re currently facing affect them. The uncertainty that was brought about by the Bob Brown Foundation, the Australia Institute and Labor’s taxpayer funded Environmental Defenders Office, jeopardising 400 jobs here, threatening to rip the heart out of this community. We wanted to hear it firsthand from them. That’s what we’ve done today, but we’ve also indicated to them our commitment to them, to their industry, to their jobs, to this community and their commitment to ensuring that the environment here that they work in, the brand they trade off, is bright for the future. So it’s great to be here showing support for this community and this industry.
Well thanks Jonno. It’s fantastic to be back on the West Coast. The West Coast is a community that embraces diversity: we have mining, we have hospitality, tourism, we have of course our aquaculture industry, which is so highly valued here on the West Coast. Can I commend and thank Peter Dutton for being here firsthand, listening, talking amongst the people, the workers in the industry who have, frankly, their livelihoods to lose should this industry be closed down here on the West Coast.
The important message from myself today is we can co-exist. The industries that I’ve mentioned: tourism, our natural environment, our mining industry, our aquaculture industry, all can coexist in a sustainable way, and it was clearly evident today talking to locals, to employees of the respective companies; you take a worker out of the aquaculture industry and you potentially take a teacher out of a school, and so the flow on effects of 400 jobs in this community means that you keep schools alive, health services alive, hospitality and the tourism industry continues.
It’s the important thing that we need to get the message through very clearly to Canberra, is that we value our workers in our mining industry, we value the workers and the employees in our tourism and hospitality industry, and we absolutely support the people that work so hard for our aquaculture industry producing an iconic, world class, environmentally sustainable product.
So thank you Peter, for being here, to listening amongst the people and getting a firsthand account of the value of the aquaculture industry and what it brings to not only the West Coast, but of course the entirety of Tasmania as those 5,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, flow right through our community. So we are allowed then to fund those essential services that I know that Tasmanians all care about: nurses in our hospitals, of course, teachers in our schools, police on the beat, with local economies spread right throughout Tasmania. These are the economies and the workers that pay their taxes and indeed, then fund the essential services that all Tasmanians care about.
Jeremy, thank you very much. Can I firstly say to Luke, thank you to you and your team for having us today. On behalf of my federal colleagues, obviously Gavin Pearce and Jonno Duniam, and also Richard Colbeck, we’re really pleased to be here to speak to locals and to get a better understanding of the practical environment and the issues which are really causing great angst and concern to many locals here in Strahan. It’s great to be back on the West Coast, and it’s great to see this industry flourishing. As the Premier points out, Tasmania is a vibrant economy dependent on many sectors that coexist, and can coexist into the future.
I wish that the Prime Minister would be honest with the people of Tasmania. The fact is that we’ve got a political decision that’s been taken, driven by radical environmental groups, that is at the moment being presided over by Tanya Plibersek, which is likely to adversely affect this community. The young people that we spoke to this morning lose their jobs, their kids lose the future of living in this wonderful environment, and it’s all unnecessary. We need to make sure that the process is condensed, that a decision is arrived at quickly. We have the utmost respect for an industry which is at world’s best practice, it’s sustainable, it’s respectful to the local environment, the skate and other species which are incredibly important to the biodiversity of this region as well, all of that is well and truly understood by the locals; but if Tanya Plibersek takes a political decision here, which will benefit the Labor Party in Green seats in inner city Sydney and Melbourne, it will destroy the lives and the livelihoods of people here in the local community.
If we close down the industry, what happens? Well people in Australia won’t stop eating salmon and they won’t stop eating the product that’s made here in the local community, we’ll import that product. It won’t be farmed to the same environmental standards that it is here in Tasmania, we lose the local jobs, we lose the environmental benefit that we deliver to the global environment by the practices that are adopted here, and I think the Prime Minister needs to come out and to be honest with the people here on the West Coast. If there is a political process underway by Tanya Plibersek, it needs to come to an end, and we need certainty for the families here and for investment that’s taking place.
I’m happy to take any questions, and then the Premier might take questions as well.
Wonderful. The Prime Minister was in Tasmania recently. He said he was confident the industry can continue and prosper into the future. Do you believe he supports the salmon industry based off those comments?
I just think the Prime Minister was being dishonest with the people of Tasmania. I think he came here with a good line – in fact, he didn’t come here to the local environment to hear and to listen to the local workers here, and the Mayor, and to get on a boat and to go out and actually have a look at the farms, which we did this morning. We spoke to the divers, we’ve spoken to the environmental experts here. The Prime Minister didn’t do any of that.
He wants to talk out of both sides of his mouth, which is what the Prime Minister does. Says one thing here in Tasmania and says something very different when he’s in the inner city talking to people who might vote for the Greens or might vote for Labor. He thinks that there’s political opportunity in exploiting the situation here in Tasmania, and he has to call in to his office – the Environmental Minister Tanya Plibersek – and tell her that the games have to stop. We need certainty for this local environment and this local community, and I think, the Prime Minister has the ability to do that if he chose to have the strength of leadership to do it.
There’s a trial to put more oxygen into the harbour to protect the skate. Do you think that this is enough?
Well, as we heard today, and as was obvious today, that trial wouldn’t be taking place, the support for the continuation of that species wouldn’t be possible without the salmon industry. Richard Colbeck makes this very good point, that without the industry and without the financial support of the companies, those trials wouldn’t be taking place.
The industry wants nothing more than a sustainable environment to continue to flourish here, in this wonderful harbour. I think most Australians need to hear the message here, which has been a well-kept secret so far, but this harbour is about seven times the size of the Sydney Harbour. It’s something like about two per cent of the harbour that we’re talking about that’s farmed. The produce is – depending on the company – sold locally here, but a lot of it’s also exported, and the Tasmanian brand is such a strong one, and why Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek would want to destroy that, and with it, the local jobs and the local livelihoods of people that have been here for three and four generations, is beyond most people’s comprehension.
Well, what measures would you take then to protect both the industry and the skate if you were in government?
Well, if we close the industry down, we lose the skate. That much is obvious. The skate has the most positive future if the salmon industry is flourishing, because a profitable industry not only means that people keep their jobs here, it doesn’t just mean that they’re then spending money here and the local economy is flourishing, but it also means that more money can be put back into those projects to make sure that we are living up to the world’s best standards, and Australia does.
We seem to be in this mindset in this country at the moment that the environmentalists want to close down every aspect of our economy. All that happens is that the manufacturing, or the mining, or the aquaculture goes offshore. We lose the jobs and the economic activity, we import the goods because we still consume them, but at a higher price and with a higher net cost to the global environment, and that makes no sense.
So we’ve got to start standing up for sectors like this, and I just ask the Prime Minister to join with us in showing leadership, and being honest with people for once. I think that’s incredibly important.
Those are all the questions I had on salmon. I’ve got some other topics I’d like to cover, but do we want to maybe ask more salmon related questions?
Why don’t you ask the questions of me that you’ve got and then I can…
Great. Fantastic. Perfect. Do you support the Macquarie Point Stadium development in Hobart?
Well I support – I wanted to make this point before actually – the work of the Premier here, and I get the great opportunity in this job to move around the country. In Victoria the Labor Party has been a complete basket case. Daniel Andrews, fortunately, now has moved on and Jacinta Allen is making a mess of a bad situation that she inherited. You go to Queensland, they’ve almost sent the state broke, and you’ve had a switch of Premiers there, and you’ve got a new Premier coming in who’s been appointed by the union leaders. You go to WA, they’re trying to close down the mining industry and making it harder for new approvals and Labor at both the state and federal level are compromising new projects going forward.
Tasmania is the standout example around the country at the moment of good leadership because of Jeremy Rockliff and his team. The decisions that they’ve made have been tough, but they’ve been in the best interests of the people of Tasmania. So, it’s not always popular being a leader or being Premier, and if you want to lie to people and you want to tell them mistruths, then sometimes that’s an option available and that’s the option the Prime Minister’s taken, but Jeremy is a person who I think has shown considerable strength, he’s made tough decisions that are in the best interest of the state. So on that basis I support many of the projects that he’s had the initiative to get underway that Labor just couldn’t do.
Now just on stage three tax cuts. You’ve called on the Prime Minister to have an early election because of what you deem was a broken promise regarding the proposed stage three changes. Do you think Australians will be better off come July? As they could receive up to $800 in their pay packet?
Well, let’s deal with the facts here. So, people now are paying 27 per cent more tax than they were when Mr Albanese was first elected in May of 2022. We had in place stage one and stage two tax cuts, which we legislated as a Government, and that provided assistance to low and middle income earners. Stage three was designed to deal with bracket creep and to deal with people who are working hard, who are aspirational, who might be living away from their families as fly-in fly-out workers, and we want them to keep more of their money so that they’re incentivised to continue to work hard because it’s good for our country.
The Government went to two elections promising stage three tax cuts, they have now broken that promise, even though they’ve repeated the promise on over 100 occasions. So has the Prime Minister broken a promise faithfully given to the Australian people? Of course he has. But he doesn’t even have the strength of character now to stand up and apologise for making that egregious error, in my judgement.
When the Government came into power, they abolished the low and middle income tax offset, which means that people on low and middle incomes now are paying more tax than they were under the Coalition Government – that’s important to point out.
Now, we have said that we’ll look at the figures because we think there’s a black hole in what the Government is promising at the moment. We’re worried about this revelation within the Treasury document that says that Australians will pay $28 billion more in tax over the course of the next decade because of the Prime Minister’s announcement.
The Prime Minister is obviously in panic mode. Let’s be honest about it. There’s a Dunkley byelection coming up in Victoria on the 2nd of March. He’s worried because people have seen him distracted over the course of the last 18 months, and when the Prime Minister in two budgets should have been making decisions to help families with their cost of living pressures, he was racing around the country promoting the Voice at a cost of $450 million, and the decisions that he’s made in the budget have actually made it harder for families to pay their bills, it’s kept inflation and therefore interest rates higher for longer, and we need to understand whether there’s a further inflationary impact in what the Prime Minister’s promised.
So, for all of those reasons, I think Australians are rightly condemning the Prime Minister for lying to them and for misrepresenting the situation. So, we’ll have more to say about that in the due course.
Well will you continue to ask the PM for early election?
Well, I think if you go to the two elections and millions of people vote for you on the basis that you’re going to reduce electricity prices by $275, and that you’re going to keep the tax cuts that people have budgeted for, and you break those promises – it’s not a throwaway line at a meeting or in a press conference that hadn’t been well thought through – the Prime Minister and the Treasurer had promised this on over 100 occasions, and they lied to the Australian public.
On that basis, I think they should renew their mandate. If the Prime Minister doesn’t have the guts to go to the Australian people, tell them that he lied, the reasons that he lied and that he wants a new mandate, then I think it says a lot about his character.
The Deputy Opposition Leader essentially said your Party wouldn’t accept these tax changes if you win government. She’s since walked back those comments. Would you rule out these changes still being legislated if you were to be elected?
Well again, we’ll do the figures as we’re doing at the moment, and we’ll make a decision and an announcement in relation to our position. But I think the most important point to make here is the Prime Minister has broken his trust most egregiously with the Australian people.
I haven’t seen – in my 20 odd years in the Parliament, having watched eight Prime Ministers – I haven’t watched a Prime Minister destroy his credibility more quickly than what Anthony Albanese has. That takes some doing because I watched Julia Gillard destroy her position, and I suspect Bill Shorten is on the phone to backbenchers right now, and if there’s a big swing against the Government in Dunkley, then that will be because of the Prime Minister’s incompetence.
I think there are a lot of Australians who really are shaking their heads at the fact that they thought they voted for a bloke that now resembles nothing to what they voted for in May of ’22. He has looked Australians in the eye on 100 occasions and promised those tax cuts, and he now breaks that commitment and doesn’t apologise for it. Alright. Thank you.
Premier, I’ll ask you the same question around salmon. The Prime Minister was in Tasmania last week, he says he supports the salmon industry. Do you believe him when he says that?
Well, saying is one thing and doing’s another. The Prime Minister has a problem with the Environment Minister, who seems hellbent on shutting down a mining industry and indeed an aquaculture industry as well. That’s why it’s great to have Peter Dutton here today, united with Peter, speaking with families, listening to workers about the importance of the industry.
So, Anthony Albanese of course, has to come true on his word, and back the jobs and back the industry. So that’s a conversation he has to have with his Environment Minister.
The damming of the river that feeds into Macquarie Harbour by Hydro Tas is also contributing to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the harbour. Do you think that Hydro Tas should take more responsibility for protecting the Maugean skate?
Well, there’s a lot of complexity around the harbour, which is why it’s important to do the research and the development on the Maugean skate, which is why we’re investing some $2.1 million into that research and why the seven companies themselves are investing in research, and you provided an example of that today.
So, this is a complex ecosystem, but one that, of course, can co-exist, where we can have the recovery of the more Maugean skate and the growth of the industry as well.
Just on one other topic, Labor says the preselection of Eric Abetz is a win for the hard right of your Party and a blow to your leadership. Is his preselection a threat to your leadership?
Look, the Labor Party, by the press release that you refer to, demonstrates they do nothing and stand for nothing.
What Tasmanians want is a Premier and a Government that’s focussed on their needs: saving jobs on the West Coast, for example, building more houses, better access to health care, ensuring we put more teachers in our schools and ensuring we’ve got more police on the beat. Incidentally, all those things of course were decimated under the previous Labor-Green Government.
What I’m about is ensuring there is not a return to the Labor-Green Government and that we have a highly capable team, that we’ll take to the next election. I’m proud of our team, of our endorsed candidates to date, and we’re focussed on what matters for all Tasmanians, and that’s teachers in our schools, better health care, police on the beat and jobs in rural and regional Tasmania. Thank you.