Subjects: Visit to Albury and Corowa; Aston by-election; cost of living pressures; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; gas supply; the Reserve Bank’s interest rate decision; TikTok ban on government devices.
Peter, it’s fantastic to have you here in Farrer and in Albury. In Albury, which is the birthplace of the Liberal Party and later we will be spending some time in Corowa which is the birthplace of Federation. But most importantly, to come to see small business, to see manufacturing, to see women’s networks, and to meet some of our Liberal supporters and friends. It’s going to be a very, very busy rest of the day and we really appreciate your attendance.
Peter has done an outstanding job in the last almost 12 months uniting the Liberal Party. It’s always a tough period going into Opposition, but we are united, we are determined and we are ready to meet the challenges so we can demonstrate that we’re here for the Australian people who want us to provide an alternative for the small businesses, for the big businesses, for all of the families and communities, particularly in this part of regional Australia that look to the Liberal Party. Saturday was a tough day in the office I know Peter, but we’ll regroup, we’ll redouble our efforts and we will earn the faith, the trust and the support of the Australian people.
Now, three million families will be holding their breath at the moment, waiting to see what decision the Reserve Bank brings down this afternoon. There’s 800,000 fixed mortgages that are rolling onto a variable rate – so for many people that’s an extra $20,000 a year in mortgage repayments – and that really is a tough ask. We know that families across this region, just like everywhere else, are doing it tough and are watching carefully to see what happens.
We also know as households that you have to manage your budget responsibly. You do that every single day and you certainly do that when you go and buy your groceries and when you look at the bills piling up on your kitchen table. Similarly, governments must manage their budgets carefully, too. We saw a very big spending Labor budget in October, and we’ll be watching closely to make sure that the government gets it right, as they absolutely should in May, because so many families are counting on them.
Over to you Peter.
Sussan, thank you very much. Great to be here in Albury. I want to say thank you very much to George for showing us around his amazing business here and just thank him and pay tribute, frankly, to him for his recognition of the VC winners. That is a very important part of our history, our celebration of those that have worn the uniform in our country’s name. As we know, we celebrate a very important milestone this year, the Vietnam veterans from the Vietnam War. We had a ceremony in Parliament House only a week ago and in August there will be many other celebrations. But for the recognition of the Victoria Cross winners here, I think it makes it a very special place to visit. So I want to say thank you to him. He’s put a lot of his own money into establishing the shrine that we see out the front, and it really is obviously a focal point for the local community.
It’s fantastic to be here with Sussan. Sussan and I came into the Parliament 22 years ago – I’m sorry to say that Sussan, to date both of us – but we’ve been through government, opposition, good times and bad over that time. In 2007 when we went into opposition, it wasn’t a pleasant period at all. The way that our colleagues have stuck together and rallied, they understand that at the 10 month mark, the government is still in its honeymoon period and they’ll continue that for some time.
As Sussan points out, and as Australians are experiencing, there is a price to pay for a Labor Government. Prices will always be higher under Labor. Mortgages will always be higher under Labor. Your electricity bills will always be higher under Labor. And as we know now, we’ve got a government that’s talking about restricting gas supply into the economy, which will only drive prices up for businesses like this and pensioners and others that will be wondering about how they’re going to provide for their heating during the course of winter. If we see a disruption in supply of energy for manufacturing, in particular, then those companies will start to think about whether they manufacture onshore or whether it’s just cheaper to go into South East Asia or elsewhere in the world and they end up importing those goods back. It means that we lose the Aussie jobs. It means that we lose the economic productivity and it means that generally there will be a higher emissions cost for the export of that product, and it just doesn’t make any sense – but that’s the path the government is taking on at the moment.
As Sussan points out, the Reserve Bank today will make a decision as to whether or not they raise interest rates yet again under this Labor Government. Lots of families at the moment really are sitting in a very, very difficult position. They believed the Prime Minister when he said before the election that he would deliver them lower mortgages, it hasn’t happened. They believed our Prime Minister when he said that he would reduce power prices by $275. He promised it on 97 occasions and he just hasn’t delivered that. I mean, there’s no Australian who could hold up their power bill saying that they’ve paid less for their power in the last 10 months than before that.
So there’s a lot for us to concentrate on and a lot for us to hold the government to account on and that’s the job of the Opposition. We will provide our policies in due course. We’ve done that in a couple of instances already, but we’ll have more to say over the course of the next 12 or 18 months. So great to be here in Albury and I’m very happy to take any questions.
Mr Dutton, it’s always a significant visit here, and somewhat the cradle of the Liberal Party. Does this visit signal, somewhat of a referb of Liberal efforts and branding after a bruising time?
We’d actually had this trip planned well before the by-election last weekend. There are lots of lessons for us to take out of Aston. If we had all of the answers, we would have won the election on the weekend. The fact is that the Labor Party ran a very brutal campaign. The Prime Minister talks about saying no or being opposed to things…the Labor Party had nothing positive to say for the last five weeks and whilst people don’t like negative campaigning, it worked well and truly for Mr Albanese. The Labor Party speaks out of both sides of their mouth and we have lots of values that have stood us well and our country well.
I was at COSBOA this morning in Melbourne talking to small businesses there. During the course of COVID, we saved 700,000 jobs. We implemented JobKeeper instead of a school halls program that was just overpriced and pink batts that resulted in people dying was how Labor dealt with the GFC. We supported families, we helped keep people in their jobs, we helped Australians get through difficult times and the economic management that we are well known for, is not an end in itself. It’s about providing a better outcome for families. It’s about making sure that you live within your means and with it don’t rack up too much debt that when interest rates go up and the government’s interest bill goes up, you can’t afford to pay for the other services.
When we came into government in 2013, we were inheriting a Labor debt that was projected to be $667 billion, and we put in place measures which got us back to a balanced budget position and then we hit COVID. So we have a lot of things that we’re good at. One of the things that we’re not good at is selling what we’ve done and how effective we’ve been in the past, and we need to talk more about that. The highest uptake of solar per capita anywhere in the world is in our country as a result of Liberal and National Party investments and policy decisions. So, lots more that we can talk about and we will.
Mr Dutton, question for Seven. What lessons have you learned then from the weekend’s loss in Aston?
We’re looking forward now and the opportunity for us is to make sure that we work on the policies that are relevant to Australians. Australians heard the government promise that they were going to reduce power prices and reduce mortgages; and instead under Labor in 10 months they’ve only gone up. I think there are many things that we’ve been able to support the government on and we’ll continue to do that, but we want to make decisions that are going to help families and small businesses not hurt them.
At the moment there are many economic decisions – I mean this decision by the Prime Minister to tax unrealised capital gains – just think about that for a moment. So before you sell a property, you end up paying tax on the gain that hasn’t been realised. So a big impact on cash flow and disposal of that property. The government has no answers at the moment in relation to housing affordability and the rental crisis and we’ll have all of those policies to put to the Australian people by the next election – that’s our job and we will do that with great effect. At the 10 months mark, people who are suggesting the Opposition should have their fully costed policies out on the table, that was never a feature of any previous Opposition, including Mr Albanese.
Mr Dutton, you are here speaking to people in Albury about cost of living. That was a key issue going into the federal election as well. What are you hearing from people in Albury and what will you take away to shape policies?
Well, we’ve just arrived, so to be fair, we haven’t had a chance to speak to too many people, but we’re here sort of for the next 12 hours or so and we’ll be getting around speaking to a lot. But my sense is that in many regional areas where we’re not in drought and where commodity prices have been high, particularly cattle prices and, you know, other aspects of farming production are doing well, well that feeds back into the cities and farmers and their workers are able to spend money.
But, we know that for small businesses their overdrafts are already double digit interest rates and we know that there are some producers and others who are really starting to feel the pinch, because if people are paying $20,000 or more a year under Labor for their mortgage, it means that they’re less inclined to go out and buy lunch or spend money at a cafe or a restaurant on the weekend; and that over time has a negative impact and we need to be very conscious of that. So, I suspect they’re some of the messages that we might hear.
We’re very keen to talk to people and hear what’s on their mind and that’s a good part of Opposition, right. When you’re in government, you’re very busy with the government department, managing all of that on a day-to-day basis. In Opposition, it gives you ability to get out and speak to people, to hear what it is that’s impacting their families, their small businesses, and that will help shape our policy in the run up to the next election.
And you’ll be speaking to regional operators throughout this year as well as those in inner cities?
We will, and very much a regional focus. Too much of the government’s effort is really concentrated on capital cities and we are the Party of regional and rural Australia. We provide support by way of policy. We did it with the Instant Asset Write-Off, with trade deals that opened up markets for farmers and producers because we produce more in our country than we can consume as a population of only 25.8 million people, and we ran a very strong economy. If you’ve got confidence in the economy, people will spend and they’ll invest.
We were talking to an operator the other day who had made it a decision to pull out of a billion dollar investment into New South Wales, which was going to create 700 jobs; but just with the uncertainty in the market at the moment, with Labor’s policies on tax and energy, they decided to take that and invest it elsewhere in another country and they’re worrying signs.
Whenever Labor comes into government, the economy always turns bad because they make the wrong economic decisions and rural Australians, people in regional areas feel that acutely and we’ve got to make sure that our policies provide support to people living in regional Australia and they’re an incredibly important part of our country and we should show them respect by visiting regularly and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
Mr Dutton, another national question, what should Labor be doing to tackle inflation, especially with this May budget ahead?
Well, you’ve got a projection by the government to spend well over $140 billion. It will collect that in extra taxes over the course of the next few years. They’re going to spend that money and if you’ve got a government that’s pumping more and more money into the economy, that does fuel inflation. If the government continues to chase inflation, then that will result not in inflation coming down and that’s the history. This is why Labor Governments have got into trouble in the past because they can’t manage money and Australian families end up paying for that.
The Reserve Bank met on 96 occasions when the Coalition was in government and they raised interest rates on one occasion. The Labor Party has been in government for 10 months and we’ve seen interest rates increase on 10 different occasions – and I hope not again today – but we’ll wait for that advice this afternoon. But it’s obvious by all of the analysis at the moment, the view seems to be that inflation will be sticky, it’ll remain high, above the Reserve Bank band, their target band, and that will mean higher interest rates under Labor for longer than otherwise has to be the case.
So should he have his term renewed in September?
Well, that’s an issue for the government.
Mr Dutton, a couple of questions from our ABC Parli team in Canberra on TikTok. The government’s announced a ban on TikTok on government issued devices. Something that you’ll support?
It is something that we’ll support and obviously we will support decisions that the government makes that keep us safe and that are in our national interest. The government’s been very praiseworthy of Scott Morrison and I and others within our government for the AUKUS deal. We put that together wanting to keep our country safe, not just today, but for decades ahead. If the government has advice that it’s unsafe to have TikTok on those government phones, then they’re acting on that advice and we would support that decision.
It’s obviously delayed in coming and the government will have their own reasons as to why they didn’t announce it last week or the week before that, even though they had the advice to do that. So I’m sure that’s an answer that they can provide to you.
Should politicians and public servants be allowed to use the app on their personal devices?
Well, those of us in public life have to take advice from the agencies, from the head of ASIO and the head of ASIS and the other intelligence agencies, and if they’re providing advice, it should be adhered to. If people have got doubts, then they can contact the relevant contacts at ASIO or ASIS. I think if the Director-General of Security is giving advice to Members of Parliament, they should follow it.
Last TikTok question, do you have concerns about the broader publics use of TikTok and are there options available for the government to either restrict the use or force TikTok’s parent company to distance itself from China?
I’d just say to particularly a lot of young Australians; we all spend a lot of time online now, on TikTok, on Instagram, other communication apps and messaging apps, we just need to be really cautious about the amount of detail and data that we put out there. It’s particularly important for young boys and girls online because people are online grooming. They’re assuming identities and it can be a great place to exchange photos and videos and information and joke with your friends, but it can also be a very dangerous place because if you have somebody, whether it’s a state actor or an organised crime group collecting data, collecting personal messages, collecting those photos, that can be really worrisome.
So I just think we need to listen to what the authorities are saying. They give the advice based on all of the intelligence available to them that lots of us just don’t see on a day-to-day basis, and for that reason, as we would listen to the police about a drink driving message or a speeding message or to lock your house up of a night time, you need to be safe online as well. If people are concerned about data being vacuumed up through TikTok and other messaging apps, then the government’s really got to do as much as they can on that.
One for Albury people; power bills are very high and even higher for businesses that have such infrastructure to run, like we see here. Back on 15th of December, did you not vote down energy price intervention legislated by the Albanese Government?
I’d just make this point about the government’s Bill that they got passed, right – so if they’re pretending that it didn’t pass, then they’re not telling you the truth – so the government got that Bill passed, nobody’s power bill has gone down, so let’s be very clear about it. The Bill went through the Parliament and I mean, just one of you tell me whether your power bill’s gone down…
What did you see wrong with it?
…Of course it’s gone up, because they’re turning off an old system before the new one is built. There’s a huge demand for gas, an increasing demand for gas and as President Biden’s pointed out, in America gas is a very significant and long term part of their energy plan. So if you turn off gas, which is what the Labor Party’s proposing, you’re going to drive up people’s gas bills. If you roll out 28,000 kilometres worth of new poles and wires across people’s farms and across rural communities and through national parks – as Mr Albanese is proposing – at the cost of over $100 billion, your power bills are going to go up because the gas companies and the electricity companies won’t pick up that bill. They’re going to pass that on.
We’re not in favour of Labor’s higher power prices, we’re in favour of policies that bring it down. If you’ve got demand for gas increasing and you’re limiting supply, the gas price is going to continue to go up. So if Labor believes that power prices have come down or electricity prices have come down, produce the evidence. It’s just not the case and I don’t think anybody should be fooled by that sort of rhetoric. All right, thank you very much.