Tony, thank you very much. I think John Howard would describe you as ‘solid’ and ‘sound’.
So, mate, thank you very much for your leadership of the PGA and the work that you’ve done on behalf of many of your members here, present today, many who are out working and toiling away, trying to make a quid in an honest way. The PGA, the work that you’ve done, the leadership here in the room, should be very proud of that.
I want to say thank you very much to all of my colleagues who are here today – I hope it’s a strong expression of support to the PGA, to the members, and to the cause, and to the issues that you hold near and dear.
Thank you very much to Michaelia Cash, to Slade Brockman – a former employee of the PGA, Rick Wilson – my very good friend from O’Connor, and Senator the Honourable Linda Reynolds.
Thank you to Barry Court for being here as a PGA executive life member.
I’d also like to acknowledge Adam Giles, a former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. Jeez they miss you more than ever, I might say, in the Northern Territory – need you more that ever in the Northern Territory, Adam. But, I suspect you’re not going back from the private sector in that direction any time soon.
I want to say thank you very much to everyone across the industry today: the pastoralists, the graziers, the farmers and the primary producers, those working in the wider supply chain, the members from the broader agricultural industry, researchers and public servants, members of the local and state governments, my fellow speakers: Warren Mundine, very distinguished Malcolm McCusker and Brianna McKee as well.
Thank you very much to Shane Love, and also to Libby Mettam for their presence and support.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I come from a business background, not just a policing background. I say to people who are in business that being in Opposition is like going into bankruptcy, I think, in your own business, where you need to hand the keys back of the business to the bank on the Saturday night and the task is to rebuild your fortune over the course of the next three years and hopefully be in a position to reclaim the house back and take the keys back from the bank.
I’ve been travelling around the country just non-stop, and we’ve met some amazing Australians, including many here in WA.
We’ve spoken to families, to workers, obviously to small business owners, to farmers, to manufacturers. We were down in the South West just yesterday.
They’re very difficult economic times for our country, and I don’t think we should underestimate the challenge that many families and small businesses are facing this very day.
They’re being very candid, as Tony just was, about the influence – negative and otherwise – of the state government and now the federal government as well.
But they’re informing our policies as we go towards the next federal election, and that’s important because we have to refresh, we need to make sure that we can reconnect with those who are important to us, those who influence policies and can change the direction of our country when we’re re-elected in 18 months’ time.
I’ve been obviously in and around Perth, but more importantly, on my visits we’ve been out to regional WA – to Leonora, to Laverton, to Bunbury. We were up at the Wagin Woolorama and I want to say thanks very much to Rick, and to many others who were there on that occasion.
I want to say thank you very much to those in the room who have formed support networks with our members, because as I say, we have to get back to grassroots, we have to listen to Australians again about what’s important to them, to their families, to their communities, and therefore, to our country.
It’s obvious over the course of the last couple of months to many Australians that the Prime Minister has been captured by elites, by people particularly on the east coast – CEOs and Chairs of publicly listed companies – who crave popularity and who want to tell the public what they think they want to hear so that they can be popular on social media.
I don’t think since the days of Gough Whitlam there’s been government intervention on the scale that we’ve seen so far, and what’s promised, as Tony pointed out before, including the area of industrial relations – and the Government’s not yet finished.
It’s going to be near impossible for businesses to employ a casual worker over the course of the next 12 or 18 months, and it’s going to be very costly as well at a time when businesses can’t afford it.
The Government’s energy policy is a complete debacle. We’re now seeing businesses having to ration and to cut back on productive economic activity, which will result in a net negative benefit to state domestic product, to our nation’s GDP, and it will harm the employment prospects of many Australians.
And why is that necessary? Why, at a time when we’re seeing an economic downturn internationally, would we want to canvas making it even harder for businesses to do business; to make a dollar, to employ Australians?
The Government’s out to please the union agenda, and we understand that. The Labor Party always does that, but they’re doing it writ large on this occasion. The Government’s had no regard, I don’t think, given they’re rolling out this ideological agenda for many sectors, certainly not for mining.
We’ve now got an issue of sovereign risk in our country where companies are investing in Africa, not in WA or in New South Wales or in my home state of Queensland. And does it mean that we’re seeing a net reduction in emissions or economic activity improve in our country? Of course it doesn’t.
The cement industry is about to be forced offshore under the Government’s safeguard mechanism. Is there a prospect that we’ll stop using cement in our country? It’s absurd. What will happen? Well, the cement will be processed or the powder will be processed somewhere in Asia, presumably. We’ll lose the Australian jobs, we’ll lose the economic activity here in WA and across the country, and the net emissions will increase because we’ll be shipping it back into our country at a higher cost. It just doesn’t make any sense.
We were down, as I said, yesterday with Nola Marino in Bunbury and speaking to some of the businesses down there. Simcoa is a classic example where they’re making silica, the key ingredient and essential element for solar panels, but for many other commodities as well. They employ a thousand Australians, a thousand people in this great state of Western Australia.
But their prospects aren’t bright at all and that industry is likely to be forced offshore, predominantly into China, at a time when we should be talking about national security in the energy market. Because if we don’t get energy right, every Australian, particularly big consumers of energy, including pastoralists and everybody in the supply chain.
Wherever cold rooms and freezers are required, the bills will continue to go up – and the Prime Minister promised Australians that power prices would come down by $275, of course they haven’t and there’s no prospect of that.
We now see from the energy regulator that there’s a prospect that there will be disruption to supply. So, not only do we have countries like Korea, Japan and others looking to us and seeing sovereign risk. But there are companies who are onshore here, at the moment, including many that you will be dealing with who are questioning their ongoing engagement in the Australian market.
This is in 18 short months and that’s the reality that we need to deal with.
Now, we came out of the blocks very quickly in support of Western Australian farmers who are going to be adversely affected – not just them, their families, and their communities – in relation to the Government’s decision to close down the live sheep export industry. There’s not a secondary market for it, but it also has a knock-on impact as well. We should be very clear about this.
I think the Cook Government here in WA should be very clear about it, as well. The fact is that it does create uncertainty in a Middle Eastern market where a growing opportunity exists for our exports. It will have a knock-on impact to other commodities because they’ll see Australia as an uncertain partner.
Exactly what happened in relation to live exports for cattle in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd disastrous years when Anthony Albanese was the Deputy Prime Minister. They’ll look to Australia in a very different way than they did during the Howard period or during the Abbott period, or the Turnbull and Morrison periods.
We should as a Coalition stand up for our values and we have. We pledge our support again today to that industry. We’re not going to allow the industry to phase out and we will do everything within our power when we come back into government to make sure that it’s reinstated, because the conditions and the attention that the industry has paid to protecting animals as they’re exported is world-class and it will only be replaced by another market where sheep or animals otherwise will be treated more poorly – and if you think it’s going to stop at sheep, well, I think that’s wishful thinking.
It will, of course, extend beef ultimately, to buffalo, to goats, and to transport of animals over longer distances.
The animal activists who have taken a very significant hold on this Labor Government – who Anthony Albanese relies on for preferences in seats like Grayndler in Sydney – their influence is much greater now than was even in the Rudd era, and we should be very conscious as a sector about that.
There is a significant debate for our country to have in relation to the latest technology around nuclear energy.
The ability for us to reduce one of the most significant input costs in your businesses, and in households around Western Australia and across the country is quite phenomenal.
In Ontario, where they rely on between 60 and 70 per cent of nuclear energy to firm up renewables, they’re paying half the rate per kilowatt hour that we are here in WA, or in New South Wales, or indeed most other jurisdictions across the country.
And why wouldn’t we be having the conversation? Well, the WA Energy Minister here says that it’s just not on the table, it’s not to be discussed, but businesses are going to be impacted.
We were yesterday talking with a retailer – a big fruit and veg retailer – and they have a huge range of meats and other products. If the power went out for them, for two or three days, they carry $3 million worth of stock. If there’s a disruption to their supply or it just becomes too expensive to expand their operation, there’s a knock-on effect, of course, right down the supply chain.
But that’s the environment that’s been created under the Albanese Government over the last 18 months, and I want to make sure that we can lead a Coalition back into power in 18 months’ time so that we can address the issues which are of most concern to you and to other Australians.
I want to finish just on the Voice, and I’m here as the first act, you’re here to listen to Warren Mundine – the great Warren Mundine – who I might say has done a fantastic job on our country’s behalf talking common sense.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that when the Prime Minister announced on the election night in May of 2022 that his highest priority in government would be to implement a Voice and to commit to the Uluru Statement “in full” – which is not just the Voice, as you know, it’s truth telling and Treaty which goes on for 20 to 30 years. Nobody had heard anything about it.
It wasn’t an issue during the campaign, the Prime Minister hadn’t stood up and told Australians that he was going to spend $400 million on a Voice which ultimately would divide the country, would pitch family members against family members, would say to communities that you’re – as Ray Martin refers – and I won’t use the exact language that Ray Martin’s used in the last couple of days, but the derogatory terms that have been applied to Australians who have said that they’re going to vote ‘no’, I think it’s quite astounding that our country’s been put in this position so quickly.
It’s deeply regrettable and it’s going to take a lot to rebuild that country after the 14th of October.
Now, Australians in their millions have a deep desire to see a better outcome for Indigenous Australians in places like Laverton and Leonora, in Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek.
You want to see those kids go to school, you want to see the employment opportunities created, the housing and you want to see a functioning, productive society.
But it’s clear that the Prime Minister’s proposal has none of the detail – and it’s quite deliberate.
We’ve had no constitutional convention, which is without precedent. It’s the biggest change proposed to our nation’s rulebook in our country’s history. No time since Federation has there been a proposal to insert a chapter of this nature into the Constitution, which would give it equal billing with the High Court.
The words are so broad that when the Prime Minister says this is just a meek and mild, respectful change, nobody believes what he’s saying.
He described the Voice this week as like a school P&C. That, if you’ve got a good P&C and a functioning P&C, the school operates better. Well, why not put P&Cs into the Constitution?
I mean, it’s an absurd proposition, but these thought bubbles over the last 24 hours because then he moves on to the next one and none of it is coherent, and this is the Prime Minister of our country who believes that he’s Bob Hawke reincarnated.
This bloke is no Bob Hawke. He’s no Paul Keating. But I’ll tell you, he’s coming pretty close to Kevin Rudd.
The dysfunction now, the harm that’s being done to our society, the harm that’s been done to our economy. It’ll take a lot to repair it, and that is always the task of Liberal Governments. We always inherit bigger debt, we always inherit decisions from the Labor Party which take years and years to turn around.
But the trouble is that people in your industry, small business owners across the country otherwise, pay the price of Labor’s folly.
I hope that Australians on the 14th of October vote ‘no’. Not because they’re hard-hearted or dim-witted or racist, as the Prime Minister and Ray Martin and Marcia Langton and others might point out, but because they care for and love our country.
We want to defend the country. We live in the best country in the world – and we want to make sure that if there is a change to the Constitution, that it’s done for the right reasons, and a deliberate strategy, a deliberate tactic by the Prime Minister to take that information away from Australians, is quite a significant act, and as I say, without precedent.
So, I think there’s a lot of work, friends, that we need to do together over the course of the next 18 months or so, to make sure that we stare down the worst of Labor’s decisions.
I think you’ve seen now the second tranche of Labor’s IR laws – there’s a lot more to come, a lot more to come – and it’s going to impact and be a wet blanket right across the economy, at exactly the wrong time, when inflation’s high and staying high under this Government because they’re spending more money in the economy, people are paying 15 per cent more tax now than they were even 12, 15 months ago. When they run out of money, of course they come after yours and that’s the Labor way.
So, I want to say thank you all very much for being here and I look forward to some questions and answers.
Tony, thank you again for your leadership and great to be with you all.