Subjects: Flood warnings; Syrian repatriation; Labor’s crab walking away from legislated tax cuts; Labor’s divided caucus on stage three tax cuts; Essendon CEO resignation; religious freedom; Shangri-La Dialogue; Solomon Islands.
Thank you for being here today. There are a couple of issues that I wanted to cover.
Firstly, I want to say to all of those people who might be hearing messages at the moment from emergency services about weather events coming up: please heed those warnings, make the preparations necessary. I want to say thank you to all of our emergency service workers who always come to the aid of communities at a time of need. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years, weather events – particularly floods and severe weather events that may affect you and your family – need to be taken seriously. So please heed any of that advice or visit the websites to make sure that you’re updated on the most recent warnings for your local community.
The second issue that I wanted to raise was in relation to the Government’s proposal to bring back some of the foreign fighters and their children. I had a briefing yesterday from the Director-General of ASIO, I’m very grateful for the time that he was able to give me and provide me with detailed information at a Top Secret level. So, I’m not going to go into the detail of what he’s provided to me, but it builds on my own knowledge of these matters from having been a member of the NSC for a number of years and obviously Home Affairs Minister before.
I must say that I am more strongly of the view now, that there is a very significant risk in bringing some of these people to our country that can’t be mitigated, frankly, not to the level we would require to keep Australians safe and I think the government really needs to explain properly what it is they’re proposing here.
Now, this has been around for the last few days and the Prime Minister has not provided any detail. He was on FM radio this morning talking about Botox but doesn’t provide any detail about what it is they’re talking about in their proposal to bring back women and children from Syria.
Now, they’re dreadful circumstances. It pains me greatly – like it does any Australian – to see children in particular, in difficult circumstances and that’s the reality of what their parents have dragged them into or what they’ve been born into. But where we’ve got young males potentially of fighting age who have been indoctrinated over the course of the last decade or so, in some instances, where they’ve been living for years now in a camp – socialising with people who have either committed terrorist attacks or who have been planning terrorist attacks – then we need to take it very seriously.
I accept the advice from the Director-General of ASIO in terms of mitigations and the advice no doubt they’re providing to government. As I say, I make no comment on that, but based on my own experience and knowledge of these matters and understanding now what it is that the government is proposing, I hold grave concerns about the national security and I think it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister or at least a national security minister – after three days – to stand up and to say what it is the government’s proposing, what risks they’re willing to take, because we don’t want to be complacent in our country. We haven’t seen a terrorist attack, thank goodness, in our country for some time. There have been a number of thwarted attempts at terrorism in our country and these issues, though, haven’t gone away. I think the public would rightly ask questions, and very serious questions, if there was to be an attack that took place in our country. I hope that the Prime Minister is able to stand up on this issue as quickly as possible.
The third issue that I wanted to cover was in relation to tax cuts. Now it’s clear that there is a huge divide within the government. There’s an internal brawl going on within Labor at the moment, about whether they adopt or drop the stage three tax cuts. Now, the Treasurer is trying to find a slippery path out of the tax cuts. They’ve already been legislated, they’re due to come in in 2024 and the Treasurer is trying to draw an equivalence with what’s happened in the UK over the last few days – there is no comparison to be drawn. In the UK, the proposal there was to abolish the top marginal tax rate for people on incomes of £150,000 or more – so that’s an equivalent of about 261,000 Australian dollars. That is not what is proposed here. The idea of the stage three tax cuts, the objective of the stage three tax cuts, was to reduce the marginal tax rate of 32 and a half cents down to 30 cents, to abolish the 37 per cent tax rate, which meant that 95 per cent of Australians would be paying 30 cents in the dollar – no more. For people on incomes of $45,000 up to $200,000, they are the beneficiaries. Now these are people on middle incomes, they’re aspirational, they’ve got cost of living pressures like you wouldn’t believe and only growing under this government.
The government promised a plan before the election which included these tax cuts, which they looked the Australian people in the eye and guaranteed would be delivered. Now it turns out that there is this unholy fight going on within Labor, led by Jim Chalmers, the Treasurer, who is trying to walk away from the stage three tax cuts and the promise, the solemn promise, that they gave to the Australian people. So, they need to stop the fighting and they need to act in the best interests of Australians, particularly at a very difficult time.
The fourth issue that I wanted to raise was a very, very important issue in relation to what’s happened at the Essendon Football Club over the course of the last 24 hours. Now, in our country, we have the freedom of speech and we have the freedom of religious association as fundamental elements of our society and of our democracy. I think there has been a very egregious attack on an individual because of his religious beliefs.
Now, the views that have been expressed by a pastor at this church in relation to gay people, or to the issue of abortion – they’re an abomination and I condemn those points that have been made by that particular pastor – but the comments and the actions of Andrew Thorburn are completely distanced from that and the fact that an individual can be sacked from a position because of his religious belief doesn’t have any place in our country. In the 1950s, where you had ads for jobs which expressly said, you know, “Catholics and Jews need not apply”, we’re not going back to those days.
I think good Australians, frankly, need to speak out against this. I think it starts with the Premier of Victoria, I think it starts with the Prime Minister and many other business leaders who should condemn it, and the Essendon Football Club should reconsider the decision that they’ve made. When you look at Andrew Thorburn’s record as a CEO at NAB, he sponsored gay events and provided support to his entire workforce – never an element or a suggestion he discriminated against anybody on any basis whatsoever.
I think this is a very significant awakening for the Australian public on a very important issue. People’s religious beliefs – whether it’s Christianity, whether it’s Judaism, whether you’re part of a mosque, or a temple – it doesn’t matter. We don’t tolerate discrimination against anybody on that basis. I’m concerned, I’m very deeply concerned, about the development in relation to this Essendon situation and the dismissal, frankly, should be reversed and Mr Thorburn should be reappointed to his position.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Just to go back to tax cuts, given the economy and the world has changed dramatically since the income tax cuts were passed through Parliament, why do you think the stage three cuts need to remain – beyond the fact that it’s a promise?
Well, a couple of points. I mean, firstly, it was a golden promise made by the Prime Minister to the Australian people before the election. So, people have voted for him on this basis and for him to break faith with the public on such a fundamental promise would be a very bad decision. First point.
Second point is that these are tax cuts targeted from July of 2024 – not talking about coming into effect until that time. So, every economic analyst at the moment predicts a difficult calendar 2023, and it would be exactly the time in July of 2024 to implement tax reform, which would allow people the disposable income to spend on either paying down their mortgage, paying off their credit card, spending the money in the economy otherwise, which would be an economic benefit to our country at a time when we needed it, if particularly, we see a significant downturn in 2023. So, it’s not fuelling inflation over the course of the next calendar year because it doesn’t come in until July of 2024.
So, there are sound economic reasons for it, and it’s not about the “top end of town”, as I’ve pointed out. In the UK they were abolishing the top marginal tax rate for people on incomes of over $260,000 Australian. That’s not what is being proposed here and if the government sees fit to provide support to families on family incomes of $400,000, to provide support for their childcare assistance, then why in principle would they be against providing taxation relief to people on incomes between $45,000 and $200,000?
And just on that, why shouldn’t the recent UK debate be a concern for our government here?
Well, I think I’ve just explained that. There’s just no comparison to be drawn and Labor members of parliament are pointing this out. The internal fighting that’s going on within the Labor Party at the moment demonstrates that Jim Chalmers is off on frolic, frankly, that’s beneath him.
He stood there with the Prime Minister and promised at the last election that they would deliver these tax cuts. The tax cuts have been legislated – Labor voted for them. They were introduced by the Coalition government, because they were part of a three-stage process of reforming our tax system. As you get inflation, as you get wage growth, people start to move between and up through the respective tax brackets and so there is there is an effective increase in their taxation as a result of that. What this stage three does is for 95 per cent of Australians, it means that they’re paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar and for those on incomes of $45,000 to $200,000 they would otherwise – with wage growth – be moving into a higher tax bracket.
So, there’s no comparison to be made with the UK and there are Labor members of parliament who are saying that internally but saying it publicly as well. The Prime Minister needs to clean this mess up and call the Treasurer back into line.
Why should Australia borrow money to fund tax cuts?
Well, I’ve just gone into economic logic to it, so it’s absolutely sound policy and it should be adhered to. The government knew of the debt situation before they were elected – they committed to it, they voted for it, it’s not due to come in until 2024 and there’s no reason whatsoever for them to walk away from a core promise.
So, you dispute claims that Labor says there’s a structural deficit?
Well, they should have argued that before the election. They knew all of this before the election and they went to the election saying they had a plan. They promised on 97 occasions that people’s power bills would come down by $275 – the Prime Minister’s never mentioned that figure since the election, since he was elected, and people voted for him on that basis. So, this is a huge break of trust with the Australian public and Labor members of parliament are calling out Jim Chalmers and the Prime Minister now on what would be a most significant break of faith with the Australian public, and the Labor members of parliament – more strength to their arm. They should be pushing back against it because they know that this would be a catastrophic mistake by the Treasurer.
Just to switch lanes to the Shangri-La leak. How concerned should authorities be about that data leak from the Shangri-La Dialogue?
Well, again, I made these points the other day in relation to the Optus situation here. We live our lives online now and companies and governments need to take every protection to make sure that we defeat the realities of all of those actors – state and non-state – online who are trying to hoover up information, who are trying to disrupt government programs, trying to interfere in the theft of intellectual property. These are very serious concerns and as we live our lives more and more online, as we bank and exchange messages online, etc. it needs to be a safe environment, and that’s why we introduced legislation when we were in government to provide protections and if additional support is required, then we’ll support the government in that effort.
Could Richard Marles have been more digitally-savvy when attending the event?
Well, that’s an issue for him to explain and I think it’s something that the government should explain, but that’s up to Mr Marles.
And finally, one more, just on Solomon disinformation. ASPI have found the Chinese government ran a disinformation campaign in Solomon Islands about Australia and Western nations. Do you suspect such campaigns are run elsewhere in the Pacific and how does Australia combat such campaigns?
Well, it’s the reality that we live in a very uncertain world and China is notorious for disseminating this information under President Xi. That’s the way in which the Xi Administration operates. It’s not something that can be swept under the carpet and that’s the reality of the world in which we live at the moment. I think, frankly, the best way to deal with this is to shine a spotlight on it, call out the behaviour, because if it is not called out then it will continue and I’d just say to everybody within our region, be very mindful of that, that’s the modern reality and we have to deal with it but deal with it we will.