Subjects: Earthquake in Afghanistan; asylum seeker boats re-starting from Sri Lanka; e-cigarettes; energy crisis.
Mr Dutton, on Afghanistan. Do you have any concerns about any aid sent there being misappropriated by the Taliban?
Obviously the government has an obligation to make sure that the money is getting to those who are in need. This is a humanitarian crisis and as we did when we were in government, we found ways of getting money through government agencies and within the region or non-government agencies that were able to deliver that support on the ground.
So we’ll provide whatever support’s required to the government in making sure that that aid, that support can get through to people who obviously are going through a very traumatic event.
Mr Dutton are concerned that the economic crisis in Sri Lanka will lead to more people fleeing that country to Australia by boat? And should the government be providing more legitimate options for refugees fleeing that desperate situation?
I just say in relation to the boats, we don’t know how many have arrived. The government hasn’t released that information – we know at least four – and we know that a number have been disrupted. So this is a significant and emerging problem for the new government, but it’s a problem of their own making. The situation in Sri Lanka hasn’t occurred in the last four weeks, since this government was elected. The situation economically and socially on the ground otherwise has been in a state of turmoil for some time, and the circumstance in which the government finds itself at the moment is of their own making because they trashed Operation Sovereign Borders.
They wanted you to believe that they had Operation Sovereign Borders as their policy, but of course it’s not. They removed the central limb to OSB – which was the Temporary Protection Visa – and the people smugglers aren’t stupid, they’re sophisticated criminal syndicates, and they’re marketing on that basis to people.
So the last thing I want to see is boats restart. I don’t want to see women and children back in detention as they were when Labor was last in power, and we’ll provide whatever support we can to the government.
But the point is that the economic circumstances in Sri Lanka have been dire for some time and as a government we were able to deal with that. We were able to stare down the people smugglers. The problem for this government is that they speak out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to the issue of border protection and that creates an environment where people will be prepared to pay money to get on the boats and we know how that finishes, tragically.
Mr Dutton, Sally McManus says the RBA should have someone who has experience in negotiation on wages. Do you believe that is reasonable?
Is it Sally McManus that she believes should be on the board? I don’t know. I mean, is it Mr Ravbar who runs the CFMEU in Queensland? I presume that’s the sort of experience that she’s talking about.
I think it would be a disaster. I think the fact that we’ve got an independent RBA, there should be no attempt to compromise that and we’re going to see difficult months ahead and years ahead, it seems, just given the inflation projections, the talk of a recession in the US, etc. and we should be doing everything we can to protect our country; to keep people in their jobs, to keep businesses open, and to keep families in the best possible position.
We shouldn’t be making politically motivated appointments of union leaders that would compromise the independence of the RBA.
On that issue on wages and the RBA, Philip Lowe has said workers should be prepared to accept wages rising less than Inflation to stop inflation from getting entrenched. Is that a view that you share?
Mr Albanese has made the point during the campaign, it was an election promise, that he made that there would be real wage growth. So Mr Albanese has to explain how that’s going to be possible in a high inflation environment.
He made that commitment knowing the projections and the forecasts in relation to an inflationary environment and how is it that he’s going to achieve that? And how is Mr Albanese’s position consistent with that which the Reserve Bank Governor has made clear over the course of the last day or so?
So these are issues for Mr. Albanese to answer and at the moment if you’ve got a government that’s feeding inflation, I’m sorry to say, that interest rates will be higher because inflation will be higher if the government’s making decisions to spend more money and to make decisions that will fuel inflation at a time when we just don’t need that. We don’t want it, and it will mean, you know, great difficulties for families and businesses across the country.
When we say that it will be tougher under Labor – it is going to be tougher under Labor if they make these decisions that aren’t in our country’s best interest.
What’s your opinion on e-cigarettes? The Chief Health Officer was up today talking about the dangers of them, do you think they should be banned in Australia?
Well, I’m happy for there to be a debate in relation to it. My advice to people would be not to take up cigarettes or to take up e-cigarettes, but that’s a choice that people make. It’s not an illegal product. I suspect if it was banned, then you’d have all those problems that go with prohibition.
There’s been a reduction in the smoking rates in our country. I don’t want to see an increase in those smoking rates and I don’t want to see an increase in people taking up e-cigarettes either, but ultimately the department and the government will be informed on these matters and we’ll see what happens.
Are you happy to see the RAAF continue to conduct surveillance of the South China Sea following last month’s confrontation with the Chinese jet?
Yes I am. I think it’s in our national interest that they have a presence, that they work very closely with their allies. The surveillance flights are based on intelligence and the flights are conducted according to international law.
I think that’s very important for, particularly the northern approaches and gathering that intelligence, putting in place the protections to our north. All of that’s common sense and I strongly support the work of the RAAF.
Along the Defence front Mr Dutton, what more can Australia do in terms of supplying weapons for Ukraine? Obviously when you were Minister, Bushmasters, M113’s, is there much more left of Australia to do that can make a tangible difference?
I think there is and I applaud the government for the work that they’re doing in support of the Ukrainian Government. As Defence Minister, I provided about $280 million worth of military aid to the Ukrainian Government. It saved lives and I want to see the Russians defeated. I want to see them repelled from Ukraine, I don’t want to see them going into Poland or Norway or anywhere else.
I want there to be peace in that region and ultimately, that’s going to be up to President Putin, but countries like Australia can provide support to Ukrainians, and I think we should continue to do that in a tangible way. Listen to the requests that are made and judge, ultimately, whether that’s in our national interest to provide that support. But I would support those decisions taken by the government, by our government.
Just on energy. Should the government fast track the introduction of the capacity mechanism to better protect the energy grid?
The government went into the last election saying that they had the answers on energy. Chris Bowen is a Minister with a history here. He doesn’t come to the Ministry as a cleanskin. He was a disaster as a Minister with FuelWatch and GroceryWatch, boats arrived during his time as a Minister and it seems he’s learnt nothing from his years in Opposition.
So he was a bad Minister, and he’s come in with a very bad start because it’s clear that the energy companies gamed him and took advantage of his naivety and his inexperience, and that’s why we saw warnings to pensioners about turning air conditioners off during winter and why there’s great uncertainty about the energy supply at the moment.
All of the problems – like on boats – governments will always have events to deal with and you can respond to those – I mean we are here today to celebrate the Howard years – John Howard had lots of issues thrown at him: guns, all sorts of natural disasters, war, everything that you would expect during an 11 year period in government, but he was able to respond it.
The Morrison Government most recently provided support to the Australian public during the course of the pandemic with JobKeeper, it saved 700,000 jobs. Tens of thousands of businesses would have gone into bankruptcy without that support.
So the question is not whether events will come alone – they always do. It’s how governments respond to them. And good governments respond with the sort of policies that I’ve just outlined. Bad governments respond by shrugging their shoulders and, I think, when we talk about Chris Bowen being caught in the headlights – absolutely he is – because the same problems existed for Angus Taylor. He was able to stare down the excesses and the try-ons of the companies and the inadequacies of the regulators when they should have been acting if they weren’t. Chris Bowen hasn’t done that and that’s why we’re finding ourselves in the position.
The Ukraine hasn’t just become an issue. The energy crisis in Europe hasn’t become an issue in the last four weeks. It was an issue when we were in government. We’re able to deal with it. And that’s why I say it’s about events. The events around the boats coming out of Sri Lanka, that’s of the government’s own making and that’s because they’ve responded in a ham-fisted way.
They tried to trick people by saying that they had Operation Sovereign Borders, when in actual fact they abandoned Operation Sovereign Borders and they’ve got their own cobbled together policy, which is not going to work.
Well should the government be providing more legitimate options?
That’s a question to the government. Chris Bowen says he’s got the answers. He said that during the campaign. They promised that they would reduce electricity prices by $275 – I don’t know how they’re going to do that.
Don’t forget that when Labor was last in power, electricity prices went up by 100 per cent. When we were in government, over the course of the Coalition nine years in government, electricity prices come down by 8 per cent for households, 10 per cent for businesses and 12 per cent for industry.
They’re continuing to go up now once Labor’s back in power, but not only that, you’re going to have this energy and security debate where businesses will decide to withdraw their manufacturing efforts and just take their business overseas, which is not going to reduce the overall emissions and it’s going to cost Australian jobs – I just don’t think that’s in our country’s best interests.
Thanks very much.