Subjects: Age and Veteran Service Pension Work Bonus Scheme proposal; Defence appointments; defence spending; priorities for SA; paid parental leave; cost of living; bombings in Kyiv; NATO Summit.
It’s fantastic to be here with the Leader, Peter Dutton, his first visit since becoming the Leader of the Opposition federally, to South Australia – but he’s no stranger to South Australia having been here many, many times in his previous roles – and we certainly look forward to seeing more of Peter here as the Leader as we go about our business of being an effective Opposition.
It’s fantastic to be here at My Care Solutions, a really, really important business that is developing solutions to deal with the issue of the ongoing demand for care in our sector, whether it be, most particularly aged care.
It’s really fantastic to have Peter here in South Australia today on the back of an announcement on the weekend about how we are, as a as an Opposition, seeking to put the pressure on the government to make sure that we are seeing older Australians with the opportunity for dignity to continue to work if they choose to do so; but making sure that they are not penalised when they do choose to take up additional work by increasing the work bonus.
It’s fantastic to have you here Peter. Fantastic that this new policy that we’re putting forward as an Opposition is something that’s going to be able to assist older Australians, but at the same time assist with our workforce shortages because we know older Australians can sometimes make the most fantastic employees and we look forward to hopefully this policy being adopted.
Anne, thank you very much. It’s great to be here. I want to say firstly, thank you very much to Mark and the staff, some incredible people. We had a wonderful discussion with Betty as well, who’s a 75 year old worker in this industry and a real inspiration. She had a beautiful story about her own family, and her story is the story of many Australians who decide that even if they’re on a pension, that they want to work part time and they want that dignity, they want the extra income, but for our economy at the moment, we desperately need people in that situation. If they choose to work, to be able to have that opportunity.
The way in which the welfare system works at the moment, the way in which the pension system works for pensioners and for recipients of, not just the age pension, but veterans as well, that if they work more than $300 worth of work a fortnight, then they’re penalised at $0.50 in every dollar their pension reduces.
Our proposal is to increase that $300 to at least $600.
If the government is minded to go further, we would be very happy to support that because there is a very, very tight labour market across the country. Unemployment is obviously very low. The participation rate is at an all time high. The economy has been strong because of the decisions that we’ve made as a country, particularly over the course of the last nine years and we know that there are tens of thousands of jobs, not just in South Australia but across the country, where employers can’t find workers.
We were in WA yesterday at an orchard where the fruit can’t be picked if they can’t get the workers on the ground. In aged care, we have an acute shortage of workers and particularly pensioners who have a great empathy and a great life experience to bring into the workplace, in an aged care facility. We should be facilitating that, not hindering it. It’s in retail and hospitality and tourism and it’s with us now.
This problem is compounding and the government’s got a summit, a talkfest in September. They’ve got the budget in October, but we’re now at the end of June and I think the policy should be adopted by the government now. We would support them, we would praise them for doing that. It’s a policy whose time has come and I hope that they can see fit to support that.
I’ll just make one other comment that is in relation to the extension of the appointment of Angus Campbell as the Chief of the Defence Force and David Johnston as the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, and also the appointment of the new service chiefs. I have the greatest of respect for all those people. They have served their country with great distinction.
It was my great honour as Defence Minister to work very closely with the CDF and the VCDF, and the Chief of Army, the Chief of Navy and Chief of Air Force as well. I want to say thank you to those that are retiring, moving on from those roles. Again, they’ve served their country over many decades with extraordinary distinction and I think it’s a great decision that Richard Marles has made as the Defence Minister to make the appointments that he’s announced today.
These are men that Australians should have great pride in, respect for, and appreciation for the effort that they go to, to keep us safe and to represent us internationally in the fine way that they do.
I’m happy to take any questions.
Just off the back of the extension announcement, Richard Marles this morning said that the previous government has left the ADF with significant capability gaps. What do you make of that comment?
Well, it just defies logic because when Labor were in government, they reduced spending in Defence to the lowest level since 1938. It was quite remarkable.
We’ve built up the spending and the investment in Defence, not just in defence industry, and there’s a big benefit here in South Australia because of the investment that we’ve made in defence industry, but we put more money into the support and equipment that our troops need, the training, the deployments, etc..
So I think it’s an absurd comment for him to make and frankly, beneath him on a day when we should really be celebrating the extension of General Campbell and the other appointments.
What are your priorities for South Australia? What do you think are the priorities for South Australia?
I had a really good conversation this morning on the phone with the Premier and I’ll catch up, I hope, with him if he’s available next time that I’m here.
I’m catching up with David Speirs as well and obviously Anne Ruston, Simon Birmingham, all of my South Australian colleagues work very closely. I’m very happy to be back. I want to come back more regularly.
Obviously I’ve been a regular visitor to South Australia as the Defence Minister, as Border Force Minister, as Health Minister, as Assistant Treasurer to Peter Costello. I want to work very closely with my South Australian colleagues to work on the issues that are important to South Australia.
I want to support defence industry because it’s a big employer. It’s a huge multiplier within the economy here. But most importantly at the moment, I really want to push this policy, which is all about trying to get people into jobs that just are remaining open.
The economic benefit that’ll come to South Australia is a very significant one. If we can employ more people, It’s better for them, it’s better for their dignity and obviously it’s better for the economy. You’ve got some restaurants at the moment who can open for dinner, but not for lunch, because they can’t get the staff. You’ve got tourism destinations that can operate at 40 or 50 or 60 per cent occupancy, but not at 100 per cent because they can’t find the staff. You’ve got aged care facilities, you’ve got people in this industry who can’t go and visit elderly people who are in need with dementia, high care needs otherwise and they’re going without visits because they can’t find the staff and this problem can’t wait three or four or six months or 12 months for a solution. It needs to happen now.
And you think that your proposal to, forgive me, the proposal is for allowing older Australians to return back to the workforce. Can you please explain how that would work?
At the moment, people who are on an age pension or are veterans, they have the ability to work each fortnight up to $300 worth of work. So effectively about a day’s pay at the minimum wage. At that point, if they earn a dollar more, then they have a taper rate that applies and they lose about $0.50 in every dollar from their pension. So there’s a disincentive for them to work.
We would have expected probably by now that the migration numbers would have picked up, people would be returning back to Australia, post-COVID and those backpackers and students, etc. might be doing some of the jobs – that’s not happened.
There is a dire need for workers in the economy right now.
My argument is that if pensioners, if they choose to go back to work, if they want to do two days a fortnight, or if they want to do a little bit more, then our proposal is to increase that $300 to $600. It allows them to do a little bit of extra work.
At the moment, there are about 80,000 pensioners, not just age pensioners, but also veterans who are working part time. We think immediately there’s the ability for those people to increase their work. It’s what they want to do, if they choose to do so, it’s not about compelling anyone to do anything and maybe other people who are not working at the moment decide that, well, it wasn’t worth going to work for one day a fortnight, but I’ll go for two.
We’ve got a ready workforce there of age pensioners who choose to work and it gives them greater dignity because they bring a few extra dollars into their household budget. It’s particularly important at a time when pensioners are facing higher electricity costs and higher costs of living, including petrol.
So there are a number of reasons why this makes sense and I hope the government can pick it up sooner than later.
Mr Dutton, just back to that issue of capability in defence. One of the issues flagged by Richard Marles was the AUKUS submarine deal. Has Australia been left with the capability gap because of that deal?
Well, we were because Labor never commissioned one submarine. There’s no ships being built at the moment in South Australia or in Western Australia or anywhere in our country that was commissioned by Labor. That’s the reality.
We had a huge gap that was left to us by Labor when we came into government and you don’t just create a submarine industry or you don’t just build a frigate overnight. It takes time for the design, it takes time for the build. We have invested into defence in a way that Labor never did.
Under the AUKUS arrangement, that is the security underpinning for our nation for the next four or five decades. If Labor is preparing to walk away from that, which I suspect Richard Marles, at least in part, is planning on doing, then I think he would be doing a great disservice to our country as the Defence Minister.
The advice from the Chief of Navy and the Chief of Defence Force to me when I was the Defence Minister, was that we don’t have that gap because we have a life of type extension for the Collins class submarines.
The thought that Richard Marles could design a new Collins class submarine with a new vertical launch system or a new weapon system, and have that boat in the water by 2030, is a complete absurdity.
I think he’s preparing the ground to walk away from the nuclear submarine program, which I think would be a travesty.
We have an incredible relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom. They hadn’t shared the nuclear technology with any other country since the 1950s, and they won’t share it with another country. So we have a unique opportunity.
If Labor is crab walking away from the AUKUS deal, I don’t think given the situation in the Indo-Pacific at the moment, that is in our country’s best interest and they should reconsider it.
On what basis are you making that claim though Mr Dutton?
There’s constant talk that there’s a capability gap and that it’s too long before you get the nuclear submarines. I’ve seen this sort of political talk before from Labor.
I can tell you, they’ll be looking at the figures where there’s a considerable expense, not just over the forward estimates, but particularly in the out years over the next decade and beyond, and they would be saying, well, we can’t afford to do that, and how do we get out of it?
That is not a choice that the Labor Party should be contemplating because you need that capability, and to defend our country, particularly in uncertain times, you need to invest in the Australian Defence Force and the equipment that they have and it takes time to get the equipment.
I’ve detailed how I think we can get that investment in submarines underway more quickly and that Labor would be seeking to walk away from that, I think is something that Mr Marles should be very clear about instead of this double talk that he’s undertaking at the moment.
Question on paid parental leave for dads. It was something that your government had in the budget in regards to 20 weeks for dads. Labor’s now looking to implement it, potentially how they might implement it. What’s your reaction to that and why do you think your government thought it was a good idea?
I’d just be very clear about this, and I’ve made this comment since I’ve been the Leader of the party; we’ll support constructive policies, and policies that make sense.
Families are dynamic, mum or a dad, or whatever the dynamic of a family is, means that you do have to have flexibility. We supported that in childcare. We supported it through paid parental leave, etc. A lot of this has already happened whilst we’ve been in government. If the Albanese Government has sensible policy to propose, we’ll support that.
It’s just got to be done in a way that doesn’t price people out of a job. If employers decide that the on cost is too expensive or the flexibility is too difficult in their workplace, we’ve just got to accept that.
We’re also coming into a very tight economic situation over the course of the next couple of years, the projections in relation to inflation, the government’s obviously got a lot of money that they’re planning on spending. They’ve been warned by the ratings agency that if they spend the money that they had proposed to spend, that that would put upward pressure on interest rates and it would make it more expensive for government to service its debt, if the ratings agencies drop Australia’s credit rating down. There’s a fine balance here and we’ll look at what the government’s proposing.
We’ve always supported that flexibility and provided support to families to deal with the reality of children and what that means in terms of career progression, etc..
So under the current circumstance, you’d still recommend paid parental leave for dads up to 20 weeks as an option?
Let’s see what they’re proposing. I think at the moment there’s a thought bubble out there from Labor and we’ll see what it is they’re proposing, the cost attached to it and how it would work. Let’s have a look at it first.
I can ask you about Dr. Chalmers at the weekend. When talking about inflation, he said that the Reserve Bank Governor’s view that inflation could hit 7 per cent is not wide of the mark. He raised the cost of living pressure budget in October. It may well be a little bit too early for your comments, but I was just wondering what your thoughts are on how we can fix this cost of living issue that we’re all facing?
One of the things that I really worry about is that it is going to be tough under Labor over the next three years because of the decisions that they’ll make.
Now, history has demonstrated that Labor can’t manage money. They always go into much more debt than they should, and they always spend in the wrong areas. So I think we should be keeping a watchful eye on what Labor’s doing.
As I say, they’ve got $45 billion worth of expenditure off budget, that the ratings agencies have warned about, that it could affect our credit rating as a country, and that would be very, very expensive in terms of the cost of money that the Commonwealth currently has to service and it would put upward pressure on inflation and therefore interest rates.
Labor has to be very careful about what they’re going to do and how they’re going to spend money. We know during the GFC they were spending money on school halls, pink batts, cash for clunkers and all of these policies. They haven’t got a good track record.
At the moment, whilst the economy that they’ve inherited is very strong, if we’re seeing inflation at seven, eight per cent plus in the United States, and that translates here, will we see the effect on the dollar here in Australia, that could affect our exports and you can import inflation very easily. We need to be very careful. Bad governments respond to events in a way that results in these unintended consequences.
All I’d say to the Treasurer is that he should be open to sensible policies. I also note on the weekend that he ruled out support of the policy that we’re proposing now, which I think is a mistake. The Prime Minister’s overseas again and Mr Chalmers made a decision to oppose this policy without even consulting the Prime Minister.
I actually think it’s a sensible policy that could be implemented now. It would help workers fill jobs that are sitting vacant at the moment. It would be a huge win to the economy and also to those families to bring a bit of extra money into their household.
What’s your reaction to the latest bombings in a Kyiv?
I think it’s an abomination.
The Russian aggressors and the invasion that has been undertaken by President Putin has been barbaric from day one.
As Defence Minister, I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we were able to provide about $280 million worth of support to the Ukrainian Government. I had very constructive video calls with the Ukrainian Defence Minister to talk about what it was that they needed and we were able to provide that support.
The bombings of schools, of shopping centres, of apartment blocks, the world is rightly outraged at what President Putin is doing. The slaughter of innocent men, women and children shouldn’t be tolerated at any time, but not in the year 2022.
The sooner the Russians are able to leave Ukraine, the sooner the reconstruction can start and people can return back to their homes. I find it deeply offensive and upsetting when you see these scenes of innocent people being injured or killed.
Do you think Anthony Albanese while in Europe should visit Ukraine?
I hope that he can and that will be based on the security and the intelligence advice. If it’s safe for the Prime Minister to go to the Ukraine, I think it’s important for him to do so, because I think there is now this unbreakable bond between Ukraine and Australia.
Ukrainians have shown incredible spirit, almost like an Anzac spirit that we would know in our country.
President Zelenskyy is a modern day hero, he’s inspired his people and frankly the rest of Europe and the world in support of sanctions and support of the Ukrainians in their darkest hour.
I think our two countries now are joined forever because of the support that we provided, the respect that we’ve shown them. That support should continue and I’m sure it will under this government.
How would you define success for Anthony Albanese at the NATO summit?
I’m really more interested in success for the Ukrainian people and I want to see NATO take concrete action and for our government to support concrete action that will see the Russian war in Ukraine stop; and allow those kids to go to school and to go to shopping centres without the threat of these attacks. I think that’s the most important outcome for NATO.
The Ukraine Ambassador this morning called for greater support of Ukrainian forces, including the increased supply of weapons. Do you back this call from the Ambassador and should Australia provide more weapons?
Yes, I do. I demonstrated that as Defence Minister. I thought it was very important to provide the weapons systems and the support that the Ukrainians had requested, where we could do that, where didn’t deplete our stocks to a point where we were vulnerable.
Obviously we made a decision to send the Bushmaster as well, which was a direct request from President Zelenskyy when he addressed the joint sitting of our Parliament.
There’s more that we can do and I’m sure that will be considered by the government. We would strongly support fresh decisions by Mr Marles and Mr Albanese to provide that support to the Ukrainians because they need it and the Russians will continue this onslaught.
This war is not going to come to an end quickly, it seems, and we need to continue as a free world to be able to provide that support to the Ukrainians.
Anthony Albanese says Russia’s invasion has been a strategic failure. Do you agree with that assessment?
Yes I do, yes. Thanks you very much.