On July 7, The Hon. Peter Dutton MP, addressed IPA members about Australia’s energy security and the need for Nuclear power.
Below is a transcript of the conference.
Well thank you everyone for being with us today. It’s a beautiful morning here in Sydney and a beautiful venue to have this event here today and it’s a great privilege and with much anticipation that I’ll be introducing the leader of the opposition Peter Dutton, to an audience of IPA members. Just a couple of housekeeping matters, you will have seen cameras are here today and that’s because today’s proceedings are being filmed and will be broadcast. I also just in terms of the order of proceedings, I’ll provide a brief introduction, Peter will deliver his address and after Peter’s address, he has kindly agreed to taking some questions from IPA members. You’ve sent many of your questions to me over the last couple of days. We’ve had about 25 odd questions you’ve sent through, so I won’t be able to get to every single one, but I’ll be putting to Peter some of the questions that you’ve sent to me.
Look, in terms of a couple of acknowledgements of special people that are here with us today. First and most importantly is the chairman of the Board of the IPA, Mr. Geoff Hone. Geoff, thank you for your leadership, for your wisdom and for your counsel, which has been an enduring source of strength of the IPAs for many years and has underpinned our success and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so over many more years of your chairmanship. If I could also acknowledge Scott Hargraves, executive director of the IPA, Maurice O’Shannesy, director of the board of the IPA. John Roskam, a senior fellow and most recent executive director of the IPA. John, thank you for everything you’ve done for the IPA and for Australia. Your leadership grew the IPA from an interesting but boutique organization back in 2005 to the intellectual and, yeah, big round of applause for John. And we very much look forward to your ongoing contribution to the IPA and to the nation. And I would also just like to recognize a special guest, Warren Mundine, who we have with us today. Welcome, Warren.
Thank you, Warren, for the work you’ve done with the IPA over recent months and years and for your leadership and tireless advocacies of Australian values and our way of life, and most recently your leadership and debate about the voice to parliament. So thank you.
In preparation for today, I went back and looked at some of the coverage of the most recent federal election and it struck me that Peter shouldn’t be here today, let alone as leader of the opposition. Some of you will remember a coverage by our dear friends at the ABC at 7:37 PM on the 21st of May the night of the federal election, they announced that Peter Dutton had lost his seat of Dickson, and I can guarantee you there would’ve been champagne corks being popped in the various ABC offices around the country, but of course that was quickly backtracked and Peter Dutton was announced to have held the seat of Dickson for the eighth time against continual predictions that that seat will be lost and that of course goes to Peter Dutton standing in his community, his capacity to communicate to mainstream Australians and his electability.
As we’re all acutely aware, our nation is facing perhaps its most significant set of challenges since the second World War. Economically, we are losing our natural competitive economic advantages in primary industry as a direct result of government policy. Culturally, we’re more divided than at any time in many of our lifetimes. Politically, the center right is out of power practically everywhere and socially, many of the major institutions of our society, which ought to be reflecting and reinforcing mainstream values is engaged in a relentless assault against them.
Many of you like me wonder if and when we can turn this around. Well, we can and it will require leadership. Over recent months, as opposition leader Peter Dutton has been providing this critical leadership across many of the big issues facing our nation’s future and we are now seeing significant policy and cultural renewal across the center right across our nation on energy. We are now having a serious debate about nuclear power, something which was unthinkable even just 18 months ago and we’ll hear more about that today. On education, Peter Dutton has identified one of the fundamental issues of why too many young Australians are falling out of love with our country at his recent Sir John Downer oration delivered in Adelaide earlier this year, Peter Dutton argued, ideologically driven advocates have too much influence over what is being taught to our children. We want our children to be educated, not indoctrinated.
This comes on the back of Peter Dutton’s significant October, 2022 budget reply speech where Peter said, teaching a sanitized and selective version of history and the arts and radical gender theory is not in our children’s best interests and education should be about fostering a love of country and pride in our history and democracy without sugarcoating the past.
On migration, an issue which touches the lives of every Australian. Peter Dutton, along with Shadow Minister Dan Tehan, has led the debate on the unsustainable intake of 1.8 million migrants over the next five years as committed to by this government. As Peter Dutton has said, at the moment, the government is dramatically increasing numbers under a big Australia agenda. It’ll be the biggest surge in the history of our population and it’s occurring amidst the housing and rental shortage. And finally, and most critically on the voice, the biggest and most immediate issue facing our nation’s future. Peter Dutton has provided critical leadership and demonstrated immense courage in taking a risk. Most recently Peter Dutton has called out big business for promoting and shamelessly financing the divisive race-based voice to parliament. Big business lacks significant backbone and it’s time for big business to stand up for what is in our country’s best interests, Peter Dutton recently argued.
When Peter Dutton announced the liberals no position on five April this year you’ll be aware that polls had the voice at 65% support. No doubt many will have counseled Peter Dutton to go with the flow and support the voice lest be against the tide of history and suffer the electoral consequences. Now as a result of leadership, support is at 45% and falling because Australians have been given a debate and the opportunity to hear a different opinion and the government’s proposal is being critiqued. Many Australians are deciding that the voice is not in the nation’s best interests. This would not have happened without two things. The first is intellectual leadership such as that provided by the IPA going back to 1943 most recently in relation to the voice to 2017 when the IPA critiqued various proposals for indigenous recognition which went beyond a preamble.
And secondly is political leadership where Peter Dutton and many of the opposition have shown a willingness to take risk, to stick their neck out, to lead debate, and to engage in the important task of policy and cultural renewal and we are now seeing the dividends of that. In terms of how do we get out of the situation we’re in as a country, I believe the combination of intellectual renewal and political and intellectual leadership will provide us with a path forward.
And with that it gives me a great honor and it’s a great privilege to introduce to all of you and for all of us to give the leader of the opposition, the honorable Peter Dutton, a very big and warm IPA welcome.
Daniel, thank you very much. Look ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great pleasure, great honor to be here with you today. At the outset, I want to commend the Institute of Public Affairs and all of the staff in particular Scott Hargraves to Daniel Wilde to Deborah Henderson, chair of the IPA Board, Geoff Hone, for their collective leadership and for what they do for our country. I also want to worship at the shrine of John Roskam as well, who’s led with incredible distinction for 17 years, taking this organization from strength to strength, the IPA’s outstanding research and public advocacy plays a critical role in contributing to our national policy discussion. Yours is a think tank committed to the truth and indeed the IPA constantly puts itself in the cross hairs because you fearlessly discuss difficult truths which can grate against the preferred narratives of the mainstream and social media zeitgeist.
Always wear the criticism you receive as a badge of honor. Just as the preservation of freedom requires the courage to engage in the battle of ideas, the decay of democracy is prevented by debate and difference of opinion and I’m sure we’ll delve into several of those topics during the Q&A session. I want to acknowledge Warren Mundine, his presence here today is important and his contribution to Indigenous Australians but to the betterment of our country as a whole is something that we can all now see on display on a daily basis. He’s a very significant player in the no campaign. And Warren, I commend you for the sacrifice that you make and acknowledge the attacks that take place on a daily basis towards you and your family and you make an incredible contribution to our nation. So thank you for being here today.
So friends, there are many issues for us to discuss, but I wanted to focus today on what I think is a very important issue, the topic of energy, specifically the cost for households and for businesses particularly small but large as well and why Australians must consider new nuclear technologies as part of the energy mix. We’re a resource rich country paying near the highest electricity prices in the world. Energy is the one of the most important policy discussions in our country right now and not just because power prices are skyrocketing for Australians, but because the decisions government makes to today will of course determine Australia’s energy future, a future where we’re either energy secure and self-reliant or energy insecure and dependent on others. Indeed, energy security has never been more interconnected with national security. Resurgent authoritarian regimes and increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks are sober reminders of the connection between energy and national security.
Now there’s three energy goals that we need to achieve as a nation. We need clean power, cost effective power and consistent power, but the government’s current energy agenda elevates the goal of clean energy to the detriment of the other two. Of course, we all understand the need to invest in the development of renewables and the important role they play in the energy mix. After all, the energy breakthrough we all desire may come from any number of sources, but the government is not being technologically agnostic or objective. On the contrary, it’s renewables only mentality, it’s renewable zealotry is putting our nation at risk. As experts have pointed out, no other G20 nation is working towards an electricity grid nearly exclusively powered by intermittent flows of energy. The Albanese government is recklessly rushing to renewables and switching off the old system before the new one is ready.
And when you turn off cost effective and consistent sources of energy, naturally enough, your power bills go up and under this government they go up and up and when renewables and their associated storage technologies and infrastructure are rolled out on a mass scale, it’s inevitable that costs will be passed on to consumers. Indeed. Last month, Trans Grid’s chief executive Brett Redman spoke about the company’s plans to spend more than 16 billion to upgrade the East Coast power grid. He said that that investment, and I quote, will show up in future bills and of course he’s right. KPMG is determined that new transmission costs will blow out by some 40% and according to AEMO’s integrated system plan, capital expenditure on renewables and the transmission infrastructure to support them out to 2050 will be about 383 billion dollars. But engineer Dr. David Hayden Collins says that when the replacement of panels and turbines are factored in, the cost is likely to be 1.3 trillion, five times greater than a AEMO’s estimate.
Now with the path the Albanese government has us on, we know Australians will pay more as more renewables are put into the system. We hear very frequently from the renewables only campaign is that they’re better for the environment Under the government’s plans by 2030, more than 58 million solar panels will need to be installed and almost 3,500 wind turbines built to reach our mission reduction targets. By 2050 the plan includes carpeting our landscape including across national parks and prime agricultural land with 28,000 kilometers of new transmission poles and wires, the equivalent of almost the entire coastline of mainland Australia at a cost of at least a hundred billion dollars. Now putting aside the fact that a rollout of that scale is absolutely fanciful, given the approvals required and the massive engineering feat, the labor that’s required, how on earth is it environmentally friendly? This question is one we need to pose more often to the renewables only backers.
All these transmission lines and the sheer size of solar and wind farms constitute an enormous environmental footprint. Dr. Collins notes that the land area and associated environmental impacts of photo voltaic cells and solar and wind farms, and so it goes on, over a thousand times greater than a nuclear power station’s footprint.
He also says that turbine blades and batteries need to be replaced every 20 years and they’ll simply end up as landfill because the blades are non-recyclable and it’s not yet economically viable to recycle lithium batteries. In addition to the environmental impact of renewables, there’s a scientific reality of their limitations. They’re just not sufficiently technologically advanced to ensure affordable and reliable power. That’s the simple fact. They produce weak and intermittent flows of energy. Engineer Dr. James Taylor has said that you need five times more capacity with renewable energy than with a base load power plant. This is because a power plant runs comfortably at 65 to 80% output, whereas renewables have an average output of 25 to 30% due to the whims of the weather. So whatever the percentage of renewables might be in the system, whether it’s 50 or 70, 82, 83, a hundred percent, they need to be firmed up. The latest battery technology installed in Adelaide at a cost of 180 million lasts for just one hour, although they proudly boast that it can be stretched to two hours.
Now, experts have noted that about 50 to 70% of a battery’s cost comes from the raw materials and energy used to manufacture them. Five years ago it was about 40% and the cost of these raw materials is going up and up, so batteries will likely remain too expensive to store the huge amount of energy needed to connect our unbalanced grid across hours, days, and weeks. Now, if the government wants to stop coal fired power and phase out gas fired power, the only feasible and proven technology which confirm up renewables and help us achieve the goals of clean cost effective and consistent power is next generation nuclear technologies which are safe and emit zero emissions, namely small modular reactors or SMRs and micro reactors or micro modular reactors. MMRs, which are also known as you’re well aware as nuclear batteries.
A single SMR can power some 300,000 homes. A micro reactor could power a regional hospital, a factory, a mining site, or a military base. Now my old friend Chris Bowen, has burrowed so deeply down the renewable rabbit hole that he refuses to consider these new nuclear technologies to be any part of the solution of our energy problems. In the energy minister’s eyes, he sees nuclear and renewables as competitors, whereas we need to see them as companions. These new nuclear technologies are factory built, they’re portable, they’re scalable, and they can even be relocated. New nuclear technologies can be plugged into existing grids and work immediately and Dr. Collins says that they have a 100% chance of working without the need to rewire our nation. Nuclear engineer specialist associate professor Tony Irwin points out that a SMR requires a landmass of about 18 hectares and can fit on any cold fired power station site like Liddell, for example, which is about a hundred hectares in size.
We could convert or repurpose coal-fired plants to use the transmission connections which already exist on those sites and it’s no wonder that more than 50 countries are exploring or investing in new SMRs and nuclear batteries. So consider these examples. In the United States, the Department of Energy is investing billions of dollars into two advanced SMRs in Washington state and Wyoming, the latter replacing a coal fired power station. The American multinational company Dow Chemical is progressing with plans to install a cluster of SMRs in its facility in Louisiana to help decarbonize its operations. And the Tennessee Valley Authority already a large nuclear power operator will build a new power plant at its Clinch River site. There are only a few countries who are rejecting in a way that Australia is what is obvious before us and the examples that I’ve cited are considering an SMR and it’s an important debate for our country to conduct.
Proving that nuclear power is not a conservative political cause, Justin Trudeau, not renowned for his right wing leanings, has endorsed a plan which will see SMRs rollout across numerous Canadian provinces. The first is being built in Darlington in Ontario, and my brilliant colleague and the shadow energy minister Ted O’Brien visited the construction site in February. The Canadians are also deploying the world’s first commercial micro reactor at the Chalk River Laboratories. Across the Atlantic, the UK government is investing with enthusiasm in the Rolls Royce SMR, which they see as a major export opportunity. President Macron has reversed France’s original plan to reduce its nuclear energy from 70 to 50%, indeed as part of a nuclear renaissance, France will build six new large reactors and shortly commence testing on a nuclear power plant in Phlegm Orville, which is set to open early next year. France’s state owned electricity company EDF has created a subsidiary to develop its new SMR and is even bringing Italian partners into the fold.
There are members of the Greens party in Finland who have even become pro-nuclear. Even our old friend Greta Thunberg has signed up, starts to question whether you’re on the right path when we’re aligning with Greta, but we can deal with that on another occasion. Sweden, the country which led the renewable energy push, has jettisoned its plans for 100% renewables by 2040. In wanting cleaner electricity production and a stable energy system, its finance minister has said that only a gas to nuclear pathway is viable to remain industrialized and competitive. In our own region, South Korea has halted earlier plans to phase out nuclear and is now committed to a minimum nuclear threshold of some 30%. It will build six new reactors by the early 2030s. Moreover, companies like SK, Samsung and Hyundai are all developing new types of SMRs. Prime Minister Kishida has expressed his intent for Japan to develop next generation nuclear technologies.
Meanwhile, 16 of its traditional reactors are undergoing a restart approval process. China has 23 reactors under construction and is connected its first SMR in Shandong province. And it’s worth mentioning that China is also planning to open around a hundred new cold fire power stations on top of the more than 1000 already in operation.
On the flip side of the coin, let me give you some examples of an over-reliance on renewables without firming. 2021 was one of the least windy periods in 60 years in the UK. In September last year, wind farms generated just 2% of power down from 18% the previous year. Electricity costs were nearly seven times what they were in 2020, and this is what labor is setting us up for in our country. To ensure reliable energy supply, the UK has increased its reliance on gas and coal and restarted mothball plants.
As for California, in August and September last year, excessive heat saw its highly renewable reliance system put under enormous strain due to energy demands, especially for air conditioning. The energy operator there asked residents to reduce electricity use between four and 9:00 PM, the time it said the grid is most stressed from higher demand and less solar energy, like that wasn’t predictable. Now that might be okay in California, but it’s not my vision for our country. Let’s touch quickly on Germany. Over the last two decades, it’s invested heavily and built many solar panels and wind turbines. After Russia invaded Ukraine and cut off its gas supplies, the lack of firming power exposed the fragility of Germany’s overwhelmingly renewable reliance system. Supply went down. Guess what happens? Prices go up. Families, businesses, and industry suffered. So here’s the reality playing out across the world, countries are extending the life of older nuclear power plants, building new ones and investing in the development of new nuclear technologies.
They’re doing this because they recognize the benefits of nuclear power in firming up their renewable energy systems. Nuclear is the only proven scalable zero emission energy source, which is not weather dependent. And yet here in Australia, our energy minister, mesmerized by the glare of solar panels and the rotating roller blades on the horizon of the wind turbines continues to ignore the nuclear energy developments in the world around him. Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese have completely disregarded the council of former [inaudible 00:24:20] CEO Dr. Addie Patterson. Dr. Patterson wrote to the Prime Minister advising him that nuclear power will be essential for energy, reliability, robustness, and resilience. Mr. Bowen says that nuclear is the most expensive form of energy, yet he’s relying on a CSIRO report, an annual report gen cost, which continues to quote from outdated figures from 2018, which at the time, as you know, were highly disputed by experts.
And if nuclear power is so prohibitively expensive, why are more than 50 countries investing in it? Why are 32 countries already invested in it, including those with smaller economies than Australia? Conveniently, the energy minister is reluctant to mention the costs of storage and transmission when he talks about renewables being cheaper. Prime Minister says that the wind and solar is free, but Australians know that’s a nonsense when they receive their bills each month. By way of a cost comparison, let me give you this very simple example. In Toronto, Canada, the energy grid contains about 60% nuclear power. As per a recent bill from a resident there they pay 14 cents a kilowatt hour. Compare that to a South Australian who’s been paying 35 cents a kilowatt hour. And due to the Albanese government’s energy policies and price hikes, which took effect on the 1st of July, that South Australian will soon be paying 45 cents a kilowatt hour.
That’s 235% more than the resident of Toronto. Tellingly polls are showing that Australians are increasingly warming to nuclear power. The IPA’s own poll of April 22 showed a 53% approval. Younger Australians seem to be coming on board given their awareness of new nuclear technologies like SMRs and nuclear batteries, whereas some older Australians like me are somewhat more hesitant given their memories of older nuclear power plants. But in a way that’s like believing that the latest Mercedes on the showroom floor today still uses the technology of 1965. Adjunct professor Steven Wilson has made several good points around nuclear waste. He wrote that nuclear waste is a misleading term. A more accurate description is used fuel because it can be reprocessed and used again. Australia is of course home to the world’s largest deposits of uranium. One third of the world’s reserves. The Minerals Council CEO Tenny Constable notes that by 2040 global demand for uranium will almost double.
Uranium prices are also predicted to rise. At present, Australia supplies just about 10% of global demand with all other production exported. So aside from a burgeoning export opportunity, our nation has an ability to be energy self-sufficient well into the future. Associate Professor Irwin says that about 437 nuclear reactors operate worldwide now, and that they require about 62,000 tons of uranium ore to run. Now compare that to coal, which would require about 62,000 tons to power the Bayswater coal fire power station in the hunter region for just two days. As a dense energy source, uranium is more sustainable because you need less of it. In contrast, Dr. Collins points to a Finnish study which says that we simply can’t meet net zero and emissions using only renewables. There’s simply aren’t enough minerals to meet global demand for building renewables. Even when accounting for new mineral discoveries.
Dr. Collins makes another important point. He says that eight of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers and 10 of the top 15 wind turbine companies are based in China. So in the Albanese government’s massive rollout of renewables, it’s inevitable that we will become heavily reliant on the Chinese market, not just in the near term but into perpetuity, and importantly over the next decade or two, given that solar panels and wind turbines have relatively short life cycles as we point out. There’s no better example of the risk of over reliance on one market than what we saw with many European countries dependence on Russian gas. There things turned sour overnight. And in contrast, Australia would be sourcing SMRs and MMRs from the US, from UK, from France, and other trusted partners.
At a time when we need to be promoting energy, self-reliance and greater friend shoring, the Albanese government is doing the exact opposite with its energy policies. Energy security is a primary reason why Australia must consider new nuclear technologies as part of the energy mix. The government is committed to building nuclear powered submarines in Australia under August. The submarines are essentially floating SMRs. The most modern reactors in the submarines in operation today don’t need to be refueled for some 30 years and the sheer amount of money being invested in research and development in the next generation nuclear powered submarines from the US, from the UK, from China, from France and elsewhere across the world, it will lead to very significant developments of nuclear power industries as the beneficiaries right around the world, that technology and those advancements will be translated into the commercial world. With the ongoing development of zero emission, safe, small, modular and micro reactors, the time has come for a sensible and sober conversation on nuclear power in Australia.
And I say again, not as a competitor to renewables, but as a companion we needed energy mix to support the resilience of the system. Nuclear power production was banned in Australia in 1998. President of the Australian Nuclear Association, Dr. Joanne Lackanby recently said, and I quote, there are no technical, scientific or environmental reasons to ban nuclear energy. At the very least, I think the government should consider working swiftly to alter the legislative prohibitions to SMRs and MMRs so that we do not position Australia as a nuclear energy pariah and also we can better assess the merits of new nuclear technologies. Professor Wilson says that we must stop procrastinating and prepare real options to deploy nuclear energy in case we need them. Countries are queuing up to put in their orders. Australia could have SRS installed within a decade. A civil nuclear power industry cannot be started up overnight, but it’s already started under [inaudible 00:31:13].
We need to put in place laws and regulations. We need to develop our institutions, we need to train people and much more besides, yet we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. Given the history and work of ANSTO, Lucas Heights and our safety regulator are [inaudible 00:31:30] as well as the commitments labor has made under [inaudible 00:31:32]. Under [inaudible 00:31:33], we’re obliged to dispose of nuclear fuel and the reactors themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, the new nuclear technology train is pulling out of the station. It’s a train Australia needs to jump aboard, but guided by ideology instead of pragmatism, the Albanese government is holding us back from catching the train. I want an Australia where we can decarbonize at the same time deliver cheaper, more reliable and lower emission electricity.
Families and businesses are hurting in Australia at the moment. The Albanese easy experiment with the economy and with energy is not working. It’s making life harder for Australians. I want an energy policy which will help us add value, add to an incredible mining industry. Australia should be an energy powerhouse. Instead, the government is creating sovereign risk as Japan and Korea have highlighted. Resource companies are deploying capital investment away from Australia. I want an Australia where we enhance resource sector investment and where we support, not punish manufacturing. It’ll take a coalition government to end labor’s energy policy failures and to firm up Australia’s energy future in our national interest. Thank you very much.
Well thank you Peter for your address and for a lot of the encouragement I think that you are giving us in relation to energy policy and having a viable future for nuclear power. And thank you for agreeing to take some questions from IPA members today. So I asked IPA members to send in their questions to me and I’ll be putting to Peter a few of your questions. As I mentioned, I won’t be able to get to all of them, but I will make sure I cover off on all of the themes that have been put up. So not surprisingly, Peter, the voice, one of the main ones. So I’ll put to you a question from Philip. Philip asks quite an interesting question. He says, to what extent did the Prime Minister seek to engage you in a bipartisan indigenous recognition proposal that could conceivably be supported by both sides of politics as opposed to the path that he’s gone down?
Well Philip, I’ve had a number of discussions with the prime minister. I’ve been happy for the engagement, but I made it very clear to the Prime Minister at the start that there was no hope of the liberal party supporting a voice just on the vibe and without detail or understanding what it meant. The import, the interpretation by the high court, the wording and the words obviously that were presented almost 12 months ago to Garma by the Prime Minister, I think were dreamt up pretty quickly. So to answer Phillip’s question, there was no meaningful engagement around constitutional recognition. There’s bipartisan support as you know for constitutional recognition. I think that would be the unifying moment for our country, not the divisive one that we’re on the pathway to at the moment.
And the Prime Minister’s made it very clear that he will not put forward to the Australian people for consideration the question around constitutional recognition unless it’s accompanied by the voice and indigenous leaders, including those appointed by the Prime Minister and Minister Bernie to the referendum working council, which is the real body of power within this debate empowered by the government almost abrogated or delegated to that body. The government’s, it seems adherent to everything that they wish, but there there’s been no meaningful prospect of that happening and I regrettably advise Phillip that that’s the case.
Thank you. Another voice question, this one from Robin. Robin says the voice is 22 members, I think it’s 24 based on the Carma Langdon report would be selected but not elected. This is undemocratic. Voice proponents don’t appear to trust their own people to elect suitable representatives. So that’s a comment from Robin, but maybe a broader observation on the Carma Langdon report and I guess the makeup of the voice as it currently stands.
Well Robin’s right and I think it gives rise to the broader observation that is in relation to just the lack of detail more generally, the composition, the tenure. The government will say, well, all of this will be dealt with by legislation and maybe it will be. But I think Australians deserve the granular level of detail before they vote. It’s inconceivable in my mind firstly that the Prime Minister has deliberately withheld information from the Australian public, which is a strategy devised early on. The reason for that is that he doesn’t want to give rise to an argument about different models or different conversations. There’s been no constitutional convention, which again, given that this is the most significant change proposed to our constitution since federation, that is without precedent. And finally, I think it’s again quite disturbing for Australians to understand that the design of the voice doesn’t take place until the Monday after the Saturday vote.
So there’s a six month process which surely if you were genuine in your engagement with the Australian public, you would say, well we’ve spent the previous six months before the vote designing the model so that you can understand it. Perhaps it deals with some of your queries, perhaps it puts to bed some of the hesitations you had. Perhaps it gives rise to other issues that concern you, but Australians at least would’ve had a model that they could understand, support or oppose. But to starve the public of that information I think reflects poorly on the process. And I think the Prime Minister is underestimated how intelligent the Australian public is.
Just to build on that, you’ve argued that or you’ve asked the Prime Minister to withdraw the current process and to basically start again. Is that still currently your view or do you think that it would be better for the country to go through the referendum process now and many hoping that it would then be rejected and we can then move on after that? Or do you think it’s still better for the nation, the Prime Minister to go back to the drawing board?
Well, the Prime Minister said a couple things. I mean one is that it would be a game government, a brave government that would reject the advice of the voice. So that will give you a sense of the dynamic if it gets up as to what will happen in the deliberations and the consideration of advice from the voice on many and varied without limitation issues that government must and the executive must deal with. So I think that’s an important point always to bear in mind. The Prime Minister has also said that it will set back reconciliation if the no vote prevails. And he’s also said that it will tarnish our international reputation if Australians are too hard-hearted to vote yes. And the name calling and the Bully Boy stuff from Linda Bernie and the rest of it, I don’t think they realize yet. I don’t think the penny’s dropped that that’s actually converting people to a no vote because the Australian public, as I say, is not stupid. They’re asking reasonable questions.
I wrote to the Prime Minister with 15 common sense questions. To this day I still don’t have an answer. And again, it’s part of a deliberate strategy almost without precedent. So I think the unifying moment will be if the parties can come together to put forward a question about constitutional recognition, a deal with a local and regional voice, which is a recommendation of the Carma Langdon report through legislation which can either be emboldened, abolished, or dealt with and people can see it operationalized and whether it makes a difference in indigenous communities, et cetera, that would be the reasonable approach. But if the Prime Minister is taking advice and reading every published and private poll at the moment, which says at the voice is going down and he does that and he genuinely believes that it’s going to set back reconciliation and tarnish our international reputation, I think at the very least he has a moral obligation to reconsider his position.
At the best case scenario in my judgment from the Yes case is that it’s a 51-49 outcome now that splits the country straight down the middle and 29% of labor voters as we know in most recent news poll, have indicated that they’re voting no. So the Prime Minister treats those people as much as he does conservative voters with complete disdain. And that’s why I think if it’s obvious that it’s going to go down and it’s heading in that direction, then I do think it’s prudent for him as the leader of our country to reconsider his position and to act in a unifying way instead of a divisive one.
Well guess that issue of national interest versus sectional interests and that parlays into a question from Steven in relation to the voice, but more broadly, big business and you’ve opined on this matter in recent days. Steven makes the observation, the big business used to be largely patriotic. The IPA was set up by patriotic businessmen back in the 1940s. Yes, they wanted to turn a profit and make a buck, but they also understood that doing so was contingent on having a nation that was open to free enterprise and supporting our culture and our way of life. Today big business and big business leaders are a much different breed and a much different crop and we’ve seen them supporting many divisive policies. The question from Steven is firstly, why in your assessment has this happened and secondly, how does this affect the political dynamic in terms of big business and major civic organizations that are so detached from the mainstream of the country?
All right, well how long do we have? That’s sort of a fairly significant topic. Look, why are we here today compared to a generation ago, the Hume Morgans, Ian McFarlands, people of great standing in the business community who are willing to contribute to debates around taxation, around industrial relations reform, around growth of the economy, reduction in red tape, maximizing shareholder returns to a point now where we have ESG requirements and interaction with industry super funds and equity partners otherwise who are driving significant outcomes, the advent of social media obviously where people crave popularity and acceptance and unfortunately there are a number of publicly listed CEOs who are in the category of this modern mold and not the older mold. And I think our country’s a poorer place because of a withdrawal from the public debate. Full credit to Alan Joyce for engaging in discussions around industrial relations and he’s been very forthright in his views on industrial relations.
I could count on one hand the number of CEOs otherwise in the country that have contributed to debates in a significant way. Most companies now want to hide behind organizations that represent the whole sector. And we’ve got mining companies who have settled relationships with indigenous communities. They provide significant royalties back into the community. They’re the biggest employer, they’re the biggest contributor to economic activity within that local area to housing, to education, to betterment of indigenous Australians. They’ve signed up blindly to the voice and when you ask them what would happen in the circumstance where there was a conflict between advice from the voice and advice from local elders, they have no idea, haven’t contemplated it, but they’ve signed up and given millions of dollars, millions of dollars of shareholder money I might say that should be provided to pensioners and to self funded retirees and other investors in those shares who at the moment are struggling to pay their power bills and I’m pretty sure prefer to see an increase in the dividend that they’re receiving so that they can pay their electricity bill or help pay their grocery bill.
I’d like to see some of the companies in involved in the nuclear debate, particularly those who are involved in the provision of retail services and they are big energy users. They pass all of that cost on to consumers. They’ve done it without question. We’ve got banks who are advising their customers. In fact, they won’t bank some of the customers without an emissions reduction plan advising them to go into very significant investments into renewable. It may turn out that wasn’t the best advice to be offered. All of that cost is passed on to consumers and we find ourselves in an inflationary environment. The highest core inflation rate compared to G7 nations except for the UK. So I think there is a lot that companies can contribute to in a sensible way, but being worried about what people say on Twitter, who could care less what people say on Twitter, if I might be frank, talk to normal people, go and speak to those that work on your shop floor and go and speak to those who are shareholders at your AGM.
The majority, not the two or three that step up with a microphone and want to be heard on social media because of their own self-promotion, stand up for your company’s interest, which is in our nation’s best interest. Where were these CEOs when we started the debate in relation to some of the gambling issues, we’ve introduced a gambling culture to young teenagers and these companies haven’t been out there on that issue. There are other social issues and economic issues that they’re absent from. We’ve got a better proposal in my judgment in relation to the voice with constitutional recognition and listening to a local voice through legislation that is a much safer pathway and frankly much more likely to produce tangible outcomes for indigenous Australians. They haven’t contemplated it. They sign up to the voice sight unseen many of them months and months and months ago before the government had given any scant detail. And they’re part now of a pathway which is dividing our country and some of them are trying to pull back and so they should.
Well, just a couple more Peter, if that’s okay. You mentioned Twitter and we’ve had a question here from Kathleen and there was actually many questions in relation to freedom of speech and censorship in the context of the government’s misinformation bill, which basically would enable the censorship of mainstream Australians, but exempt government media and university organizations from that same regulatory apparatus. We’ve got big tech censorship and many have been censored on various platforms. So I guess the broader question I’d ask, which reflects many questions that we had, is what, if any, I guess proposal or policy are you looking to take over the coming months and years in relation to freedom of speech and in particular perhaps on some of the issues that are entering our debate on big tech and the censorship that many mainstream Australians are experiencing?
Well, you will have seen the comments of James Patterson and others in my shadow ministry in recent weeks in relation to this. So I mean, call me crazy, but my instinct is not to want to be censored by Mark Dreyfus. I just don’t think that’s going to help public debate in our country. I do believe that the age in which we live now, there is a responsibility for any company in their communications, the platform that’s being provided with some of the media operators and the power and the influence that it has now, particularly on a younger generation who are consuming nothing through newspapers, nothing through free to air news as we would’ve grown up on nothing on the radio news related.
So there is a responsibility, I adhere very strongly to the same rules applying in real life as they do online. If you Australian publishes a defamatory comment tomorrow, somebody will take an action in relation to that. And so there, there’s a balance to be struck here, but censorship as the government’s proposing is not in our individual interests and it’s not in our collective interests either. So I think that’s a debate to roll out, but I hope that there are some brave people, some people of character within the caucus that will speak up against Mark Dreyfus and some of the others in this sort of utopian experience that he’s contemplating.
Well, thank you. I might just round out with a couple of questions about young Australians. We had a lot of questions about concerns about the direction they’re heading in many different facets. Ian had a question based on some recent research which suggested that the center right was struggling with younger Australians of the generation millennial and Gen Z, and basically was interested in your perspective on why apparently a number of young Australians are turning away from the center right or perhaps why policies of the center, right, don’t appeal or don’t appear to be appealing to some young Australians, and what your perspective is on that matter.
Well, again, it’s a very complex topic, but I’ll just make a couple of points. One is that the educational environment is very different than when we went to school and the notion of teaching young students, impressionable young minds to question and how to think has been replaced with what to think and the onslaught of social media, the influence of people who hold a minority view but hold themselves out to be trending on social media platforms and the rest of it, that’s influential with young people. There’s no question about that. There’s also though a broader, deeper element in my mind. I’m 53 this year and it’s been a hard 53 years, I know particular last 22 in politics, but I remember very clearly sitting around the kitchen table at home in the late eighties, early nineties as a teenager. My father was a builder and it was a boom bust period, high interest rates, high unemployment, and my parents were conservative voters.
But the conversation around business and around the policies of labor, of Hawke, of Keating, that led us into a difficult time as a family, small business. And my parents worked hard during that period and subsequent and they went on to be successful. But during that period, I think in my mind, my political views were formed. And the trouble is since that period, we’ve bridged most of the economic shocks, whether it was the GFC, the largess of the support provided during COVID, et cetera, and many families haven’t had that conversation. And I think those conversations are starting to take place again now because labor is taking us into a place which is not that different.
The relativities are much the same, the number’s different than what happened in the early nineties, and that’s a worrying period for our country and not the one that we want. But high interest rates, particularly given the levels of debt that people have, high unemployment, if that increases, that’s going to cause parents and grandparents to have a different conversation with their children and their grandchildren. And I think that is going to lead to a change in voting behaviors and worldview. There are many, many other factors involved in it, but I think there are two of the most substantial.
Well, I might ask one last question just to wrap that up on young Australians as well. We had a number of questions about education, which you just touched on there. We had a specific question from John, which is pretty simple one, which is how can we counteract the indoctrination of young Australians in our education institutions? You sort of touched on that, but maybe you could broaden that out a fraction to opine on some of the challenges in education and perhaps how do we get to the point where schools and universities have such a one-sided perspective on our history and we’ve lost that balance?
Well, perhaps we should ask the two youngest people in the audience here what their views might be. More contemporary view, the first two, not the third one in that row. Again, when I was at university, plenty of left wing tutors and people who were in leadership positions and lecturers and the rest of it, but it was a genuine contest of ideas and you would get out into the workplace and you would have a bit of a jolt and a reality shock and understand what the real world was like. Now kids are being indoctrinated from preschool where all sorts of woke agendas are part of the curriculum there, and both governments, both persuasions, so at all levels that are blamed for this, it then progresses into primary school where it continues all the way through to high school. And there are a lot of teachers there who are masquerading as teachers, but who are really either climate zealots or other social issues that they’re obsessed with.
And the kids are hearing this daylight to dark. You get through university and now you get into the workplace and you go and turn up at the mill room at one of these public listed companies and you’re signing up in blood to whatever the local social causes that they have committed to as a corporate entity. But I think in the voice, and it’s an interesting study and I think frankly it should be a flag in the ground for us as a country. There’s a conversation that’s taking place now with parents and grandparents and their children and grandchildren saying, we understand and respect what you’ve been taught. We understand the guilt that’s been put on you. We understand the version of history that you’ve been taught and that’s been reinforced to you through various educational settings, but here’s some real life advice. And coming from a trusted grandparent or parent, it’s instructive, it’s persuasive, and it’s going to be a very significant reason why I believe that the no vote will win in this debate.
And I hope then that it extends because my sense is in the 2019 election with the taxes labor was proposing, there were plenty of parents and grandparents who talked about dividends and imputation and their returns on investments, et cetera, that convinced their children and grandchildren to vote against labor. In ’22 I think part of the reason that we lost was that those children had convinced their parents and grandparents because of the guilt associated with climate change and the lack of response from liberals, et cetera, to vote liberals out and vote labor in and they’re unhappy with us in any case. And that happens after nine years in government and COVID and other factors involved. I accept all of that. But I think this is now a moment again where your advice as a parent or grandparent can at least counter, if not override some of what they’re hearing in their social networks, in their social media feeds from the university campus, et cetera, and at least allow them a balance of information to consider what it is that they’re blindly following or signing up to.
And that’s what I hope in this debate and I hope that we can go out there and speak to our kids and grandkids and neighbors and the rest of it because we’ve been duped at the moment by a government that is treating the Australian public like mugs refusing to provide even the most basic of detail. The Australian public deserves better than what they’re getting from their prime Minister at the moment. This would be the most significant change to our system of government in our nation’s history. It wouldn’t provide, in my judgment, the tangible outcomes to indigenous people in Leonora or Laverton or Alice Springs or Tenet Creek or elsewhere where we do need to do a lot more. And that’s why I think good Australians will speak up, speak out, and be proud of their view. And I want to say thank you very much to the IPA who’s central in the thought process, in the contribution to the intellectual debate that’s required to get us to the position where we are today. And I’m very grateful for the work that collectively you’ve been able to do.
Well, thank you.
Well, thank you Peter for your time today and for your elaboration of the critical energy policy and the development of small modular reactors and other exciting developments that we hope to see, and thank you also for taking such a wide-ranging series of questions from our members. I know everyone was very excited and anticipated to hear your response to those questions, so we thank you for that. We thank you for your time and your leadership on many of these issues. This has been your first address as opposition leader to an audience of the IPA, but we certainly hope it won’t be the last. So thank you.
This transcript of The Hon. Peter Dutton MP addressing IPA members from 7 July 2023 has been edited for clarity.