TONY ABBOTT: It is good to be here at Penrice Soda. I want to thank Guy Roberts and his team for making myself, Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham so welcome.
This is a business which has been in the front line of job losses arising from the carbon tax. This is an energy intensive business. The production of soda and soda products is necessarily and inevitably a very energy intensive business. This business had a massive, absolutely massive multimillion carbon tax bill as a result a portion of the business has had to close. Fifty five workers, tragically, have lost their jobs. The business still faces a serious carbon tax problem. Nevertheless they do think that there is a way forward for them doing sodium bicarbonate rather than soda ash, because there is growing demand for sodium bicarbonate in Asia in particular. But this is a business that has been materially damaged by the carbon tax. It will be materially helped by the abolition of the carbon tax. If you’re serious about jobs, if you’re serious about exports, if you’re serious about Australian manufacturing, you have got to get rid of the carbon tax and that is precisely what will happen if there is a change of government on Saturday.
I am also pleased to say that the Coalition, should we win the election, will commit an additional $16 million to beefing up the capacity of the ACCC to police prices, to ensure that should the carbon tax be abolished, prices will come down accordingly. We know from the Government that the carbon tax is 10 per cent of the power price, it is 9 per cent of the gas price. When the carbon tax comes off, prices should go down and the ACCC will be there to police that just as it was a decade ago to police the removal of the wholesale sales tax.
Finally, I just want to stress the fact that the Coalition has been absolutely and utterly consistent. We have been absolutely and utterly consistent for three years. We have had the same strong team and the same clear plans and I am pleased to be with Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Minister for Education and Manager of Opposition Business and the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary of Water, both of whom have been strong and effective voices for the Coalition right around our country, but particularly here in South Australia.
Elect the Coalition on Saturday and this is what you will get. We will build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We will scrap the carbon tax, we will end the waste. We will stop the boats and we will build the roads of the 21st century because I want to be known as an infrastructure prime minister. In order to do these things though, you need a strong and stable majority Government and the only way to get a strong and stable majority Government is to vote for your local Liberal or National Party candidate. I am going to ask Christopher to say a few words about the impact of the carbon tax here in South Australia, in particular the impact of the fringe benefits tax on the car industry here in South Australia, then I might ask Simon to talk a little bit about Penrice Soda in particular and then we will take questions.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you very much Tony. It is great to welcome Tony Abbott back to South Australia again during this Federal election campaign. A Coalition government in Canberra will be good for South Australia on a number of fronts. Not only will a Coalition government, led by Tony Abbott, but including his team from South Australia, abolish the carbon tax and the mining tax, but particularly South Australians need to know that we will scrap the increase of the fringe benefits tax which is harming the car industry as we speak.
Ford and Holden have already said that they have the lowest production levels in 20 years and the stories from lease car companies around Australia of orders falling away are appearing regularly in the media. So we will scrap the fringe benefits tax increase. That will be very good news for South Australia. Not just for the Holden workers but for all the people, the thousands and thousands of South Australians that rely on the car industry and all the components parts for their livelihoods. Also, importantly, a Coalition government will do whatever is necessary to get the Olympic Dam mine back on stream.
Now, Kevin Rudd is good at talk. He is all talk and no action but when he does act, he harms peoples’ jobs. Like the fringe benefits tax increase, hurting South Australians’ jobs. Like the mining tax, the carbon tax, allowing the unions a free reign by abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Those kinds of decisions led to BHP Billiton not going ahead with the Olympic Dam mine. So one of the very first acts of a Coalition government in Canberra will be to do whatever is necessary to clear the hurdles and get Olympic Dam back on stream and we will abolish the fringe benefits tax increase. Both of those pieces of news are good news for South Australians.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks Tony, thanks Christopher and Tony, thank you for once again visiting South Australia on this election campaign. Thank you very much to Guy Roberts and the team at Penrice for welcoming us here. This business, Penrice is a demonstration that bad policies have real consequences. What has happened here at Penrice is a real tragedy. Fifty-five jobs have been lost because Penrice has had to cease production of a product here in Australia and substitute with importation from overseas. That is 55 of my fellow South Australians and Christopher’s fellow South Australians who lost their jobs at this facility as a result, in part, of Kevin Rudd’s carbon tax.
There are many cost pressures on businesses like this, but the worst thing a government can do is to add to those cost pressures and what a Liberal Government, a Liberal-National Government, if elected on Saturday, will do is ease those cost pressures. By axing the carbon tax, we will directly reduce the cost that Penrice and other businesses throughout South Australia and around Australia will face. We will give them the capacity to be more competitive yet again and the potential to grow and potentially to re-employ hopefully some of those 55 staff they have worked. We will create the circumstances where businesses have a genuine future and where businesses like Penrice can act with confidence that the government of the day won’t be undermining their very business operations.
TONY ABBOTT: Ok, do we have any questions? Naomi.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, you’re saying that the ACCC will be policing prices that are directly attributable to the carbon tax. How do you stop a company like this saying it wasn’t the carbon tax, it was the high Australian Dollar which means we’ve put up our prices. How practically are you going to do that? And the ACCC has been losing staff under the efficiency dividend, are they quarantined from your public service cuts to enable them to do this work?
TONY ABBOTT: The ACCC will have the resources needed to properly police prices, that is why there is extra funding in this policy to ensure that they can police prices properly and they can certainly police the impact on prices of the abolition of the carbon tax. Now, we have done it before when the wholesale sales tax was abolished. That was policed by the ACCC and the ACCC did a very good job in ensuring that some prices went down as well as others going in the other direction. What they have done before, they can do again. The interesting thing is that the ACCC was quite effective I think in policing the introduction of the carbon tax and as you know, some businesses were in trouble for making false claims about the impact of the carbon tax on their prices and appropriately, we will ensure that the ACCC is equipped and empowered to do what is necessary to ensure that prices fall when the carbon tax is abolished.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, Labor’s indicated that if it finds itself in Opposition after the weekend that it won’t support the legislation to repeal the carbon tax. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get that legislation through both houses of the Parliament, will you go to a double dissolution election straight away?
TONY ABBOTT: Labor is obviously deeply split on this. You had Mark Butler saying one thing on radio today. You had Kevin Rudd refusing to reiterate what Mark Butler said. You have got the left of the Labor Party which is essentially in league with the Greens. You have got the right of the Labor Party which, at heart, never liked the carbon tax, always thought it was wrong, never liked Julia Gillard’s deal with the Greens that would just like the whole thing to go away and never raise its head again. I am absolutely confident that no sane political Party ever tries to give itself the same trouble twice. A Labor Party which persists in support of the carbon tax is just setting itself up to lose not one election but two. If we win the election which is a referendum on the carbon tax, the last thing that the Labor Party will do is set itself up to lose a second election by continuing to support a tax which has become electoral poison.
JOURNALIST: Is a double dissolution is still an option?
TONY ABBOTT: I am absolutely confident, absolutely confident that a Labor Party which has just lost an election, which is a referendum on the carbon tax will run a million miles away from this toxic tax.
JOURNALIST: Will you call a double dissolution though?
TONY ABBOTT: Let’s face it, Kevin Rudd knows that the carbon tax is electoral poison, that is why he has pretended to abolish it, except he hasn’t abolished it, he has just brought forward by 12 months, or he is just proposing to bring forward by 12 months the move from a fixed tax to a floating tax and according to the documents that the Government released just before the election, that confirms that the carbon tax is going up to $38 a tonne in 2020 and $350 a tonne in 2050. So Mr Rudd knows that the carbon tax is killing the Labor Party. It is just that Mr Rudd hasn’t abolished it, he has only pretended to.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, the central policy plank of yours, you have given an ironclad guarantee to voters that the carbon tax will be gone. So, if Labor stays in the way, them aside, isn’t it incumbent on you to do everything you can to get rid of it? Shouldn’t you have to call a double dissolution if you’re going to keep your promise?
TONY ABBOTT: We will abolish the carbon tax, no ifs, no buts. If the Coalition wins the election on Saturday, the carbon tax will go. No ifs, no buts, it’s gone. We will do whatever is necessary to abolish the carbon tax, but I tell you this, if we win the election, which is a referendum on the carbon tax, the last thing the Labor Party will do is commit political suicide twice by continuing to support this absolutely toxic tax.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, your candidate in Lindsay has linked asylum seekers to traffic congestion. Do you agree that refugees are a strain on infrastructure, particularly in marginal seat areas and places like western Sydney?
TONY ABBOTT: I don’t accept the characterisation that you have put on my candidate’s comments. But I absolutely accept that if we didn’t have $11.5 billion worth of border protection blowouts, it would be a lot easier to fund the infrastructure that Australia needs. The WestConnex in Sydney for instance is estimated to cost some $11 billion all up. So that could be fully funded by the border protection cost blowouts alone. So look, if you want to get infrastructure built, vote for the Coalition because we will end the waste, we will scrap the unnecessary taxes and we will get the infrastructure of the 21st century finally underway.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, it was pretty plain was what she said last night, it was that she said that the roads were busier and the hospitals were busier because of the asylum seekers coming in. Is that something that you agree with?
TONY ABBOTT: Obviously, when you have got something like 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, that is a big number. 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, that is more than the whole population of Gladstone. It is more than Coffs Harbour. It is more than Shepparton. It is more than Burnie. It is more than Mount Gambier. It is more than Bunbury, where in fact it is more than Geraldton where in fact one of the illegal boats turned up. So obviously, we have all sorts of pressures that are created, but the point of the matter is if we stop the boats, we have less pressure on the Budget. We have less pressure on our facilities for dealing with illegal arrivals. We have less pressure on our relationship with Indonesia, that is why it is absolutely important to stop the boats and we will. My message to the people smugglers is your game is up. It is over. It will be over after September the 7th if the Coalition wins the election.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, can I just clarify your position on Syria. You have said that both sides are equally unsavoury. Does that mean that if you’re elected you will withdraw recognition and support for the opposition in Syria?
TONY ABBOTT: If there is a change of Government, the Australian people expect careful, considered, prudent, cautious decision-making. The last thing they expect is more policy-making on the run because that is what we have had repeatedly from this Government. This is one of the reasons why we have had so much trouble under this Government because too much has been done on a whim, often in reaction to media reports. Now if there is a change of government on Saturday, I won’t be doing anything in respect of Syria without getting careful, considered briefings that are as informed as possible.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott you have backed a lot of political capital on power prices being low if you’re elected. What if they stay high for reasons other than the carbon tax, for instance gold plating of infrastructure that used to be talked about under the Gillard Government, will you take the flack if power prices don’t fall?
TONY ABBOTT: I expect that people will be very harsh on a new government that doesn’t keep its commitments. Now if we win the election, the carbon tax will be abolished, the Government says that the carbon tax is 10 per cent of the power price. We will beef up the ACCC and give it a specific mandate to police price reductions flowing from the abolition of the carbon price. The abolition of the carbon tax. Now, I understand that there are all sorts of factors in prices, but if you remove 10 per cent of the power price, there will be a significant reduction in electricity prices. Simple as that and the ACCC will be beefed up to ensure that that is the case.
JOURNALIST: Mr Abbott, have you got any comment on it appears that Craig Thomson’s lawyers have accepted the facts of the allegations against him and will make an argument defence based on another matter. Have you got any comment on that? Also, the fact that Victorian Fraud Squad detectives appeared to have seized personal documents relating to Julia Gillard and the AWU matter?
TONY ABBOTT: These are really matters for Mr Rudd to handle. Craig Thomson was a Labor Member of Parliament. He has been, until recently, it seems, receiving legal funding from the Australian Labor Party. Mr Rudd became Prime Minister because he had an assurance of support in the Parliament from Mr Thomson. So really, this is a matter for Mr Rudd.
JOURNALIST: You have been critical of some of the appointments that Labor’s made in recent times. Can Steve Bracks expect to keep his US posting under a Coalition government?
TONY ABBOTT: If I may say so respectfully, people are absolutely getting ahead themselves. We still have four days to go. This election is very, very tight. Mr Rudd has been a very poor Prime Minister, but he is an effective campaigner. Let’s not forget for a second that Mr Rudd, as Opposition Leader, defeated one of our greatest Prime Ministers of all time in Mr Howard. So, we can never underestimate Mr Rudd, the Labor Party are hopeless at government but they are brilliant at politics, they are brilliant at low politics in particular, they are unleashing a massive barrage of negative advertising. I can hardly drive 200 yards down the street without seeing some screaming billboard making a whole lot of completely untrue and incorrect claims about the Coalition. No-one should think that this election is a done deal. I am certainly not getting ahead of myself and no-one else should either.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware that the firm you’re in at the moment had a generous grant from the clean technology fund which you want to scrap?
TONY ABBOTT: I am aware there has been some assistance but this firm, above all else, wants to lose the carbon tax. This is a firm which doesn’t want hand-outs. It is a firm that wants a level playing field. You will only get a level playing field for firms like this for the jobs of workers at firms like this, if you scrap the carbon tax and that is exactly what will happen under the Coalition.
JOURNALIST: You must be pretty confident with four days out to the election where you’re campaigning in the seat of Port Adelaide. Are you that confident of winning this seat and also your candidate in the seat of Perth has made some unsavoury remarks about women, how they should be stood over and intimidated when it comes to business negotiations. Do you have any comment on that?
TONY ABBOTT: I am not aware of the comments in question but obviously people shouldn’t make unsavoury comments and I repudiate unsavoury comments by candidates, whoever they might be. I am here because Penrice Soda has been a significant Australian business that has been badly damaged by the carbon tax. I am here to offer a better way. I am here to say to this firm you can put the difficulties of the recent past behind you if there is a change of Government because the carbon tax that cost fifty five jobs and almost destroyed this business will be gone if there is a change of Government on Saturday.
JOURNALIST: Your visit to Hindmarsh this morning was that deliberately part of the campaign because you see that as a very winnable seat, the jewel in the crown if you can pull it off?
TONY ABBOTT: Obviously we have a terrific candidate in Hindmarsh, Matt Williams has been campaigning hard for well over 12 months. I think the existing member has just basically been one of the faceless men voting for all of the bad policies of the current Government. I think we have a chance but it is just a chance, that is all it is. That is all it is. This election is very close and I say again to people, if you want to change the government, you have got to get rid of your local Labor member and you have got to vote for your local Liberal or National candidate. I know that there is a very strong case for changing the government. Why would anyone want another three years like the last six? I also know just how a ferocious Labor Party, cashed up with union money is going to throw everything, including a whole series of bare-faced lies at this campaign over the last few days.
JOURNALIST: Last night Kevin Rudd gave a passionate argument in support of gay marriage. Jeff Kennett said this morning on breakfast television he believes it is more likely that same sex marriage will be legalised under the Coalition because he believes there will be a free vote. And in the past you have been unequivocal and you said you would have a double dissolution but you can’t give a straight on answer on that now, why is that?
TONY ABBOTT: If we win the election we will have the strongest possible mandate to repeal the carbon tax and I would expect the parliament to respect that mandate. I am not going to go back over old ground and rake over old coals…
JOURNALIST: You said it in the past…
TONY ABBOTT: I am trying to answer the question and if I may say so, you’re interrupting me when I am trying to get there. Without raking over old coals, there was a change of government in 2007 and the Opposition after that election entirely respected the mandate of the incoming Government in respect of some key policies. That is because political parties learn the lessons of defeat. Political parties, if they want to flourish, have to respect the views of voters. If the Labor Party loses an election, which is more than anything else is referendum on the carbon tax, they would be committing political suicide twice. If they weren’t to learn that lesson, and I expect they will learn that lesson.
TONY ABBOTT: I’m sorry?
JOURNALIST: Gay marriage?
TONY ABBOTT: This matter was dealt with by the current parliament. It was fairly decisively dealt with by the current parliament. I don’t think anyone should expect that it is necessarily going to come up in the next parliament. If it does come up in the future though, it will be dealt with in the usual way by the Coalition Party Room. Everyone knows where I stand on this. There are some of my colleagues who have a different position on this. It will all go to the Coalition Party Room and we will deal with it in the usual way.
JOURNALIST: My question was in relation to the gay marriage and whether you will allow a conscience vote?
TONY ABBOTT: As I said, if the matter comes up in a future parliament, it will be dealt with in the usual way. That is what happens when legislation comes before the parliament. It is dealt with in the Party Room and it will be dealt with in the Party Room in the usual way should this matter come up again. Everyone knows
JOURNALIST: Will you prevent it?
TONY ABBOTT: I can’t prevent private members bringing bills before the parliament. It is one of the prerogatives of bring a member of parliament that you can bring a bill before the parliament. I absolutely respect the rights of private members to bring bills before the parliament. If someone in a future parliament wants to bring a bill to the parliament on such a matter, obviously it will be considered by the parliament in the usual way. It will be considered by our Party Room in the usual way.
JOURNALIST: Where is the Port Adelaide candidate and will you build 12 submarines in South Australia?
TONY ABBOTT: We are determined to maintain the strongest possible submarine deterrent. Australia needs a strong submarine deterrent. It is an important part of our military capacity, it long has been and it always should be. It is a very important part of our military capacity. We think that work on the next generation of submarines should focus here on the South Australian ship yards.