Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Liberals, friends…
It’s a pleasure to be here and a privilege to address you.
A party is the sum of its people.
So at the outset of my remarks, I want to thank all the people of our Liberal Party.
We should never forget how the small act of expressing gratitude is greatly felt by those who do great deeds each and every day for our party.
For their steadfast leadership, discernment and counsel my thanks to:
Our Federal President, John Olsen…
Our Federal Director, Andrew Hirst…
And our Federal Treasurer, Charlie Taylor.
My thanks also to our State and Territory leaders, presidents and directors…
To our elected members at the federal, state and local levels…
To our advisers and staff…
And all to those in our party’s administration.
But most importantly, my thanks to our loyal Liberal Party members and volunteers right across the country.
You are with us through thick and thin.
You are the lifeblood of our party.
You are at the heart of our every success.
Keep carrying the Liberal flame proudly and passionately.
Liberal values are not just our party’s values.
They are values which come from within the individual.
Values which have been carefully sculptured by many for more than 2,500 years.
Values which have been fought for and defended across generations.
Values which underpin the laws and liberties and the protections and privileges which have been the motor of human progress.
And values which have shaped our nation into the great success story it is today.
These values are a fountain of freedom, aspiration, opportunity and entrepreneurialism.
Now, there’s been times when liberal values have burned bright and thrived.
For example, post the Second World War and following the fall of the Soviet Union.
And there’s been times when liberal values have been tested and put under pressure.
I think we’re going through one of those periods now.
There are obviously external threats to the liberal order, such as resurgent authoritarian regimes.
But there are threats to liberalism which come from within democracies, including our own.
Let me outline three.
During the pandemic, people were vulnerable.
Citizens looked to their governments to help them during a time of catastrophe – and rightly so.
That’s why governments of all political leanings stepped in with health and economic measures to save lives and livelihoods.
But instead of governments stepping back following the end of the pandemic, many have opportunistically leaned in further.
We’ve seen this occur in some democratic countries.
We’ve seen it here in Australia.
Not only from the federal Labor Government but from some state-based Labor governments too.
Labor always prefers ‘big government’ to ‘small government’ because it fundamentally believes in control over freedom.
It’s a party which is deeply sceptical of the free market, individual enterprise and autonomy.
And the post-pandemic world has provided an opportunity for governments which favour intervention to double down and exert more control.
Capitalising on people’s dependence on the state during the pandemic, these governments are now putting themselves at the very centre of people’s lives.
This binding of the individual with the state is at odds with liberalism’s aims to nurture greater freedom, self-reliance and personal responsibility.
A second threat to liberalism is that liberalism itself has let people down.
Prime Minister Menzies knew that the best way to empower Australians was through home ownership.
But for so many – especially young Australians today – the once attainable ambition of owning a home seems so much harder, if not impossible.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, the median house price was between four and five times the median household income.
Today, the median house price is more than ten times the median household income.
House prices have increased faster relative to increases in income.
One writer made the sage point that if young people can’t accumulate capital, they’re unlikely to have much fondness for capitalism.
By extension, if people can’t realise their aspiration to buy and own their own home, they’re unlikely to have much faith in liberalism.
And so, they look elsewhere.
A third threat to liberalism is the modern cultural movement which focuses on identity.
Unlike previous civil rights movements where the aim was equality, this movement’s focus is on reinforcing difference.
It’s a movement which seeks to define and divide us by class, sex, race, religion and more besides.
Fuelled by social media, this movement puts group identity ahead of liberalism’s focus on individualism and the universal human experience.
Such a focus is tribalising democratic societies, including Australia.
Worse, such movements seek to undermine traditional values of ambition, gratitude and forgiveness and replace them with resentment, envy and anger.
So there’s three threats to liberalism which come from within.
The challenge for our Liberal Party – and our nation – is to overcome these threats.
We need to show Australians that small government which promotes freedom is better than big government which seeks to control.
We need to show Australians that liberalism can bring aspiration to fruition, especially in seeing more Australians own a home.
And we need to show Australians that our society can be so much greater if, instead of focusing on our small differences, we focus on the things which unite us.
Namely, our love of family, our appreciation for friends and colleagues, our tolerance, our attachment to community, our pride in our country, our sense of duty, and our desire to protect democracy – the very things which motivate us, each day, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
I truly believe that liberal values reside in the bones of Australians.
I don’t think Australians have lost faith in liberalism.
But I think many have stopped seeing liberalism work for them.
That’s why some have turned to Labor and are willing to try its ‘big government’ experiment.
That’s why others have become demoralised or indifferent.
I think Australians are crying out for a government which confidently reasserts liberal values – a centre-right government of the classical liberal and conservative traditions.
But most importantly, I think Australians are crying out for a government which shows them, once again, that liberalism works in practice.
And that depends on our party having policies which reflect liberal values.
Policies which are bold and visionary and have wide appeal among Australians.
Policies which preserve what’s great about our nation but also push our society forward and make life better for all Australians.
And policies which are necessarily different from those of the Labor Party and offer Australians a clear choice come the next federal election.
We’re doing the legwork right now to develop those policies.
Indeed, we have 15 significant policies already costed.
And despite being just shy of the 13th month mark of the Albanese Government, we’ve already announced some policies.
Today, I want to discuss some objectives – aligned with our values and with reference to what we’ve already announced – which will serve as rallying points as we look towards the next federal election.
First and foremost, we must get inflation down and lower the cost-of-living.
As we know, Labor governments recklessly spend, carelessly cut and inadequately save.
Australia’s core inflation is higher than most comparable countries. Higher than the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, France and Japan.
As Angus Taylor has pointed out, inflation is not coming from the Kremlin – it’s coming from Canberra.
The Government’s last Budget showed it will increase spending by a whopping $185 billion.
Labor’s inflationary spending will make the cost-of-living crisis facing Australians much worse.
Mr Albanese promised he had a plan, but his two budgets have increased inflation.
Annual inflation lifted to 6.8 per cent in April – up from 6.3 per cent in March.
The fact that the RBA has lifted the cash rate so often during the Albanese Government’s term shows the bank has little confidence in the Government’s ability to make the tough decisions which lower inflation.
A government I lead will restore responsible economic management in the Howard-Costello tradition.
We will get debt, deficit and inflation down.
We will balance the Budget.
And we will return to living within our means – because if Australians have to, so too should their government.
I’m concerned that Labor’s inability to bring down inflation will turn Australia’s hard-working middle class into a demoralised working poor.
If we want a marvellous Australia then we must look after middle Australia.
But there was nothing in Labor’s last two budgets for middle Australians.
The Albanese Government has left them in the middle of nowhere.
Mr Albanese promised families they would be better off and that he would lower mortgages.
And yet today, 88 per cent of young and growing families are experiencing mortgage stress.
If inflation and cost-of-living pressures are hurting hard-working Australians, then so too is taxation.
Taxation is the killer of aspiration.
That’s why we’re committed to seeing Labor implement stage 3 of the former Coalition government’s legislated tax plan in full.
We want Australians to keep more of what they earn.
In this case, at least 70 cents in every dollar for 95 per cent of Australians.
But we need to look at taxation and regulation more broadly, including much overdue structural reform.
In just twelve months of this Albanese Government, we have seen it increase regulation and tax as a means to exert control.
But more government control has meant less prosperity.
By breaking many of the chains of regulation and removing the whips of taxation, we can empower hard working Australians to pursue their ambitions – because they will have more freedom, more choice and fewer financial burdens.
We can make small businesses boom once again.
And we can make our industries and resources sectors thrive all the more.
And let’s not forget, it’s the royalty and revenue contributions of our resource sector which helps pay for schools, roads, hospitals, aged care facilities, housing, infrastructure, social services and more besides.
I’ve sought to work constructively with the Government on the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax.
Yes, I’m concerned about the effects of such a tax on foreign investment.
But this tax could be far worse if Labor negotiates with the Greens.
In exchange for our support, I will be asking the Government to remove red tape to condense gas project approval timeframes.
It gives us a chance to drive down power prices and drive up much needed revenues.
Our country must do all we can to lower energy costs and power-up the nation.
The most debilitating cost for Australians right now is their power bills.
The Prime Minister promised on almost 100 occasions before the election to reduce power prices by $275.
He has never mentioned that figure since being elected!
Instead, the striking figure is that prices will rise by up to 29 per cent for households and small businesses from the 1st of July.
I want to be very clear with Australians:
You are paying more in Australia for your electricity and gas than almost any other country in the world.
That is as a direct result of Labor’s energy policy.
Inflation is a problem in good part because, under Labor, every part of manufacturing or food grown which you ultimately buy at the supermarket is affected by higher electricity and gas prices.
Let me give you an example of food manufacturing in the Yarra Valley.
We recently had a great visit to Yarra Valley Hilltop in Arron Violi’s electorate.
The strawberry growers purchase fertiliser. That input is more expensive because of the energy used to produce it.
The storage sheds for the strawberries are more expensive to power under Labor.
The glass jars which store the jam have gone up in price too because of the electricity and gas used to make them.
And so it goes on.
A government I lead will get more gas into the domestic system.
I’m flabbergasted by Labor’s inability to understand simple supply-and-demand logic:
If there’s a growing demand for a commodity, and the government restricts its supply, then the price will obviously go up for consumers.
Without coal, gas is the only form of reliable and affordable baseload power we have at present.
And gas will be essential for all countries as we transition to new systems to reach net-zero emissions.
I also think we need to recapture the climate debate from the catastrophists.
One thing which should motivate us is a desire to improve our environment for our children and theirs in turn.
Yes, that means reducing emissions.
But it also means not carpeting our landscape with 58 million solar panels by 2030 and 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines by 2050.
We also want our children to have a reliable energy system which provides cheap power.
The reality of clean, consistent and cost-effective power comes down to a question of technology.
Chris Bowen irrationally says nuclear can’t be part of the answer.
The fact is the latest technology reactors in nuclear-powered submarines in operation today don’t need to be refuelled for 30 years.
And the money being invested into research and development is only going to make these new nuclear technologies even better.
That’s why fifty countries are looking at next generation small modular and micro nuclear technologies.
These reactors can be plugged into existing grids.
So Australia won’t need to spend the more than $100 billion required for new poles and wires – costs which will be passed onto consumers.
Any sensible government must consider these new and safe nuclear technologies as part of the energy mix, including to firm-up whatever percentage of renewables are in the system.
Most importantly, our energy security is entwined with our national security.
Dr Adi Paterson, the former ANSTO CEO, has pointed out the risks and vulnerabilities of renewables because they are intermittent and have large footprints given the sheer size of solar and wind farms.
He also said that nuclear power will be essential for energy ‘reliability, robustness and resilience.’
For the Liberal Party, we must promote a much more sensible and less emotional debate on our energy and national security.
And I commend Ted O'Brien for doing just that.
I think the public mood is shifting to see the benefits of nuclear power.
If we want to see a better Australia, then we need policies which will have benefits across the community.
I’ll touch on a few areas here.
We have an exceptionally tight labour market at present.
Employers are crying out for workers.
To help fill shortages, we’ve called for the doubling of the Age and Veteran Service Pension Work Bonus Scheme so older Australians and veterans can work more without it affecting their pensions.
Similarly, I outlined in my Budget in Reply our policy to allow those on unemployment benefits to earn more through part-time work before their JobSeeker allowance is affected.
Tellingly, of the 820,000 JobSeeker recipients, more than 75 per cent had no declared part-time work.
We should always incentivise people to move off welfare and into work.
Because it is through work that a person with a capacity to work obtains a sense of meaning and self-worth.
It is through work that one moves from a mindset of salvation into one of aspiration.
In addressing skills shortages, migration is important.
Especially a carefully managed and calibrated migration program.
But Labor sees migration as a magic bullet.
Our nation could support increases in the migration intake – if we had the homes and infrastructure.
But the fact is, we don’t.
And not only is Labor cutting infrastructure investments, fewer homes are being built.
Amidst the current housing and rental crisis affecting Australians right now, the additional 6,000 people Labor wants to bring in each week – about the population of Adelaide over five years – will simply make a bad situation worse.
So a priority for a Coalition government will be resurrecting our building industry, getting more homes constructed, and investing in congestion busting infrastructure.
As I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, we must help more Australians realise their aspirations in life.
Perhaps the greatest aspiration is owning your own home.
Home ownership empowers. It provides stability. It creates choice.
And the confidence which comes from home ownership engenders confidence more broadly in our society and system.
A Coalition government I lead will allow first home buyers and women separated later in life to access their super to buy their first home.
In contrast, Labor’s home buying scheme would see Australians rely on other taxpayers’ money to purchase their home.
Perversely, the government would then have equity in their home.
That’s not liberating – it’s modern collectivism.
We want Australians to be the masters of their own fate.
Their super is their hard-earned money.
Australians should have a choice in using their super to buy a home and to get ahead in life.
Michael Sukkar is doing an outstanding job in this portfolio and he is working-up additional support measures.
Many aspiring young Australian homeowners will cast their vote at the next federal election.
As the pencil in their hand hovers over a Coalition candidate, we want the sound of jingling house keys to resonate in their minds.
Now, a better Australian community is also one which supports the economic and social participation of women.
As I announced in my Budget in Reply, we will undertake a review of women-specific health items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule and corresponding treatments on the PBS.
Women must have better access to medical services and more affordable medications.
Just as we must improve women’s health and well-being, we must also look after those in our society who require aged-care and disability support.
We must ensure our aged care system and the NDIS remain sustainable.
And we must safeguard our children.
I’m very proud of the decision we’ve made that a future Coalition government will ban sports betting advertising during- and an hour each side of- a game’s broadcast.
Beyond television, there are many things which are poisoning impressionable young minds online, via social media and in our classrooms.
And I don’t just mean robbing children of their innocence.
I mean instilling warped values which children can carry into adulthood and which are changing the culture of our country in a bad way.
There is much we need to do to hold big tech to account.
And to free our classrooms from the clutches of ideologically driven advocates.
Moreover, the Liberal Party needs to lead the way in revitalising a quiet patriotism in young Australians:
A love of country…
A gratitude to our forebears for what they accomplished…
And a mindset of how the individual can serve the nation, instead of how the nation can serve the individual.
Our Young Liberals have been discussing national service.
There are differences of opinion about such a program being compulsory or voluntary.
But the most interesting proposition is that it be broader than military service.
For example, a program that includes working in emergency services, environmental management, and other forms of community support.
At the very least, such an idea warrants further consideration.
I’ll conclude with some comments on the state of the Federal Liberal Party and Coalition more broadly.
In the cycle of politics, parties will be down, but they are never out.
We’ve been here before.
We came back.
And we will come back again.
We should ignore all the noise from the commentariat who say this is the end of the Liberal Party.
They made similar predictions in 2007.
They were wrong then.
And they are wrong now.
It may appear we are in dark times at present.
But we have good reason to be optimistic.
Ours is a very different opposition compared with 2007.
We haven’t torn ourselves apart through in-fighting – as we did then.
We are a united and formidable team with the wisdom of experience and the youthful energy of many new parliamentarians.
And that unity is paramount.
There is nothing Labor wants more than to use the Voice referendum to divide us as a party.
But unlike Labor which deals in groupthink, our party tolerates and thrives off differences of individual opinion.
Yes, we have come to a party position to formally oppose the Voice.
It’s a position strongly supported by the Shadow Ministry and our party room.
And there is no doubt a vast majority of our supporters around the country have arrived at the same conclusion.
The Prime Minister’s Canberra Voice model is one which is dividing the country.
He has refused to hold a constitutional convention – as has been the case in the past.
He has refused to provide even the most basic details to allay Australians’ reasonable concerns.
He has refused to compromise at every turn.
He could unite the country – as we seek to do – in seeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians recognised in the Constitution.
He could improve the lives of Indigenous Australians – as we seek to do – by establishing a ground-up model of local and regional bodies which allow the voices of Indigenous elders, mums, grandmothers and members of the community to be heard as opposed to academics and capital city elites.
But instead, the Prime Minister is putting reconciliation, unity and our democracy in jeopardy in his desire to ink his name in our history books with his poorly defined, untested and constitutionally risk-ridden Voice model.
As we proceed towards the referendum, let’s keep in mind that this referendum is not our choice – it’s every Australian’s choice.
It’s not a party vote, it’s the people’s vote.
And we must not let this vote on the Voice distract us from holding the Albanese Government to account.
We must not let it distract us from highlighting how Labor’s decisions are adding to Australians’ cost-of-living pressures.
We must not let it distract us from doing the hard policy work to win the hearts and minds of Australians come the next election.
As leader, I’ve run a conventional Shadow Cabinet practice.
I believe in people expressing their views, a robust discussion taking place, and a consensus being reached.
We aren’t the ‘Moderate Party’ or the ‘Conservative Party’.
We are the Liberal Party.
And we achieve the best for Australians when we draw on our broad church of ideas.[xiii]
Together then, let’s leverage our ideas and our camaraderie and proceed with conviction, courage, commitment and confidence to the next election.
Friends – it is an election I truly believe we can win.
For all its arrogance, the Albanese Government is deeply flawed.
As is always the case, Labor’s rhetoric in opposition turns out to be empty when they form government.
In its first year, Labor has broken 12 core promises.
Most notably, Labor promised Australians that they would be better off under an Albanese government.
But after only one year, Australians are worse off.
Most egregiously, in its energy, taxation and industrial relations policies, Labor is not governing with a steady hand or with moderation.
It is overreaching at every turn with its revisionist agenda which favours the few – not the many.
The Government’s IR laws will undermine the flexibility, choice and competitiveness required for a functioning 21st century economy.
Labor is simply paying back its union paymasters who want to use these laws as a vehicle for their resurrection – for unions to cannibalise the private sector.
Today, the Victorian Labor State Conference is being held.
As occurred in Queensland, we will again see Labor’s deep divisions on AUKUS and the reluctance of many in its ranks to carry forward the defence agenda.
The Coalition can be ever so proud of establishing AUKUS – the most important security deal in modern history.
And it should not be lost on any of us that Labor’s internal bickering is not only putting AUKUS in jeopardy but also our national security and defence deterrence.
Indeed, Labor have not only cut $1.5 billion from Defence, they have also not committed any new funding despite the precarious period in which we live.
Friends – I think the penny is starting to drop for many Australians.
And I think, come the next election, Australians will be looking for an alternative.
As Australians endure tougher times, I’m sure they will be seeking a government which makes the tough economic decisions which stops the national despair and starts the national repair.
I’m sure they will be seeking a government which can course correct the country.
They will pay on strength of character – both in a leader and in a party.
That’s something that I, we and you – all of us together – will offer them.