JANE HUME: Good afternoon, before we begin, I would like to first of all pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Jim Molan, who passed away this morning. Jim Molan was an extraordinary man that has spent every second of his life serving his country. Whether it be as a Major General in the Australian Army, whether it be as a Senator for New South Wales. He would be the first to admit that his greatest achievement in life though, was his family. And I think I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in the Senate when I say that our hearts are with his wife, and children today, they will leave behind the great good quality senator. He was a great friend to many of us, and his contribution was very significant. So Vale Jim Molan. I'd like to talk to you today about wages, because yesterday we heard that wages have gone up. However, the current wage rises are a result of the good work by the Coalition to grow the economy and to increase jobs. Everything that the Coalition government did was about growing the economy and creating jobs. When we came to government unemployment was at 5.7% When we left government, it was at 3.7%. Nothing Labor has done in the last seven months has secured the economy or grown jobs. There's nothing Labor has done in the last seven months, that has built on the good work of the Coalition to grow the economy and to create new jobs. Labor said that they had the answers to the cost of living crisis. They said that they knew how to tackle inflation. They said that they knew how to tackle energy prices. Indeed, they promised a $275 reduction in energy prices. But they haven't got a plan to tackle inflation, they haven’t got a plan to tackle the cost of living. When inflation called for fiscal restraint, they spent more. Indeed without an economic plan, you plan to fail and Labor has now pledged to fail Australians.
JOURNALIST: Senator, just on Jim Molan. What will the process be now to choose his replacement?
JANE HUME: There'll be a pre-selection in the New South Wales division. I don't know what the timing of that would be. I'm sure we'll hear about that soon enough.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about the gas issues we’re in at the moment. The ACCC released interim guidelines this morning to clarify the government price cap would be applied to producers. Have you had a chance to read those guidelines, and is it your belief that they will answer the unanswered questions industry has?
JANE HUME: Well we knew back in the Budget that Labor were predicting that there were going to be higher energy prices, higher electricity and high gas prices, that Australians were going to pay for in the years to come. And it wasn't until the Coalition pointed out that those higher energy prices were unacceptable, that they came up with a, essentially a rushed plan to address it. But a price cap, price fixing is no way to address the gas price effectively. A price cap, price fixing, as we know, essentially leads to investment shortages and to supply shortages which pushes up prices, in the medium and longer term. Australians will pay the price for that. The only way to effectively address gas prices is to increase supply and Labor have done nothing to increase gas supply. They need to increase their gas supply in places like Scarborough, and Beetaloo, and Bass Strait, but instead we're seeing quite the opposite. Now, we're seeing experts call for Labor to reconsider the Coalition's gas infrastructure plan to unlock that supply that will push down gas prices.
JOURNALIST: Senator, there’s been pressure on the Government to raise jobseeker payments in the May Budget to protect people who are struggling with the rising cost of living. Do you think the Government should make any room for higher payments in the budget?
JANE HUME: Well, that's one of the reasons why we've set up the cost of living committee because Labor has no answer to the cost of living crisis that's affecting all Australians right now. They have no answer to how to tackle inflation. They have no answer to tackle the cost of living. Despite the fact that prior to the election, they said they had all the answers. We’ve set up a cost of living committee that is going to travel all around Australia, listening to people about how the cost of living is affecting them, but most importantly, trying to find practical solutions that won’t increase inflation and won’t have an effect on inflationary pressures, that will help solve an issue facing all Australians right now.
JOURNALIST: This has been going on for a while, how much more consultation do before realising that people are really struggling, and how do you come up with solutions that could be informed on the road from more and more committees, when you’re actively hearing from organisations like ACOSS with suggestions, like raising jobseeker, that have been provided for some time.
JANE HUME: This is a problem that's been going on for some time. Australians have been telling us that they feel it at the bowser. They feel it at the grocery checkout. They’re certainly feeling it when they pay their mortgages. What we have to do is make sure that there's ways to address the cost of living that isn’t going to make the situation worse by pushing up inflation. That's what the cost of living committee will do, by finding those practical solutions. The reason why we need this committee is because Labor doesn't have a solution. Labor doesn’t have a plan. They said they did prior to the election, but they don’t. They haven’t got a plan to address inflation.
JOURNALIST: Senator, when do you expect that committee to have some solutions?
JANE HUME: The committee first meets in the next couple of weeks so you can follow it right around Australia. We’ll be meeting with social services right around the country. We'll be meeting with energy suppliers. We’ll be meeting with the grocery suppliers and we'll be meeting with ordinary Australians who are really feeling the pinch right now.
JOURNALIST: Senator, you said that the only way to affect relief in the energy market is gas supply, was to increase production. Producers now face penalties of over $50 million for failing to comply with the wholesale cap on the price of gas. Will the opposition change its opinion on that metric that you’ve outlined when cheaper supply enters the market? Do you think that does occur?
JANE HUME: Well cheaper supplies have to enter the market on a sustainable basis. And that’s not just the price of gas that is the issue now we’re also facing, potential gas rationing and blackouts that will affect all Australians. The only way to sustainably lower the cost of energy, is to increase the supply of energy, increase the supply of gas. And we would urge the Labor Government to reconsider the Coalitions National Gas Infrastructure Plan as the experts want.
JOURNALIST: Labor said that the Coalition presided over a decade of stagnant wages growth and since coming to power, they’ve supported an increase to the minimum wage, IR reforms, those sort of things. (inaudible)
JANE HUME: And in fact, their own budget says that real wages won’t rise over the entire term of this Parliament. In fact, under Labor, wages will be lower for longer and the budget says exactly that.
JOURNALIST: Senator, just back on the issue of gas supply. Do you think, your home state of Victoria, need to do more to fix that issue?
JANE HUME: Every state needs to do that, particularly those on the east coast, Victoria and New South Wales, that are facing the gas prices most acutely. And there is only one solution to lowering gas prices and that’s to increase gas supply.
JOURNALIST: Senator, quickly, can I draw you back to a point you just made. Are you arguing that this price cap could directly lead to blackouts?
JANE HUME: What we're already beginning to see that. Experts are telling us just in the last couple of days that price fixing leads to gas shortages, gas shortages can potentially lead to rationing. Potentially lead to blackouts. That's going to affect not just Australian consumers, but Australian manufacturers and retailers, and the economy as a whole. The best way to lower the price of gas is to increase the supply of gas and that was the Coalitions objective through its National Gas Infrastructure Plan, that now experts are saying Labor should be adopting.
JOURNALIST: Senator, you've just had your former colleague, Ken Wyatt speaking on Sky, again calling the Liberal Party to support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Has there been any movement in the party room in regards to that and what's your personal view on establishing a Voice to Parliament?
JANE HUME: So the Party Room hasn't met to discuss Indigenous Voice to Parliament. My concern, particularly as the Shadow Special Minister of State is more about the mechanics around that referendum. I can’t understand why a Labor Government that wants to see this referendum succeed would decide to abolish a pamphlet - a pamphlet that's gone out with every referendum since Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup. Why it's decided to not have both a yes and a no case that would so dramatically affect the level of misinformation that exists out there. It seems to me that Labor is setting up the Voice Referendum to fail.
JOURNALIST: Senator, sorry on Jim Molan. The vacancy in the Senate, I can appreciate that the New South Wales decision will decide that, but you presided over the election review of the Liberal Party’s election defeat. Does this create an opportunity for a female candidate to be elected? Would you like to see an experienced female candidate step up to increase the female representation in the party?
JANE HUME: Well one of the review’s recommendations was a 50% gender target over the next three elections, and of course that means when every vacancy is available or whenever there is a preselection for a lower house seat, that it would be terrific to see more immensely qualified, high caliber women step into those roles as we have seen in the past. That said, I think it’s a little bit too early and a little bit inappropriate to be talking about Jim’s replacement in the Senate right now. Today are hearts, and our minds, and our thoughts are with Jim’s family.
JOURNALIST: Just on AUKUS if I could, we've heard reports that the Prime Minister is directly lobbying the US Congress to make sure that we're staying on track. Are you concerned that what we’re seeing is that AUKUS is starting to fall apart?
JANE HUME: I think AUKUS is one of the most significant national security achievements of the Coalition Government, and I was really pleased to see it fully adopted and even embraced by the new Labor Government. I would hope that it would stay on track and that they would do everything in their power to make sure that it stays that way.