Doorstop, Mural Hall Parliament House
3 May 2023
JANE HUME: Hello everybody, the Senate Select Committee on the Cost of Living has today handed down its interim report and while there's an awful lot of surprises in there for the Government, I don't think there's any surprises for Australians who are suffering from not just cost of living challenges, but now a full blown cost of living crisis. The interim report did not make recommendations, but it did have a series of findings 11, in total, including things like wages are going backwards. Even people that have seen a rise in a wage packet, have seen their purchasing power eroded by persistent inflation. It also includes energy prices which are persistently rising, causing problems to businesses, to households, and to charities as well. Indeed, more people are now presenting to charities than ever before. Often dual income and often mortgage holders are now presenting to charities, sometimes for the first time seeking assistance, but charities themselves are facing problems, just keeping up with rents, energy costs, and food costs. All of these present a damning report for Government, but they do come at an important time. Because one of the findings of this report is that Government policies make a significant difference to the cost of living and Government can in fact do more. We want, most importantly, for the Government to take the inflation crisis seriously. Reduction in inflation should be a policy in itself, because when fiscal policy moves in the same direction as monetary policy, and when they’re all rowing in the same direction, that's the quickest way to bring inflation down. That's what we want to see in next week's Budget, the Government making a concerted effort to make reduction in inflation a policy. We haven't seen that in the past. In fact, in the last Budget Estimates, we heard from the Government that their Budget was inflationary neutral, whereas monetary policy was restricted. We will want to see evidence for next week's Budget, that the Budget is also a restricted Budget, to make sure that it’s aligned with RBAs monetary policy so that the RBA doesn't have to do all of the heavy lifting. This report couldn't have come out at a more pertinent time. After the RBA yesterday raised interest rates, for the 10th time under this Government and one week before the Budget. We would hope that the Government would take the 11 findings in this report, in this interim report and include some recommendations and policy decisions in its Budget next week. Happy to take questions.
JANE HUME: Australians are telling us that cost of living is the number one issue right now and reduction in inflation itself should create an objective of the Budget next week. The Government has the Department of Treasury and other Departments at its disposal. But there are policy decisions that the Government could be making right now that will have an effect on inflation, but they are simply not. In fact, this report suggests that there are policy decisions that The Government has made just in the last few months alone that are having a negative effect on inflation, which means that the RBA has to do all the heavy lifting. In fact, when we looked at core inflation data, we saw that Australia has higher inflation than many comparable countries. That suggests that you can't simply finger point at Vladimir Putin and say this is all pretty much his fault. In fact, decisions that the Government are making, making bad decisions and making the situation worse.
JOURNALIST: One way to do it would be to avoid an expansionary fiscal policy and that means some spending. What do you think about Jobseeker, for instance, there's a lot of demand for an increase of Jobseeker. Do you think that that should just be simply off the table and other spending simply should not be done?
JANE HUME: There's an awful lot of demands on every budget. It doesn't matter what shade or hue the Government is, and this one will be no different. The fact that the Labor Party has been in opposition for nine years, that means that they've accumulated a wish list and there's a whole bunch of new people that are coming into the Treasurer cap in hand, asking for their particular policies to be funded. Jim Chalmers has an opportunity now to do what's right by Australians, rather than doing what's easy by his colleagues.
JOURNALIST: Further inflation is likely to also mean at least a small proportion of job losses and slight rise in unemployment rates, at least at a low level. Does the Coalition agree that that is going to be required? Is there anything else the Government could be doing to try and stop that? Is that a reality of our economic position?
JANE HUME: Well, everything that the Coalition Government did when in Government was about increasing the number of jobs and the number of opportunities for Australians and we wanted to see the Government maintain that position. It shouldn't necessarily have to be a choice. There are decisions that the Government can make that won’t necessarily change the employment prospects for Australians, but will bring down their cost of living by reducing inflation.
JOURNALIST: So you disagree with the Reserve Bank Governor then? Do you disagree with the Reserve Bank Governor? Because he says they have to go hand in hand.
JANE HUME: Well, the Reserve Bank Governor has an unenviable task. He has the job of pulling the biggest lever on inflation, which is raising interest rates. But unfortunately he himself has said that while it's nimble because people respond quickly. It's also a very blunt instrument that has negative effects on the rest of us. I'm very glad I'm not Philip Lowe right now. However, I do note recommendation three of the RBA, of the RBA review suggests that the RBA should be commenting more on the alignment of fiscal policy.
JOURNALIST: Senator, how would you suggest that you suggest we get more housing stock?
JANE HUME: So, on the first issue of there being no recommendations there will be recommendations of course, in the final report, but there are more sectors that we would like to investigate around this. You've got things like insurance schemes, for instance, so that there's more that we can talk about in regards to banking and we want to look at scams more, which is ripping off millions of dollars from Australians every single year, affecting their cost of living as well. So there's more that can be done. Once the report is finished with its investigations with those many hearings, traveling right across the country speaking to ordinary Australians. Speaking with peak bodies, with community groups, with charities, they will come down with recommendations as well. In the meantime, yes, housing is one of those issues. That is a great concern. In fact, we've heard from many groups, whether they be charity groups and non-profits or whether they be peak bodies, that the housing shortage and housing crisis out there is obviously a significant concern and cost of living process, whether it be rents, whether it be housing shortages, and particularly now, of course, whether it be mortgage repayments, the Coalition Government had policies to help people to own their own homes. But quite frankly, I think the biggest concern that has come out this week are the very high immigration numbers that we're hearing, around 7000 new people coming to Australia every single week that will mean that it's simply going to worsen this process. And quite frankly, the Labor Government needs to make sure that its immigration policy is aligned with its infrastructure policy and with its housing.
JOURNALIST: You oppose Labor’s housing policy and similarly your report also has a finding that energy prices are contributing very much to the cost of living. You also voted against the Government's energy policy. Are you doing anything to help housing?
JANE HUME: I think that there's a very good reason for that and that's because the policy decisions that are being made by this Government are in fact making inflation worse, not better and those two policies are very good example of that and we can see that already when we look at Australia's core inflation, it is higher than other countries around the world, at a time when we have had inflation with a seven in front of for the last three quarters. Reducing inflation specifically, should be a policy of this Government, a standalone policy, and they should be able to demonstrate to Australians that it's doing everything in its capacity to address inflation because that is the driver of the cost of living crisis that is affecting families.
JOURNALIST: Senator, the Victorian Premier and NSW Premier have been fairly critical of the RBA today. They've questioned whether it's fulfilling its remit they've said that the rate rises over the year is smashing families. What do you make of that?
JANE HUME: Well it was an unusual line of commentary from States particularly from the Victorian State Government, my own in Victoria, that has cut infrastructure, that is run out of money that comes to the Federal Government cap in hand and is asking for a bailout. Perhaps the Victorian State Government should concentrate on its own woes and how it's going to deal with its policy positions to help Victorians, rather than commenting on an independent RBA has been forced to do all the heavy lifting because of the failures of both State and Federal Governments.
JOURNALIST: Senator, Thursday week is Peter Dutton’s second Budget reply. After Aston, Liberals called for a policy-led recovery. Will we be seeing more policies on Thursday week or is it too soon to fatten the pig? I can assure you that there is a policy development process that is well underway, but I won't be pre empting what the Opposition Leader will be saying in reply, I can assure you though, that it is a topic of discussion between the Opposition Leader and his colleagues, because we know that there is so much to be done in a policy development space. We need to pick up the slack because let's face it, this Government isn’t.
JOURNALIST: Senator, on the question of raising Jobseeker. You said the Treasurer needs to focus on what is right by Australians. Does that mean that increasing Jobseeker will be wrong?
JANE HUME: The most important thing that the Government can do right now is focus on reducing inflation. That's what's right by us. That's what's right by Australians because it’s inflation that's driving the cost of living crisis. Now the Labor Government has had plenty of opportunities and has plenty of resources. It has had ample opportunity to develop policies that can do just that. Choose not to do so, then it's failing Australians that are suffering from the cost of living crisis.
JOURNALIST: But does the Coalition have a policy on whether Jobseeker should go up? Or is it going to make a decision on that, in the wake of the Budget?
JANE HUME: Raising Jobseeker has never been a Coalition policy. This is a decision for the Government to make and it needs to explain whether it's going to do it, why it’s going to do it, and whether it is going to be fair. But more importantly, the inflation rate impacts and an impact that will push up the cost of living crisis.
JOURNALIST: You say that will say that you want a restricted Budget and that Government fiscal policy should reduce inflationary pressures, but then the following chapter talks about the impact or that the cost of living crisis is having a charity and not for profits, and that the committee heard that 96% of survey respondents to a cost of living survey, who are on welfare payments are struggling to make ends meet. How do you reconcile having a restricted Budget when those people are struggling?
JANE HUME: The most important thing that the Government can do is make sure its fiscal policy is aligned to that of monetary policy. Otherwise, it's like putting one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. The RBA has already said that its policy of raising interest rates is effective, but it's blunt, and it disproportionately affects ordinary Australians in different ways that can actually have a negative effect. So the Government needs to make sure that it's doing all it can do to help the RBA, to make sure that it doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting. It has policy decisions to make. Now don't get me wrong this is not an easy problem. There isn't an easy solution to this. If there was, every Government would have done it. But the fact is, it's now this Government's responsibility. This is the job of the Government. They've got tough decisions to make. They've got the resources to make them.
JANE HUME: Well, you will hear that in the Budget in reply next week.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask where you stand on The Voice?
JANE HUME: I'm not necessarily an active campaigner, obviously I've always been reluctant to support an expensive, especially expensive question on the voice. I think this is a real shame, the Coalition has been pushing for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution for a very long time. We were moving towards a consensus position. Once the election occurred, and the Labor government came to power, they removed all desire to have a consensus and I think that's a real lost opportunity and it makes me very sad.
JOURNALIST: Will you be urging Victorians and Australians to vote No?
JANE HUME: I’ll be speaking on behalf of the Coalition on this issue.
JANE HUME: We’ve told the Government and indeed we have made it very public, that if the Government has solutions to how to make the NDIS more sustainable and more affordable, and our door is open to speaking to them about that and to helping them along that journey. Because we understand that the most important thing for Australians with a disability is to ensure that the NDIS is sustainable in the long term.