Interview with John Laws, 2SM
26 October 2022
JOHN LAWS: Okay, the government, as you know, delivered Labor's first budget in almost a decade last night. With a warning, there are some hard days ahead in the face of a global economic downturn and rising inflation. It was never going to be here, a budget that would satisfy everybody. But the treasurer took a step even further. He made sure that he brought down a budget that wouldn't satisfy anybody. Jim Chalmers made a point of blaming everything on the previous government. So to tell us more, we better talk to somebody from the opposition side; opposition finance spokeswoman Jane Hume joins me on the line. Senator, good morning and welcome to the program.
JANE HUME: Good morning, John. It's great to be with you.
JOHN LAWS: Do you accept that? Most of the problems we're currently facing are outside the government's control?
JANE HUME: Well, I certainly don't accept that. They're not the problem that they've caused by the last government. This was a real test for the New Labor Government to, in fact, build on what became a very strong position that they had inherited from the Coalition and to address those cost of living crisis issues that are bearing down on all Australians right now, and it failed that test. Resoundingly the budget does absolutely nothing to assist your family budget, and there's absolutely no credible plan there to deal with the source of inflation or help families deal with those immediate costs of living pressures. In fact, it actually said in the budget that your cost of living is going to go up. Your electricity and your gas bills are going to go up by 50 and 40%. That your tax payments are going up, that government spending is going up, that unemployment is going down, and real wages are going down. So this is exactly what Labor said that we're going to deliver, which was a bread and butter budget, but a bread and butter budget for Labor means high taxing and high spending, and it does nothing to help your family get ahead.
JOHN LAWS: For all the whinging about being left with a huge debt. The government does have a point. I mean, do you concede that the Morison government didn't leave Jim Chalmers with much room to ease the financial burden on families?
JANE HUME: Well, in fact, they've baked into this budget debt and deficits going out for beyond the next 10 years. So while complaining that there was a debt left behind, which of course is largely caused by our response to COVID, where we threw the kitchen sink at the economy to save lives and save livelihoods. Now Labor has essentially raised the white flag and said it's all too hard. Not only that, but they've abandoned the guardrails that you put around the budget. So they've abandoned, for instance, the tax-to-GDP ratio that we put in there as a discipline. They've abandoned any spending-to-GDP ratios. All of those disciplines are about setting spending within the envelope that you have completely gone out the window.
JOHN LAWS: During the election, campaign Labor promised to cut household electricity bills by $275. But we've instead been told that bills will increase by 50% over the next couple of years. I mean, did Labor lie?
JANE HUME: I think that would be the biggest shock for ordinary Australians who were expecting a $275 reduction in their electricity bill and, in fact, voted for it. They said that they would reduce energy bills by $275 no less than 97 times during the election campaign. The moment the election was won and dusted. They stopped talking about it, and now only six months later, they've said well, actually, your electricity bills are going to rise by 50%. Your gas bills are going to rise by 40%. In fact, we've estimated that your typical Australian family that they will be $2,000 poorer between the election and this Christmas.
JOHN LAWS: Did Labor lie?
JANE HUME: Well, if they didn't lie, then they certainly can't add because, quite frankly. We asked for the modelling over and over again. How can you show that you will be able to reduce energy prices by $275? They assured us that it was blocked away and then, of course, immediately reneged on that. So I'm always reluctant to call people liars, but I certainly am happy to call them incompetent.
JOHN LAWS: Have you ever told a lie?
JANE HUME: I occasionally tell people that perhaps their bottom doesn't look big in that dress. But that's a lie. I think, for most people, that was a boy.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah, well, that's called a social lie, isn't it?
JANE HUME: Yeah, I would never put my hand on my heart and say that I haven't exaggerated or flattered. But I can safely say that a budget document is a place where integrity and transparency are paramount. That's not what we've seen from this government. They promise one thing, and they've delivered another. They said that all Australians would be better off if they voted Labor, and that they would feel it in their bank accounts after the election. Well, I don't think that's a lie. In fact, Australians are feeling it in their bank accounts, but not in the way that was promised.
JOHN LAWS: The commitment to a $275 reduction in power bills has been replaced by plans to empower energy regulators to crack down on their electricity retailers. Is that a fair trade-off?
JANE HUME: No. How about we just bring more energy into the system. We open up those gas basins and allow more producers to improve the supply side because, let's face it, that's where the real problem is. The shift to renewables is an important one. We all want to see a net zero world. However, if you make that transition too quickly, too abruptly, well, you're sending out the wrong signals to the market. That's what's causing this price spike. We want to make sure that the transition to low-emissions technology happens in a measured way using ideally gases that transition baseload power, energies, and energy source, and that way when we move to that emissions-free environment, we've done so without blowing every family's budget.
JOHN LAWS: I mean, the commitment to a $275 reduction in power bills has now been replaced by plans to empower energy regulators to crack down on electricity retailers. As I said to you, is that a fair trade-off?
JANE HUME: No, I don’t think it’s a fair trade-off.
JOHN LAWS: No, I don’t think it is.
JANE HUME: I don't think it is. What our decision would be if we were in government, we would be unlocking those new energy supplies to make sure that baseload power is secure while we make the transition, and that would send the right signals to the market. That would prevent these incredible power shocks, these price shocks.
JOHN LAWS: There wasn't a lot of help for the rising cost of living at all really. Is there anything that the government could have done to ease the pressure with without adding to inflation?
JANE HUME: I'd say, in fact, we would have done it differently, which is quite considerable. I mean, I think that we know we've demonstrated when we were in government that we could deliver on the cost of living relief. We were the ones who brought in that fuel excise cut, but there is certainly more that can be done. We want to make sure that we unlock supply chains. We can do that by allowing businesses to hire older Australians, for instance. That pension work bonus which was a policy of the Opposition only a month after the election, would have allowed older Australians to go back to work, and they would have been able to supplement their income, affect their own cost of living issues, but also to feed those labour shortages that particularly small businesses were feeling. We would have reduced pressure on interest rates and inflation by careful budget management that controls the budget, spend our government spending, you know, making sure that we were tackling the source and not the symptoms of the cost of living pressures. We would have reduced the red tape on small businesses rather than subjecting them to union power or these industry-wide wage claims. We would have made sure that they weren't facing an industrial relations nightmare and that they could continue to invest and grow their businesses without that unnecessary red tape. We would have certainly ensured a strong building industry watchdog remained because building is a critical industry, construction is a critical industry than a moment that it's subject to disputes and intimidation by union thuggery. Well, that pushes up the costs of building schools or building hospitals or building roads or building infrastructure. Of course, we were the ones that introduced the stage three tax cuts we've seen the personal income tax plan, the stage three tax cuts that will also allow families that are facing cost of living pressures right now to keep more of what they earn. It's really important to understand that tax cuts aren't a cost to the budget. This is your money. That's not money given back to you by a benevolent overlord. It's your money, and you should be allowed to keep more of it to deal with your cost of living issue.
JOHN LAWS: I agree with that. Absolutely. They take too much. You're in opposition. So, of course, you've got to oppose most of the budget. Is there anything that you're going to support?
JANE HUME: There are things in the budget that will support an advocate for. In fact, well, there are aspects, particularly to the childcare plan, that we do not agree with. We will be supporting that legislation. We want to make sure that working families, aspirational families, and people that work hard for their money and try and get ahead are supported by the tax and transfer system. However, you know, what concerns me about the childcare policy that they have introduced is a number of things. First of all, it doesn't kick in for two years. So it doesn't really affect the cost of living crisis that families are facing right now. Second of all, it's $4.7 billion, and this is on top of the $11 billion that we already spend on childcare every year on childcare subsidies.
Most importantly, while it affects the affordability of childcare, it doesn't address the issue of accessibility. There are hundreds of places in Australia where you cannot get childcare, particularly in the regions you know, I was speaking to one of my colleagues Anne Webster who's the Member for Mallee. She was telling me that in her electorate, there are seven towns that have absolutely no childcare at all. Not only that, but part of the inverted commas cuts that the Labor Government made...
JOHN LAWS: But hang on a minute, isn't some responsibility needed to be taken by the parents of these people who haven't got childcare? I mean, shouldn't the parents be getting together and organizing some kind of childcare?
JANE HUME: That's exactly right. Family daycare is so hard to access now because it's not subsidized in the same way that you know the childcare centres are subsidized. What we were trying to do is allow, whether it be local councils or community groups, to establish their own childcare facilities. That was one of the programs that has been cut as a waste in rorts measure by this Labor Government, which is a great concern. What's the point of having more subsidies for childcare that creates more demand if you can't supply not just the centres but also the staff? There are about 7000 childcare workers, and spaces that are available right now that can't be filled. This very, very expensive policy won't deliver cost-of-living relief right now and potentially won't deliver for the families that need it most.
JOHN LAWS: Okay, you've been very informative, Jane, and I thank you for the information you've given us. I thank you for the time that you've given me. I hope we get to talk to each other again sometime.
JANE HUME: So do I, John. Thank you very much.
JOHN LAWS: Thank you, Jane, very much indeed was good to talk to you.