Interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda
3 May 2023
LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is the Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume and Jane, you're the chair of that committee. But before I ask you about the findings there and the broader context, I want to ask you and give my condolences on behalf of Sky to you about the death of Tony Staley. I know he was a confidant.
JANE HUME: He was a great friend, to not just me, but also of the Liberal Party more broadly. You know, Tony Staley, entered the Parliament back in the 1970s. He was one of the architects of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, but he left politics at the tender age of around 41 and yet continued to dedicate his life to the Liberal Party, serving as Federal President for John Howard. He was a lion of the Liberal Party, his wisdom and experience will be greatly missed, but he was also a personal friend and mentor of mine and I caught up with him just a couple of weeks ago. He will be sorely missed by so many.
LAURA JAYES: Very well said Jane, let's talk about the cost of living now and the Budget is less than a week away now. We had that shock decision from the RBA board yesterday. What does this budget need to do in your view?
JANE HUME: Well, I think that the RBA made it very clear yesterday that inflation has gone too high for too long. Our concern, of course, is that Labor has no plan to tackle inflation. Tackling inflation is a team sport. It has to be up to both the Government to use its fiscal policy levers, as well as the RBA to use its monetary policy levers. The fact that those levers had to be pulled so hard yesterday and which was quite a surprise to individuals, mortgage holders and markets alike, says that the Government could be doing more to help the RBA in its quest to bring inflation down to a respectable and to appropriate levels. Because unless we can get inflation down, it's simply going to continue to erode people's purchasing powers and push mortgages up. You know, we're now seeing the average mortgage increase to around $1,700 more per month under this Government, that's around $21,000 a year. That's not the sort of money that you find down the back of the couch. That's not spare change. Families are doing it really tough. They have to make very difficult decisions with their household budgets. So, the Government has to do the same with its budget.
LAURA JAYES: Yeah, sure. So, people are doing it tough, no massive cash handouts, but I still think there will be a bit of a boost to some welfare payments. Is that acceptable to you?
JANE HUME: All we want is to see the Government tackle the cost of living, which is the number one issue for Australians right now, but at the same time, it can't be implementing policies that are going to make the situation worse. So when we get to that Senate estimates process we're going to want to forensically examine the policy decisions that this Government has made to make sure that they won't have an additional inflationary effect, which again, will make the RBA have to push up rates even further and Philip Lowe has said that there is a chance that rates will have to go even higher. So he's looking for the signals from Government, as well as the rest of Australia. So that's what we'll be looking for in this Budget. Unfortunately, what we're hearing is that there is going to be a big spending budget, a traditional Labor big spending budget, that's not going to do the inflation numbers any good at all.
LAURA JAYES: Some economists think the RBA has overcooked it. I think the RBA’s decision, particularly yesterday, may risk putting the country into recession. Is that your view?
JANE HUME: The greatest risk right now is further inflation. If we get higher and higher inflation, it erodes the purchasing power of ordinary Australians and of course, inflation we know hits the poorest people the hardest. We want to make sure that inflation is brought back down to that two to three percent range. Now the RBA is an effective instrument because it can act nimbly, but it's a blunt tool just using interest rates to bring down inflation. That's why we need Government spending to also be reined in, to make sure that the economy slows down to a point where inflation can be under control without pushing it into recession. It’s a delicate balancing act. Nobody says that it's easy, but that is what governing is all about, making those tough decisions and quite frankly, this budget is going to be a test for Labor. A test for Jim Chalmers. He can do the easy thing. He can succumb to all of his colleagues that come to him cap in hand with the best possible policy ideas or he can say no, it's more important to do what's right by the economy, what's right by ordinary Australians, in particular those mortgage holders and do what's necessary to order to rein in inflation.
LAURA JAYES: Just on a different policy now, vaping. We saw this big announcement from the Government yesterday. It's a world first, it's pretty big actually. Is that something the Liberal Party supports?
JANE HUME: Well, look, I'm speaking now as a mother of three children who are in their late teens and I personally find vaping just disgusting. But at the same time, we want to make sure that the enforcement mechanisms are there and appropriate. It's not as if vaping is legal now and yet it seems to be so readily available. A lot of that comes down to the States and Territories. I do think that there are opportunities to rid ourselves of those flavoured vapes that are specifically targeted to a younger audience. At the same time, we want to make sure that there is an opportunity for people to get off nicotine addiction, to get off smoking, which is why we need to maintain the prescription opportunities to vape, but at the same time, we don't want to create new harms. We're waiting to see exactly what the policy positions are of the Government and how then to analyse those, potentially through the Senate committee process, to understand just how effective that they will be. Certainly it's something that I think that the Opposition has an open mind towards.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, Jane Hume, good to talk to you.
JANE HUME: You too. Thanks Laura.