LUKE GRANT: As you might have seen reports, the Coalition and the Greens are going to use a cost of living inquiry to probe the federal government's energy policies, as household budgets continue to struggle with high inflation and rising interest rates. If it were only that we've spoken Haven't we already these here at some length about cost of living? I saw a poll the other day saying it was the big issue for voters. Thanks so much for that. I think we'd already worked that out. And we goodness mean, if you factor into that, rent, affordability of rental properties, just out the window, if you can find one. Just yesterday, we'll talk about health won't wait. Psychiatrists, if you could just find one, and then having to pop with sometimes $500 for your first appointment. I mean, it's out of control. So I applaud the Coalition and please don't repeat this, I applaud the Greens, don't tell anyone. We're going to have this inquiry and find out what will happen with power prices. It will be headed by Senator Jane Hume, who you will know is a Liberal Senator from Victoria. Shadow spokeswoman for financial matters, and Chair of the Select Committee on cost of living. I'm delighted to say the Senator is on the line. I hope you well. Good to be with you like long overdue this I know the parliament hasn't been sitting forever but nonetheless that $275 promise from Labor. I mean, they can’t dimension that number. I imagine if they were in the cricket. And the team score is you know, three for 275. They'd be looking away anywhere until that number changes. Well, what can a committee What can a hearing like this do to uncover in fact, whether the government's approach has worked or not, or if in fact, they took us for a ride when they went to the polls and said, you know, we can look after you guys and save your money.
JANE HUME: Well, this is you're absolutely right. The cost of living is the number one issue facing Australians right now every single poll says what we already know. Inflation is at its highest level in three decades at the highest level since 1990. And today, there were some retail spending figures that came out that show that the cost of living is really starting to bite into Australians pockets. Now before the election, Labor said they had all the answers to the cost of living crisis. They were the ones that said this was the big issue. That's why they promised the $275 relief to electricity prices. They promised cards for childcare. They promised cuts to medicine. They've promised all sorts of things. But in fact, they spent more which means that the RBA when it makes a decision about raising interest rates has to do all the heavy lifting to try and control inflation. Before the election Anthony Albanese said he wanted to work collaboratively with industry. Of course, he's gone out and done the exact opposite with the industrial relations reforms and with the price caps on energy. So they've been shown, Labor, they don't have an economic plan and instead they're breaking promises. They're breaking promises to families, and they're breaking promises to business. And Australians are just crying out right now for their government to help them with the impact of inflation, with rising interest rates, with rising energy prices. Because you feel it everywhere. You know, it doesn't matter whether you're buying breakfast cereal or fruit, when you’re paying your gas bill or your electricity bill or you're filling up with petrol or you're paying your rent or you're paying a mortgage. It just seems to be endless. And you really need a plan to deal with it. So this committee is doing essentially what the Labor government won't do, which is to work with businesses, work with community groups and with individuals to find responsible and constructive solutions to the crisis. How can we deal with the cost of living pressures in a way that is not just sensible, not just effective, but also is not inflationary in itself? So as Chair, I'm really looking forward to listening to people from industry and from the not-for-profit sector, from government departments and agencies, but also from individuals, just to understand exactly how this is affecting them to get those practical solutions that will make a difference.
LUKE GRANT: Well, let's hope you find them. But what worries me is and we saw this with the issue with Alice Springs, I thought Peter Dutton has been brilliant in that space. On the front foot invited the Prime Minister to go and visit that town with him. Of course, Peter Dutton had been there in October and I had a meeting with the Prime Minister so it wasn't a new issue for the opposition leader. So it says, Let's go there together and check it out. The PM says no, and then go to the next day anyway. It appears, to me it's all about the politics. So you might come up with some great solutions, but I fear that the government making it all about politics will mean that they'll never see the light of day.
JANE HUME: You know, Alice Springs is a really good example of the bad effects of bad policy. You know, when you make a bad policy decision, there are consequences and inflation, and the cost of living is just the same. When you make a decision to for instance, spend more on your budget and therefore the RBA has to do the heavy lifting. That's when interest rates go up. If you're pushing inflation up, that means it's harder for Australians to buy the things that they need every day and it particularly effects. You know, when inflation goes up people on low incomes that are living from payday to payday they feel at first. It affects people on fixed incomes like retirees who find that the purchasing power of their retirement savings has gone down. And of course it affects mortgage holders, too, who are all of a sudden particularly those ones that I'm most worried about that have fixed their rates, and are now going to cut off those fixed rates onto variable rates in probably about May or June this year. They're really going to feel the difference because so much more of their income is being eaten up. And we're not just talking about the cost of living affecting people that are already disadvantaged, although of course it does. It's actually affecting working people as well, just as badly so all our families are sending their kids off to school today or yesterday. You know, they've had to buy uniforms and had to buy school shoes and had to buy books. They're really doing it tough right now, and they really are looking to their government for solutions and they're not getting any. So we'll find them for them
LUKE GRANT: So I guess we're not talking about handouts because they can generally lead to increasing inflation. These are more structural solutions, are they?
JANE HUME: Well, there are ways of going about dealing with inflation that doesn’t, sorry dealing with the cost of living, that doesn't necessarily have to be inflationary. It's not just about pumping more money into the economy that can have a detrimental effect. But know for instance, you could reduce red tape so that businesses can reduce their costs and pass those reduced costs on to their consumers. There are ways of reducing sort of frictions in the supply chain. So we'll hear from Woolworths tomorrow for instance, we might be able to hear about what it is that they want to see to reduce the cost of the goods that they're selling on to us. And we're also hearing from energy companies so we can understand how bad government policy and potentially these price caps that massive intervention into the energy market is going to have a detrimental effect on prices in the long term. So there are lots of different ways to attack this beast, but attack it we must because the prosperity of Australians depends upon it.
LUKE GRANT: Yeah. It's a bit odd, co-chairing it with the Greens. Don't tell me we’ve got a new Coalition. Liberal Party and the Greens. What the hell are you doing to us?
JANE HUME: Well, look, I'm always gonna put my hand on my heart and say that it doesn't matter what side of politics you're on, you're a good patriot. However, the Greens are also very interested in the effects of the cost of living on ordinary Australians. They come at it from a very different angle, that's for certain, but we do agree on one thing and that's that the Labor government isn't doing enough. And if Labor won't deal with it, then we will.
LUKE GRANT: Yeah. Will there be a report? How is its process finalised?
JANE HUME: Yes, they will. The committee is due to report in November. But there will be a series of hearings that will happen right across the country. When it will go out to regional and rural areas. We want to go to different states, different cities because of course the cost of living affects people very differently between the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs between regional Australia remote and rural Australia as well. And it of course, it affects different industries. So there's an awful lot of people to hear from, and we want to make sure that we get a very well rounded picture of what the problem is and where the solution might lie. So those hearings will take place across the year, and then we'll plan to report in November. But I would hope that we have some answers and solutions and suggestions for the government well before them,
LUKE GRANT: I reckon you will. Great to talk to you Jane and thank you for doing this as you and I know it's a big issue and right it is from what my listeners tell me it's the most concerning thing I face every day. So all hands on the wheel to find a solution. This has got to be a good thing. Appreciate your time very much indeed.