PATRICIA KARVELAS: Catherine King says Qatar's invasive strip searches of Australian women was one of the factors in her decision to bar those extra flights. Jane Hume is the Shadow Finance Minister. She's my guest this morning. Senator, welcome.
JANE HUME: Good morning, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Minister has spoken to the media and she has explained her decision and the thinking behind it. Does this settle the issue?
JANE HUME: Well did she explain her decision and the thinking behind it? Because quite frankly, I don't think that it's any clearer today than it was yesterday, what was behind the decision to deny Qatar Airways additional routes to Australia that would have increased competition and decreased the price of air fares for ordinary Australians. She said that there was no one factor. But that issue of the women provided context, but she wouldn't point to any other factor that was there. Quite frankly, I think there's still a lot of questions to answer and that's why we've set up this Senate inquiry into the airline industry and the decisions that have been made there because at the moment it looks like there's a protection racket in Parliament, that Labor has failed to act to cut international airfares, potentially by up to 40% when they had the opportunity to do so and everybody from two former heads of the ACCC to the current head of the ACCC, to economists, to Labor premiers right across the country have said this is a bad decision.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Then was it a bad decision in 2018, when your Government and your Minister McCormack also said no to Qatar extra flights?
JANE HUME: Well, Minister McCormack has explained that he made the decision, but he in fact, did give Qatar additional routes and not only that, but let’s be really clear Patricia, that was at a time when airfares were at record lows not record highs. That was at a time when there wasn't a cost of living crisis, that was at a time when Australians weren't paying more to go and see their loved ones overseas, to go and do business overseas. But now they are, so you have to look at the decision made in the context in which it's made. The problem is, Catherine King can't explain exactly why she made this decision, particularly in the circumstances we face now.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The issue of those invasive strip searches at Qatar airport was one of the factors she did say. The nation was shocked by that. Do you think that's relevant? Would you have thought that was relevant?
JANE HUME: Well, it was certainly relevant at the time and I know that then Foreign Minister Marise Payne worked with the Qatari Government on that issue and in fact, the Qatari Government apologised to the women involved. It wasn't just Qatar Airlines that this incident occurred on, it was other flights as well, is my understanding. Now that is an ongoing legal case and obviously I can't comment on the details of that for that very reason. But is it enough of a reason to deny this particular airline additional routes at a time when we've seen airfares, potentially 40% to 50% higher than they were prior to the pandemic? When we've seen a 25% lower capacity prior to the pandemic? This is a decision that would benefit all Australians if airfares were lower. It's a big call for Minister King to not say why she has made the decision. She said it's in the national interest. But what does that mean? She still will not answer why this is in the national interest.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just one more question before I let you go. Yesterday's national accounts show we are in a per capita recession, meaning population growth was higher than economic output. It shows the Reserve Bank's interest rate hikes are working as intended. But is this actually also a success story? Have they managed to stay on that narrow path to lower inflation? Is that the story here?
JANE HUME: Well, actually, I think the story is that the data is telling us something that Australians already know, that the economy is shuttering to halt. That there isn't a plan to do anything about it and Australians, what a per capita recession means is Australians are feeling poorer than they were just a year ago. Now. If this is the Treasurer’s economic strategy then I think we have some pretty serious problems ahead. Productivity is still in freefall and Australians with mortgages are paying double the amount that they were just a year ago, we're paying more tax than we were a year ago. We're saving less than we were a year ago. This is a real concern, and we haven't seen a plan from Labor to deal with the issues yet.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thanks so much for joining us.
JANE HUME: Great to be with you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That is the Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume. You're listening to breakfast.