Interview with Raf Epstein, ABC, Melbourne Drive
26 October 2022
RAF EPSTEIN: Jane Hume joins you once again. She's in Canberra. She's the Shadow Finance Minister and one of the Liberal Senators for the State of Victoria. Thanks for having a word with us.
JANE HUME: Good to be with you, Raf.
RAF EPSTEIN: Jane Hume, I didn't know I was gonna grow up and get to ask you this question but should Doctor Who be added to the anti-siphoning list?
JANE HUME: That is a very good question. Look, I was thinking about the two things you were speaking about what keeps you up at night and Doctor Who? You know I used to be terrified of Doctor Who when I was young. The Daleks are really scary. So yeah, isn't it quite extraordinary? Look, I can't say I'm an expert on anti-siphoning laws. What I can say is that I grew out of my fear of Doctor Who and grew to love it. I will be very sad to see it go to pay TV rather than free to air.
RAF EPSTEIN: I won't press you on that because, to be honest, I'm not quite clear what the anti-siphoning laws include either and I too, hid behind the couch when the Daleks emerged into my living room. Let's talk about the budget. The Labor Party talked about how bills going down during the election campaign, but that's probably gone. Your government got it wrong on things like wages and electricity as well. Do you cut Labor some slack because of that?
JANE HUME: Well, they actually said that they were going to cut power bills by $275 not once, not twice, but 97 times during the election campaign and was one of their marquee promises. The moment the election campaign was over, they stopped saying the words $275 and in fact, now that they've delivered their first budget, which was a genuine test, it's been revealed that, in fact, energy prices are expected to go up by 50% and gas from 40%. You know, budgets are essentially a manifesto of your policy priorities and any forecasts that are made within the budget reflect the policy choices that you have made. So if the policy of energy prices are going through the roof well, they can be affected by the policy choices you make. Clearly, Labor have said they're not the policy choices that they are going to prioritize. They're going to prioritize other things. Now that's their choice, but they have to stand by them. They can't point their finger and say it's somebody else's fault or shrug their shoulders and say, well, it's all too hard. So you can wave the white flag on policies that are so important to Australians like power prices.
RAF EPSTEIN: You can point the finger at someone else. Can I point you towards the budget you delivered in March? In March, you said wages would start to beat inflation. This year. You said that in March. Simon Birmingham, as Finance Minister stated repeatedly when you were in government, you said wages would beat inflation. They are not beating inflation.
JANE HUME: Well, that's because inflation is going up so dramatically and again...
RAF EPSTEIN: You just said Labor can't point the finger of blame at someone else.
JANE HUME: Hang on, hang on...
RAF EPSTEIN: That's exactly what you just did. You pointed the finger of blame at someone else.
JANE HUME: But we are not in government. If we had delivered another budget now it would have had very different policy priorities. In fact, we would have tackled inflation, not the symptoms of inflation, but the source of inflation which, of course is the cost of living...
RAF EPSTEIN: Are you seriously suggesting if you'd won the election, wages would be beating inflation right now?
JANE HUME: I'm suggesting that we would have maintained a spending discipline that Labor has thrown out of the window. The expenditure-to-GDP ratio, the tax-to-GDP ratio, all those guardrails that we put around the budget to maintain discipline have been set aside, and that just makes the situation worse.
RAF EPSTEIN: Can I just direct a question to you, though? You just criticised them for being mugged by reality on electricity prices. You are saying that if you'd won, wages would be beating inflation right now because that's what you said in your budget. In March.
JANE HUME: No, that's what you're saying to me. What I'm saying to you is that we would have approached this budget very differently. Indeed, we would have made sure that we were tackling inflation first and foremost, which is the most insidious economic effect on all Australians. You know, it eats away at your purchasing power, it pushes up interest rates, it should be the number one priority of this government to reduce inflation and to ease the cost of living burdens on Australians, and yet they just by their policy priorities, they have clearly chosen not to, and you don't have to look too far.
RAF EPSTEIN: So what would you do differently?
JANE HUME: I'll tell you, I'll tell you before the election, Jim Chalmers said that they would spend, their spending would be a better quality, that it would be more productive spending. Yet, the biggest commitment that they have made to Victorians is a $2.2 billion commitment to Daniel Andrews Suburban Rail loop, which we know, and I know you've discussed it on your show before, hasn't been to Infrastructure Australia. The cost-benefit analysis doesn't stack up.
RAF EPSTEIN: How do we know it doesn’t stack up?
JANE HUME: Because the Victorian Auditor General has said that it is a dud investment. Yet, this is what the Labor Government have chosen to commit their money to. But there are more ways that you can tackle inflation. You can tackle the supply constraints on the economy. That's why in June this year, one month after the election, we proposed a pension work bonus, so...
RAF EPSTEIN: I don't run too far away.
JANE HUME: You asked what we would do differently, and there are a number of things that we have done.
RAF EPSTEIN: So you mentioned the Suburban Rail loop. So you think it's worthwhile listening to the Auditor General on the Suburban Rail loop?
JANE HUME: Well, I think the Auditor General made it pretty clear that this wasn't a project that was actually going to deliver for Victorians and it isn't amazing that an Albanese Government would prioritize this, this particular investment when they know that it hasn't gone through Infrastructure Australia and don't forget, Raf that infrastructure study was set up by Anthony Albanese...
RAF EPSTEIN: Sure, I just want to know that...
JANE HUME: So that it could do that, you know, that cost-benefit analysis.
RAF EPSTEIN: I want to know why you want to listen to the Victorian Auditor General and not the Federal Auditor General. The Federal Auditor General was absolutely scathing of your commuter car parks and the sports rorts. He did not think there was any business case there. He said that they were essentially allocated. I mean, he accused you of pork barreling essentially, so why should we be listening to the Victorian or the general and suburban rail loop? Why shouldn’t we listen to the Federal Auditor General on pork barreling?
JANE HUME: Because the Labor Government are now in charge of the purse, and what they've done is ignore the Victorian Auditor General's report and instead...
RAF EPSTEIN: But you ignored the Federal umpire.
JANE HUME: Decided to give $2.2 billion to Dan Andrews five weeks before the election. Now that's pretty nice. I mean, you want to talk about pork barreling and that's a prime piece of crackling along the pork barrel.
RAF EPSTEIN: You have points for the metaphor, but you've made the point that the auditor general in Victoria tore strips off the Suburban Rail loop. You have never ever given credit to the Federal Auditor General. He destroyed your commuter car parks and sports rorts, and you said we shouldn't listen to him and that he was wrong.
JANE HUME: Well, those particular investments have now been unwound. I don't know whether I agree. I actually think that there are an awful lot of investments that have been ripped out of this budget that a lot of communities were relying on, whether it be car parks by their railway stations so that they can get home sooner and faster and get to work more easily or whether it be in regions. Some of that regional development infrastructure projects were so important to communities. They're productive, and that increases their productive capacity. Things like, dare I say, childcare centres in the region. So I've already spoken to two people in the North East of Victoria that have said that their childcare centres won't go ahead because of the investments that have been ripped out of the budget by the Labor Government.
RAF EPSTEIN: Ok, you've made that point. Can I try and throw forward a bit Jane here and there are two areas that it's seems like the government is flagging some action. One is the stage three tax cuts, and you and I have had a chat about that. We don't know what they're going to do. They say they won't change it. However, last night and today the Treasurer has spoken about maybe some sort of cap on gas prices. If I'm reading between the lines here. Would the opposition be open to those two bits of gas? That's the stuff we sell overseas, the stuff we have here. Would you be open to some sort of cap on gas prices for the gas we buy here?
JANE HUME: Well, I think the most important thing is that we understand how that would bring down energy prices for ordinary Australians because we know Labor committed to a $275 reduction in their energy prices over the next two years, and instead they're now forecasting a 50% increase in electricity prices and a 40% increase in gas. So how would that cap mechanism work? That's something that I'm unclear about. So I don't think I can give you a definitive answer.
RAF EPSTEIN: Open to it?
JANE HUME: What I can say, though, is that Labor has prevented the previous Coalition Government from introducing new gas projects and new sources of energy for the last nine years. They have blocked off as many proposals as we have put up, and unless you put new supplies into the system, of course, prices are going to go up. We agree that we need to move to a Net Zero future. Of course, we do. We also agree that there should be new renewables in the system. In fact, the take-up of renewables was faster under the last Coalition Government than it had ever been previously. However, the switch to renewables has to be done in a measured way, with that baseload power supporting prices. Otherwise, the transition will only end up in a price shock which is what we're seeing now.
RAF EPSTEIN: Final thoughts on the state election campaign, the State Opposition are going to unwind some changes to equal opportunity laws here. It will once again allow religious organisations to essentially be cruel to gay people. Why do we need that?
JANE HUME: I don't think that that's the intention of this policy.
RAF EPSTEIN: Well, they’re allowing to sack, to hire and fire people based on their sexuality.
JANE HUME: Well, I think there are always competing freedoms out there. I'd like to see that state legislation, and this was aligned with federal legislation. We want to prevent discrimination against all people, whether it be on the basis of their sexuality, whether it be the basis of their gender, their physical abilities, their race or their religion. I think that's fundamentally important. Now, sometimes those things will compete against each other. I think we want to see everybody on an even playing field. Discrimination is unacceptable anywhere, whether it be in the workplace or whether it be in your communities.
RAF EPSTEIN: If discrimination is unacceptable in the workplace, why is Matthew Guy going to give religious organisations greater ability to discriminate based on sexuality and gender?
JANE HUME: Well, I don't know whether religious organisations do actively discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender. I don't know whether there's any evidence of that. What I do know is that it's important that all Victorians, or indeed all Australians, are treated fairly and evenly under the law and that discrimination is unacceptable whether it be on the basis of your race, gender or sexuality or your, abilities or your religious affiliation.
RAF EPSTEIN: I always appreciate your willingness to answer any questions. So I'll try this one favourite Doctor Who?
JANE HUME: Oh, gosh, I can't remember. And you’re putting me under pressure like...
RAF EPSTEIN: a description of a person. That's okay. You don't need...
JANE HUME: Oh, curly-haired...
RAF EPSTEIN: Tom Baker.
JANE HUME: Tom Baker, of course. Absolutely!
RAF EPSTEIN: Ok, good.
JANE HUME: Now he's terrific. I'm under pressure because I feel like I'm sitting here, and the cameras do down. It's a little bit like the TARDIS.
RAF EPSTEIN: Very good, and it’s actually called a TARDIS. Excellent point, maximum points. Thanks for joining us.
JANE HUME: Good on you. Thanks.
RAF EPSTEIN: Jane Hume is the Shadow Finance Minister and the Liberal Senator for the State of Victoria.