RAF EPSTEIN: Jane Hume is the Shadow Finance Minister and one of the Liberal senators for the State of Victoria Jane Hume. Good afternoon.
JANE HUME: Good afternoon, Raf. I'm hoping you can hear me.
EPSTEIN: I can hear we've got a few audio issues, and I've got a frog in my throat, but we will charge on. I don't know if you...
HUME: I have a frog in my throat too. So it'll be a competition to see who needs the Strepsils first.
EPSTEIN: Let's hope not. I don't know if you heard Lidia Thorpe; tried to include the word coloniser in her oath of allegiance as a senator. She had to redo it. But what do you make of that?
HUME: Yes, I was there in the chamber at the time. Look, it's disappointing because the opportunity to represent the people of Victoria in the Senate chamber is an extraordinary honour indeed. I know that Lidia has said that her entry into what she calls the colonial project, with a goal to renew the nation, is what she's here for. But so many of us are here to ensure that the next generation has better and more opportunities than the current. It doesn't matter what colour your skin is or where you come from, whether you're a new migrant, a new Australian, or whether you're one of Australia's first people. So that's I think it was just a disappointing start to her term in Parliament.
EPSTEIN: Just a related issue, I guess. I'll get to people's questions in a moment. Have you made up your mind on the referendum for the voice?
HUME: Well, it's important to understand that the Coalition, and this is broadly across the Coalition, has always supported the principle of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians when there is consensus on the question, at a time when there is the best chance of success. Because, let's be honest, only eight of the last 44 referenda have been successful. So it's really important that Australians understand the detail of the question and the amendments and the model behind it to ensure that it has the greatest chance of success.
EPSTEIN: Is there enough detail there for you?
HUME: Well, there isn't now certainly. You know, we started this process in government. The Coalition, while in government, committed $31.8 million to support the creation of local and regional bodies that would then underpin the national voice to implement the codesign report that was put forward by the Aboriginal elders, Tom Calma and Marcia Langton. So I think that Australia's first step here, Labor's first step, should be to address that codesign report because so much work has been done already, as Marcia Langton has said. But it's that detail, the devil is in the detail in referenda. That is what we want to see.
EPSTEIN: Do you risk the Coalition being left behind? What do you think?
HUME: No, I actually think the coalition has been very forward-leaning on this. That's why we established those local and regional bodies, the money behind those local and regional bodies because we want to see that indigenous recognition within the Constitution, but it has to be done correctly and all Australians because, let's face it, the Constitution is everybody's document. It's the premier law of the land. People need to understand how these changes will affect them. We want to ensure that the detail is out there so that everybody feels comfortable. And the referendum has the best chance of success.
EPSTEIN: Jane Hume is with us Liberal Senator for Victoria, Shadow Finance Minister as well. And Frank is in Kilmore. What do you want to ask Frank?
FRANK: When Peter Dutton gets up and makes speeches, normally, politicians recognize the Aboriginies past, present and future. Not once has he done it. Is there something wrong with this person? Or is it my imagination?
EPSTEIN: Jane Hume, does Peter Dutton do the Welcome to Country address when he speaks? I'm not sure.
HUME: I'm pretty sure I've heard Peter Dutton do a Welcome to Country. Certainly, the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison always used to do an acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians. It is quite common. It's not compulsory. But I think it's very common in most public appearances these days.
EPSTEIN: Okay, look, I can hear that I think you've still got some audio issues, Jane Hume, so we'll go and grab some traffic and see if we can fix that and we'll get to more questions for Jane Hume in just a moment.
EPSTEIN: Jane Hume is with us. Thanks for sticking with us. I know you have the audio issue, I think you are getting an echo of yourself there. So hopefully, we have made it a bit easier.
HUME: Hopefully, you can hear me once rather than twice now.
EPSTEIN: It's all good. It's about 17 minutes after four. If I could address the economy, Jane Hume, there was an interesting question from Peter Dutton today, saying that the Labor government's making a bad situation worse by not continuing the cut to fuel tax. You and he were in the government that said you would not continue that fuel tax cut. Is it a bit weird to criticise the government for doing precisely what you planned to do?
HUME: Well, the reason why we instituted a fuel excise cut was to deal with the cost of living pressures at that time. Now at that time, it was assumed that the cost of living pressures would be temporary. Some of it would be structural, but some would be temporary. Yet some of those temporary costs of living pressures have continued on. We know that people are really feeling the pinch at the browser, they're feeling it at the grocery shop, and they're feeling it when they get their energy bills.
EPSTEIN: You're criticising them for doing as you plan to do that’s a bit weird.
HUME: But, Labor has done an awful lot of talking. In fact, we saw Jim Chalmers just last week, painting a picture of the economy, but they haven't delivered a plan as to what it is that they are going to do to ease those cost of living pressures. You know, they seem to be talking a big game without actually delivering all that much. Labor has already said that people will be seeing in their bank accounts what a change of government means. All we've seen is the cost of everything increasing and no sign of a plan. So this is just one of those issues that, as a government, you need to make a decision on. Inflation is going through the roof, we are already seeing that...
EPSTEIN: Can I clarify then, Jane Hume...
HUME: …increasing by the end of the year and left untreated, and the treasurer said it himself if left untreated if inflation gets too high for too long, it undermines the living standards and wrecks economies. But he hasn't actually said what he will do.
EPSTEIN: Well, can we clarify what you would do? Are you now saying you would continue the fuel tax cut?
HUME: Well, this is the government's position. This is the government's decision to make now. The government has to have a plan because that's what governments do.
EPSTEIN: So you don't have a position on the fuel tax cut, but the government needs to have a position on the fuel tax cut.
HUME: That's exactly right Raf.
HUME: Yes, absolutely. We said it was going to be a temporary measure to deal with the temporary cost of living pressures. All those temporary costs of living pressures have continued. Now it's up to the government to make a decision. They seem to be plagued with inertia on…
EPSTEIN: Can I just actually clarify something Jane Hume. You were there for nine years. The people didn't like your plan. If you say, you had a plan. They've been there for nine weeks. You don't need to have a position, but they do.
HUME: Well, that's exactly right. They know the Australian people have spoken they have elected Labor as their government. Now it's up to the government to deliver on their promises, including a $275 reduction in energy prices. Yet we've seen them crab walking away, not even crab walking, sprinting away from these commitments. We've heard Tony Burke say that the people will feel the effect of the change of government in their bank accounts. I don't think Australians are feeling the effects of the change of government in their bank accounts at all. And I don't think there is a plan to do so.
EPSTEIN: Given this sort of positioning is the reason Anthony Albanese, he's got a higher post-election approval rating than Hawke, Howard, Morrison, Abbott. Do you think the reason for that is you're just playing political games?
HUME: No, look, its opposition's job is scrutiny of government is scrutiny of government's plans. But if they haven't got any plans, how can we scrutinize the government? That's why we're pushing the government to decide how they will alleviate those cost of living pressures. It's one thing to paint a picture in a statement of the economy. But it's another thing to deliver on the promises you've made during an election campaign. And we'll hold the government to account for the promises that they've made.
EPSTEIN: I've got a question here on the text calls as well in a moment on 1300 222 774. This is from Peter in Blackrock to Jane Hume, who you’re listening to who is the Shadow Finance Minister. Raf, could you please ask Jane Hume why the majority of coalition parliamentarians are not wearing face masks in Parliament? Is it LNP policy? Or is it a nod to right-wing vax mask refusals, Jane Hume?
HUME: It'sneither of those things. Masks aren't compulsory in Parliament, it's entirely up to the individual. Personally, I've just recovered from COVID Myself. I can neither get it at this stage nor am I contagious to anybody. So I'm not wearing a mask in Parliament. But I do as a matter of courtesy if I'm in an environment where it's very hard to social distance, but that's not what Parliament's all about.
EPSTEIN: You don’t think the coalition should be wearing masks if that's the strongly recommended advice from every Chief Health Officer in the country?
HUME: Well, it's up to the individual as to whether they choose to wear masks and some coalition members are, some of them aren't. It's certainly not a party policy or a party position. But it is a matter of individual choice.
EPSTEIN: Do you think the government needs to do more to keep more gas here?
HUME: Look, the government to get more gas in? I'm sorry. Are we switching topics?
EPSTEIN: Sorry. Yes, yes. Yes, done masks. I'll get into the detail if you want. Very simply, there is a range of levers they can pull. Do you think they need to do more to keep more gas here for domestic consumption?
HUME: Well, the coalition has always said that in order to reduce emissions, gas needs to be the transition fuel. That's why we tried to open up new gas fields in the areas to increase new supply into the market and to push down the price. Now, Labor hasn't committed to continuing...
EPSTEIN: I didn’t ask about gas fields. I asked about the existing gas we’ve got.
HUME: But opening new gas fields is how you push down the price, and that's why we're committed to doing so. Now Labor has not committed to continuing those projects and has even said that the funding might, in fact, be under review. That creates uncertainty it discourages new investment. So we want to see more gas come into the market and be readily available. The ACCC report shows that you know that the East Coast energy crisis isn't going away anytime soon. There is a government that's missing in action here. Households and businesses are struggling with skyrocketing gas prices. Traditionally, Labor had never really believed in the role of gas. If they don't start getting on board with the role of gas, they're going to continue to discourage investment and new supply, which is the only way to lower those prices. And to deliver on that commitment of this of a reduction in energy prices, a reduction in your bills by $275 by 2025. Without gas, they simply will not be able to commit to that.
EPSTEIN: I'll just point out something the ACCC said: everything you mentioned is not a factor. The ACCC made absolutely no mention of new gas fields. So I'll just ask that question again. Because the ACCC also said the legislation you had doesn't work. Do you think the government needs to do more to keep more gas here in Australia?
HUME: The ACCC is forecasting a 70% increase in demand for gas power generation in the national electricity markets. Now, our solution to that was to open up new gas fields. If Labor can't support opening up new gas fields to reduce the supply, well, then we're at an impasse. I'm not just saying this is a Federal Government issue. All levels of government need to ensure that our local manufacturers can continue to produce goods and households couldn't afford their power bills. You know, we know that speaking to a lot of Victorian manufacturers...
EPSTEIN: Can I interrupt Jane Hume? I've now asked twice. If you'd like the government to do more to keep gas in Australia? That's an important question. Because the legislation your government designed, the ACCC says, is not enough. I haven't asked you at all about opening up new gas fields. The ACCC has not mentioned opening up new gas fields. So can I just ask for a final time? Do you think the Labor Government needs to do more to keep gas here, because we export two-thirds of what we dig out of the ground? Do you think they need to do more to keep gas here?
HUME: Well, that's exactly why the coalition established the trigger mechanism. Most importantly, the coalition got all the gas producers into a room and said this is your responsibility. This is part of the social contract of your license to operate in Australia. If you don't abide by that, we have a trigger mechanism. That's what the trigger mechanism is for.
EPSTEIN: It's not working.
HUME: Labor needs to set off that trigger mechanism and make sure that they have because they have always dismissed the gas producers in the past. Now they need to get them on board and make sure that they're acting in the national interest.
EPSTEIN: Helen's got a query from Kew. Jane Hume is with us, one of the liberal senators for the State of Victoria. She is Shadow Finance Minister as well. Helen, what would you like to ask?
HELEN: Yeah, I'd like to ask the Minister why do we need new gas fields? We already have an abundance of gas, and there are exporters making a lot of money from our exports. And we are the ones paying the high gas bill.
EPSTEIN: Jane Hume?
HUME: Well, I don't think we do have enough gas fields. That's why we were trying to open up new ones. We know that offshore gas, for instance, there was a moratorium on offshore gas as well as onshore gas in Victoria. That's not something that the Federal Opposition certainly supports. We think that there is an opportunity now for a national approach to opening up new gas fields so that we can push down those prices and make sure that not only is gas a very profitable export for Australia but there is plenty of supply to push down energy prices domestically as well.
EPSTEIN: You totally failed to encourage the gas producers to keep gas here, though, didn't you? I mean, the graph in the ACCC report goes over many years; it's going downhill. That's the graph of the gas that they kept here. You want this government to get them into a room, and I don't know...
HUME: Which is exactly what we did in 2017.
EPSTEIN: Can I point you to the graph on page 11 of the ACCC's report? It's the second graph in the press release. It's on page 11 of the report. The gas supply...
HUME: Raf, I don’t have the report in front of me, and it's 100 pages long.
EPSTEIN: …domestic supply domestically went down, not up. So you failed to do what you're asking the Labor Government to do, didn't you?
HUME: In 2017, there was a gas price crisis here. At that stage, Angus Taylor got everybody into a room, spoke to the gas producers, he established the trigger mechanism...
EPSTEIN: Yes, and the amount of gas they supplied went down after that.
HUME: And the cost of gas went down after that for domestic supply as well. Now at the first hurdle of the first energy crisis that this government has, has faced, it's failed in its promise to deliver lower energy prices to Australians.
EPSTEIN: How do you think the Liberals are going? I know this isn't quite your bailiwick, so forgive me for this question. But how do you think the Liberal Party are going to go in the state election at the end of November? Given at the federal election, you lost some seats that were in the Liberal Party for a very long time. How do you think Matthew Guy’s Liberal Party will go in November?
HUME: I think that Victorians and indeed most Australians distinguish between a federal government and a state government. Victorians were the ones that suffered most during the COVID pandemic. They had the most draconian lockdowns in the country, indeed, in much of the world. I think that this constant news coming out of the Daniel Andrews State Labor Government of systemic corruption and ministers resigning or having been forced out. I think people have had enough of that. They're looking for a change of government; Matthew Guy is providing fresh policies and new ideas. They've been working very hard in the background to ensure that the policies they take to the election are exactly what Victorians are looking for in a Liberal Government. So I think that Daniel Andrews is probably in for a bit of a surprise in November.
EPSTEIN: Do you think a Liberal Party needs to change its approach given the federal result?
HUME: I think that the Liberal Party is constantly evolving in response to what it learns from the electorate. There are quite significant distinctions between a Guy-led Liberal Opposition in Victoria and even a Dutton-led Liberal Opposition in Canberra. Matthew Guy’s team has been around for a long time. and they're highly experienced. They've been doing a lot of listening over the last nine years it's been since 2014 when Daniel Andrews has been in this position. This has been a very long term of a Labor government in Victoria. Quite frankly, it's now culminating in this series of revelations from IBAC about the systemic corruption in the Labor Party. I think that Victorians have probably had enough of this sort of behaviour.
EPSTEIN: Thank you for joining us. Thanks for persisting with the audio issues at the beginning as well.