TOM TILLEY: The impact of the decision to stop Qatar Airways from increasing its flight volumes, and that's creating a lot of anger because as you just heard, it's pushing up prices of air fares, and that Qatar Airways decision is firmly in the sights of Jane Hume. She's a Liberal Senator and the Chair of that Cost of Living inquiry. Jane, thanks for joining us. Why do you think Qantas is facing so much outrage?
JANE HUME: Well, the government's made a decision around Qatar Airways they've said that they don't want Qatar Airways to have an additional 21 routes to Australia and Qantas lobbied very heavily for that to happen, we heard that at the committee. Now the problem is, of course, that more competition in any industry means that costs come down and drives prices down for customers. By denying Qatar Airways additional routes in and out of Australia, you're actually artificially inflating prices of air fares, and of course, it's Australians that are paying the price and that's why this decision of the government is inexplicable. We've had the ACCC, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, essentially the watchdog competition, two former heads of the consumer watchdog have come out and said that this was a bad decision. One economist actually called it and I thought this was a great phrase 'medal winning dumb' because airfares could potentially be slashed by up to 40%, now that's according to Virgin and also to Flight Center, if more competition was introduced into the market, so why would the government choose to keep airfares more expensive, particularly at a time when there's a cost of living crisis going on?
TOM TILLEY: So it was that the main issue because there were so many issues ventilated in that public hearing from them hanging on to the COVID credits to issues around the way they've treated their workers and, you know, offshored some of their workforce, there were concerns about cancellations for you, was it mostly about this Qatar decision and the international competition?
JANE HUME: From my perspective, and also from the perspective of the cost of living which is why the committee met in the first place. Yes, this is the biggest decision. But there are also other things that came up. You're right. We found out at that committee hearing that the amount of flight credits is nearly half a billion dollars. That's an enormous amount of money and about 100 million more than was revealed just at the AGM the week before. So yes, the Labor Party had some questions that they wanted answered on industrial relations. In fact, it was Labor that was desperate to have Alan Joyce appear at that Cost of Living Committee rather than just representatives from Qantas.
TOM TILLEY: Well, yeah, it was interesting to see Tony Sheldon from Labor, a former Union boss, now Senator, and yourself kind of leading the charge from the two sides. Both fired up about Qantas. So let's get to this decision about the Qatar capacity at Australian airports. How should the government get this right? Because if you imagine a different scenario, imagine Qantas isn't doing well. It's losing money and potentially at risk of going broke and the government has allowed you know, a Middle Eastern airline propped up on oil money and cheap wages bills to out compete Qantas, surely there'd be massive outrage if that were the case too?
JANE HUME: You'd think so but it's a hypothetical. Qantas is doing exceptionally well. And this decision, this specific decision does seem to be like the government's running a protection racket for Qantas. We know that they're making a lot of profits. We know that airfares are much higher than they were just a couple of years ago. And this was an opportunity for the government to make decisions that would bring the price of airfares down for ordinary Australians. And we're not just talking about people, you know, traveling to Europe on holidays. We're talking about people going to see family and doing business. And we're also talking about, there's a cross subsidisation between international airfares and domestic airfares too. So it's artificially keeping domestic airfares high as well and that's really not fair. We rely on an efficient and effective and cost effective airline industry in Australia in order to keep other prices down. Tourism, hospitality and industry sources reckon that the industry is going to lose out on about $500 million because of this decision.
TOM TILLEY: Wow.
JANE HUME: The aviation industry said that the cost of the economy of the Qatar decision alone is worth $540 million and $788 million per year in lost economic activity. So this is a big decision. And the Transport Minister Catherine King hasn't really been able to explain why. She said it was in the national interest but can't explain why it's in the national interest.
TOM TILLEY: So will anything change who Jane Hume? Will we just vent our frustration in this hearing and move on or do you think this decision about Qatar Airlines could be unpacked?
JANE HUME: Well, we would hope that the government would explain to Australians exactly why they've chosen to deliberately make a decision to keep airfare prices higher, particularly during a cost of living crisis. But right now what we want to see is the government explain the decision that they have made come out and say, Look, this is the real reason why we're doing this. Because quite frankly, otherwise, it looks like there's just a slightly too cosy relationship between big government and big business and Australians are paying the price.
TOM TILLEY: Okay, so you're a diehard Liberal. You know, you're one of the most outspoken shadow ministers you believe in free markets. Isn't that what's happening here? You know, Qantas their big meeting really was last week when they announced the record profits to their shareholders. We've got an Australian company making money and abiding by the law. I mean, isn't that how free markets supposed to work?
JANE HUME: Yes, exactly. Right. But unfortunately, this isn't a free market. It's a fairly regulated market. And when the government has the power to make decisions about the extent of competition in a market, well, that's an intervention that's causing higher prices. Now we're seeing this in other markets too. It's not just airfares. All you have to do is look at the energy market where it's decisions that the government is making, whether it's on price caps on gas or a safeguard mechanism or the PRRT, which we're about to debate this week. You know, these are all interventions in a free market that are causing higher prices for ordinary Australians. That's why we want to see an explanation for the decision that's been made. And you know, let's face it, we want Anthony Albanese to look Australians in the eyes and say that I have made a decision that's made you pay more and this is why.
TOM TILLEY: Okay I'd like to ask you about the Voice as well. I feel like the Liberal's position, your party's position, is a little bit confusing. I'm hearing arguments from your side saying it's racially divisive to put race into the Constitution, but you support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. You've also said we don't need this voice but you support legislated voices just not this one, this constitutionally enshrined voice. So if you don't raise in the Constitution, why support constitutional recognition? And if you don't like the voice, why support voices through legislation?
JANE HUME: Well, I mean, I think like a lot of Australians there are very different reasons for not feeling comfortable about the question that's before us. Personally, I support constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. It's absolutely right that our foundational legal document reflects Australia's first culture and its people and that is the Coalition's position. It was John Howard's position, it was Tony Abbott's position, it's every Coalition leaders position since-
TOM TILLEY: Okay so putting race into the constitution's ok?
JANE HUME: It's Labor's position as well. And there is broad support for constitutional recognition in the country. Now that doesn't necessarily divide us by race. That is actually just a respectful reflection of Australia's real history. The concern of course for us, is that- and Australians do feel this way I think, that they want that constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians - but because it's been tied to the Voice, it's like Labor have taken advantage of the goodwill of Australians here. Our approach was that we wanted bipartisan process, a bipartisan process to take people with us and show a unified country for any successful constitutional recognition. But what's happened instead, is that the government seems to have been more interested in its own success in this referendum. The success of the Voice then constitutional recognition. They left the path of bipartisanship for that I am profoundly disappointed and saddened because I think it's going to lead to a poor outcome.
TOM TILLEY: But that's not Labor's decision, that was actually what Indigenous Australians asked for through the Uluru Statement and that had all these regional dialogues leading up to it. So you've got this rare united position from Indigenous Australians. And look, I acknowledge it's not all Indigenous Australians, but a vast majority and all those leaders came together through a very structured and consultative process, and they asked for the Voice to be tied to constitutional recognition. That wasn't Anthony Albanese's idea.
JANE HUME: They asked for a Voice to Parliament, but there was no real model that has been adopted by the government. And the real issue here, Tom, is that if you can't explain how the voice is going to work, well, how can you vote for it? If you can't explain it, and you cannot change it once it's in the Constitution, how can you vote for it? And if you can't explain it, you can't change it and it risks what we already have, which is a foundational document that has supported the most stable liberal democracy in the world for over a century. Well, how can you vote for it? It doesn't make you a bad person to say this. It doesn't make you racist. It doesn't mean that you're closed minded or that you want the same outcomes for Indigenous Australians. We want better outcomes. The question is, is this actually going to be the way to do it and what does it risk? There are other ways we can go about this process? This is not the only way.
TOM TILLEY: That was Liberal Senator Jane Hume, giving her thoughts on the Voice. Now on Qantas I'd normally be a little bit cynical about that Senate hearing, you know, often it's a lot of huffing and puffing hot air from politicians, that doesn't necessarily lead to any change when you're talking about a law abiding profit driven corporation. But this does seem to be working. It's already led to the big change on the COVID credits. Plus there's that ACCC case now and the class action announced last week and you can see that the government is really feeling the heat over that Qatar expansion or the blocking of that expansion. So could there be a back down in store there, a compromise? Allow more Qatar flights, more competition, cheaper airfares. Well Parliament is sitting again next week. So this will definitely be a focus. You'll be hearing about this in some pretty tense question time sessions, I imagine. So we'll be following that closely here on The Briefing.