Panel with Clare O'Neil and Natalie Barr, Sunrise
17 May 2023
NATALIE BARR: For more, I'm joined by Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and Shadow Minister for Finance, Jane Hume. Good morning to both of you. Clare has the Government been officially told that the President is not coming yet?
CLARE O’NEIL: Nat, President Biden rang Prime Minister Albanese this morning and let him know the news that he wasn't going to be able to make it to Australia, which is of course disappointing. But we understand that he's going to be needed back in the States. The Prime Minister is going to see the President I think next week when he visits Japan. So they'll get to catch up then and we really look forward to welcoming President Biden when he is able to make it back here, hopefully very soon.
NATALIE BARR: Jane, are you surprised that the president has decided not to come? It sounds like they're in a bit of a predicament, possibly running out of money
JANE HUME: Well, it's disappointing that President Biden can't make it to Australia, but I don't think that should be a reflection on the relationship that the US has with Australia. Certainly since the AUKUS agreement made by the Coalition last year and reinforced by the new Labor Government, you know, the relationship between Australia and the US has really hasn't been this strong since World War Two, and that's cemented also by the quad agreement with both Japan and India as well as US and Australia, and that will be furthered next week as well.
NATALIE BARR: Back home now, Australians are falling into extreme poverty due to the cost of living pressures, with many skipping meals, unable to keep a roof over their heads or afford to visit a GP New research by the Salvation Army has found vulnerable Aussies are living on less than $6 a day and are turning to desperate measures to cope. I caught up with the Prime Minister yesterday ahead of this weekend's Red Shield appeal to talk about the important work the Salvos do. People are really hurting right now more than ever, aren't they?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed, it's a tough time with global inflation is having an impact and the Salvos help someone every 17 seconds.
NATALIE BARR: Given your childhood, how much can you relate to this appeal?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can very much. There was a time where we relied upon charity for a period just to get by so I know what it's like to do it tough.
NATALIE BARR: Claire, many Aussies struggling to make ends meet. What is the government doing to help?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah, thanks, Nat. And you know, I saw that reporting this morning, but I didn't need to read the article to know people are doing it tough. I'm seeing it through my electorate office, people stopping me in the supermarket talking about these issues and it is a really, difficult time for a lot of families. We had a budget that was handed down a week ago that put $14.6 billion into households through cost of living relief. And what we're trying to do here is strike this really difficult balance of making sure we are doing absolutely everything we can to help those families. But at the same time, not adding to the fundamental problem here, which is this global inflation issue that we have. So, Nat, your viewers will hopefully have heard about up to $500 back for families on their energy costs in their household, the biggest investment in bulk billing in Australian history to try to make sure that families can continue to see a doctor. Big cuts in the cost of prescription rent assistance for families who receive that payment. So there was lots and lots in that package. But what's really important right now, Nat, is that we strike that right balance. We're walking a bit of a tightrope here and I think Jim Chalmers did a brilliant job last week of making sure we are doing everything we can, but not adding to that underlying inflation problem.
NATALIE BARR: Yeah, Claire, I'm not sure Australia agrees. It doesn't sound like the budget has landed. Just let me read to you one mother who gave this to the Salvation Army. She's a 55 year old mother. I eat the leftover food from my child's meal. If there is any left or I don't eat, I wait at the school car park from drop off until pick up because I have not enough fuel. I've sold most of my clothes so I can afford my kids. This is Australia currently. Yeah. That's not good enough, is it?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah. No. I absolutely understand. And you know, there's people right across my community, my, neighbours who I live amongst here who are experiencing these exact type of problems. And, you know, the reason that I went into politics is try to support and help families like this. The issue for the government at the moment is that we've got to do all of these things and address these issues and help families who are in this situation. But we can't add to the inflation problem, which is like a tax and additional tax on all of those households. For all your viewers at home at the moment when they're going to the supermarket month after month, and that same amount of money is buying less and less groceries for their family. That is the problem the government needs to tackle. Now. I totally accept that we can't completely fix this problem for households, but I just make the point that there's a bunch of people out there, including Jane and others, who are saying that we're spending too much, that the cost of living relief package was actually too large. So we've got people criticising us on both sides here. We've got to manage these difficult issues, help those families, but not add to inflation. And I want Australians to know we are doing everything we can. You set up the front there. The Prime Minister is a man who grew up in public housing with a single mum at times dependent on welfare. Everything we are doing here is trying to help those families, but we can't add to the inflation problems and that's the balance that the budget's struck.
NATALIE BARR: Yep. Jane, we've got people like that woman and we've got this sticky inflation they call it. That's the official term for it. What would you do to make things better?
JANE HUME: Nat, I chair the Cost of Living Committee and we've been travelling right around the country speaking to people just like that mother about how the cost of living is affecting them. We've spoken to the Salvation Army, to the Brotherhood of Saint Lawrence, to Foodbank to Care Net, and they're telling us that people are coming through their doors, that are dual income families, that are families with mortgages that are seeking these services for the very first time. In fact, one food service told us that the best thing the government could do would be to bring down the bring down inflation interest rates. The only way you can do that is to tackle inflation head on. The objective of reducing inflation was actively removed from last Tuesday's budget. In fact, economists are saying that this budget is in fact inflationary. It's going to make a bad situation worse.
NATALIE BARR: That's not across the board.
CLARE O'NEIL: That's not true Jane.
JANE HUME: So many, so Chris Richardson was saying this. Standard and Poor's. Goldman Sachs, Westpac and now National Australia Bank are all saying that this was in fact going to make a bad situation worse. It's going to mean that interest rates stay higher for longer, inflation stays higher for longer. And Claire's right, inflation is the thief in the night. It erodes your purchasing power.
CLARE O’NEIL: What are you saying here? That we should spend less helping these families.
JANE HUME: Your job is to bring down inflation, Claire Otherwise you're going to lower standards of living right across the nation and your budget failed to do that.
NATALIE BARR: Yep. Okay, Minister. Senator, thanks for your time here.