NATALIE BARR: This morning former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett is going public with his solution. He's told Melbourne's Herald Sun that public servants who insist on working from home should have their pay cut, which would be a great motivator to return to the workplace. The former Victorian Liberal leader also said it would help to cut the public service budget. Let's bring in Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil and Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume Good morning to both of you, Clare. Should people be forced to work from home five days a week? Sorry, should they be forced to go back to the office five days a week?
CLARE O’NEIL: Look, Nat, I think that's the sort of old school thinking that we sort of consistently hear from these sort of Liberal Party elders, and it just doesn't reflect the modern way of doing things. I think we all learned so much during Covid about how we can help Australians balance all of their caring responsibilities with their work life and we've got to find a good balance here. And I really trust the employers and workers of Australia to have those negotiations workplace by workplace and work it out. But I mean, come on, there's huge benefits that we all experience it in that opportunity to work from home a little bit during Covid. I think it's fair enough that our workers are asking for those opportunities going forward.
NATALIE BARR: Jane, is that the solution, that workplace to workplace deals with this, that it's left to bosses to do the negotiation? Because that can be hard on a lot of bosses who are facing a nightmare here dealing with staff.
JANE HUME: Well, certainly when the Coalition were in government and Covid was over, we put a directive out that the public service, the federal public service, should come back into the office because we know that a lot of productive work gets done when teams collaborate together face to face. And yes, there's always going to be room for flexible workplace practises but that really is up to the individual boss to make sure that they're getting the best and most productive outcomes from their workforce. We want to see more people come back to work so that the CBDs come alive. And certainly but more importantly, we want to see a successful, prosperous businesses that can employ more people in a productive way.
NATALIE BARR: Okay, Claire. Jeff Kennett says you are saving thousands of dollars a year on all sorts of things like transport if you're working from home, so you should get a pay cut. Do you support that in the public service?
CLARE O’NEIL: Absolutely not. Nat I just think that's so grumpy and intolerant and just a relic of an age gone past. You know, we I mean, Jane and I are both working mums. We've got parenting responsibilities ourselves. So to all the people that live in my community, I think we all learned a lot during Covid about how you can be productive at home and productive at work. Now of course it's really beneficial for people to be at work some of the time but we're not going to go out and issue an edict to say that everyone must work at work every day for the rest of their lives. Let's be a bit modern and flexible here and just recognise that sometimes it's okay for people to work at home a bit. And as for the idea of docking their pay, I mean come on, Jeff Kennett like get with the modern times. It's just not the current way of thinking about work and family.
NATALIE BARR: Okay. Now the major banks are to cop a grilling at Federal Parliament today as they face a Senate committee. Top of the agenda why saving accounts are being shortchanged with interest rate rises not being passed on in full for savers, but they sure are for borrowers with mortgages. Claire We see this happening every time the rates go up. They're not passed on to the savings accounts. Think what the official interest rates are about 4.1 and savings accounts. The average savings account is stuck at 2.15.
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah. Oh, look, Nat, I mean, any of your listeners that know me know I've had a long history of trying to hold the banks to account for their conduct towards Australians. We've seen times where they've done the right thing in recent years, but I would just say to the banks know that people in my community are suffering. You give them fair treatment if you are going to, you know, put up mortgages, you need to support people by putting up interest on savings account as well. That is the only fair and reasonable thing to do and know that we're in a cost of living crisis where we've got people around our country who are skipping meals, banks are earning billions of dollars in profits. They need to treat their customers fairly. And I know Labor MPs will be making those points to the CEOs today in those hearings.
NATALIE BARR: Yeah, we all know we want strong banks and we do have them in this country. But is this just, you know, being a bit rich? Jane, as shadow finance minister, what would you do if you had the chance to fix this problem? Yeah, absolutely.
JANE HUME: It's not just a matter of raising the rates on savings accounts, but doing so in a timely manner too. There does seem to be a terrible lag. They're very quick to put up your mortgage rate when interest rates go up, aren't they? But they're not so quick to put up the savings rate. Of course, what we all want to see is interest rates come back down. The only way we can do that is to get inflation back under control. That's why we want to see the government make sure that its fiscal responsibility is being met, that it's reining in its spending ambitions, because the only way we can bring down the cost of living for all Australians is to bring inflation back down under control. You've got to rein in your spending to do that and that way we don't have to keep raising interest rates and punishing mortgage holders more and more.
NATALIE BARR: Would you punish the banks, Jane?
JANE HUME: Well, I think that they'll be held to account in front of us, in front of an inquiry today. And that's a good thing. We want to make sure that when they raise those rates, that it's done so in a timely way, but also in a very transparent way. And they'll have to answer to, you know, to all members of Parliament as to why they haven't done that.
NATALIE BARR: Finally, Anthony Albanese has had one on one meetings overnight with the leaders of France, Spain, Portugal and Denmark, trying to get them to push for approval of Australia's free trade agreement with Europe. Jane, Australia's the biggest contributor to Ukraine outside of NATO. Does that support deserve to be rewarded with a free trade deal?
JANE HUME: Well, I don't think it's an exchange programme like that. Of course we support Ukraine and want to make sure that our military support to NATO is generous and appropriate. But a trade deal is different. A trade deal benefits not just Australia. It also benefits the EU and it should be negotiated in a very careful way to make sure that it is mutually beneficial. It's not you know, we're doing one deal over here, so another deal over there. We want to make sure that our producers get the best from a European free trade agreement and that also Europe gets to benefit from our terrific exports and produce. Clare what sort of deal are we after here from Europe?
CLARE O’NEIL: Yeah. Well, I mean the Australian Government has sent the probably the toughest negotiator in the country, Don Farrell, to Europe, to try to push these negotiations. And I just say to your viewers, like trade deals are not trophies. It's only good for the country if it's good for the country. And Don Farrell is over there pushing to get every skerrick of benefit for Australians and to support the development of Australian jobs. We are only going to sign a free trade deal that gives us great benefits to the country and particularly to our Aussie farmers and they are pushing and pushing on that at the moment and we are going to continue to negotiate this until we get that very last skerrick of benefit for Australian workers and for Australian farmers.
NATALIE BARR: Right. Okay. Thank you very much. We'll see you next week.