Polliegraph with Mary Gearin, ABC Radio Melbourne Drive
MARY GEARIN: The Polliegraph is here and so is Jane Hume joining me in the studio. Hello.
JANE HUME: Good to be with you, Mary.
MARY GEARIN: Yeah, thanks for joining us. We will get to all of the budget stuff and it's a lot to go through there. But let's talk about what was just in the news there that we both heard. Opposition Leader in Victoria John Pesutto has come to a decision to allow an open vote when it comes to the Voice. That puts that party, that state party at odds with your federal party position that doesn't allow that openness for the front bench. What do you think of what has been done in Victoria?
JANE HUME: Well, it's not entirely inconsistent, obviously the backbench of the Coalition federally can vote any way they like and of course can campaign any way they want to to I think what jumpsuit has done is given his team the opportunity to campaign Yes or campaign No, whatever they choose to do.
MARY GEARIN: His whole team, which is a difference.
JANE HUME: which is a difference to the Shadow Cabinet which has a united position.
MARY GEARIN: Yeah and so does that reveal quite the difference between the prospects here in Victoria for John Pesutto?
JANE HUME: No, I actually think that there are a lot of good people that have very different opinions on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. And all of them should have a right to have their say should have a right to campaign but that said the Coalition needed to come up with a position and that position from Shadow Cabinet was one that was a united position.
MARY GEARIN: Doesn't that make you want the freedom in your own team?
JANE HUME: We have the freedom and our own team for the backbench to campaign.
MARY GEARIN: But not for you, not for the frontbench.
JANE HUME: That's the one of the deals of signing up to a Shadow Cabinet and that's why Julian Leeser made the important, but really quite profound, decision to step away because this is something that he's devoted so much of his professional political life to and I think that was the right thing to do. But that doesn't necessarily mean that he's out of Shadow Cabinet forever. Indeed out of Cabinet forever. I would hope that someone with the intellectual depth and abilities of someone like Julian Leeser would be invited back in to Shadow Cabinet, indeed Cabinet when the time comes.
MARY GEARIN: Does the difference between the state and federal Liberal party positions compound an idea that there is you know, a certain amount of thrashing about on this issue a certain amount of not getting the consistency that you need as a brand?
JANE HUME: Not necessarily. I actually think that there are different opinions on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament not just within a political party but also within families between neighbors in communities and having that, you know, robust debate on all sides is really important because a change to our Constitution is a profound thing and it does have implications so it is worth having a respectful debate as to whether it is the right thing to progress Australia straightforward.
MARY GEARIN: Call on 1300 222 774 or text 0437 774 774 for Polliegraph this afternoon. Let's get to what's happening in the budget. Should the government raise the JobSeeker allowance?
JANE HUME: Well, I know that there's an awful lot of pressure on the government to do so. You know, let's face it about 12 members of the government's own backbench and now pressuring Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese to raise JobSeeker. But you know, JobSeeker, it's not supposed to be a wage subsidy. It is supposed to be a safety net between jobs and at the time now when we've essentially got full employment when we have labour shortages. The most important thing we can do is see people move off welfare and into secure work.
MARY GEARIN: It sounds like you're saying no, there shouldn't be raised well,
JANE HUME: There's an awful lot of pressures as said on the budget. We want to make sure that that spending is in fact curbed. That it's reined in. That's in fact, the best thing that this government could do to keep a lid on inflation to make sure that the RBA doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting with interest rates to try and curb inflation is to rein in spending. Now, don't get me wrong, Mary. This is not an easy thing to do. But the question is will Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese do the easy thing, which is to let spending run wild and essentially respond to everybody that comes to you with their cap in their hand. Or will they do the right thing by the economy, the right thing by the country and curb that natural instinct to spend and spend and spend in order to bring inflation under control? Because inflation is a thief in the night that affects all of us.
MARY GEARIN: There’s spending and there’s spending, I mean, Ken Henry of course prominent economist, former Secretary of the Department of Treasury for a decade, spoke on behalf of a lot of people when he said nobody seriously expected a single person could survive with dignity for any length of time on a payment as low as $50 a day. Does it come a point where the Opposition has to say, ‘Yes, of course we need to keep spending low. But this is about dignity’.
JANE HUME: Well, this is a decision for government, not for opposition. I should say that Australia is, you know, a few countries provide the strong safety net that we have available in Australia. And JobSeeker is rarely something that you get as a standalone payment. It's often accompanied by things like Commonwealth Rent Assistance or single parent payments, or carers payments. So it's really a standalone amount. The most important thing though it is that safety net between jobs we want to see more people into work, that's the best thing for them. That's the best thing for the economy.
MARY GEARIN: But you're in a situation where the labour markets really tight and you've still got all of these people who've been on for more than a year it shows that there's must be some other barrier between getting into work rather than just a really low rate because you've got the really low rate and a lot of people are still on it. So what do you do, make it even lower?
JANE HUME: Well, that's what we should be tackling isn't it, the barrier as opposed to the rate.
MARY GEARIN: I’m assuming you don't want to make it lower? I didn’t want to put words in your mouth but do you want to make it lower?
JANE HUME: We want to make sure that vulnerable Australians are well cared for. To do that, we want to make sure that the cost of living crisis is addressed and that the government's doing everything it can do to address the cost of living crisis without putting further pressure on inflation. Should you make unnecessary spending decisions, unnecessary spending commitments, that actually pushes inflation up, which erodes the purchasing power for all Australians.
MARY GEARIN: What do you think Irene from Dromana has called in, hi Irene. What did you want to say?
CALLER: Oh, hi. Look, I think that caring for the vulnerable is a measure of the strength of our society and I'm very concerned that we currently have a situation where 93% of the economic growth in this country goes to the top 100% of the population, and we get a lousy 7% to spread around to the needs of the rest of the country, no welfare needs and things like that.
MARY GEARIN: So do you really think JobSeeker should be higher?
CALLER: Absolutely, absolutely. I think it's a cruel reflection in our society, that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing greater and not only that, but unemployment and rental and accommodation and all those things are skyrocketing. It's just outrageous. Absolutely.
MARY GEARIN: Your response because as we said, you are also on the Select Committee on the Cost of Living you've heard these stories.
JANE HUME: I think Irene makes a very good point and I agree that a civilised society is defined by its ability to look after those that can't look after themselves. But we also have to weigh up the fact that every dollar we spend is $1 that somebody else has earned so it's incumbent upon government to ensure that spending on that social security safety net is sustainable into the future.
MARY GEARIN: Matt from Fairfield, what did you want to say, Matt?
CALLER: Good afternoon. Yes, Miss Hume, it's $1 out of our pockets towards something else. Why didn't you give this level of scrutiny to what is now going to be about a 100 billion commitment to submarines? I don't want my money spent on that.
JANE HUME: Well, national defence and national security is obviously one of the most important priorities of Government, keeping Australians safe and keeping our country prosperous are really the two major issues that the Government needs to address. There has been an awful lot of work done as part of the defence strategic review done by this Government and indeed, the defence white paper done by the previous Government that says that we need to improve our defence capabilities and submarines are part of that.
MARY GEARIN: Matt, the Government has fulfilled those response for that commitment that the former Coalition Government did do. What would you say to that?
CALLER: I would say that it's paper tiger stuff. We are not going to be a viable deterrent in our region. We have more credible and better analysis for raising JobSeeker and support for actual people in danger of dying this year than any nation threat from any country.
MARY GEARIN: Matt, thank you for calling in. So just bringing that conversation back around to what the budget can do. It is on people's minds about these eye watering amounts that are being spent on defence, possibly for great reasons, but at a time when people are choosing between food and medicine?
JANE HUME: I don't think that the two are comparable and I say this in a very bipartisan way, because I'm almost certain that the Government would agree with the opposition on this that our two responsibilities as the parties of Government and opposition to keep Australians safe, and to keep Australians prosperous. Balancing the two is a very hard decision. National security is very expensive. There is no doubt about that. But I think Australians expect that of their government.
MARY GEARIN: Becky from Moorabbin, what did you want to say?
CALLER: Hi. My aunty is on the pension and she's finding it very hard to live. She doesn't have any super and there's sort of like they are the forgotten Australians. I mean, nobody ever talks about the pension. Or having the pension increase and she said to me, the last increase was about I think it was $28 a fortnight. Oh, they go on about the unemployed, you could quite easily get a job because there's millions of jobs around they just don't want to do them. So why don't you talk about the pensioners?
MARY GEARIN: Thank you. Jane Hume, should we be raising the pension?
JANE HUME: The age pension is a wage subsidy unlike JobSeeker, and not only that, it's specifically targeted at people that it's assumed will not be able to work, that they're beyond working age. It's also linked to inflation. It does in fact, ratchet up with inflation, which is a good thing. We want to make sure that the pensioners can maintain their purchasing power, which is very important. One of the policies though that the coalition introduced only just five weeks after going into opposition was this pension work bonus, which was essentially an opportunity for older Australians to go back to work to earn a little bit more money, work a day a week, whatever it might be, to supplement their own cost of living, but at the same time not necessarily have the pension taper down as quickly to do that. So you can work and receive the pension at the same time, that would also fill some of those skills gaps and those labour shortages. Now the government has adopted that policy, not as much as we would have liked, but at least it is some way to helping some pensioners earn a little bit more on the side if they want to if they're capable of doing so to address their own cost of living.
MARY GEARIN: Jane Hume is here hearing your calls on Polliegraph this afternoon. David from Croydon has called in, hi David. What did you want to say?
CALLER: Hello Mary, I just wanted to ask the question. It seems that every time we talk about JobSeeker the people that need it are like criminals, I find it very interesting. Why don't the politicians put themselves on JobSeeker for more than a week and see how they go?
MARY GEARIN: There's a challenge for you Jane Hume from David in Croydon. Could you live on it?
JANE HUME: I've never said that I could live on JobSeeker. In fact, JobSeeker is supposed to be, as I said before, a safety net that people can rely upon between jobs. It rarely comes as a standalone pay payment. It normally comes supplemented by things like energy supplements, by Commonwealth rent assistance, by parenting payments. So it is just there to help you between finding jobs. At this time when unemployment is so low, when there are labour shortages out there, there is work for those that are seeking it. Perhaps it's you know, beholden on Government having to say “how do you help get more people get into work?
MARY GEARIN: We're getting a lot of texts from people who are clearly saying that it's just too easy to say that there's lots of jobs out there and why aren't you getting them. Barb says he's a barrier to employment, being an over 55 year old educated woman. Jan says many of the unemployed are over 55 and many have health issues, but can't qualify for higher payments. Please have some compassion and are we not going to challenge people saying unemployed people don't want to work? Because they sound like little old ladies. This is a recurring theme on the text here.
JANE HUME: Yeah, and you know, can I tell you who would jump out at me in response to these issues, and that is my old friend and mentor, when I say old I mean I've known her for a long time, she’s not that she's old, but the former Senator Kay Patterson, who is now the Human Rights Commissioner for The Age. This is something that she has been working on, how to ensure that particularly older women, who are the ones that are at most risk of homelessness, can have more opportunities in the workplace because they have so much to offer so much value that they can give. We just want to make sure now that employers keep a really open mind about that contribution that they can make.
MARY GEARIN: There is no role for Government in that?
JANE HUME: Well, I think that there is a role for Government and that's why you have a Human Rights Commissioner like Kay Patterson, who, who brings that to the near the front of mind for Government and that hopefully there'll be something in Budget for older Australian women that want to participate more fully in the workforce. It's untapped potential and an untapped market.
MARY GEARIN: We will continue with Polliegraph this afternoon. Keep your calls coming in. 1300 222 774 or text 0437 774 774. Just to round out this discussion on JobSeeker discussion. Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science was asked about raising JobSeeker on ABC Breakfast this morning and he's still not giving anything away.
ED HUSIC EXCERPT: Clearly, you just can't rush something in for the sake of a budget. Now, this requires a lot of moving parts to be considered and we'll look at that but it's something that is registered within the minds of Government. We've got some short term measures that we're looking to announce to be able to give people cost of living relief. But there is a longer term consideration that needs to be given clearly and we will do that in due course.
MARY GEARIN: So still, the Government isn't giving anything away eight days out?
JANE HUME: No. Well, the Government rarely gives away too much before a Budget, but we do know that they have said that they would deliver cost of living relief. Now we would hope so, because prior to the election which is nearly a year ago now they said that the cost of living relief was the number one issue and yet we've only seen prices go up. We've seen broken promises on $275 that apparently was going to come off energy bills. So we would want to see some cost of living relief in this budget. But we also want to make sure that doesn't make the inflation problem worse and that's what this cost of living committee is looking at, traveling right around the country talking to people about how the cost of living crisis is affecting them, but also finding implementable and practical solutions that won't make the problem worse.
MARY GEARIN: We've got a lot of your calls coming in. But let's pause just for the moment to see what's happening on the roads with Caroline Ferguson. Hi Caroline.
MARY GEARIN: We are continuing with Polliegraph this afternoon. In the studio with me is Jane Hume, Shadow Finance Minister and Chair of the Select Committee on the cost of living and there are so many of your calls and texts coming through. Jane Hume, a lot of them are about the stage three tax cuts that the Coalition Government put into place and that the present Government is not resigning from. David from Mornington, I think you have an observation to make about that.
CALLER: Yeah. You're saying that one of the reasons why you don't support increasing JobSeeker payments is because it has inflationary effects. Do you support the State Street tax cuts which are inherently inflationary? How do you reconcile that contradiction?
JANE HUME: Well, David, most importantly, the stage three tax cuts don't kick in until halfway through next year. By that stage, we would hope that the Government has done all it can to bring inflation down through whatever means it has at its disposal. Hopefully it will do that through its budgetary means, through fiscal policy, by reining in spending, rather than making the RBA do all the heavy lifting and having to kick up interest rates. Now the good news is, the RBA has put interest rates on hold. That's a good signal to Government to do its bit in the Budget so that the RBA doesn't have to put its foot on the brake while the government has its foot on the accelerator. But in the meantime, I think I mentioned this before, every dollar that a Government spends is $1 that another person has earned. These tax cuts and in fact, inflation makes this matters far worse. Bracket creep, which is that ultimate thief in the night, that erodes your earnings, that erodes your personal purchasing power. Tax cuts will in fact, address that issue of bracket creep.
MARY GEARIN: We know the issues of bracket creep but you were talking about, you know, the Government, reining in inflation, we all know now how it works because it seems like we've had it a sort of a 12 month long education on how inflation works, that the Federal Government can't control this all by itself. So if, hypothetically, if for whatever reason, inflation is not under control, at that point, would you not consider it prudent then to not go ahead with these tax cuts?
JANE HUME: Well, the Federal Government can control inflation, it can do its bit. There are certainly elements of inflation that are rigid, particularly originally imported from overseas. But in fact, core inflation data that we saw come out today shows that core inflation is higher in Australia and a number of comparable, that means that the Government isn't doing as much as it can to rein in inflation.
MARY GEARIN: If we get to a situation where the stage three tax cuts are clearly a bad idea, fiscally, why would you not then support them being abandoned?
JANE HUME: I don't think we will get to a stage where the stage three tax cuts are a bad idea fiscally. Understand that tax cuts aren't an expenditure, they are simply a reduction in revenue. Now don't get me wrong, the Government is pretty much rolling in revenue right now. It is rolling in revenue because of bracket creep, because of high commodity prices and because there are so few people that are out of work there. There are actually low levels of welfare dependency.
MARY GEARIN: Many people say there are mixed messages here because you're telling people the Government needs to cut back on its spending?
JANE HUME: It does have to cut back on its spending because just because it has a revenue surge now from those three things doesn't necessarily mean that's sustainable, that doesn't address the structural deficit. Addressing structural deficit is the best way for the Government to rein in its spending and send that message to the RBA that it doesn't need to keep ratcheting up interest rates, which disproportionately affects certain Australians and has such an insidious effect on things like business lending and potential growth of the economy.
MARY GEARIN: Anita has called in from Greensborough and Anita, what did you want to say?
CALLER: I just want to raise this question that there was talk about the taxing the high income superannuation people like a top 1% or 2% and that talk apparently didn't go ahead, or there was a talk about green introduced negative gearing should be abolished for people who have more than two investment property. But none of these things going ahead by the question is why when we say that we don't have money to pay more for the pension or to encourage job seekers. Here is the source of money by the Government that says it's time to tap on those resources?
MARY GEARIN: Yep. So essentially, Jane Hume. Do we need to do more to target the top end of town?
JANE HUME: Well, I think Anita is incorrect in that the Government has already announced changes to superannuation taxes and that's despite the fact that prior to the election, they promised that there would be no changes to super and no increased taxes.
MARY GEARIN: Even after the next election so people can vote on it and certainly for a very, very small part of the population.
JANE HUME: Now, you know, once it's in there is no way that the Senate in its current form or even in future forms is going to be able to reverse that. But more importantly, and I think this is really important to understand. This is an entirely new kind of tax, it is not just taxing the top end of town. It's taxing unrealised capital gains. So it's essentially like earnings on unrealised capital gains. That's what unrealised capital gains are, they are the earnings on an investment that you haven't yet sold. So what that means is people are going to have to find money elsewhere to pay for the increased value of an investment. Now what happens then if that investment goes down in value the next year. Do you get that money back?
MARY GEARIN: Do you find yourself talking to people in your capacity on the Select Committee on the cost of living to people who have got no hope, in a thousand lifetimes of getting that sort of super that you're talking about and getting anything like the earnings on that super, that you're talking about that will be affected by this?
JANE HUME: Mary, I won't doubt that the topic of superannuation has been raised in the cost of living Select Committee, but I think that in very different contexts. This tax that the Government has proposed and is going to legislate, there is no doubt about it as a brand new tax that does not exist in any other country, because it does not make sense. Now, this is a decision of the Government that is a broken promise of this Government because they did say that there were going to be no new taxes, and no new changes.
MARY GEARIN: It's not going to happen in this term of government.
JANE HUME: Well they are going to legislate for it, in this term of Government, if they really were genuine about saying, well, this is something that will take to the next election, why legislate for it in this term of Government?
MARY GEARIN: Jane Hume, just like the last time I was speaking with you, there are so many things that we can keep talking about and lots and lots of calls and questions coming in but just to briefly wrap up. I must ask you. Are you going to swear allegiance to The King this Saturday night?
JANE HUME: Of course, why wouldn't I?
MARY GEARIN: Why wouldn't I?
JANE HUME: This is the real question because, you know, I was thinking about this on the drive in tonight. In a weird way, The King is kind of your boss too, because well, the ABC is owned by the Commonwealth and he's the Head of State of our country. I have no problem with it. I swore allegiance to the Queen when I joined the Senate, as did every other Senator including somewhat reluctantly Lidia Thorpe. The real issue now is you know, why would you not?
MARY GEARIN: Are you in your lounge room? You know, you're in your jammies, you're watching and are you standing up, are you saluting?
JANE HUME: That is actually a very good question. I haven't really played to that extent. I'm not going to a tiara party or any of those sorts of things.
MARY GEARIN: Oh, well, Jane, who you've now left me with a very interesting image, I might make the Coronation quiche. Can you make the Coronation quiche?
JANE HUME: Oh, no. Coronation chicken. I used to love Coronation chicken. That was for The Queen's coronation. It's chicken done with a sort of mustard and all sorts, sort of a creamy thing.
MARY GEARIN: All right. Well, maybe we choose between that and the quiche. Jane Hume, thank you very much for joining me.
JANE HUME: Thanks Mary.