Interview with Tom Connell, Newsday, Hume and McAllister Segment
12th August 2022
TOM CONNELL: Welcome back to our first edition of our returning weekly Friday show post-election. It's Hume and not O’Neil anymore. We thank Claire O'Neill for her services to Sky News and all things journalism. It's now Hume and McAllister. So each week, we'll have Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume and assistant Climate Change and Energy Minister Jenny McAllister facing off and firing up on the big news and political developments I should say welcome to both of you, Jane and Jenny, but to you, in particular, Jenny, if you've got some hints and tips passed on to you from Claire on how to handle Jane and maybe me as well, I get in a bit of trouble from week to week sometimes.
JENNY MCALLISTER: It sounds like Jane's got you well in hand, in fact, looking forward to it, Tom. Thank you guys for having me on. Hi, Jane.
JANE HUME: Hi, Jenny. Welcome aboard.
CONNELL: Yeah,we got all the bells and whistles for this programme. So yes, we'll get right into it. And you're right, my measure is well and truly taken in this particular segment. Let's begin, of course, with your opening opinions. You've each got a minute, one minute, 60 seconds. We do time you to have your say on a topic that has you fired up this week. Jane, let's start with you. You're talking about, well, potentially a broken promise. I won't make that accusation. I'll let you do that.
HUME: Yes, thanks, Tom. So Tony Burke, the Minister for Employment, said that Australians will see in their bank accounts what a change of government means well, he couldn't be more right because the cost of living is what is most important to Australians right now. Whether it's eggs, energy, the cost of paying your mortgage, at the bowser, or at the grocery checkout, everybody is feeling the pitch. Now Jim Chalmers spoke a very big game on the cost of living during the election campaign. In fact, Labor committed 97 times to a $275 reduction in energy bills, but since the election, we've seen absolutely nothing. Silence. In fact, when the coalition pressed Anthony Albanese on this in Parliament, gave him an opportunity to reaffirm that commitment. He squibbed it. Now will be very interesting to see whether the words $275 Pass the lips of anybody at the energy ministers meeting today. If it doesn't, Labor has failed on its first hurdle. Labor needs to come clean on what its plan really is to deliver those cost of living reductions that committed to during the election campaign, or it needs to come clean with Australians as to which election commitments it intends to break.
CONNELL: All right, well, coincidentally or otherwise, Jenny McAllister, you're talking about energy? What's your take here?
MCALLISTER: Is this my 60 seconds, Tom? Great, perfect; I was just trying to get get the format straight. Okay, well, the energy ministers are meeting today, and it's going to be a long meeting. Their purpose is to continue the work they've been doing, sorting out the mess bequeathed to them by the former energy minister Angus Taylor, who, of course, is the Coalition's nominated as the opposition spokesperson for Treasury. Now, it's pretty obvious what we're dealing with over the period that the coalition was in government for every one unit of new capacity that was built into the system, four units exited. It's no surprise that it has thrown the energy system into a level of chaos. It matters a lot that our government is working in a really considered way with the states and territories to try and resolve this, not to pick fights, but to actually solve the problems that have been left unattended for a very long time. Matters also that our government is working with stakeholders right across the board, unions, businesses, and environmental groups, to firm up our position on climate change, settle it in legislation and allow the energy sector and the rest of the economy to get on with the job of making this really important transition. Now, I was speaking yesterday to investors, they know that there are hundreds of billions of dollars of capital who can see this opportunity. The real surprise is why can't the Opposition see it also?
CONNELL: All right. That's where things lie in your opinions this week. Let's get into the first topic. The government's upcoming jobs and skills summit. Unions and employers are coming together in Canberra next month for two days of discussion on Australia's economic challenges despite an invitation, Peter Dutton's liberals will not attend what he is calling a talkfest. Unions are using the summit to push the government to pursue windfall corporate taxes and caps on energy bills as well. Here's a look at the debates over that upcoming meeting.
CONNELL: Jane, we've heard the line about the talkfest. Sure. You might not like where it's headed, but why not attend?
HUME: What a fascinating comment I thought from Jim Chalmers, saying Australians have a real hunger for a real talk. I thought, Oh, my goodness, no, what they want is real action. That's not what we're going to see at what has been called a talkfest. In fact, what we're going to see is a list of the union's agenda. We've already seen the ACTU come out with a wish list that's as long as your arm on things like attacks on businesses, attacks on workers, attacks on pensioners, this is what they want. This is not the genuine conversation and resolution that Labor has promised. The reason why Peter Dutton has said that we won't attend it was because the invitation wasn't extended in good faith. It went to the media before it came to Peter himself. Now, you know, if Labor were genuinely serious about involving all parts, all parties in this progressive step forward for industrial relations, well, it wouldn't have come via the media. Instead, what we're going to see is a list of union demands clearly met. Now, Jim Chalmers has ruled out already, which I think is a very good thing, getting rid of those stage three tax cuts that were introduced by the Coalition Government, but he hasn't ruled out some of those other crazy ACTU demands, and we would welcome the opportunity for Jim Chalmers to rule them out. In fact, Jenny, if you can rule them out right now, so much the better.
CONNELL: I'll ask that in a bit more of a roundabout way. Just noting that I'm pretty sure that the invitation at least was sent to the media maybe and Peter Dutton, I'm not sure it got to the media first. I'm happy to be overruled on that one. Jenny, what did you make of some of the union claims being put out there? The ACTU are these the usual ambit claims we're getting? Are they sort of unhelpful to steer the conversation often to things that probably won't happen?
MCALLISTER: I think the conversation is always helpful. The question that the Coalition needs to answer is, why do they not think that dialogue between the key players in the Australian economy is valuable and important? I think we know the answer to that because we have nine years of wasted opportunities to deal with some of the very real challenges. Now lots of people are going to bring forward different ideas to that summit, and we welcome that. The truth is, it's not simply up to a government to be a kind of an umpire between those ideas. What a summit offers is actually an opportunity for dialogue between participants and an opportunity for people to find common ground. We are very keen to progress ideas where we can find common ground, genuine ideas that deal with some of the challenges that are confronting us. What is also a little bit of a surprise is this mess that the Coalition has got themselves into in trying to decide how they feel about the summit. I mean, Mr Taylor wanted an invitation, Mr Dutton said it was a waste of time, Ms Lee said she thought it should be cancelled, and I understand Mr Littleproud is intending to go. They have had nine years to get their story straight. The least they could do is get their story straight about whether or not they're going to come along to this summit.
HUME: Hang on, Jenny, it's not even our summit. How about you guys get your story straight. We've got Tony Burke saying everything's on the table. We've got Jim Chalmers ruling things out before it's even begun. It's your summit. How about you guys get yourselves organised here. What is it that you want to achieve out of it? Have you even got an idea of what it is and what policies you want to see come out of this summit? Or is this just an opportunity for everyone to get together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya? If that's the case, enough of that. You had nine years in opposition to put together an employment policy, I can't believe you haven't done it already.
MCALLISTER: I think what's needed is an opportunity to bring people together instead of picking fights. That's been the approach that our government has taken from the Prime Minister downwards. The summit really offers an opportunity to do that in a mature way. We know that there is a lot that we must do to set the economy back on course, and we've laid many of those out before the election, and we've continued to speak about them and progress them since being elected.
CONNELL: Let me just ask you, we're nearly out of time on this segment, let me just ask you one key element that seems to be debated a lot between unions and business at the moment, so many different ways to measure this, but stripping out inflation for a moment, we hope that returns to something near normal next year. Jane, you first on this. Do you think there is an inherent issue with wages in this country? That is because business has been getting a bigger percentage of profit in the past few years, so the profit lines have been going up while the wages haven't. Do you agree with that inherent assumption or principle or not?
HUME: Well, actually, if you look back over the last 20 years, wages have been going up in line with productivity. What we're hearing now as part of this job summit is, let's face it, a pretty scary redistributionist agenda. That's what the ACTU are pushing as part of this dividends tax, which will disproportionately affect pensioners. Let's face it, they're the ones that will be affected by this retiree tax 2.0. What they would like to see is that profits from businesses which are essentially a part of a democratic capitalist society as we are, go back to workers, as opposed to the owners of the business. Now, that's an entirely unsustainable proposition. Here is a great opportunity for Jim Chalmers to rule something out before we even walk into this summit that would essentially disrupt the economy to a point where it would destroy it.
CONNELL: Where do you sit on that wages versus profit argument, if you like Jenny?
MCALLISTER: Workers have had to put up with 10 years under this government where their wage increases have been very, very limited. Productivity growth has also been sluggish. These are two of the key issues we need to deal with at the summit. We need an economy that works for everyone. We know that we need employers to have healthy businesses that can sustain employment and can sustain revenue, and investment over the long term. We also need working families to have the income that they need to look after their families and contribute to their communities. A conversation about that and how best to accomplish that is precisely what the summit is about. It's not about picking fights.
CONNELL: We'll see what comes of it. It's in a month or so time. Some pressure for some outcomes, so we'll see what they are. I'm sure we'll have commentary if there aren't outcomes. Jane, we're gonna take a quick break when we come back the Chinese ambassadors warning this week for Australia to handle Taiwan's future with caution. We'll talk through what this means for Australia's relations with China.
CONNELL: Question could well be looming. I mean, for many years, it was the refrain of politicians that we didn't have to choose between the US and China. That essentially has happened. Jenny, the next question is, how much does Taiwan matter to Australia?
MCALLISTER: Well, we are, as others have observed, in a challenging period in our region. Things are changing, and we need to be really clear about our own interests. Our overwhelming interest in our region is establishing an order that is peaceful and that respects sovereignty. Those are core values for Australia. That will be in front of our minds as we're thinking about all of the many questions that confront us right now. In the coming years, I think you've seen our representatives, Senator Wong, Mr. Miles, speak in very clear ways about our concern that people in the region, and countries in the region, do everything they can to support peaceful arrangements.
CONNELL: It seems really noteworthy that we used to talk about, call of what you will, another area of China, Hong Kong, in similar ways, Jane, that used to be the sort of poster child for one country two systems. Doesn't that now show what's happened in Hong Kong, that any talk China has of one country, two systems for Taiwan is pretty farcical?
HUME: Well, I think you'll find Jenny and me in agreement on this one. Australia has been very consistent for a long period of time about its support for the One China Policy whether China interprets that the same way Australia does is another issue, Australia and the rest of the world, I should say. I think I, like Jenny, like many other Australians, found the Chinese ambassador's comments at the National Press Club quite concerning. Some of the language he used there was inflammatory, to say the least. I think the most important thing is that there is an opportunity for dialogue between our two nations. I know that before the election, there were some comments that a change in government would allow for a reset of relations. I think that now probably, the Labor government have seen that those relations with China are tense and quite difficult to manage and navigate. It's important that we do so in a respectful way but also make sure that we're very clear about Australia's national interests. I have been quite pleased with the direction that Labor Government have taken in this regard. I think that the announcement of Richard Myles has made to have another look at our defence capability is a good one. We do need to adjust to the changing situations that we find ourselves in and the geostrategic strategic relationships that we have in our region. My only concern with that would potentially be with the choice of Steven Smith. Here under Stephen Smith, we saw a reduction in the capacity of our defence force, in fact, a $5.5 billion cut to defence spending. We certainly wouldn't want to see that now, and I think that there should be a commitment from the Labor Government to make sure that...
CONNELL: To notethat wasn't him driving down the budget. Let's just be clear on this, that was Labor scrambling around desperate to try to get a surplus. Any reasonable cut was considered and a very different geostrategic environment at the time.
HUME: Yes, that speaks to priorities. We want to make sure that those are not the same priorities now. In fact, it was a Coalition Government, You'll recall, Tom, that increased defence spending to not just 2% of GDP but beyond 2% of GDP. That was an Abbott government commitment and one that we have fulfilled we would like to see, and I think we are seeing from the Labor Government now, which is a good thing, a continuation of that strategic imperative net policy.
CONNELL: Jenny is the real hope of a reset of the relationship with a new government seeming pretty full on right now?
MCALLISTER: I think we've always been clear from the opposition and now from the government that stabilising the relationship is in our interests, but also in China's interests, and second that that would be challenging and that it would take time. No one should be naive about some of the areas where we actually disagree. Our intention is to continue to assert our interests to cooperate where we can and to disagree where we must. No one is suggesting that that is straightforward, but what is required is a really clear understanding of our national interest.
CONNELL: The other element to this is if you talk about what was happening during the election, yes, on one side Labor, particularly last few years, spoke about, you know, let's have better rhetoric. But Jane, what we had in the sort of maelstrom of an election period was the then government the coalition saying, well, the Chinese Communist Party want Labor to win was that regrettable rhetoric and language in hindsight?
HUME: I think the most important language that we can continue on with post-election and, you know, prior to the election, too, is that is the conversation about the Chinese Communist Party as opposed to China or Chinese people in Australia. There are more than a million people in Australia now that have some form of Chinese heritage or are from the Chinese diaspora. They are as important to Australia as any other Australians. They should not be confused with the aggressive actions of the CCP. Australia should always act in its own national interests. And I think that we've been very clear on that. And Jenny is saying exactly the same thing, which is a great comfort.
CONNELL: Here here to that. However, some of the rhetoric saying Richard Myles was the Manchurian candidate, I mean, was that regrettable?
HUME: Well, I think now Labor have realised that resetting the relationship between Australia and China and what I should say Australia and the CCP, is not as easy as it would have seemed. Perhaps there was a tendency towards appeasement, which was being used as a sort of political weapon. I think that was a big mistake. But now we've seen that there is a unity ticket between the Coalition and the Labor Government, the Coalition Opposition and the Labor Government to make sure that we are now acting in Australia's best interests.
CONNELL: Jenny. Any sort of past, you know, political playing on this issue is gone, or is it still important now?
MCALLISTER: The Coalition in opposition are going to have to make a decision about whether they wish to continue to politicise our foreign affairs for narrow partisan gain or whether they wish to act in the national interest. We've always been very clear about which side of that question we landed on from the opposition, and in government, the national interest is absolutely paramount in conducting our foreign affairs. You've seen it in the majority placed on our international relationships from the Prime Minister down since we're elected, and that is going to continue.
CONNELL: Alright, we'll have to leave it there. Jenny McAllister, and Jane Hume, we'll talk next week. Thank you. It's Jenny's first hit out, so I'm sure onwards and upwards from here as well. Thank you both.