Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW
1 March 2023
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. It is the Senate cost of living committee it is meeting here in Melbourne today. They are taking evidence for all sorts of people. Chair of the committee, Liberal Senator Jane Hume. Good morning.
JANE HUME: Good morning Neil. Good to be with you.
NEIL MITCHELL: And you deal with a grumpy five year old in the backseat?
JANE HUME: I have to admit, I almost got PTSD there. I do remember having a grumpy five year old myself now and how hard Anna is doing it right now. I do genuinely feel for her. Trying to maintain a household budget while looking after kids. Watching your real wages go backwards while inflation goes up. Interest rates go up. It's very very hard for a lot of people right now.
NEIL MITCHELL: So what is the committee doing? What are you trying? What information do you want from the public and elsewhere?
JANE HUME: The cost of living we know is the number one issue for Australians right now and the government may or may want to talk about anything else. But we want to find out from ordinary Australians exactly what it is that they're dealing with. What those genuine pressure points are, whether it be food and transport, or fuel and transport groceries or mortgages or insurance or rental or energy bills, and also hear from those peak bodies from industry associations, but also from fuel companies, energy companies, the big retailers, what it is that they're doing, where they're seeing those pressures, and what is it they're doing what they could recommend to government to make a big difference to people's hip pockets right now. The main takeaway from the inquiries so far is that higher prices and higher mortgages are leaving more Australian families struggling to put food on the table. So today we're hearing we're out in Box Hill, and we're going to hear from witnesses including Aldi and Coles and Metcash, major suppliers of supermarkets and independent supermarkets too and we're going to ask them how those price increases are impacting their supply chains and how consumer preferences might be changing, as pressure on the family budgets increases. We've heard from Woolworths at our last hearing, who said that people are leaving more things at the checkout rather than taking them with them and changing their consumer preferences. That's right.
NEIL MITCHELL: So turn up at the checkout with a basket full and say oh I'll leave those it's too expensive?
JANE HUME: They put things back, they are reading the receipts because they're so surprised at how big their bills are. We're also hearing from the ACCC today so they're going to give some evidence on competition in the financial sector. We know that some banks for instance, aren't necessarily passing on those interest rate rises to depositors, the same way they're passing on to mortgage holders. We want to see what it is the ACCC are doing about that and how they're looking at things like rises, insurance costs, which is a real sort of a thief in the night for a lot of people watching your insurance go up and how we can bring down those prices. We'll also be hearing from places like Meals on Wheels, for instance, just to understand what it is it's driving near costs, seeing we heard from the food bank, for instance, who said that the number of people coming through their doors and asking for their services that are on dual incomes now has increased dramatically. So these are the sorts of trends that we're trying to understand and trying to find some solutions, some practical implementable ways that we can address cost of living today.
NEIL MITCHELL: Have you found any solutions? Have you found the beginning to any solutions because Joel’s bill has gone from $300 to $450 a week in his supermarket bill and Anna with the grumpy five year old Jade, eating discount stuff, cutting back on travel. Lisa says butter has gone up significantly. Have you got any short term hint of a solution?
JANE HUME: Well, we're hearing from organizations that are suggesting where the government might be able to reduce red tape for instance to minimize their costs, where they might be able to subsidize certain activities even if it is only temporarily to help with those, those flow and flex those supply chain effects that are feeding on to high transport costs, higher fuel costs, higher food and grocery costs. But most importantly, we want to understand what the government can do, what the government can do right now, because it can't just be left up to do because it can't just be left up to ordinary Australians.
NEIL MITCHELL: Have you got anything yet the government can do?
JANE HUME: Well, I can tell you one thing that they could do, they could rein in their spending because the problem is when you have a budget where your spending outstrips the revenue you're taking in, you are essentially fueling inflation, rather than managing it.
NEIL MITCHELL: Is that going to bring down the price of butter, really?
JANE HUME: Well it should because it doesn't mean that the RBA doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting using mortgage rates and using interest rates to calm inflation, the government has to do its bit as well. I can't turn all the heavy lifting over to the RBA. That that sort of thing that we've hoped to see some evidence from economists potentially in future hearings, but the cost of living is biting in different ways right around the country, which is why it's so important that we don't just sit in the cities, that we go out to the suburbs that we go out to the regions, that we find out what it is that's driving their higher prices right now and what is it the government can do to alleviate that.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, and how can consumers, how can the Anna’s and the Joel’s and the Jade's and the Lisa’s get a message through to the committee? They send an email? What do they do?
JANE HUME: Yes, they can send an email directly to the committee if they wish to. I can't give you the address, but I'll do that later on for you instead, pass it on through. But we'd actually like to hear from them directly as to what it is they're doing to change their lifestyles and how it is they would like to see the government help.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, well, we'll get the email address and we'll promote it later in the morning. Just quickly, this bit of a free kick. You're a former minister for superannuation in a conservative government, and we've got these superannuation changes. But isn't it true that you were looking at similar, Angus Taylor that sort of let the cat out of the bag in an old tape yesterday, you were looking at very similar changes weren't you?
JANE HUME: Well actually the changes that the coalition government made back in 2016 made the superannuation system sustainable, and that allowed us to do things that allowed people to put money back into super for instance, people that are downsizing their family home could put more money into super, it meant that no people that could sell their small businesses or self employed people could put more money in.
NEIL MITCHELL: Certainly the tape I saw, Angus Taylor was saying yeah, the concessions at the top end are a problem. Did you agree they were a problem?
JANE HUME: And that's why we put in a transfer balance cap back in 2016. That was indexed and we made sure that that only applied at the top end and has allowed those people above that transfer balance cap to be taxed at 15%.
NEIL MITCHELL: You're talking about the 1.7 million which looks to be up to 1.9?
JANE HUME: That's very different from a $3 million dollar cap or beyond which you've essentially doubled the amount of tax that people pay and it's not indexed. So I heard you talking about this this morning, Neil. Young people think that they're not going to be affected by this, they will. It was 36,000 people last week this week. It's 80,000 people what will it be by 2025 when this kicks in, and what will it be by the time those younger people retire? This is actually a bit of a stalking horse. We're quite concerned that it's not just about the broken promise, but about the effects on those people that have sold their businesses or downsized their family home. They would have made very different decisions had they had known that this was coming. Before the election, Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers promised that they would not make those changes to superannuation. Jim Chalmers has made a pledge, we've made it very clear. We have no proposals for tax increases, he said those words, now Labor are changing and increasing taxes on the superannuation because they can’t manage their budget.
NEIL MITCHELL: If this goes to the next election in legislation, will the opposition guarantee to remove it?
JANE HUME: Well, the opposition hasn't seen exactly what the proposal is yet.
NEIL MITCHELL: It's $1 and you need $1. You want that $1?
JANE HUME: Let’s face it Neil, this is going to sail through the Senate with the help of the Greens. Come the next election, come the next term of government if the Coalition are back in, even if they wanted to change it, putting that through the Senate is going to be almost impossible, but don't for a second believe that the government is seeking a mandate, they're not, they are being tricky. This is a very much a broken promise, they promised they wouldn't and they're going ahead and doing it.
NEIL MITCHELL: So you would try to remove it?
JANE HUME: We're going to oppose this legislation.
NEIL MITCHELL: If elected to the next election, and they've got it through, would you remove it?
JANE HUME: Well, I don't know how we could remove it to be honest with you Neil, unless we had a very, very favorable Senate. I don't think that's going to be possible.
NEIL MITCHELL: try to remove it to say at least we've got some money there?
JANE HUME: No, no, we certainly don't intend to take money from retirees. We certainly don't intend to take money from people that have relied on one system in order to put money in and are now being found with another. We would manage our budget very differently from Labor.
NEIL MITCHELL: Ok, I appreciate that. Now, I know you gotta go. Thanks very much Liberal Senator Jane Hume, Chair of the Senate Cost of Living Committee.