Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back. Time now for Hume and McAllister.  Each week Shadow Finance Minister, Jane Hume and Assistant Climate Change and Energy Minister Jenny McAllister face off and fire up on the big news. A bit truncated today, I'm going to get straight into it. I haven't been told who's first on the “one minute rant”, as we call it, with the greatest respect. Jane, why don't you kick us off, what's firing you up?  

JANE HUME: Tom, I'm out in Warwick Farm today in Western Sydney listening to the folk of Warwick from Western Sydney about how the cost of living is affecting them and their families and their businesses. We've heard from all sorts of witnesses already this morning, but for me, the most compelling, the one that I'll take home, were the business peak bodies, the Chambers of Commerce that were talking about small and medium enterprises out here in Western Sydney. They were telling us that not only is the cost-of-living crisis affecting households and individuals, but there is a cost-of-doing-business crisis as well. Their number one issues were, of course, things like taxes and levees, freight and supply chains, but most importantly number one was the energy crisis. They're seeing bills increase by around a quarter, around 25 per cent or so just in the last 12 months alone. 

Now, this afternoon, we're having an open-mic session. We've got people coming from all around Western Sydney that are coming to tell us how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting them, and if you'd like to submit   if anybody out there would like to submit to this committee, we've also set up a survey so we could hear from ordinary Australians as to how the cost of living is biting them. That's at, I'll say it again:, five minutes to tell the committee how the cost of living is affecting you. 

TOM CONNELL: There you go, we've got plugs. No rules on this program. I like the open mic sound of things, it sounds like you might go acapella; we'll see. Jenny, what about you?  

JENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks, Tom. Well, this week the government released its first ever national Electric Vehicle Strategy, a first for Australia. We want as many Australians as possible to have access to vehicles that are cheap and affordable, because of course they are cheaper to run. 

Unfortunately, like so many things, this was not a priority for the last government, in fact, it was actively obstructed; another area where we wasted time and delayed. But our government is getting on with it. We've already made concessions in the tax system that take up to $11,000 off a $50,000 vehicle. As a consequence of our leadership, at this point in the year, we are seeing twice the sales of electric vehicles as we were last year. We know this matters. And of course the second thing, we are doing is setting up plans for a national fuel efficiency standard. Australia joins Russia as one of the few countries in the world that has no standard of any kind on the vehicles that are sold here. Of course, the Coalition obstructed this, preferring to run scare campaigns about the end of the weekend. We're getting on with it, because we know that saving Australians on fuel by having more efficient vehicles is a really important thing for household budgets and for the budgets of businesses. 

TOM CONNELL: Let's stay on this topic, because there's a lot about cost of living going on this week, and we're getting up towards the Budget. Jane, you spoke a few weeks ago on the show about alternative ideas to help out the cost of living, remembering that nobody wants to contribute, that is the Government or the RBA, to contribute to inflation right now. So through your committee, any other ideas - because Labor is going down the path of helping out on power bills with a direct subsidy - what else could they do without affecting inflation?  

JANE HUME: Well, are they in fact doing that, Tom?  Because if you recall, on the 9th of December last year, Parliament was recalled because there was urgent action required on energy bills, and yet we heard from witnesses today, particularly from the elderly and low income sector that said that they have seen nothing in terms of power relief, even though it was the 9th of December when that was urgent. Well, four months on, and we're still seeing diddly squat. -  

TOM CONNELL: Well, it's been delayed, but it's pretty clear that it's going to be in the Budget, isn't it?  

JANE HUME: Well, how urgent was it that we needed to all return to Parliament to make sure that that was passed if nothing were actually manifested at a time when ostensibly it was    

TOM CONNELL: But the question was around other elements. 

JANE HUME: Yes, the committee is hearing some terrific ideas, yes, the committee is hearing some terrific ideas, particularly around things like red tape reduction, better alignment of state and federal regulations to make sure that there isn't duplications, particularly for businesses, but the overwhelming one, as I said, today was all about energy, and making sure that it's not just households and individuals, but businesses that are facing these things that are now threatening the viability of their businesses, and particularly with small and medium businesses, you know that they are not run by some massive great corporation; that there's a family behind those businesses, so their home cost of living crisis has now been doubled down on by their cost of doing business crisis. 

TOM CONNELL: If energy's the main one, Jane, I don't know, you might be pleased with the Budget, dare I say it. We'll see. It sounds like a bold prediction, doesn't it?  Jenny, is it just energy?  Is that all that's either affordable, but also, is there nothing else maybe you can really pick up because of that inflationary bogey that's hanging around?  

JENNY MCALLISTER: Look, Tom, we are very conscious that this is a tough year for Australians, and it is principally because the global economy is in a very difficult place; much higher-than-expected rates of inflation, and of course, the war in Ukraine, that has caused a global energy crisis. 

Energy prices, of course, are a very high priority for us. It was urgent that we went back to the Parliament in December, and it was urgent because we put in place caps on the pricing of gas and of coal that the AER has confirmed has made a substantial difference in the cost increases that will show up in Australians' bills this year. 

It would have been very, very bad, and I will remind everyone listening, that Jane and all her colleagues voted against these measures, and so to come on the program now and say what's needed is cost of living relief on energy, when they sat in the Parliament in December and voted against all of the measures that we proposed, is kind of silly, isn't it?  There will be cost of living relief in the Budget, and the Treasurer's made it clear that the centrepiece of that will be energy price relief - targeted, temporary, but an important contribution in a way that doesn't add to the inflation challenge. 

TOM CONNELL: The other thing about the Budget    

JANE HUME: Jenny, you might say that you think that that's silly, but let's be honest    

TOM CONNELL: Very briefly, Jane. 

JANE HUME: Hang on, let's be honest, Tom, let's be honest Tom, those price caps, we've heard from witnesses as part of this committee that those price caps are in fact causing problems with supply. Basic economics says “supply and demand,” if you increase supply, you reduce prices, and this government is making decisions that are affecting the potential for new supply to come into the system. That's what's causing price hikes in energy. 

TOM CONNELL: Can I just ask you about the other big hint in the    

JENNY MCALLISTER: Jane, I'm just not sure that you can make those remarks. 

TOM CONNELL: Budget   go on, quick reply, Jenny, and I'll get to the next question, but you can have a right of reply on that one. 

JENNY MCALLISTER: I was simply going to say that the only way Jane's position is sustainable is if you are willing to ignore the global energy crisis that is affecting all of the countries in the world. Our government acted quickly to protect households and businesses from very big international pressures    

JANE HUME: Oh, Jenny, gas supplies are drying up here, we need to encourage more investment in Australia to tap into new supply; it's the only way to sustainably bring prices down, and you know it. 

JENNY MCALLISTER: Jane, under your government gas supplies increased enormously, but prices went up and up. It's a much more complex market than that; that's a market problem that you ignored, and we are getting on with the job of sorting that out, like so many other problems left to the Australian people by the government you were part of. 

TOM CONNELL: All right. 

JANE HUME: Without that transition fuel    

TOM CONNELL: Let me get to the next element, Jane, I'm going to jump in. 

JANE HUME: We'll never make it to net zero. 

TOM CONNELL: I'm going to jump in, because I'm sure we're talking about gas again, down in the future, especially around what Labor will do on electricity and gas bills, because that will be known soon enough. We'll also know perhaps what Labor will do on the PRRT. Interested in your views on this, Jane, because the Coalition actually started what Labor's going to release, the review on how the PRRT works for gas, in particular on onshore gas - your government did start this, so clearly at that time the Coalition thought there's an issue here with how much revenue is being raised or not being raised. So, is this fair enough that Labor has this on the table?  

JANE HUME: Well, there's been, you know, royalty, or equivalence of royalties on resources since time immemorial. I think the real concern here though, is A, that combination of it was companies being hit once more with more impositions, that are again, causing a sovereign risk that's preventing new investment in Australia into new supplies. But that's number one. 

Number two is, of course, just 11 months ago Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers looked you in the eye and said, "there will be no new taxes beyond taxes on multinationals, multinational tax avoidance." And yet since coming to government, well, they've already said that they're going to raise taxes on superannuation; they've already said that they're going to bring in an entirely new tax, by doing that unrealised capital gains, and now the PRRT. So is there a single idea this government had    

TOM CONNELL: It can all depend on when they start. So if it starts up the next election, voters get a go...    

JANE HUME: That won't raise taxes.  How about reducing your expenditure?  

TOM CONNELL: Let me get back to the question though, Jane. The Coalition started this review. You wouldn't start it unless you thought there was a problem to address, surely?  You don't do a review just for the sake of it?  

JANE HUME: We don't support raising new taxes, and we certainly support anything that will bring new supply, any supply into the gas   into the market, encourage investors...    

TOM CONNELL: Why the review then?  

JANE HUME:  Encourage investors. It was a review that was begun before there was an energy crisis.  Now, there's an energy crisis we've seen gas prices and electricity prices increase by 25 per cent, by 30 per cent, and it’s particularly on the east coast of Australia. You would think that if you got the results of a review that told you to increase taxes to discourage new investment, at a time like this, you would set that aside and say, "For the good of the nation we cannot abide by new taxes" and discourage those investors    

TOM CONNELL: At the time when the gas companies are making...    

JANE HUME:  In the gas, in gas companies. 

TOM CONNELL:  - record profits as well. Jenny, what is on the table?  Do you think there's a case? Do you think Australians would approve of a new tax despite that pledge from Labor beforehand, that this is an area that you should be raising more money out of?  

JENNY MCALLISTER: I'm not going to pre empt any decision that the Treasurer might make, but he's been really clear that he's open to the advice. So this was work that was commenced under the previous government, it speaks to an issue that Australians care about, the extent to which we do obtain value from the natural resources that are extracted from our territories, and I'm sure that the Treasurer will work through the recommendations that he receives, when he receives them. 

TOM CONNELL: All right. But do you think the case is there?  I understand you're not pre empting it, but would Australians understand; would they be okay with this, do you think?  

JENNY MCALLISTER: Look, I think it's an issue that is periodically raised by Australians, but as I say, the Treasurer has sought advice. Incidentally, as you've already observed, it's a process of review that was initiated under the previous government. I imagine that that will seek to balance all of the questions that you'd expect that a Treasury to consider in something like this, and we'll wait and see what the advice recommends. 

TOM CONNELL: Jenny, Jane, we've got to leave it there. I know we had some tricky schedules to align, so we'll aim to have our full hit out next week. Thank you. 

JANE HUME: Thanks Tom. 

JENNY MCALLISTER: Thanks Tom. Thanks Jane.