Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back to the segment every person in this building watches, and many of you around the country – Hume & McAllister. Each week the Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume and Assistant Climate Change and Energy Minister Jenny McAllister face-off, fire up on the big news and developments, and they start with your favourite part of it – me being quiet, and Jane’s saying what’s on her mind this week.
SENATOR JANE HUME, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Tom, national accounts came out this week and the data told us what Australians already know – that they’re doing it tough right now. And, in fact, we’re in a per capita recession. We now know that mortgage repayments are twice what they were just a year ago, that national savings are now back down to a level that they were at in 2008. And if you ask anybody on the street, they’ll tell you that they’re feeling poorer than they were just a year ago. The Treasurer has said that this is steady and sturdy in the economy. Well, quite frankly, what we’re looking for is an economic plan, because if this is as good as it gets, heaven help us.
CONNELL: Jenny, what about you?
SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: Well, thanks, Tom. The Albanese Government was elected on a promise to get wages moving, and that is just what we’re doing with our Closing Loopholes Bill that we’ve introduced this week. We are cracking down on the labour hire loophole that is used to undercut bargained wages and conditions. We are criminalising wage theft. We are properly defining casual work, so that casuals aren’t being exploited. And we’re making sure that gig workers aren’t being ripped off and, really importantly, that their safety is protected. When Australians go to work, they deserve to be paid fairly, they deserve to be safe. They deserve to have the option of a secure job, and they deserve not to have their pay stolen.
CONNELL: We’ve had a week this week in Parliament dominated by aviation. The Transport Minister Catherine King defending her decision to block Qatar Airways flights, or more flights, I should say. She told me this morning a letter from Australian women who were stripped searched at a Qatar airport informed the decision but wasn’t the only factor. What can you tell us, Jenny? Because I keep hearing different explanations. Are there sort of cheat notes they’re giving to you that can crack this matter wide open for me, because I’m trying to follow it. Maybe it’s my comprehension, but I’m struggling.
MCALLISTER: Well, Tom, it’s quite routine – if you really do want the explanation from the very beginning – it’s really routine for other countries to approach Australia and to seek access at a country level to our aviation sector. It happens from time to time and that’s what happened in this case with Qatar. Those – when those applications are made, they’re considered by the Minister and a determination is made in the national interest.
CONNELL: But do you know more about the national interest? It’s not like national security. Shouldn’t you be able to explain – maybe not you personally or the Minister – why it’s not in the national interest? Wouldn’t that help all of this?
MCALLISTER: It is a broad concept, and the Minister has made it really clear that she applied it in this case. And I think the thing she’s been keen to emphasise is that it’s not about the commercial interests of one carrier or another carrier; it is a broad test about the national interest, very broadly.
CONNELL: The commercial interest of Qantas, though, is that they’re a viable company. So that kind of is factored into it, isn’t it?
MCALLISTER: So, well, it’s not exclusively about commercial interests or of a particular entity. The national interest is a broad concept.
CONNELL: No, but it is talking about Qantas being a viable company. That is actually in the national interest.
MCALLISTER: Look, I think the broad point is that everyone wants a sustainable, competitive aviation sector. But it occurs in a context. And one of the things that – I suppose I’d make two points in that regard. There’s no single decision that determines that. And more generally Minister King has initiated a green paper, white paper process..
MCALLISTER: That will allow people to have a say about the broad future of the industry, and that’s a really important piece of policy work that she’s leading.
CONNELL: Jane, interesting decision of Michael McCormack when he was Minister – he delayed a decision and then gave Qatar Airways fewer flights than they wanted. So he was worried about Qantas being viable as well. Is this a sort of continuation of that decision and thinking?
HUME: I think you need to look at the decisions that are made within the context in which they’re made. And, of course, back then that was at a time where air fares were at record lows, where Australians were actually benefitting from cheaper air fares, particularly to Europe. Whereas now this decision was made in the context where air fares are at historical highs and Australians are paying the price. So, if you’re not running –
CONNELL: Off the back of those profits and prices.
HUME: If you’re not running a protection racket for Qantas, what is going on here? If it’s on the basis of human rights – which is the implication when we’re talking about the decision around the women that were taken off the Qatar Air flight, I mean, that was horrendous, reprehensible behaviour, no doubt about it –
CONNELL: It’s appalling to read about. Do you think it should be a reason to stop an airline flying? It was the government, but the government owns the airline.
HUME: If it is, you know, we’ve still got Qatar Air flights here, and there are – let’s face it, there are airlines from other countries with whom we have human rights issues as well. But the excuse that I think struck most with me – and maybe you can answer this one, Jen – was that you know, there were other ministers coming out saying, “Well, they could always just put on more, bigger airlines, bigger, you know, aircraft and send them to places like Adelaide.” So, what you’re asking for is Qatar, who has the most fuel-efficient airplanes in the A380s to essentially ditch those – A350s and put back the A380s, which are absolutely – they’re fuel guzzlers, so that you can pick up more seat capacity.
CONNELL: All right.
HUME: Now, that seems entirely inconsistent as well. So there is not a consistent message at all when asking what the national interest really is.
CONNELL: Okay, so, short on time so I’m going to skip that one, is that all right?
CONNELL: We’ll move on. Let’s talk about Eraring. It’s going to be extended it looks like. Interesting call, this old coal-fired power station from New South Wales. What did you think of that within your sort of sphere?
MCALLISTER: Yeah, so, look, broadly we’ve known for a very long time that many of the older coal generators were coming to the end of their lives. And, in fact, over the last decade I think, you know, about 20 have announced their intended closure date. And unfortunately, under the last government there were no plans made for what was going to happen once those closures took place. The New South Wales Government has taken the decision to take a closer look at energy security in the context of the New South Wales market. They’ve received a report which has sort of been widely canvassed in the media this week, and they’ve indicated that they are going to initiate some discussions. There are – significantly, though, they’ve also made a series of announcement about other investments that they want to make across –
CONNELL: Yeah, so it might get extended but then some renewables after that. But the extension is interesting, isn’t it?
MCALLISTER: I think they are examining the options that are available to them.
MCALLISTER: I think the point that Minister Bowen sometimes makes is we don’t want any of these things to run a day longer than they need to, but we certainly don’t want them closing a day earlier than is sensible when thinking about affordability and reliability.
CONNELL: Okay. Very briefly, the New South Wales Opposition Leader is playing down the risk of blackouts without Eraring. He says it’s nearing the end of its life anyway.
HUME: Well, we know that some of these coal-fired power stations are nearing the end of their lives, but that’s being hastened by the rush to renewables, because essentially that makes coal-fired power stations more unviable. If we haven’t got that transition for base load power, particularly in gas – which, let’s face it, this government is doing everything it possibly can to discourage new investments in the gas industry – of course we shall going to see an extension of things like Eraring and Loy Yang A down in Melbourne too – down in Victoria as well. So state Labor governments are having to make the decision because of the ideological position you’ve taken in that rush to renewables.
CONNELL: Okay. Australia Post is just finally doing a big item thing. Is that what we call it? I don’t want to say something awkward. There’s a pineapple, there’s a prawn –
MCALLISTER: On a coin.
CONNELL: On a coin?
CONNELL: So it’s not on stamps?
HUME: A commemorative.
CONNELL: I’ve got a 30 – I’m going terribly today. What’s your favourite big thing in this series?
HUME: I took my kids – well, I don’t know whether it’s on the coin I took my kids to see the Big Lobster in South Australia. They were bored. They were relentlessly bored, and the photographs demonstrate that.
CONNELL: Yeah. Jen?
MCALLISTER: I’m going to go also with a crustacean because, of course, as someone from northern New South Wales, the Big Prawn looms large in my childhood.
CONNELL: All right.
MCALLISTER: But, you know, it’s a tough choice. The North Coast is replete with many options, many big things.
CONNELL: Don’t forget the Big Merino – wool, sheep. a –
HUME: That’s anatomically correct. I parked underneath it once.
CONNELL: I know. I’m just going to leave it right there. Jenny, Jane, thank you. That’s it for Afternoon Agenda. Thanks for your company.