Television interview, Sky News First Edition

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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18 May 2023

Subjects: energy market, wages, Quad leaders’ meeting.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, let's take the day's top stories to our panel. Joining us live, the Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes and the Labor MP, Matt Thistlethwaite. Matt, to you first, because Peter Dutton is going to blast the Prime Minister today over resources, calling the current government, which is yours, one of the most interventionists in our history. What's your response to that?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, we have intervened. We've intervened to ensure that households and small businesses get relief from electricity and gas price increases. And I think that Sussan Ley said it all in your interview with her a moment ago, Peter, when she said Peter Dutton has chosen to back the gas companies. And that says it all. When Labor put into the Parliament legislation to cap electricity and gas prices, Peter Dutton's coalition voted against it. They voted against electricity price relief and gas price relief for households and small businesses. And that says it all.

STEFANOVIC: Hollie, it comes down to profits. They are huge for these gas companies. Should we at least not try and claw some of that back for the people, given that it is our resources?

HOLLIE HUGHES, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR NSW: Well, the government is one of the most interventionists we've seen. And we did vote against the cap because as soon as you put that sort of intervention into a market, you reduce supply. That's exactly the way the markets work. And we know this is a government that is completely opposed to the gas sector. Their energy minister has referred to a gas led recovery as BS. Slightly more colourfully than that. We know in a deal that they did with the Greens, they removed gas and coal projects from the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund in order to get their safeguard mechanism, which let's call it what it is, a carbon tax, through the Senate. This is a government who sees industry as some sort of instrument of the state and the more intervention they make into this market, the worse it is going to get in the long run. All Australians, regardless of this much lauded cap that they so called, put in to ensure prices stayed low. Prices have just continued to escalate and now what we're seeing from this budget is a promise of up to $500, not for everyday working Australians, but for some Australian families. And in conjunction with the state's payments, it's only up to $500. It depends where you live and so it could be much less than that and a majority of Australians will not be included in that relief. So, this is a government who's also put $10 billion into ensuring that we can have environmental funds fighting against gas and coal projects going forward. So, this is a government who's tearing itself apart. Madeleine King wants to support CCS, a proven technology to reduce emissions. Ed Husic over on the east coast is saying it's ridiculous. This is a government that doesn't know what it's doing.

STEFANOVIC: There are huge debates over carbon capture storage, though. I mean, that it doesn't work. So, what's the point?

HUGHES: Well, one of the things and I've been talking to a number of gas companies over the past year with regards to CCS, and it is being used around the world. But one of the suggestions that was made by this Labor government around CCS that if they were to do it, the gas companies out in places like the Bass Strait would have to dig new wells. Now, if they're digging new wells, they're going to take the gas out of it. This government was trying to ban them from using exhausted wells for CCS, that they could use wells that no longer have oil and gas in them, that they could then use them for CCS, yet they want these companies to drill new wells, which is just simply not going to happen.

STEFANOVIC: Matt, onto inflation and wages. The Fair Work Commission has expressed some concern about issuing a large jump when it comes to wages. Do you think this, if it does happen, that that would lead to more interest rate rises?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the advice that we've received from Treasury and that's contained in the budget papers, is that a reasonable increase in minimum wages won't add to inflation. And the Government has chosen to accept that advice. And that's implicit in the submission that we've made to the Fair Work Commission for a reasonable wage increase. We haven't put a figure on it, but we've said that of course wages should keep pace with cost of living. We know that many Australian households, particularly low to middle income workers, are struggling with cost of living pressures and inflation eats away at their real income. So, we think that minimum wages should be a reasonable increase to ensure that families can keep pace with cost of living. And I think that the Fair Work Commission President was reflecting that in saying to the proponents before the Commission, you need to present evidence of that and that will no doubt be presented by the unions over the coming days.

STEFANOVIC: How much is too much, Hollie?

HUGHES: Well, what we need to look at is that real wages since Mr Albanese became Prime Minister have reduced by four and a half percent. A dollar today is worth less than it was twelve months ago.

STEFANOVIC: It's now at a decade high, though. 3.7%.

HUGHES: Yeah, but real wage growth, because of the inflationary pressures that this big spending government is putting onto the economy, that wage growth has been completely swallowed up by inflation and in fact, real wages have dropped four and a half percent. And so, we need to make sure that across the board, this government is not spending two to one, like it proposes in its current welfare budget, and this is a welfare budget that is going to put inflationary pressure across the board. Inflation is something that affects everybody. Doesn't matter what you do. Inflation is something that every single person in Australia is struggling with at the moment. And we need to make sure that the Fair Work Commission retains its independence, but that we're pulling levers that actually reduce inflation, not lead to it increasing.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just the final one here to Matt assistant defence. You still got faith in the US given Biden's no show?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah. Look, the alliance with the United States has been the foundation of our security relationship since World War II and that's not going to change. Unfortunately, President Biden has domestic political issues that he needs to handle. He phoned Anthony Albanese…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] Is that a win for China, though? Does that mark as a win for China?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, I don't see it that way at all. I think that the foundation of the relationship with the United States is strong. The relationship with our other Quad partners is strong. Narendra Modi will still visit Australia next week and that will be a huge visit for our nation. And you'll see the Quad occur on the sidelines of the G7 next week. So, I think that those important relationships will remain strong.

STEFANOVIC: Matt and Hollie. Appreciate it. Thank you so much. We'll talk to you soon.

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