House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Matters of Public Importance


3:40 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

After six years of this Liberal government, now into its third term, the Australian economy is floundering. The Australian economy is floundering because the Morrison government are flailing around looking for a fight and because they have political tactics but not an economic policy to turn this floundering economy around. When Australians need a Prime Minister 100 per cent focused on the economy, they have instead a Prime Minister 100 per cent focused on playing political games here in Canberra. How do we know this? We know it because the Prime Minister himself went to the Liberal Party convention on Saturday and, in a moment of arrogance and hubris, said that the thing he likes to do most is to set tests for the Labor Party. That speaks volumes about the approach of this Prime Minister and this Liberal government. They're always looking to play political games. They spend all of their time looking for opportunities to wedge the Labor Party, banging on about the Labor Party and Labor policy and the last election, and none of their time working out how they are going to turn around an economy which is defined by the slowest economic growth in the 10 years since the global financial crisis. When we need a government focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, all they ever do is talk about Labor, Labor, Labor.

That's what's going on here, that is the problem, and it invites the obvious question: if we have a Prime Minister who is so focused on wedging the Labor Party and playing political games here in this building, who's minding the shop when it comes to the economy? It invites the obvious question: if the economy's going as well as the Treasurer and the Prime Minister want to pretend, why are they trying to distract from it? If the economy is going so well, why has the Reserve Bank cut interest rates to one per cent, a third of what they were during the global financial crisis? If the economy's going so well, why has the Governor of the Reserve Bank had to call, seven times since the election alone and 17 times since he's been the governor, for some decent infrastructure investment to be brought forward to get the place going again? If the economy is going so well, why is it that so many Australians in so many communities right around Australia feel that, no matter how hard they work, they just can't get ahead; they just can't keep their heads above water, no matter how hard they work? That's a story of skyrocketing childcare, energy and private health insurance prices, but it's also a story about stagnant wages—the worst wages growth in the history of that statistic, under those opposite right now, over the last six years.

Now, it's tempting to think, as we have thought for some time, that perhaps the Prime Minister is just in denial about all of these things that are going on in the economy. But it's equally possible that the Prime Minister now, after this avalanche of bad data in the last few months and the deterioration of the economy even since the election, is worse than in denial about some of these issues. It's possible that he just doesn't care about what's going on in the real economy, in real communities, right around Australia and about what's happening to real people. With an approach like that it's no wonder that we have the slowest economic growth in a decade. It's no wonder that, as the NAB tells us today, business confidence and business conditions have deteriorated even further, well below the long-term average for that measure. It's no wonder that, in a poll published today, Australians have said that their biggest concern is cost-of-living pressures—all of these cost-of-living pressures left unattended by those opposite and a consequence of the most stagnant wages of any government in the history of the Commonwealth. It's no wonder the national accounts that were released last Wednesday were so bad for the government. They were a report card on the economy, of course, as they always are, but they were also a report card on a six-year government now entering its third term. Let's look at some of the numbers that were in those national accounts.

I've mentioned the slowest growth in 10 years. Household living standards have declined under those opposite, as well. Real household median income is lower than it was in 2013. Wages are growing at one-sixth the pace of profits; the government has presided over the worst wages growth on record. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work or looking for more work. Household debt is at record levels. It has increased by $650 billion under the Liberals—190 per cent of disposable income. Business investment is down 20 per cent since the Liberals came to office, as the member for Hotham mentioned yesterday in question time, and is now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. Consumer confidence is down over the year. Consumption growth is weak. Productivity is declining. Australia was one of the two fastest growing economies in the OECD under Labor, was the eighth-fastest when government changed hands and is the 20th-fastest today. We are in the bottom half of the OECD when it comes to economic growth. And all of that's before we get to the fact that only one government in the history of the Commonwealth have had gross debt over half a trillion dollars—that one over there—and they've more than doubled net debt in their time in office.

I think for all of these reasons we can begin to understand why the Treasurer looks a bit like he's seen a ghost. I think it's because it is finally dawning on him that blame-shifting and finger-pointing won't grow the economy. I think it's finally dawning on him that the energy policy paralysis that he has been one of the biggest culprits for won't grow the economy either. Banging on about Labor won't grow the economy. Playing political games won't grow the economy. Hoping for the best won't grow the economy. All of these strategies, all of these political tactics which have been employed by those opposite, and especially by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, have fallen flat because none of them is an actual economic strategy to turn around an economy which is floundering on their watch.

None of us has a personal problem with the Treasurer, but it used to be that his particular brand of incompetence had a grinning face. He used to be the friendly face of incompetence in that government. He used to be incompetence with a grin, but now the grin has gone. The grin has gone because it has dawned on him that the brief stop that the Treasurer thought the Treasury would be on his glorious path to the prime ministership is now littered with the consequences of six years, and three terms, without an economic plan. We see that in the floundering economy and in all of the data, the avalanche of bad data, that we have seen in the last little while.

We all want to see the economy pick up. We all want to see jobs created and opportunities created, but the way to do that is not to pretend away the challenges that we have in the economy, as those opposite would have us do. It's not to pretend that everything in the economy is hunky-dory.


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