Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Matters of Public Importance
To clarify: we're not talking the economy down; we're doing what we're elected here to do, which is to hold the government to account. This government needs to be held to account. I rarely say this, but I actually found one of the answers in question time yesterday somewhat interesting. It was a question to the Treasurer where he was asked how he felt about the fact that, on a number of key measures, the economy wasn't matching where it was projected to be at the last budget. He said it is true that real GDP growth is behind where it should be, but nominal GDP growth is slightly ahead of where it should be, and that's the key measure for getting to a surplus. It struck me that that is a reflection of how narrow this government's view of its economic mandate is, that delivering a surplus is the beginning and the end of this government's story. That's the beginning and the end of their management of this economy. It was telling to me that that kind of technical differentiation—which is important—is the end of where they think about the economy.
I'm one for having endless debates in this place about nominal versus real GDP; about real versus per-capita GDP—I love that stuff. But we also, at some point, need to step back and ask an even more important question, which is: what is this economy doing for real people? I go back to the member for Lilley's contribution, which was on what's happening to families and what's happening to people—to their wages and to household incomes. I think the fundamental question people in the community are asking is, 'Am I better off, and is my family better off, now than six years ago?' Too many people in my electorate and too many people around this country cannot answer yes to that question. I'm going to look at a few measures of this—a few straightforward, clear pieces of evidence. Let's look at the HILDA survey results which were released recently. If we look at median household income—median is the key one here, because median reflects the typical family; mean, the average, often reflects what happens to the very top end of town—it has fallen $542 since 2009. Interestingly, the mean income has actually increased, which reflects the fact that the rich are getting richer but the middle-class and the poorest in our community are feeling the pinch. Wages are growing slowly.
We all know that statistic that wages are growing slower than ever before, but I quote a more independent source than myself on this. The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, recently identified that record-low wages growth since this government was elected in 2013 isn't just damaging individual workers and households; it's threatening social cohesion and hurting Australian society. He said:
The lack of real wage growth is one reason some in our community question whether they are benefiting from our economic success.
Wages growth is a huge problem and this government has no plan for that. Reciting quarterly nominal GDP growth is not an answer to the problem that is bedevilling our economy and our society. Household debt is surging. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work. When we look at unemployment and underemployment, we see a significant problem. There are a huge number of Australians that would like to work but aren't or that would like to work more. Consumer confidence is at a low ebb—for example, the fall in consumer confidence of 7.1 per cent seen recently in 'time to buy a major household item'.
All of these pieces of evidence point to households and individuals feeling like they're worse off, feeling like their wages aren't keeping up with key elements of the cost of living. But this government's response is always too narrow. This government's response is always to fob off those concerns. When I go back to constituents in Fraser after parliament rises at the end of next week, I'm not going to answer their concerns about subpar wages growth and rising household debt by telling them that slightly higher nominal GDP growth is going to help the Treasurer deliver a surplus ahead of when he planned.
The key point of this MPI is not only the government's inaction but the fact that, on our side of the House, the shadow Treasurer has put forward a positive plan, a five-point plan which includes actions that need to be taken right now. His plan includes actions such as bringing forward infrastructure projects, which the Reserve Bank has called for on multiple occasions; using MYEFO to update forecasts which, on key measures, are now clearly out of date; reviewing a responsible increase in Newstart, which is overdue; implementing a version of Labor's Australian investment guarantee—rather than just jawboning, actually doing something that would help investment in Australia's business increase—and developing a comprehensive plan to boost wages. Those things, not inaction, are what is needed.