House debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Bills

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading

4:37 pm

Jenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the appropriation bills of 2022-23. These bills reflect all of the missed opportunities of the government's recent budget, missed opportunities for Australian families, missed opportunities for Australian businesses and missed opportunities for many of those who live within my electorate of Hughes.

What does this budget mean for real Australians? Just before the election the Prime Minister told Australians that they 'will be better off under a Labor government'. Today, on the six-month anniversary of the recent federal election, this statement by the Prime Minister is proving to be just plain wrong. Fundamentally, this bill does not address the integral issue which is facing our nation—the rapidly accelerating cost of living. This is now out of control. It does not even attempt to address Labor's own assumptions in its budget around rising inflation, rising interest rates and higher energy prices. I have been inundated by concerned Australians within my electorate of Hughes around these issues and other cost-of-living pressures.

The opposition has taken a responsible approach to this budget. We have not simply opposed every budget measure for the sake of it. There were some good measures in the budget, for which the government can be commended. They include the extension of the childcare subsidy to more Australian families; the commitment to reduce the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment to lower the cost of medicines for many Australians; the support for housing of our veterans; the initiatives to combat family violence; and the funding to help Australians recovering from devastating floods. However, the budget and these bills fail to address the underlying economic issues which are plaguing our country at the moment.

If we return briefly to the coalition's economic record, we see that, in May of this year, the Labor government inherited an economy that was the envy of most nations throughout the world. We emerged from the pandemic with debt lower than any other major advanced economy. This was as a result of the economic management over the previous seven years prior to the pandemic of 2020. Policies were implemented by the coalition government that kept our nation afloat. JobKeeper assisted one million businesses and kept four million Australians in jobs. The cash flow boost helped 620,000 businesses. On almost every economic and health measure, Australia was either world-leading or performed better than most other countries. Former prime minister Morrison and former treasurer Josh Frydenberg adopted a suite of measures that saved Australian businesses, saved Australian jobs and, in many cases, probably saved Australian lives. There are now 596,000 more Australians in jobs than prior to the pandemic. Other economies fared much worse than ours. This Labor government talks down our economy but could not name a single country whose position they would rather be in.

I take the opportunity to share some of the issues that have come out of a recent tour that I have done of a suburb within my electorate, the suburb of Engadine. There were recurring themes that came out of talking to these small businesses. Not only are small businesses facing issues with the cost of living; they are facing other issues, such as staff shortages, supply chain problems and other rising business costs—again, measures that simply were not addressed in the budget.

The successive interest rate rises that Australia has had since May of this year are impacting when, where and how Australians will spend their money. The reality of these increases is that they often take several months to flow through. They have now started to really flow through within the business community of Engadine. For example, Matt from Coota Valley Meats noted that interest rates have meant fewer people are coming in to buy premium meat. Australians are now buying more sausages rather than beef or lamb. Both Michael from Go Vita and Geoff from Engadine Newsagency said that business is much quieter than it was a year ago and that streets are quieter, probably due to the rising interest rates. Leo from Michele's Patisserie and Andy from Sydney Electric Bikes commented on how the interest rate rises have immediately lowered the number of customers that are coming through their doors. For many of these small businesses in Engadine, staffing and staff shortages are also a problem. Specialised staff are only one category that these small businesses are struggling with. For example, Caffe Pancetta and Mie Thai—two local businesses in Engadine—are both struggling to find qualified chefs to hire. Brush Hair Co manager, Julia, stated to me that there is a hairdresser shortage, so they are also turning away customers. There are no measures in this legislation to address the issues that were raised with me by Engadine's small businesses.

Regarding interest rates, the current cash rate is now 2.85 per cent, the highest official interest rate since 2014, with the rate of increase the highest since 1994. For the 3.5 million Australians with a mortgage, successive interest rate rises and uncontrolled inflation are crushing their quality of life. In my electorate of Hughes, the median house price sits at around $1.5 million. In 2021 the average monthly mortgage repayment in the Hughes electorate was $2,600 per month. However, this was when the RBA cash rate was very low, at only 0.1 per cent. As it stands today, mortgage holders in my electorate—families with a mortgage of $700,000, of which there are many—must now find an additional $1,000 per month for their repayments compared to earlier this year.

As stated, when Australians need to spend more on their mortgages they spend less at their local shops, their local businesses, contributing to the economic woes of our nation. As just indicated, I've given many examples of where I have seen this directly within my electorate.

Another missed opportunity was with energy costs and security. The government needed to address energy costs within this budget but has done so by simply saying that renewables are the answer. There is no evidence that renewable energy is the answer to all of our energy problems and the crisis that we currently face.

During the election campaign Australians were promised—promised by this government—cheaper energy under an Albanese government. Every household would be $275 better off, we were told. Instead, Labor's own budget numbers confirm that electricity prices are about to increase by more than 50 per cent and gas prices by more than 40 per cent.

Another missed opportunity of the appropriation bill was for tax reform. The coalition believes in a core principle that hardworking Australians should be rewarded by keeping more of what they earn. They can then choose how they spend the extra money. The coalition's stage 3 tax reforms would lower tax for more than 10 million Australians. The 37 per cent tax rate was to be abolished and the 32½ per cent tax rate reduced to only 30 per cent. Under Labor, under this bill and under its recent budget, Australians will instead pay $142 billion more in taxes over the next four years. The coalition's legislated tax plan futureproofed the incomes of Australians. Labor took the coalition's tax plan to the election with an unequivocal promise to not reverse it. Now the groundwork is well and truly being laid, within this bill, to break that promise. The 10 million Australians expecting tax relief next year to address the cost of living deserve far better than this.

The only new change to the tax system announced in this budget is a new tax on investments. Despite ruling out these changes before the election, Labor will hit retirees and investors with a new $555 million tax, depriving investors of franking credits which they had previously relied upon. This will particularly hurt our self-funded retirees, who, in responsibly saving for their own retirement, deserve better from the federal government.

Housing and housing affordability: another missed opportunity, in this bill and within the budget, was with respect to a major crisis, which is the affordability of housing within this country. Australia has long been a place where land and country have been deeply personal and an underpinning tenet of our identity. On the housing continuum, private home ownership is vital. When more Australians own their own homes, government is better able to assist with crisis and emergency accommodation, with housing our youth homeless, with assisting victims of family violence. Today it has become harder than ever for Australians to purchase their own home. Of particular concern to me is Australian women who separate later in life, usually with little superannuation. They are left with fewer housing options and are now increasingly being left homeless.

In the late sixties, 72 per cent of Australians owned their own homes. In 2019 that was down to just below 62 per cent. Housing is important. It's crucial to meeting our basic needs. It should provide safety, privacy, security, a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to raise a family and a place sometimes to simply hide from the world. In terms of the cost, in real terms now, in 1984 the average Australian could buy a home at 3.3 times the annual income. Now, it is 10 times what the average Australian earns in a year.

The two main issues that affect housing affordability in this country are the difficulties of saving for a deposit and the lack of supply. It used to take months to save for a deposit; it now takes an average of 11½ years. To address this, the coalition took to the last election a policy where Australians could access their superannuation—their own money—to assist them to buy their first home. This budget and these bills show that the Labor government proposes that homeowners have shared equity in their home with the government. Instead of Australians being able to use their own superannuation, their own savings, to invest in their own home, superannuation funds will now be used to invest in someone else's home. With super funds far less transparent than they used to be, we will never know exactly how it is that the super companies are investing in other people's homes.

Instead of tinkering around with superannuation, the Labor government could and should have adopted some measures to incentivise state and local governments to jointly address the real issues with housing through planning and density controls, taxation changes and stamp duty. This Labor government, in this legislation and in the budget, has promised one million additional homes in five years. I've worked in and around and advised the housing and construction industry as well as local government for most of my career. This promise is simply not realistic. It cannot be delivered. It won't be delivered. Where are these houses going to be located, and, with the current skills shortage in the construction industry, how are 200,000 additional homes going to be built each year? These one million homes will never be delivered. This was yet another missed opportunity to address a national crisis.

Lastly, I wish to highlight two important projects for my electorate that are missing from this budget. I'm proud to have campaigned at the recent election for upgrades to Heathcote Road in my electorate. Heathcote Road serves as a major arterial road, connecting Heathcote in the east to Wattle Grove and Moorebank in the west. It can be a deathtrap, with single lanes for most of its 18 kilometres. I helped during the campaign to deliver a Commonwealth contribution of $94 million to the duplication of Heathcote Road. However, money that was pledged for additional future infrastructure funding is missing from this budget. Additionally, I campaigned for $1.5 million to improve the female amenities within the Harrie Denning football centre, within the Sutherland Shire. That was $1.5 million for women's sport. This money is also missing from the federal budget.

To conclude, the Labor government has missed a vital opportunity in this legislation and this budget to address serious economic issues.

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