Monday, 21 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2022-2023, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Second Reading
Very wobbly, yes. Sadly, after four or five months of softening up before the budget, it will be goodbye stage 3 tax cuts.
There are other things we're also likely to see. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a proposed increase in the Medicare levy at the next budget, and the argument will be to cover all of this additional spending that the government is pursuing, particularly in the area of social security and welfare.
It's really hard for people when interest rates are up. We know electricity and gas prices are going up dramatically—this is the budget appropriations bill; it's in the budget—56 per cent for electricity, 44 per cent for gas. This was new information in the budget because pre-election it was the $275 thing. That was a big thing, and members will recall the now Prime Minister used to talk about it a lot. At the National Press Club, three days before the election, a strong reference was made to $275. It was mentioned 97 times. But after the election it didn't get mentioned at all—it's really weird. In July, the Prime Minister gave a 2,400-word speech to the Australian Financial Review energy forum where he didn't mention the $275 figure one time. It's really strange, isn't it?
There's a legal expression that my friend the member for Menzies would be familiar with: 'a consciousness of guilt'. I think that's what we're seeing in the $275 disappearance. You don't talk about something if you don't want to focus on it and if you know you're in the wrong, and that is why that has dropped off the agenda completely. And the now Treasurer talked about the $275 too.
Another thing in the budget that concerns me: there are 24 pages that basically say nothing, and this is a new section called the 'wellbeing budget'. It really doesn't say a lot. In reading it, it kind of sounds to me a bit like Treasury itself is reluctant to actually do this. It's very hedged, the way it's written. It's basically some sort of concept of, 'We're going to measure some other stuff, apart from the actual budget, and somehow that will be good.' To which I would say: 'Well, we don't need a wellbeing budget. We need a budget, an actual budget, a budget with substance, a budget that's robust, a budget with granular detail that the Australian people can be confident in.' This wellbeing budget goes through the 24 pages and it sort of culminates in this sentence. It's a difficult sentence to read, but I'm going to do it. It says:
The 2023 Measuring What Matters Statement—
this is foreshadowed—
will be an important next step in facilitating a more informed and inclusive policy dialogue on how to improve the quality of life of all Australians.
But we've got to wait until 2023 to get that, and that's not what budgets are about.
The other thing in the budget that was a bit of a story for a day or two was about the million homes. It has a grand title. I think it's the Housing Accord, so trying to conjure up images of the accord of the 1980s and 1990s. But basically all the so-called Housing Accord says is, 'We've got some specific initiatives to help build 40,000 homes'—and that effectively involves more government spending—'and we have an aspiration of a million homes over the next five years'. There's no detail at all on how those million homes will be produced. There is some detail, in fairness, for the 40,000, and they come at a very significant cost. But then, when you actually look at approximately how many homes are built in Australia per year—and this is over five years—it turns out there have been a number of years when more than 200,000 homes have been built in Australia anyway. So, the million homes are, broadly, a reflection of what happens in the housing market anyway. I think the game here is that it'll probably be somewhere in the high hundreds of thousands, because it always is, over a five-year period. Then it will be, 'Look we've built our 920,000 homes.' But it's just the intellectual bankruptcy of it. It's very disappointing. The actual measures themselves are very modest. It's just misleading.
Then we get the industrial relations piece, which is referred to in the budget. It wasn't referred to before the election and the bottom line here is, why should a business in Bundaberg get roped into something that's happening in Bruny? They're separate businesses. They have their own issues, their own markets, their own problems, their own employees. Why should they be roped into that and potentially be affected by industrial action? They shouldn't. Today they're not, tomorrow they will be, and that's bad. But that's what this legislation does. It takes us back to the 1970s, and not in a good way. It is a very disappointing piece of legislation.