House debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022


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

1:08 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the appropriation bills and, really, to comment more specifically on the budget which underpins these appropriation bills. I think it's pretty clear this was a stinker—an absolute shocker of a budget. We know that it's been an absolute stinker, because the Labor Party do not want to talk about this budget. The Labor Party, I think, went out to sell this budget for one morning, got a sense of the reaction from the Australian public and how they felt about this budget, and quickly retreated and have sought to talk about everything other than this budget.

I've been involved in a number of budgets as a Treasury minister, and I have to say, when waiting for this highly anticipated budget that the government spoke about in opposition, I didn't think we would end up with something that was smaller than most MYEFOs that I have been involved in delivering over the years. Indeed, this budget is remarkable, in one sense, for what it doesn't do, which is that it doesn't grasp the opportunities that we gifted them with an extremely strong economy. It also did two very destructive things to the Australian economy. At the moment, with rising inflation, rising interest rates and rising power prices, there are two things you wouldn't do in that environment. The first is that you wouldn't run larger budget deficits, because every additional dollar that the government spends is essentially a dollar that the Reserve Bank will try to take out of the economy via a higher cash rate and therefore higher mortgage rates for your average Australian.

We saw the final budget outcome for the 2021-22 income year coming in at $100 billion better than expected, with a budget deficit of $32 billion. It's extraordinary, in an environment where we had lockdowns and where we suffered along with the rest of the global economy with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, to have had a $100 billion turnaround and to have delivered a $32 billion deficit. You would have thought that a responsible incoming government would have taken up the cudgels of that improved economic performance and that improved budgetary performance and understood—if we had a Treasurer that understood—that in this environment you need not to run higher budget deficits. Instead, we've got a budget deficit projected for this year of some $37 billion, which is higher than the deficit that was run in the middle of a pandemic.

Again, for those Australian out there watching, for every additional billion dollars that the government spends, the Reserve Bank governor has to take a billion dollars out of the economy via increased interest rates. That's the first fundamental error of this budget—pouring more fuel on the fire.

Secondly, in an environment where we've got skills shortages, we've still got global supply chain issues and we've got issues with sourcing product in a whole range of sectors—and as housing minister in the former government I can tell you it's most acutely felt in the building industry—what's the second thing you wouldn't do in that environment and with all those factors that are driving inflation to record highs? You wouldn't put in place industrial relations changes that are going to gum up the economy and make it even harder to do business in this country—indeed, harder for every single mum and dad business out there to do business in this country. What will that do? It will push up inflation.

What are the two things that economic students sitting at university—economics 101 courses at every single university—or even, indeed, our year 11 and 12 students who are studying economics would say you can't do? You can't place higher inflationary pressures on this economy, which is exactly what this budget has done in the two most fundamental ways. The government inherited an economy that was the envy of the world and a budgetary position that was improving rapidly, and they have squandered that entirely and worsened the problems that Australians are now feeling.

What is the consequence for Australians? The consequence is that your average Australian family need to find an additional $2,000 between now and Christmas for the failure of these decisions in this budget. Members of the government might think that a couple of thousand dollars is loose change for them. Well, I can assure them that for the Australian families out there that have to find that extra money—whether it's to fill up their car, whether it's the eye-watering prices they are now facing at the supermarket or whether it's the letters that they keep getting from the bank saying their mortgage has gone up again—that is going to make this Christmas a lot harder. It will also give them more uncertainty about their future and less confidence about their future.

The other striking aspect of this budget was the, I think accidental, honesty of the government that one of the key planks that got them elected was false. On 97 occasions before the election, the Prime Minister and his senior ministers and backbenchers promised that they would deliver power price reductions of $275. If you go to the House of Representatives Hansard and look up the number 275, it is not a number that you will see uttered from the mouth of our Prime Minister. Indeed, when the Prime Minister is counting, he goes from 274 to 276. He can't say the words 'two hundred and seventy-five dollars', yet before the election he promised Australians that was what Labor would deliver. Instead, in the budget, what did we see? We see that power prices are expected to increase by more than 50 per cent, which I think is the experience of most Australians when they look at their bills.

Labor have a short memory. When the now minister and then shadow minister, the member for McMahon, was making these promises, he forgot that he was part of a government where we saw power price rises, on average, of nearly 13 per cent per annum. That was during the Rudd-Gillard government. Over the duration of the coalition government, between 2013 and 2022, we saw average price rises of 0.3 per cent per annum.

It's undoubted that the mismanagement and the expected policy disasters of this government are going to lead to energy poverty for this country. It's clear from the budget papers that Labor themselves expect their policy decisions to impose this additional burden on households. But, as importantly as households—to go back to my earlier remarks—we are going to see a perfect storm for business in this country, particularly small businesses in highly competitive areas, who can't just pass on price increases.

They're going to have militant unions knocking on the door, to make life harder, to foment distrust and conflict between them and their employees. Let's remember that in small business—I grew up in a small-business family, so I can tell you—the employees of the business are like family. Small-business owners pay their staff first, the rent second, the suppliers third, the tax fourth and the power bills fifth, and they pay themselves last. Those people now will not only, as I said, have the militant unions knocking on the door; they will also be seeing massive energy price increases that are going to make running their business even harder, when they were promised a reduction.

To touch on a couple of my portfolio areas, it was very revealing in the budget to see the government's expectations and the grim picture that they painted about the NDIS, which is in stark contrast to what Minister Shorten said before the election. Before the election, he gave confidence to more than 500,000 NDIS participants and their families. He said to them that the scheme is sustainable as it is and anyone who talks about sustainability, particularly those nasty Liberals, just wants to undermine the scheme. He also said, and had people believing, that no plan would ever go backwards under his watch and that some utopia was going to arrive when the great minister took the helm of the NDIS.

What do we see now? We see them backpedalling at a million miles an hour, trying to set the scene. We now have the minister saying: 'Actually, I was wrong. Perhaps there are some sustainability issues. Perhaps there are cost increases that need to be managed.' Now he's blaming the states. He's out there saying that the states have to pick up more responsibility. It was him, when he was a minister in the Rudd-Gillard government, who got completely outplayed by the states. They completely outplayed him and the Prime Minister at the time to ensure that, largely speaking, the states' contribution to the NDIS is capped and managed. And who picks up all the upside? It's the Commonwealth.

So thank you, Minister Shorten, for delivering that core problem which you are now saying is an issue for the scheme. You didn't say it before the election, but you're saying it now. Well, I can tell you that more than half a million NDIS participants and their families heard you loud and clear before the election when you said that there were no sustainability issues—none—with the NDIS and that plans would not go backwards under your watch. So let's see where this goes. The budget, I must say, paints a pretty bad picture.

Also, in the Housing portfolio, there was the farcical announcement that Labor was going to build a million new homes over five years. That was the headline—a million new homes over the five years. Then we drilled into the detail and asked some questions—'Oh, it's an aspiration to build a million homes over five years. It's actually not us as a government building those homes over five years; it's the businesses-as-usual private sector that will build those million homes over five years. And, in fact, what we've done new in this budget is an agreement with states and territories to have more meetings to solve these problems at some point down the track.'

Now, in the last five full calendar years before the budget, Australia built more than a million homes—1,029,000 homes. So what are Labor saying? They're saying, 'Well, starting from 2024, we'll build fewer homes over those next five years than were built in the preceding five years'—under our watch. That is a farcical announcement. It is the sort of hollow announcement that you make when you have a budget that is, quite frankly, less impactful than the average MYEFO. It's a pretty shameless tactic that was appropriately dealt with by the media in regard to how farcical it was.

In the Social Services portfolio—another one of mine—the biggest additional spending measure in social services in the so-called bread-and-butter budget, outside of the CPI increases, was the $217 million that was dedicated to wind back the cashless debit card. They are spending 217 million precious dollars to have more alcohol and drugs flood into vulnerable communities. There will be more alcohol and drugs to fuel the dysfunction and the violence that we know occurs in so many of the communities where the cashless debit card has been so successful.

It's a budget that fails on so many measures. We saw hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure ripped out of Victoria. In my own seat alone we saw $4 billion cut from the East West Link. We saw $34 million cut from train station car parks at Heatherdale and Heathmont, and it won't be long before people who are back on public transport will be searching for those car parks in the morning and won't able to get one. They also cut $50 million from Dorset Road, one of the most dangerous and congested roads in my area. Why did they cut all that? They did it to give Daniel Andrews his $2.2 billion for the Suburban Rail Loop. This budget fails on every measure.


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