Tuesday, 1 August 2023
Matters of Public Importance
Cost of Living
It's with pleasure that I speak on this very important matter of public importance, namely this government's broken election promise on the cost of living and broken promises on addressing the cost-of-living crisis in this country. This morning the Treasurer said, 'Oh, if you're struggling with the mortgage cliff, go and see your bank. They might be able to put some special measures in place for you.' He's given up. Just now we heard the Minister for Cliimate Change and Energy say that the recent rise in energy prices is absolutely nothing to do with him or this government and they don't propose to do anything about them, and the member for Fairfax was effectively just laughed at. We've seen the Prime Minister actually jeer and sneer at every single member on this side of the House when they have raised genuine matters about the cost-of-living crisis facing their constituents. This Prime Minister laughs at them and makes fun of them and the whole frontbench just collapses and giggles. This is a government that's just given up on the cost of living. This is a Prime Minister who's key election promise was: no-one left behind and no-one held back.
I should add that, in spite of all these things the government has given up on, they were able to save the Great Barrier Reef in just 12 months. I'm very happy, Prime Minister, if you slip a note of thanks under my door for the $1.2 billion that the Liberal and National parties provided to protect the communities on the reef, because it's communities that we care about. Right now it's the cost-of-living crisis that our communities, your communities, Australia's communities are facing that should be front and centre of the debates in this parliament in question time. Time after time, we ask a question and the Prime Minister says, 'What would you ask that for?' as if there's some objection. It's question time. It's time for the government to step up and be held accountable.
As I said, we all remember that key election promise: no-one left behind and no-one held back. He promised people would have cheaper electricity and cheaper mortgages. We've all gone past the $275 promise. We know the 97-times-repeated $275 promise will never eventuate. But, Prime Minister, we haven't gone past your break in faith with the Australian community. That was the first signal that you continue to believe that you're better than the promises you made and that those promises don't need to be kept. He promised people would have cheaper electricity. He promised a better future for families and a better future for businesses. Do you remember when he said, 'It's been a pretty good 10 months'? Then we got that famous prime ministerial smirk. It's been a pretty awful 15 months and I challenge anyone—members opposite or members on my side—to talk to anybody who's saying they're doing it better now than they were at the time of the May 2022 election, because they're not.
The Prime Minister promised that if he was elected people would pay less and earn more, but today you're paying more and earning less. He promised that if he was elected people would have a cheaper mortgage, but we've seen interest rates go up and up. He promised that if he was elected people would get ahead, but instead they're falling behind. No-one is better off. That's not what Australians were promised. Again and again, Labor's promises on what they would do have been broken. Australians decided to give Labor a go because they were told that things would be better under Labor, but the Prime Minister has delivered the opposite and, more than 12 months on, this tricky Prime Minister needs to fess up and admit it. Day after day we're reminded that the biggest issue for the Australian public at the moment is the cost-of-living crisis.
Let's have a look at the data. The consumer price index rose by 0.8 this quarter. Importantly, over the 12 months to the June 2023 quarter, the CPI rose by six per cent. Under Labor, prices are going up and inflation is still running rampant. We've got the 'Jim-flation' problem. You won't hear this Treasurer admit it. We've got a big-spending, productivity-crushing Labor government that will take the credit for record job numbers that they inherited from us, setting up this economy as it came out of the pandemic. But they refuse to take responsibility for the cost-of-living crisis.
In the last fortnight, like all of my colleagues I've been out in the real world—on factory floors, in manufacturing businesses, in cafes, in bakeries, among truckies, at food logistics suppliers—in so many small businesses across this country. And I always, when I get a chance, want to pay tribute to our small businesses. They get up every day and face an uncertain environment. They put a smile on their face. There's always chaos at home, children at school, the million things they have to do to manage, these often female-led small businesses, and they get up there and they face the world. But they don't have a government that's backing them in. And as we all visit them—because we all do—we know that they put that brave face on, but it doesn't take much for the anxiety to show, for them to show you their power bills, for them to explain that 30 per cent hike in energy costs, for them to actually say that they are uncertain about the future. It doesn't take much of a walk around our major shopping strips so see 'For lease' sign after 'For lease' sign, to call into businesses, as I have done, where no-one has called in all day, where no-one has spent any money, where the landlords are putting up the rents. And do you know what? The small businesses say, 'We understand that,' because they know that everybody is feeling this crunch.
The CPI figure that I just quoted doesn't really capture some of the high increases we're seeing, and that's particularly in food. The cost of milk and cheese rose by almost 15 per cent compared to this time last year. The cost of bread is up by 12 per cent and of fruit and veg up five and four per cent. But the point is that nothing is going down and everything is going up, and it's a big hit to households and a big hit to small businesses.
Just days ago I was standing in Phelans Bakery in Caboolture with the member for Longman, and the baker told me a familiar story. The increases in costs across his business as the price of milk goes up, as the price of butter goes up, mean that he has to put up his prices. Somebody in that business said, 'Will tradies soon be asked to pay $30 for lunch?'—for a pie, a couple of sandwiches and a cup of coffee. Families are getting hit by increases in the basics. But they're also seeing the price of everything, from a loaf of bread to a meat pie to a birthday cake, going up under this Labor government.
Now, energy is important. People often say to us, 'It's all just a continuation of things that were happening before.' Well, it's not. It's the deliberate policies of this Labor government. It's their ham-fisted intervention in the energy market—one huge, big, fat fail. The other one, of course, is their intervention in the industrial relations market. Those two things, in the more than 12 months that they've been in government, have acted to really help crash this economy. Energy prices go up; families go backwards. Energy prices go up; small businesses go broke. Today households and families are paying some of the highest power prices in the world, with energy bills soaring by up to 28.7 per cent across this country. That's an extra $564 a year, on average, that families will need just to keep the lights on. And for small businesses it's up by $1,738 a year. But what did this Prime Minister do when the member for Mallee asked about a genuine constituent, when she gave the constituent's full name and the costs and uncertainties they were facing? Well, he just kind of laughed; he jeered and sneered. That's what we're used to. That's what's so awful from this Labor government.
So, as I went into business after business in the last week, from a cobbler to a wholesale food distributor, from Brisbane to Hobart and from Adelaide to Deception Bay, I saw that they're all reeling from these power bills. They absolutely do not know what to do about this rude shock to hardworking Australians who were promised a reduction. And the latest data has revealed that the cost of generating electricity soared by a further 31 per cent between April and June. Imagine that being passed on through the retail chain. It's going to continue to hurt.
I said at the beginning that I was listening to the Treasurer's interview this morning and he had nothing to offer people who are falling off a $95 billion refinancing cliff. That's happening in the next three months for 150,000 households. He simply said, 'Throw yourself on the mercy of the banks.' In a not-often reported interview a couple of weeks ago I think he said, 'No, we haven't got any more things we're doing on cost of living.' He actually ruled that out. So this is a government that's given up.
We're reminded every day of what happens when you have a Prime Minister who doesn't understand how to run a budget and a Treasurer with a PhD in politics but not in economics. Under Labor, Australia's economy is going backwards. We're all starting to see this Prime Minister for who he truly is: a bloke without a plan, always focused on the politics and never focused on the people.
When times get tough, a lot of Australians step up. I want to recognise those Australians today. I met them: volunteers packing hampers for people who have never had to access these services before so that they could hand them over with dignity. I met volunteers, in Adelaide, with Senator Liddle, who put boxes together of clothes that would last a year for each age group of children—carefully, discreetly, nicely packed—so they could be handed quietly to them at a moment they needed them, so they didn't have to face the indignity of walking into a big warehouse with a charity name across the top, important though that is. I met people in food services and cafes, in the cold, when the homeless people had one hour to come in. I spoke to them. They said, 'We never imagined before that we would be here.'
I want to say thank you to those people. This is a political environment, but those people to do amazingly. They step up when times get tough, and this government steps back. Prime Minister, if you want to fight an early election, bring it on, because the Australians that I have spoken to want to toss you out.