House debates

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Cost of Living

3:36 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be speaking on this matter of public importance. Listening to the complete hypocrisy of the Liberals and Nationals, coming in here and talking about the cost of living, when we look at their gross mismanagement over that past decade, their harsh actions, their cruel policies, the fact they block anything now that might assist the cost of living, it is the complete height of hypocrisy. They constantly come in here and lecture us when we have a whole suite of measures that we're putting in place to address so many of those cost-of-living pressures.

Remember that these parties, the Liberals and Nationals, are the ones who voted against lowering energy prices. They voted against giving relief to people for their power bills. I don't know how they look people in the face. We had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition talking about the many people she was chatting to, but does she tell them that she voted against some sort of relief for their power bills? That's the reality of what's happening. Remember also that they voted against a $10-billion investment in social and affordable housing, and they voted against laws for secure jobs and better pay. They consistently vote against the better interests of all Australians.

Today we have legislation before the Senate, the safety net bill, which will really help take the pressure off many of those vulnerable people who are doing it tough. What are the Liberals and Nationals doing now with that? Trying to delay it, teaming up with the Greens. That is the reality of what is happening. When it comes to assisting vulnerable people, we have seen what has been highlighted, in terms of their actions, around robodebt. How horrific that was. It was unfair and illegal and people's lives were devastated. The Liberals and Nationals can't come in here and talk to us about assisting vulnerable people when they consistently vote against any support for them, and their policies in government were so destructive.

We on this side of the House understand the challenges that many Australians are facing, particularly in terms of the cost of living. That is our No. 1 priority, and that's why we have a whole suite of measures to provide assistance. In doing that, we're also delivering stronger foundations for a better future, dealing with many of those very strong pressures and challenges, right here and now.

The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund is committed to providing that social and affordable housing. We're strengthening Medicare and helping Australians save on their prescriptions, which is so important. We're making child care cheaper for 1.2 million families. That is in place, and I know many families who are now utilising that and it's making such a difference. Cheaper child care is good for children, good for families, good for job creation and good for the economy. We're funding fee-free TAFE places for over 480,000 Australians. Thousands, particularly, of young people are taking up these offers to get training, to get better skilled, to get more jobs. That helps with our overall economic growth.

Really importantly, we're working with the states to deliver $3 billion of electricity bill relief. It's so important to have that in place. As I said, they voted against that. They voted against providing that assistance for Australians. We're also backing real pay increases so that millions of workers can receive pay rises and so that aged-care workers get a historic 15 per cent pay rise. It is so important. Through our $14.6 billion cost-of-living relief plan, this government has a firm plan to help those millions of Australians in different settings and circumstances, because we're on their side, listening to them and delivering for them in challenging times. Of course, this is all designed to not put pressure on inflation. We are very cognisant of that. As I said, this whole suite of relief includes relief for power bills, cheaper medicines, our historic investment in Medicare to triple bulk-billing rates, cheaper child care and our paid parental leave, which is vitally important. After a wasted decade under the Liberals and Nationals, now in opposition, here we have Labor, who are working hard every day for Australians.

I mentioned before how in the Senate we currently have the Liberals and Nationals teaming up with the Greens, trying to delay our very critical safety net bill. This is vitally important. The strengthening the safety net bill delivers $9.5 billion in targeted cost-of-living relief to more than two million Australians who need that help now. Our safety net bill incorporates our increases to JobSeeker, Commonwealth rent assistance, and parenting payment single, all announced in the budget. But the thing is that the safety net bill must pass this sitting in order to ensure the increase to payments can be in place by 20 September. It must pass. These games and delays must end. Delays to the passage of this bill will impact more than two million Australians who are desperately waiting for these increases.

The bill includes extending eligibility for parenting payment single by increasing the cut-off age from eight to 14, which will provide direct relief to 57,000 single parents, predominantly women; a 15 per cent increase in the maximum rates of Commonwealth rent assistance for 1.1 million households; and a $40 per fortnight increase for working-age and student payments, including JobSeeker and youth allowance, helping 1.1 million Australians. As we said at the time, this increase would be combined with an increase from indexation for those payments. As we have highlighted, we've calculated this change. It means that a single person on JobSeeker with no dependents will actually receive an increase of $56 a fortnight. In addition, this very important bill expands eligibility for the existing higher rate of JobSeeker to single recipients aged 55 and over who've been on income support for nine or more continuous months—that's down from 60 years.

The bill, so importantly, includes a measure expanding eligibility for parenting payment single to parents with their youngest child under 14. We know how tough it can be for single parents, and that's why it's so important to have this passed. We announced in the budget those increases to the maximum rates of Commonwealth rental assistance. It's an increase of 15 per cent—the highest increase in 30 years—which will also be indexed. That will make a huge difference. But all of this can only happen if they stop playing games in the Senate. This is vitally important. These people need this absolutely important cost-of-living relief. Instead we just see them playing more games with it.

We've heard the Liberals and Nationals saying that they're opposed to having this increase in JobSeeker and youth allowance—absolutely appalling. Here they are saying they want to make savings from this bill. This is the party that racked up $1 trillion of debt, but now they want to take savings from the most vulnerable. And yet again they're saying they want to vote against cost-of-living relief for people who are really doing it tough. As I said, they voted against the energy relief in December, and it's looking like they'll be doing the same with JobSeeker.

They've put forward their policy, the income-free area they are putting forward. It would do nothing for the 77 per cent of jobseekers who don't access the income-free area at all. I think that's another thought bubble by them. What they should be doing is getting on board and supporting our legislation so we can make sure that that really important support flows through as soon as possible to those people who desperately need it. Can I also make a point that ACOSS put out a statement today calling on the parliament to pass the strengthening the safety net bill without further delay, to deliver the increases to income supports to people desperately in need, so they should absolutely be doing that.

Of course, when it comes to delaying or blocking support for vulnerable Australians, we've seen the Liberals and Nationals teaming up with the Greens—yet again they've done that—to block our $10 billion housing fund for Australians in need. Remember, this is 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes in that fund in the first five years, including 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence or women at risk of homelessness. These are houses that could have started being built now or even earlier, when we wanted to get that bill through. Yet again and again they delay it. It's shameful that the Liberals are doing it, it's shameful that the Nationals are doing it and it's shameful that the Greens are doing it as well. The costs of delay make it so much worse.

We on this side of the House have been approached by so many people in all of our areas across the country and so many different housing groups who are saying, 'We desperately need to have that here,' and we say, 'Yes we do, and these people are blocking it.' We have particularly highlighted the hypocrisy of the Greens, who may talk about the need for more social and affordable housing, but what do they do when they get in here? They're not supporting it. Every day they stop it makes it harder for those Australians who desperately need to have access to social and affordable housing. So I call upon them to pass it. It's vitally important.

When it comes to cost-of-living relief, the Labor Party is the only party that actually addresses the concerns of everyday Australians with our entire suite of measures—whether it's about electricity, bill relief, cheaper child care, paid parental leave or cheaper medicines—because we listen and we stand by the side of everyday Australians who need the support of the Labor Party. We are delivering for them.


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