House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Cost of Living

10:29 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

When I speak to people in my electorate of Indi, whether it is a small town like Jamieson or a hub like Wangaratta or Wodonga, overwhelmingly people talk about the high cost of living and the pressures on their budget that make it harder to keep their heads above water. As their voice in this place, it is my duty to tell the government that the people of Indi want no stone left unturned when it comes to measures that will assist with the cost of living. I know that many members of the government would answer that by saying, 'Well, we've changed the stage 3 tax cuts!' Yes, that is welcome, but it can't be the end of the story. Some 95 per cent of taxpayers in Indi will benefit from the new stage 3 tax cuts, and I'm impatiently waiting for 1 July for those people in my community to see that extra money in their pay cheques each week.

But in communities like mine, where household incomes are well below the national average, there are many people for whom the tax cuts won't make any difference. In fact, there are 25,000 people in the electorate of Indi with incomes below the tax-free threshold who won't see a difference in their bank balances come 1 July. We know that the government is preparing the federal budget, and it is these people who must be top of mind when decisions are made on cost-of-living measures. The Treasurer told us last week not to expect a cash splash in the budget, which I think misses the point. There is plenty the government can be doing on cost of living that goes further than cash handouts.

As an independent member of parliament I make it my mission to come here not only bringing complaints and criticisms but also bringing solutions. So I hope the Treasurer is taking note, because I'm here with ideas to address the cost of living. First, pass my cheaper home batteries bill, which would address many of the challenges we face. Households with solar panels would be able to keep more of the energy they generate, spending less on their power bills. If we had as many home batteries as we have home solar systems, we could reduce the need for grid-scale energy across the country. This is a massive opportunity. Then, back the people's power plan from the member for Wentworth—measures that would help people who don't have access to household solar and batteries to reduce their own bills and emissions at the same time.

But energy bill savings can't be just for households. They need to be for businesses, too. The Energy Efficiency Grants for Small and Medium Enterprises program has benefited many businesses in my electorate of Indi, but there are so many more who want to take part. And when people talk to me about cost-of-living pressures they talk to me about the cost of housing. That's why I introduced the unlocking regional housing bill, to kickstart housing supply across regional Australia and make more housing available to stop people getting squeezed out of their homes by rising rents and mortgage repayments. And addressing price gouging at the major supermarkets is urgent. We need measures with real penalties for the big two that protect us as consumers and protect the farmers who grow our fresh produce, so many of whom are in the electorate of Indi.

Health care is another area where people in Indi are feeling rising costs, and in this area I will acknowledge some of the government's real positive work. Tripling the GP bulk-billing incentive has led to a 5.9 per cent increase in the rate of bulk billing in Indi, with an estimated 6,958 bulk-billed appointments. That's an estimated saving of $309,700 in gap fees in just two months. We know that making it easier and cheaper to see the doctor helps people with the cost of living, but this needs to go further than just doctors. We need better access to primary healthcare nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists and allied health professionals like occupational therapists and speech therapists as well as to fund their full scope of practice. This must be a priority come budget time.

Reducing the cost of higher education would also assist my constituents with the cost of living through providing more fee-free TAFE, fixing HECS repayments and paying students to complete compulsory placements as part of their training and education. And for those on the lowest incomes who are relying on social welfare payments like JobSeeker, the age pension, student payment assistance and rent assistance, those payments need to go up—not just to meet inflation, but further.

There you go, Treasurer: measures that can help people with their energy bills, the cost of housing, the cost of groceries, the cost of education and the cost of health care. So, I say to you: get on and do these things. They won't increase inflation. They're not about a cash splash. They're about sensible, well-thought-through, evidence based solutions to the people who need them most. Thank you.


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