House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Cost of Living

10:49 am

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

Australian are living through a once-in-a-generation cost-of-living crisis. Most of us have never experienced anything like this before. It's a really tough time for many people, and it's a time when we can decide either to pull together or to swim alone. Throughout 2023, the living cost indexes—the wage price index and CPI—rose between 5.3 and nine per cent. Households dependent on income from wages and salaries recorded the highest annual rise in living costs of all household types, at nine per cent—this at a time when our mortgage interest rates were increasing by 68 per cent. The cost of living in Australia is now greater than in 87 per cent of countries around the world. Families are feeling the strain, and it's time that we had an open conversation about the impact of these rising costs and how best to alleviate them for older and younger Australians.

Firstly, housing affordability: the dream of owning a home, the great Australian dream, is becoming increasingly elusive for many Australians. Property prices have skyrocketed, especially in major cities like my own, Melbourne, and Sydney. Young families are burdened with increasingly hefty mortgages, or they're being forced into an incredibly tight rental market in which rents are also on the rise. Young people in my electorate are looking at 30 or 40 rental apartments before they can secure one. We're also seeing increasing numbers of retirees who are in significant rental stress and increasing numbers of homeless people, particularly women aged over 50.

At the same time, we're dealing with increasing energy costs. In a part of the world where we have the world's cheapest renewable energy, one side of the polity in this country is pushing for options which are both blinkered and retrograde. At the same time as that, we're sending 70 per cent of our oil and gas overseas while we're paying world-high prices for electricity. We need the government to take action on this. We need more energy efficiency measures. We need to work on distributed energy networks and making measures like home electrification—with rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicle rollouts—more affordable and more accessible for all Australians. We will all benefit if we have less sovereign dependency on overseas fossil fuels.

Our healthcare system is world class, but it comes at a significant cost and it needs a once-in-a-generation review. Medicare is no longer fit for purpose. At the same time, rising health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for medical treatments, as well as increasing costs for prescription medicines, are impacting all of us. We have to have a quality healthcare system. We've always benefited from it during most of our lifetimes, but it's becoming unaffordable, and many people are experiencing increasing out-of-pocket costs at a time when they can least cope with that sort of thing.

We come to HECS. Young Australians are dreading the increase in their HECS debts with the indexation that will occur on 1 July. I and my crossbench colleagues have spoken to the education minister on a number of occasions regarding the need to change this.

As to consumer protections, I note that groceries, aviation, transport and insurance—all of these industries—have been left to the market forces in the last nine years, and we've seen what market forces have done. The lack of competition and the lack of consumer protections are costing us all. When you go to the supermarket, you see people picking things up and putting them back on the shelf. You see people sidling in at five o'clock, hoping that the chooks are half price and the meat trays have been reduced. This is not something that any of us have seen in our previous lifetimes. This is not a country that we recognise.

Our national anthem tells us that we have wealth for all, but we only have wealth for all if we govern responsibly and with wisdom. Housing, health, disability, education, energy and climate change remediation are all things that this country can address effectively, well and constructively if we do it together and we govern well.


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