Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for McMahon proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The economy not working for everyday Australians.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
Like you, Mr Speaker, I've been in this House for some years now, and I've had the pleasure of witnessing some important moments in this House over the last 15 years or so. There is one that stands in my memory—it's not a particularly pleasant moment, but one I remember particularly well. Some years ago I was sitting in my spot, where the member for Batman is currently sitting, and I heard the then Prime Minister of Australia, John Winston Howard, stand at the dispatch box and utter some immortal words. I remember being quite shocked when I was sitting where the member for Batman is sitting and I heard the Australian Prime Minister of the day say, 'Australian working families have never been better off.' The Australian people had a different view, and they expressed that view at the ballot box at the next opportunity.
I'm reminded of that incident because every time this Prime Minister and his current Treasurer tell the Australian people how well their economic plan is working they get a similar reaction from Australians right across the country, who say, 'It's not working for me.' It's not working for working Australians. It's not working for those who put all their efforts into their day-to-day working lives and receive no wage increase for it and, in many cases, receive a pay cut. Every time the Prime Minister and Treasurer arrogantly boast about how their plan is working, they underline how out of touch they are with the needs of ordinary Australians. They underline just how they get it wrong with their economic policies. Australians know that everything is going up except for their wages, and they know this economy is not working for them. And they know that their living standards aren't improving. We've seen more evidence of that in recent weeks.
We've seen evidence released by the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods, which has found that, over the last three years, living costs have outstripped growth in wages by almost three per cent, by 2.9 per cent. This means that, under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments, Australian households have experienced the worst cost-of-living crunch in more than 30 years. This has occurred on the watch of these Prime Ministers and these successive Treasurers. The same analysis shows that, since 2013, when this government came to office, living standards have gone backwards by 1.2 per cent. That compares with a 7.6 per cent increase under the previous, Labor government, in very difficult international circumstances. That's the difference of economic approach between the two governments.
Driving this stagnation of living standards is the flat wages growth in Australia—indeed, in some instances, worse than flat wages growth. The fact of the matter is that wages growth has been stuck at its lowest rate on record, and private sector wages, in particular, which account for the majority of workers in the economy, have been growing at just 2.1 per cent, after having grown by less than two per cent for much of the last couple of years. Real wages, taking into account the cost of living, increased by just 1.3 per cent in the five years to 2018, compared with a nine per cent increase under the previous five years of Labor government. And, since 2013, nominal wages have been growing at two per cent a year, half the rate of the 2000s. So this is why this government gets it so wrong.
The previous Labor government understood the importance of wages growth, understood the importance of a fair industrial relations system. Not only does the Labor Party understand it; other experts understand it. The Governor of the Reserve Bank—appropriately, central bankers are very careful in their economic commentary; they're not radical, not extreme in their views, by and large—has said that 'slow wages growth is diminishing our sense of shared prosperity'. The Governor of the Reserve Bank understands the importance of wages growth going forward. He went on to say:
The best outcome is one in which a pick-up in wages growth is accompanied by stronger growth in labour productivity. That's because, ultimately, the basis for sustained growth in real wages is that we become more productive as a nation.
The Governor of the Reserve Bank has highlighted this time and time again as one of the key issues facing the nation.
I will say this: the slow wages growth in Australia is not just entirely an Australian phenomenon. Other countries have experienced slow wages growth as well. I don't hold the government responsible for every element of that. But the fact of the matter is that we are still doing worse than many other countries, countries we compare ourselves with. Until 2013, under the Labor government, wages growth in Australia was better than the OECD average. We were doing better than our competitors, comparable countries in the developed world. But since 2013 we've been doing worse than the OECD average. In 2013 something important happened: the government changed and the Liberal and National parties became the government. In fact, since then, in the OECD, in the developed world, there have been just five economies that have done worse than Australia in wages growth—just five out of the entire developed world. We were doing better than the developed world under the Labor government and we're doing worse under the Liberal government.
In fairness, when it comes to wages, I give them this: they do have a plan. We hear a lot about their plans. The government do have a plan: to cut the wages of the people who work on the weekends. That's their wages plan. That's the only plan they have when it comes to wages. Their only idea, their one big idea when it comes to wages, is to say, 'If you work on a Sunday, you deserve less. If you work on a Sunday, you shouldn't be paid as much as you were.' For a long time in Australia, you've been recognised for the work you do on Saturdays and Sundays. My dad worked every Sunday of my childhood. My dad worked every Christmas Day and every Easter Sunday of my childhood. I remember once asking my dad, 'How come you work every Sunday? How come we can't spend time together on a Sunday?' and he said, 'Well, the time that I work on a Sunday, mate, puts food on the table for our family.' Just as my father deserved that extra pay for working on a Sunday, so does every Australian who works on a Sunday in 2019. They deserve it no less than him. They work just as hard as he did for all those years. Under this government, they see their wages going backwards and their living standards going backwards and they know this economy is not working for them, just as Australians know that right across the board.
There's an impact of the low wages growth and stagnation in living standards, and it affects our economy. We have the second-highest household debt in the developed world, and we should not be proud of that. Our household savings ratio has been falling. Do you know why? Because more and more Australian households are dipping into their savings just to get by, just to make ends meet, just to keep food on the table, because costs are going up and wages aren't following them, and the government thinks that's just fine. The government thinks that's okay. We see the impacts too in consumption. We've seen consumption growth come down. In fact, it's at its lowest rate in six years under this government's watch, because Australians aren't sharing fairly in our economy; they're not sharing fairly in the economic growth we have.
We'll hear a lot, I predict, in the contributions of government members about unemployment and employment growth. We welcome that debate too, because the fact of the matter is that, during the global financial crisis, we did better than the world and now we're doing worse on this government's watch. The fact of the matter is that we have 1.1 million Australians who are not getting as much work as they want and need. We have 1.1 million underemployed Australians who want more work and are happy to work longer hours but are simply not getting the work that they need and want.
We also know, and we agree with the Governor of the Reserve Bank, that one of the things we can do is improve productivity growth for the economy. Even on that measure, Australia is not doing as well as it should. We have seen seven out of the nine last productivity measurements not growing at all; they've been falling in relation to productivity growth. So this government can't point to any economic indicator which is working for most Australians. We're seeing record high underemployment and record low wages growth; we're seeing consumption growth falling and we're seeing productivity growth being flat as well. The government keeps saying, 'Just hold on a little bit longer. Could you just wait a little bit longer. Our plan will start to work soon.'
'Any day now, our plan will start to work.' The trouble is that they've been saying that for years. The then Treasurer, the now Prime Minister, said in 2017:
This has been a painful process but there are reasons to now be hopeful that we are near end of this adjustment process and consumers will start to see their real wages growing in line with productivity again ...
That was two years ago. That person was the Treasurer at the time; now he's the Prime Minister and he's still staying, 'Can you just hold on? One more election win and then it'll start to work for you.' There's a better way. We could have a government which believes in better and fairer tax cuts for 10 million Australians to give some cost-of-living relief. We could have a government that believes that people who work on Sundays should have their wages restored to their rightful levels. A Labor government would do so. This is a government completely out of touch with the needs of the majority of Australians. The economy is not working for them under this government, but it will under a Labor government.
This government will have an economic debate with those opposite any day of the week. We will compare the strength of the economy with the economy under the weakness of those opposite. We will compare the strength of our numbers with the weakness of theirs. We will compare the strength of the tax cuts of where we are heading as a country with the weakness of their $200 billion in higher taxes.
This matter of public importance is all about the economy, and apparently those opposite think the economy is not working. Let me tell you what a strong economy delivers. In fact, I would encourage the opposition to get a copy of a booklet that shows what a strong economy looks like; it would outline what this government has achieved. Let's look at the definition of a strong economy. There were more than 1.2 million new jobs since we were elected in 2013. There were more than 100,000 new jobs for young Australians between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2017-18, the highest number of jobs in a financial year on record. That's strength. That is employment strength, compared with the weakness that $200 billion of new taxes will bring under those opposite. A strong economy has delivered lower taxes for households, with more than 10 million taxpayers receiving tax relief in 2018-19. That's what we've delivered: tax cuts for 10 million Australians. That's strength. What do those here think $200 billion of new taxes will deliver? It will deliver weakness.
A strong economy is lower taxes for 3.3 million small businesses, which are employing seven million Australians. Those opposite have vowed to wind back some elements of that tax. There is the lowest level of welfare dependency in 30 years. That's what a strong economy produced: the lowest level of welfare dependency in 30 years. There is an extra $36 billion in schools funding over the next decade, which is, on average, a 62 per cent increase in funding per student. That's what a strong economy delivers. There is over $5.7 billion for drought relief, recovery and resilience. That's what a strong economy delivers. There is record funding for both Medicare and a new hospital agreement, plus a $1.25 billion community health and hospitals program. That's what a strong economy delivers.
There is a fully funded National Disability Insurance Scheme with no increase in the Medicare levy. I can only imagine that those opposite will now try to tell us that the NDIS was fully funded when they left office. Is that what I'm hearing? Because it wasn't. The so-called full funding by Labor for the NDIS also had two or three other things that that was apparently going to fund. A strong economy under this government has delivered a fully funded National Disability Insurance Scheme. A strong economy under this government has delivered more than 1,900 new life-changing medicines, worth over $10 billion, listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We can all remember, those who were here, one of Labor's latter budgets when they stopped funding any new medicines on the PBS. That is a fact. This government has put over 1,900 new medicines on the PBS. That is the dividend of a strong economy.
There is a record $75 billion investment in major highway upgrades, local road projects, inland rail and a new airport in Western Sydney. That is $75 billion in infrastructure to allow Australians to get home sooner and safer. There is greater support and respect for our seniors and retirees, greatly expanded aged-care packages, record investment in defence and continued action to secure our borders. That's the dividend of a strong economy. That's what this government has delivered.
We all remember, those of us who were here, that fateful statement on budget night 2012-13, when the then member for Lilley, the then Treasurer said:
The four years of surpluses I announce tonight …
2012-13 was minus $21 billion in underlying cash. 2013-14 was $48 billion in deficit. What happened to the four surpluses announced that night—
You've got to deliver. You have to deliver and that's what this government has done. That's what the dividend of sound governance has done. We have delivered. And if we ever want to compare that to those opposite—four surpluses announced in that 2012-13 budget, only to find a final budget figure of minus $21 billion, followed in 2013-14 by minus $48 billion. The old adage is so true—we all know it: you cannot trust Labor with money, because sooner or later they will run out of it and they will come looking for yours.
The next thing, of course, is our plan for a stronger economy, to keep the economy strong. Labor have a plan for weakness—$200 billion in new taxes. That is a plan for weakness, while we have a plan for strength.
Firstly, it is about ensuring government lives within its means, and that starts with not wasting taxpayers' money on pink batts and overpriced school halls.
Secondly, we are returning the budget to surplus. The Treasurer announced in MYEFO that the budget will return to surplus in 2019-20, with a bit over $4 billion increasing to $12 billion and then $19 billion, with an underlying cash balance deficit this year of only $5 billion. Compare that to $48 billion in Labor's last year. Thirdly, it is about lower taxes. Australians will keep more of what they earn under the strength of the economic management by this government. They will lose more under the weakness of those opposite.
Thirdly, we will back small, family, and medium sized businesses to realise their potential and create even more jobs. And, of course, I introduced the bill this morning to see depreciation for small businesses increase from $20,000 to $25,000 as an instant asset write-off. We as a government can do those things because we have stewarded the economy sensibly. We have ensured that we are living within our means and we are backing in the strength of that economy now with a stronger plan.
Fourthly, we're ensuring affordable and reliable energy for householders and businesses by taking on the big energy companies, ensuring 24/7 reliable power and investing in hydro-electricity.
Fifthly, we'll continue to build the transport and technology infrastructure we need. This will help to strengthen the economy and connect people, products and markets. By busting congestion in our cities and building the infrastructure of regional Australia we'll make life easier for families—projects like off-ramps, exit 41 and exit 49 in the electorates of Fadden, my electorate, and Forde; $1.2 billion for the M1, connecting the nation's sixth and third largest cities; and over $110 million for the next phase of the light rail on the Gold Coast. These are some of the core projects that good stewardship of an economy can deliver.
Sixthly, we'll drive all of our industries forward. This means encouraging new technology and service industries and strengthening traditional sectors like resourcing, farming and manufacturing. We'll ensure all Australians of all generations have the skills they need for the jobs of today and those of tomorrow by funding more apprenticeships and with vocational education that responds to the strong economy we are driving forward. We will keep Australians working together by supporting productive, cooperative and law-abiding workplaces. Everyone knows we cannot afford a throwback to the lawlessness and conflict that comes when militant union bosses have too much power. No-one wants to go back there. No-one wants to go back to pattern bargaining. People want to move forward sensibly together.
We will keep big businesses accountable, and you've seen that by this government acting on all 76 recommendations of the royal commission—while we all wait for what the opposition is going to do. We will keep big banks accountable, and you've already seen that through BEAR, the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, and through the banking levy. You've seen what we've done with multinational anti-avoidance law and base erosion and profit shifting, where already we have booked, in cash, $5.7 billion extra through taxation, including a billion dollars for the e-commerce—
The shadow assistant Treasurer said 'labour laws'. You voted against the MAAL, you goose. You voted against it. Lastly, we'll continue to expand opportunities for exporters to create even more jobs. That is the dividend from a strong economy. All that those opposite have to offer is more weakness.
It's not often I pick up a copy of the Australian Spectatorhardly a bastion of sensible thought—but my eyes were drawn to an article on Monday by Victorian Liberal Party member Tom Waite. He wrote:
… making the case for necessary economic reform was once benchmark of Coalition political effectiveness. Now it has been placed in the 'too hard' basket in Cabinet discussions and leaves the Coalition economically directionless as it approaches the May federal election.
Mr Waite went on:
There is nothing more pertinent and embarrassing to highlight this absence of vision than the fact that almost half a year since the National Energy Guarantee failed to pass the Party Room, the Coalition still does not have a Federal energy policy.
Where the government continues to shoot itself in the foot, Labor presented itself ready-to-govern at its December national conference.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Mr Waite, I think, has hit the nail on the head. As the shadow Treasurer has said, we have in Australia inequality up and home ownership down; debt up and living standards down; power prices up and savings down. The things that should be going up are going down. The things that should be going down are going up.
Labor, leading the policy debate, has no better example than in our willingness to tackle tax havens and multinational profit shifting. Tax havens are a scourge on the global tax system. They're used by money launderers and counterfeiters, kidnappers and illegal arms dealers. And they've been used by those who were meant to pay the $4.5 million bill for cleaning up Melbourne's Stawell tyre dump. They shifted the ownership of their company to a Panama based firm in order to escape their obligations. We now know that most of the money in tax havens is there in breach of other countries' tax laws. Two dollars in every five of multinational profits are channelled through tax havens. Among individuals, most of the money in tax havens is held by the top 0.01 per cent, the richest 1/10,000th of the population. Australian assets held in tax havens may be worth as much as $100 billion.
Labor will get tough on tax havens. We'll stop people claiming a tax break for flying to tax havens to check on their investments. We'll require firms to disclose to their shareholders tax haven shenanigans as a material tax risk. We'll require government tenderers to disclose their country of tax domicile, we'll put in place a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership and we'll develop guidelines for responsible tax haven investment by superannuation funds.
The fact is, Labor has a track record on tax. It was Labor's laws—opposed by the Liberals—that helped deliver the tax office's $300 million win against Chevron in the High Court. It was Labor's laws—opposed by the Liberals—that underpinned the tax office's $529 million settlement with BHP. And it was Labor's laws—opposed by the Liberals—that delivered the majority of the $5.6 billion collected from multinationals. Remember that the government's Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law only applies from 1 July 2016. So the coalition only has falsifications. The member for Fadden keeps on persisting in misleading the House by claiming that Labor voted against the government's Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law. The fact is, we supported it in the House and we supported it in the Senate.
But that's not all the member for Fadden is misleading people about. We've got an article in the Gold Coast Bulletin today relating to a donation given to the Fadden Forum by Shac Communications, a company that made a $114,000 donation to the Fadden Forum months before it went into liquidation with debts of $437,000, including $355,000 to the tax office. We've asked the Queensland Liberal-National Party, the Fadden Forum and the member for Fadden whether they will return the money, because the taxpayer is out of pocket and the Queensland Liberal-National Party has got money that would otherwise have gone to the taxpayer. It seems pretty reasonable to us that they would return that donation from Shac Communications. Do you know what the answer was from the member for Fadden to his local newspaper? He said, 'The Fadden Forum doesn't exist.' That's it. The Fadden Forum doesn't exist.
The website—helpfully archived before the member for Fadden had to give evidence to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission—shows an organisation that apparently doesn't exist. It didn't exist in 2013. The Liberals think they can wipe this down the memory hole, leaving the taxpayer out of pocket—and leaving the Queensland Liberal Party with money that should be in the taxpayer's pocket.
I rise to speak on the MPI. Like the member for Fadden, I've been here long enough to remember the wreckage that the Labor Party visited on the Australian economy in the six years that they were in government. But, firstly, on the member for Fenner's comment about the member for Fadden: the member for Fadden was completely exonerated, and I think that needs to be put on the record. If you want to muckrake about a member in this place, you should also add that he was completely exonerated. If you'd like to repeat your muckraking outside this place, go for it.
As Liberals, we know that a strong economy is the foundation for everything else. This government has continued to keep our promise of ensuring that the economy works for those who want to have a go. But it has to work for everyday Australians as well, as the MPI says. We on this side of the House understand the economy. We understand that it isn't governments that create all the jobs, but we create the environment that gives employers and small and medium enterprises around the country the confidence to employ people. We've seen record employment over the last few years, and we've created 1.2 million jobs since 2013.
The three million small and medium-sized Australian businesses that employ around seven million Australians are the backbone of our economy. We on this side of the chamber understand that to help all Australians and to help our economy prosper we need to back these businesses every step of the way, instead of denigrating them every step of the way like those opposite do. I know that because I was in small business long enough to know that when the Liberal-National coalition was in government small businesses always prospered. But in 1992, during the Hawke-Keating government, when we had the recession we had to have, we saw companies, wholesale, go under. I'm lucky enough to remember that, but there are plenty of people who don't remember what the Labor Party visit upon the Australian economy every time they get into government. The coalition government is committed to keeping our economy strong, keeping Australians safe and keeping our borders strong.
Our plan for the Australian economy, which affects everyday Australians—and this is what the MPI is about—is to give tax relief to encourage and reward working Australians. Fact: over 10 million Australians received tax relief from 1 July. Fact: 4.4 million Australians received the full $530 benefit of the new low- and middle-income tax offset. The government is backing small businesses to create more jobs. As I said, the government doesn't create the jobs; the businesses do. We create the healthy environment for businesses to grow and employ people. Fact: we've reduced the small-business tax rate from 30 per cent to 27.5 per cent, the lowest level in 50 years, and we're reducing it further to 25 per cent. Our plan is to work with the 1.2 million more Australians in jobs since 2013. We're fixing the budget, with a $4.1 billion surplus in 2019-20, the first since the Howard government. Fact: cumulative surpluses over the next four years will be $30.3 billion, around double what was announced in last year's budget. That is the work being done by the government to enhance the budget and the economy. We are making sure that everyday Australians are benefitting from the strong economy provided by the coalition government.
Now let's look at Labor's facts—and I was here when they had the carbon tax and the mining tax, and what great winners for revenue they were! We know that Labor are going to introduce $200 billion worth of taxes. I don't know how that's going to work for everyday Australians. They will impose a wages tax on Australian workers of $70 billion by repealing the government's legislated personal income tax cuts; reimpose the budget repair levy, around $7 billion—an acknowledgment that Labor never plan to deliver a surplus; and impose new housing taxes on your property, around $32 billion, which will hit mum-and-dad investors. They will create a risk for the housing market with their negative gearing plan and increase to capital gains tax by 50 per cent. That will affect everyday Australians. They will introduce a new tax on retirement savings, a $55 billion retiree tax, by removing refundability of franking credits for 900,000 Australians. They will also impose a $19 million superannuation tax. That is another fact that will affect everyday Australians.
As the previous speaker said: under a Liberal coalition government the economy will be strong; under Labor it will be weak.
I'd like to start by positing somewhat of a rhetorical question: do you think it's fair and reasonable that citizens of a progressive and developed country should expect that their government provides them with the minimum standard of living? Is it reasonable that Australians should expect that their children have access to quality public education, that they have quality health care, that they get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, that they have a secure job and a decent pension and that they get to share in the economic prosperity of our nation? I think it's fair. I think, yes, it is reasonable and it is fair. It is the true mark of a good government that it delivers an economy that works for all Australians, for everyday Australians. When it comes to the living standards of everyday Australians, on every measure of what that means, this government has failed tremendously.
What are those measures? I'll start by saying that living costs have outstripped wages growth by 2.9 per cent. Since 2013, living standards have gone backwards by 1.2 per cent compared to a 7.6 per cent increase when Labor was last in power. Wages have been stuck at the lowest rates on record, growing at just 2.1 per cent since 2013 and by less than two per cent for much of the last couple of years. Real wages have increased by a meagre 1.3 per cent in the last five years to June 2018 compared with a nine per cent increase in the previous five years under Labor. And household debt is now above 120 per cent of the GDP, the second highest in the developed world.
I could go on with statistics and numbers and figures, but, to be quite honest, numbers and figures don't mean anything to the everyday Australian out there. Let me instead talk about what this means for the people of Australia and for the people in my electorate of Cowan. Occasionally on a Friday I like to head down to the local pub to have a tall glass of water and a chat with some of the people in the pub and ask them: 'What are the issues that matter to you? What's life like for you at the moment? What are the things that you're worried about? What are the things that you love about Australia and what are the things that you wish you could change?'—those key issues. Was it the legislating of Australia Day that they talked about with their mates around the barbecue? And what about the Prime Minister's announcement to fund his Captain Cook fixation? Neither of those were key issues, no. The first and most common response I get is, 'Who is the Prime Minister and what happened to the other bloke, Malcolm?'
What matters to them is that they have not been paid. As subcontractors, they have to try to make ends meet as they wait for late payments from builders and other people who have hired them. Many subcontractors have had to fold up their businesses and are now looking for work. What matters to them is that their penalty rates have been cut and they can't get secure full-time work. What matters is that everything costs more, but their wages aren't keeping up. What matters is that their standard of living has been deteriorating. They know it and they hold this government accountable. There's been a lot of talk about a shift away from the LNP government as a protest vote. Let me tell you, when I'm out there talking to the people of Cowan, it's not a protest vote because of the disruption and disarray that we've seen over the past few months; it's actually because of this government's failed policies and their inability to deliver for everyday Australians.
But we here in Labor we take a different approach. While the five years of Liberal cuts have damaged the economy—and their instability has made it worse—we on this side want to grow the economy. We want to ensure that growth is inclusive, and that every Australian shares in our prosperity and feels like the economy is working for them. So we have a plan, and our plan is about fixing schools and hospitals and looking after low- and middle-income Australians—the kinds of guys that I go and have a chat with at the pub every now and then. We're making record public investments in early childhood, public schools and hospitals. Bigger tax cuts for middle-income workers will deliver them a $928 injection every year. (Time expired)
We just heard the member for Cowan say that numbers and figures don't mean anything to everyday Australians. First of all, I'm not quite sure why she contributed to this MPI, which is all about the economy. Australians actually believe that the figures and the numbers do matter. I'll go through some of those figures and numbers. It's all about what our government is delivering for this economy. We are building a stronger economy. If we build a stronger economy, we can deliver the services that Australians need, we can grow the jobs, we can invest in record infrastructure, which we are doing, and we can invest in record health and education. That's what our government is delivering in spades.
Australians care about those numbers. Australians care about the budget. Honestly, it's a disgrace that Labor still will not say sorry to Australians after promising to deliver four surpluses and not ever delivering one. It is with great pride that we are moving into surplus in this budget, which is one of the fundamental tenets of our economy. This is the first surplus since John Howard's government because we have spent the last five years fixing Labor's horrendous economic mess. Labor threw a wrecking ball through the economy.
Let me reflect on some of the numbers and achievements that do matter to Australians. More than 1.1 million new jobs have been created over five years. We are now heading past 1.2 million jobs. In the last month over 20,000 jobs were created, taking unemployment down to five per cent. In many parts of my electorate of Corangamite unemployment is well below the national average. This is the lowest level in over seven years. That is a number that Australians care about. We have made a pledge of 1.25 million new jobs in the next five years. We care about jobs, and that's why we are working so hard, we are backing small business and we are driving down the corporate tax rate. Labor to a large degree opposed these measures. We had to bring the Labor Party kicking and screaming to support our measures to drive down to 25 per cent the corporate tax rate for small and medium-sized businesses.
We saw an absolute shambles on the other side of this parliament. As we know, the Leader of the Opposition has already declared that he wants a war on business. We're seeing that in spades with some of the horrendous industrial relations policies that Labor has planned if it were ever elected. We have seen what the Leader of the Opposition would do to this nation. One of the most fundamental tenets of growing jobs is backing businesses—small, medium and large. We have seen the Labor Party time and time again turn its back on those who employ nearly 90 per cent of Australians. No matter what you try to do in this parliament, we will not stop talking about the horrendous attack on older Australians by abolishing tax refunds for excess franking credits. Every older Australian knows how Labor is going to destroy and undermine their future plans and those of their children.
The $200 billion extra of higher taxes will cripple the economy. There will be $200 billion in higher taxes on retirees, homeowners, renters, small business owners, electricity and capital gains. These supertaxes will drive our economy backwards. We cannot be complacent about the great achievements we have seen in this economy—the record jobs growth, the record investment in health, education and infrastructure, and returning the budget to surplus. Those are huge achievements. We are fixing Labor's mess. We are really proud that when you build a strong economy you're able to deliver the services that Australians rightly deserve, right across the whole economy. These are everyday Australians, and they care about numbers, they care about jobs and they care about achievements. That's why we're asking all Australians to back us at the next election.
I'm going to give you some figures. The member for Corangamite wanted some numbers: 1.75 million people—that is a pretty big number, and that's the number of people who are unemployed or underemployed in Australia. I've got to tell you, those numbers show the economy is not working for all Australians. What about another number—2.1 per cent? That would be wages growth, the lowest it has been. We've had two per cent and 2.1 per cent growth for years. Those numbers show how the other side of parliament has failed, and we know those are the numbers that really matter.
The economy is not working for a whole variety of people—for a start, young people. Let's take a look at how this economy is working for them. It takes longer for them to find a job when they finish their studies. There are more of them who are unemployed. An RBA study shows that the weaker demand for workers is having the single biggest impact on those young people. They are bearing the brunt. They're bearing the brunt of employers being unwilling to take people on. They're hanging on to the staff they've got. They're asking them to drop hours, but they're not taking new people on as fast as they were in previous years. It increases the unemployment and the underemployment rates, which, for young people, are twice the rate that they are for the rest of the labour market. You can't tell me that's an economy working for people. Then, when they do get jobs, so often these young people are not full-time, pay-as-you-go tax earners. They are self-employed, on ABNs. They're having to send out invoices, wait for payment; sometimes that payment doesn't come. They are their own small businesses without necessarily ever intending to set themselves up in that way. It's just that they have no choice. They have no paid holiday leave and they have no sick leave. That's a group the economy is not working for.
What about women? The University of Sydney's Professor Marian Baird has found that any growth in the economy disproportionately works in men's favour. Women are less likely to get a pay rise and more likely to get a pay cut, especially from cuts to penalty rates. As Professor Baird says:
If you are at the top of the labour market and doing well, you will continue to do well under the policy regime because the tax cuts will favour you and you will have more employability and bargaining skills so you can also fend for yourself better in that system.
But when you are in positions which are less secure, you have less bargaining power and security and your skills probably aren't as valuable to employers, and employers can churn employees more easily.
And that's where women fit. They are much more likely to not get a pay rise or to have to take a pay cut. So it doesn't work for women. But, when I look across at the other side, I guess I'm not really surprised that they don't know that. It doesn't work for young people; it doesn't work for women. We've basically got a bunch of middle-aged blokes on the other side, by and large. There are a few exceptions, like the member for Corangamite. No wonder the majority do not have any idea that the economy is not working for huge groups in our society.
The other group that is missing out very badly in this economy is small business. Young people don't have money to spend, and women are struggling with the family budget. I don't know how many people remember what it's like to get kids back to school. Many of those on our side have just gone through that. It's a few years—a lot—since I was doing that. But I always remember that, as a small business operator, there wasn't a lot of work in January for my sort of business. My clients were all on leave. So, by the time back-to-school came, things were pretty tight, and it usually took me a couple of months to catch up on all those extra expenses. That's exactly what families right across Australia experience with kids going back to school. So the economy is not working for so many families. Their household savings have fallen to the lowest rates in more than a decade. That means they haven't got wiggle room. Once you get through Christmas, the school holidays and the back-to-school period, things are pretty tight. It also means small businesses are not seeing the cash flow in my local community, in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. People just don't have the money to spend. That's where we're seeing the economy is not firing on all cylinders.
The other group who have actually gone backwards in this economy is pensioners. There has been a tax on pension indexation, $1 billion has been cut from pensioner concessions, and the seniors supplement has been under attack by this government—so pensioners are doing it tough too. (Time expired)
It is a pleasure to rise and speak on this MPI. I come from a background of small business. In fact, I was in small business for 30 years before I came to this place. I went through the highs and lows of business, like all businesses do. I've always had my staff as my No. 1 asset. You always look after your staff. There's nothing worse than replacing a good staff member with someone unknown to your business. It's very time-consuming and quite stressful for the person who has to do the job of hiring someone new into your business. That does take its toll. That's why you've got to keep a strong economy. Small business does very well—there are 5.7 million employees working for small businesses with a turnover of under $10 million. It's important to realise that if your farming community is going well, your small business is going well; if your big business is going well, your small business is going well; and everyone benefits and profits if the economy is going well. Our job as a government is to make sure the economy is going well. We must give incentives to small business to prosper. If small business prospers, everyone prospers.
In my seat of Flynn I have large businesses—some of the biggest corporations in Australia including BHP, Rio Tinto and Glencore. I have SMEs. I have service industries and agriculture—people trying hard to make it on the land. They are the biggest gamblers I know. It costs so much to put a crop in and then you've got to wait for the rain to come or the rain to stop or the fires to abate. Those sorts of issues are all part of being a farmer. They are doing well in some cases, but what we're seeing in North Queensland now is total devastation. My heart goes to out to those guys who have faced the drought for seven to eight years, looked after their breeding cattle and got them to a point where they were all still alive and well, and then had them drown in a flood. It's heartbreaking. My heart is really with those people at this very point in time. Where do you start? How do you rebuild? They will be asking themselves those very questions right at this moment. Fortunately, we've got government assistance for the property owners—from $25,000 up to $75,000. There are health workers on the ground, et cetera. It's very much needed. But we've got to keep the economy going so everyone prospers.
In my seat of Flynn I've had projects on the board that funding was approved for back for 2016, but will the state government get those projects going? No, they won't. Will the state government drop their prices for irrigation water or power prices? They aren't controlled by the federal government; they are controlled by the state government. In Queensland—I can only talk about Queensland—the Queensland government is ripping $1.6 billion out of electricity prices, out of the consumers of Queensland, to keep their coffers going. They're not doing a very good job of that either, because Queensland has one of the biggest debts of all the states. We shouldn't have that debt. But someone has to pay for it and it's you, me, the taxpayers and the employees who have to pay for that debt. That just keeps on rolling down. I believe that the Northern Territory is not too good either, but that's the situation. So the state governments have to work well and then the economy works well. It's not happening in some states. This is the big issue. Why should the Queensland government take $1.67 billion from electricity users? Cane farmers in Bundaberg can't afford to pump water onto their cane fields. Those are the facts. If the cane farmers can't produce cane, jobs are gone. They can't pay the wages. It's a very simple formula. (Time expired)
The member for Swan emphasised the importance of facts. The member for Corangamite talked about the importance of numbers. I agree. It's been 173 days since Scott Morrison became Prime Minister of this country. Here are some facts about the number 173. One hundred and seventy-three is an odd number; 173 is a deficient number; and 173, for those who like mathematical terms, is known as an odious number—odd, deficient, and odious. I think that's a pretty good description of this government's 173 days under Prime Minister Morrison.
The Australian economy is not working. Australians are, by nature, hardworking and entrepreneurial, but this economy under the Morrison government is failing people. People cannot get secure employment. People are facing the challenges of underemployment and unemployment. The government is failing weekend workers, who have had their penalty rates cut, and it is failing people who work in essential services. The only plan that this government has is a plan for cuts and chaos. Cuts of $7.8 million to Royal Perth Hospital, which services my constituents, and, at times, services the constituents of the member for Tangney. Chaos: a health minister who is under siege by one of his own former colleagues, now on the crossbench. Cuts of $1 billion to pensioner concessions. Chaos: four ministers for human services, and the current one, the member for Stirling, rushes to get out the door and away from this deficient, odious government. Cuts to the pension for around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. And chaos, with Western Australia getting the worst, slowest and oldest technology rollout in the NBN. Cuts and chaos is not an economic plan.
But maybe this government just can't see these challenges because its members are too focused on their own economic interests. The Australian, always interested in economic matters, has been digging into the economic interests of the member for Moore, who used LinkedIn to promote his business—and I see one of the biggest proponents for LinkedIn here in the chamber: Ed Husic, the member for Chifley. Using LinkedIn to promote your own business interests on your parliamentary page is terrible. Using it to promote the sale of units in the member for Swan's electorate—
Yes—sorry. The member for Moore personally escorted business people to lobster businesses that pay his business a commission and he failed to disclose these on his register. He conceded he acted inappropriately, but he sits on the Privileges Committee. Is he a rule breaker or is he a rule maker? How can someone, with the oversight of the Privileges Committee, continue to behave like this? This is a symbol of the arrogant, out-of-touch activity we're seeing from the Liberal Party. It's an arrogant, out-of-touch party that voted eight times to not restore penalty rates for some 700,000 working Australians—a simple move that would have given some of society's lowest-paid workers just a little bit more in their pay packet each week and would have helped build an economy that would work for everyone.
I along with the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Burt and many of my Western Australian colleagues spent time with the workers of Alcoa last year during their 51-day strike—working Western Australians who were on strike simply to preserve their pay and their job security. Those 1,500 workers were also standing for fairer workplace laws—taking a stand to keep jobs here in Australia. But they shouldn't have to do that. Just as workers at Centrelink, delivering a public service to our community, shouldn't have to complain to the government—who they work for—that they can't continue to deliver the services people expect if it continues to outsource those jobs to people who are not given appropriate training. Many are not given the sort of job security that they deserve when they're delivering an important service to other Australians.
This government has funded some 2,750 private call centre jobs since 2017. Eight-five per cent of the staff working in Centrelink report that they are fixing issues resulting from poorly trained private call centre staff. That's not good enough. People delivering our social security safety net deserve fair working conditions and secure jobs and to be able to serve their fellow Australians appropriately. We need to build an economy that works for all Australians.
The topic of this matter of public importance is that the economy is not working for everyday Australians, and I'm really struck wondering which set of economic indicators those opposite are looking at. Surely it's not the government's imminent return to surplus in the coming budget. Surely it's not the lowest unemployment rate since 2012, currently at five per cent. That's quite an achievement, and I have great hopes and expectations that we'll head even lower. Job adverts are up at the moment. Surely it's not the record number of people in work, 12.7 million, and the extra 300,000 in the workforce over the last 12 months. Surely not. Surely the economic indicators those opposite are looking at are not labour force participation of women, which has hit a record 60 per cent. And surely it's not the fact that we have had the lowest level of welfare dependency—I don't know, actually, for how long that is—for a very long time.
I look at those figures and think so many people in Australia are well served by the economy. We know that the greatest form of justice in a community, the greatest form of enablement, is to have a job. That's what this government is doing. It's got economic indicators set—or, as Paul Keating would have said, 'It's got the levers in the right place'—to create jobs, to create wealth and prosperity throughout the community.
I know they've been focusing on the level of wages growth. We would all like to see it a little higher. That would be fair to say. But it has been travelling at 2.3 per cent while inflation has been running at 1.8 per cent. That's half a per cent, real growth, year on year, and it's not to be sneezed at. Around the world, particularly in the Western world, in the advanced economies, we have seen slow wage growth. Australia is holding its head up well and, at the same time, growing the jobs market at a rate that we have never seen before. That is where fairness comes into our economy.
Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, as you well know—because you're a good Port Augusta lad—I represent 92 per cent of South Australia. Our unemployment rate is a little higher than the national average. I don't like that and we're working hard to bring it down. It's about seven per cent at the moment. The unemployment rate is highest in the Upper Spencer Gulf. That is where the government has been focusing its resources and attention, to bring about change in that area. I can tell people in that part of my electorate—in fact, all over the electorate—that the news is good. It's very good. Job opportunities are strong, perhaps stronger than they have been in a generation. In the Upper Spencer Gulf we're seeing record investment on renewables—wind, solar, pumped hydro, fixing up some of the mess that South Australia has found itself in—and battery installation. There are a number of projects going on and hundreds of people are employed.
At Carrapateena, Oz Minerals are kicking off a new mine. There'll be over a thousand jobs there. That will make a difference. BHP is expanding at Roxby Downs, at Olympic Dam. It's not the big hole in the ground we were going to see a few years ago. They are expanding and taking on a workforce. GFG Alliance, under Sanjeev Gupta, is on the cusp of a $1.3 billion investment in the steelworks at Whyalla. And I just attended, with the minister, Senator Fawcett, an update on the expansion of the Cultana training facility. There have been $41 million worth of projects undertaken. We oversaw this the other day. Of those, $33 million have come from local tradespeople and businesses. That is a really good tick for the government.
We have put a $20 million regional jobs and investment package into the Upper Spencer Gulf region. That should deliver 300 extra jobs. The Joy Baluch AM Bridge at Port Augusta is going to be duplicated at a cost of $172 million to the federal government—$200 million in total. Port Wakefield, a little further down the line, is getting dual lanes on the National Highway and an overpass on the northern side with $72 million from the federal government. I continue to lobby for more. For Horrocks Highway, the Stiz, and the EP road network, we're doing good work; people have got jobs and they are prospering.