Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Rankin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's failures on the economy and their lack of a plan to turn things around.
I call upon those honourable 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—
After six years of this Liberal government, now into its third term, the Australian economy is floundering. The Australian economy is floundering because the Morrison government are flailing around looking for a fight and because they have political tactics but not an economic policy to turn this floundering economy around. When Australians need a Prime Minister 100 per cent focused on the economy, they have instead a Prime Minister 100 per cent focused on playing political games here in Canberra. How do we know this? We know it because the Prime Minister himself went to the Liberal Party convention on Saturday and, in a moment of arrogance and hubris, said that the thing he likes to do most is to set tests for the Labor Party. That speaks volumes about the approach of this Prime Minister and this Liberal government. They're always looking to play political games. They spend all of their time looking for opportunities to wedge the Labor Party, banging on about the Labor Party and Labor policy and the last election, and none of their time working out how they are going to turn around an economy which is defined by the slowest economic growth in the 10 years since the global financial crisis. When we need a government focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, all they ever do is talk about Labor, Labor, Labor.
That's what's going on here, that is the problem, and it invites the obvious question: if we have a Prime Minister who is so focused on wedging the Labor Party and playing political games here in this building, who's minding the shop when it comes to the economy? It invites the obvious question: if the economy's going as well as the Treasurer and the Prime Minister want to pretend, why are they trying to distract from it? If the economy is going so well, why has the Reserve Bank cut interest rates to one per cent, a third of what they were during the global financial crisis? If the economy's going so well, why has the Governor of the Reserve Bank had to call, seven times since the election alone and 17 times since he's been the governor, for some decent infrastructure investment to be brought forward to get the place going again? If the economy is going so well, why is it that so many Australians in so many communities right around Australia feel that, no matter how hard they work, they just can't get ahead; they just can't keep their heads above water, no matter how hard they work? That's a story of skyrocketing childcare, energy and private health insurance prices, but it's also a story about stagnant wages—the worst wages growth in the history of that statistic, under those opposite right now, over the last six years.
Now, it's tempting to think, as we have thought for some time, that perhaps the Prime Minister is just in denial about all of these things that are going on in the economy. But it's equally possible that the Prime Minister now, after this avalanche of bad data in the last few months and the deterioration of the economy even since the election, is worse than in denial about some of these issues. It's possible that he just doesn't care about what's going on in the real economy, in real communities, right around Australia and about what's happening to real people. With an approach like that it's no wonder that we have the slowest economic growth in a decade. It's no wonder that, as the NAB tells us today, business confidence and business conditions have deteriorated even further, well below the long-term average for that measure. It's no wonder that, in a poll published today, Australians have said that their biggest concern is cost-of-living pressures—all of these cost-of-living pressures left unattended by those opposite and a consequence of the most stagnant wages of any government in the history of the Commonwealth. It's no wonder the national accounts that were released last Wednesday were so bad for the government. They were a report card on the economy, of course, as they always are, but they were also a report card on a six-year government now entering its third term. Let's look at some of the numbers that were in those national accounts.
I've mentioned the slowest growth in 10 years. Household living standards have declined under those opposite, as well. Real household median income is lower than it was in 2013. Wages are growing at one-sixth the pace of profits; the government has presided over the worst wages growth on record. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work or looking for more work. Household debt is at record levels. It has increased by $650 billion under the Liberals—190 per cent of disposable income. Business investment is down 20 per cent since the Liberals came to office, as the member for Hotham mentioned yesterday in question time, and is now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. Consumer confidence is down over the year. Consumption growth is weak. Productivity is declining. Australia was one of the two fastest growing economies in the OECD under Labor, was the eighth-fastest when government changed hands and is the 20th-fastest today. We are in the bottom half of the OECD when it comes to economic growth. And all of that's before we get to the fact that only one government in the history of the Commonwealth have had gross debt over half a trillion dollars—that one over there—and they've more than doubled net debt in their time in office.
I think for all of these reasons we can begin to understand why the Treasurer looks a bit like he's seen a ghost. I think it's because it is finally dawning on him that blame-shifting and finger-pointing won't grow the economy. I think it's finally dawning on him that the energy policy paralysis that he has been one of the biggest culprits for won't grow the economy either. Banging on about Labor won't grow the economy. Playing political games won't grow the economy. Hoping for the best won't grow the economy. All of these strategies, all of these political tactics which have been employed by those opposite, and especially by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, have fallen flat because none of them is an actual economic strategy to turn around an economy which is floundering on their watch.
None of us has a personal problem with the Treasurer, but it used to be that his particular brand of incompetence had a grinning face. He used to be the friendly face of incompetence in that government. He used to be incompetence with a grin, but now the grin has gone. The grin has gone because it has dawned on him that the brief stop that the Treasurer thought the Treasury would be on his glorious path to the prime ministership is now littered with the consequences of six years, and three terms, without an economic plan. We see that in the floundering economy and in all of the data, the avalanche of bad data, that we have seen in the last little while.
We all want to see the economy pick up. We all want to see jobs created and opportunities created, but the way to do that is not to pretend away the challenges that we have in the economy, as those opposite would have us do. It's not to pretend that everything in the economy is hunky-dory.
Government members interjecting—
Every time the Treasurer or the Prime Minister or the interjectors want to pretend that the economy is going great guns, people out in the community say, 'What planet are these guys from?' People are dealing with stagnant wages, record household debt and declining living standards. No matter how hard they work they can't get ahead. And if they happen to have the misfortune of switching over to question time during the day, they see the Treasurer and the Prime Minister being so spectacularly out of touch that they think everything in the economy is hunky-dory.
We have played a constructive role in trying to make the government see sense. We have proposed some ideas. The government could pick them up and run with them, and we would support them. They could pick up all of these ideas or they could pick up some of them, but more of the same is not going to cut it. We have proposed bringing forward their own tax cuts. We have proposed doing something about Newstart. We have proposed doing something about wages or bringing forward some infrastructure investment. We have proposed an incentive for business investment. We have proposed, multiple times, trying to find a way through on the energy policy debacle, which has seen those opposite have 16 different policies in six years. We need to do those things if we are to get the economy growing again. We invite the government to pick up any or all of the ideas that we have proposed in good faith to try and get this economy going again.
They talked about certainty. They should have tabled the focus group report today when they were banging on about stability and certainty. Only one thing is certain: more of the same will not get this economy out of the doldrums that it finds itself in after six years, and in the third term, of those opposite. They have to actually do something about what's going on in the economy. Crossing your fingers, hoping for the best, banging on about the Labor Party and having a political strategy but not an economic policy—none of those things will actually get the economy growing again. It's not enough to pretend that you're good at managing the economy, when the facts tell a very different story. In essence, the story that the facts tell is this: the economy is floundering, the government is flailing and Australians are struggling and paying the price for a government that doesn't have a plan to turn things around.
I say to the shadow Treasurer: what won't grow the economy is Labor's higher taxes, which are still policies of the opposition—notwithstanding the very public fight that he is having with the member for Hindmarsh. The member for Hindmarsh is obviously doing the bidding of the Leader of the Opposition, saying, quite rightly, I think: 'We got it wrong. Our $387 billion of higher taxes that were rejected by the Australian people'—$387 billion of higher taxes which would be lead in the saddlebags of the economy—'must change.' On the other hand, we have the shadow Treasurer's mentor, the shadow Treasurer's former boss, Chairman Swanny, the President of the Labor Party, saying, 'Oh, no, we stick with all the policies.' Presumably they stick with those $387 billion of higher taxes. I say to the shadow Treasurer: turn to your mate the member for Hindmarsh and work out the story before you come to this dispatch box and start speaking down the economy.
As Paul Keating quite rightly said after the election, Labor failed to understand the middle-class economy. Labor failed to understand that those $387 billion of higher taxes were absolutely no recipe for an improved economy, no recipe for improving GDP and certainly no recipe to continue the great work of this government. The signature achievement of this government has been jobs growth: 1.4 million Australians have a job today that they didn't have when this government came into office. In fact, when we were first elected, jobs growth was at 0.7 per cent. Now it's at 2.6 per cent. That doesn't happen by accident. As a government, we say the credit, of course, goes to those hardworking men and women and entrepreneurial individuals who have created those jobs, but no doubt this government and the policies that we've put forward have created an environment that encourages that investment and backs in those hardworking Australians.
To get back to the shadow Treasurer: he looked very, very disappointed the other day when the final figures came through for the June quarter. It's always sad to see politicians and members of the opposition wishing for bad news for the Australian economy. I understand it must be difficult in opposition—on one hand you want ammunition to use against the government—but I think there's something quite despicable about wishing, hoping and seeming quite excited for the prospect of bad economic news. Well, that bad economic news didn't come. Sure, the economy grew at 0.5 per cent for the quarter—1.9 per cent year on year, or 1.4 per cent. We know that there are challenging times in the global economy, but fortunately the Australian economy—an open, export-oriented economy—is able to grasp opportunities, and we are very confident for the future of the economy. Indeed, when you look at confidence, confidence from a consumer perspective is being supported by $15 billion of income tax refunds, which have hit people's bank accounts, in addition to two successive rate reductions, which are also going to support that confidence.
So, of course, as a government we say there's always more work to do. There's absolutely hard work to do. What we know is that the prescription to improve an economy is not to put lead in the saddlebags, which presumably the shadow Treasurer believes is the policy that's required. The shadow Treasurer has sent Chairman Swanny out to argue the case for not changing the policies. The member for Hindmarsh has come out publicly to absolutely repudiate the shadow Treasurer, and I have some sympathy for the member for Hindmarsh. Of course he's right. Of course the policies that the Labor Party took to the election were wrong. They were policies that were repudiated by the Australian people.
The question here for the shadow Treasurer in putting forward this MPI today—he looked a bit forlorn; he certainly didn't have the energy and the cockiness we're used to from the shadow Treasurer—is that he needs to have that discussion and explain to this House and to the Australian public why everything they took to the Australian people was perfect: 'Our policies were perfect.' He needs to explain why their policies—their $387 billion of higher taxes—shouldn't change and should continue. But I think he's going to struggle making that argument.
One of the great achievements of this government has been infrastructure, and there's no doubt about the infrastructure spend of over $100 billion, which is rolling out as soon as possible. There are a number of projects, including a range of projects in my home state. One that was re-announced just last week is for an extra $380-odd million to, in conjunction with the state government of Victoria, do more work on the Monash Freeway. That is in addition to the $5 billion commitment for airport rail, in addition to the Urban Congestion Fund and in addition to the Victorian congestion fund. We are absolutely investing in the productive capacity of the economy through better infrastructure. These things aren't new. This was outlined in our budget. We have a plan. We work towards a plan, and that plan is delivering dividends for this country—unlike the Labor Party and unlike the shadow Treasurer's mentor, 'Chairman Swanny', who promised surplus after surplus. I suspect it was the shadow Treasurer who wrote those immortal words that Wayne Swann delivered: 'The four years of surpluses I announce tonight …' How many of those surpluses were delivered? None. That is because the Labor Party are incapable—absolutely incapable—of managing an economy or managing a budget.
Unlike the Labor Party, when we make promises, we keep them. Unlike the Labor Party, we will get back into surplus. We will take the economy back to surplus, and that absolutely sends a strong message to Australians that you can have confidence in the government, you can have confidence in the political environment and you can have confidence in our economy to invest, to grow and to create the jobs that are necessary. Unemployment has fallen to 5.2 per cent—much lower than it was when we inherited government. Welfare dependency is down. We have a lot of debates in this chamber about welfare dependency, but one hallmark of this government has been creating jobs, enabling people to have those opportunities and then ensuring that they make the most of them. And Australians have—with an unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent.
Of course, there's more to be done. And we will do it. I spoke earlier about our economy being an open, outward-facing economy. Now, 75 per cent of our trade is represented by trade with jurisdictions that we have free trade agreements with. I absolutely commend all of the former ministers, including the current trade minister, for working day in, day out to conclude free trade agreements with 1¾ billion people to make sure that Australian businesses—Australian small, medium and large businesses alike—can take those opportunities. That has been one of the things that have ensured we're able to withstand global economic tensions that, no doubt, are going to cause global trade volumes, potentially, to drop. Those free trade agreements will certainly give—and have given—Australian exporters a competitive advantage compared to those jurisdictions that don't have them.
These free trade agreements don't happen by accident. The Labor Party can't conclude free trade agreements, because the Labor Party often have the union movement holding them back. I remember, in the Howard years, the unions campaigning against the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. I remember being a member in this House and having unions handing out material in my electorate—quite xenophobic material—against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement. So, sadly, the Labor Party are held back, because you can't bite the hand that feeds you, and we know that that relationship with the union movement is quite toxic.
We in this government think that there are reasons to be very bullish about the prospects for the Australian economy, and we won't join the Labor Party in trying to scare Australians. We won't be drawn by the Labor Party in trying to talk down the economy, because we know the fundamentals are strong and we know that the most prosperous days for our country are ahead.
Here is an MPI talking about the economy, asking for the government to explain itself in terms of what it's going to do, and where's the Treasurer? Nowhere. He's nowhere to defend himself. I watched for a while because the member for Petrie was there on his own. He normally has one expression on his face, so it's hard to discern emotions, but I thought for a moment he was panicked because he was going to be the last line of defence. And then they brought in the last-last line of defence, in the member for Deakin, here defending the Treasurer and being able to represent the government's position on economic policy, because the Treasurer has no plan.
Unfortunately, I may be the only one to notice this: the Treasurer seems to have a little bit of a formulaic approach to delivering every single answer. He'll basically just bombard you with facts. It's like watching one of those magicians pull knotted handkerchiefs out of his mouth—one fact after the other, to the point where he doesn't convince you with argument; you just surrender because you've heard so many facts from him. After telling us everything, talking everywhere, bombarding the press gallery with 5.30 am WhatsApp messages—he can't leave them alone; I'm sure at some point they'll put in a claim for bullying—he then says, 'The Labor Party's talking down the economy.' How? We don't get a chance to get a word in! He's the Treasurer who's always talking, but he can't come up with a plan. He has a media plan, he has a plan to politic; he doesn't have a plan for the economy. And he doesn't have a plan to respond to this.
He mentioned today that the wage price index had moved by 2.2 per cent. If you look at the wage price index—an indication of what's happening with people's pay packets—you see that, in the five years to December 2013, wages moved by 3.3 per cent, on average. During the GFC, they moved by 3.3 per cent. In the five years from December 2013 to December 2018, what happened to wages? They moved by 2.2 per cent. Under the government's watch, wages started to flatline. What was happening in the five years to December 2013? We had a GFC, and still wages grew more strongly than they have with anything the other side have been able to do. They have no answer for the poor performance of wages. This is a big deal to people because it means that they cannot necessarily have the confidence to pay for the things that they want to do, the confidence that they're going to have the money there to support them.
Those opposite talk about unemployment but never mention that 700,000 Australians are out of work and that another million are saying that, if you ask for more hours or better pay, you're not getting it. Underemployment is a big issue. They have no plan, particularly for the long-term unemployed, the number of whom stays at roughly 400,000 a year. There is no plan for them. There's no plan to get people more work.
If you look at this other damning statistic, you see that the number of jobs that people have to hold down has doubled over the last year. The number of people holding four jobs—four!—has doubled over the past year. Again, does the government have any idea what they'll do?
They'll say that over the course of a budget wages will increase, but it never happens, and people still feel the same way. Household debt is high. In terms of things that matter, business investment is not growing; business confidence is floundering. They are an out-of-touch government that have no answer, no way to help ordinary workers and their families. All they've got is a plan for politicking, and there's got to better than that.
We can't keep having a government say that the biggest job that they have to do when parliament sits is to set a test for us. No, the bigger test is for them: to be able to show that they can actually deliver an economy that works and that works for everyone, not just some. This is the problem with those opposite. Like I said: they've got a media plan, they've got a plan for politicking, but they've got no plan for an economy.
I welcome the proposal from the member for Rankin, the shadow Treasurer, because what we saw today was the tragic reality of what confronts Labor into the future. I know he is living in the pedigree of the member for McMahon and the former member for Lilley—those incredibly successful Labor acolytes in the tradition of finding no new tax they don't like or no new bit of spending, deficit and debt that they will not wallow themselves in. Of course, we also saw the platform on which he seeks to audition for the role of Leader of the Opposition—currently, the seat seems to be completely vacant, as demonstrated in question time today. But let's get down to the actual substance of the motion, which is something about how those opposite think there is no plan for the economy from this government.
Opposition members interjecting—
I have to say: that is just complete rubbish. Rather than interjecting, if the opposition want to sit there and listen to the answer, it's actually extremely straightforward. Step 1 in the plan is stop you getting elected, and we achieved that very successfully at the last election! That's kind of important, because when you come to the Australian people and say, 'The solution to Australia's economy is to chuck higher taxes—in fact, $387 billion more in taxes—on the Australian people to drive productivity and growth,' it's wonderful that they now come in here and continue to defend, as many people do, that platform as something they should take to the public again. Step 1, stop Labor getting elected: success. Step 2, stop their higher taxes: we did so by achieving step 1, something we should be very proud of.
Then we get to our platform of what we should do. Step 3 is cut taxes. We made sure we passed legislation through this parliament—against Labor's will, against their opposition, against their fighting, against their behaviour, against their tactics and against every single thing they tried to do procedurally—that cut income taxes for low- and middle-income earners. Because we actually have the capacity to do so because we are running the budget pretty well, we have also put in place and legislated tax cuts into the future, so that people can plan and can put themselves in a position where they have the best chance to pay their fair share of tax. These tax cuts are encouraging people to work and grow the economy. Step 4 is $100 billion of record investment in infrastructure. In fact, the record of investment now is so great that the Governor of the Reserve Bank talks about capacity constraints and some of the challenges we have in being able to roll out more! This is not us in isolation; we have to acknowledge that some of it happens with the assistance of the states.
What are the consequences of this four-step plan, this very clear plan about building the economy of the 21st century for Australia? We'll start a new list: (1) 28 years of uninterrupted growth; (2) we have maintained our AAA credit rating; (3) we're delivering a budget surplus for the first time in many years, and it's certainly a long time since Labor has achieved the same! Then let's go to the subpoints of (1), (2) and (3); let's get down to subpoint (a) of (3). This is how detailed the plan is! Let's go and ask Australian workers what they think. Of course, what we know is there's actually a record number of Australians in work. In fact, we created 1.4 million jobs since about 2013. That's point (a).
Let's go to point 3(b): what's the impact on women and those people who have traditionally experienced the problem of the gender pay gap? It's narrowing. That's a pretty good one. How about point 3(c): let's go and ask the unemployed Australians about what they think of the plan? What has happened to unemployed people is that there has been a reduction in the number of people who are dependent on welfare, as well as having record employment. What about subsection 3(d)? Let's ask our exporters. These are the greatest terms of trade and trade surplus on record, at $8.3 billion. With subsection 3(e), let's go and ask small business. They're getting record investment as a consequence of the tax cuts and the instant asset write-off.
So what exactly is the problem? Is it a failure of comprehension of our plan? Admittedly, now I've gone through so many steps in its comprehensive detail that it might be hard for those on the other side to understand.
It is my pleasure to rise today and speak on this matter, because it's something that constituents are raising with me every single day in my electorate of Lilley. As the current member for Lilley, I invite you all to speak about my efforts at any time.
When I was in the private sector, working as a workers' compensation lawyer, I assisted clients who had been injured at work through no fault of their own. This re-enforced something to me that I already knew to be true—that is, not everybody who has a go gets a go. Life is not that simple or reliably benevolent. And that reality is at play every single day in our local communities—communities who rely upon us to advocate for them and to raise their issues in the parliament. So that is what I'd like to do today.
Specifically, I'd like to talk about the loss of jobs in my community on the north side of Brisbane. In the past few weeks alone, we have lost more than 840 jobs. There are nearly 100 jobs being lost from Lockheed Martin, who are shutting operations altogether in Pinkenba, where they make commercial helicopters. And you would have seen in the press that Virgin Australia is axing 750 jobs from their head office, which is also located on the north side of Brisbane. Eight hundred and forty jobs lost in a couple of weeks is a very big deal to one community, and yet what we have from this government is an elaborate Kabuki theatre, full of subsections and 'a to d' about how well they are doing. They are not doing well. This is what's happening on the ground.
What locals asked me to bring up with the parliament this week are their concerns about where the economy is going and why there is no plan. They're not talking about the quarterly figures being a shade better than was expected or a shade lower than what was forecast in the budget. They're not talking about how, apparently, the quarterly figures in September are expected to get a little better again so we should all hold hard until then. September quarterly figures being debated in Canberra matter very little to you if you have just lost your job or if you are worried about losing your job in the near future, because job security and insecure work are very big issues.
To this end, last week I bought the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, to Lilley to meet with workers who had had their wages stolen. We met with Sulu and Kulinder, who spoke to us about how much they'd had stolen from them by their employers—$14,000 and I think something like $32,000—in just a year or two. And they had no idea until the union assisted them to work that out and then reclaim those wages. Stolen wages—
Mr Falinski interjecting—
Yes, unions are actually very helpful if you let them do their jobs; if you let them do their work and don't go after them with union-busting legislation. But I will come to that, don't you worry.
So instead of talking about stolen wages—an issue of great concern to my community of Lilley, which had the highest reported number of stolen wage cases in the country in the last parliamentary term—or moving legislation that would assist workers with job losses, or stagnating wages or stolen wages, instead of doing things like criminalising those matters, we have this government talking about what a great job they are doing and esoteric things like quarterly figures that make them look good on Sky. That's what they're talking about instead.
We don't see this third-term government giving us a plan for jobs or wage stagnation. We don't see any legislation for that; instead, we see legislation for union busting—going after the very people who stand on the frontline, helping workers reclaim wages and protecting their rights at work every single day. I just mentioned Sulu and Kulinder, who had wages recovered with the assistance of their union. Going after unions who are on the frontline, protecting workers in an economy like this where we are losing jobs and wages are stagnating, is like seeing a house on fire and deciding to go in and take apart the smoke alarm. These are the consequences of the decisions of this government.
I also want to mention briefly the problem that young people are having in this economy and the failure to plan for their futures. People have lost jobs. People have lost benefits. People have lost much of the safety net that used to make those losses less frightening, and they see a future for their kids that looks even more foreboding than their precarious present. Millennials are now earning 20 per cent less than their parents did at the same age when you adjust for inflation. The wealth of households under the age of 35 has barely moved since 2004. Youth unemployment is around double the national average, and in my home state of Queensland it is as high as 25 per cent in the regions. Wage stagnation is grinding our economy into the dust, and this government's plan is to make us all look over there at their shiny new drug test for Newstart recipients instead. They should hang their heads in shame and bunker down on a plan.
Firstly, can I congratulate the member for Lilley for turning out for Queensland this morning. She had a crack and played pretty well, I have to say. So when it comes to sport, we are all on the same side. But in terms of the economy and what we are doing for the Australian nation, we are on a different page. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan, I very clearly remember the last recession, as do a number of people in this building. The last recession was the recession we had to have, according to Paul Keating, but we now have the opposition wanting to talk us into another one.
We have an opposition, a Labor Party, that want to talk down the Australian economy. I am still staggered they would do this. There is real risk. Those opposite might not think that this happens, but there are individuals out there who listen to you. You have a very important position in this parliament and, when it comes to our country and the confidence of our businesses and what people do every single day, they hear what you say. We need to ensure that we do everything we possibly can to continue forward to build our economy, to provide opportunities, because we cannot go around talking down the Australian economy. We cannot go around telling mums and dads to put their wallets and purses away when it's time to be out there doing what they need to.
There is no risk. We have an AAA credit rating—still—and 28 years of economic growth. I mean, the last quarterly figures weren't a negative number. It wasn't 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 or 0.4; it was a half a per cent growth. We haven't gone backwards. We still haven't had the effects of the tax cuts come into those statistics. That will happen in the next quarter. There are true opportunities for our economy, for our businesses, and we are doing everything we possibly can as a government to provide the structures for those businesses to be successful and to employ more Australians because, for me, in this place, that is what this is about.
We need to ensure that every single Australian has an opportunity to be at work, to pay their own way, to ensure they can pay for their houses and for their families and for their children to go to school, and we should not be talking down the businesses and the economy that provide those opportunities ever. So I say to those opposite: think about a different line of attack because this is a great nation and we should continue to support it every single day and at every opportunity that we are in front of a microphone or in front of the media. So shame on you for what you have been doing because we are delivering.
The Australian people had a choice at the last election. Those opposite put forward their plan for the economy. I have to say, there was a turning point in that campaign, and it came from a gentleman called Jonathan Lee, a reporter for Channel Ten who put to the then Leader of the Opposition: 'What will your environmental policies cost the economy and the Australian people?' Mr Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong—he might be the member for a different area now; I am uncertain—the former Leader of the Opposition, could not or would not answer. What that said to every single person who saw that interview was that he either didn't know what it would cost or that it was so expensive that he did not want to say.
The Australian people made their choice. When it came down to who they trust to run the economy, they have come to the coalition for good reason. They have voted for us again. It is our third term for good reason, because what was put forward by those opposite, they did not accept. It is that straightforward. I know it is very difficult for those opposite to accept the Australian people didn't vote for their proposition. But, quite simply, they did not. Now we will continue to deliver what it is we said we would do.
The government has $100 billion on the table for infrastructure growth. If you look at my electorate, unemployment there has been unacceptably high for far too long. But what I know is that in the last 12 months youth unemployment has dropped from almost 28 per cent to 18 per cent in just one year. Overall unemployment is down to 7.4 from 9.6 at the same time 12 months ago. That is a very, very positive result. We need to ensure we continue to do what it is we've been doing, and that is delivering for the Australian economy.
We are ensuring confidence for business. We are ensuring that they have options, particularly for trade. As you know, Deputy Speaker Hogan, trade in Australia means jobs, and more trade means more jobs. When we came into government, just 26 per cent of our two-way trade was covered by free trade agreements. We now have that at 75 per cent. That is belt-and-braces security for Australian businesses that are exporting, and that is jobs into our economy, particularly in regional areas. I say it again to those opposite: shame on you for talking down the Australian economy. Be confident about your country, because this is the nation of Australia. The reason we are in this building is to represent those people to the best of our ability.
To clarify: we're not talking the economy down; we're doing what we're elected here to do, which is to hold the government to account. This government needs to be held to account. I rarely say this, but I actually found one of the answers in question time yesterday somewhat interesting. It was a question to the Treasurer where he was asked how he felt about the fact that, on a number of key measures, the economy wasn't matching where it was projected to be at the last budget. He said it is true that real GDP growth is behind where it should be, but nominal GDP growth is slightly ahead of where it should be, and that's the key measure for getting to a surplus. It struck me that that is a reflection of how narrow this government's view of its economic mandate is, that delivering a surplus is the beginning and the end of this government's story. That's the beginning and the end of their management of this economy. It was telling to me that that kind of technical differentiation—which is important—is the end of where they think about the economy.
I'm one for having endless debates in this place about nominal versus real GDP; about real versus per-capita GDP—I love that stuff. But we also, at some point, need to step back and ask an even more important question, which is: what is this economy doing for real people? I go back to the member for Lilley's contribution, which was on what's happening to families and what's happening to people—to their wages and to household incomes. I think the fundamental question people in the community are asking is, 'Am I better off, and is my family better off, now than six years ago?' Too many people in my electorate and too many people around this country cannot answer yes to that question. I'm going to look at a few measures of this—a few straightforward, clear pieces of evidence. Let's look at the HILDA survey results which were released recently. If we look at median household income—median is the key one here, because median reflects the typical family; mean, the average, often reflects what happens to the very top end of town—it has fallen $542 since 2009. Interestingly, the mean income has actually increased, which reflects the fact that the rich are getting richer but the middle-class and the poorest in our community are feeling the pinch. Wages are growing slowly.
We all know that statistic that wages are growing slower than ever before, but I quote a more independent source than myself on this. The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, recently identified that record-low wages growth since this government was elected in 2013 isn't just damaging individual workers and households; it's threatening social cohesion and hurting Australian society. He said:
The lack of real wage growth is one reason some in our community question whether they are benefiting from our economic success.
Wages growth is a huge problem and this government has no plan for that. Reciting quarterly nominal GDP growth is not an answer to the problem that is bedevilling our economy and our society. Household debt is surging. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work. When we look at unemployment and underemployment, we see a significant problem. There are a huge number of Australians that would like to work but aren't or that would like to work more. Consumer confidence is at a low ebb—for example, the fall in consumer confidence of 7.1 per cent seen recently in 'time to buy a major household item'.
All of these pieces of evidence point to households and individuals feeling like they're worse off, feeling like their wages aren't keeping up with key elements of the cost of living. But this government's response is always too narrow. This government's response is always to fob off those concerns. When I go back to constituents in Fraser after parliament rises at the end of next week, I'm not going to answer their concerns about subpar wages growth and rising household debt by telling them that slightly higher nominal GDP growth is going to help the Treasurer deliver a surplus ahead of when he planned.
The key point of this MPI is not only the government's inaction but the fact that, on our side of the House, the shadow Treasurer has put forward a positive plan, a five-point plan which includes actions that need to be taken right now. His plan includes actions such as bringing forward infrastructure projects, which the Reserve Bank has called for on multiple occasions; using MYEFO to update forecasts which, on key measures, are now clearly out of date; reviewing a responsible increase in Newstart, which is overdue; implementing a version of Labor's Australian investment guarantee—rather than just jawboning, actually doing something that would help investment in Australia's business increase—and developing a comprehensive plan to boost wages. Those things, not inaction, are what is needed.
I thank the member for Canberra for his contribution. I have to say that the Labor Party moving an MPI criticising the Liberal Party and this government on economic management is ambitious. We love ambition in this place. Like watching a bear try to walk on its hind legs or a monkey try to grind its own organ, we have watched that effect when the member for Canberra demonstrated that he really is—
An opposition member: Fraser.
Fraser, sorry—the member for Fraser has really demonstrated today that this MPI is definitely fishing behind the net, because there is very little there.
The national accounts show that the economy is on the right track, especially when you consider the global environment which exists now and especially when you consider that this happened in a quarter when many in the Canberra press gallery were telling our fellow countrymen that they would face a Labor government in the new term—$387 billion in extra taxes, overregulation and antibusiness sentiment. Is it any surprise that most people decided to keep their hands in their pocket?
Since we came to government we have done what we said we would do. We promised to create jobs; we've created over a million of them. We said we would pay down debt; we are now in surplus. We said that we would maintain our AAA credit rating, which was under negative credit watch under Chairman Swan's leadership; we have managed to maintain it. We have deregulated this economy so people are free to make their own choices about how they spend their money and companies are free to invest in the most productive areas. We said that we would make it easier to trade; we have had three substantial free trade agreements, and another two that will shortly be before this parliament. We said we would make it easier to invest and to attract investment to Australia, and we have done that. Most importantly, we said that we would lower taxes for Australians, because we believe that they know how to spend their money better than we do and that they should keep more of the money that they earn; we have done that already since the government was re-elected.
Why did we do all of that? We did it not because it made us feel good but because it did good. We wanted to lower the gender wage gap. We have done that, and it is now at a record low. We wanted to reduce the number of people who are dependent on welfare, and it is now at its lowest level in nearly 45 years. We wanted to increase the number of jobs and employment opportunities in our economy and in our country, and we have managed to do that. These are things that should be celebrated. We said we wanted to increase infrastructure spending, not because it looked good on a spreadsheet but because we wanted people to spend more time with their friends and family and their children than in traffic. I come from an area of this great country where it is not unheard of for people to spend four hours a day in congested traffic trying to get from the northern beaches to work in Parramatta. That's not right and it's not fair. It happened because the Carr-Keneally government spent 16 years doing nothing but tell people not to come to Sydney while, at the same time, those opposite under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government increased our immigration intake to 400,000 people, many of whom came and settled in Sydney. If anything is a greater sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Labor Party, it is the pain and misery that they have caused to millions of people of Sydney every single working day.
That is what the Labor Party's tradition is. That's where they will lead us and our economy if ever given a chance. That's what we saw when they were in government. It's been just over 10 years since we had the global financial crisis. Labor borrowed over half a trillion dollars in debt. They gave us pink batts. They gave us cash for clunkers, and now we hear they can't even use recycled plastic when taking $100,000 donations in cash. Wages were down, growth was down and hope was down, but chaos was up. Unfunded programs were way up and debt was up. Everything that should have been up was down and everything that should have been down was up. They left us with an unfunded NDIS scheme. They left us with education funding that was unfunded. They cut infrastructure and defence spending to record lows. They did more damage in six short years than any other government since Gough Whitlam.
The people of the South Coast are tired of waiting for this government to come up with a plan for the economy. While those opposite twiddle their thumbs, I am out every day talking with my constituents, and they are telling me their very real stories of hardship and struggle. Only last month I was out knocking on doors in my community to talk with locals about Newstart. I heard harrowing stories. There are 1.8 million Australians looking for work or looking for more work. In my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast, under the coalition government we now have the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia. At around 47 per cent, this is 20 per cent lower than the national average. These people are suffering while the government wastes time. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have no plan to try and turn things around for these local people who have to choose between taking their kids to the doctor or paying their bills.
In my first speech in this place I called on the government to lift the rate of Newstart so that people could be equipped for work. I so often hear from people who have given up because the Newstart payment isn't enough to help them look for work. Public transport is limited across my electorate, and the daily Newstart payment can be less than the cost of getting to a job interview. Yet the Prime Minister still says that if you have a go, you'll get a go. I can tell the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, that the people of Gilmore want to have a go, but they also want to feed their families.
There are so many ways that this government could be stimulating the economy, yet they do nothing. We know that the Princes Highway needs serious upgrades. This road is dangerous, and we know that fixing it can save lives. Between July 2012 and June 2017 there were 1,494 crashes on the Princes Highway between Jervis Bay Road and the Victorian border, resulting in 30 fatalities and 350 serious injuries. Sadly, between December 2017 and June 2018, eight people lost their lives in accidents on the highway.
During the election campaign the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development came to the South Coast and provided bipartisan support to fund important works on this notorious stretch of road. Projects like these will create hundreds of construction jobs on the South Coast and boost productivity by reducing the traffic congestion that affects local residents, tourists and truck drivers. But the South Coast and regional Australia need infrastructure investment now, not years from now.
We know this work can save lives and will also stimulate the worsening economy. For months the Reserve Bank has been asking the government to stimulate the economy by bringing forward infrastructure spending to create jobs and economic activity. For months I've been asking the government to bring forward the spending on the Princes Highway. For months the South Coast community has been asking the government to bring forward the spending on the Princes Highway. We have told them how and we have told them where, yet they do nothing. People are dying on our roads while the government is finger-pointing and blame-shifting. After six years of the Liberals, our economy just keeps getting weaker. Household living standards continue to decline; real household median income is now lower than it was in 2013.
I'm continually hearing from local people in my electorate about what this means for them: how they can't afford their dentures, so they aren't able to eat and are losing weight; how they can't get access to life-saving devices such as insulin pumps, because this government won't give them access; how they have given up trying to find a job, because they feel like people have turned their backs on them. I will never turn my back on them. I will always stand up for those who are less fortunate in my community. I will continue to call on this government to increase Newstart to stimulate the economy through extra retail sales; I will continue to call on this government to boost wages by restoring penalty rates for workers who are struggling; and I will continue to call on this government to bring forward funding for the Princes Highway to create jobs, stimulate the economy and save lives. On behalf of the South Coast community, I say: fix it faster.
I have listened to the negative arguments put by those opposite. The Australian economy, whilst facing challenges and international headwinds, is in a remarkably strong position, despite Labor's pessimistic economic rhetoric. It is a difficult time for global economies, with both the IMF and OECD downgrading their global economic outlook and Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Singapore, among other nations, recording negative economic growth in the June quarter.
In the face of these challenges, and the uncertainty created by the increasing trade tensions between China and the US, the Australian economy has again proven its remarkable resilience. The Morrison government is implementing its economic plan, as set out in the budget: helping the Australian economy continue to grow, creating more jobs and delivering lower taxes. The national accounts show that the Australian economy has completed its 28th consecutive year of economic growth, a record unmatched by any other developed country. In the June quarter, real GDP grew by 0.5 per cent to be 1.4 per cent higher through the year. In year-average terms, real GDP grew by 1.9 per cent in 2018-19.
Since the federal election, the Morrison government has passed the most significant tax cuts in more than 20 years, and there has been a 50 basis point reduction in interest rates. Currently, the Australian Taxation Office has issued more than 5.5 million individual tax refunds for the 2018-19 year, totalling more than $14 billion. This money is flowing through to households and will be reflected from the September quarter onwards. The combination of these tax and interest rate cuts, the stabilisation of the housing market, continued high levels of spending on infrastructure and a more positive outlook for investment in the resources sector will boost the Australian economy.
The fundamentals of the Australian economy are strong. We have maintained our AAA credit rating. Employment growth, at more than 2.6 per cent, is more than twice the OECD average and more than three times what we inherited when we came to government. A record number of Australians are in work, the participation rate has never been higher and more than 1.4 million new jobs have been created since we came to office—with around eight of every 10 new jobs being full-time over the past year. In the national accounts, net exports, new public final demand, household consumption and mining investment all contributed to real GDP growth. Household consumption, which comprises just under 60 per cent of GDP, grew by 0.4 per cent in the June quarter. Mining investment grew by 2.4 per cent in the quarter. It was the sixth time it has grown in 24 quarters since the height of the mining investment boom in 2012-13. Importantly, there was an increase in mining related investment in machinery and equipment. New public final demand, which includes spending by all levels of government, rose by 1.5 per cent in the quarter to be 5.2 per cent higher during the year. Net exports made a substantial contribution to real GDP growth of 0.6 percentage points in the June quarter. Imports fell in the quarter, while export growth was driven by mining exports, which rose by 2.4 per cent. Company profits increased by 2.4 per cent in the quarter to be 12.8 per cent higher throughout the year. The rise in company profits was driven by strong mining profits, which were 10.6 per cent higher in the quarter. Average earnings, as measured in the national accounts, grew by 0.9 of a per cent in the quarter to be 2.5 per cent higher through the year.
Importantly, living standards continue to increase, with real net national disposable income per capita rising one per cent to be 2.7 per cent higher throughout the year. As you can see, the Australian economy is in good shape and the Morrison Liberal government has a plan to take the nation forward.