House debates

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Matters of Public Importance


3:16 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Fenner proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's lacklustre record on productivity, economic growth and wages.

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—

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Twenty-seven-year-old Robert Chang delivers food for work but it is his second job. He works long shifts as a postie and, after he's finished that, he works about 13 hours over the weekend for Uber Eats, delivering meals in south-west Sydney. He told the ABC, 'I am pretty much just no-lifing it—work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat.' That is reality for many Australians in the modern economy. We know what the other side is going to say over this. We know they will say there are no problems in the Australian economy, because the Prime Minister told their party room today that, unless you're facing down a nuclear Holocaust, things are doing alright. So, unless you're in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, no complaining. They will tell us on this side that we are irresponsible to point out the challenges in the Australian economy. But the fact is it is irresponsible not to warn of the storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

The Australian economy today faces five big challenges: productivity, growth, jobs, wages and inequality. I will go through them in turn. Productivity is the engine of the economy and it has basically stalled under this government according to its own Productivity Commission. After a generation in which labour productivity had run at about two per cent, it's fallen most recently to 0.2 per cent, just one-tenth of its previous level. The Productivity Commission calls the results 'troubling' and 'mediocre'. In fact, productivity is going backwards in farming, in mining, in construction, in transport and in retail. In those sectors, workers are producing less per hour than they were the year before. The Productivity Commission often talks about capital deepening but now it has had to come up with a new term to describe what's going on under this government—capital shallowing.

Treasury's own research finds that Australia is producing fewer start-ups and there is less job mobility. The Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity found we are frighteningly undiversified. If you look through its rankings: Morocco, 90th; Uganda, 91st; Senegal, 92nd; Australia 93rd. The fact is we have too many eggs in too few economic baskets. And then there is growth. GDP per capita growth over the past four quarters has gone as follows: minus 0.13 per cent; minus 0.23 per cent—that's a per capita recession; 0.08 per cent; 0.04 per cent. If you add those together, you get a negative number. Over the last year, GDP per capita has bone backwards. Total output in the Australian economy per person has shrunk, not grown. But you won't hear that from the Treasurer. From the Treasurer, you will hear talk of 29 years of interrupted economic growth. What he means by that is he wants to take credit for population growth. This government is happy to demonise migrants any day of the week but underpinning their economic message is the fact that the population is growing. That's not much help to the Australians who are seeing their living standards falling.

It's not just the headline growth figure. We've had disappointing figures on new car sales, building approvals and retail sales. The Treasurer promised a cash splash in July and August, but all we got was a retail trickle. When you have bond yields up, the gold price up and the cash rate at the historically low level of 0.75 per cent, you know you've got a serious growth problem. The fact is that no-one believes the government's heroic growth forecasts in their last budget. The IMF doesn't believe them, Deloitte doesn't believe them and Australian families at their kitchen tables know what's happening. We've got collapsing confidence and weak economic growth—the direct consequence of a lacklustre, rudderless government.

When it comes to good news, the Prime Minister will shout it across the chamber. When it comes to bad news, he's quieter than Osher at a wedding ceremony. The fact is that Australians are relying on the Reserve Bank to support the economy. As Greg Jericho pointed out, if you're relying on monetary policy but you have no fiscal policy, it's a bit like swimming with one arm: it's twice as hard and the chances of drowning are twice as large. Many Australians are feeling like there is more month than money when they do their household finances. When it comes to jobs, the government likes to pat itself on the back, again for population growth and the employment numbers that come with that. But, if you compare our unemployment rate with that of Britain or New Zealand or Germany or the United States, you'll find our unemployment rate is at least a percentage point higher. In the United States, they have now got unemployment at three-point-something, but under this government it's always been five-point-something. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who would have a job if we had those countries' unemployment rates but don't have a job under the Liberals.

Right now, for every available job, there are four people looking for work. In South Australia, there are nine jobseekers for every job opening. In Tasmania, there are 14 jobseekers for every job opening. Anglicare Australia has shown that the share of jobs available to someone with no qualifications and no experience has fallen from 22 per cent in 2006 to just 10 per cent today. If we had lower unemployment, it would be harder for employers to indulge in sexist or racist prejudices. We'd see more Indigenous Australians and more people with disabilities in work, because they are often the last people to be hired.

We have a wages slump today. Australian wages have been in the doldrums throughout the period the government's been in office. Over the last six years, real wages have grown just 0.7 per cent a year. In the six years before that, they grew at 1.8 per cent a year, and that was a period spanning the global financial crisis. We've got wage theft, penalty rate cuts, public sector wage caps, slow productivity and declining unionisation contributing to the lousy wage outcomes in this country, to the worst wage growth on record, and it's under this government.

Finally, we've got the challenge of inequality. According to ACOSS, more than one in six children are living in poverty. We had a report today, on the front of one of our newspapers, showing that two million Australians can't afford dental care. A report by Alviss and St Vincent de Paul found that the rate of electricity disconnections has gone up as many Australians deal with the fact that the Morrison government doesn't have an energy policy. Wealth inequality peaked in 2017-18, but we know the Australian Bureau of Statistics were pressured to make it a good media story, creating a narrative of so-called stable inequality. The fact is, though, that putting a big pair of rose-tinted glasses on inequality doesn't change what many Australians feel today. It doesn't change the fact that many Australians recognise that inequality is rising under this government.

As the Prime Minister won't listen to the experts, I hope we can get him to listen to himself. In the Prime Minister's first speech in 2008 he said:

... the storm clouds are gathering. We must cast our eyes forward and embrace a new round of economic reforms.

Now his approach seems to be: 'Storm clouds? What storm clouds? Let's just close our eyes and hope for the best.' If the economy were strong, you know full well that the Liberals would be claiming credit. But, when the economy is struggling, they won't take responsibility. Rather than getting the economy going again, all we have is finger pointing, blame shifting and wedge politics. They won't boost productivity, they won't raise wages, they won't lower unemployment, they won't boost growth and they won't fight poverty. What is the point of the Morrison government?

I will close with the story of Peter Cooney. Peter is a 58-year-old bloke from Perth who had to quit his job to care for his mum when she got sick. He soon found himself caring for both his mother and his sister, who died within 10 months of one another. After their deaths, the former brick paver was unable to get a job. He's facing off against too many other applicants. He has no work and, thanks to the meagre rate of Newstart, essentially nowhere to live. He often sleeps in his car. When Peter was asked about the government's favourite talking point, 'The best form of welfare is a job,' his response was:

Well, I'm quite happy, if they can find me a job, I'd rather be working. But unfortunately, with my qualifications and my age, it's not so easy.

This is a man who used to manage a hotel in Cairns. He's a man who has worked as a brick paver. He's a man who quit his job to care for his relatives, who did the right thing by his own family, but doesn't have a government who will do the right thing by him.

Peter is just one of thousands of Australians who are asking that question: what is the point of the Morrison government? When will the Morrison government step up to deal with the challenges of unemployment, of sluggish wage growth, of inequality, of low productivity? If they won't deal with those challenges, millions of Australians will be asking themselves, 'When can I get a fair deal?'

3:26 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a very disappointing contribution from the shadow assistant minister. Absolutely predictable, but utterly disappointing. It's always tough for oppositions, I know. On one hand, Labor oppositions in particular are desperate to talk down the economy at any opportunity. But the former Labor government that this shadow assistant minister was a member of, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, bestowed us when we came to office increasing unemployment, a worsening budget position and slower GDP growth.

Ms Kearney interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Cooper is warned.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

At the last election, what did we see? The shadow assistant minister has raised a litany of so-called problems, but what was the Labor Party prescription to those so-called issues in our economy? Universally, there were two prescriptions from the Labor Party. The first was higher taxes. If it moved, they taxed it, whether it was retirees, whether it was superannuation, whether it was small businesses or whether it was family trusts. If it moved, the Labor Party wanted to tax it. The second prescription from the Labor Party was higher spending. That's all we saw from the Labor Party, which again proved that Labor have not learnt the lessons many Australians hoped they would have learnt from the time they were in government.

The shadow assistant minister bemoans having unemployment in the fives, as he calls it. He doesn't think it's good enough to have unemployment at 5.2 per cent, yet when we took office from the government he was a member of, unemployment was at 5.7 per cent. Was the shadow assistant minister at that time getting up in the parliament and arguing how 5.7 per cent was terrible? Or how a worsening budget position, taking the endowment of the Howard government—$70 billion in the bank and no net debt—to over a quarter of a trillion dollars of debt was such a terrible thing? Or how slowing GDP growth was such a terrible thing? Well, I haven't searched the Hansard, but I suspect the shadow assistant minister never made such speeches in this parliament.

Let's look at some of the achievements that are owned by all Australians. Unlike many people opposite, we don't own the achievements of Australians, but we certainly take credit for creating an economic environment of stability and certainty and calmness that provides an environment to enable Australians to create wealth for themselves, their families and their businesses. We will deliver a surplus this year—extraordinarily important. It's extraordinarily important that the government says to Australians that our budget is no different to your household and no different to your business. You cannot keep borrowing endlessly, year on year, as the Labor Party seems to suggest you can. We don't take the approach of the Labor Party, which absolutely panics, as we saw time and time again in their lamentable period in government, which was what took us to the debt levels that we ultimately inherited.

Again: jobs growth. It's very interesting that the shadow assistant minister skirted over the fact that 1.4 million jobs have been created. He tries to mock the government when we say that the best form of welfare is a job. And not just welfare in material terms but welfare in the most important ways: the dignity of having a job and the dignity of achieving something and furthering your own life and the life of your family. Of course having a job is the best form of welfare. To hear the shadow assistant minister criticising that self-evident fact highlights that, five months later, this tortured process that the Labor Party are going through is certainly not at its end. The shadow assistant minister was part of the former Labor economic team which was supposedly ready to govern. The shadow economic team whose prescription for every single ill in this country, in their view, was higher taxes—if it moves, tax it—and to spend more. We believe that 1.4 million jobs is an absolutely extraordinary effort.

I had the honour of representing Australia at the APEC Finance Ministers' meeting in Santiago just last week to meet many of our counterparts. Many of our trading partners would often remark on Australia's economic success—over many years; we can't take credit for 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth. We can certainly take a great deal of credit, as Liberals and Nationals, for setting up the economy as we did in the Howard and Costello government. There was a blip on the radar with the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government and that lamentable period in office, but equilibrium is now back. Our trading partners asked about our jobs growth. They didn't criticise our jobs growth. What chutzpah from the shadow assistant minister to criticise 5.2 per cent unemployment, when the government he was a part of had unemployment at 5.7 per cent. That's many hundreds of thousands of additional people who couldn't get a job. Where were those speeches then? We believe that the outlook for jobs growth is good.

There are challenges in our economy, no doubt. There are always challenges. The next challenge is always just around the corner. We all have to admit that. There is no doubt that global trading volumes are under significant pressure. There are aspects of confidence in some parts of the economy that of course we would like to be better. But the Labor Party prescription to all of those problems was to tax Australians more. It was repudiated at the election in the strongest possible way. The speech from the shadow assistant minister that we just heard indicates to me that the Labor Party have not learnt their lesson.

Since the election, Australians have seen this government deliver on a policy that we spoke about day in, day out: personal income tax cuts. It is the most significant structural reform to our tax system that we have seen for decades. It will ensure that, by the time all of the personal income tax cuts are through, 94 per cent of Australians will not pay a higher marginal tax rate than 30c in the dollar. In fact, we've already seen, as of this week, tax refunds flowing to people's bank accounts in the order of about $17 billion to $18 billion. That's money in Australians' pockets, not in the government's.

We want to be able to deliver a balanced budget, to be able to ensure that we have uninterrupted economic growth for our 29th year, to ensure that people can get personal income tax cuts and to ensure that there are opportunities for jobs out there. Of course we have sympathy when the shadow assistant minister refers to a specific case study of an individual who, through difficult circumstances, finds it's hard to get a job. But is the shadow assistant minister suggesting that if the Labor Party were in government there would be nobody struggling to find a job? Is that what the shadow assistant minister is seriously saying, particularly when the last time they were in government—and he was a member of that government—unemployment was higher than it is today?

I say to the shadow assistant minister: don't come to the dispatch box and make ridiculous statements like that. Let's be adults. Be an adult about it. We are creating an environment for Australians that has some of the best opportunities in the world. Would we like it to be better? Of course. Are we working every day to make it better? Yes. Should the Labor Party support the government in our endeavours? Of course they should. Should the Labor Party accept that their economic record over decades is so woeful that they should back us in, because we know more? The record speaks for itself.

Mr Brian Mitchell interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Lyons.

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I was reminded of our legacy when I saw that the Future Fund had reached $162 billion. It had annual growth last year of 11½ per cent—annualised growth of 10½ per cent. That is endowed to the Australian people. That was a creation of the Howard-Costello government. It was only possible because coalition governments live within our means. We create the environment for strong economic growth. We create the environment for strong jobs growth. And the Morrison government is following in the footsteps of the Howard government in doing just that.

3:36 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For the benefit of the member who's just spoken, it's not just one case study of underemployment in our country that we're talking about. It is 1.9 million workers who are underemployed in our country on this government's watch. They are the statistics that were released last week, but that's not what the government is talking about. Underemployment in this country is causing a massive problem. Uber doesn't count as a decent, secure job. The gig economy doesn't count as a decent, secure job. The hidden truth in the unemployment numbers that this government is touting as being a great economic achievement is the fact that people are underemployed. Those opposite have taken full-time jobs, on their watch, and created hundreds of insecure, casual, part-time jobs. The fact that workers in our country have to work two or three jobs to try and make ends meet is a disgrace; it is an indictment on this government. That is their economic record. That is their record on how Australian workers are being treated on their watch.

It's not just the underemployment problem that we have as a result of this government's failure to address these key economic problems. It's also stagnant wages. Stagnant wages are a real problem in our economy. Wages are not increasing. CEO wages are increasing, but not the wages of the hardworking people, particularly people who are on the lowest of incomes. Those opposite have not done anything about the migrant worker exploitation, which is also causing problems in our economy. They turn a blind eye to what is going on there. Their heads are down; they don't want to engage. They're just not interested in addressing the chronic problem that we have with wage stagnation.

When they talk about industrial relations—and it does fear me that this government is talking about industrial relations—they want the market to be more flexible. They want workplaces to be more flexible. They're pretty flexible right now, when the majority of Australian workers are casual and stuck on the minimum wage, with no pathway out. A clear example of that is that those opposite boast about the fact that the gap between men's and women's wages is closing. It's only because men's wages are plummeting. That's not something to celebrate. The fact that women continue to be low paid and now men are becoming low paid is not a great economic outcome. That is their record.

Also under this government, as a result of its failure to deliver an economy that is fair, household income standards are declining. People are going backwards. That is how those opposite are failing to deliver for Australians. They might be delivering for CEOs, they might be delivering for the one per cent, but they are not delivering for households. Since the government came to power, real household median income is lower than it was when Labor was last in government. On this government's watch, wages are rising at one-sixth the pace of profits. When you remove the people at the very top, they are stagnating and they are crashing. People are losing good, secure jobs to insecure part-time jobs—the scourge of labour hire. If you really want to talk about what's crushing productivity, it's the fact that flexibility in the workplace has gone too far. When workers no longer have full-time jobs where they feel secure, they are not productive.

Take a look at agriculture. Talk to anybody who is coming up to the fruit picking season, and they will tell you that every single day they have at least 20 to 30 backpackers they are training. How is that good for productivity if you're churning through the training costs day in, day out? And it's not just in agriculture. It is in the mining sector. If a worker is not secure in their job, they don't speak up about worker safety. They don't speak up about what's happening in the workplace. They worry about having a job the next day. They are not their most productive. Because of the flexibility in the labour market, productivity is crashing. More and more employers are spending more on training costs than what they could be spending on securing jobs.

This is this government's record. It's nothing to be proud of. They are presiding over this economy. The stats from last week alone are something they should be ashamed of—one in six children live in poverty, 1.9 million people are underemployed in our economy, one in four women skip meals because they need to feed their children. It is a disgrace. (Time expired)

3:41 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the fact that we get the opportunity to respond to this motion put forward that the government has a lacklustre record on productivity, economic growth and wages. Labor's approach to this is typical class warfare, effectively going after the big end of town, which somehow they see the coalition as being supportive of. The Labor Party has just finished contributing to the idea that, in the horticulture sector, there is worker and migrant exploitation. Two weeks ago, we had Kristina Keneally come down to hold a roundtable about worker exploitation in the Goulburn Valley. Two people turned up. Ultimately, when you have an area that actually has full employment—5.2 per cent in the Goulburn Valley is in fact full employment. Right around regional Victoria, there are job vacancies that outweigh the unemployed. This is not just a Goulburn Valley thing. This is not just a Bendigo thing. This exists throughout regional Victoria, where there are job vacancies that outweigh the unemployment rate. They may not be the jobs that people would like, but they are opportunities for employment.

The biggest problem we have in the Goulburn Valley in regional Victoria when it comes to horticulture, which happens to be a seasonal occupation, is obviously that there's going to be an area where we do have really high demands at certain times of the year and where we have very few Australians prepared to do the job. The opportunity to fill that labour with backpackers, seasonal worker programs or the range of other agricultural visas that we need is simply common sense. If you want to fight this, then you're going to be fighting Australian families. You're going to be fighting Australian businesses. The Labor Party is picking a war with these Australian families and Australian businesses.

When the migrants come out here, whether they be backpackers or seasonal workers, they're here for a short while, and they want to make as much money as they can. They want to pick fruit for not 38 hours a week. They want to work picking fruit and packing fruit for 50 or 60 hours. They get a casual rate, which is above the rate of a permanent worker. So they get a casual rate which has penalties built it into and easily the vast majority of them are happy to work at this casual rate for 50 hours. However, they are simply not allowed to work more than 38 hours unless they go on time-and-a-half or double-time.

So that is an absolute situation when you are trying to grow the economy in the regions. They are being held back by the Labor Party. The Labor Party's way of trying to fix this is simply to go to those Australian businesses and tax them more. If you look at what the Australian Labor Party currently have as a way of taking the economy forward, it is $38 billion worth of extra taxes a year than what we currently have. That $38 billion roughly works out to an extra $100 million worth of tax every day. So the Labor Party, if they had had the opportunity to be in government, would have taxed Australians $100 million extra yesterday. They'd be taxing Australians an extra $100 million today and another $100 million tomorrow. It wouldn't take long for $100 million in additional taxes every day to find its way to affect each and every Australians' pocket. This is not something that is going to affect somebody else. If Labor have this high-taxing, high-spending approach to somehow or other running government, running Australia as a nation and running the Australian nation as a business, this extra $100 million a day is going to be coming after you as an Australian. As a working Australian, you must always be aware that this $38 billion of additional taxes that the Labor Party are still trumpeting as the way to run this country is $100 million for each and every day of the calendar year. They'll be coming after you if they get the chance.

3:46 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to support this discussion of a matter of public importance which talks about this government's lacklustre ability to increase productivity, the backwardness of our economic growth and the lowest wages on record and lowest wage growth in the history of this nation. It's not a surprise this is happening when you see a government that basically doesn't want to get involved, when you see a government that sees the figures that come out every quarter and just sits back and says: 'Nothing to see here. This is all rosy. We're doing well.' It's looking at the next political fix rather than the reality of ensuring that we have economic growth, good productivity and the creation of jobs, which would then flow on to everything else that we do in this nation—our education, our health system, people being able to pay their bills et cetera.

It's no surprise, when you look at our productivity and how it's going backwards, that under this government's watch in the six to seven years that it's been in government we've seen the automobile industry absolutely diminished in this nation. It has disappeared off the face of Australia. We lost real jobs in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Approximately 100,000 people involved in that industry have had their jobs wiped out. So it's not rocket science that productivity's gone backwards.

That's unlike when we, Labor, were in government, where we faced the largest and most difficult period of our economic history during the global financial crisis, where we put levers in place and where we actually took action and put a plan in place to ensure that we got out of it, created some jobs and continued to go forwards instead of backwards. In fact, we were one of the only nations in the world that went forwards instead of backwards. That's because we put a plan in place and we cared about the individual Australians who would have lose their jobs if we did what the then opposition was saying—'Sit back and do nothing and it will all work out.' That is exactly what this government is doing right now.

We know that without productivity there is a downfall in every other area across the board. Whether it be health, whether it be education, whether it be low wages, all these have a negative effect when productivity isn't going in the right direction. We know that with low wages, for example, when the economy isn't doing too well, if you give a little bit of an increase to the workers that money goes straight back into the economy. That's because there is a need to pay the mortgage, there's a need to pay for electricity, there's a need to perhaps buy some whitegoods or there is a need to buy those little extras that people normally cannot afford because of their low wages. So, the moment you give that little bit extra it goes straight back into the economy, assisting the economy to tick and move around. That is what this government is not doing. They're wiping their hands of it. They're saying, 'There's nothing to see here,' and constantly playing politics and telling us how great they are and how many jobs they have created. Yes, they've created a few jobs, but all part-time, at the expense of full-time jobs—real jobs with a real wage and real wage growth. We've gone backwards by creating thousands of part-time jobs in which people, as we heard the member for Bendigo say, are having to pick up three part-time jobs to be able to keep food on the table, pay their rent, get their kids to school and pay for their health care needs. It's unacceptable to see a First World nation like Australia go backwards after having been a leader and having grown continuously over the last 20 years by an average of two per cent in this area. We are going backwards and we still haven't seen a plan from the government or anything being put in action that focuses on this very important issue, which affects people's lives. It affects workers' lives. It affects the ability to pay their bills, to send their kids to school and to buy products, which helps the economy. It is a shame that today we have a government that shrugs its shoulders and looks over the chamber to blame Labor for when they were in government, even though they been in government for seven-odd years and have done nothing about this issue.

There are things that can be put in place. There are levers that they can pull, but they're not doing it. They're sitting back and hoping it will tick along and turn around. Well, it ain't going to turn around. Unless we get wage growth it's not going to turn around. We need wage growth and that extra money going into the pockets of workers so that they can go out and spend that money, which will help the economy. It's not rocket science. It's pretty straightforward. But when we talk about wage growth the government constantly says, 'There is nothing for us to do here; it's an economy and it works on its own.' Well, it doesn't. That's why you're in government—to actually put things in place to turn things around. It's a shame— (Time expired)

3:51 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those opposite would have you believe that they are in a position to criticise the government about the economy, that they are in a position to comment on the number of jobs being created in this country. The fact is that it is our government, the Morrison government, that has the budget back in black, for the first time in 11 years. We've finally cleaned up the mess left behind by the Labor Party and we have no intention of taking lectures from a party that consistently drives this country into deficit.

Despite the global economic landscape, Australia is in its 28th consecutive year of economic growth. The economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the June quarter, when our comparable economies globally recorded negative growth. Our economy is not immune to conditions beyond our borders, which have had a significant impact on countries such as Germany, the UK and Singapore. We have instead continued to see growth stronger than the OECD average. In fact, Australia is one of 10 countries to have a AAA credit rating.

We have already taken steps to encourage further economic growth. In the first week of this parliament, we passed personal income tax cuts to put more money back into the pockets of more than 10 million taxpayers, 4.5 million of whom receive the full $1,080 tax relief. In the last parliament, it was our government that passed tax cuts for small and medium sized businesses, as well as increasing the instant asset write-off of $30,000. It is our government that is investing $100 billion into infrastructure projects nationally, including improved local roads, such as Homebush Bay Drive in my electorate of Reid, or delivering WestConnex to ease congestion. I commend the Prime Minister for his work with the state premiers to ensure that these infrastructure projects are delivered as quickly as possible. It is our government that has delivered new trade agreements with Indonesia, Peru and Hong Kong to provide new opportunities for businesses in industries including agriculture, manufacturing, mining, education, tourism and financial services.

Our government is committed to providing more opportunities for Australians to get into work. Last financial year, over 300,000 additional jobs were created, with employment growing by 2.6 per cent. As of April this year, more than 1.3 million more Australians are in jobs since the government was elected. Nearly 60 per cent of these have been full-time jobs. The unemployment rate is now 5.2 per cent. When Labor left office, the unemployment was 5.7 per cent and rising. Underemployment also fell slightly from 8.5 per cent to 8.3 per cent in August. Not only are we creating jobs but wages are continuing to grow with 2.3 per cent growth recorded in the last year to June 2019. This is relatively stable growth.

The coalition is firmly focused on getting on with the job of providing the things that Australians care about—a strong economy, opportunities and jobs, and key infrastructure to get them home sooner and safer. While in office, the Labor Party demonstrated their ineptitude for economic management and left this country with a fiscal mess, and we are only now recovering from it. In the face of challenging global conditions, only the coalition government can be trusted to continue to deliver economic growth, more jobs and lower taxes while the Labor Party can be trusted to deliver debt and higher taxes.

3:56 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For those people listening to this debate today, you could be forgiven for thinking that we all exist in some parallel universe because the perspectives offered by members on the government benches and those on this side of the House could not be more different. That comes from a very different lived reality of the Australian people. Words are cheap.

So let's have a look at this government's track record, shall we, and what the state of the economy is right now. After six years of this Liberal government, despite continuing to blame Labor for absolutely everything—we tend to forget you actually have been in government for six years and we keep trying to remind you of that—the economy has slowed substantially. That is under your watch. This is not something Labor's dreaming up here. This isn't something that we're just sort of talking about over here. You've only got to look to the RBA, look to the IMF or look to any of your business advisory councils. All of them are saying the same thing: growth is so slow now; in fact, it's the slowest since the global financial crisis. The last time we had to endure a big economic shock, the Labor government at that time navigated us carefully through it. And how did we do that? We injected stimulus into the economy.

But this is a government that not only does it not accept that the economy is the slowest it's been since the global financial crisis; it doesn't accept that there is—we've heard figures just dreamt up on the other side that wages are growing. You go and tell that to the workers who we meet who are actually seeing their wages not just flatline, at times going backwards—absolutely going the wrong way. There are very few Australians who are going to be standing up cheering you on when you say things like, 'Wages are growing really well. The economy is tickety-boo. Everything is absolutely fine here.'

Last week was Anti-Poverty Week. We had a look at what that looks like in Australia. My colleagues before me spoke about massive underemployment in this country and the cobbling together of insecure part-time jobs to eke out an existence for your family to cover those ever-increasing costs of living expenses. Let's not forget your promise when you abolished the so-called carbon tax. Let's not forget your promise that electricity prices would be down that and people would get this $500 cash injection. What happened to that? I can tell you right now: nobody out there is talking about your tax cuts right now either. They're saying, 'We don't have enough money to pay the bills right now. Our wages are going out the back door. We can't get enough work in order to have a secure family existence here, and we are in a community where the structural inequalities are growing wider than ever before.'

Three million Australians are living below the poverty line. One in six children in Australia is in that category of living below the poverty line. I've got to tell you that nobody in my community thinks that is a good economic plan. This is a government that's got a lot of thought about political strategy, but not much when it comes to an economic plan for ensuring that everybody in our communities get to benefit and have some decent quality of life. What is that poverty playing out like in the community of Newcastle? It's the overstretching of community services like Nova for Women and Children. Nova is seeing more than 100 extra women aged over 55 now presenting at their service for assistance.

The Minister for Housing got up a little earlier and has just come back into the chamber. I'm glad he's here. I sat here for a moment thinking maybe he will articulate an injection of funds into the building of new affordable housing for Australia. God knows we need 750,000 of them. That's not an item on this government's books. That's not something you're thinking about. Yet, in addition to an increase to the Newstart rate, which a lot of people—in fact, everybody except the Morrison Government—now accept is one of the best things you could do right now to stimulate the Australian economy, the next best thing would be to build some houses. Build some social housing for Australian people to be housed in a safe place—

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member will resume her seat. I call the member for Stirling.

4:01 pm

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me start with some words from our PM, ScoMo, from his very first party room address after the election. The PM said to us, 'Let me touch on a point here around why Australia has voted for us—because we believe what Australians believe.' Let me touch on some of those fundamental beliefs. We believe in small government; lower taxes; the rights and freedoms of the individual; and the central importance of strong families. Those are the beliefs which shaped our policies which we took to the election and which we are now implementing.

On small government, compliance costs have been reduced for businesses, individuals and community groups by some $6 billion since 2013. This has included simplifying business activity statements for 2.7 million businesses and the doubling of the ASIC financial reporting threshold. The government will also pay up to $300 million to each state and territory that also works to cut red tape. On lower taxes, we believe that Australians should keep more of what they earn. That is why, once our reduction of tax strategy is fully implemented over five years, 94 per cent of Australians will pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar.

There are over 19½ thousand small businesses in my electorate of Stirling. As I move around the electorate, I am struck by how so many owners of these businesses comment to me that they are thankful for what this Morrison government is doing to back them, like Richard at the Stirling IGA. Richard is just getting on with the job, like his father did before him, ordering great food—they have a wonderful gourmet food section out there—employing locals and working hard. They're servicing customers and keeping customers happy. And I said to Rich, 'Mate, what's going well? What's not going well? What can I do even better as your federal member?' And Rich, in a true Aussie understated fashion said, 'Yeah, nah, it's all pretty good.' Don't get me wrong: Rich and his team work extremely hard to make a profit, but he and his staff get to keep more of what they earn, and the reason is twofold. Firstly, we've reduced the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 27.5 per cent and that is going down further again to 25 per cent. This is a historic 50-year low. These changes will benefit 3.4 million Australian small-to-medium businesses employing seven million Australians. Secondly, Rich and those like Lauren, who is also a local working for him, will take home more of what they earn because of cuts to personal income tax.

So, Rich didn't have any complaints for me, but—and I think this is important—he could have articulated an alternative. If a Labor government had been in power, Rich would have turned to me and said, 'Vince, there are some massive problems around here.' He would have said, 'My transport and electricity costs have skyrocketed because we're feeling the pain of the reckless 45 per cent emissions reduction target that's been put in place.' Rich would have said, 'My staff are taking home less of what they earn because there's been no cuts'—as were planned by the coalition—'to the company tax rate and personal income tax. And, by the way, Vince, I know it's not your fault but I have to tell you that my parents are devastated that they're not going to be able to afford Christmas presents for the kids this year because the retirees tax has absolutely slugged them.' This is what $387 billion of extra tax would look like on the ground.

I'm not heartless; I confess that there are some good people on the other side of this chamber. This is why we have some pockets of resistance, some smart people, saying, 'Let's ditch our socialist agenda. Let's get behind the Australian economy and behind Australians.' We're hearing some smart people saying, 'Let's mirror the coalition's commitment to the Paris agreement, reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent, and scrap the retirees tax.' I welcome these sentiments. But on this side we don't need to be convinced because we are already on the side of the Australian people, we are in their corner.

Certainly we do face some global economic headwinds. But Australia is in its 29th year of economic growth and we have brought the budget back into balance for the first time in 11 years. We are delivering strong economic management, paying for essential services and letting Australians get on with what is important to them.

4:06 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I truly thank you, Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak about this government's poor record on productivity, economic growth and wages. As the Productivity Commission reported in June, productivity growth in our nation has basically stalled. After a generation of labour productivity that grew by almost two per cent a year, year on year, growth has now tumbled to 0.2 per cent on the watch of those opposite. Productivity is slipping in farming, mining, construction, transport, retail and labour. Why is this important? A more productive can look after and be more generous to those disadvantaged people that the member for fanner was talking about, that those opposite don't want to hear about. It can also build the social housing that the member for Newcastle was just talking about. We can reduce our impact on the natural environment and we can play a bigger role in world affairs. Without rising productivity, wages will eventually stagnate, as they are starting to do—and those opposite aren't helping by cutting penalty rates—and the standard of living in this country, the lucky country, will stop increasing. Productivity is the engine of the economy.

These findings that we have heard about recently are adding to the mountain of evidence that, as we have just heard, those opposite have a political plan but they don't have an economic plan to help lift productivity, fight wage stagnation and boost our economy's performance. This is concerning to all Australians. I can tell you on behalf of Territorians, who are doing it tough, that the slogans about certainty and stability the government keeps spewing out in question time do nothing to fill their fridges, pay their bills or educate their kids.

Those opposite can repeat all they like that they know how to manage the economy—as if it some magic spell that will have the Australian people forget about what their lived experience is every day. It can't, and Australians know that. After six years of coalition rule, the fact that people's lived experiences in this country are not what the government is suggesting they are—and they don't want to hear stories about those who are doing it tough—just says that this is marketing spin. Marketing spin—funded empathy, unfunded empathy or whatever they want to go on about—is not going to help 1.8 million Australians find work.

Real economic indicators—the IMF, Deloittes and the World Bank—are all saying that instead of kicking funding promises down the road, particularly in infrastructure, the government should get on and start spending some of the funds from the Australian taxpayer that they have already promised they would spend.

I am glad the Prime Minister has joined us in the chamber. There have been delays to our $100 million City Deal. Kakadu funding that's been promised continues to be kicked down the road. There have been hints of funding for a nation-building shiplift for Darwin harbour, but that's all we hear—hints. There's the curious case of the ever-shrinking defence infrastructure promises in the NT. Those promises are being revised down at exactly the same time as the Reserve Bank is saying those opposite should start doing some of the infrastructure spending they have already promised.

I asked the Prime Minister during question time why it is that only $50 million of the $5 billion North Australian Infrastructure Fund has been spent since it was announced in 2015. That's not a great track record on infrastructure spending. We want to see it improve, and it's not just us. It's the Reserve Bank of Australia that is saying it would be smart.

The lived experience of Australians is being overlooked by a government that is focused on spin. It needs to do more to lift productivity and get wages moving.

4:11 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

To the Australian people I say this: you have, in the Morrison government, a government that is on the side of your economic advancement, a government that is about growing the economy to ensure that your family have the best choices available to them. You have a government that is on your side, that is in your corner, that has your back. It is a stable government that is calmly rolling out a plan for an even stronger economy.

In contrast, the debate today from Labor members opposite has been like a recital of their greatest hits. The Labor members opposite were crowing about how they dealt with the economy. There was the panic stimulus that they tried to put into the economy by sending cheques to dead people. There was rhetoric from the Labor members opposite about how the top end of town is dragging us all down. They've dusted off the same rhetoric that in May was so comprehensively rejected by the Australian people. Labor members during this debate were talking to the Australian people about how they could spend their money better than they could. They were lecturing them about how, if only the Australian people would yield to their $387 billion in taxes, they would take that money and spend it better. Most concerning was that time and time again during this debate we had, from the Labor members opposite, rhetoric talking down our Australian economy; talking down what Australians could achieve; talking down our plan to grow this economy to bring everybody up, rather than having somebody fall at the expense of somebody else.

There are challenges to the economy; we know that. But we have a prescription for it that's different to that of the Labor members opposite. Our prescription for the challenges that face us, those global headwinds, is to build them into our budget, to have a strong economic and financial plan to meet those challenges. That is unlike the prescription of Labor members opposite—we heard it today, we heard it in May and they're still repeating it—which is that they need $387 billion in taxes out of people's pockets because they know how to spend Australians' money better than they do.

Let's look at the strong financial plan that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister are delivering, which has built in those economic challenges and headwinds that we face. Let's see the results of that: a budget that is returning to balance for the first time in 11 years and an Australian economy that continues to grow, with employment growth more than twice the OECD average. It is a significant achievement. We are one of only 10 developed countries with an AAA credit rating, setting the Australian economy apart from those of the rest of the world. There were 300,000 additional jobs created in 2018-19, because that's what this government is all about—creating jobs. Why? Not because we love statistics but because jobs create choices—choices for Australian families, choices for mums and dads to provide education and provide opportunities for their kids.

Employment grew by 2.6 per cent during the 2018-19 year. Wages increased by 2.3 per cent in the last year, while inflation ran at 1.6 per cent. That's on top of this government's economic achievements in helping to keep the cost of living down, like the big-stick legislation that we were talking about earlier. And we have a budget that is returning to surplus on top of tax cuts for millions of Australians that are helping them put more money in their pockets so, again, they can make the right choices for their families.

All that we hear from the Labor members opposite, in contrast, is about their $387 billion worth of taxes; how they'd like to restart their rampant spending and their crisis stimulus, which sends cheques to dead people; and how they would like to implement policies that they took to the last election that were comprehensively rejected by Australians—policies that they can't even cost. That's how much they care about the challenges facing the economy: they are willing to go to the Australian people and put before them policies on which they themselves cannot even tell the Australian people what they will cost or what they would do to the economy. That's why our government are better economic managers. (Time expired)

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has concluded.