House debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:42 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

SPEAKER (): The Acting Speaker received letters from the honourable member for Rankin and the honourable member for Kennedy proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 46, the Acting Speaker selected the matter which, in his opinion, is the most urgent and important; that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Rankin, namely:

The Government's failures on wages and the costs of living.

I therefore 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—

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a very wise decision, Mr Speaker. You're one for one already! I congratulate you on your election to that office. You're going to need a little dustpan and brush to clean up the shattered shards of the Prime Minister's glass jaw and the last remnants of the Treasurer's credibility on the floor over there. We saw once again today from the Prime Minister the same shouting, dishonesty and desperation which increasingly characterise his public commentary on the economy. You can draw a straight line between the blundering and bullying bulldust from question time and this Prime Minister and his failures on the economy for some time now, because, if this Prime Minister won't tell the truth about a trip to Hawaii, about correspondence with the member for Grayndler or about the submarines deal or electric vehicles or vaccine mandates, he can't be trusted with the economic recovery as well. This is too important to the life chances and prospects of the working families of middle Australia to be left in the hands of a Prime Minister who simply cannot be believed.

He was at it again during the course of the last week on petrol, on interest rates, on industrial relations and on tax—each pathetic scare campaign more ridiculous than the one before. The scare campaign on petrol couldn't last from Monday to Wednesday when it was pointed out to him that petrol prices have skyrocketed 24 per cent over the last year on his watch. Petrol prices have gone up for the average family in an average car $900 over the last year at the same time as real wages have gone backwards $700. So then he moved to a scare campaign about interest rates, and that collapsed under the weight of the Reserve Bank Governor's commentary about interest rates. He said don't expect an interest rate next year. He didn't say under one government or another. He made it very clear that the Prime Minister was, once again, making it up for political purposes. And he was reminded that the last time that those opposite ran a dishonest scare campaign about interest rates, when they got through that election, interest rates went up six consecutive times under the Liberals and Nationals immediately after making those ridiculous claims.

By Saturday, the scare campaign on petrol had fallen over. The wheels had come off the scare campaign on interests rates by Saturday. It was the old industrial relations scare, wasn't it? And it was about unions. Unions have got a legitimate role to play as the voice of working people in our workplaces, and the truth is that the union movement and the employer groups have raised issues about enterprise bargaining, and those views should be taken seriously. So that scare campaign only lasted a day or so, and then we got this ridiculous scare campaign on tax, which has collapsed under the weight of the knowledge that this is the second highest taxing government in the last 30 years, and the highest taxing government was John Howard's. The two highest taxing governments in recent history of both been Liberal and National governments.

We'll see more of this in the lead-up to the campaign as the Prime Minister tries to distract from his failures on the economy and his lack of a plan for the future. He gets no help from the hapless and hopeless Treasurer, who lurches from one preselection humiliation to another, like he did on the weekend. We've got a Prime Minister you can't trust and a Treasurer who can't count. What could go wrong! On the numbers alone, this Treasurer is the worst performing in memory on wages, on growth, on business investment. He's got two million Australians either underemployed or unemployed at the same time as he's got rampant skills and labour shortages in the economy.

The past two years of this pandemic do not excuse eight long years of economic mismanagement. He says it is all about COVID and he says it's happening to everyone around the world. Consider these facts: in the OECD, we've gone from eighth in the world when it comes to average economic growth under the last Labor government to now 17th. We were ninth on unemployment under the last Labor government and now we're 15th. We were sixth in the OECD when it came to wages and now we're 21st in the OECD. Under this government, we've dropped nine places on growth, six places on unemployment and 15 places on wages—all of this despite $1 trillion in debt, because we have this budget which is absolutely riddled with rorts and weighed down with waste.

We've got the subs debacle, the robodebt debacle, the sports rorts and land rorts and regional rorts—the list goes on and on, yet we have this dishonesty and desperation from a Prime Minister desperate to distract from his own failures. That means, I think, that, of all the lies that have been told about the economy, the biggest lie is that those opposite have done a good job managing that economy. The defining example of this is the JobKeeper debacle. JobKeeper was a great idea. Frydenberg, the butterfingers of Australian politics, got his hands on it and he turned a good program into a program that wasted tens of billions of dollars, and that's why the Financial Review wrote an article headlined 'Frydenberg fires JobKeeper missile at himself'. If you look at that piece in the Financial Review, I think the key conclusion is that they describe the current Treasurer as 'lighter than helium'. Those in this chamber know that helium is colourless. They know it's inert. They know it's lightweight. And this Treasurer is the helium man of Australian politics. Helium balloons are shiny and superficial, and when they become untethered and untied, as he has, they lose touch with what's happening on the ground. They end up washed up on a beach inconveniencing the seagulls, and that's the type of career trajectory that we're seeing from the current Treasurer. One of the member for Kooyong's predecessors was described from the dispatch box as a 'souffle that wouldn't rise twice'. This Treasurer could only dream of being nicknamed something as substantial as a souffle! He is more like the little can of whipped cream that goes on the top; it makes a lot of noise and there is a lot of fizzle, but, give it 10 seconds, and it's melted away—that's the helium man of Australian politics.

Under this Treasurer and under this government, rorts and waste have gone from an embarrassing aberration to a shameful norm. Wasting money is not a bug in this government; it is a feature of this government. No wonder they don't want an anticorruption commission. Former generations of the Liberal Party described themselves as born to rule. This generation of Liberals were born to rort. But you cannot rort and lie and spin your way to the economic recovery that this country desperately needs. Those opposite have learnt absolutely nothing from what Australians have done to get through the worst of this pandemic. They cannot understand that Australians got through this together, and we will only succeed together in the recovery by working together, not dividing and diminishing each other, not playing footsie with extreme elements making violent threats, and not playing politics with people's lives and with the economy that working people rely on. They don't understand that this recovery in the economy is Australia's big chance and we have to take it. They don't understand that this is our chance to build an economy and a society that is stronger after COVID-19 than it was before COVID-19.

This is our big chance, and the country has a big choice to make. We don't know when the election will be, but we do know what it will be about. It will be about whether we can be stronger together after COVID than we were before. It will be whether or not we can genuinely unite the country behind our goals, whether they be in the economy or in the society. We can't afford another wasted decade of missed opportunities that has seen jobs and investment go begging and working families left behind. We can't afford another three years like the last eight years, with all of the wage stagnation and job insecurity and all of the rest of it—all of the attacks on wages, all of the attacks on working people and working families and Medicare, all of the attacks that have been so characteristic of those opposite. There are the sneaky cuts that are in the paper today that they won't tell us about before the election, but they will be laying in wait for the Australian people after the election. We can't afford another three years like the last eight. Working families in this country cannot risk another three years of the blundering and bullying bulldust that we hear from this Prime Minister in question time. We can be stronger after COVID than before, but not under those opposite.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction.

3:53 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I was wishing to congratulate the new Speaker sitting in that chair, but, Deputy Speaker, it is wonderful to be able to congratulate you on your recovery and your health and that you have returned to that important chair. We are equally happy to see you there.

You've got to give it to the member for Rankin. He is slick as he auditions for the job of Leader of the Opposition after the next election. Of course, his so-called matter of public importance is part of that critical strategy. When those on the opposition front bench fall, he plans to snare the prize by trying to build an argument and a narrative that he is the one who is interested in the future of the Australian economy. But the reality is Labor has had nothing of value to say over the past 12 months—in fact, over the past two years—of the COVID-19 pandemic. They most certainly have no agenda on how they want to build the future of the Australian economy and not just back Australians through the difficult time but back them to build the future so that they can realise their ambitions, their dreams and their hopes for themselves and their families as part of the success of the future of Australia.

The reality is members on the opposition side have always preferred that Australia fails rather than a coalition government succeeds. They give no quarter and no recognition of the incredible achievements of not just government—although obviously that is a critical part of the conversation—but how Australians have risen to the challenge of the past two years. If we look back to two years ago at the situation facing not just Australia but the world, we saw a situation where people were looking into the abyss, into the great unknown, not sure about where we were going to head. People were deeply worried about their future not just for themselves but also, of course, for their families, for their small businesses, for their standard of living and for their future.

Working with the government, Australians have risen to that challenge on an epic scale across the entire continent, where we face a considerable outcome. We're going to have one of the highest vaccination rates—if not the highest vaccination rates—of any nation in the world. I remember when members of the opposition said that whether we could deliver vaccines was a critical test of our job. I hate to break it to them, but we've not just met that benchmark; we've smashed it, with one of the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world—and we've done that without the considerable number of deaths that have occurred in many other countries. In addition, we've come out of the COVID-19 pandemic with a level of low unemployment. We've done it because we have understood that the success of Australia doesn't come from Canberra down; it's because we have backed Australians through this critical time.

You just need to look at the challenges that people, particularly those in the great states of Victoria and New South Wales, have faced. We've faced considerable challenges around lockdowns, where small businesses have struggled to get back onto their feet because of the punitive measures introduced by state governments, often called upon even more obsessively by members of the Labor Party on the opposition benches, who want to see small businesses being trashed as a consequence of harsher measures. We've turned around and said, 'What can we do to back the small businesses of our country?' They're the chief employers of our country, so they're in the best position to be able to keep Australians standing on their own two feet. The situation, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, has been very clear. The number of new hires is up 25 per cent in New South Wales, while in Victoria new hires are up 15 per cent as we come out of this period. It's meant that Australians are in a position to be able to back themselves, back their families and, of course, back their communities as the foundation of the success of the great Australian recovery.

But it's not just in that space. We've seen the hard data. This matter of public importance is about the underlying strength of the economy and, particularly, wages. You set the benchmark, just like the vaccine rollout; so let's go with it. The latest ABS data shows wages grew by 2.2 per cent throughout the year, higher than the 1.5 per cent forecast in the budget. Wages growth of 2.2 per cent in the September quarter is the strongest since the start of the pandemic. The benchmark was set for wages growth. The benchmark was not just met or beaten but smashed by this government, because we have continued to back Australians as a consequence.

We know that this is in direct contrast with the proposals put forward by the Labor Party. You just need to look at their position in the lead-up to the last election. We see the member for Maribyrnong here. I'm sure the member for McMahon has legitimately left because he wouldn't want to be reminded of his contribution to their train wreck election outcome—let alone the member for Rankin, who was the co-author of their $387 billion taxes plan which would've hit households, would have hit Australian retirees, would have hit jobs and would have hit the interests of everyday Australians. For the past decade, every single time that the Labor Party have confronted a challenge, they have had one solution: to impose a new tax. If they've run out of money, they've imposed a new tax—because they see your money, the Australian people's money, as their own. When it comes to the challenges of fiscal discipline, it's, 'Let's hit retirees and push them below the poverty line by imposing an up to 30 per cent income tax on their interests.'

Let's look at what they want to do with households. Whereas we want to promote housing affordability in this country—and this government has a very proud record of getting first homeowners into homes—Labor's solution was to add more taxes to increase rents. Let's go to the portfolio for which I'm partly responsible. Labor wanted to cut greenhouse gas emissions. What was their solution? It was to impose a new tax along the way. In fact, at every single point they have found a new tax. When they've come up with a proposition before an election and they've been asked about their new taxes, they've said one of two things: either that there will not be one—and then they've broken their promise after their election; or they have said, 'We are absolutely doing it, and you're perfectly welcome to vote against us.' And that's what the Australian people have done every step of the way.

When we come up to the next election, Australians are going to face a choice about the future of our country, and it is going to come down to who they trust to be able to deliver economic growth and opportunity so they and their children have the best chance and best wicket at life. And they know the consequences of what happens with the Labor Party—and we've seen this before: they want to impose more taxes on households, on income earners, on retirees and on houses themselves to make sure they can get as much of your money under their control. The solution from the Labor Party is always, 'How do we empower Canberra to impose and conform?' and the solution from a Liberal government is always, 'How do we empower Australians and get out of their way?' This is going to be one of the biggest challenges that are going to face the Australian people at the next election.

I know that members of the Labor Party hate us talking about it, but the reality is that, throughout this entire pandemic period, they have consistently argued why the government should spend billions of dollars of more money, on the basis of them complaining that they want money to be funnelled to certain interests or certain benefits. And this government has, at every point, been prudent and responsible in how it has spent money to make sure that there has not been needless waste and, of course, needless debt.

That is an indicator of where this discussion is going to go in the future in the lead-up to the next election. Labor will spend more money and incur more debt and, as sure as night follows day, it will put pressure on interest rates and we will see those many Australians out there who have mortgages pay higher prices under a future Labor government. They will face more costs in debt refinancing, more challenges about their capacity to be able to afford their mortgage and, of course, will face a big challenge about whether they are going to be able to maintain their standards of living. When it comes down to it, Labor always goes after Australians' hip pockets, because that is the only solution that they have to any problem. They always see the solutions for the country through themselves, not through the success of the millions of Australian households and how they can stand on their own two feet.

But, more critically, this government is making sure that we map out a plan for the future development of the Australian economy in a globally challenging environment towards carbon neutrality. In the last sitting of this parliament, we outlined Australia's first comprehensive, economy-wide plan, not just to get Australia to be carbon neutral but also to make sure that we can thrive in that environment and lay the foundations for the future economy and future export industries that Australians are going to come to rely upon; make sure that we can back those industries that are going to have to adjust, so they reach a soft landing; make sure that we can back those Australians to be able to secure their job so their communities can survive and thrive; and make sure that we build that future that Australians so desperately want. We want a future where every Australian can realise their ambition and their dreams. Labor want one where their solution is more tax.

4:03 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

In the Melbourne Cup field of economic duds, Scott Morrison's government has come first, second and third.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member will resume his seat.

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order: the member referred to Scott Morrison, and he should refer to members by their proper titles.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Whitlam will continue. There is no point of order.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me repeat: In the Melbourne Cup field of economic duds, Scott Morrison's government has come first, second and third, with the biggest government debt in our nation's 121 years of history—$1 trillion worth of debt. I am going to say that again—it's a big number: $1 trillion worth of debt. They were going to bring the budget back into balance. Remember the red coffee cups? They are good at producing marketing material, but they are not very good at reducing debt or bringing the budget deficit down. They have produced the two biggest deficits in 121 years of Australian Commonwealth history. They are the second-highest taxing government, as the member for Rankin has set out—coming in a narrow second, beaten by a nose by the record of the Fraser government under the treasurership of John Howard and the government of John Howard himself. They have overseen the biggest government waste of taxpayer money in our nation's history, hands down, with $20 billion—in fact, probably more than $20 billion—in taxpayers' money squandered on a program that was supposed to help businesses that were making a loss. These jokers over here gave it to companies that were making bumper profits and sending it on to their directors. The member for Fenner has done a magnificent job of exposing the government's incompetence on this issue.

I want to make a point about the $20 billion. It's almost as much as we spend on Medicare and twice as much as we spend on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. These are not small amounts of money—$1 trillion worth of debt, $20 billion squandered. Tell us again how this mob are so good at managing money. You wouldn't leave them alone with your pocket money! This comes off the back of the sports rorts affair, the car park rorts affair and the infamous community development grants which somehow only go to government-held community electorates. This mob are the champions of rorts.

I thought a former senator from Western Australia hit the low-water mark when he described the government's wages policy suppressing wages as 'a deliberate design feature'. Is there any surprise that, under this government, workers' wages are going backwards? They are going backwards at a rate of knots. We've had the lowest wages growth in over 50 years. We used to think it was a design feature, but today we had the spokesman for industrial relations in the House tell us that anybody who complained about the fact their wages were going down was making it up—anybody who complains about wages problems is making it up! When these guys talk about coalminers, they don't have in mind the people who go down and run the longwalls or the people who come back from work dirty. When they think about coalminers, they think about Marius Kloppers and Gina Rinehart; they're the people they have in mind. If you work in a mine, you know the biggest threat to your wages and job security is the fact that employers are using labour hire to undermine job security and drive down wages. It's not just in the mining industry; it's rife in the Hunter. We saw the Deputy Prime Minister duck the question, but it's rife in the Hunter and he would not acknowledge that issue. And these blokes reckon we're making it up! I'd welcome their coming out to my electorate or any other electorate to talk about the made-up issue of labour hire. They are so out of touch— (Time expired)

4:08 pm

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There's a common expression in Australia: 'There are only two certainties in life—death and taxes.' I would like to add a third certainty to that—that the Australian economy will always be better off under a Liberal-National government. Every government faces challenges during its term, and this Morrison-led coalition government has certainly had its fair share. A one-in-100-year global pandemic springs to mind. We are now approaching two years since the COVID-19 virus first came to Australian shores and we are still feeling its economic and social impacts. This government acted decisively, and, through an unprecedented $291 billion in economic support, we are better placed than most other nations around the world in terms of economic recovery.

In my electorate of Longman, there are many local businesses thriving. We have seen here and in other parts of Australia that employers simply can't find enough staff to fill vacant positions both skilled and unskilled. Even in the hard-hit hospitality sector, I recently heard from a local cafe owner in Morayfield that, for some time now, they have been unable to find anyone to work in their newly established cafe. We have seen that the end of the extended lockdowns has kickstarted a spending spree and emboldened employers to hire more workers. The Australian Taxation Office data also shows that the number of new workers hired by businesses leapt by 13 per cent nationwide in the fortnight to 24 October Yet I still have employers in construction, agriculture, manufacturing and other industries screaming for staff. This is a great indicator of how strong our economy really is. With online job ads reaching 250,000 and increasing by almost eight per cent in October, there is good reason to be optimistic about the jobs market. This increased demand for employees is a result of an increase in consumer spending, with Australians spending an extra $1 billion in the first week in November compared to the same time in 2019, before the pandemic even began. Recent Treasury analysis of bank data has found that spending at the start of November was 20 per cent above the corresponding week two years ago.

On top of this, wages are bouncing back in line with underlying strength in the economy and labour market. The latest ABS data revealed that wages have grown by 2.2 per cent so far in 2021, higher than the 1.5 per cent forecast in the budget. Private sector wages are 2.5 per cent higher over the year, the strongest growth rate since the start of the pandemic. The RBA has also recently revised up its forecast for wages and now sees the unemployment rate reaching four per cent by the end of 2023. This is very positive news, and I'm proud to be part of a government that understands the importance of getting people into work. Not only is it good for the economy as a whole but it is good for our local communities when we have lower unemployment rates. Crime levels decrease and people's mental wellbeing is generally improved when they have a job to go to. This government also understands the importance of keeping taxes low. Lower taxes help secure our economic recovery and create even more jobs. Around 64,800 taxpayers in Longman will benefit from tax relief of up to $2,745 this year. Since the pandemic hit, wages are up 2.2 per cent, record tax cuts are flowing to households and total wages per capita are growing at 6.6 per cent. This is in stark contrast to before the coalition came into government, when real wages were falling and the unemployment rate was at 5.7 per cent and rising.

Small business has been at the heart of our economic recovery plan. JobKeeper, the cash flow boost, tax cuts and record investment incentives have allowed small business to play a key role in Australia's economic and jobs recovery. As a small-business owner myself, I well know the challenges businesses have faced during the pandemic. I have heard from other local business owners who've told me how JobKeeper saved their staff from being let go. It's as simple as that. This fantastic initiative by the Morrison government has helped support 4,671 businesses in my electorate of Longman, employing 22,924 staff.

On top of this, an extended and expanded JobTrainer Fund will support more than 450,000 new places to upskill jobseekers and young people. We already have 1,300 apprentices in Longman, and these new measures will lead to more opportunities for apprentices and trainees, with expanded wage subsidies. The Morrison government has delivered the highest number of Australians in trade apprenticeships on record. The new department program data demonstrates that the number of Australians in trade-training apprenticeships reached 217,400 in July 2021, the highest number since records began in 1963. As the country opens up and the jobs come back, Australians have much to look forward to this summer.

4:13 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Once again I rise to talk about this government's absolute failure, this time on wages and the cost of living. I want to say on the record that our public service workers are the best—our nurses, pathologists and health teams; the work our firefighters do; and our amazing teachers and administration workers. There is not one sector in our economy that does not have some form of public sector engagement. If you think about it, to serve the public would have to be one of the most honourable and noble things to do. In the last two years—I know I'm not alone in saying this—people have truly appreciated what serving the public and the community really means, just what it is and the people who do it. Just the other day I joined with public sector workers and the South Coast Labour Council to help launch the groundbreaking report by Associate Professor Martin O'Brien from the University of Wollongong about how important our public sector workers are to our region. Public sector workers spend locally and support our local shops and jobs, and that's something I am happy to support. I will always fight for fair wages and fair pay for the public sector. However, saying thanks doesn't get you another nurse on the ward, though we need more of these workers to do more of the good work. But this government believes it needs to be fiscally responsible. What does that mean? It means this government will thank them but it won't pay them. According to the ACTU, millions of workers in Australia are in some form of non-standard, insecure working arrangements, including 2.3 million casuals. There are over a million so-called independent contracts and over 400,000 fixed-term contracts. Our nation now ranks No. 1 for the highest level of insecure work in the OECD. That is shameful. The Morrison government has made middle Australia more vulnerable, not less, with eight long years of wage stagnation in this country.

All the while, there's the soaring cost of housing, the flow-on effect with the cost of rentals, and the dreadful reality that is next—homelessness. Within Gilmore, I'm on the Shoalhaven Homelessness Taskforce. Locally, the Shoalhaven Homeless Hub, one of our prized local hubs, has been providing homelessness services from its central Nowra address for over 20 years. They have a growing demand for their homelessness walk-in service supporting men, women and children. Fifty-five new clients a month are requiring assistance. An increasing number of people who have never encountered homelessness before are now becoming homeless for the first time. Why? Because of the soaring cost of rent, the soaring cost of living. They have good tenancy history, they pay their rent on time, they're good tenants, but their property is being sold and they cannot find alternative accommodation in the time frame provided. It is impacting on mental health. It is impacting on our local communities.

Words actually failed me when learning firsthand from the manager of the Supported Accommodation and Homelessness Services Shoalhaven, SAHSSI, that the homeless hub was itself about to become homeless. The tenancy on the property, to expire on 26 January, Australia Day next year, will not be renewed. The funding program cannot match local commercial rent, compounded by a lack of available stock. This is a vicious cycle that is playing out across the country.

The failure of this Morrison government is lack of leadership. If you're going to make housing more affordable, then you need the federal government to play an active part. But at the moment this government doesn't even meet with the state governments to talk about this. And when you ask the government if they're prepared to invest money in building more affordable homes for Australians, they say, 'It's not our job.' Well, that's just wrong. A Labour government would establish the Housing Australia Future Fund to invest in affordable and social housing, build more social and affordable housing to fix our housing crisis, and put tradies to work immediately to repair and maintain existing social housing. This coalition government has racked up a trillion dollars in debt and has nothing to show for it.

4:18 pm

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

Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, it is great to have you back in the chair and looking in very good health. Normally, as part of these speeches, I devote some portion of it to rebuttal. But there wasn't much in the shadow Treasurer's speech that we could rebut. The main portion of it—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

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

Well, for the reason that there wasn't a lot of substance. The main portion of it was devoted to a convoluted metaphor about helium. It's obviously a line that he'd workshopped long and hard in the mirror. He's had a lot of time on the bench to be able to practise it, though he still didn't quite nail the delivery. But I thought to myself: 'Why would he spend so much time talking about helium? How is he so familiar with it?' It's because he spends so much of his time acting the clown so often in this place, because only a clown would bring on a debate about the cost of living when he sits on that side of the chamber and spends his entire time trying to take more taxes out of the pockets of everyday Australians—$387 billion worth of extra taxes out of the pockets. And you've got on that side of the chamber, sitting right there, two of the major architects of it—the shadow Treasurer and the member for McMahon. If we just had the former Leader of the Opposition, we'd have a full set of the people behind the $387 billion worth of taxes to take out of the pockets of everyday Australians. I'm pleased the member for McMahon is here because he likes to be reminded of his lines at the last election—his excellent advice that he gave to everyday Australians, which I hope he will repeat this time, which is: 'If you don't like Labor Party policy, don't vote for it.' And didn't they just! Didn't they just not vote for it! They were very happy to reject the Labor Party's $387 billion worth of taxes, which would have been such an incredible impost on the costs of living for everyday families.

On this side of the chamber, we have lowered taxes, we've provided structural reform to make small businesses keep more of what they earn, we've put more medicines on the PBS, we've helped with out-of-pocket costs on X-rays and other diagnostic scans, we've helped make child care more affordable, and we've supported more Australians to get into their first home, all while facing a global pandemic.

It's interesting that, in the same 48 hours that the Treasurer and the Morrison government were able to release new ATO modelling showing that small businesses, at a time of great need and at a time when they need to get on with the economic recovery and are reopening their doors, have an extra $5 billion in their pockets of their own money to spend on their business, hire new employees and get new equipment so that they can gear up and help with the economic recovery, we had the shadow Treasurer on his beloved ABC saying he was still considering the full suite of tax policies that he could put on the Australian people. Such are their secret policies over there. They won't let us know what they are, and they won't let the Australian people know what their policies are. Such are they that, right up until the election, they will need to consider in great detail the full suite of taxes that they're going to impose on the Australian people. As the Prime Minister has said, the only thing more scary than knowing the new taxes that Labor is going to impose on the Australian people is not knowing them, because they like to keep their policies secret.

It was just yesterday that we were hearing from other Labor members about the great moral challenge of climate change. Yet here they are sitting on the other side of the chamber, refusing to detail what their policy is. They won't detail their policy on new taxes. They won't detail their policy on the economic recovery. It's clear. It's clear that they are simply trying to trip and fall into government on the basis that they won't tell the Australian people what they'll do; they'll tell the Australian people as little as possible and hope they just trip and fall into government. We won't allow it to happen. We will simply put to the Australian people that they will always have lower taxes under a Liberal-National coalition government. They will always have a stronger economy under a Liberal-National coalition government than under the Labor members opposite.

The Labor members opposite simply cannot be trusted to run an economy. They simply cannot be trusted with your money because they think it's their money. They want to take as much money out of your pockets as possible because they believe they can tell you how to spend it better. On this side of the chamber, we believe in empowering Australian families to spend their money in the best way that suits them and their families and suits the Australian economy.

4:23 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, I'm not going to tell you how good you look because I already told you that in the hallway the other day. I'm a bit sad that I've only got five minutes to talk about this, because I could talk about this all day. You know what they say: give the girl a microphone, and she'll never shut up. But, particularly around the issues of stagnant wages and rising costs of living, I could talk all day, Deputy Prime Minister.

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Prime Minister?

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Deputy Speaker, I correct that. I could talk all day about it, Deputy Speaker, because every time I go doorknocking, every time I have a Meet your Member event, and every time I pick up the phone in my office, the issue that is front of mind for the people in my community in Cowan is the rising cost of living and stagnant wages. These are real issues and they are live issues for the people of Cowan. I could give you a whole list of different examples, but given the limited time I'm going to limit myself to two examples just to demonstrate what is happening in the community in Cowan and how this issue raised in this MPI around the cost of living and stagnant wages is having a real impact on the Cowan community.

Currently, my office has been assisting a single mother in Cowan. She has escaped domestic violence. She is caring for her child on her own at the same time as studying at university to get an education—and I don't have to tell the House that I can relate to her situation. In March of this year, her landlord increased her rent. Her rent went up from $240 a week to $300 a week—that's 25 per cent—with a six-month only lease. Her real estate agent has now foreshadowed a further rise of $60, which will take her rent up to $360. She's not the only one who has come into my office absolutely in despair and in fear of being left homeless because of rising rents throughout the northern suburbs, in particular, of Western Australia.

Another example is Derek, from Girrawheen, who last month contacted me. Derek said, 'I'd like federal and state governments of the near future to look at recognising that access to low-cost water, electricity, gas, internet, automotive fuels and basic food and accommodation should be seen as necessary staples of modern life.' He's not wrong. Derek also mentioned, 'Prices are quick to rise when oil does but slow to drop when oil drops in price,' which brings me to the cost of petrol and the cost of maintaining a car.

This Prime Minister happens to be a big fan of pork. Can't say I share his affection for that particular brand of meat, but he does like a little bit of pork-barrelling. He does like to tell a few porky pies. Just last week the Prime Minister tried to claim that petrol prices would go up if the coalition lost the next election. I was quite baffled by this claim because obviously the government cannot control petrol prices; there are a whole range of other factors that come into play. But that claim was even more ludicrous because just this year petrol prices in Perth have gone up by 25 per cent. On Tuesday afternoon, when the prices are at their lowest, on a fortnightly cycle in Perth, Wanneroo Road in the northern suburbs is banked up a kilometre as cars line up to fill up on cheaper petrol. We here in this place are in a very privileged position. We have drivers to drive us around Canberra and we get a car allowance when we're at home. We don't have to worry about the price of petrol—we really don't—and it's important that we acknowledge that and that privilege that we have here. But for the Prime Minister to absolutely ignore the fact that families are struggling with the cost of petrol—I can't even begin to fathom how an average family in Perth's north is watching this Prime Minister and trying to understand it.

4:28 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

RAMSEY (—) (): Those that sit on the other side of this chamber must be the only people in Australia, it seems, that think Australia has not dodged an economic bomb. The economic management of Australia over the last two years through the pandemic has been quite extraordinary. In fact, almost any other country in the world would swap places with us. Not only has the virus been kept largely under control and not only do we now have a vaccine rollout that is in the top echelons of the world; we have kept people at work.

While we're talking about wages and the cost of living, I can tell you that, if you haven't got a job, they're pretty intense—that's for sure. So the government spent $89 billion on JobKeeper, keeping people in touch, keeping them in work, keeping them in their employment stream. I've had no end of contact, like virtually every other member in this place, of businesses coming to me and saying: 'JobKeeper saved our bacon. It was the thing that kept us in business.'

Since the cessation of JobKeeper, we've rolled into the COVID subsidy and wage system that has kicked into place where we've had hot spots declared. Once again, it's kept Australians employed. It's kept them at work. It delivers the check that deals with the costs of living that they deal with on a daily basis. In fact, it's been our No. 1 priority—making sure that our business sector stays strong and keeping people in a job. That is what we have done. We've even lowered the jobless rate from the beginning to this point in the pandemic. It's 5.2 per cent at the moment. It was 5.6 per cent last month and that was a bit of a kick up, but considering the lockdowns that we've had in New South Wales and Victoria that is hardly surprising. All the indicators are now that they are opening up their economies and that they will be bouncing back immediately. In fact, the jobless rate even now is still a full half a point lower than when we came into government in 2013, courtesy of the previous administration.

Now the indicators are that the jobs market is running hot. There are 300,000 jobs available in Australia at the moment. The ABS data shows that in the September quarter there was a 2.2 per cent lift in growth. The economy grew by 2.2 per cent in the September quarter, and that was in a pandemic. That was in a time when two of our major states were largely locked down. So it's been quite an astonishing performance. The pandemic has been the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Private wage sectors are up 2.4 per cent for the year. While there was not much growth there, things are absolutely happening now. I report that the RBA see unemployment as low as four per cent by the end of 2023. In fact, we already have shortages right across our economy. It's not just in the skills sector but right across our economy. In my own electorate, we have shortages of doctors, nurses, mechanics, shearers, ag workers, aged-care workers and people to make coffee. We have shortages in the tourism industry. We have shortages of cleaners. We have shortages at just about every level. As sure as night follows day, something outrageous will have to happen in the economy for wages growth not to follow those shortages. We will see growth over the next 12 months. That is already being foreshadowed. That is kicking away in that area already, with the RBA predicting 2.5 per cent growth in 2022 and three per cent growth in wages in 2023. We would not want that to explode to 10 per cent or 15 per cent, would we? We were there in the 1970s and the 1980s, and it wasn't a good place to be.

The jobs market is full of opportunity, and we are doing everything we can to join up those people that are unemployed with those jobs that exist. There are already 347,000 people in training apprenticeships across Australia. In my own electorate, we have over 3,000 in apprenticeship training.

Today consumer confidence is up yet again, nearly 30 per cent higher than pre COVID. Business confidence is high, and why wouldn't it be? After all, across Australia, the government is expending over $10 billion in— (Time expired)

4:33 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In Carrum Downs today, petrol hit 193.9c a litre. The median rent in Frankston has gone up $1,560 in the last year. In the last 12 months, childcare fees have gone up by $390. But real wages fell 0.8 per cent over the past year. Petrol is more expensive, child care is more expensive, rent is more expensive, the price of housing has gone up so much that buying a house is almost inconceivable for so many people in my electorate, and real wages have gone backwards. Yet we have a Morrison government that wants people to believe that they've never had it better.

When you actually talk to the people who we represent, you know that that spin just isn't true. Working families in my electorate are struggling under the weight of increased living costs and flatlining wages. The average Australian is over $700 a year worse off in the last year alone than if wages had grown at the same three per cent rate as inflation. The average family is paying about $900 a year more for their petrol, and childcare fees have gone up by $3,390 a year. You add all that together and it's a significant burden on families, who are particularly struggling as they're coming out of the pandemic.

Research from the McKell Institute shows that the average Australian worker would be earning $254 more each week if wage growth had continued at the rate achieved under the last Labor government. That's $13,000 a year for families already doing it tough. That would be before the 'same job, same pay' policy that the Leader of the Opposition has announced we will take to an election, which would mean that people doing the same job, working side by side, would get paid the same amount. We know that in Australia today there are almost two million people who are either looking for more work or just looking for work. We have one of the highest rates of insecure work in the OECD. Under the Morrison government we've fallen from sixth in the OECD to 21st for wages. According to the OECD, we've fallen from eighth to 17th in the world in economic growth under the Morrison government.

Millions of workers in Australia are in some form of non-standard, insecure working arrangement. There are 2.3 million casuals. There are over a million so-called independent contractors, many of whom are people forced to get an ABN so they can be an Uber driver, a Deliveroo driver, a cleaner, a security guard or someone who traditionally would have been employed to do the job but is now apparently their own small business without any of the protections of employment. There are 400,000 people on fixed-term contracts. Insecure work, the fractured labour market and stagnant wages mean that people in my electorate are struggling to make ends meet. When you add to that the increased pressure of increased childcare fees, increased cost of food and increased cost of petrol, you know that the Morrison government is failing people. It's extraordinary when the Prime Minister says petrol will go up under Labor. He should look at what's happening under him.

4:38 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Despite the challenges of the last two years, Australia's economy remains strong, its fundamentals remain sound and it continues to prove its remarkable resilience. In line with this underlying strength in our economy and labour market, wages are bouncing back. The latest ABS data shows wages grew by 2.2 per cent through last year, higher than the 1.5 per cent forecast in the budget. Wages growth of 2.2 per cent in the September quarter is the strongest since the start of the pandemic. The figure is even higher in the private sector, with wages up 2.4 per cent over the year. And it's expected to get even better. As the RBA governor said this week, wage growth is expected to pick up and is forecast to increase by 2½ per cent over 2022 and three per cent over 2023.

Not only are wages rising, but the actual share that Australians get to keep in their pocket is greater, too, thanks to the Morrison Liberal government's tax cuts. Tax relief has been a big focus for us. We have tax cuts for small businesses and we have tax cuts for households. The reality is that the facts speak for themselves. Take an Australian on $60,000 a year as an example—say, a nurse or a teacher. They are $6,480 better off as a result of the tax cuts that we have been providing as part of the structural reform that I am proud to have voted on that we've been taking to our tax system. The best way to see wages grow is to get more Australians into work and to continue growing the economy. That is what our tax reforms are doing. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, small and medium businesses have created 600,000 jobs right across the country.

Australians know from painful experience that the only thing they can be sure of under a Labor government is higher taxes. Higher taxes don't increase wages. Higher taxes will take away your hard-earned money. Higher taxes will shrink the economy and lead to fewer jobs. Of course, we recognise that there are challenges out there for many Australians. The fact that petrol prices are rising is concerning, to say the least, but it is insulting to the intelligence of Australians to suggest that this is anything other than a function of global supply and demand pressures. Australians know that. They see that this is a global problem, not one just affecting our country, and people see through the Labor Party spin.

The Prime Minister has said, and few would disagree, that Australia's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must be secured by people who have a track record of economic management. So let's have a look at the Labor Party's record. With respect to the cost of living, the proof is in the pudding. Under Labor, the cost of living was up by 2.7 per cent on average during their last term in office. By comparison, under the coalition government, it has been up by 1.8 per cent. That is exactly a one-third less increase than under Labor. Interest rates are also at historic lows at the moment. What it means is that somebody with an average $500,000 mortgage over a 30-year tenure will be $600 a month better off today than they would have been under Labor, when interest rates were higher. So, if the member for Rankin wants to fight an election on the cost of living, as he says, bring it on.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.