Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Rankin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the government's budget to make up for a decade of attacks on wages and job security.
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—
The Northern Rivers of New South Wales is an incredibly special place for many of us here; it has a special place in our heart. I know that the whole parliament cares deeply about the fact that in northern New South Wales—whether it's Lismore, whether it's Byron or whether it's other parts of northern New South Wales—they are going through the really quite unfathomable experience of going under water for the second time in a couple of weeks. I know that I speak on behalf of everybody on this side of the House, and I suspect the other side too, when I say that our hearts go out to the people of northern New South Wales, who are dealing with the same things as those in the south-east corner of Queensland, and indeed right around Australia.
It's a real reminder that over the last few years Australians have been through so much together. They've made extraordinary sacrifices for each other and they've been there for each other in the most difficult times. After everything that they've been through, after all of the sacrifices that they've made for each other, the thanks they get from a government which is almost a decade old is a budget handed down from that dispatch box which is defined by falling real wages, a trillion dollars in debt with not enough to show for it, $3 billion in secret cuts that the government won't come clean on until after the election, and absolutely nothing that resembles a plan for the future.
Budgets at their best provide the foundation for a better and more secure future for our people. They provide more opportunities for more Australians in more parts of Australia. They give people confidence that they have a place and a role to play in the unfolding economic success of this country. But governments at their worst at budget time take the problems that exist just before an election and do their best just to shift those problems to the other side of an election. The government are spraying money around and shovelling money around in the hope that people will forget that, for most of the rest of the decade that they have been in office, they've come after people's wages, they've come after their job security, they've come after their pensions and they've come after Medicare. Time and time again, there has been one attack after another on the living standards of middle Australia. Those opposite, at the peak of their cynicism, think that, if they shovel enough money in the general direction of enough Australians a week or two before an election has to be called, then the Australian people will forget the damage that they have done to the living standards of Australians right around Australia. The difference between this side of the House and that side of the House is that we see budgets as the foundation for a better future and we see budgets as the scaffolding of opportunity in this country; those opposite see them as just another political pamphlet to be waved around, when the country desperately needs a plan.
This government has taxed more, borrowed more, spent more and delivered less than its Labor predecessor. They like to make comparisons in this place, so let me run you through a few comparisons. We're talking here about the average under this government versus the average under the last government: unemployment under this government, 5.7 per cent, and under the last Labor government, 5.1 per cent; underemployment under this government 8.6 per cent, and under the last Labor government, 7.0 per cent; wages under this government, 2.1 per cent, and under the last Labor government, 3.6 per cent; economic growth under those opposite, 2.3 per cent, and under Labor, 2.5 per cent; business investment, negative 2.8 per cent under the so-called party of business, and 5.5 per cent under the last Labor government; and productivity, 1.1 per cent under them, and 1.4 per cent under us. We left gross debt of $280 billion to this government, and it's heading towards a trillion dollars and rising under those opposite.
We have had enough of these ridiculous lectures about fiscal responsibility and economic management from a government which has underperformed and mismanaged and rorted and wasted at every single turn. This is a desperate and panicked and tapped-out budget from a desperate and panicked and clapped-out government. That much is now clear. There has probably never been a flatter reception to a budget than there was last night, watching the Treasurer deliver the budget from that dispatch box while everybody over there pretended to read their phones or read something else. They slept through the Treasurer's speech because it was such an underwhelming experience. It was underwhelming at best; it was unravelling at worst. The easiest way to work that out, the easiest way to understand that those opposite understand that they fired that one shot in the locker and it was a blank, is the fact that the budget is still not even 24 hours old and the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the finance minister in the other place have spent all their time talking about the Labor Party. Even in the Treasurer's budget speech, and we have seen a few budget speeches on both side of the parliament, there were two or three references to the Labor Party. It can't be that good a budget if those opposite are desperate to talk about the Labor Party when the budget is not even 24 hours old. This is what happens when you have a government which is psychologically and temperamentally incapable of seeing beyond the next election. This budget has a shelf life of six or seven weeks, depending on when the election is. The government cannot see beyond the middle of May and that is how you get a budget which is this underwhelming and which is already unravelling.
The Treasurer says in that monotone, repetitive, focus group sloganeering way over and over again that the plan is working in the hope that, if he says it enough, people will begin to believe it. But the plan is not working if you are a worker in this country dealing with real wages cuts of 26 bucks a week or $1,355 a year, which was what the budget said the real wage cuts are worth this year. The plan is not working if you are one of the subsequent generations of Australians being asked to pay off the interest on the tens of billions of rorts and waste that those opposite have inflicted on the Australian people. Whether it is giving tens of billions to businesses that didn't need support or car park rorts, regional rorts, dodgy land deals or sports rorts, the list goes on. The plan is not working if you have to pay off that debt. And the plan is not working if you tuned in on Tuesday night, last night, and thought you would give the Treasurer a chance to give us a bit of a sense of where the country is headed, what the role of the budget is in that, where the place is for ordinary Australian working people in the unfolding story of this economy. The plan is not working.
At the end of his speech, in that big, self-congratulatory finish, he was pretending to be Winston Churchill and really hoping for more support from the back of his ranks—they weren't listening—he went on and on about how they have delivered exactly what they said they would do. I was thinking, 'Who were those guys wandering walking around brandishing the 'Back in Black' mugs before the last election? Who were those guys?' It was the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. Remember the black and white photos, the 'Back in Black' mugs and Scott Morrison looking like he was in a small room talking about being back in black? The Treasurer and all the ministers had them and they were flogging them off for $39.95 on the Liberal Party website. The Treasurer had the gall to say, 'We have done exactly what we promised.' What a lot of rubbish. When it comes to the budget, this government have delivered a trillion dollars in debt. They had already doubled the debt before the pandemic. They have delivered more consecutive deficits than any other Australian government since the 1920s. After all that rubbish about debt and deficit disasters, no more lectures from those opposite.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer were asked repeatedly today to explain that $26 a week that ordinary Australian people are in the hole, on average, that $1,355 a year. They could not care less about that. In fact, it is a deliberate design feature of their economic policy, as they have confessed in more honest times. Nothing in the budget last night makes up for those real wages cuts and nothing makes up for the fact that those opposite have spent the best part of a decade coming after wages, job security, pensions and Medicare and all the other ways that we have seen.
Australians are already seeing through this budget in the same way that they are already seeing through this Prime Minister. This is the guy who thinks that three plus four equals eight. When he is asked about it he gets the big stroppy act on, the big glass jaw and all the rest of it. They are working this guy out. With this kind of performance from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, no wonder the legacy of a decade of this government in office is a trillion dollars in debt, real wages falling, secret cuts in the budget after the election, no plan for the future. Petrol prices will go up in September, the LMITO tax cuts will end after next year and interest rates will go up at some point in the next 12 months. This is the legacy of 10 years of those opposite. We can end the government. The opportunity can't come soon enough.
It's a privilege to rise on a debate about the economy, especially after the budget we heard about last night. I say to the House: if your No. 1 attack after a budget has been delivered is 'the people on the opposite benches were not sitting correctly,' I really think you might be failing in your duty to go through the budget papers and understand what is in there.
Facts without context, as the shadow minister just put forward to the Australian public, really don't provide a narrative about what's been happening over the last three years, and I think Australians understand what has occurred over the last three years and what the government's response has been and why we need to do it. The coalition government under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg's leadership has supported the economy, and that has meant that we have had to spend in unusual ways. JobKeeper and JobSeeker were programs that wouldn't normally come from any Australian government, let alone a coalition government, but they came because of the extraordinary circumstance of the pandemic. I can say to the Australian people and I can say to every member in this House: the government does not regret one cent that was spent on JobKeeper and JobSeeker because it guaranteed the survival of hundreds of thousands of small, medium and family businesses and supported 700,000 jobs.
So, when Labor gets up, when the shadow economic spokesperson, the shadow Treasurer, says, 'They've gone into debt,' I think Australians are smart enough to understand that yes, we have gone into debt, but we've gone into debt to deal with an extraordinary circumstance. We spent at unprecedented levels to support an economy where governments had said: 'You can't open your business. You can't leave your home. You can't go to work.' If the government didn't act, if the government didn't spend, what would have happened to those livelihoods and those jobs? Facts without context are really irrelevant. The context matters.
I think Australians know that we made the right call in supporting the economy. When the government says, 'You can't operate; you can't function; you can't live as normal,' of course the government has to step in and support these businesses and the economy. It's only proper. What's important is that the government has a plan for economic recovery, and what you heard last night from the Treasurer was that plan to recover. The coalition has a track record of supporting the economy at the right time with the temporary, targeted, proportionate measures designed to deliver that and to ensure that we do get that economic recovery as quickly as possible so people are able to grow their businesses.
It's why we're seeing unemployment now fall to record lows. It's not just unemployment; youth unemployment has fallen to levels we haven't seen in many decades. Female participation is at the highest levels we've ever seen. Female employment is at the highest levels we have ever seen. And there's more to come. The Prime Minister has committed that, if we are re-elected, we will see unemployment go into the threes. We'll see youth unemployment continue to drop. We'll see more work being done on getting people into jobs. And that economic plan is working.
We know that, of course, world events continue. Global supply chains are pushing up the cost of every single container to Australia. In a trade exposed economy that means five times the cost on every single container coming to Australia which pushes up prices. We know that the war in Ukraine means that oil prices are rising which means people are paying more at the bowser. So what's important is that a government response through a budget delivers temporary, targeted and proportionate relief, and so we have said and we have announced that it will happen in the coming weeks—that is, a cut to the cost of petrol. This is the right temporary and targeted measure, and it's temporary and targeted because we don't want to add to the inflationary pressures on our economy.
We're seeing inflation around the world worse than in Australia. Prices are going up. People are paying more for all goods and services in other countries. It's starting here, and, if the government does something to add to inflationary pressure, that won't help us. That won't help our families. What will help families is a halving of the excise on petrol. Why? Because it's a deflationary pressure on the economy. We know that most of our goods are moved in Australia by truck and road transport. We know that removing the excise by half will actually act as a deflationary pressure, at the same time as providing relief to households and family budgets. It's temporary, targeted and proportionate.
Remember, every time the shadow Treasurer gets up and says the debt's too high, that this is the shadow Treasurer who said we should continue the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker programs indefinitely. He said we should never have stopped them.
Certainly, Deputy Speaker. Well, the opposition criticised us yet again, for, in a timely way, removing those supports because it was time for recovery, not time to continue those measures. What would have happened to the debt if the Labor Party had been in office, if they had continued those measures, when at the same time we saw unemployment starting to fall and the recovery on? Again, they have no idea about the real economy in Australia.
We know now that with the government's temporary, targeted and proportionate cost-of-living measures in this budget we'll see households get cost-of-living relief at the right time. These measures will go for six months. We've also increased the cost-of-living tax offset—a $420 cost-of-living tax offset, affecting more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners. Again, this is the right measure, targeted at the right income brackets, ensuring that we will have not an inflationary pressure on the economy but a deflationary pressure, as well as providing cost-of-living relief. And you can see that every part of this budget is designed to support families, to support low- and middle-income earners, to support small and medium businesses, to support those people who are doing the heavy lifting and getting the economic recovery moving.
And that's without going into detail about our support for the regions. It's a word you don't hear from the Labor Party very often, but the regions are where we get most of Australia's economic activity generated. It's where we will get more jobs growth. The only time the Labor Party cares about the regions—when the shadow Treasurer was advising the former Treasurer in the Labor government—was when they banked record-high commodity prices that were never going to last. Every budget Labor delivered came in under the revenue that they banked at record high prices.
So, imagine the shadow Treasurer standing there and saying, 'I'm worried about the debt and the deficit,' when he worked for Wayne Swan. Imagine—when he says, 'Well, why are you not paying back the debt faster?' We've got the biggest bounce back, in terms of revenue, of any budget that we've seen for a long time.
Well, of course we have a deficit, but who's going to be better, after a pandemic—
to get the budget back into balance? Who's going to do that?
Well, I look forward to seeing it. I believe that people are going to look very carefully at this analysis—that we shouldn't have spent money. The Labor Party simultaneously says we shouldn't have spent money, we shouldn't have gone into debt—even though every business, family and household was shut by the government during a pandemic—and then of course we should have kept the supports going after we'd said we were going to remove them when the economic recovery was on. And somehow that would have led to less debt and deficit and the economy would have been sustained! It is pulp fiction, this narrative from the opposition.
When they stand here and say that their main criticism is that people weren't sitting up straight, or something, in the House, you know they've got nothing. This budget is temporary, targeted at the right people—families, households, small businesses, people who earn a living, the regions, people who drive the economic recovery out there. We're going to continue to support those people through every one of our measures through a budget from the Liberal and National parties that recognises the skill shortages—driving investment in skills, and people moving to our regions and taking those jobs and also being able to start their businesses and having them accelerated through our regional accelerators.
We're seeing a record rate of apprentice take-up in Australia. That means that now, under this budget, there will be a new $2.8 billion investment to increase the take-up and completion rate of the record rate of apprentices. These are the things I hear when I speak to businesses in Australia, when I hear from the regions—mayors, people I've visited around Australia. They're talking about skills. They're talking about support for business growth. They're talking about getting people into the regions, and that's what this budget will do.
When you ask any Australian community who they would trust to run the economy, well, we put forward our track record of understanding that it is the economy that drives growth, the economy that drives jobs and that relies on small, family, medium businesses. It's the Morrison government that will continue to support those businesses, to drive that growth, to drive that job creation and to get that record level of unemployment that we're going to see get to three per cent. It will be historic, and a re-elected coalition government will deliver that record unemployment result.
I'll start where the shadow Treasurer started, giving my thoughts to the people of the Northern Rivers. In particular, I visited Lismore just a couple of weeks ago. With the level of devastation and the fact that people are experiencing that today, we have to do much better in terms of disaster assistance and in terms of helping people in those communities.
We saw just then from that performance, somehow, again, this mythology that the Liberal-National coalition are the country's great economic managers. I would say to people tuning into this debate: have a listen to the shadow Treasurer's set of figures that he just outlined around wages growth, unemployment, debt, what happened under the years of Labor governments and the journey from where the economy was to where we are today. That absolutely dispels the myth. I understand that Married at First Sight actually rated higher than the Treasurer's budget, but I was here listening to the Treasurer as, I'm sure, were many Australians. Any Australians who tuned into the budget last night were treated not to a plan for a better future but a plan for just the next 50 days.
After a decade of wasted opportunity, Australians are now being treated to more of the same. We have a Prime Minister who is worried about nobody's job except his own. This is a government led by a Prime Minister who does not care about ordinary Australians but only cares about keeping himself at this side of the table. And we have a Deputy Prime Minister who spends the early hours of the morning sending out unintelligible tweets, yet delays communicating to his state and territory transport counterparts how their budget phasing for road infrastructure and rail infrastructure projects is going to happen.
The Prime Minister doesn't care about planning for this nation's future, because the only future he cares about is his own. You don't have to take my word for it. You can hear it straight from one of his own senators, who in fact served around a cabinet table with him. We saw Senator Fierravanti-Wells, a senator for New South Wales, say that this Prime Minister 'is adept at running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds, lacking a moral compass and having no conscience'. Even more scathingly, she said:
In my public life, I have met ruthless people. Morrison tops the list… Morrison is not fit to be Prime Minister.
There is no better way than to sum up this Prime Minister and government than that they are only in it for themselves. The Prime Minister is not ruthless to improve this country. He is ruthless in the pursuit of his own personal advancement and power. You could see that last night. There is not a thing in this budget that makes up for the decade of attacks on wages, the stagnant wages growth, the attacks on job security and the attacks on our healthcare system, Medicare.
There's a big cash splash before the election designed to get some headlines, and then there is at least $3 billion of secret cuts—the government won't detail what they actually are or where it's going to do those cuts—to come after the election. They promise one thing before the election but deliver cuts after it. What roads, what rail services, what regional community services and what jobs does this Prime Minister plan to cut after the election?
When it comes to the budget, Australians need a pay rise, not a patch-up job that leaves them $26 a week worse off. If this budget weren't riddled with rorts and weighed down by waste and mismanagement, there'd be more room to support families, to support pensioners and to invest in this nation's future. Having failed to hit 52 of their 55 wage growth projections, the Prime Minister and Treasurer want you now to believe that, this time, they really, really mean it. This is a marketing budget from a Treasurer who made 'back in black' mugs before the last election and is now admitting to deficits as far as the eye can see.
Even after this budget, the second-highest taxing government in three decades will collect an extra $5,275 from every Australian compared to the last Labor government. Just think about what an average family could do today with that extra $5,275—what that would mean to a family and how that would change lives and make it easier to cope with the skyrocketing costs of living. This is all at the same time as the Treasurer was forced into the humiliating backdown on car park rorts in his own electorate. This is not a budget for the future; it's a budget for the re-election of the Morrison government. (Time expired.)
The shift into the regions is indisputably on, as the Australian writes today. Regional Australia grew by 70,000 people in the year to 2021, while the capital cities population fell by 26,000. The big move is on. The great advance to the west is on. And the reason why people want to move to the regions is that the regions are a safe place in which to live. With better telecommunications, better transport links, better health services and better amenity, the regions are the place to be. You and I both know that, Deputy Speaker, because we live in the regions. We love the regions, and the regions will continue to draw and attract people from capital cities because the regions are a great place in which to live.
The regions are also a great place for people to live because of the policies that have been put down by the Liberal and National government. The Liberals and the Nationals have put policies in place that have made the regions even more attractive. Last night's budget, delivered by the Treasurer, was a budget for the regions. It builds on previous budgets that Treasurer Frydenberg has announced, previous budgets that Treasurer Morrison announced and previous budgets that this government, this side of parliament, has put in place to recognise and acknowledge the fact that the regions are going to drive investment and help our balance of payments into the future.
I'm really delighted that the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, a program that I announced on 22 May 2020, has been extended by another half a billion dollars. For my electorate, that means $13.8 million is going to go to the 12 local councils that I proudly represent in this place. But right across the nation that is going to mean substantial investment in projects which aren't necessarily the big-signature items but which are so important to local communities.
The shadow Treasurer talks about job security. It was the shadow Treasurer who said, when COVID first hit these shores, that this government would be judged on how it handled the COVID crisis with job security. Indeed, we're second in the world, as far as the ratings go, in terms of how we have handled the coronavirus. Look at our unemployment level. It was 5.7 per cent when those opposite left power. What is it now? It's four per cent—less in the regions. They're the jobless numbers. Indeed, the Regional Australia Institute identifies more than 72½ thousand jobs in the regions right now. If there is a job in the regions, for all sectors, it is available right now. There are many, many jobs. Go up to the high streets and main streets of country towns and regional hubs and you will see job advertisements, 'hiring now, inquire within', on the shop windows in our central business districts. That is because we are looking to employ people. We want people to join that great rush to the regions. We want people to come and share in all of the great things that are in the regions.
To suggest that there is any sort of attack on wages or job security is just piffle. It is just nonsense, and the member for Rankin knows it full well. Job security is definitely there, because there are jobs available. The jobless figures are very good. They are the envy of the Western world because of the economic policies that we have put in place as a government. Just last night, in the budget, we saw that taxpayers, particularly right across the regions, are going to benefit from the low- and middle-income tax offset and the cost-of-living tax offset. In my electorate of Riverina, 61,700 taxpayers are going to benefit from those measures. The fuel excise: 22c per litre for every tank of fuel. We know that country people drive more than city folk; that's just a normality. Driving kids to school, driving kids to sport, driving to and from work—it's expected that they drive more kilometres. Indeed, in the Riverina and Central West, it could mean a saving of $30 per week for a family with two cars, or $700 over the six months of the program. A good announcement, a good budget. (Time expired)
In five weeks time, the early voting polls are going to start opening. Members of the coalition will ask the people of Australia to vote for a Prime Minister whom their own Deputy Prime Minister has called a hypocrite. He has actually said a lot worse things than that, but the rules of parliament require that I cannot use these words. The former Premier of New South Wales has described this person as a horrible, horrible man. The current senator from New South Wales has described the Prime Minister as a person without moral compass, who is not fit to hold the office of Prime Minister. The most remarkable thing about each of these people is that they all know the Prime Minister a lot better than anybody else on this side of the House and much better than just about any other Australian. So if the people who know the Prime Minister best are saying that he can't be trusted, that he is a horrible, horrible person and that he is not fit to hold the office of Prime Minister, how on earth can the people of Australia say that this guy is worth a second decade in office?
Any one of these criticisms should be fatal, but that is not the case on which the Australian Labor Party says this rotten government should be thrown out of office. They are all character flaws indeed, but the principal argument that we will be taking to the next election is that they should not enjoy a second decade in office because, frankly, they are just incompetent—rotten to the core and incompetent. They stand here and talk about their own superior economic management, but they have delivered to the Australian people the three largest budget deficits in our nation's history and $1 trillion worth of debt. We are coming close to the point where we will be spending as much on interest payments repaying this government's debt as we spend each year on Medicare. These are eye-watering amounts of money, and yet this mob over here try to lecture us on economic management.
They say that the economy is coming back. They say, 'Just trust us with three more years; the good times are just around the corner.' Well, if you're an Australian sitting around the dinner table and you want to measure how the economy is going, there is only one thing you are thinking about: 'Are my wages going up? Is there more money coming in to meet the costs of our family budget or less?' You do not have to listen to the member for Rankin. You do not have to listen to myself. All you need to do is read the government's own budget papers. It's there in black and white.
In this year alone, real wages go back by a whopping 2.75 per cent—that is, by the end of this year, you are nearly three per cent worse off under this government's economic plan then you were at the beginning of it. They talk about economic recovery and good times being just around the corner, but you're 2.75 per cent worse off at the end of this year than you were at the beginning. The member for Rankin, the number of the top of our head is $26 per week, and the Prime Minister says, 'Don't look at that; look over here!' He's the ultimate sideshow huckster. We won't have any of this. The Australian people, if they want a pay rise, have got to vote for Scott Morrison not once but twice, because under their own budget papers it's going to take over three years before they see an increase in real wages. So the economy supposedly improving means nothing to the ordinary Australian family until they see their real wages going up, and under this mob there's a plan for them to go backwards. So, whether you vote against the Prime Minister because he's got no moral compass or because he's a horrible, horrible person or, in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, he can't be trusted and he's just a hypocrite, or whether you vote against him because your wages are going backwards, this mob have to go. (Time expired)
It appears to me that Labor is stuck in the past. They do not understand the fundamentals of a modern economy, nor do they seem to understand that we have been through a global pandemic with an economic shock that has not been seen for more than a century. It's important for us to understand that we, on the side, get economics. We get finance. We understand that one of the best ways to increase wages is to decrease tax. That means that families, individuals, Australians can take home more pay. We understand this. This is fundamental to the way that we approach things, and we have been doing this from the very first time that I came to this House. I'm very proud, as a member of this 46th Parliament and a member of the Morrison government, that we have been supporting tax cuts from the get-go. We have been supporting them to ensure that Australians keep more of what they earn in their pocket.
We have legislated more than $320 billion in tax cuts, including more than $130 billion through stage 3 tax cuts. In fact, it was the very first thing that I voted on as a new member of parliament and something I'm enormously proud of. We've provided more than $40 billion in tax cuts, which have now flowed to more than 11 million Australians since the start of the pandemic. And around $12 billion in support will flow to more than 10 million Australians when taxpayers lodge their tax returns from 1 July 2022. More than $16.5 billion in tax cuts will flow to more than 12 million Australians in this next financial year because of our permanent tax cuts implemented in the 2020-21 budget. More than $93 billion in tax cuts will flow to more than 13 million Australians over the three years in the forward estimates.
What does this mean? What are the practical implications of these massive tax cuts for the Australian people? Someone who's on a median income and earning around $60,000 will be $7,980 better off by the end of this financial year compared with the 2013-14 income tax settings. An average full-time income earner on around $90,000 will be $8,655 better off by the end of the 2022-23 financial year compared with the 2013-14 income tax settings. So we understand the fundamentals that tax cuts mean Australians can take home more pay, and that means they have more spending power in the economy.
By contrast Labor took $387 billion of higher taxes to the 2019 election—$230 billion in higher personal income taxes, $57 billion in higher taxes for retirees, $31 billion in higher housing taxes, $27 billion in higher family business taxes and $34 billion in higher superannuation taxes. The people of Higgins told me that, right there, that was a tax on their aspiration—their aspiration for a better life for them, for a better life for their family, for a better life for the prosperity of Australia. And that's because Labor has a fundamentally different approach to finance and the economy. It's in their DNA. They think it's Labor's money. They don't understand that it's the taxpayer's money. The government is spending it on behalf of the taxpayer. That is an absolute fundamental.
Despite the biggest economic shock this country has faced in a century, we have been working hard to make sure that more people are in work. We understand the dignity of work and how important it is for people to have a job. As a result of the work that we have done through our measures through COVID, including JobKeeper, the cash flow boost, the instant asset write-off—all the things we have done to support businesses—we now have unemployment at four per cent, the equal lowest in 48 years. That is nearly two million more Australians in work today than when we came into government. This is something to be so enormously proud of, because this government understands fiscal responsibility, the economy and how to do the right thing at the right time at the right place in our history.
This morning, a number of Labor members and I went to the front lawn of parliament to meet with aged-care workers. They're here in Canberra to protest their lousy wages and conditions and the neglect of their industry by the Morrison government. These people—predominantly women—are Morrison's forgotten Australians. They perform one of the most important roles in our society, looking after our frail, our elderly and our most vulnerable. They're overworked and they're underpaid. Some of them are working two and three jobs just to get by.
The title of the report handed down by the royal commission that was instigated to look into our aged-care system had one word: neglect. If you ever want an indictment on a government and their approach to aged care, look no further than the title of that royal commission report, Neglect. It talks of substandard care, malnutrition of residents, skills shortages, workers underpaid and overworked, a system in crisis. What did the Morrison government do in last night's budget to help those aged-care workers? What did they do to boost the wages of struggling aged-care workers in our economy? Nothing. They did nothing. There is no support for their wage rise, which is going through the Fair Work Commission at the moment. There is not even any indication from the government that it will fund any wage increase that the Fair Work Commission might deliver in their wage case. Instead, they get an $800 bribe from the Prime Minister to try and stop them fleeing the industry, a bribe that many of those aged-care workers tell us hasn't even been paid yet. The Prime Minister promised it months ago, and it hasn't even been paid to them. As one of them said to me, 'It won't even be a week's worth of rent.'
What does this say about support for workers in Australia and their wages? This is a government that deliberately goes out of its way to suppress workers' wages. Do you remember the cuts to penalty rates for hospitality workers? Did this government step in to support hospitality workers, given the fact those workers were taking home less money to their families each week? No. The government supported that cut to penalty rates. When Qantas sacked 3,000 of its staff and contracted out their work to a foreign corporation that then brought workers in on lower wages and conditions, do you think anyone in the Morrison government spoke out against that? Of course not. What about when workers in the mining sector took action against their employers because they were working next to people who were employed by labour hire companies as casuals, with lower wages and conditions yet doing the same job as miners working beside them on a daily basis? Who do you think the Morrison government supported in that court case, when those miners and their union went to court to try and get justice for those workers? It wasn't the workers. The Morrison government intervened in that case and backed the employers. It says everything about their approach to workplace relations. They even have a government wages policy that deliberately restricts wage increases in the public sector.
Never forget that this is the party of WorkChoices. This is the party that brought in individual contracts so that workers could be ripped off by tearing them out of their union collective bargaining agreements and paying them less. It's a fact—one that Australians understand—that the Morrison government and every other Liberal and coalition government that has come before it never support workers. They never support higher incomes for workers, and they never support wage increases for them.
The result in Australia is that real wages have been falling—and falling dramatically—under this government. In 2021, inflation was running at 3½ per cent on an annual basis, but wages only increased by 2.3 per cent. For the average worker on an income of $68,000 a year, that's an effective pay cut of $832 a year. Did the government do anything in the budget last night to alleviate any of that pressure that workers in Australia are feeling? Of course not. That's why Australians are unhappy, that's why Australians are angry and that's why Australians are not buying the ribbon-cutting budget that was introduced by this government last night. They've ignored the pleas of hardworking Australians for support when cost-of-living pressure is going through the roof but wages have not been increasing for the last decade. We've seen in recent months that the Prime Minister of Australia cannot walk down the street in a place like Lismore, because he knows he is going to be abused and arraigned by the Australian people. That says everything about his standing in the community. When the Prime Minister can't walk down the street, it's time to give someone else a go.
I want to start by joining some other contributors in acknowledging the terrible situation in northern New South Wales. In particular, I'm thinking of the people living in Alstonville, a town I lived in for a few years as a child. I went to Alstonville Public School, so I'm very concerned about what is happening there. I wish them and those needing to evacuate, and all the people who are helping in those communities, all the best.
I appreciate the opportunity to talk on this matter of public importance, which is about economic management, the state of our economy and where it is going. This is going to be central to the upcoming election campaign. I look forward to the opportunity on the campaign to be talking about our economy, where we are, where we've come from and where we are going. That's what last night's budget that was handed down by the Treasurer underpinned. We know full well the challenges that we have had to meet over the past two years in confronting the most significant economic risk and circumstance since probably the Great Depression, certainly the greatest challenge to our nation since the Second World War. I'm very proud of all of the elements of our economic response to the pandemic, such as the restrictions that had to be put in place and the economic support that flowed from that to make sure that our economy could survive those restrictions.
We know from the budget that JobKeeper was central to saving hundreds of thousands of jobs and supporting hundreds of thousands of businesses in my electorate of Sturt. I still come across people all the time in my electorate who talk to me about how vital having access to JobKeeper was for them to keep their business going and, of course, to keep people employed and connected to those businesses. There were the increased JobKeeper payments. The HomeBuilder program was an absolutely fantastic scheme that has been transformational for so many people to access housing, the great Australian dream, which the Liberal Party has always championed. Over decades when in government, the Liberal Party has been responsible for helping to support people to get into a home. We know how important that is. The HomeBuilder scheme was absolutely fundamental to that.
We did what was necessary as a government. We spent money that was necessary to support our economy and to support consumption in the private sector by providing government stimulus. We now find ourselves in a situation where we have recovered. We are rebuilding. We have more people employed in our economy than before the challenges that the pandemic beset us. That has put us in a position to do the things that were announced in the budget last night, which give people a great sense of optimism for the future whilst recognising that there are challenges, particularly around cost of living and meeting those costs. That's why our budget ensured that we put in place a range of measures to help support people who are struggling with inflationary impact, particularly when it comes to fuel, which is of course outside the control of anyone in this country or anyone in this parliament. International forces are at work there, but, nonetheless, we recognise the need to support people. In particular, the halving of the fuel excise for the next six months will be of enormous benefit to my constituents and people across the country in meeting those cost-of-living challenges.
The exciting parts of the budget are the forecasts around unemployment continuing to fall. It's already at four per cent, going into the threes and breaking records that, in some cases, are more than 50 years old. That is not only because of the important decisions that we've made over the past few years and the position the Australian economy is in now but because of the measures in the budget and what they are going to do to keep supporting employment growth in this country into the future. That's what underpins our ability to do absolutely anything else.
We're proud of what we're investing in essential services. I'm particularly proud of what we're doing in national security and defence. My electorate is a significant beneficiary of the sovereign defence industrial capability that we've invested in and are continuing to grow in this country, as are many other electorates across the country. But all that comes from a strong economy. All that comes from creating jobs and increasing the taxpaying basis so that we can provide the essential services that people need. We are a government that is doing that. I am very excited to get this campaign underway in a few weeks time and be out there in my electorate, like other members from the government will be doing right across the country, talking with pride about the decisions that we've made and the policies that we've put in place, particularly those in the budget last night, and what they mean for every Australian, giving them a future to be excited about and economic security that underpins their ability to plan for their future.
Last Friday I did a street stroll at the Charnwood shops, and a bloke came up to me to tell me his story. He's a bricklayer, a single dad with two kids. He said it doesn't matter how much overtime he does, he still finds himself struggling to make ends meet at the end of the week. Then I turned around and spoke immediately to a single mum whose kids have left home and who is a public servant working from one short-term contract to the next. She told me that that very day she'd finished one short-term contract, and on Monday morning she'd be turning up to the Centrelink office to sign up. She hoped she'd be able to get another short-term contract, because if she didn't she didn't know how she'd be able to continue to pay her mortgage.
Earlier this month, Sally McManus posted a tweet asking how people were coping with the cost of living. Here are some of the responses. One person wrote:
I'm on DSP. I "survive" because my adult children help out with my mortgage otherwise I'd be homeless. No meat, don't go anywhere, live on pasta, rice, lentils. Medical costs take a big chunk of my money.
Judy Parker wrote:
I live on rice thins and coleslaw… occasional bit of chicken. Rent is just under half my weekly wage. I'm on 30 hrs per week, over 60 and can't jag full time work. I don't know what my future will look like.
For the first time in my life, I find myself putting things back on the shelf when shopping.
Nina Maree wrote:
Grocery shopping is becoming upsetting.
Ross Heyen wrote:
I can't remember the last time I had lamb or steak. If it's not marked down we're only having the cheapest cuts, like chuck done in the slow cooker.
Who would have thought that meat would become a luxury good in Australia? But that's where we've gotten to.
Cost of living is a new issue to the Liberals, and they think it's a temporary one. That's why so many of the cost-of-living measures in this budget have a shorter use-by date than a frozen pizza. We've got the cash payments that go out on a one-off basis in April. We've got the tax bonus that just happens in July and then it's done. We've got the petrol tax relief, which is over in September. But for most Australians cost of living isn't a temporary issue from month to month; it's an 8½ year issue under the Liberals.
And it's not just an issue about the consumer price index; it is an issue about the gap between prices and wages. As my friend Barbara Phi liked to put it, for so many Australians it feels like there's more month than money. Fundamentally, the issues we're facing under the Liberals are issues of shared prosperity. You can see deep concern from policymakers right across the economic spectrum. Christine Lagarde spoke of what she called 'the third milestone: inequality and the quality of growth in our future world'. Amartya Sen and John Rawls have talked about the importance of egalitarian growth.
My friend and mentor Tony Atkinson wrote a book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? One of his really important insights out of that book was that there isn't always that trade-off between growth and equity that Arthur Okun talked about, but that a lot of policies can be good for equity and good for growth. That's at the heart of Labor's cheaper childcare plan, our Powering Australia plan, our commitment to free TAFE places and tens of thousands of additional university places, and our commitment to roll out the National Broadband Network. All of that recognises that, when we grow Australia from the middle out, we see the kind of egalitarian country that holds true to Australia's values: to a country where most of us don't stand up when the Prime Minister enters the room, where many of us sit in the front seat of taxis and where we prefer the word 'mate' to the word 'sir'. If we want an egalitarian Australia with strong middle-class growth then we need more than the trickle-down philosophy that has embodied the Liberal's 8½ years in power.
We need real plans, such as Labor's plan to deal with problems in productivity, which have plagued this government and seen productivity go backwards. In the long run, productivity is the central driver of wages, yet under the Liberals we haven't seen that investment in competition reform which underpins a dynamic economy. We see no action on multinational tax avoidance in this budget, which we know is important to creating a level playing field and building an egalitarian Australia. Labor is committed to shared prosperity, and a Labor government would produce a budget far stronger and better for growth than the one we saw last night.
Labor's got a big test tomorrow night, which I suspect they're not going to rise to the occasion of. The Leader of the Opposition, for three years, has criticised everything and supported everything. We saw that again last night in response to the budget. We saw the Labor Party calling the budget a cash splash and criticising every aspect of the economic plan, yet when we woke this morning we heard from the Leader of the Opposition that they will be supporting the cost-of-living relief in the budget—that it's terrible spending, terrible tax expenditure, but they'll support it anyway.
The Leader of the Opposition has hidden for three years, but you can't hide a more-than-20-year history in politics. You can't hide the fact that he's the most left-wing leader that the Labor Party has had, probably, since Whitlam. He could be further to the left than Whitlam—who knows! But he's trying to hide everything he stood for before: higher taxes, higher income taxes, higher taxes on retirees, higher taxes on housing—every conceivable higher tax, including death taxes, which he supported at one point in his career.
The Leader of the Opposition has not said a thing for three years. He's shamelessly carped for three years. It's been a relentlessly negative opposition in the midst of a pandemic—relentless negativity from this Leader of the Opposition, who has not spelled out what he would do, and tomorrow night is his opportunity to outline an alternative budget. But we already see the Labor Party starting to sow the seeds: 'Oh, we will just talk about some principles tomorrow night; we're not going to outline an alternative budget.'
That's what the Australian people will expect, because from this government they've seen a plan to continue with the economic success of this country, a plan to ease the cost-of-living burdens that they have been facing in recent times, particularly since we've seen global supply chains being impacted, not just by the pandemic but also by the war in Ukraine and the aggression from Russia. The Labor Party can't on one hand criticise every aspect of the budget and on the other hand support it. This is what the Leader of the Opposition has done now for three years.
An opposition member interjecting—
Labor, including the member who is interjecting, went to the last election very proud of their $387 billion of higher taxes. But now they've all had a conversion on the road to Damascus: 'Oh no, when we said that we supported the retirees tax, slugging Australian retirees, or our housing tax, or our superannuation tax, or our family business tax, we didn't really mean that. No, we've all had a great conversion.' The Australian people know that, and the Australian people are far too smart for the Labor Party. They know that the Labor Party truly believe in those things.
Their unwillingness to outline what they would do, their unwillingness to outline an alternative budget tomorrow night, is a very convenient way to try to sneak into government without saying anything and then have all of those higher taxes in their back pocket. I don't think it's going to work, quite frankly, because I don't think the Australian people are going to write a blank cheque for the Labor Party. I don't think they're going to write a blank cheque for the weakest economic team that we've probably seen in an opposition in this country—an extraordinarily weak team with a Leader of the Opposition who's never delivered a budget, who sat on the expenditure review committee for all of six weeks and who spent six years doing nothing in the most dysfunctional government that Australia has seen. We've got a shadow of a shadow Treasurer who was Wayne Swan's brain. He took that as a compliment when I used it in the House once upon a time. It's not meant to be a compliment, I assure you, being Wayne Swan's brain—the shadow Treasurer who wrote the immortal line, 'The four surpluses I announce tonight', which is seared on every political boffin's mind.
So, the Labor Party have a big test tomorrow night. We think they're going to fail that test, but we hope they rise to the occasion and outline an alternative budget and their plan for this country—which they don't have.