House debates

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Cost of Living

3:27 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

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

The need for the Government to adopt a plan to ease pressure on cost of living for Australian families and small businesses now, not in October.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than t he number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Today the Treasurer told us he painted a picture. I don't know whether it was a watercolour, an oil painting or a finger painting, but the truth of the matter is he ain't no artist. He might think he's Leonardo da Vinci. He might think he's Michelangelo. He might think he's Tom Roberts. Who knows? But the truth of the matter is that he didn't do what the Australian people really want, which is explain how he's going to address the cost-of-living pressures that Australians are facing. Indeed, Mr Speaker, within three hours of painting his picture he couldn't even answer a question about what was going to happen to the cost of essential goods and services for the Australian people. He refused to answer that question. In fact, what we heard from him was all smear and no idea. That's all he had, Mr Speaker. He could not answer that question. The truth of the matter is the real reason is that he has no plan.

Mr Speaker, it's worse than that, because they are already either crab walking or sprinting away from the few commitments on this that they did make to the Australian people prior to the election. We heard it here today, Mr Speaker. Did any of us hear the Prime Minister prepared to recommit to the $275 reduction in electricity prices he promised? He promised it back in December. He's making all sorts of excuses about what happened in April and May. He's walking away from it, Mr Speaker—and not like a crab, like a gazelle. He is running away from that commitment as fast as he can.

It gets worse than that, because in the oil painting that we got today from the Treasurer we also saw another broken commitment. Prior to the election, they committed to meaningful increases in real wages, Mr Speaker. Snuck away in the back of his statement, in a table, was an admission that there was not going to be any meaningful increase in real wages. In fact, in the next 12 months, Mr Speaker, there's going to be a 1.75 per cent reduction. In the total of three years—that's likely to be the term, or thereabouts, but who knows how long they're going to last—of this parliament the total increase in real wages is 0.5 per cent. That's 0.166 per cent a year, Mr Speaker. This is a real worry, Mr Speaker. This is a pathetic excuse, Mr Speaker—that in fact things are happening that they don't really like. What we've heard is: 'Gee, it's tough.' He's pointed the finger a lot and he's walking away from those absolutely ironclad commitments that the Australian people expected. That's what the Australian people expected, Mr Speaker, because they said they were going to deliver it.

Mr Speaker, when we were in government we did deliver under incredibly difficult circumstances. We know the nature of government is you're getting curveballs every day. Things are coming at you at pace and the only thing you can do is respond proactively. There's no point complaining. There's no point saying that the pandemic is not your fault. The one thing you can do is act and put together a plan, Mr Speaker, and that's exactly what we did.

In fact, coming out of the pandemic unemployment was substantially lower than before the pandemic. Growth in the size of the economy was over three points higher at the end of the pandemic than before it. Mr Speaker, these are absolutely remarkable outcomes. In fact, when I talk to others around the world, so many are keen to know what is it that Australia did so well, Mr Speaker. It was a remarkable outcome.

We realised that there were real cost-of-living pressures coming through at the back end of the pandemic. That's why in the last budget we had support for Australians on fuel, support for Australians on medicines, support for Australians on tax. That built on many years of working to make sure Australians were able to make ends meet with tax reductions for small businesses, tax reductions for households—hardworking families, Mr Speaker. Our longstanding commitment is to make sure that Australians are able to make ends meet, because it's this side of the House that has always been committed to lower taxes. It's this side of the House that has always been committed to making sure that Australians can find a way to make ends meet.

In seeking to cast blame today, the Treasurer held out three tests for himself. They were pretty extraordinary tests. What happens to power prices, what happens to apprentices and what happens to wages? Given that they've walked away from their commitments on two of those three, who knows what's going to happen to the third one, Mr Speaker? The reality is that he has set a pretty tough test for himself. But, Mr Speaker, he does recognise the importance of a plan, because during the election campaign he accused the former government of having an excuse for everything and a plan for nothing. But what I heard today from the Treasurer was an excuse for everything and a plan for absolutely nothing, Mr Speaker.

He made an interjection when I was making my response to the statement. He asked us what we were suggesting. I am very happy to provide him with some help, Mr Speaker, because, as he pointed out, it is quite right that we do need to help with some of the supply pressures that businesses are facing right now, particularly the labour pressures. That's why we've announced, in recent weeks, that we would support pensioners being able to double the amount of the work they can do without losing their pension. What we have at the moment is small businesses all around the country looking for labour, looking for people who can help them to deliver to their customers, and we have many pensioners who would like to work more. They're facing a high effective marginal tax as a result of the way the pension works. What we're proposing is that we would allow them to increase the amount that they work without losing their pension. That's good for pensioners, good for businesses and good for the nation. The Treasurer might want to consider that as a way of dealing with this, but he is going to spend between now and who knows when trying to concoct his plan, when the action required is urgent; it is required now, Mr Speaker.

The second thing they can provide is good budget management. We know that every decent economist out there right now is saying that countries had to do what they had to do during the pandemic but now is the time to tighten the belt. That's why, at the last budget, we turned around the budget by $103 billion. Those opposite wanted to spend an additional $81 billion during the pandemic. They wanted to bribe Australians to get a vaccine. And it's worse than that, because they took to the election commitments to spend an extra $45 billion on off-budget indulgences—sneaky little expenditures that the Australian people have to pay for, Mr Speaker. On-budget, they were prepared to fess up to $18 billion of additional spending, Mr Speaker, and we know that additional spending puts pressure on interest rates, puts pressure on inflation and, therefore, puts pressure on Australians.

Mr Speaker, the final area they can focus on is productivity. Productivity matters. It matters because that's how you pay people more. That's how you pay back your budget deficits.

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

Every year productivity went down!

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

That is how you make sure that Australians have a good standard of living. Mr Speaker, I will take the interjection from the member opposite, because—

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

I have waited because I was loath to interrupt you—

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry—Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

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

but you have called me Mr Speaker on at least a dozen occasions. My title is Deputy Speaker. I don't need a Mr, a Mrs or a Madam; it's just Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll go with Deputy Speaker.

An honourable member: But she would have been a great Speaker!

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. You would have been a very good Speaker! But, Mr Speaker, meanwhile—

Honourable members int erjecting—

those opposite get rid of the ABCC. We know how important that is to productivity. We know that that is helping to reduce the cost of construction in this country. The Treasurer gave us a painting today, Mr Speaker. He was a forecaster, not a leader. He was a commentator, not a Treasurer. We need a plan, Mr Speaker. That's what Australians want now.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Seriously, shadow Treasurer, you are just going to have to dump the 'Mr Speaker' when I am in the chair, okay?

3:38 pm

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

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I've got to say that if anybody ever says that the Leader of the Opposition is completely humourless, I am just going to point to the shadow Treasurer. He appointed this man as the shadow Treasurer of Australia, who is no good with names and no good with numbers. A bit of self-reflection would not have gone astray—just a little bit of self-reflection.

There we have the member for Hume puffing himself up, in only the way that a King's private schoolboy can, and demanding that the government of nine weeks deliver something that this mob couldn't deliver in nine years. In nine weeks they demand that we deliver something that they could not land in nine years. Just a little bit of self-reflection wouldn't go astray. We deliver a comprehensive plan to confront the crisis that was left behind by this rabble over here—to confront the mess that they have left us—and what does the member for Hume say? 'That's very good, but where's the plan?' It is a joke. They should reflect on the nine years that have got them on that side of the chamber: a complete policy vacuum that has left the country economically weaker and in a state of disarray with our relationships with our near neighbour and with our friends in Europe that we have spent the last nine weeks trying to patch up. Our relations with the Pacific, Europe and the US were in a worse state when we came back into government than when we left it. We've got a crisis in wages, a crisis in skills and $1 trillion worth of debt, made worse by the mob on that side because of their addiction to rorts, waste and mismanagement. When the waste and mismanagement wouldn't get them far enough, they'd fiddle the books, and I'll have more to say about that in a moment. The member for Hume has a long history of fiddling the books, and we'll reflect on that.

The title of this MPI asks what we are doing about the budget and what we are doing about cost of living. Well, there is nobody in this parliament who is more responsible for the cost-of-living crisis that we are facing in this country than the member for Hume. The man who demands a plan from Labor is personally responsible for destroying 22 of his own government's plans. There is nobody in this parliament who had a greater responsibility than the member for Hume for destroying every single one of the previous government's inadequate plans on energy. When those opposite come to the dispatch box and complain about the price of energy going up—and up, and up, and up—they should look to themselves, because the fault is in the mirror.

As if smashing a sensible plan for a clean energy future that will drive investment and keep prices down is not enough, when the regulator presents those opposite with the consequence of their nine years of inaction and vandalism, what do they do? They hide the truth. The member for Hume himself is responsible for hiding the truth. There was a 19.7 per cent increase in energy prices because of his disastrous policies, and what does he do? He tries to hide the truth. He's got a long history of hiding the truth. We all remember the Clover Moore affair, when the member for Hume got his office to make some fake documents to try to get a press release out and get a boost against the well-respected Sydney Lord Mayor. This guy has a long history of fiddling the books and hiding the truth. He cannot be trusted. When he offers to hand us a document with a little bit of help on some plans, you'd better check the provenance of that document, because it's probably been doctored.

He demands a plan, and we've got one, because on this side of the House we understand that galloping inflation is a regressive tax on the lowest-income households in the country, so fighting inflation will be at the core of our plan. It's why, this morning, the Treasurer announced in this place a comprehensive plan about how we would address the economic challenges that we have inherited from the other government. The first step in this plan is ensuring that we get the budget in order. That may cause some pain for the Nats, who see the job of government as being to deliver a channel of pork barrel to their electorates. It may cause the Nats a bit of pain, but what is good for the budget is going to be good for the country. It could cause some embarrassment for members on the other side when we expose the fact that they have knowingly cooked the books, that they have been dishonest with the Australian people about the state of the budget.

There is no example that better puts a spotlight on their ineptitude than how they have managed the Modernising Business Registers program. There has never been a party in Australia's political history that has talked more about economic management but done so little of it. There's never been a party that has talked so much about business but understood so little about it. Managing a modern economy requires us to have a national registry of companies, company directors, Australian business numbers and those participating in the financial markets. It is absolutely critical and it is at the core of a modern economy. They have overseen the dilapidation of this system. They told parliament that they had a plan to put it back together again. They told parliament it was going to cost a little over $450 million. But now we discover hiding in the back of their budget was a trick, a time bomb, waiting for us, an over-a-billion-dollar blowout in this essential program. There has never been a party that talked more about economic management but did so little of it—a billion-dollar blowout which they tried to hide from the Australian people, fixed into the back of the budget books. It will take Labor to clean this mess up.

We on this side have a plan for jobs and skills. When you talk to businesses, large or small, they say their number one challenge is finding the workers with the skills, and that job has been made so much harder because over the last nine years this mob over here have run down vocational education, run down higher education and thought the responsibility of the education minister was to wage culture wars on schools, on vocational education and on universities in this country.

An Anthony Albanese Labor government will wage a war on skills shortages in this country because we think that is the responsibility of people who have the portfolio of education, of people who are responsible for universities and vocational education. Australia needs a war on the skills shortage, not more of this protracted and confected culture war of this pathetic mob over here. We understand that a way of getting more women into the workforce is by ensuring that families can balance the cost of child care, so Labor has a part of its plan to ensure that we can help families with the cost of child care with two benefits: not only reducing cost-of-living pressures on households but getting more workers, including skilled workers, back in the workforce for longer. We have a comprehensive plan.

In the time we have left, I want to address the issue of wages. Unlike those opposite, who had baked into their budget a plan for real wages to go backwards over the next three years, we have a plan to turn that around. On the previous government's watch, real wages went back by 2.5 per cent in the last three years alone and they intended for that to continue for the next three years. So while the member for Hughes, with his confected, puffed-up outrage, criticises us for not having a plan for real wages, nothing could be further from the truth. In our first month in government we have gone to the lowest-paid workers, the people these guys see as the economic bumper bar in any downturn, and we have convinced the Fair Work Commission to increase their wages by 5.3 per cent and, on top of that, ensured that their superannuation goes up by another 0.5 per cent—a 5.8 per cent increase for the lowest-paid workers in Australia, confected outrage from this pathetic mob over here.

3:48 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and congratulations on your election. Today the MPI is about the cost of living. One of the most important parts of any family's cost of living is their power bill. We all know that, we wait for it quarterly and it makes a big impact on the family budget. I am going to read out some quotes that I think are very important to give context of what this new government said before the election and what they are now doing after. An ABC online article on 29 April 2022 said:

Mr Albanese maintains that Labor can still bring power prices down $275 per year by 2025—

quoting the now Prime Minister as saying—

… if we do other measures that we've got in place as part of our Powering Australia plan, we will see those energy prices drop.

The now Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, on Wednesday 25 May—this is now after the election—on 2GB Breakfast with Ben Fordham vowed that the Albanese Labor government had a climate and energy plan to produce cheaper renewable energy available to all Australian households, saying:

No Government, three days old, can kind of turn that around, but what we've said in our policy and the economic modelling of our policy—it is about $275 a year by 2025.

The now Treasurer, on 5 April, in his address to the National Press Club, said:

… it will also cut power bills by $275 a year by 2025, unlock $76 billion of investment and create over 600,000 jobs, most of these in the regions too.

On 27 April, in the Guardian, the now Treasurer is reported as saying:

On power prices, we have released the most comprehensive modelling that an opposition has released on a policy ever. Our powering Australia plan says that by the middle of this decade we will get power prices down by $275 a year.

The now Leader of the House, Mr Burke, on 19 June—again, after the election—said on Sky News: 'We stand by the modelling that was there that the impact of what we will do, particularly through transmission, allows you to get cheaper energy onto the grid. It'll deliver downward pressures on prices. We'll get it done.' On 19 June, a newspaper article stated, 'Senior minister Tony Burke insists Labor's promise to reduce household energy bills by $275 a year over five years is still intact.'

The now Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, on 17 March, said on Sky News: 'We've also got plans to bring down the cost of electricity—$275 a year cheaper. These are the sorts of differences that we can make to people's lives every day if Labor is elected, and only Labor will do it.'

Katy Gallagher, the now finance minister, in the Canberra Times on 18 May, two days before the election, is quoted as saying, 'There's a once-in-a-century opportunity to reinvent our economy, build a better future and end the climate wars, invest in renewables and cut power bills by'—I think you'll be able to guess—'$275 over five years.'

An article in the Canberra Times, in referring to the now Minister for Defence, states:

As part of the policy, Labor anticipates household power bills would be $275 cheaper by 2025 and $378 less expensive in 2030, compared to today's rates.

Mr Marles said rigorous modelling was used to determine the figures.

"We will be giving rise to cheap power in this country, and that will drive economic growth, which will have a really significant impact on jobs," he said.

Senator Penny Wong is quoted as saying, 'Labor's Powering Australia plan will cut power bills, reduce emissions and bring renewable energy to Australian homes and save families $275 a year.'

But what happens then? On 28 July, an article in theDaily Mailstates:

Labor has already dumped its election promise to reduce power bills by $275 a year by 2025—after just six weeks in power.

The article states that Minister Bowen, asked if he still stands by Labor's $275 figure, didn't really say yes or no. He just said, 'Of course figures will move around.'

So there you go. This was one of the biggest commitments that this government made. They say they're going to have a new era of politics of transparency and be very upfront about what goes on, but they walk away. Six weeks after one of their major commitments in the election campaign, they walked away from it. The Prime Minister has been asked twice. No-one in Labor will mention $275 again in this House over the next three years, because what they've done has been deceitful.

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

I remind the member for Hasluck—I know you're a new member— that you are interjecting, and you are not even in your own seat.

3:53 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

MULINO () (): Congratulations, Deputy Speaker Claydon, on your well-deserved elevation to that important role. This MPI discussion reminds me of a person who holds a raucous party. The next morning, after having created a gigantic mess, somebody else must come to help clean it up, and they stand there with arms crossed, tapping their toe impatiently and complaining about the speed with which the other person is cleaning up that mess. That's exactly what we're facing here today: a gigantic mess created by those opposite after a decade of inaction, and then they snipe at a government that has undertaken more in two months than they did in a decade.

The shadow Treasurer quoted Harold Macmillan as saying that public life and politics exposes one to unforeseeable events. I can understand the shadow Treasurer having a fondness for the 1950s, given that his views on climate change would fit very well in that era, and I do acknowledge the views of Harold Macmillan, to the extent that there are unforeseeable events in public life. Having said that, I think that unforeseeable events do not give one licence for complete mismanagement and ineptness in the lead-up to those events.

That is what is so galling and so inappropriate about the motion we see here today. Well before COVID, well before supply chains were seizing up and well before the Ukraine invasion, the previous government was mismanaging the economy on a whole range of fronts. Even though there were some unforeseeable events, what was entirely foreseeable is that, no matter what events were over the horizon, the previous government was not going to make the economy as resilient as it should have been, experiencing nine years of the lowest productivity growth in decades. No matter what events were over the horizon, having the lowest real wages growth over a decade since the Great Depression was never going to help households to cope with those events. And no matter what events were over the horizon, it was never going to be a good idea, under any circumstances, to have a decade with 22 ridiculous energy policies, none of which were implemented, and to take no action on climate change. So yes, there were some unforeseeable events, but the previous government so mismanaged the economy in the lead-up to those events that it placed our economy and our society in a much more vulnerable situation than it needed to be.

The other part of the motion is equally as galling and equally as inaccurate. It says that this government, the current government, should take action now and not in October. Let's look at the first element of what this government is proposing and already taking action on: let's look at wages. During the course of the campaign, we proposed a five per cent wage increase for those on the lowest wages, for those who are the most exposed to inflation increases. Those opposite said that that would destroy the economy, that it was highly irresponsible: $1 an hour was too much, they said. This government—not in October but as soon as taking power—made a recommendation to the Fair Work Commission, and the Fair Work Commission has in fact made a decision to increase those wages by 5.2 per cent. And now the opposition comes in here and says, 'Well, you're not doing enough.' So, in the lead-up to the election, they were saying 5.2 per cent was ridiculously irresponsible, and now they come in here and say, 'We want you to do more and we want you to do it sooner.' Well, we're not waiting until October. We made a submission to the Fair Work Commission and there has already been action—a 5.2 per cent wage increase for those who are most vulnerable, which will make a real difference to those individuals and those families in the face of the inflation that we are currently experiencing and the inflation that is in the pipeline.

What about the cost of living? Again, this government is passing bills this week that deal with a whole raft of issues. This government is prioritising action on child care, which will help 1.26 million families by reducing the cost of child care for those families. That will have a direct impact on the prices of child care and, in turn, will have a significant impact on productivity, participation and the supply side of the economy. Finally, clean energy: a decade of inaction from those opposite, and we come in this week and we put a bill onto the table which would immediately provide certainty for investors, and those opposite say we should be doing more and doing it more quickly. The hypocrisy is utterly ridiculous. We do have a plan to ease cost-of-living pressures. We understand the urgency of taking action to ease cost-of-living pressures, and we are taking action right now.

3:58 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention) Share this | | Hansard source

The definition of a plan is a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something, and we all came in this morning—there was great anticipation from those opposite—and sat here and waited for the Treasurer's plan. But it ended up being all anticipation, no substance, despite the fact that this is a serious issue impacting every Australians—so serious that inflation has gone up to its highest levels in 21 years, so serious that building things and buying things in this country costs more. Australians deserve more. They deserve better from this Treasurer. The warnings are dire. Yet, despite all the tough talk during the election, all the promises, the government, those opposite—it must have been such a tough election—are now asleep at the wheel.

Before the election, those opposite were so big on talk. The current Prime Minister promised to make things here in our country, and there is nothing better than Australian made, yet now the government is looking to gut Australian manufacturing grants. The current Prime Minister promised to reduce household electricity bills. We all heard that today—$275. But could he commit to that today? Could he look Australian people in the eyes and say that their electricity bills will be $275 cheaper? He couldn't. The current Prime Minister promised to have an economic plan to help households and businesses, but today the Treasurer couldn't commit to that. He couldn't give us details of that plan.

Being in government is all about making those tough decisions in tough circumstances, something that those opposite should learn something about—something that we knew during the pandemic, when we had to make those tough decisions that ensured the security and safety of the Australian people. But what the government is good at now is casting blame about what we did for Australia during the pandemic, despite the fact—and we all remember this, and the Australian people won't forget this; I think the Treasurer is in COVID denial—that those opposite wanted to pay people $300 to get vaccinated when we had world-leading vaccination numbers. You may think that Australians forget these things, but we don't. As we heard today, Labor is yet to deliver on the plan to ensure that Australians can manage those cost-of-living pressures.

In seeking to cast blame today, which the Treasurer has proven he is quite good at, he held three tests for himself. The first was: what happens to power prices? Well, we heard from the Prime Minister today: he doesn't know. The second was: what happens with apprentices? There are crickets there. The third was: what happens with wages? How about they add: what happens when the lights go out, costs go up and Aussies can no longer afford to pay their bills? This is what people in my community of Lindsay are concerned about, and it's what Australians deserve to know from the government.

The Prime Minister is telling Australians they need to wait till October. Well, Prime Minister, Australians need their government to act now. They need to hear your plan.

4:02 pm

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

Deputy Speaker Claydon, congratulations on your election to the role. I have to say I find the opposition's attempts to rewrite history highly amusing. It's almost as if they think the Australian people have forgotten that they were in government for almost a decade. It's as if they think that our communities will believe that the cost of food, the cost of petrol and the cost of electricity have only just gone up—that Australians will believe that their wages have only just stopped growing in the last few months. It's quite shocking, really—this tale they are trying to spin that they think we will buy.

Well, I can tell those opposite that my community on the New South Wales South Coast is not buying it. We have faced years of drought, bushfires and countless disaster declared floods, all while those opposite did nothing to address our changing climate. We have faced years of high unemployment and low wages, all while the Liberal Party ripped money from TAFE and slashed penalty rates for casual workers. The South Coast has been experiencing a worsening housing crisis for years. I have stood here in the parliament so many times to beg the then government, the Liberal government, to take serious and urgent action. My office has been inundated every day for months and months with heart-wrenching stories of local families who cannot find a home or cannot afford their rent and who will end up sleeping in their cars: single mothers with their kids, pensioners, young people—you name it and they are struggling. But those on that side of the House did nothing. We've had rising health costs and a GP shortage impacting every corner of the South Coast, but there was no help there either.

When small businesses in Kangaroo Valley were calling for help after yet another flood in March this year saw their access roads cut, I wrote to the then minister, asking for support for small businesses. I told the minister for disasters and emergency management that our local small businesses were on the brink because their customers couldn't get to them. As these businesses were not directly flood impacted, there was no support. With access roads cut completely, they may not have been flooded, but their businesses were certainly going under. I asked the minister to help, to see the need for a specialised package of support, targeted directly to the small businesses of Kangaroo Valley. The minister even visited the South Coast for a media stunt with my Liberal opponent, but she completely ignored Kangaroo Valley. Our requests fell on the deaf ears of a government that didn't care to listen. They did nothing. That, sadly, is the legacy of the Liberal-National government of a decade—nothing. No real action, no real solutions, just photo-ops. So I'm sorry, but my community on the South Coast is not buying this tale you are trying to tell.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that you can't fix nine years of neglect in nine weeks. But we have sure proven that we are up to the task. Incredibly, soon after the election, the Albanese government managed to secure a critical rise in the minimum wage. It was a top priority, and we got it done with lightning speed. The very first piece of legislation introduced under the Albanese Labor government has addressed the urgent skills crisis in our country. Jobs and Skills Australia is a game changer that will build the job opportunities we need for the future. It will address the issues in the skills and training sector and will create more secure employment opportunities. We've announced the Jobs and Skills Summit, to look more broadly at moving our economy forward.

After the floods our community was hit with once again, in June, support started flowing through to individuals, businesses and primary producers, more quickly and more effectively than we had seen before. This week, we have introduced legislation to tackle climate change, and we are working with the energy sector to rein in prices. Cost-of-living support will also be provided to older Australians, with a lift in the income threshold for access to the Commonwealth seniors health card—a very significant change for people in my electorate. People with diabetes will also celebrate, because we've made continuous glucose monitoring more affordable—another huge issue for people in Gilmore. Medicine costs are coming down, and childcare costs won't be far behind. You can't change nine years of poor policies in nine weeks, but we have proven you can make a red-hot start.

4:07 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, you may well ask, 'What's up?' Well, I'll tell you what's up. Fuel is up, rent is up, the cost of housing is up, electricity is up, inflation is up, the cash rate is up—for those of us who actually know what the cash rate is. There are a couple around who might have no idea, I'm sure. And all of these things are costing the Australian people money. They are costing the Australian people more than they paid before, and this is an absolute disgrace. They cannot afford to pay more—they simply cannot.

We've heard today about painting a picture. I'd like to paint a picture, because I actually think they've got a plan, and that is to soften up the Australian people for more cuts—cuts to the budget, cuts that hurt them, cuts that hurt age pensioners, cuts that hurt the people that I represent. I will paint this picture. The Treasurer has got his Rocky hood on and he's gone into the abattoir for the Treasury. He's got the carcass there in front of him. I'm not sure who's playing brother-in-law Paulie. It might be the member for Whitlam, but the PowerPoint presentation he puts on will help him a lot, I'm absolutely certain. He's there, gloves on, fairy tapped from the left, fairy tapped from the right. It doesn't do anything at all. We can see the Treasurer, gloves off, moisturiser on, and he'll go for the knives. The intention of this mob is to cut the budget.

The Treasurer and the Prime Minister, today, this week, last week, next week, are softening up the Australian people to cut the budget, and those cuts will hurt them. The best thing the government can do is keep the tax cuts that we legislated, because that is more money in people's pockets. It is the ability for them to pay their own way. And they need that money. We have seen promises already broken. In question time today, the $275 reduction in the price of electricity—no-one could say it, not one. The question was asked not once, but twice, and was never answered. So what we are seeing from the new government is that they cannot even commit to the things that they promised in the election.

So, to go back to painting the picture: we've got the Treasurer, he's in the abattoir, he's hacking up that carcass of the budget and he's taking away the prime cuts that the Australian people rely on because they have to be able to pay their way. Power prices continue to increase. We will see the RBA, I'm sure, make a decision that is likely to increase the interest rate for every single mortgage holder in this country.

I think the Prime Minister probably needs to take some more advice, because what we've seen—and what we continue to see—every now and again is a little breakout about who the next leader might be. And he's only been here for how long? I can see we've got one of our colleagues in the chair down there. It's been nine weeks, and we've already seen breakouts in the media about changing out the Prime Minister—

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

What's the cash rate, again?

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's 1.35 per cent, for those interjecting. We have plenty of interjections, but those of us on this side know what the cash rate is. We saw very clearly, as did the Australian people, those who didn't know.

We are in a softening-up period. Those opposite want to drive down the budget, they want to cut the budget and they want to take things away from the Australian people. The best thing that you can do is to continue to drive the economy and support the things that are paying the Australian people's way.

You still can't commit—I've got to give the Prime Minister his due. The Prime Minister has said that he supports the coal sector and the oil and gas sector, because they are paying the bills of the Australian people. The same can't be said of too many on the front bench. They are out there and they are fudging their way. We saw the minister for the environment at the Press Club; she could not answer the question. She would not say that they supported the resources sector, a sector that is driving over $400 billion of the economy in this country.

We continue to see jobs. We hear about the great skilled workforce shortage. There's certainly a shortage in the workforce, but if they weren't skilled they wouldn't be employed! These are some of the lowest unemployment rates we've seen in this nation since 1974. It is an incredible result, and it needs to be driven forward and it needs to be managed carefully. That is what governments do.

Can you imagine if it was our proposition—in government, in that position right now—that they couldn't control the increasing costs for the Australian people? There would be outrage. There would be Twitter everywhere. We would see so many things on Twitter that even the member for Gippsland would get a comment, I'm sure. We last heard from the Labor government something critical, and that was the recession we had to have. Is it going to be that way again?

4:12 pm

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

Congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your new role. The Australian people are hurting. It certainly is hurting them—the cost of food and the cost of fuel being increased and interest rates going up. There's no doubt that people are suffering, and those that will suffer are the ones that are on the lowest incomes and the ones that are doing it tough.

The irony is that it's as if none of this existed until 21 May. It is as if this just started on the 21 May. But, if you have a look at it, people were suffering way before then. Of course, the global situation is making it harder, but there's the irony of an opposition that was in government for 10 years—presiding over the Australian economy for the past 10 years—now basically wiping their hands of it and having no responsibility. They're washing their hands, virtually overnight, of the enormous costs that are taking place in the community.

During the inaction that took place for 10 years, we saw the lowest productivity rates that this country has seen. We saw the lowest wage growth in the history of this nation. Yet there was no action. There was no urgency. There were no private members' motions at that time to deal with and act on those things that were affecting working people. Yet here they are today, on one of their first MPIs, and they want to talk about how we're going to fix this situation.

And fix it we will. It is our responsibility. We were elected by the Australian public to look after the economy and to do everything we can. Within the first week, we supported a wage increase for the lowest paid workers of 5.2 per cent—something that the then government, who are now in opposition, wiped their hands of. They didn't want to deal with it. They didn't care about low-paid workers, who hadn't had an increase in years and whose wages weren't keeping up with inflation.

The previous government had 22 different policies on energy—22 climate change policies. In other words, they would come up with a policy, not agree with it, throw it in the bin and start again. It is because they are denialists on that side. And what did that do? That gave the business community no confidence to invest in renewables so that we could have renewables invested in, lots of players in the market and lots of competition to bring down prices. It was on their watch.

We are dealing with these issues. We saw the increase in wages of 5.2 per cent. Our childcare policy will assist hundreds and hundreds of families. It will bring down childcare costs for those families, ensuring they can work, be productive, pay taxes and help the economy. That is an enormous contribution to the economy.

We've seen that the previous government didn't want to act on anything. They were in government just for the sake of being in government. These issues have been going on for a long time. In fact, before the current global situation, the previous government left us with a trillion dollar debt and nothing to show for the future. Where were their big-picture policies? Where were their big infrastructure projects? Where were the things that help the economy and future Australians? They are nowhere to be found. They were only interested in sitting on the government seats, not actually doing anything.

I'm proud to be part of this Labor government. I'm proud because we have a plan to tackle the situation, to tackle the economic crisis left behind by the previous government. We've ensured that the lowest-paid workers get a pay rise of 5.2 per cent. This will help our most vulnerable people. In addition, we will ensure that wages grow over time. We're going to invest in industries that will deliver more secure, well-paid jobs. We will also invest in skills, an area totally neglected by the previous government. You need to invest in skills for the 21st century so Australians are trained and educated for higher wage jobs. In addition, we're cutting childcare costs for 1.26 million families. This is vital because childcare costs are one of the highest ongoing costs for working families. In addition, we cut the cost of medicines on the PBS by up to $12.50 per script.

Those opposite had 22 policies on climate change. (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Aaron Violi (Casey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The economy is the outcome of millions of individuals going about their lives, working hard and trying to fulfil their aspirations. I have lived this experience firsthand. Australians know it's tough right now. Listening to the Treasurer today did not fill me with confidence that our new government has a plan to ease the pressure on the cost of living for my constituents in Casey or, indeed, people all around the country. There are challenging economic circumstances in Australia today. However, we do expect the government to be proactive in their response. We can and will hold them to account for how they respond to it.

Labor needs to put the national interest first. The risk for Australia is that Labor's inaction or distraction will make a bad situation worse. There is no avoiding inflation for households. Nondiscretionary goods and services rose 1.8 per cent in the quarter, to be 7.6 per cent higher through the year. Annual goods inflation is the highest since 1987. Goods accounted for 79 per cent of the rise in the CPI this quarter, reflecting high freight costs, supply constraints and prolonged strong demand.

The government does not have a plan to address this. The Treasurer said that the point of today's statement was to paint a picture of the economy. On this side, we do not paint pictures. We know we are dealing with people's lives. We are talking about small business owners working 18 hours a day to provide for their families and families unable to fill a tank of petrol until the next pay. Fuel price pressure continues to flow through to consumers following an oil price shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine last quarter, and this has been coupled with ongoing easing of COVID-19 restrictions, which has strengthened global demand. While the cutting of fuel excise of 22c per litre on 30 March 2022 resulted in fuel prices falling in April, the average unleaded fuel price in the month of June surpassed the previous record high monthly average seen March. While cutting the fuel excise of 22c per litre on 30 March 2022 resulted in fuel prices falling in April, the average unleaded fuel price in the month of June surpassed the previous record high monthly average seen in March. We are talking about young Australians trying to build their first home, students working nights to build a better life for themselves.

The economy isn't some great mystery to us. When the coalition were in government, we balanced the budget for the first time since the 2000s. We were on track to surplus, but then events changed. We had fires. We had drought. We had the pandemic. We had to take action, and we did—even if it meant putting budget repair on hold. That wasn't an easy decision for us as Liberals and Nationals, but it was necessary. Our fiscal response to COVID-19 was temporary, it was targeted and it saw Australia through one of the most challenging periods since World War II.

In my previous career, our business was a firsthand beneficiary of the JobKeeper program. It kept people employed and connected to their jobs. I saw this firsthand. Australians know it's tough right now. They don't need a painting from the Treasurer to tell them that. They feel it every day—at the coffee shop, at the petrol bowser and at the supermarket checkout—and the statement from the Treasurer today provided nothing to address this right now. He gave a list of excuses and he's pushing it off to a jobs summit in September, which doesn't help families today and doesn't help businesses today. Thank you.

4:21 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note the members opposite have so much to say about this important topic that in fact two of their speakers have finished with a full minute left in their allocated time. It's obviously something they feel passionate about, that they have a lot of material ready to go. But of course it is an important topic.

I do understand it has been a difficult two months for those opposite—lots of life changes, lots of transitions—but for them to come in here and suggest our government doesn't have a plan represents a kind of collective amnesia around their wasted decade in office. It was a decade with no plan for wages growth; no plan to tackle the climate crisis; no plan to invest in renewables and bring down power prices; no plan to support women back to work and invest in cheaper child care; no real plan to support small business, despite the incredibly challenging circumstances those businesses have faced for the past two years. Simply heckling from the sidelines, kind of like what they did for past 10 years, seems to be what they're doing from opposition.

This government has no intention of wasting its time in office. We do have a plan. We acknowledge the circumstances we find ourselves in are challenging. We do know that inflation is high, and that it's hitting Australian households. It is absolutely the case, and I, like every member in this place, talk to people in my electorate who are feeling that effect. We know that rate rises hurt ordinary Australians struggling to pay their mortgages. We also know that the causes of inflation at the moment are primarily global. We have inherited a situation from the previous government: nine years of mess, $1 trillion of debt and nothing to show for it. As so many on this side have said, nine years of mess can't be cleaned up in nine weeks. The maths doesn't work. It will take time, and Australians know this.

I want to highlight one of the very key areas where this opposition let Australian people down when it was in government, and that was its deliberate design feature of low wages. What is it that means Australians are struggling to pay for things? There's not enough in their pay packets. And what was the previous government's policy? Deliberately low wages. It has a real effect on Australians lives and their ability to meet cost-of-living pressures.

It was the previous Prime Minister who said an increase to the minimum wage would be 'reckless and dangerous'. And to be clear, these are the wages of the people we called heroes during the pandemic, people such as our cleaners, our aged-care workers, our early educators. We know that these workforces are largely made up of women. These are the people that the previous Prime Minister said it would be reckless and dangerous to give a pay rise to. This government takes a very different approach on wages. We supported an increase to the minimum wage. We've been very clear that we will support a wage increase for aged-care workers. Again, these are some of the lowest-paid people in our community, who are doing some of the most difficult and most important work.

We get it. We get what people's lives are like. We get where the pressures are. The previous government didn't get it. It's not just those on minimum wages that the previous government was prepared to leave behind. Pensioners in my electorate haven't forgotten that, under the coalition, around 370,000 pensioners saw a cut to their pension. Pensioner concessions were scrapped. And, of course, the previous Prime Minister tried to raise the pension age to 70. We've seen a decade of inaction, a decade of cuts.

Our government will be different. We will make child care cheaper, helping Australian women to get back to work and to do more work. I note no-one on the other side addressed the important issue of women's participation in the workforce and how you best support that. We will get on with dealing with the climate crisis and make sure we have reliable renewable energy. This is another area the previous government failed to address for a decade. We will invest in small business. We will make Australian people's lives better.

4:26 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your election to your position and wish you well. I join this debate with some degree of trepidation after listening to the member for Jagajaga pretending, during her contribution, that the previous government did nothing in nine years. We have at the table the former minister for infrastructure, who presided over a record investment of $110 billion over 10 years. We had investment in programs and projects directly aimed at reducing the cost of living for Australian mums and dads—projects like the investment in the Western Sydney Airport, which was long overdue. It was neglected by the current Prime Minister when he was the infrastructure minister. When the member for Riverina, who is at the table, was minister, he did some outstanding work in investing in Australia's important major infrastructure projects. We saw the completion of the duplication of the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane, a project that not only helped reduce the cost of transport for Australian mums and dads—for people travelling in those communities—but actually saved lives by reducing trauma on a stretch of road which was the site of the single biggest fatal accident in Australian history.

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

I do apologise to the member for Gippsland, but the time for the discussion has now concluded.