House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Matters of Public Importance


3:23 pm

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

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

The impact of rising interest rates and inflation on family budgets.

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

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

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians are worried. They're worried about how they're going to afford their next mortgage payment. They're worried about their next electricity bill. Frankly, they're worried about putting food on the table. Small businesses owners are worried about the cost of doing business. This is a cost-of-living crisis that, frankly, this Labor government is putting in the too-hard basket. We had the Treasurer last week supposedly trying to paint us a picture. It seemed more like a blank canvas than a veritable Mona Lisa. We have seen more action from the Labor government on looking after union mates, their donors and campaign helpers in the very first months of this government than we have seen in them looking after the Australian people. In fact, the very first act from Treasury, the very first act under Prime Minister Albanese, was to water down transparency for super funds hiding, as has been reported in the media, over $85 million in donations and other payments for union picnics and the like before the election—$85 million hidden, not helping Australians with cost of living and looking after union mates. We have a cost-of-living crisis, but Labor's first priority is hiding transparency and lacking integrity. It would be extraordinary if it weren't so true.

Back on 9 June, just after the election, the Prime Minister told the Guardian that a cabinet meeting being held that week was to consider how best to respond to the cost-of-living crisis facing Australians. That would seem a reasonable reason for a cabinet meeting. This cabinet meeting was held with great fanfare, with the Prime Minister saying that his government would have a policy of doing what they could to assist with the cost-of-living pressures. I ask the House: what came out of this fabled cabinet meeting? Nothing. Not a sausage. I don't even remember seeing a press release. There were crickets out of a cabinet meeting that was apparently going to assist Australians with the cost of living. This is what happens when you talk the big platitudes during an election campaign and get into government without a plan.

This Labor government has no direction. It frankly has no clue, and everyday Australians are paying the price. This government can't even get right a commitment to save $275 for every Australian's power bill, a commitment that lasted barely weeks before the government broke that promise. Government is about tough decisions in tough circumstances. The risk for Australia is that Prime Minister Albanese and Labor's inaction will, frankly, make a bad situation a lot worse. Australians need a plan from this government. Did they get one after that fabled cabinet meeting in June? Goodness no—nothing at all. Did we get one after the Treasurer's much-hyped statement in parliament last week? No—nothing at all. The Prime Minister needs to start putting words into action. Frankly, he is he all talk and no delivery.

Before the last election, when Australia was coming out of the pandemic, we came out with the lowest unemployment in almost 50 years, very strong GDP growth, low interest rates and our AAA credit rating intact. An unemployment rate at 3.9 subsequently dropped to 3.5 per cent. The economy was 3.4 per cent bigger than before the pandemic. More of our citizens were employed post pandemic than pre, one of only a few nations in the OECD to claim that. We had a cash rate at 0.35 per cent. We had started the hard yards on budget repair without increasing taxes. Our last budget saw a record improvement of $100 billion to the budget bottom line. In the most recent financial statement, the budget deficit had more than halved from what was forecast in May. We delivered cost-of-living relief in our last budget. The Treasury confirmed at Senate estimates it was responsible, measured and did not add to inflationary pressures. Even before the pandemic and before global pressures on inflation, the coalition took action to reduce and relieve the cost-of-living pressures with tax cuts for families.

We didn't need a cost-of-living crisis to act. We reduced the small businesses tax rate. We didn't need what we are seeing now to move forward on that. We balanced the budget before the pandemic. We didn't need a cost-of-living crisis to do that. We did these things because they were good proactive policies—good for the economy and good for the Australian people. This is what a good government does and looks like. These are the proud achievements of the former coalition government, with, frankly, no thanks to those opposite.

Labor opposed bigger tax cuts for families and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept the stage 3 tax cut after years of saying they would abolish it. Labor opposed the small businesses tax cuts. Labor fought tooth and nail against every single bit of restrained government spending. And Labor wanted to spend even more.

Labor's yet to outline a detailed plan to address the immediate cost-of-living pressures. The Labor Party went to the last election promising to run bigger deficits, spending more of taxpayers' money. That will fuel inflation. This was confirmed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, which showed Labor's election platform will result in higher debt and higher deficit. By contrast, the PBO also confirmed that the coalition was the only party that went to the election with a pathway to improve the budget bottom line.

The coalition's 2022-23 budget was balancing the task of budget repair whilst also providing over $8 billion in assistance to Australians with the rising cost of living. Labor obstructed almost all efforts at budget repair over the last nine years. Remember, we inherited a quarter of a trillion dollars worth of debt. Remember that masterful 2012 budget, when the Treasurer, Mr Swan, stood here and said, 'The four surpluses I announce tonight'? Well, those four surpluses ended up being $200 billion by the time we balanced the budget. That's almost half a trillion dollars of Labor debt—be in no doubt, it was Labor debt—and the final expenditure of some $350 billion as we confronted a one-in-100-year pandemic. That is the truth of the sum $850 billion when it comes to gross debt. That is the truth, and, for those opposite, the truth will set you free.

Over the last two years, as a statement of fact, those opposite wanted to spend $81 billion more on additional expenditure during COVID—$81 billion more—and that is a fact. Those opposite wanted to spend $6 billion giving money to Australians who'd already had the jab to get the jab. That's how incomprehensible their degree of expenditure was. We know that the Labor Party platform, their wish list for government, as we saw in previous election campaigns, will require over $300 billion in more expenditure.

Those opposite, as the Labor government, have set themselves three tests. These are the tests set by the Labor Party, tests that the Australian people were told about—at least they were upfront—tests that were promised and tests that are expected to be delivered. Those opposite all agreed to these three tests, and we will hold those opposite accountable for them: lower power prices—well, that's going exceptionally well, isn't it? $275 was promised, and nowhere—broken; lower cost of living—well, that's going exceptionally well, isn't it, for those opposite; and higher wages. They are the three tests. They are the three accountable standards that we will hold those opposite to.

Unfortunately, Labor's priorities are elsewhere—priorities that will drive up the cost of construction, putting further pressure on inflation. Labor's policy in terms of abolishing the ABCC is not about helping individual Australians with the cost of living. In fact it will have the opposite effect. We know from economic analysis that this will be an over $40 billion hit to the economy and the cost of building homes, schools, hospitals and roads. This is Labor's priority. It is not the cost of living. It's not the stability of interest rates. These are not the actions of a government that is acting responsibly. They're making a bad situation worse.

3:33 pm

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

In 1952 Marvin Minsky invented the 'useless machine'. It was a little machine with a box with one switch on it, in the off position. If you turned it on then a little hand came out of the machine to turn it back off again. That was its only purpose. As Arthur C Clarke put it:

There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing—absolutely nothing—except switch itself off.

And that's what Australians are saying about the last nine years. As the Economist has noted of the British Conservative government, the Liberals were, when they were in government, the political equivalent of a useless machine: they know what they're against, they know what they want to turn off, but they have no idea what they are for.

I turn 50 tomorrow, and I'm pleased to be celebrating my birthday in government. But it is a moment to reflect on the fact that I spent the larger part of the last decade going through the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. Let me just take the House through a few of the lowlights of that period. This is the government that introduced a religious discrimination bill, then, when it was amended in the House, voted against its own bill. It was a government that promised an Integrity Commission then failed to deliver one. It was a government that gave $20 billion of JobKeeper to firms with rising revenues, many of which then paid it to their millionaire CEOs or their billionaire offshore shareholders. It was government which, when the pandemic hit, failed to provide personal protective equipment to aged-care centres. It was a government where at Christmas last year you couldn't get a rapid antigen test, and where approximately a year ago Australia was running dead last in the OECD for our vaccine rollout. Their failures in aged care led to a royal commission report titled Neglect. Under the Liberals Australia slipped to 59th in world in average broadband speed rankings. And maybe if they hadn't stuffed up the National Broadband Network then the member who moved this matter of public importance wouldn't have had to pay $2,000 a month for his home internet bill. The Liberals had 22 energy policies and they failed to land one.

They had a Prime Minister who attended a Trump rally, lied to Emmanuel Macron and left our international reputation in tatters. They had Prime Minister who was described by the member for New England as 'a hypocrite and a liar', by Gladys Berejiklian as 'a horrible person', by former Senator Fierravanti-Wells as 'a bully who has no moral compass'. This was not a government; it was a cage fight. By the end they had left us in a situation where the Morrison government's reputation was so bad it made the Abbott government's reintroduction of knights and dames look positively futuristic and visionary. Nine years and so little to show for it. What was the point of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments? They were the political equivalent of Seinfeld, a government about nothing.

Now this government is getting on with the job. The Treasurer and the finance minister are instituting a waste and rorts audit, which is absolutely essential when we look back over some of the waste and the rorts of the last government. We had the Department of Home Affairs give a $423 million contract to Paladin, a company with its headquarters as a shack on a beach. We had the environment department give $444 million of taxpayer money to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which only had six full-time staff and had never managed more than $10 million. The money, not surprisingly for that government, was given without a tender process.

They paid $80 million—at least twice the fair value—for water entitlements, to Eastern Australia Agriculture, a firm that was founded by the shadow Treasurer and located in the Cayman Islands.

They allocated money through sports rorts, using colour-coded spreadsheets—a scandal so egregious that, even by the low standards of the former government, the minister was forced to resign.

They handed out money through the Urban Congestion Fund, 83 per cent of which went to coalition or marginal seats; through the Community Development Grants, which saw over 75 per cent go to coalition seats; and through the Building Better Regions Fund, which, as the minister has just noted, led to an Australian National Audit Office report which showed that you were more likely to get funded the lower your score was, and in which it is very clear that the government just wanted the department to stop making recommendations so they could get on with political pork-barrelling.

Australia today faces serious challenges. We face a cost-of-living crisis, the roots of which are primarily global but which has been worsened by a range of supply-side blockages left in place by the former government—by the failure to invest in skills, by the visa backlog that has led to so many firms needing key employees. This cost-of-living crisis is toughest on low-income families.

Labor is committed to acting. One of our first actions in government was to make a recommendation to the Fair Work Commission for minimum wage workers to get a pay rise. That led to a 5.2 per cent pay rise for minimum wage workers.

Our childcare plan will provide cheaper child care for 1.26 million Australian families—again, dealing with a core cost-of-living issue for many Australians.

We're getting more renewables into the grid after the nine years of wasted time in which Australia has failed to make sufficient investment in renewables. We still have people sitting on the other side of the House who say, 'Well, you can't invest in solar and wind because the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow'—members who must be flabbergasted on days when it's not raining and they turn on the tap and water comes out of it. Extraordinarily, it turns out there's a technology called batteries. There are innovations such as joining up the grid, through Labor's Rewiring the Nation plan, that allow us to make the best use of renewables to reduce emissions and take pressure off household power bills.

We're investing in boosting productivity and increasing the number of university places and TAFE places. The Minister for Education is tackling that core issue of teacher quality to make sure we increase not just the quantity of education but the quality of education too. We're engaging in competition reform, and I'm pleased to have the small business minister here in the House and to be working with her on things like making unfair contract terms illegal so small business aren't put at a competitive disadvantage by large firms. The minister for immigration is hard at work clearing the visa backlog. The Jobs and Skills Summit, inspired by Curtin's full employment white paper, will bring together business, unions and the community sector to focus on the core skills and jobs challenges facing the Australian economy.

What do the opposition want? Well, they'd like us to cancel the event and for them to come along as well, I guess, so they can sit in an empty room and talk about jobs and skills. That's where the opposition is at when it comes to the core challenges facing the nation.

We're acting on multinational tax, not just to return money to the budget bottom line through cracking down on debt deduction and misuse of royalty payments but because it's just not fair for small firms to be placed at a competitive disadvantage by large firms that are using their double Irish with a Dutch sandwich, or leprechaun economics, or stashing profits in an offshore tax haven. These are the sort of lurks and perks that are available to multinationals but that are unavailable to small business. Labor stands on the side of fairness. We want a level playing field in the economy. That's a core reason why we're setting about swiftly implementing the OECD/G20 two-pillar agreement and closing debt deduction and royalty repayment loopholes in order to improve fairness.

Australia faces significant inflation challenges with our 6.1 per cent inflation, as do other countries like the US with 9.1 per cent inflation, the UK with 9.4 per cent, the euro area with its 8.6 per cent inflation and New Zealand with 7.3 per cent inflation. Inflation is forecast by Treasury to come back into the target band by 2024. In the meantime, the Reserve Bank is focusing on the demand side and the government is focusing on the supply side. We're working with the monetary policy regulator to make sure that everything we do goes directly to the cost-of-living challenges.

I started talking about the useless machine, but the members of the opposition really want another machine. They need the 'neuralyzer' that the Men in Black used to wipe the minds of everyone watching. They want to wipe the Australian people's minds of the nine wasted years that we've seen.

3:43 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The government scrupulously avoided talking about the economy during the election campaign, and we've seen why since they've come into government. This is a government without a plan, without any knowledge, with a group of L-plate Treasury ministers who have got no idea what they're doing and with a Prime Minister who has never held an economic portfolio. We are seeing quite early how lacking his experience, in his very long time in parliament, has been. The government has already broken faith with the Australian people, at a time when the Australian people are facing cost-of-living pressures on a range of fronts like high inflation. I would agree with and accept the assistant minister's statement that global factors are predominantly responsible.

We're seeing high fuel prices, now with increasing interest rates and an environment of tightening monetary policy. What is the answer from the government to the Australian people on one of the solemn commitments they made prior to the election to give some cost-of-living relief, which was that they would reduce power prices by $275? What is the outcome of that? They have walked away from that commitment within weeks. The government would like to hope that we will forget about that commitment, that we will forget about the endless array of Facebook tiles that we saw from members opposite and candidates that they would deliver a $275 reduction. They will not deliver it. The Prime Minister won't even say the words '$275'—won't even utter the words. At a time when Australians are facing such cost-of-living pressures, the Labor Party are now walking away from the only source of relief that they promised.

In addition, they've got a very critical decision to make. In response to those cost-of-living pressures, when I was around the ERC table, we took a decision to pause the fuel excise. It was a very big decision and one that we thought about deeply. There were two factors in our minds when we took that decision to reduce the excise to save people about 24c a litre when you include the GST. That's 24c a litre that Australians have been enjoying since we took that decision. There were two primary factors: the price of oil, largely as a response to the war in Ukraine; and, of course, the cost-of-living pressures that Australians were facing in a tightening environment of monetary policy. Those two factors are still in play and indeed are worse now. There is no end in sight—sadly and regrettably—to the conflict in the Ukraine and no requisite outcome on oil prices in sight. Monetary policy is tightening even further. The two factors that caused us to take that decision are worse now than they were then. So the government have got a very big decision to make. Do they say to Australians, 'We will reinstate that fuel excise, that additional 22c'—or 24c once you take into account the GST—'per litre'? Will members opposite go back to their electorates and tell their people: 'I'm sorry; bad luck. Whatever you see now, add another 24c'? Or will they extend it? That's a decision for the government, ultimately. That's a decision that governments have to make, and blaming the former government, the opposition, cannot be a substitute for a very critical decision that they will have to take.

We are in an environment where we've got tightening monetary policy. Again we have had a rise of 50 basis points today, or $700 a month in additional payments for a household with a mortgage of $800,000. The Prime Minister didn't know that number. That's in addition to what people were already facing with higher fuel costs and higher prices at the supermarket. Will this government say, 'You can pay an extra 22c plus GST per litre on your fuel,' or will they take a contrary decision? That's a very big decision for them, but I would suggest that the government are all at sea on that question, as they are with every question around the economy. They didn't want to mention it before the election, and we now see why.

3:48 pm

Sam Rae (Hawke, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a difficult day for Australian households in terms of their household budgets, with the Reserve Bank's announcement of a 0.5-point interest rate rise. We can expect that banks will probably pass that on. I think that adds to a broader set of conditions that are challenging household budgets. Fuel, food and energy prices are at an all-time high, and that's largely driven by international circumstances, particularly the war in Ukraine, which has certainly put global supply chains under extraordinary pressure and driven up those costs accordingly. The reality is, we face a time of significant economic challenge in our country generally, thanks to nearly a decade of squandered opportunities, wrong priorities and rorts from the previous Liberal government.

An honourable member: Rorts?

Rorts from the previous Liberal government. These rate rises began before the election. The cruel, harsh reality is that the Reserve Bank have been relatively clear that they expect that there will be more to come. There is no point in pretending that these rate rises don't hurt households; they do. They particularly hurt households in my electorate of Hawke, where many people have bought their first homes or have bought a home that could be there forever home and have leveraged themselves accordingly.

We have inherited a decade of the former coalition's neglect. We have a skills crisis, a cost of living crisis and a trillion dollars of debt that will take generations for us to pay off. Of course, we now understand that as interest rates rise the cost of repaying that debt, the interest repayments on it, are the fastest growing part of the Australian budget. The issue for households is on the expense side of their household budgets, but it's not only on the expense side of household budgets. The income side of household budgets has been wilfully neglected throughout the decade of the former government. 'Neglected' might even be the wrong term, because those opposite have been very clear; they have admitted this. The former finance minister, Mathias Cormann, was clear that deliberate wage suppression was, in fact, a deliberate design feature of their economic management. They purposely suppressed wages growth for working people. They deliberately put our households and our families across the country in financial distress, and left us exposed to these international circumstances once prices started to rise. This deliberate decision to maximise returns for corporate interests at the expense of working Australians has left households very much exposed to the inflationary pressures and the consequent actions that we see the Reserve Bank taking in order to deal with them today.

The decision will make life a lot harder for Australians who are already paying more for energy and groceries. We are focused on tackling these cost of living challenges rather than exacerbating them by suppressing their wages on an ongoing basis. We have a plan to help everyday Australians who are struggling as a result of the wasted decade from the former Liberal government. Our economic plan is about responsible cost of living relief and growing the economy without adding to inflation. Labor will deliver cheaper childcare and cheaper medicines. We will invest in skills and productivity, and cleaner and cheaper energy. We will invest in education. Importantly, we will get wages moving again. We will start to deal with the income side of household budgets and we will ensure that Australian households get a real wages rise.

The coming October budget will be all about responsible cost of living relief, implementing our economic plan and redirecting money wasted by our predecessors to more productive investments. Our nation is paying the price for that wasted decade under the former Liberal government. But Australia has voted for a better future under an Albanese Labor government and that has given us the opportunity to restore prosperity and growth to our country. Australian workers now have a government with an economic plan(time expired)

3:53 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

You'll actually keep.

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

I'm just going to stop all the interjections and say you have the right to be heard in silence.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I hadn't even started and he was interjecting. Taree, Bathurst, Orange, Cranbourne, Tamworth, Kalgoorlie, Shepparton—what do they have in common? They are all around a population of 40,000. That is the number of people that, when in government, the coalition saved through our policies and our spending initiatives during the worst of COVID global pandemic—40,000 people. I hear the Treasurer often ask: what does Australia have to show for all the spending by the coalition government? I'll tell you what it has to show? It is people's lives. It was 700,000 livelihoods, the jobs of Australians that were at risk.

I was in the meetings at the outbreak of COVID-19. On 1 March I can remember James Kwan, a tourism operator in Perth, had passed away. He was the first of many thousands of Australians who lost their lives. We mourn for him now as we mourned for his family then. We put in place measures, through JobKeeper and all the other provisions, to make sure that people's lives and livelihoods were protected and preserved. That's what we did, and 40,000 lives have been protected. The Treasurer, the member for Hawke and others on that side ask: what did your spending provide?

'Nothing,' I hear from the member for McEwen! That's 40,000 lives. That's what it was. We don't apologise for the fact that we saved people's lives.

Stop pointing at me and yelling at me. Deputy Speaker, I ask you to pull him into order.

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


Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Forty thousand lives. That's what we saved.

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

Excuse me, Member for McEwen. Dial it down, Member for Riverina. I'd like you to take a breath and calm this down for a moment.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

The Sydney Morning Herald in its editorial on 29 July 2022 said that the Treasurer should end his 'sob story' and outline his policies. I couldn't agree more. It continued:

While Chalmers'—

the member for Rankin—

economic statement drips with rhetorical empathy for battlers, it fails to explain how he plans to reconcile these conflicting priorities.

Of course, the Sydney Morning Herald is right. It was not just the Sydney Morning Herald, other publications and other media asking that question and demanding an answer; ordinary everyday Australians were doing the same.

Indeed, as we know, today is another tough day for the 3½ million families who have a mortgage and are struggling with the cost of living. They are looking to the government for answers, and what we're getting is the blame game. What we're getting is, 'It's all the fault of those opposite.' When we were in government we made sure that we navigated this nation's workers, this nation's battlers and this nation's families through drought, fires, floods and the worst global pandemic in 100 years. And what have we got to show for it? Forty thousand people are alive today because of the policies that we put in place. Some 700,000 jobs were saved because of the economic policies that we enacted, that we put in place. I'm proud of that record, and I know those on this side are proud too, because the job of the government is to protect Australians. The job of the government in Australia is to look after the interests of families, workers, battlers and everybody who calls this country home.

We know that during our government more than 1.2 million jobs were created since the pandemic. There are 11½ million Australians benefitting from tax relief. That was the policy that we put in place. There were 220,000 trade apprentices. I appreciate that the government are going to have a skills and jobs summit. Good on them. I hope it's successful. I truly do. But we had 220,000 trade apprentices, a record high. There were more than 5,200 grants worth $2.7 billion to support manufacturing businesses. We want more business to be done here in Australia. We want more products built in Australia. Again I commend the government for its Buy Australian policy. That's fantastic. I truly hope it succeeds. But don't trash the legacy of the previous government. Outline your plan for what you will do in the future. We saved the lives of 40,000 people and we saved jobs. What are you going to do?

3:59 pm

Zaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

'Unprecedented times' is a phrase that we've heard over and over again recently. We have a confluence of issues: a global pandemic, catastrophic climate disasters and a war in Ukraine, coupled with an energy crisis and an increased cost of living. The national inflation rate is 6.1 per cent, but in Perth it's 7.4 per cent. Of course, under the coalition we know that we saw no real wage growth in a decade.

I know that families are doing it tough. As an engineer, you build foundations for the future so you can weather the hard times, and this is what the parliament should do. We've had a decade of neglect and negligence. This parliament should be the engine room of the country, but the coalition was asleep at the wheel. But, because Labor cares and is in touch, we have a plan. It's a multifaceted plan. We want to make child care and health care more affordable. We have a coherent energy policy. We want to see wages rise while making the economy more productive.

In growing the economy, we want to grow the pie; we want to make it bigger. We also want to diversify our economy. This means that we can have apple pie, blueberry pie, meat pies and even vegan pies. To diversify our economy, this will also include using our National Reconstruction Fund, and that will play an important role. What we want is a future made in Australia. Productivity is something that's bread and butter for professional businesses, but, again, this is something that the coalition did not have a focus on. Process engineers live productivity and efficiency. On a mine site, this means you achieve steady state, you then increase recovery and throughput, and the final step is that you use new technology to break through to the next barrier. Again, the National Reconstruction Fund and the Jobs and Skills Summit will help unlock our nation's potential.

Action on energy and climate change will save households. It will also save lives and save the nation. However, the previous government did not have a plan to manage energy and the climate. That's why they've had 30 attempts to create a coherent energy policy, and they have nothing to show for it. Inaction has a cost. This is something that the nation is dealing with right now. Under a coalition business-as-usual scenario, which the nation knows means 'do nothing', energy prices would go up even higher. Labor has a comprehensive plan to power Australia. We conducted the most sophisticated modelling that an opposition has ever done.

I'm lucky that I'm from the West and that we're not connected to the National Electricity Market. The coalition have left the NEM horrendously exposed. The war in Ukraine and the increased gas prices have exposed this. But, wait, there's an exception in the NEM! It's here in the ACT, who have chosen renewables and energy storage to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and keep energy prices lower. That sounds familiar. This is why Labor wants to increase renewables in the grid by 82 per cent by 2030. It will help insulate electricity prices against supply shocks. Like the Minister for Climate Change and Energy said, 'While the sun shines and the wind blows, it won't be sending us separate invoices.'

On child care, barriers to work mean barriers to earning an income. For families, the cost of child care can sometimes be the same as a private school education. If you want to work more than three days a week or if you have more than one child in child care, it can become really challenging. Because of this, we know that the female workforce participation rate drops off when people have kids. Meaningful action on addressing the cost of living relies on meaningful action to increase participation rates of parents in the workforce, particularly women. Labor's childcare policy does precisely this. Parents shouldn't have to choose between affordable child care and full-time work. Our childcare policy doesn't punish parents for returning to work. Instead, it expands access to the rates of childcare subsidies to more families. Often one parent, typically the mother, has to forego extra hours or forego a promotion.

On health care, we're making prescriptions more affordable. This government will cut the maximum co-payment under the PBS from the current $42.50 to $30. This is a $12.50 saving.

4:04 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a very tough day for the millions of Australians that have a mortgage. Those in my electorate of Sturt and those across the country will be becoming aware, through the course of this afternoon and this evening, that interest rates have again gone up by another 0.5 per cent. That's three 0.5 per cent interest rate rises in the last three months. Unfortunately there is no suggestion that this is the end of interest rates increasing. This is going to make things very difficult for families that have purchased homes and made assumptions about what the burden is going to be on their household budget to service that mortgage, now to find that whenever they're renegotiating or refinancing their mortgage that'll see a significant increase in the burden of that budget. For those that are saving to buy a home to get into the property market, that is also going to make things more difficult as they've been planning and saving, expecting a certain cost to service mortgage debt financing and then have that go up.

This, of course, is only one part of our economy that's putting cost-of-living pressures on the people of Australia. Electricity prices are again increasing significantly. We've just seen major decisions by the big three retailers commencing from 1 July for big increases, some in double-digits in different parts of the National Energy Market. Unfortunately, a cursory glance at the Australian Energy Market Operator's website, if you look at where wholesale spot price averages have been since then, they're only higher still. The burdens on the household budgets of the average Australians are only continuing to increase. We've seen recent inflation numbers from the June quarter, and we've seen prices go up further since then. At the end of September, of course, this government will be removing the fuel excise rebate, so fuel, whatever price it happens to be at by then, will be increasing by another 22c a litre.

Now, all of these things are putting enormous pressure on the household budget, and it's very easy for those opposite to say these are all linked to factors outside of their control. Let's think about what is in their control. What's in their control is what they said before the election in order to win votes from the people of Australia. All these factors were absolutely there and known to the then opposition when they made promises to the Australian people that they would lower electricity prices by $275 for an average household, a commitment they won't repeat in this House.

Certainly, the Prime Minister won't repeat it. Some have got the old talking points and are still using the plan that they took to the election, which is clearly redundant because their ministers and their Prime Minister won't defend it, won't honour it, won't now say in this place during question time that they will still keep that promise. It will be absolutely impossible for them to achieve a $275 reduction in household electricity prices. That's clear from AEMO's data already. The Prime Minister knows it; the ministers know it. Some on the backbench haven't been told about it yet, because they know what sort of impact it is going to have on their electability come the next election. But they said to the people of this nation, 'We've got a plan that is going to reduce your electricity prices.' And the absolute opposite is happening. We've got record increases in the wholesale electricity market in South Australia and almost all of the other jurisdictions within the National Electricity Market. And that unfortunately is going to flow on to consumers.

Petrol prices are going up in September, electricity prices are going up, and today we've seen, unfortunately, another announcement from the Reserve Bank that mortgages are going up. On every cost that has a significant impact on the household budget, prices are out of control. And the Treasurer has now admitted—after the election, quite a different turn of phrase than before the election—that real wages in the foreseeable future are going down. Every key cost-of-living commitment that Labor took to the election is now proving to be complete and utter junk. The reverse is happening. The pressure on household budgets is absolutely out of control, and unfortunately today's interest rate increase, which could be only one of many more to come in the future, is going to put more pressure on struggling families across the country. And the Labor Party are responsible for how they misled the people of this country during the election campaign, when all the factors that are influencing these things were well and truly known.

We're talking about last April and May, when they said: 'We're going to lower your cost of living. We're going to increase real wages.' Both those things are clearly not happening, and the Labor Party is utterly responsible for misleading the people of Australia. Let me tell you this: they do not like being lied to. They do not like being told, in exchange for their vote, that you are going to do something and then the opposite occurs. You just wait for what is going to happen to you when they get a chance to tell you what they think about your lies to them in the last election campaign.

4:09 pm

Sally Sitou (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

TOU () (): I will agree with those opposite on two points: firstly, inflation affects us all. There is no-one untouched by rising costs. They are going to feel it at the grocery checkout, at the bowser, when they go to pay their childcare fees, undoubtedly, and those who are on our lowest incomes will feel it the most because they have very little left in their budget to be able to stretch to meet rising costs. Families are struggling at the moment, and there is a difficult road ahead. We heard from the Treasurer about inflation being likely to get worse over coming months, and we are in the midst of a perfect storm. There's no doubt about that. A war in the Ukraine, stretched global supply chains, rising energy costs and the recent floods in New South Wales have all had an impact on the price of food, electricity and petrol.

The other thing I'll agree with those opposite on is that, yes, interest rates have increased. The RBA has increased the cash rate by 0.5 per cent and we're now looking at 1.85 per cent. This will again have a real impact on the budgets of families. In my electorate of Reid, almost 30 per cent of households have a mortgage. So they are going to feel that interest rate increase. With rising costs of groceries, electricity, gas prices, childcare fees and mortgage repayments, families are absolutely feeling the pinch, something that those opposite have finally started to recognise.

I think where I differ from those opposite is that I think much of what we see happening at the moment has been a long time brewing. It is something that they oversaw for the last nine years. A decade without an energy policy means that we had an energy sector without the certainty to be able to invest in renewable energy, one of the cheapest forms of energy. Wage suppression was a deliberate strategy of the previous government, and it worked. It was one of the few things the previous government was able to achieve. They wanted to keep wages low. That means that the burden of increased prices falls most heavily on those on lowest incomes. Our teachers, nurses, aged-care workers and childcare workers are going to be feeling the brunt of rising costs. They have not seen a real wage increase in years.

The other challenge to this equation is the increasingly precarious nature of our job market. Job insecurity is now a hallmark of our job market. Again, that's something those opposite deliberately made part of their strategy. During the campaign, I had the privilege of meeting Ashley when I went out doorknocking. She spoke to me about the difficulty her family had in trying to plan long term for their future because her partner had worked at the same company for 27 years as a casual and had never been offered a permanent position. That meant that her family were unable to plan for the future and unable to save because they did not know what income he would be bringing in week to week. They've got two young kids and she was in tears describing the situation to me. Today, as I speak on this matter of public importance, I think about Ashley and her family. I want to say to Ashley: we have listened and we care about the challenges that you're going through.

While we can't fix a decade of mismanagement overnight, there are practical measures that we can take to reduce the burden on families. They're not getting to be short-term measures to win us an election like those opposite introduced. These are going to be long-term measures that are going to have a real impact on families' budgets—for example, making child care more affordable and making medicines cheaper. But, importantly, we are also taking steps to improve job security for all working Australians. When my parents came to this country more than four decades ago, they were able to find good, secure jobs in factories with good conditions and they were able to thrive here. But, as I think about their story, I wonder if it would have been possible if they had come to this country four decades later. I don't think it would have been possible at all. They wouldn't have been able to find those jobs in factories, they wouldn't have been able to have that job security and our family wouldn't have been able to thrive here. In part, that is because of decisions that governments have made, decisions that those opposite made.

4:14 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate the member for Reid on her election to this place and I take this opportunity to maybe correct her on some of her comments. I can assure the member for Reid that if you go to virtually any factory or manufacturing facility in my electorate of Forde there are good, secure, long-term, high-skilled jobs available. It's not an issue; I can assure the member for Reid. I would also point out to the member for Reid that I appreciate the work and the effort and the sacrifice that our teachers, doctors and nurses put in each and every day for our communities but I would remind the member for Reid that the vast majority of those people are employed by state Labor governments through employment contracts by those state Labor governments, so the wage increases can be dealt with through their negotiations with their state Labor counterparts.

I'm pleased to stand in this House today and speak on the matter raised by the member for Fadden in bringing up this crucially important point. Slightly over 30 per cent of the electorate of Forde has a mortgage, and I've got no doubt they are looking at the latest interest rate rise today with trepidation and fear for managing their household budgets. The reason they're doing that is because of many other factors over the last six or nine months that have been brought to bear on those budgets, not only the consequences of the invasion by Russia of Ukraine and the global economic impact that that has raised through higher fuel prices and higher gas prices but also the impact of the floods in Queensland and in New South Wales, particularly in Queensland. I look at the impact of the floods on the Lockyer Valley, as the member for Groom, sitting next to me, would know well, as the member for Bowman would know well, representing an area that was once the food bowl of South East Queensland but now sadly is more housing than food bowl. Sitting opposite, the member for Blair's community also would have been significantly impacted. We have to look at all of these factors. They are all impacting on an increase in living costs for everyday Australians, and this latest interest rate rise does nothing to ease that.

As we look a little bit further down the track we come to the end of September, when the fuel excise will be restored to its full amount and Australian households will have to pay another 22 cents a litre. But importantly, the reasons for reducing that fuel excise in the first place, the recognition of the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine and other global economic factors, haven't changed. At the time we thought they may change over the course of six months but they haven't changed, so we now face the situation where the same rationale for introducing that reduction in the fuel excise still exists. I think it's a fair question of government, why they don't, given those circumstances still exist, seek to extend the life of that reduction in the fuel excise. Now I'll hear those opposite say, 'We can't do it because there's a trillion dollars of debt or there is this or there is that.'

I don't lose a single moment's sleep over the amount of debt we have as a nation, as a government. I do lose plenty of sleep over the amount of debt we have personally in our households via household mortgage debt or credit card debt, whatever the case may be. But I'm proud of the fact that when we were in government, we kept people in jobs, we kept businesses open, we kept a roof over people's heads and we gave them certainty through 2½ very difficult years of the pandemic, and I'll never apologise for the decisions that were made in that space to achieve those outcomes. We have some of the best economic conditions in the world as a result—3.5 per cent unemployment, economic growth that's the envy of the world. We had a track record in government that we're proud to stand on. I commend this motion to the House.

4:19 pm

Louise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was interested in the comments of the member for Forde about almost a trillion dollars' worth of debt and not being at all concerned about that.

We know that Australian families are doing it tough—there's certainly no doubt about that; I talked about poverty in my first speech the other night—and today's decision by the Reserve Bank to lift interest rates by 50 basis points will only make things tougher for Australian households. I know that families of Boothby are doing it tough. I know that because, over 10 months, they told me about it and, over the last two months, as their member, they're continuing to tell me about it. You only have to set foot in a supermarket or a pharmacy to see that the cost of essentials has gone up.

The Albanese government is going to level with the Australian people. We will be honest with them about the challenges that lie ahead—challenges that were left to us by those opposite, who have wasted nine years racking up almost a trillion dollars in debt so far with far too little to show for it. We also face challenges internationally and domestically. We understand the global inflationary pressures stemming from the conflict in Europe and disrupted supply chains due to the ongoing pandemic. We also know that the recent floods that have ravaged the east coast of Australia have added to higher food prices. It's clear that high inflation is hurting everyday Australians in Boothby and beyond, and this is made worse because, as the members for Hawke and Reid so eloquently described, it follows a decade of stagnant wages growth—deliberately low wages.

Unfortunately, there isn't a quick fix to fight inflation. In fact, the previous government failed to prepare the country for these tough economic times. Our challenge—the challenge facing Australian households and households across Boothby—has been made tougher by almost a decade of missed opportunities and wrong priorities. But while we know it is tough right now, the Albanese Labor government is already going about the hard work of delivering the policies and reforms that will put long-term downward pressure on the cost-of-living issues.

In my electorate of Boothby, one of the key drivers of rising costs of living that I heard about was the skyrocketing costs for health care under the previous government. During the life of the previous government, out-of-pocket costs to see a GP in Boothby went up by 35 per cent. Labor has a plan to rein in these price increases and ease pressures on household budgets by investing in our health system. Opening a Medicare urgent care clinic in Bedford Park to take pressure off emergency departments will make it easier to see a GP. We're cutting the cost of medicines and making more older Australians, including many of those in my area, eligible for the Commonwealth seniors health card. Labor has a plan to drive down the cost of child care for families in Boothby. Under our plan for cheaper child care, 96 per cent of Australian families using child care will be better off. That's 1.26 million families. We're implementing our plan to fix almost 10 years of neglect from those opposite when it comes to skills, resulting in a skills crisis that I hear about wherever I go in Boothby. Every small business I speak to talks to me about the lack of skilled labour and the impact that has on their ability to do their business. We're getting on with getting more renewable energy into our energy system to lower prices, cut emissions and drive economic growth into the future. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy.

As the Treasurer said in his statement to the House last week, the task before this new Labor government is a serious one, and what I hear from people in Boothby is that they respect his honesty, his straight talking and his clarity when he tells them what is actually happening and what the future will look like. After nine years of waste and mismanagement, there's a lot of work to do. There is a trillion dollars of debt and rising interest rates. Wages have been deliberately kept low. But we are setting out to do the hard work of reforming our economy—the hard work of implementing productivity-boosting reforms that will truly change our nation and deliver a better future for all of us.

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

The discussion has concluded.