Tuesday, 6 September 2022
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Farrer proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's utter failure to address rising cost of living pressures facing Australians.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standin g orders having risen in their places—
This Prime Minister is so consumed by and obsessed with the politics of yesterday that he has no interest in dealing with the issues, the real issues, that face Australians today. This new government has failed dismally to address the rising cost-of-living pressures facing Australians. Today homeowners have been hit with yet another interest rate rise, adding further pressure to already-tightening household budgets. And Australians will rightly be asking that if their Prime Minister couldn't even name the interest rate five months ago, how on earth could he be trusted to keep rates down?
We know the Prime Minister struggles with numbers; we got that through question time. But he's been caught not knowing the cash rate, he's been caught not knowing the unemployment rate, he's been caught not knowing Australia's borders were open and he's been caught not knowing his own NDIS policy. We have a Prime Minister who struggles with the facts, so let me remind him of some facts. A homeowner with an average mortgage of $750,000 is now paying around $900 more on their monthly repayments than they were in May. That might not mean much to the Prime Minister—yesterday he was joking around about living in public housing at The Lodge—but it means a great deal to millions of Australians paying their mortgages. And this arrogant Prime Minister, who thinks shooing away these problems will make them disappear, has done absolutely nothing to fix them.
That's $900 a month more for your mortgage under this Prime Minister. What's he doing about it? Nothing! The Prime Minister refuses to talk about it because he has no plan to fix it. At Christmas this year, when Australians are wanting to spend money on gifts for loved ones, get together with their family and go on holidays, the pain of this rate rise will really start to sink in. When the Prime Minister sits in his 'public housing' at The Lodge, let him reflect on every single family who is hurting as a result of his government making a bad situation worse.
Australians going to the supermarket are finding they have to pay more and more for less and less. The Prime Minister told Australians more than 90 times before the election that Labor would cut power prices for families and small businesses by $275. In 100 days of this Labor government, the Prime Minister has not repeated that commitment once. Families are going broke, businesses are going to the wall and Australians are hurting. And what do they get from this Prime Minister? Excuses, excuses, excuses. In April, when the Prime Minister couldn't name the unemployment rate and couldn't name the cash rate, he said:
Earlier today I made a mistake. I'm human. But when I make a mistake, I'll fess up to it, and I'll set about correcting that mistake. I won't blame someone else, I'll accept responsibility. That's what leaders do.
The Prime Minister has been caught giving families false hope about a $275 cut to their power bills. Has he fessed up to that mistake? Has he apologised to Australians for doing it tough? No. All we get is historical revisionism from this Prime Minister—another broken promise and no responsibility. He still thinks he's Leader of the Opposition. He's stuck in the past, with no plan for the future—obsessed by and consumed with yesterday. No interest, no plan and no ability to deal with today.
Most governments like to hit the ground running but this Prime Minister has hit the ground reviewing, when Australians need concrete action from their government—which they needed yesterday. Before the election the Prime Minister said, and I'll say this very clearly, 'Australians will be better off under a Labor government.' It's just another broken promise. Inflation under the Albanese government is running at 6.1 per cent, the highest rate of inflation in almost 32 years—the highest rate of inflation since Labor's recession that we had to have.
The Prime Minister this morning attended the launch of a report which found that 40 per cent of Australians felt more distressed over their finances compared to last year. Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said:
The rise in financial stress coincides with surging demand for suicide prevention services …
The issue of cost-of-living and personal debt is ranked the biggest risk to rising suicide rates over the next 12 months.
This is higher than previous years and is the first time an economic issue has overtaken social issues like drugs, loneliness and family breakdown.
So we need more than empty words from the Prime Minister. What is the government actually doing to help with this crisis today? Every day of delay from this government is putting more and more Australians at risk.
Over the last few weeks, I've been out and about around this country with colleagues, listening to small businesses, workers and local communities about how they're doing and what they need. With the member for Casey, I met with a window manufacturer who was grappling with rising power prices and needed more support for apprenticeships.
With the member for Flinders, I met with 15 fabulous female small-business owners, who all cited the workforce shortages as their No. 1 issue.
With the member for Menzies, I met with a group of disability carers, who were crying out for basic support systems just to be bolstered.
In the Macedon Ranges, in regional Victoria—woefully represented by the member for McEwen—telco coverage is so poor they can't even get phone reception. In some areas they can't use the EFTPOS machine at the farmers' market where they sell their wonderful local produce. Where is the advocacy? Where is the support? It is outrageous.
In Queensland, with the member for Bowman, I visited a business park and a local nursery. Again, you could not miss the crunch of the cost-of-living crisis facing them.
Last week I was in southern Sydney with the member for Hughes, where we visited a local manufacturing business struggling with the rising cost of inputs. We also visited a small business absolutely crippled by the skills shortage.
I also visited Lismore with the amazing member for Page, where the floodwaters have receded but so too has any interest from the Prime Minister. He still hasn't gone there since being elected in May. They need ongoing support, and this federal government is failing them.
In regional Tasmania, the member for Bass and I met with the George Town Chamber of Commerce, where we heard firsthand how the regions are facing unique issues that just won't be solved by a cookie-cutter, Canberra-centric approach. That won't do it.
In my own electorate—Griffith, in the amazing Riverina—we recently had the Bush Summit, where the Prime Minister came in for a fly-in fly-out photo-op. He was one hour and 15 minutes on the ground, and then he left. It was a shame he didn't stay. He would have heard harrowing stories of rising power prices smashing our local food producers.
What do we hear from the Albanese government in response to these challenges? Nothing. What is the response that they have mustered up? Well, this week there was a lot of backslapping and self-congratulation on a mandated, indexed rise to the pension. They lauded it as the biggest rise in decades. Out they went, talking it up. What they didn't say was that the reason it was so big was that it's linked to skyrocketing inflation. It was an automatic increase. It would have occurred if Kermit the Frog were Prime Minister!
Maybe he is! Last week, they held a union summit—run by the unions, for the unions—which failed to deliver a single thing to address the cost-of-living pressures on families and businesses. Instead of addressing the cost of living, they want to reintroduce industry-wide bargaining, industry-wide disputes and strikes, which will ultimately lead to higher unemployment, lower profitability and a negative impact overall on the Australian economy. So, while the government and the minister at the table are busy backslapping each other for their union talkfest, businesses across the country are no closer to getting the policies they're crying out for. The Prime Minister made a personal decision to invite CFMEU boss Christy Cain to the summit—a summit which discussed the role of women in the workplace. Mr Cain has previously promoted criminal activity in the CFMEU, telling his members, 'Laws need to be broken; you're going to get locked up.' He's been charged with assault for belting someone. He's been found in contempt by the Supreme Court of Victoria. He even described John Setka as 'one of the most fair dinkum people in this country'. Whilst Australians struggle with the cost-of-living crisis, this Prime Minister is focused on giving this misogynistic thug a platform, and Australians deserve better. That's a captain's call, it sits on the Prime Minister's head and it's a captain's call that he needs to explain. This Christy Cain previously launched a strident public defence of John Setka after John Setka launched a vulgar attack on domestic violence advocacy hero Rosie Batty. If the actions of John Setka were bad enough to kick him out of the Labor Party, why on earth were the people who defended him invited to contribute to discussions about the safety of women in the workplace last week? This is the thug who said:
If you're not at the table, you're part of the menu.
I'm not part of any menu. The women in this place are not part of any menu. That was a misogynistic slur, and it's a slur that not one single member of the government has had the courage to condemn. We've had one hundred days of Labor and no action to fix these real cost-of-living pressures. (Time expired)
Over the last month we've seen the character of the new opposition on display. They are out of touch and they are stewing in irrelevance not because they have to be but because they choose to be. They were invited to participate in an important national conversation on jobs and skills, but they didn't turn up. They don't turn up, because they've got nothing to say. They were a government that gave up governing, and they are an opposition that's got nothing to say about policy.
If they want to have a conversation about the cost of living, let's have a conversation about the cost of living, because there are two sides to the cost of living. This mob over here said there was absolutely nothing they could do to control minimum wages. From opposition we our committed to putting our shoulder to the wheel to get minimum wages moving again, and within the first week we wrote to the Fair Work Commission and said the Labor government expects to see minimum wages moving again and that is exactly what happened: a significant shift in minimum wages, keeping pace with cost-of-living increases, helping deal with cost-of-living pressures on family budgets, in stark contrast to the nine years of this hopeless mob over here, who had wage suppression as a deliberate design feature of their policy. Contrast the two: one week, wages moving; nine years, wages go backwards. This is how hopeless this mob over here is.
The coalition ignored casual workers and casual worker rates going up and up, and didn't we see the result of that during the pandemic? They were thrown out of work with nothing to fall back on. Who could forget the words of the then Minister for Industrial Relations—remember his name?—Christian Porter, who said, 'That's okay, they can fall back on their savings.' How out of touch can you be? They were minimum wage casual workers with nothing to fall back on. It took this side of the house, the Labor Party, to push that government to do the absolute basics, and when push came to shove we did it again by extending pandemic leave for these vulnerable workers. As well as that, we're ensuring we are doing something about insecure work in this country.
The coalition want to talk about power prices. We're very happy to talk about power prices, because after 22 energy policies when they couldn't land on one single policy—perhaps we're on the way to 23—is there any wonder that electricity prices went up on their watch? To add insult to injury we saw the member for Hume over there hide a whopping 18 per cent energy increase because they did not want the voters of Australia to understand what the woeful results of their hopeless policies and nine years of decadence were leading to. They want to know what's going on with energy prices; I'll tell you what's going on with energy policy. In our first week we gave certainty to investors. When we talked to investors and said, 'What's going on with energy generation? How come you're not investing in it?' the first thing they said to us, 'We don't know what the policy is, because for nine years we've had nothing from this mob over here. How are you going to make a 30-year investment when their policies don't last 30 minutes?'. So we are working on an energy policy which gives industry the certainty to invest, and we will ensure that we get cheaper energy and more secure energy and we will have a cleaner energy supply, something that this mob over here failed at 22 times over nine long years.
The coalition are so out of touch that they don't understand what it is like to be a young family dealing with the rising costs of child care. They went up and up and up on their watch. What are we doing? We are introducing a policy to ensure that the majority of Australian families will get a significant cut in their childcare costs. Over 90 per cent of Australian families with children in child care will be having over 90 per cent of their costs covered. That's what a cost-of-living policy does for you. While this mob over here won't turn up and haven't got a clue, we'll introduce legislation for cheaper child care for 1.25 million Australian children.
The coalition talk about the rising cost of health care. What they won't tell you is that they froze Medicare rebates for nine years. If you are wondering why you can't find a doctor in your regional town that will bulk-bill you, it is because this mob over here froze Medicare rebates for over nine years. Doctors can't afford to provide a bulk-billing service in regional Australia, and the answer is right over there. We will reverse the changes in the policies of this mob—six years of neglect and indolence. Our budget will cut the cost of medicines and ensure that Australians can afford to see a doctor once again.
The Jobs and Skills Summit that this mob over here boycotted because they found somebody in the invitation list they didn't like the sound of actually came up with some solutions. If you want to know why you can't get an electrician, carpenter or plumber to your house for love nor money, the answer is over there. They cut the guts out of the TAFE system. They cut the guts out of vocational education and training. Apprenticeship completion rates have been going through the floor. If there is any wonder why the price of tradies is going through the roof, the answer sits over there. We took the horse by the reins, and we will ensure that we reverse nine long years of neglect by reinvesting in TAFE. An agreement was reached with the states and territories and business last week at the forum that you neglected to turn up to. You boycotted it. We reached a landmark decision—180,000 fee-free TAFE student places to ensure that we can get apprenticeships and traineeships going again. We are fast-tracking fee-free TAFE places and ensuring that businesses can hire again.
The coalition's mismanagement of the economy has made it harder and harder for the government to deal with the challenges, but we will not shrink from them. But we will be honest with the Australian people—$1 trillion worth of Liberal Party debt has to be paid off. That is your legacy: a rising cost of living and $1 trillion worth of debt. Never has there been a party which talks so much about economic management, but—
I thank the member opposite and you, Deputy Speaker, for your guidance. It would be a gross injustice if I were to blame you, or anyone on this side of the House, for the indolence and economic mismanagement of this mob over nine long years. Never has there been a party that has talked so much about economic management but done so little of it. Never has there been a party that has talked much about the importance of business but understood so little about the needs of business. So whether it is addressing the cost of child care, fixing the skills gap, ensuring we have one energy policy for the term of this government and not 22 that don't make it through the caucus room, ensuring we are dealing with TAFE or ensuring we are putting in place policies that have real wages rising again—we are focused on cost-of-living issues. Never have you seen a more miserable, out-of-touch opposition that are stewing in irrelevance, not because they have to be but because they choose to be.
The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services spent his whole time talking about us in opposition, not about what the government is doing. You spent the whole time criticising a former government rather than talking about—
Deputy Speaker, we had the member for Monash raise an incredibly important point of order about referencing 'you', referring to you in the chair. The member speaking may not have heard that point of order, so I raise it again just so that we can appropriately refer to either the government or your good self. Thank you.
Thank you. I assume all members now present in the House have got this standing order firmly tattooed into their memory, so let's give it a go at not using the word 'you' unless you are directly speaking to me.
The cost of living has spiralled out of control throughout the country. What have this Labor government been doing? Labor have stated that they've made medications cheaper. That's not hard. They have just continued the former government's policy—copy and paste, green tick, continue. Meanwhile the new government claim the regular indexation of pensions as delivering a win. It's great that pensioners are getting more money, but it happens automatically twice a year. It really is going up with the wild levels of inflation that we're having.
Labor is saying that Australians have to wait years before they get any cost-of-living relief. Australians cannot wait a year. They need action now. Two hundred and seventy-five dollars off your electricity bills—that's what was promised by this Labor government. This has gone. It was walked away from. It has been abandoned. They lied to the people of Australia. 'More secure, well-paid jobs' is what we've been hearing. You have inherited unemployment at its lowest rate in 50 years. The Prime Minister needs to come clean to the Australian people instead of kicking the can down the road with his summits, his photo ops, getting Shaq down and shutting down debate with his smoke-and-mirror politics of saying he's doing better but sitting on his hands while everyday Australians suffer.
Australians are sick of the Treasurer standing in front of the camera and offering an update on how bad things are. Australians know this when their pay hits their account and it's gone before they can go to the petrol station to fill up their car or the shops to buy groceries. They know this every time the postie drops off their electricity, insurance or rate bills. What is Labor's plan? What is the solution going forward? Australians want outcomes and solutions, not more of the Treasurer's excuses. Australians are looking for relief now, not next month, next year or in two years. A lot of families can't wait that long.
Instead of hitting the ground running, Labor has offered Australians 100 days of excuses. The cost-of-living pressures are hitting hard around Australia and the electorate of Herbert isn't immune. The people of Townsville are doing it tough with higher power prices, higher fuel bills and higher grocery bills. In July a study found that a basket of groceries in Townsville had increased by 4.2 per cent in just a six-week period, which is why food charities are having to work so much harder to keep up with the demand. Just before coming down to this fortnight's sitting I dropped into the ADRA food pantry, which provides low-cost groceries for those who need them the most. They do an amazing job, but they have queues lined up down the road from six in the morning. There are lines out the door. There are people picking up canned food and grabbing bread, and young mums grabbing nappies. The supermarkets are too expensive. These are the challenges that people are facing in Townsville. There is an average of 12 to 15 new registrations for families signing up to shop at the pantry. They have delivered more than 5,000 boxes of food to people who can't afford to shop anywhere else.
The constant increase in numbers demonstrates that we need to do more to ease the cost of living. We need a solution to ensure that the lines don't even get busier and longer in places like ADRA's food pantry. We need the government to act. The people of Townsville and our nation need action now.
The Albanese Labor government is committed to building a better future for Australians, and for the people of Robertson in my home on the Central Coast. The Australian public voted at the recent federal election for a government that would take the issue of cost of living seriously, because for too long under the former Liberal government Australians continued to see cost-of-living increases and a government that was ever absent. I am proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that has a suite of policies that will address the cost of living and is now working to legislate those policies to help ease cost-of-living pressures for Aussie families.
For example: in my electorate of Robertson, the cost of child care is extremely high for many couples—it is extremely high for many families. This was constantly brought up as we doorknocked, as we phonebanked and as we hosted street stalls around Robertson. The Albanese government will ensure child care is more affordable by lifting the maximum childcare subsidy rate, and we will extend the increased subsidy to outside-school-hours care, including many other changes that will ease the cost of child care and therefore ease the cost of living. These measures are targeted and will mean that 96 per cent of families will be better off, which equates to 1.26 million families across Australia. I know that the people of Robertson will benefit from our policy making child care cheaper, and I look forward to this 47th parliament passing this legislation and helping millions of families struggling with child care to get much-needed assistance.
During my election campaign, Labor made a commitment, should an Albanese Labor government elected, that Narara, a suburb in Robertson, would receive one of 500 community batteries that will be rolled out across Australia. Community batteries will revolutionise energy storage at the grassroots level and mean that thousands of Australians will have the ability to feed solar generated electricity from their rooftops into a community battery that can be utilised at night-time. This policy will ensure that Australia meets its emissions reduction targets but, importantly, will reduce electricity costs for thousands of Australians and the people in my electorate of Robertson.
The Albanese Labor government also wants to ensure that more Australians can harness the benefits of solar power, because we know that clean energy is cheap energy; we know that the sun does not send a bill and the wind does not send an invoice. That is why the government will roll out 85 solar banks around Australia, to ensure more can take advantage of clean and more can take advantage of renewable energy while at the same time reducing their energy costs and easing the cost of living.
Which brings me to our next cost-of-living measure, a measure that is close to my heart as an emergency doctor who has seen firsthand the devastating impact that medication costs can have on patients and residents on the Central Coast—and indeed right across Australia. People are having to ration medications for their high blood pressure or for their hypercholesterolaemia, meaning that these chronic conditions that otherwise would have been medicated for become cerebrovascular accidents or strokes, or become acute myocardial infarctions or heart attacks. I'm proud to say that an Albanese Labor government, the members on this side of the House, will legislate that more medications will be more affordable for more Australians. The government will cut the cost of medications by reducing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme copayment from the current maximum of $42 50 per script to a maximum of $30 per script. Labor will always ensure Australians can access medications they need, when they need them. Labor has built Medicare and we will always protect and strive to strengthen our world-class healthcare system.
The fact is that the economic mismanagement of the Liberals and Nationals has left us with $1 trillion of debt and not a single cent of vision to show for it. Our economic plan is a deliberate and measured response to the economic circumstances that we inherited. It is our task to do what we can to help Australians deal with these pressures in the short term and build a more resilient economy. We will guide and steer our economy during this difficult period and build a future the Australian people and the people of Robertson deserve.
What an important MPI for us to be talking on: the Albanese government's utter failure to address rising cost-of-living pressures facing Australians. We had the minister talking about what happened in the first week of this government, talking it up. The minister missed, of course, one important thing that happened in that first week, which was the government's complete backflip, complete walking away, from their commitment to reduce your energy costs by $275. This was a key component of the campaign. It sat right beside their 43 per cent emissions reduction policy. This was what provided balance to that argument. It was presented as a bit of a red herring, to try to show that there was some balance, some reasonable behaviour, being exhibited. But what we saw in that first week was immediately—bang—walking away from that commitment to reduce your energy bills by $275.
Today we saw the Prime Minister, on being asked three or four questions on this issue, refusing to answer them, and this has been all the way through. Every time we've raised this—'Do you maintain your commitment to reduce energy bills by $275?'—the government has said nothing on it. It's refused to answer this. It has walked away from it completely. This is what happened in the first week of this government. We saw exactly the intent of the government. They're not going to focus on cost-of-living pressures. They have far different things to focus on. I think I also heard the previous speaker talk about a trillion dollars of debt that they had inherited as just some victims of this.
Let's be very, very clear: it's every dollar of which you agreed to, and you suggested that we spend more. You are now in government. You are no longer in opposition, you are in government. You are responsible. What has caused these cost-of-living pressures is not some historical incident. These are things happening now, and you are the government; this is on your watch. What you do now matters. Giving us the same speeches from opposition that you gave before, pointing out to us on this—it's your responsibility.
I'm glad to be taken off point because—this is really the government's whole role, their whole game, to point back across and not take any responsibility for what's happening now. We saw today's interest rate rise. If we're talking about cost-of-living pressures, the first interest rate rise, back in May, is only being passed on to people now. So we've got four more of these coming. They're about to hit—one after the other, like a train. Across Australia this cost-of-living pressure will continue to rise, and this is happening entirely on Labor's watch.
I'm sure that we'll be asked to wait until the budget to see anything happen here. We'll be asked to wait until the budget, and we'll have to have patience, because Labor has absolutely no intention of acting at all on cost-of-living pressures until then. We know every Labor Treasurer wants to be seen as an economic conservative and the Treasurer will be trying to present that in this budget, but Australians will be waiting with the patience of a chopping block on this one, because we know what's coming. This is going to be a tax-and-spend budget. We can see it. Labor have made their intentions very, very clear.
If we take cost-of-living pressures seriously, and we on this side of the House do, we really need to understand how we got to this situation if we want to solve the problem. Whilst those opposite might want us to forget that they adopted a deliberate strategy of wage suppression as part of their approach to government, keeping workers' pay low for nine long years, I can tell you who has not forgotten that strategy, Madam Deputy Speaker: the millions of workers who suffered as a result of that cruel approach.
During the election campaign, we on this side of the House were mocked for suggesting that the lowest-paid workers in our community should not go backwards but in fact have wages that keep pace with the growing cost of living, which would amount to about a dollar extra per hour. Instead of supporting that easing of cost-of-living pressures, those opposite treated as somehow scandalous the suggestion that the lowest-paid workers in this country should not be the worst-off workers in this country. We shouldn't really have been surprised, because throughout the last term of government we saw how those opposite ignored the plight of workers. It's hard to know where to begin on this. It's hard to know whether their economic strategy and approach to workers was born out of incompetence or born out of contempt. But we saw how casual workers, during the very worst part of the pandemic, were left behind. Those opposite told them they needed to pay their own way through—and I've heard previous speakers discuss how absurd that suggestion was.
But it wasn't just casual workers who were left behind. I think about the people who make up my community in the electorate of Chisholm, in Melbourne. We have many international students, many academics and many workers on visas, all of whom were cruelly excluded from the JobKeeper subsidies. As a result of the decisions those opposite made, we now have to grapple with the crisis of how we rebuild the university sector and how we make sure we have enough workers to help the small and medium businesses that are part of the local economy. While those opposite might want to forget what they did to our communities, the people in Chisholm and, I'm sure, people across the nation will not forget. People will remember, though, the things the Albanese Labor government is now doing to set things right, and that we actually take this issue seriously. We're not treating it as a game, as those opposite may like to treat it, because we're talking about real people's lives and livelihoods.
I think of a few instances lately when people in my community have come up to me with real excitement about what the future under an Albanese Labor government might hold, including cheaper child care. Cheaper child care is good not just because it decreases the pressure on families to meet cost-of-living demands but because we are able to have greater workforce participation as more women, who are mainly the primary caregivers, enter the economy. But I suppose, in having just a quick glance at the benches opposite, that maybe those opposite don't really care much for women's participation in the workforce, given there are no women from the other side in the chamber at this moment. Unlike those opposite, we know that women's workforce participation, cheaper child care and better wages for workers in aged care and other care sectors are vital to addressing those real cost-of-living pressures we face in our communities. We do not treat this as a triviality. We do not treat this as a game. We treat this as a very serious issue that requires structural reform that was neglected for almost a decade, which is a real shame.
When we talk about cost-of-living pressures, we know that, for so many families, these pressures are not new. I remember during the campaign speaking to people who could not afford to go and see a specialist, because the out-of-pocket expenses had climbed up by almost 60 per cent. In my community of Chisholm, the out-of-pocket expense to see a GP in the last nine years has gone up by 38 per cent. We have inherited a situation where people were desperate and were making the choice between paying their bills and going to see a doctor. That is no way to run a country—not a country like Australia. So I am delighted that we're actually addressing these issues in a structural way.
I rise today to voice the concerns of my constituents. The people of Dawson are extremely nervous and fearful of the rising cost of living. Today, the Reserve Bank has again lifted interest rates, making this the fifth increase in five months. Australians with a $500,000 mortgage are paying on average an extra $600 per month compared to interest rates in April of this year. This is an increase of $150 that families need to find each and every week.
Back in March 2022 the coalition government provided relief for Australian families by bringing in the 22c fuel excise reduction. I am calling on the Albanese Labor Government to continue this fuel excise reduction. In my electorate of Dawson we have limited public transport options and long-distance travel is part of everyday life. Fuel is a huge weekly expense for regional Australians. Groceries have also significantly increased in price at the checkout. Families are being forced to make a choice between putting fuel in their car or food on the table. I don't think that that's fair.
And what about the insurance premiums in my part of the world? They are outrageous, leaving thousands of residents with no choice but to live uninsured or at risk. North Queenslanders are still waiting for the Labor Albanese government to implement the $10 billion Reinsurance Pool. While north Queenslanders dread the looming cyclone season, the insurance companies continue to profit from this indecisive, no-plan government.
Energy prices are ever increasing, and Australian families and businesses are struggling with soaring power prices, yet nothing is being done to increase our baseload capacity or supply. In fact, this current government, who are bowing to the Greens, are taking away reliable and affordable options.
We are all in fear of what the next 12 months will bring with these cost-of-living pressures. I am constantly asked by the constituents, 'What is the government's plan?' So I stand here today to urge the Albanese Labor government to get a plan instead of reintroducing industrywide bargaining, industrywide disputes and strikes, which will ultimately lead to higher unemployment, less profitability within businesses and a negative impact to the overall Australian economy. I ask the Prime Minister: could he stand by his word and please give me Australians the $275 reduction to their power bills that he promised.
This promise was made 97 times after December 2021. Before the election, Mr Albanese said:
I will say this very clearly. They—
will be better off under a Labor government …
Again, this is just another Labor broken promise.
The Treasurer says there's no credible economic forecast in Australia right now that thinks that wages growth is going to keep up with inflation. Inflation under the Albanese government is running at 6.1 per cent. This is the highest rate of inflation in almost 32 years. This is the highest rate of inflation since Labor's recession that we 'had to have', apparently. The independent parliamentary budget confirmed that the Labor government's policies will result in higher debts than deficits. They did not even submit all their policies to the Parliamentary Budget Office for costing despite their saying that the policies were fully costed. The Assistant Treasurer is out there predicting hyperinflation and more strikes, and that is not what Australians need right now. The Prime Minister tells us he has a plan. The Prime Minister has promised us a plan. So please tell me—and the people of Dawson: what is the plan?
I am pleased to rise today to join my colleagues, the member for Whitlam, the member for Robertson, the member for Chisholm, on this important MPI, and I welcome the contributions from the members for Farrer, Herbert, Groom and Dawson.
It's amazing to be here on the government benches and watch the conversion of those opposite, who've suddenly discovered cost-of-living pressures. There has been an epiphany. There has also been on display today a demonstration of collective amnesia. It's like the last 10 years have just been washed away, washed away in 107 days.
The Albanese Labor government went to an election critically concerned about the cost-of-living pressures and a trillion dollars of debt with too little to show for it. We went to an election critically concerned about nine years of wage stagnation, with wages going backwards in this country. We went to an election critically concerned about the inaction of a nine long, tired year old government that failed at every turn to do the things that this country needed it to do. In fact, it was not just inaction; there was a sense of deliberation in the things that they did. The actual strategy to keep wages low was admitted by them to be part of their economic strategy, the decisions they made, the choices they made.
When I first came here in 2013, one of the things that I learnt in that first year was that governments are about priorities, budgets are about priorities and every decision a government makes, every action it takes, speaks to its priorities. What we saw from those opposite when they were in government made it very clear what their priorities were. They weren't so concerned about cost of living when they oversaw penalty rate cuts. There was no concern then about the cost of living for people in my electorate who wore that very hard. There was no concern for casual workers when they were not granted the same as other workers in the economy during the pandemic, no concern for the thousands in my electorate. There was no concern for the families that I represent when, during the pandemic, casual working parents had no work. I was hearing from school principals about year 12 students who were neglecting their studies because they were being offered 40, 50, 60 hours a week at McDonald's, and those young people felt compelled to support their families. When I heard about kids going to school without lunches day in, day out during the pandemic, there was no squealing about cost-of-living pressures on those the former government neglected not just over nine years but in our acute memories of the pandemic. So the conversion today is extraordinary, but enough about them; enough about those opposite.
This government is getting on with the job. This government has introduced, has ensured, a wage rise for our lowest paid workers. We've seen that happen in a week in government. It's an extraordinary achievement. We've also seen members of this government reinstate Australia on the world stage, which, in the longer term, will impact cost of living because it will mean that we have better relationships internationally, better trade deals, a better reputation.
This government is getting on with the job. We saw last week the Jobs and Skills Summit—an opportunity for Australians to come together. After nine years of division and broken promises, after nine years of neglect, we have an opportunity to move this country forward, to make Australia a better place for families like the families I represent and for families right around the country. As a government, we will have our priorities very clear. Our priorities are about opportunities for all. Our priorities are about taking the hand we have been dealt after nine long years of neglect and doing the things Australians tell us will make a difference. Bringing Australians together to work together towards a better future—that's what this government is about. We will deal with cost-of-living pressures. We will do it with Australians.
It's a tough day for the people in my electorate of Sturt and the people of Australia, with the Reserve Bank announcing their decision to again increase interest rates by 50 basis points. Power prices are going up, fuel prices are about to go up, real wages are going down and mortgages continue to increase. Today's announcement of a 50 basis point increase is the fourth in a row of 50 basis points, and, of course, there was another increase before that. We are now at 2.35 per cent of the cash rate. Unfortunately the pain of this doesn't seem to be coming to an end anytime soon, because the most recent inflation rate, as has been pointed out in this debate, increased again to 6.1 per cent. The 5.2 per cent increase to the minimum wage, unfortunately, is still going to see the lowest-paid workers under this Labor government go backwards, because inflation is higher than that increase and wage inflation generally is still under half the inflation rate. The predictions from no less than the Reserve Bank governor and others are that 6.1 per cent is by no means the peak of inflation. So things are very tough for the people of this country.
Today's decision by the Reserve Bank goes to show that, unfortunately, they have to keep using the monetary policy levers available to them to try and get inflation under control. Of course, monetary policy is not the only way that governments have at their disposal to address inflation. We have an independent Reserve Bank which everyone in this chamber, hopefully, supports. Those decisions are independent and they are made from a monetary policy point of view, the cost of money in our economy, based on all the information available to them to achieve their target inflation rate. One of the things they have to contend with is what the Commonwealth budget is doing, what the situation is with the budget deficit, and whether or not the fiscal policy settings of the federal government are contributing to inflation or helping the Reserve Bank with their task of bringing it under control.
We have a budget being delivered in this place in about six weeks time, and that will really be the only tangible example of whether or not this government and this Treasurer have a plan to assist in that task of getting inflation under control. All the other things that have been mused about in this debate are completely irrelevant when it comes to the cost of living and the families of Australia compared with the situation of inflation not just at such a record high, of 6.1 per cent at the moment, but predicted to continue to increase.
We all understand and accept there are global forces that are part of the pressures on the cost of living. They're also helping with the terms of trade. Many of our commodities are in a boom cycle at the moment, which is helping to support our economy through these tough times. But, ultimately, no matter what forces are coming to bear, we within this economy, and as a Commonwealth government and as a Commonwealth parliament, have to have a plan to address it. As I say, the Reserve Bank will keep increasing interest rates—possibly more than they need to if they're not getting support from a fiscal point of view from this government. That will be the enormous challenge that befalls the budget coming up in late October.
Labor have got a lot of plans for more spending. I'm sorry to tell you that if you're only spending more money and increasing the deficit, that is only going to increase interest rates and that is going to put the Reserve Bank in an impossible position as the only people fighting inflation in our economy. In fact, if you increase the deficit, let alone not reduce it, then all the result you'll get is having an unnecessary and enormous burden—a form of tax increase by increasing people's mortgages. And that is going to disproportionally, in particular, hurt some of the people who are struggling in our economy the most at the moment.
Real wages are going backwards, and they will continue to go backwards, no matter what decisions are made by the Fair Work Commission, unless we get inflation under control. No-one can predict what is going to happen with inflation if we continue to operate in an environment where we're not taking it seriously, particularly in the upcoming federal budget. So I urge the Labor Party to do something against their muscle memory and against their form when it comes to Commonwealth budgets—to use that as an opportunity to properly help the Reserve Bank to reduce pressure on inflation in our economy, to share the burden, to share the load and to cut expenditure. They should help them with that and stop putting this pressure on the poor mortgage-payers of this country.
I rise to talk about the cost of living in regional and remote communities of the Northern Territory, and the failure of the previous government to act and assist these families and communities.
The towns and communities in my electorate are reeling under the extraordinary rise in the cost of everyday living. Regional and remote Australia is always an expensive place to live; we don't have the economies of scale of large cities and we have huge distances to contend with. But when this was exacerbated by nine years of neglect by the previous government, battlers in my electorate suffered. Access to fresh produce is becoming unaffordable to the average person, as food in remote communities is 56 per cent more expensive than in regional supermarkets due to long supply chains and poor-quality roads, as outlined by the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory. Every lettuce for sale at the Kintore Store, near the border with WA, or at Aputula Store, near the South Australian border, has travelled hundreds of kilometres on unsealed and unsafe roads. Trucking companies have to charge more to cover repairs and fix breakages. Even the Santa Teresa Road, only 80 kilometres from Alice Springs, is a terrible access road. And, despite the urgings of the former member for Lingiari, the previous government refused to seal it. I am proud to be able to tell residents that the Albanese government will deliver in terms of this road.
If you continue travelling about 700 kilometres west of Santa Teresa to Docker River, on the border between the Northern Territory and Western Australia, the negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis is laid bare. Here you can expect to pay $9.60 for two litres of milk, three times more than you would pay in Alice Springs. We had a government in power for nine long years, and I have sat here and listened to their MPI, which is a matter of public importance. I have listened to every member on the opposition benches, who suddenly have amnesia. They ignored this for nine years. They had a deliberate strategy of wage suppression as part of their economic strategy, and kept workers' pay as low as possible. Of course if you do that you end up with situations where people in these communities need to make unimaginable sacrifices: do I pay for my medicine or do I pay for my child to eat? This is an everyday reality for families in Lingiari that the coalition government created through their neglect of the poorest Australians. Blaming poor people for being poor, which is what the previous government's CDP program did, doesn't help them pay for the lettuce or the milk—or the retail, for that matter. What matters is real jobs in communities, real skill development and award wages at a minimum for hardworking people. That is what the Albanese Labor government will be doing with its review of the failed CDP program.
My constituents on Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands are really suffering at the hands of Australia's cost-of-living crisis, as they were already contending with air freight costs adding $12 per kilogram to their fresh food prices. There is a massive systemic problem with sea freight systems servicing the Indian Ocean territories. The backlog for freight is in the order of 15 to 20 tonnes and the prices are spiralling as a result. How do we expect people to live in these territories when fresh produce is becoming unattainable to everyone? But this isn't an issue that has just come up today; this was an issue that the previous government knew about, but they took no action to address the root causes of these issues. It is a difficult problem, but I am proud to be part of a government that recognises that this is an issue, and we will take action.