House debates

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Cost of Living

3:11 pm

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

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

The cost of living crisis and this Government's lack of plan to deal with it.

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 standing orders having risen in their places—

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'm pleased to speak on this issue, and I'm pleased that there's support to get on and talk about this MPI, because cost of living is one of the issues that Australians are feeling very deeply right now. When it comes to what Australians are talking about on the street, out in my electorate and elsewhere, it's cost of living, cost of living, cost of living. Rising inflation and interest rates are extremely painful in the suburbs, in the regions and in the cities. What's changed about this in the last few months is that we're not just seeing this at the fuel bowser. We're seeing it at the grocery checkout, we're seeing it when people buy furniture, we're seeing it when people buy services—we are seeing it across the board, Mr Speaker—but most of all, in the next few months, we're going to see it in the mortgage bills.

For a typical house of $750,000 in my electorate—in places like Elderslie, Spring Farm, Campbelltown and Camden—we are seeing that the average Australian is very soon going to be paying an extra $900 a month on their mortgage payments. That's well over $10,000 a year that the average Australian on a mortgage is going to be paying. We know that one-third of Australians have a mortgage, and they are the people working hard and raising families in so many of our electorates, Mr Speaker. As I look around, I see—

An opposition member: Angus, it's Madam Deputy Speaker.

Thank you; I appreciate that Deputy Speaker Claydon is now in the chair. What we are seeing in those suburbs is this increase in mortgage payments. Mr Speaker, it's not over yet.

Honourable members interjecting

Deputy Speaker, it is not over yet.

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

We'll get there!

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

We are seeing an increase in interest rates that continues to flow through. The Reserve Bank has just raised interest rates by 50 basis points. The expectation in the marketplace is that they're going to raise interest rates another 50 basis points next week—it remains to be seen what the outcome will be, but that's the expectation—and that it will continue on beyond that. Indeed, we're seeing in the marketplace an expectation that cash rates will reach over 4.3 per cent by mid next year. The truth of the matter is that will result in mortgages of 6½ or seven per cent for a typical Australian mortgage, as we see the flexible rates flowing through, with people moving from fixed rates to flexible rates. That is a pain that Australians are going to feel, of a scale that we haven't seen yet, and we need to be ready to deal with it.

What we've seen from those opposite, most of all, is no plan at all. What we see is grim Jim, 'Grim Chalmers', as the commentator not the Treasurer, the forecaster not the leader, who's failed time and time again to take the opportunity, as interest rates have continued to go up, to lay out a plan whereby Australians will feel relief from these pressures. The question is: what should be in that plan? Ultimately, it'll have to be the government's plan, but there are three things I would like to point out that they could do, right here and now, to make a real difference.

The first is to release some of the supply chain bottlenecks we are seeing in the economy. We put forward a proposal to double the work bonus, to help pensioners and veterans, to increase the amount of work they do, to give more incentive for them, through the changes in the tax and welfare system that we have proposed. What this effectively does is reduce their effective marginal tax rate so that they can get on and do more work without being taxed. Right now, if you are a pensioner or veteran you're paying at least 50 cents in the dollar for every extra dollar you earn and, quite likely, significantly more. So it makes perfect sense to give them the incentive to get out there and work. Most of all, we want to see more Australians working. That will not only relieve their cost-of-living pressures but it will also relieve cost-of-living pressures for all other Australians.

The second thing is to make sure we don't kick off a price-wage spiral. We all want to see higher real wages in this place. What we don't need is a race between prices and wages. The last time we saw this was in the 1970s, and we know who lost. Workers lost. That's what happened. When you start a race like this, real wages will lose.

The third thing that those opposite can focus on is making sure they're not throwing fuel on the fire of these inflationary and interest rate pressures. The truth of the matter is they took to the last election $45 billion of additional off-budget spending, sneaky spending, which will just throw more fuel on this fire. So $18 billion of on-budget spending—but we know this is only the beginning. 'Grim Jim' told us earlier this week that—

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

I give the call to the minister, on a point of order?

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

The shadow Treasurer should refer to members by their official titles.

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

Indeed you should, member for Hume. Please refer to members by their official titles.

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

Yes, Deputy Speaker. We heard earlier this week that the Treasurer has found $50 billion. I've never seen a Treasurer look so miserable about finding $50 billion! Has anyone else seen a Treasurer look so miserable about finding $50 billion—or is it $50 billion we delivered him? It came from our time in government. The truth of the matter is that the Treasurer didn't want to see the $50 billion. Now that he's got it, we know he wants to spend it. He's already telling us that. He wants to spend it, and that's exactly what he will do. We know that's what Labor does. When they see a little bit of money, the first thing they want to do is spend it.

He's also making sure he spends it on the things he wants. He's trying to tell others around him, 'No, it's not your gift; it's a gift for the people I want.' It's a $50 billion windfall that has come from the hard work that we did to make sure that as we came out of the pandemic we saw a bounce back, a reversion, to the balanced budget that we had in 2019. In fact, in a remarkable situation, we saw that from November through to May through to the election we ran a cumulative surplus over those months—and what we know is that those opposite just want to spend the money.

Meanwhile, when it comes to cost of living, we know that those opposite are experts in breaking promises. The commitment was made back in November last year, and they have refused steadfastly to say they're going to deliver it, and we know they're not. This is a broken promise. They've had the opportunity at the dispatch box, time and time again, to commit to that promise, but when it comes to cost of living it's all broken promises. When it comes to productivity, they've decided to give up on it. They've dropped their productivity forecast because they say, 'You know what? That's not something we're going to deliver.' And when it comes to real wages—

An opposition member interjecting

I hear the member behind me talking about real wages. Well, the reality of real wages is that the Treasurer has decided that in this term of the parliament, on his forecasts—not ours—there will be no material gains in real wages. So they've given up on their promise on electricity prices, they've given up on their promise on productivity, and they've given up on their promise of real wages. And we know what they're giving up on next, and that is tax cuts. The one thing Labor really hates most of all is to give Australians a tax break—to reduce taxes on small businesses in Australia and on the hardworking Australians who want to get on and have a crack out there, who want to have a go in their small businesses and in their careers. We want to see them succeed. We want lower taxes. We want better managed costs of living. We want a plan from those opposite.

3:21 pm

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

It is a true pleasure to rise on this matter of public importance. If you need any evidence of the 'agility' of those opposite, consider what happened at noon today. At noon today, the education minister was at this dispatch box announcing the government's Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill. That bill would cut childcare costs for more than a million families. We've seen childcare costs go up 41 per cent in the last eight years. For a family on $80,000 with a child in care three days a week, the government support would be $14,000 a year as a result of the bill announced today. And what was the shadow treasurer doing at the very same time? He was tabling a matter of public importance claiming that the government didn't have a plan for cost of living. As you might say—or as he said himself—'Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus.'

We on this side of the House are always happy to have a debate on cost of living. Under the coalition, we saw wages stagnate as a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture. Under us, the very first decision of the Albanese cabinet was to support a Fair Work decision giving a 5.2 per cent pay rise to minimum wage workers. We've also backed in a pay rise for aged-care workers and made clear the government would pay our fair share. Under them, we had scare campaigns about electric vehicles and claims that electric vehicles would end the weekend. Under us, we're cutting the tax rate on electric vehicles. You'd think that side of parliament would like a tax cut for electric vehicles—but no. They're voting against it, despite the fact that for every 10 kilometres you drive an electric vehicle you save a dollar, compared with driving a petrol vehicle. Under them, we had a renewables strike. Under us, we've just seen the climate change minister sign a key agreement with John Kerry which will unlock up to $2.9 billion of new renewables investment.

Under the coalition, we saw the economy stagnate. We saw the start-up rate go down. We saw the rate of people starting new jobs go down. We saw market concentration go up. We saw mark-ups go up. Under us, we're taking those issues of economic dynamism and competition seriously. I'm going to be introducing a bill in this place tomorrow that, if passed, will raise the penalties on firms that engage in anticompetitive conduct and ban unfair contract terms—the sorts of contract terms that currently let large businesses get away with clauses about things like unilateral termination or unilateral price increases. We on this side of the House stand on the side of small businesses and consumers.

Under them, we've seen homeownership fall to its lowest level in two generations and we've seen regional Australians taking more than a decade to save for a deposit. Under us, we've announced the Housing Australia Future Fund and the Help to Buy program, which are going to ensure that young Australians are able to achieve the dream of a home of their own. Under them, we've seen paid pandemic leave due to expire. Under us, we've extended it. We've increased the pensioner work bonus from $7,800 to $11,800. We're fast-tracking fee-free TAFE places. We're tackling the rorts and waste, including that $20 billion of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising revenues and tripled the debt under the Liberals.

We recognise that it's critical for government to do its part in ensuring that we tackle that cost-of-living crisis. That's just the beginning of what our government is doing to help Australians deal with the cost-of-living challenges. Under them, we saw the notion of conflict and division become a deliberate feature of the way in which they ran the economy. Then, under us, we had the Jobs and Skills Summit, which brought together business, unions and the social sector and saw historic agreements, such as the one between the ACTU and the BCA and the one between the ACTU and COSBOA.

We are acting on multinational tax dodging. One of the key aspects of this budget is going to be a crackdown on the use of debt deductions by multinational firms to reduce their revenues. To give those present a specific example of how debt deductions might be a problem, let me take the House to the company called Eastern Australia Agriculture, co-founded by the shadow Treasurer, which made millions of dollars in water licences. In 2018, Eastern Australia Agriculture paid its Cayman Islands registered subsidiary, Eastern Australia Irrigation, some $14 million in interest. Why do you pay an interest bill to an overseas subsidiary in the Cayman Islands? So you can reduce your tax bill here by profit shifting to the Cayman Islands. The interest rate paid on that debt was, apparently, some 20 per cent. That's the sort of boondoggle that we're going to be looking to crack down on with our crackdown on debt deductions, ensuring that firms like Eastern Australia Agriculture can't minimise their tax bill at the expense of regular Australian taxpayers.

In this government, our measures are focused on tackling the supply side as we look to bring down inflation. That means working in concert with the Reserve Bank, which is focused on the demand side of the economy. We've got monetary policy and fiscal policy working in concert to bring down inflation.

We've had an historic event today. We've had NASA crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid which didn't pose any threat to earth, just to show how it could be done. You've got to think to yourself that NASA has really drawn inspiration from the opposition in this measure. This is the very same opposition that said that the Jobs and Skills Summit should be cancelled and then that they really needed an invitation. And then, when they got the invitation, they decided that it was washing-the-hair day, so they wouldn't be able to go along. I give credit to the Leader of the Nationals, who showed up and made a constructive contribution, unlike the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Treasurer.

Next month we're going to have the Leader of the Opposition delivering a budget reply—which is somewhat at odds with Senator Hume's suggestion that oppositions don't have policies—and we've got the shadow Treasurer giving an economic speech which has all the credibility of his forged claim that Clover Moore spent $16 million on travel. Those dodgy documents had more credibility than the economic ideas that the shadow Treasurer is bringing forward. We may be introducing legislation to make child care cheaper, but we didn't sign up to babysit the shadow Treasurer. The very fact is this is a bloke who is fundamentally unserious about economic policy. He doesn't have ideas to ensure that Australia moves to a high-wage, high-productivity economy. For those opposite, the idea of low wages is baked into their DNA. They're like the short-sighted business that would like to have high-paid consumers and low-paid workers. Instead, we recognise, as did so many of the far-sighted business leaders at the Jobs Summit, that businesses benefit when workers have wages to buy those products. Those opposite do a great line in bellowing but have no substantive ideas for strengthening the Australian economy.

We on this side of the House understand that the drivers of productivity include investing in education, which is why the education minister is so committed to ensuring that our schools attract and retain great teachers, and that we have more opportunities for apprenticeships and TAFE places through those hundreds of thousands of fee-free TAFE places. We're expanding the number of places at university because we understand that a knowledge economy requires workers to skill-up to meet the demands of the future. We're investing in infrastructure based on cost-benefit analysis, not political calculus, as seen in so much of the so-called investment under those opposite—the sports rorts, the car park rorts, and the wasted resources that should have been going into improving the productive capacity of the economy, rather than trying to pad the margins in Liberal Party seats.

We on this side of the House understand the core role that competition policy plays in driving a more dynamic economy. And we will have more to say about the important role of competition policy in spurring growth and reform in the future. We just invite the opposition to be part of that important conversation, rather than shouting from the sidelines.

3:31 pm

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

Well, that's 10 minutes none of us will get back. What the government needs to learn is it's not in opposition anymore. The minister just spent four minutes making cheap shots at the shadow Treasurer. What the government now has to learn to do is to have a plan about what they're doing, not just be critical like they obviously were in opposition. They need to work out they're now in government.

This is an exceptionally important MPI we're talking about today, in the sense of the cost of living. Household budgets we know are under pressure. Small-business budgets are under pressure. What they are looking for from the new government is not just critical analysis of the now opposition; they're looking for what is the plan of the new government with cost-of-living pressures? These are real pressures. We have inflation rates going up and we have interest rates going up. We know that the new government say it's going to be the bread-and-butter budget—well, it's certainly not the petrol budget, because we know petrol prices will go up 20 cents a litre on Thursday or a few days after that as people refuel their bowsers. That's certainly going to be a hit again to household budgets.

I'll come back to some of the things I think the new government would want to do, but I want to concentrate for a moment on what the now government said in opposition—and not just in opposition, but while they were in government—about what they were going to do with energy prices. I quote the now prime minister, who said on 29 April, 'I maintain that Labor can bring power prices down $275 per year by 2025.' The now Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, on 25 May—which was after the election—on 2GB Breakfast with Ben Fordham vowed that the Albanese government had a climate and energy plan to produce cheaper renewable energy available to all Australian households. He said, 'What we've said in the economic modelling of our policy is $275 a year by 2025.' The senior minister Tony Burke, in a newspaper article on 19 June—again, after the budget—insisted Labor's promise to reduce household energy bills by $275 a year over five years was still intact. The Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, said on Sky News: 'We've got plans to bring down the cost of electricity $275 a year cheaper, and these are the sorts of differences we can make to everyday lives if Labor's elected.' Katy Gallagher, now Minister for Finance, said in the Canberra Times on 18 May, two days before the election: 'There's a once-in-a-century opportunity to reinvent our economy, build a better future, end the climate wars, and cut power bills by'—I think you'll be able to guess—'$275 over five years.' The Minister for Defence, as part of Labor policy, said that 'Labor anticipates power bills will be $275 cheaper by 2025'. Mr Marles went on to talk of 'rigorous modelling' and to say that it was some of the most extensive modelling that any opposition had ever done. Senator Penny Wong is quoted as saying: 'Labor's Powering Australia plan will cut power bills, reduce emissions', 'bring renewable energy to Australian homes' and 'save families $275 a year'. But then, what happened on 28 July? An article in the Daily Mail states: 'Labor has dumped its election promise to reduce power bills by $275 a year by 2025—after just six weeks in power.' The article states that Minister Bowen, asked if he still stands by Labor's $275 figure, didn't really say yes or no; he said: 'Of course figures will move around.' So there is the hoax of those opposite. One of the major policies they took to the Australian public in the last election was to lower power bills by $275 by 2025. And, Deputy Speaker Claydon, you know this: they will not commit to that now that they are in government, and have never done that in this chamber since.

Let's go to other solutions. The shadow treasurer also said one of the big things that you can do for cost of living is as to supply-chain blockages. We know that in every industry around this country right now there's a shortage of labour. We gave a great suggestion to the new government: to double what pensioners could earn before they started to lose their pension. The government picked up a little bit of that, but not all of it. Again, the ag visa is very important, and we had great plans to extend that visa to get more workers, to make sure our fruit and vegetables got picked and didn't rot into the ground. Again, good—

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

The member for Pearce.

3:36 pm

Photo of Tracey RobertsTracey Roberts (Pearce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm actually a reasonable person. I listen, I care and I'm considerate. However, whether I have five seconds, five minutes or five hours, I am on my feet as I'm incensed by the sarcasm, the comments and the attitude of those commenting, who are seemingly rather forgetful about the last decade and the situation that they have put our country in. So I am on my feet to speak about that, and if I can read my notes—because I have just scribbled in absolute haste—it will be a miracle! However, I'm catapulted to my feet because I have got something to say, and I've got to say this on behalf of my community. My first speech stated:

I thank the community who supported me and who clearly articulated that the Albanese government's plan for our future is the reason we are in government. Without a voice, the community cannot be heard, and I'm grateful for the opportunity that they have granted me to be their voice and partner in Canberra … to support strategic economic growth, fiscal responsibility and integrity—

something those opposite don't seem to be able to do.

We've got three words—three simple words: cost of living. However, the impact of these words on families around Australia is absolutely significant. We, on this side, clearly understand that the rising cost of living is hurting many Australians. While this is a result of global factors, we cannot ignore the price that we are paying for a wasted decade by the previous government, despite what they are saying on the other side. Australians understand that we did not create these cost-of-living challenges. And clearly, Australians have elected us to take responsibility to address them, and we are doing so. We have hit the ground running. Our economic plan is carefully considered and is a direct and deliberate response to the challenges facing the economy.

One of the very first acts of the Albanese government was to successfully argue for the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation, an outcome that will help many Australians. Significant work and attention to detail in relation to the October budget will be focused on responsible and carefully considered cost-of-living relief. This includes our cheaper childcare bill, that was introduced into parliament today, which will result in us being one step closer to a more affordable early childhood education for more Australian families, enabling more people to increase their hours of paid work.

I recently visited the West Coast TAFE in my electorate of Pearce. Vocational education and training has been the foundation of Australia's strong and vibrant economy, and the Albanese Labor government understands the importance of investing in the skills sector. It's why we are fast-tracking and investing in fee-free TAFE places. I saw kids from those pre-university or pre-TAFE places going to have a look at the TAFE to see if they wanted to be a brickie, a tiler, a carpenter, a plasterer or a sparkie. They are given the opportunity, and they are embracing that.

In addition, our pensions, allowances and rent assistance have been increased in line with inflation. I know that our budget to cut the cost of medicines will help many members in our local communities. We are bringing in a new pensioner work bonus so that older Australians can keep more of what they earn without affecting their pension, providing them with an opportunity to decide whether they wish to participate in paid work.

Many within the electorate of Pearce live in the outer metropolitan growth areas. Some of them have to travel long distances to work. With this comes choices like whether they enrol their kids in sport, whether they entertain, whether they go on holidays, whether they put food on the table and whether they pay their bills. I understand their challenges. That's why I'm in this place making these decisions to help them.

The Albanese Labor government understands these challenges. We are making carefully informed decisions in order to help them. We are committed to looking after the welfare and wellbeing of those within our community. I implore those opposite to listen to and take heed of what we are doing to try and support our communities based on the disgraceful situation that we inherited, with $1 trillion worth of debt.

3:41 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

Maybe the new member should talk to the member for McEwen, in front of her, and the members for Blair, Caldwell and Makin, who racked up $250 billion in debt during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. We can't blame these new guys; they're all innocent. But you four racked up a quarter of it and then you come in here and say there's $1 trillion in debt—and don't forget the member for Fenner. All they do is tax and spend.

The reality is that the Australian people know that there is a cost-of-living crisis and that, due to this Labor government's lack of planning, the government has no plan to deal with it. There is no plan; it's all a thought bubble. Interest rates are up; rents are up; more people are homeless; mortgage repayments are up; electricity bills are through the roof; petrol is up; diesel is up; and the price of food is increasing quickly under the Albanese Labor government.

Earlier this year we had a federal election, and Labor won, and there are a few newbies that came in. On 8 May, some of them might have posted, as many Labor members did, that the cost of living was up and interest rates were up and what that would mean is that by Christmas—on their little Labor tiles that they put on their social media—mortgage repayments would be $400 a month higher. Well, post-election, we had an interest rate rise on 7 June, up 50 basis points; on 5 July, up another 50 basis points; on 2 August, up another 50 basis points; and on 6 September, up another 50 basis points. So, if you had a $500,000 loan at two per cent, you're up $833 a month since the Albanese Labor government was elected. Before the election, they were saying that mortgage repayments would be up $400 a month for the rest of the year. Since the election, since Labor was elected—for those in the gallery—they are up $833 a month. For those in the gallery, if you got a home loan of $600,000 at two per cent, that'd be an extra $1,000 a month under the Albanese Labor government, or $12,000 a year. Or you might live in a southern state and you've got a higher mortgage. A $900,000 mortgage at two per cent is up $1,500 a month or $18,000 a year since the Albanese Labor government and all of these new members were elected.

Whilst this is happening, by the way, we had the extreme Greens coming in here wanting Labor to abandon their election commitment on income tax cuts—and well done to Labor for not giving in to them. We know that lower income taxes encourage people to work harder and to do overtime, encourage less tax evasion and eliminate bracket creep. But the Greens come in here and want Labor to abandon their election commitment, they want the Liberals to abandon their election commitment and they want the ETU, who promised stage 3 tax cuts, to abandon their election commitment—while, at the same time, the Greens are too obsessed with everything else that's happening.

The reality is that this cost-of-living crisis under the Albanese Labor government is continuing to build. We have fuel prices which are going up this week. The member for Fenner says, 'Well, Labor was able to keep the pandemic leave payments.' They were able to reverse that, but, when it comes to the fuel excise, oh no, it's all going up. This week will see a fuel price increase across the country. Whether you're buying diesel or unleaded, it'll continue to go up. What that will mean is an extra $13.20 per tank on a 60-litre tank or $686 a year for those people on JobSeeker who can least afford it. We've seen homelessness go up. We've seen rents go up through the roof. And what do those opposite do? 'Oh, no, it's all fine. We're doing something about child care.' Forget fuel, forget rent, forget electricity.

And, talking about electricity, they promised 100 times pre-election—100 times the Prime Minister got up and said, 'We're going to lower your bills by $275 a week.' Yet the Minister for Small Business in question time today—

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, no. That's a lie.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

It was $275 a year; sorry. I'll take that interjection. Yet the Minister for Small Business comes into question time today and says: 'Yes, small and medium enterprise businesses are doing it tough. We accept that. They are facing challenges, and their bills are going up.' I'm sure everyone in the gallery, if they look at their electricity bills over the last few months, sees that they are going up. If you live in a state like mine, where you've got a Labor state government and a Labor federal government, it's only going to get worse.

3:46 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can imagine there would have been a few conversations this morning with the members opposite and their diary managers, saying: 'Look, what are we going to be doing at around quarter to four?' 'I've got the MPI on.' 'Who's doing the MPI?' 'The Shadow Treasurer.' 'Organise something else! I'm not going in to support the member for Hume's MPI.' Look at the support that the member for Hume has got for his MPI. They are lining up to come into the House! Poor old Angus—they are lining up to support the member for Hume's MPI—

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

I remind the member for Macnamara.

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll refer to him by his correct title. The member for Hume comes in talking about the cost of living. I'm very pleased to rise on this opportunity to talk about the economic management of the previous 10 years. These people set the gold standard of economic management. They were the best—the best of the best. They did things like the Regional Growth Fund building a pool underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Nothing screams regional development more than doing a few laps outside the Opera House! Watching the P&O cruise just go by in the Harbour! This is regional Australia at its best, isn't it? The Ruby Princess just sailing by, and you think, 'This is regional Australia at its absolute best!'

No, the member for Hume obviously was the Minister for Energy—the famous Minister for Energy—in his previous capacity. He comes into this place talking about cost of living, and we on this side of the House know that the cheapest form of energy is renewable energy. The CSIRO and the AEMO have said consistently that the cheapest form of energy is renewable energy backed up by some form of dispatchable energy, and yet what is the answer from the member for Hume and all of the geniuses on that side of the House post the election to try to answer the question of the cheapest form of energy in Australia? It is not the cheapest form of energy but the most expensive form of energy. Radioactive Man—that's what they want. They want the most expensive form of energy in this House.

For the millions of Australians watching this MPI at home, supporting the member for Hume unlike his colleagues over there: thank you, thank you. His colleagues weren't interested in watching, but I'm sure there are millions of Australians watching this! The member for Hume doesn't want your power bills to double. He doesn't want you to triple them. He wants them to go up by four or five times, because those would be the repercussions if the member for Hume had his way and built a nuclear power plant or a couple of nuclear power plants in this country.

As we came into government, one of the first things that we did on this side of the House, and one of the proudest things that we do as members of a Labor government, was everything we could to lift the wages of those in our country, especially those on the minimum wage—unlike those opposite. We all remember the former finance minister, who said that low wages are a deliberate design feature of their economic management. Well, that changed at the election. Under this government, one of the first things we did was make a submission to the Fair Work Commission to lift the wages of those on the minimum wage, and that is exactly what happened. There was also a submission made to lift the wages of our aged-care workers, some of the hardest-working Australians, who went to work during the pandemic and literally put their lives on the line to support our senior Australians.

Today, of all days, when we introduced a historic bill to make child care and early childhood more affordable for Australians, the member for Hume comes in and tries to lecture us about the cost of living. Well, let's see if those opposite support the measures to make child care more affordable. They like to rattle on about tax cuts in this country, yet they cannot bring themselves to support the one bill that's being considered in the parliament right now that's going to lower taxes for electric vehicles. They're all for tax cuts, apparently.

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's upper-class welfare.

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the interjections. I'll tell you, what would be more convincing than some interjections is if you actually voted for the bill, mate, and were willing to reduce taxes on electric vehicles.

We on this side of the House are going to implement things like free TAFE. We're going to make medicine cheaper. We're going to bring down the cost of child care. We're going to invest in renewable energy—not the most expensive form of energy but the cheapest form of energy. While those opposite are building regional pools underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we're going to get on and address the cost of living for Australians.

3:51 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on this matter of public importance, the cost-of-living crisis and this government's lack of a plan to deal with it. The rapidly accelerating cost of living is something that Australians are really struggling with. Interest rates are going up, the price of food and groceries is skyrocketing and the reduction to the fuel excise is set to expire in only 48 hours. We have seen five interest rate increases over the past five months. Morgan Stanley is currently forecasting interest rates to reach as high as 3.6 per cent by only February of next year. Even for now, the current cash rate of 2.35 per cent is the highest official interest rate since 2014, with the rate of increase the highest since 1994.

Successive interest rate rises and uncontrolled inflation are crushing the quality of life for the 3.5 million Australians with a mortgage. With the current median house price in my electorate of Hughes sitting at around $1.5 million, the latest census data shows that 15 per cent of these mortgagors have mortgage repayments comprising more than 30 per cent of their household income. This constitutes significant mortgage stress. However, this government has not brought forward any plan to address cost-of-living pressures on families or on small businesses. With these increasing pressures on Australian households, the government must rule out tax cuts and must commit to the tax cuts previously provided by the coalition government in its upcoming budget.

I've been visiting local businesses across the electorate of Hughes since being elected. These business owners are crying out for action from this government. There is no plan from this government to address supply chain issues. There is no plan from this government to bring down power prices. And there is no plan from this government to increase consumer confidence and encourage local spending. I call upon this government to act decisively. As cash rate increases are progressively passed on to homeowners by the banks, those with variable home loans will be feeling the crunch, particularly as we're coming into Christmas. When Australians are doing their Christmas grocery shopping this year, and when they're buying gifts for their loved ones, they are going to feel real financial pain. When Australians are buying and paying for their holidays over the Christmas break this year, they'll be feeling real financial pain. This is real financial pain that this government, if it had a plan, could address for these Australians. We have heard the Treasurer of this government calling his October budget a bread-and-butter budget. We know that Labor's bread and butter is big spending and big taxing.

The Treasurer and this government only have plans to spend more, and the only way to do this is to tax hardworking Australians who are battling the rising cost of living. So far, the government has refused to rule out bringing back changes to franking credits and changes to negative gearing. In 2019, we saw Australians emphatically reject Labor's past attempts to make changes to franking credits and negative gearing, yet this is still not being ruled out by this current government. Any Labor plan to scrap full tax refunds will cause misery and suffering to low-income earners and modest retirees, who have worked, saved and invested under a fair system that should be respected and safeguarded.

The previous coalition government created 1.9 million new jobs, with over 1.1 million of these jobs filled by women. The unemployment rate under the coalition government was at 3.9 per cent, the lowest in decades. The number of trade apprentices in training had risen to 220,000, the highest level since records began in 1963. From 1 July this year, low- and middle-income earners began receiving the coalition's tax offset. Personal income tax cuts were legislated by the coalition government, meaning that around 95 per cent of Australians will pay a marginal rate of no more than 30c in the dollar in two years time. The previous coalition government also reduced the company tax rate to only 25 per cent.

To conclude, I call upon this government to release its plan to reduce cost-of-living pressures.

3:56 pm

Photo of Jerome LaxaleJerome Laxale (Bennelong, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is my first opportunity to contribute to debate in this parliament. I've been sitting here diligently and patiently, watching those opposite raise issues at these very important matters of public importance which are important to the nation. And, when I saw today's subject, I couldn't help—like the member for Pearce—getting up to have my say.

The member for Petrie mentioned the election. It was only a few months ago, but there seems to be a collective amnesia from those opposite about what happened prior to that election, because cost of living was something that was an issue in Pearce prior to the election; cost of living was an issue in the Hunter prior to the election. This is a discussion that this country has been having for months and years. I love elections. I'm one of those MPs that loves getting out there, having a chat to local constituents, and people have been talking about cost of living for a long time. At the election, the electors in Bennelong and Hunter and Lingiari and Pearce and Reid made a choice to elect a government that had a plan to deal with it, because those opposite, for the last decade, have done nothing about cost of living. They left us with a trillion dollars worth of debt. They left us with high and rising inflation. They left us with rising interest rates and deliberate wage suppression.

Remember when the now Prime Minister came out and said, 'We want to back a wage rise for minimum workers'? Remember the reaction of those opposite? One dollar, and they said the economy would fall to pieces. The cost-of-living crisis is a consequence of years of mismanagement by our predecessors. I'm here today on this side of the House because this government was elected because we have a plan to deal with cost-of-living pressures. We've got a plan to deal with it. And I'd like to focus on two things. A lot of members on this side today have spoken about the long list of things—as long as my arm, and I've got long arms—but I'd like to focus on two that those opposite know we've done.

We've committed to reducing the cost of medicines. It's the first time in 75 years that a government will reduce the cost of medicine. We'll be debating this legislation very soon. I can't imagine those opposite opposing it, but—news flash—this is a cost-of-living measure. We're reducing the cost of living. We're going to reduce the cost of medicines by 30 per cent, from $42.50 down to $30.

I went and visited one of the local pharmacists. They were telling me that people now go to the counter with multiple scripts and ask the pharmacist, 'Which medicine can I afford to miss out on this week?' Reducing the cost of medicines will mean that they can get the scripts they need and all those medicines to help them with their health. Someone taking one medicine a month will save $150 every year. A family with two or three medications will save $300 to $450 a year. That's money back in people's pockets, reducing the cost of living.

Those opposite dare to come in here and say that this government doesn't have a plan to deal with the cost of living. I find that extraordinary. I would encourage those opposite who are here now to listen to this next point. Maybe get on your WhatsApp channel and type some of these figures in. We introduced legislation today to reduce the cost of child care. This is life changing and will make an absolutely huge difference to family budgets. Ten thousand families in my seat of Bennelong will have cheaper child care because of the legislation introduced today by this government—a cost-of-living measure that those opposite claim we're ignoring, that we don't have a plan to deal with the cost of living.

Here we go. Read this. Type this out. This legislation is life changing. A family earning $120,000 with one child in centre based day care for three days a week will be more than $1,700 a year better off. How is that no plan? I'll sum it up for those opposite. You might want to take a note and pass it on to the shadow Treasurer. We've successfully argued for a minimum wage rise. We've extended the pandemic leave payment. We've introduced legislation that will drive down power prices. We're fast tracking fee-free TAFE. We've got cheaper child care. And we've got cheaper medicines. For those opposite to say we don't have a plan is just extraordinary. Thank you for this opportunity.

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

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

I will call for a little bit of order. The member deserves to be heard.

4:01 pm

Photo of Zoe McKenzieZoe McKenzie (Flinders, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. Australians are struggling with cost-of-living pressures. Australians can rightfully feel duped by this government. My constituents in Flinders are, rightfully, feeling misled. They were promised the world, in terms of cost-of-living redress, and they have received none. I think you call this, in the common vernacular, 'bait and switch'. They thought they'd bought one thing and they've got something quite different in return.

This month we saw the fifth consecutive cash rate increase from the Reserve Bank. At 2.35 per cent, this is Australia's highest official interest rate since mid-2010. The rate is rising at the fastest pace since 1994, almost three decades ago. For an Australian household with an average new mortgage of around $600,000, that will mean monthly repayments that have increased, over those five interest rate increases, by about $760 a month. These people want to know that there is a plan that makes sense for them and supports the challenges they're facing in their everyday living and meeting their everyday costs, but we have not yet seen any of that from this Albanese government.

Earlier this year the price of oil skyrocketed to almost US$120 a barrel, with prices at the pump reaching stratospheric levels. The coalition government took action and halved the fuel excise to 22.1 cents a litre back in March. This was a sensible solution to inflationary pressures, the war in Ukraine and supply chain issues caused by the COVID pandemic. Despite the fact that the price of oil has dropped to less than US$80 per barrel, prices remain high and it is hitting Australian families and businesses hard.

Just last week, in the southern Mornington Peninsula, we saw prices of fuel by a litre go up from about $1.50 to about $1.95 yet again, and tomorrow night we will see the excise reimposed, and it will get much harder for families to meet the weekly fuel bill. The Treasurer's words have been, 'We're under no illusions. This will be difficult for people. It's a difficult decision for us to take as well.' But this brings very little comfort to those who are trying to work out how they're going to pay their weekly fuel bill.

Some may say there is a solution: take public transport, take the bus, take the train. That is not an option for my constituents in Flinders. Every single workday, roughly 50,000 people get in their car to go to work. Even more get in their car to go to the school drop, visit friends or family or head out and do their local shopping. Even though the Mornington Peninsula is technically metropolitan Melbourne, 82 per cent of our landmass has absolutely no access to public transport whatsoever, meaning the car is the only way to get things done. My constituents don't really have a choice. They need to get to work, to school, to the shops; and the car is how we do it.

Alongside fuel prices, we are seeing wholesale energy prices go up, causing additional stress in the average household. We all remember those opposite saying to anyone who would listen through the campaign that they were going to reduce their power bills. In fact the Prime Minister promised to cut the power bills by $275. I have heard from someone today: '$275! I am waiting for my cut too!' Maybe he said it 97 times. Someone else said it today that he said it 100 times. Was it 97, 98, 99 or 100? Whatever it is, I haven't seen it. They now say, 'We meant that over the long term.' I heard an interjection earlier saying 'by 2025'. It is little solace to the parents opening their power bills when they get home at night, the pensioners who thought they had saved enough for a comfortable retirement, now wondering what they will have to go on and what they will have to do to keep the lights on.

What Australians need from this new government is a clear and comprehensive plan to deal with the cost of living. We do not need more bland commentary from the Treasurer or the new Prime Minister. We need to see some real action. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be keeping a close eye on this. Indeed, that is their role. A letter from the Treasurer reminding them of this is not government policy and should not be treated as such.

The Treasurer says he will be handing down a bread-and-butter budget. We all know what Labor's real bread and butter looks like: big spending and higher taxes. These issues will continue to flow through to each household budget over some time. This country cannot afford for Labor to make this worse. Australians need to see a clear, comprehensive and whole-of-economy plan from the government to deal with inflation, rising interest rates and cost-of-living pressures. We cannot afford for Labor to be asleep at the wheel or dig deeper into Australian savings.

4:07 pm

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

I think it is a bit odd that the opposition would like to talk about a lack of policy to deal with the rising cost of living. Just two days ago the shadow minister for finance, Senator Hume, on ABC breakfast TV, explained the coalition doesn't have policies. The pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop and imagine a better future for Australia and to step up and implement policies to increase the resilience of the nation and prepare for an uncertain future. The previous government had 30 attempts to create a coherent energy policy. The number of successful policies implemented: zero. That inaction has a cost. The so-called gas-led recovery was indeed an oxymoron. Over $2.7 billion was allocated towards the recovery, and how much was contractually committed? $0.8 billion. $1.9 billion was not formally committed. When the opposition claimed to have a plan for economic growth, what they actually had was an announcement. The lack of decent energy policy has meant that the national energy market was horribly exposed by energy price shocks caused by the war in Ukraine and the pandemic. It meant that those prices rose and were worn by businesses and households.

We have a plan to reduce people's power bills by increasing renewables in the grid by 82 per cent 2030. This will help insulate electricity prices again supply shocks. As the Minister for Climate Change and Energy said, while the sun shines and the wind blows it won't be sending us a separate invoice. Also, the sunshine and the wind don't care if there is a dictator on an unjustified power trip.

Today Labor has introduced a bill that is truly transformative: an early childhood education policy. In my electorate of Swan almost 7,000 families will be better off under our increases to the childcare subsidy. A family on a combined income of $120,000 with one child in early childhood education could be $1,700 better off under our policy. This will mean more money for families and a greater ability for lead parents, who are often women, to increase their time in the paid workforce. Where was the opposition's policy on women re-entering the work force?

I know that the coalition has had a woman problem in the past. I recall a previous prime minister, the former member for Warringah, remarking that it was the housewives of Australia who were doing the ironing. Maybe that is still the view held by those opposite and that's why we have had a lack of policies aimed at reducing the cost of early childhood education and at assisting women to increase their hours in the paid workforce. In case the coalition didn't get the memo, women want more, and this is why we see so many women on the crossbench.

To credit Senator Hume, the coalition had some policies—they had a deliberate policy of keeping wages low. The former finance minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, said that low wages are 'a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture'. In our first week, this government acted to raise the minimum wage—it rose by 5.2 per cent. After listening to the feedback at the Jobs and Skills Summit, we introduced the pensioner work bonus to ensure that older Australians can keep more of what they earn without it affecting their pension. Our government will also ensure that wage growth will be improved through productivity. We're fast-tracking fee-free places at TAFE to improve the skills of our workforce.

Central to our Jobs and Skills Summit is a plan to process our nation's productivity to benefit all. After nine years of a do-nothing government, three prime ministers and a prime minister with five secret ministries, productivity wasn't really a part of the agenda. They didn't know (a) how to be a productive government or (b) how to make our nation more productive. So, of course, under the last government, we saw a deep decline in productivity. We know that, when productivity rises, so should wages. The Labor government has a plan to address the cost-of-living pressures. I know this because every day I'm in this place and I'm seeing bills being introduced and passed that will make a real-world difference for millions of Australians and tens of thousands of people in the constituency of Swan.

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

The discussion has now concluded.