House debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Cost of Living

3:19 pm

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

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

The Government's six months of failure to address Australia's cost of living crisis.

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

In March, the Prime Minister said the following: 'Labor has a real plan to get incomes rising and costs under control.' Then in May, a couple of months later, he said, 'The cost of living is rising now. If we don't act, these problems will just get bigger.' At the same time, he made commitments to the Australian people. He committed to cheaper mortgages, he committed to a $275-a-year reduction in electricity bills, and he committed that the Labor Party would deliver improvements in real wages. Well, what have we seen since then? On the other side of this chamber, we have seen Labor consistently refuse to recommit to the $275 reduction in electricity prices, time and time and time again. All we hear is waffle from the Prime Minister, waffle after waffle after waffle—no $275. He has steadfastly refused to commit to it. Cheaper mortgages—absolutely gone. Time after time after time, the Reserve Bank has raised interest rates, and there's nothing from the government.

Meanwhile, the Treasurer, in his updated forecast, has put up the white flag on real wages. The news to the Australian people in the last budget is that, in this term of parliament, there will be no increases in real wages—none, zero, zip, gone. Those opposite have given up; they have absolutely put up the white flag. Indeed, the Treasurer's budget, handed down only a short time ago, weeks ago, sank to the bottom of the ocean within days. It was gone. It was absolutely gone. This was Labor's biggest missed opportunity. They had a chance to lay out a plan to the Australian people for doing exactly what they said they were going to do before the election, and they gave up on it within months.

We have said time and time again that a sensible plan to deal with rising inflation and rising interest rates is one that needs to go to the source, not just the symptom, and that means a responsible budget. That means responsible fiscal policy. That means managing spending. That means making sure that you lay out a budget where the budget is improving, year after year. What did we see from this government? One hundred and fifteen billion dollars of additional spending since the March budget.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How much?

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

One hundred and fifteen billion dollars of additional spending since the last budget. It's there in the budget papers. When you compare the spending over the four years of the forwards in this budget versus March, there's an extra $115 billion of spending. Even Stephen Koukoulas, economic adviser to Julia Gillard, has said, 'This is not good enough.' In fact, the Kouk said, very clearly, 'This has left the Reserve Bank carrying the can.' Do you know what the Reserve Bank do when they carry the can? They raise interest rates—not once, not twice; indeed, we've seen Goldman Sachs say in recent days that they expect the cash rate to go up to over four per cent—four per cent and still no plan from those opposite. There was just a glimmer of hope that maybe the budget wasn't where the plan was going to come up, that it was going to be in MYEFO. But even to that, in last 48 hours or so, they've said, 'No, that's not happening either.'

So we hope for next May. Australians will keep hoping, because they're paying too much for their mortgage, they're paying more every day at the check-out, they're paying more for their furniture, and they're paying more for their renovations, and Labor has no answer, no plan, to deal with it. A typical Australian who's just entered into a new mortgage of $750,000—which these days in suburban Sydney and Melbourne is a very typical mortgage—they're now paying over $1,200 a month more compared to May this year. That $1,200 a month is on top of all of the other cost-of-living increases they are seeing. So make no mistake, especially with a mortgage, more than three million Australians are going to have to make tough decisions this Christmas, knowing that this government doesn't have their back, and there will be tough conversations around dinner tables about what's going to go.

I want to talk about a few examples from my own electorate. Kyle, from Thirlmere in the north of my electorate, said he and his wife are watching what they spend every day, and his wife has had to return to full-time work, giving up on other things she was doing, to continue to make ends meet. Lesley, from The Oaks, told me she is at the point where she can barely afford to put food on the table or pay her bills. These are Australians struggling right now. They can't wait around for this government to come up with a plan. The test for this budget was very simple: it was to deliver a comprehensive plan to consolidate the strong position that's been inherited. From when the New South Wales and Victorian economies opened up in October—

A governmen t member interjecting

The member opposite should actually have a listen to this. When the New South Wales and Victorian economies opened up in October, from November through to 30 June, the budget was in balance. They are the facts! Meanwhile, the economy was running at a pace that was the envy of the world. In fact, the Reserve Bank governor has said, as he talks to central bank governors all around the world, that other governors look at his position with great envy because of the strength of the economy that we have seen over the last six months.

The key for Labor was to consolidate that position, to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates without raising taxes and to relieve the supply-side pressures in the economy, like getting more pensioners into work—not a half-baked attempt to do it, but a real attempt to get those pensioners into work—and there are so many who want to do it. Meanwhile, the final test was to deliver on those key promises: cheaper mortgages, lower electricity prices and improvements in real wages. It failed every test.

On top of that, in this budget Labor added $142 billion of extra tax. Those opposite, having taken $142 billion of extra tax from the Australian people, now want more taxes. They're talking about franking credits. In fact, we know in the budget there was $500 million of extra franking credit taxation. That wasn't in their election plans! We also see the Treasurer, day by day, floating another tax increase he wants to talk about, whether it's a windfall tax on our resources companies, whether it's getting rid of the stage 3 tax cuts—we know they're doing the work—or whether it's superannuation. I'm sure that's what we'll see in the next budget—not relief for Australians from inflationary and interest rate pressures. In fact, what we will see is additional taxation.

If that isn't bad enough, Labor's IR bill isn't going to help the Australian economy through a tough time. It's only going to harm it. The businesses that will be hurt most are small- to medium-sized enterprises. We've seen today in the RIS exactly what sorts of costs are going to be imposed on them, because they don't have HR departments, for the most part. They will have to deal with something they've never had to deal with before, which are virulent union officials wanting to reunionise or unionise their workforce. In fact—the member opposite talked about pay rises—when you look at the latest WPI data, which has come out just in the last week or so, the strongest growth in wages is where there are individual agreements in the private sector. That's where we are seeing the real strength.

Businesses have come out very clearly against this bill. Andrew McKellar, the chief executive of ACCI, has made it very clear they are deeply unhappy with this. Jennifer Westacott, from the Business Council, said:

We want wages to go up but that won't be achieved by creating more complexity, more strikes and higher unemployment.

Innes Willox, from AiG, has said:

The proposed changes to Australia's workplaces introduced to federal parliament … risk taking the country down a path of more strikes, fewer jobs, centralised decision-making and less trust within our enterprises.

That is what those opposite want, because they are paying the paymasters.

3:29 pm

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

Well. That was the worst minister in the worst government since Federation doing his unimpressive best to try to blame a government that has been in power for six months for the efforts that we are putting in to clean up the mess that they left this country in after nine terrible years of appalling government. They whinge about budget management! They left us with a trillion dollars of debt and tell us the books were in good condition! I'd hate to see what the books would look like if they were in bad condition, when we've got a trillion dollars of debt.

The bloke whose single contribution to public policy, his most memorable contribution to public life over the last 11 years, has been to doctor an annual report of the Lord Mayor of Sydney, is now trying to doctor history by telling us that the budget was balanced. If you can balance a budget by going out and purchasing cheap giveaway coffee mugs saying 'back in black', then they had the job nailed. But, unfortunately, it was never true. They cannot cope with the truth.

They have handed this government a structural budget deficit. They thought they could deal with the structural budget deficit by turning up year in, year out and just pretending to the Australian people, 'We will just sprinkle magic growth dust.' It's magical thinking: sprinkle magic growth dust over the budget numbers and sometime down the track the budget is going to come back into surplus! It won't be in three years or four years over the forward estimates, it won't even be in 10 years over the medium term, but, sometime down the track, if they just hold their breath and hope and sprinkle a little of that magic growth dust, the budget is going to come back into surplus. Well, here's a hard truth: it won't, and you can't keep saying it and make it true.

The grown-ups are now in charge. The grown-ups are now running the country. And, yes, we are going to have an honest conversation with the Australian people. Labor wants to make sure people can continue to have excellent health care, can go to their GP and local hospital and can ensure they have access to the medicines they need. We are making them cheaper, by the way. Labor wants to ensure that we can continue to provide excellent health care. We also want to ensure that we can continue to look after people who are relying on the National Disability Insurance Scheme for some dignity and assistance—whether for them or for their carers. But those opposite have left the system in a mess, and it falls to us to clean it up.

In aged care there is a legacy of neglect. It is going to cost billions of dollars to fix the mess that they have left the system in. We are having the honest conversation with the Australian people. We cannot provide dignity to our oldest Australians, our most precious Australians, unless we inject more money into the system and ensure that the system is well funded, and, yes, that the people who work in the system are well paid. We support it, and we will fund it.

They talk about national defence, but this is more of the magical thinking. We will ensure that our Defence Force and our military have the equipment that they need, and that we are properly funding our defence forces. What we ask in return from our defence establishment is to ensure that every single dollar is well spent. We want to spend more money on national defence, but we want to ensure that every single dollar is well spent.

The difference between the Albanese Labor government and the magical, infant thinking of those who now occupy the opposition benches is that we are honest with the Australian people. We cannot continue to improve Medicare, to pay for medicines, to ensure we can have world-class early childhood education and child care, we cannot ensure we have the best and most well-equipped Defence Force, we cannot ensure we are going to be able to provide the sorts of care to Australians in their hours of needs that we want our elderly Australians to be able to have—we cannot continue to do this with the structural budget deficit that they have left us. So, yes, we need to have a conversation about revenue, and we're having a conversation about revenue.

I was delighted to hear the member for Hume raise the issue of off-market share buybacks; I was delighted to hear the member for Hume talk about that and the not illegal but improper use of franking dividends to fund off-market share buybacks. Labor created the system of dividend imputation; we set it up. It was Labor who ensured ordinary mum-and-dad investors weren't going to be double taxed when they invested on the Australian share market. We set up the system of dividend imputation and the franking credits system which is the accounting mechanism to ensure those tax credits are allocated to shareholders. When we did that, we wanted to encourage people to invest in the share market. It was never the purpose of franking credits to allow large companies—and I'm talking about the biggest companies on the Australian Stock Exchange—to use excess franking credits they cannot distribute, to go to certain institutional investors and say, 'I will give you a cut-price share buyback and hand you over some of these excess franking credits in exchange.' This means the Australian taxpayer is subsidising share buybacks for Australia's largest companies. It is costing the budget on average $200 million a year.

What companies am I talking about? In 2022 Westpac purchased $3.5 billion of its own shares but used $1.6 billion worth of franking credits to subsidise the purchase of those shares. That means the Australian taxpayer subsidised that share buy, to the tune of $1.6 billion. For JB Hi-Fi: $250 million worth of share buybacks, $93.9 million worth of franking credits. For Commonwealth Bank: $6 billion of buybacks paid for in part by $1.98 billion worth of franking credits. This is the Australian taxpayer subsidising the share buybacks.

But it's not only the Australian taxpayer who is suffering; it's all the other mum-and-dad investors. The opposition say they stick up for mum-and-dad investors but, I can tell you, there wasn't a CEO or company secretary going to mum-and-dad investors and saying, 'Would you like to have some of these cut-price shares that I want to buy back off you?' No—they weren't available to mum-and-dad retail investors; they were only available to the big institutional investors. If you want to hear a complaint about mum-and-dad investors, how about the way they are treated in the companies they have shareholdings in? They do not get treated in the same way as the big institutional investors. These guys opposite want to defend the status quo. We're sticking up for mum-and-dad investors, and we will ensure we treat off-market share buybacks in exactly the same way as on-market share buybacks.

We are going to ensure we legislate this, and the Australian budget will be $200 million a year stronger because of it. I dare those opposite to stand there and say, 'If Labor legislates it, we will reverse it.' We know they won't, because they've got a question to answer: 'Is that $200 million a year better off helping to do budget repair, better off investing in some community infrastructure, better off assisting to pay for an aged-care worker who is already struggling under wages that don't enable them to pay the rent? Is that a better use of that $200 million a year, or are we going to provide a $200 million-a-year subsidy to some of the biggest companies and the biggest institutional investors at the expense of mum-and-dad investors and Australian taxpayers?' It's not a hard question for us to answer. We don't believe in magical thinking. We don't believe in magic growth dust. We know we have to have an honest conversation with the Australian people, and, yes, that means sometimes making tough decisions. We will always make the tough decisions that are in the interests of ordinary Australians, backing mums and dads, backing ordinary Australians. If it means taking on the big institutional investors or the big companies, we will do it. We will repair the budget, we will make our nation stronger, we will make our nation fairer and we will resist every step of the way the small-minded, dishonest politics we have just seen demonstrated by the member for Hume.

3:39 pm

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

We've just had 10 minutes of dares, diversion, distractions; everything but him, the Assistant Treasurer, coming to the dispatch box and saying 'Yes, we've had six months and one day in office and we could have done more; we should have done more; we've let the Australian people down.' He talked about honesty in his closing remarks. If he were honest with the Australian people he would admit that they haven't fulfilled the promises they made prior to the May 21 election in the first six months.

I appreciate that six months is not long, but he did mention that there is another budget next May. We'll give those opposite until next May to get things right. But the Australian public won't. They expect a reduction in power prices before Christmas. They were told 97 times they were going to get power bills that were less than the previous bills they had to pay. Power bills actually came down when we were in government. Now they are just going up and up and up. I get many small businesses in my regional community who complain to me, as do households, about the fact they cannot afford power prices.

We heard from the Assistant Treasurer about aged care and how people in the aged care system should be paid more. None of us would deny the aged care workers, those wonderful people, a pay increase. But when you have a Labor government promising unfairly that they're going to put in this 24-hour nursing in aged care centres—of course we need the proper care and attention, but that will send some of those regional and particularly remote aged care centres to the wall if they have to provide a level of care that is just beyond the levels of staffing that they could possibly do. And yes, of course we want to have trained, qualified people on call 24 hours a day, but the expectation Labor has given to the sector and to those people who want their loved ones to have the best in their twilight years is beyond the actual capability of some of those aged care centres, especially in remote Australia, to be able to deliver.

We heard from him about properly funding our defence force. We all remember the last time Labor were in power and defence spending dropped below two per cent of GDP for the first time since 1938. And we all know what happened in 1939.

So they talk a big game and they talk up all of the things they are going to do. We heard just prior to the election, on 17 May in fact, the present Treasurer, the member for Rankin, saying we want to show up every day and take responsibility not just for the good things but difficult things as well. The same present Treasurer during the height of COVID said this government—when we were in government—will be tested and this will be the rank on which they will be scored by whether they keep jobs going, the unemployment rate. Well, with JobKeeper we saved 700,000 jobs. In fact 1.1 million employment opportunities were created since the pandemic hit. I remember being in those meetings when Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, advised those running the government that we could potentially lose tens of thousands of people in a few weeks. They were dire times.

Yet we hear those opposite talking about a trillion dollars worth of debt. It's not a trillion dollars; it's nowhere near a trillion dollars. They say 'What do we get for the debt that we are now in?' I'll tell you what we got for the debt that we are now in: we got Australians saved. We had their lives and livelihoods protected. That's what we did. We ensured that potentially 50,000 to 55,000 Australians are alive today who otherwise would not be but for the policies that we put in place. We kept the doors of business open. We kept the wheels of the economy turning, because that's what a responsible government does. For those who come in now saying 'What do we get for a trillion dollars worth of debt?' the answer is A. It's not a trillion dollars; and B. we kept Australians alive. Isn't that the first task of government: to protect Australians' lives? That's what we did. I'm proud that we did and I'm proud of the legacy that we managed.

3:44 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to join the discussion of this matter of public importance today. Before the member for Riverina leaves, I'd like to congratulate him on his daughter's wedding on the weekend. I hope the family had a wonderful time. But it doesn't change the fact, Member for Riverina, that the structural deficit was there before the pandemic—just on your final note.

We've got a matter of public importance before us today that says that we've failed in our first six months of government. Well, those opposite could wish to fail as we've been failing lately. Hubris is not my friend, but I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the Albanese government and to have delivered what we have delivered in our first six months. It's been extraordinary. We went to an election, those opposite claimed, as a small target. I would suggest we went to an election with some key, real ideas that were going to make a difference to Australians' lives, and we have delivered them. In six months, we've seen a 15 per cent pay rise to aged-care workers. We said we'd get wages moving. Wages are getting moving. We've got a five per cent pay rise for people on the minimum wage. We said we'd get wages moving. We're getting wages moving. The Secure Work, Better Pay legislation went through the House in the last sitting week and this week is moving over to the Senate to get wages moving. That's what this government's about. This government's about delivering on its commitments.

Today we come back in. The Minister for Climate Change and Energy returns from COP to tell us the good news today in question time about the way this new Australian government was received at that incredibly important forum. The Prime Minister is back from forums across the last week where Australia was warmly welcomed back to the table as a positive influencer in global decisions that are being made. That's what this government is delivering. This government is delivering an Australia that is back at the table, warmly welcomed by our allies and influencing things internationally to make a difference not just for Australians but for people around our globe.

We have legislated a target to reduce emissions and move to 82 per cent renewables in eight years. That's where we're going to be. We are at 30 per cent now. In six months, we've taken the steps to get that plan moving. What else have we done in six months? How else have we failed the Australian people in six months, as those opposite would like to frame it? We've reinstated the Women's Budget Statement—hear, hear! What a great thing that is. We've put women's working lives and women's families' lives back at the heart of government.

While we sat in question time, we heard that our early education and childcare legislation has gone through the Senate. What a difference that's going to make to 1.2 million Australian families, including more than 10,000 families in my electorate. That is going to make a critical difference. Not only is it good for cost of living but it creates a structural change that, it's estimated, could bring back 37,000 effective full-time workers to reduce the impacts we've got from staff shortages around the country. This government, in six months, has delivered on our key commitments.

Back to the women: we've legislated domestic violence leave. This is an enormous change, and it is delivering cultural change on the floor of every Australian workplace, because we're going to measure what matters. We're going to measure, through this leave, the economic impact that domestic violence is having on Australian businesses. How can that be a bad thing? It can only be a good thing, because it means that women can take the time that they need, at possibly the worst time in their lives, and we'll encourage them to make the change in their lives that they desire to make. They'll be supported by their workplace, and we'll be measuring the economic impact of domestic violence. That'll get the country behind changing domestic violence as nothing else can.

This government has delivered, in six months, more than the previous government delivered in nine long, long years.

3:50 pm

Andrew Willcox (Dawson, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Every day Australians are hurting. The No. 1 priority of this government should be addressing the increases in the cost of living that is burdening Australian households right now. Grocery bills are becoming more shocking by the week. Energy bills are rapidly increasing. The cost of fuel is still on the rise. But the No. 1 priority of this government isn't the cost of living. It isn't the Australians doing it tough with the household budget at the moment. It's with trying to ensure a nice little Christmas present for their friends, the unions. I've said before: government is not a spectator sport. The Labor government need to realise they are running the show. Rather than fixating on commentary, rhetoric and spin, they need to provide us with a plan that will ease the hip-pocket pain right now across Australia.

On budget night, the Labor government walked away from a commitment to reduce every household's energy bill by $275—a promise that was repeated 97 times. Not a slip of the tongue. Instead, Labor have unapologetically served up a 56 per cent increase on power bills. In May last year, the now Prime Minister said, 'Look, it's the job of the Prime Minister to deal with challenges that Australia faces and not to consistently just blame everyone else.' Either he's got a short memory or he's changed his mind on what the job of a Prime Minister is. All we have seen in the six months of this government is the constant blame game and the denying of responsibility. What we haven't seen is a plan to get the nation out of this cost-of-living crisis.

In the then opposition leader's speech to convince the Australian people to elect him, he said: 'As your Prime Minister, I won't run from responsibility. I won't treat every crisis as a chance to blame someone else. I will show up, I will step up and I will bring people together.' Well, Mr Prime Minister, where are you now when my people in Dawson have their electricity bills skyrocketing? Where were you when they were all having access to their power jeopardised and small businesses threatened by the unions? At a time of an inflation crisis, energy woes that are going to leave our country extremely vulnerable and significant cost-of-living pressures this government is deciding to experiment with the Australian economy, household budgets and the hardworking businesses of this nation.

Then we had the budget. It was Labor's opportunity to assure Australians that a reprieve was on the way, and the government had their back. But that's not what happened. There were zero physical strategy and economic solutions. Even Julia Gillard's former economist has said the budget did not put pressure on downward inflation. The government is hoping the Reserve Bank will do the heavy lifting for them. In the election they said, time and time again, 'You'll be better off under Labor,' but a Newspoll conducted in the wake of this first budget, a crucial budget, revealed that almost half of the voters believe they will be worse off over the next 12 months.

The Australian people have the right to feel let down and to feel misled. They are the ones who have been on the receiving end of the broken promises and the shirking of responsibility. Now the Australian people are the ones who have to bear the burden for increased costs of their day-to-day bills without any leadership from this government. This government are pussyfooting around, playing politics and ideology, fixating on looking after their union mates rather than showing leadership and taking responsibility for the crisis that is unfolding across our nation. Step up, Labor: you're at the helm now. You're not in opposition any more. Australians need you right now to drive the ship. This situation is going to get much worse if the Labor government continue to get the priorities wrong. The No. 1 priority in this country must be addressing the cost of living, not lining your union mates' pockets. Labor, get your act together and take responsibility. Please start to look after Australia and look after all Australians. Do your job, not your union mates'.

3:55 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

NSON () (): So this opposition has the temerity to suggest that the Albanese government has failed to address Australia's cost of living in its first six months? It's akin, really, to the arsonist blaming the fire brigade for not putting out the fire fast enough, after lighting the fire, pouring fuel on it, fanning the flames, cutting the hoses—let alone holding them—and cutting off the water as well. Come on! Fair crack! Seriously. I haven't been in this place all that long—seven years. I haven't been in it as long as some, and I've been here longer than others. But I do remember Joe Hockey's first budget. So let's have some real comparison over a 10-year period.

There was a thing called the Medicare co-payment. Ha! That didn't last too long. It was dumped as quick as sticks. I tell you now that people in my electorate and in Deputy Speaker Claydon's electorate, in the Hunter, have got a better chance of being able to see a doctor thanks to the Labor government instituting and re-funding GP Access After Hours, after the previous government slashed their funding. Let's think about that one.

Remember Joe Hockey's 'lifters and leaners'? It seemed as though there was a lot more leaning done by that government over the last 10 years than lifting Australia up. That's an absolute certainty. What about paid parental leave? I seem to remember that 10 years ago that was Tony Abbott's signature policy. It was going to happen under Abbott. Ha! Well, it didn't happen. Let me tell you: we've done it in six months, mate. So that's a big tick to the Albanese government. Gee, this is refreshing, to be able to compare our first six months to your last 10 years, because, let me say, it stacks up reasonably well—without getting too far ahead of ourselves.

There was a thing that Joe Hockey brought in—it was quite interesting—called the Automotive Transformation Scheme. It was supposed to help component manufacturers because they were going to be in big strife as the last of the automotive industry was happening. Well, that certainly keeled over, and of course Holden and Toyota left the country, after being goaded out by Joe Hockey. It is lucky that, in our first six months, we've managed to do it quite well, look to the future and encourage electric vehicles. We have been lauded for that by every group under the sun. They're saying, 'Bring it on.'

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

Where is the power going to come from?

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The power will actually come, in part, from my electorate, Mic-Mac. You know that, mate.

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

You should use the member's correct title.

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry; I mean the member for Riverina, of course, who is a good friend, and, look, he's not a bad fellow. He can't help it that he has carried his fair share of the burden over the last 10 years of the Australian people being duped.

I seem to remember there was a freeze on child care under the last government, in their first budget. That happened. That was truly an unmitigated disaster. We're not saying that, in our first six months, we've fixed child care, but, gee, I tell you what: we've certainly made some very important changes. I know the young families moving to my electorate from, particularly, Western Sydney—my electorate has been referred to as 'the nappy belt' in recent months—are very grateful that they're going to be given some real assistance. When you talk to young families in Paterson and say, 'How are you going?' they usually say, 'God, the roads are terrible,' and 'Child care is so expensive.'

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

Need a good infrastructure minister!

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You know what? We're doing that. We're fixing it. We're getting on and fixing the roads and helping local government thanks to that funny little thing called the federal assistance grants. We're going to improve those for local government, which is a really great thing. They will be able to fix the roads in and around Paterson. And we know that we're helping families out with child care, with paid parental leave, with better wages, increased wages. I asked the Treasurer today why it was so important to get wages moving again. Unlike the past government, we do not have a structural mindset of trying to hold wages back for ordinary working people. We want to get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. We are on their side. We want them to have a decent and fair workplace, where they will be rewarded for their effort. I, for one, am more proud of what we have done in six months than what the last government did in 10 years. They really achieved nothing. Even if this government only gets to— (Time expired)

4:00 pm

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's only reasonable and fair in a debate, if we're having a reasonable debate, to respond to the previous speaker, and I'd like to respond to the member for Paterson and her enthusiastic address to the parliament. As she says, she has been here for seven years. One thing I'd like to say to you just as a word for caution, after being here for a lot longer than seven years, is you will find that some of you won't be there after the next election. I notice the guffawing and humour. I'll say it again, because Keating said the same thing to me a long time ago. He said, 'You won't be here,' and guess what? He was absolutely correct. I was sitting just down there. I remember it very well.

So I want to say to the member for Paterson, firstly, there are no more childcare places going into Paterson under your legislation, not one new childcare place, and I know there's not an electorate in this building that doesn't need more childcare places, especially the electorate of Monash. Secondly, I saw three electric vehicles as I was coming into work today, into the parliament today—three of them, in Canberra. You used to see one or two now and again; I saw three this morning. They are owned by the wealthiest citizens in Australia. Poor people don't buy EVs. So it's actually the Labor government transferring, if you want to look at it another way—I'm responding to the member for Paterson—public funds, your appropriated taxes, to the wealthier people in the community. Thirdly, I don't know whether your IR changes are going to make any difference to the growth in wages. I hear the slogan. I hear the argument. I think the slogan by the government is, 'We're getting wages moving again,' and I've heard slogans like that. But I want to know what the modelling is that the IR changes are going to actually increase wages, because I haven't seen IR changes increase wages for workers ever. So I've got to accept it as a fait accompli now? Why would I? Why would I accept that? You have proposed this legislation, and you say it's going to increase wages for a lot of workers in those, as I heard the Labor members call them, feminised industries.

I'm still responding to the member for Paterson, who was saying, 'So much has been achieved in the first six months, more than the government achieved in 10 years,' and on it goes—pure rhetoric. My sadness is two things in the election campaign: the 97 times the then campaign machine said, through their leaders, 'We are going to give you a $275 reduction in your electricity bill.' $275 means a lot to a household in my electorate. If you told a household in my electorate, 'You're getting a $275 decrease in your electricity bill,' they'd be pretty excited about that, and they might even go out and vote against the member for Monash, which I find unbelievable, that that could happen, that I could be sold out. For a measly $275 I'm gone. But that's what they believed, that they would get that. We then find out in the budget papers that there's going to be a 56 per cent increase in their power bills. Did you hear, throughout that campaign, in May of this year—only this year—anybody saying to you, 'The moment we get in we're going to make changes to the IR laws in this country'? Did you hear it? Anybody?

Corangamite? I didn't hear you say it. I didn't hear you mention it. I didn't hear the now Prime Minister say it. I didn't hear the now Treasurer say it. I didn't hear my opponent in Monash say it. I didn't hear anybody say it. Nobody mentioned it. IR has been a major issue in this country in my electorate for— (Time expired)

4:05 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The rising cost of living is hitting a lot of Australians hard; we know that. But it is outrageous that the member for Hume has the hide to move this motion when he and the government of which he was part are in large part responsible for the rising costs of living facing so many families. The costs are largely a consequence of a wasted decade of the previous coalition governments, including more than 20 failed energy policies which were overseen, presided over, by the member for Hume.

We know that this MPI is about the opposition saying that the government has failed to deliver on cost of living within the first six months. This is an outrageous statement by the opposition, who have overseen what they've overseen, which has hurt so many families. But we are moving. We are moving quickly, and it is action. We have already delivered a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers and a five per cent pay rise to those on a minimum wage. We have introduced the secure work and better pay bill that is now in the Senate, which will hopefully secure an opportunity for many Australians to improve their wage. We are taking a place on the global stage when it comes to climate change, which in turn means we will push for renewable energy jobs. And we have delivered on cheaper child care. It's gone to the Senate today. It is really something that I and Labor are so proud of, because it will mean that 1.2 million families will have cheaper child care, and that means that more women—who predominantly are still the ones who are at home—can return to work.

I note that the opposition, within this MPI, have an all-male line-up for the MPI. It would be very pleasing if we saw women from the other side step up and discuss this issue, because many women in feminised workforce sectors are impacted so strongly by the previous government's inaction.

Many people in my electorate know that Labor didn't create these challenges, but they have elected us to take responsibility and address them, and we are doing just that, as I have said. We've hit the ground running. We have a plan to build the economy in a responsible way that creates jobs and looks after people and business. The October budget was focused on responsible measures which don't put extra pressure on inflation, and that is an important thing. That's why the Albanese government is delivering cheaper child care to ease the pressures on young families, expanding paid parental leave to allow parents to work flexibly as they deserve. Many essential medicines are now cheaper. We are delivering a plan for more affordable housing and we are getting wages moving again.

One of the first acts of the Albanese government was to successfully argue for the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation, an outcome that has helped around 2.8 million Australians. And we are doing so much more. We've extended pandemic leave that was due to expire under the Liberals. We've introduced legislation that will drive investment in cleaner and cheaper energy, as I've said, putting downward pressure on power prices. We've introduced legislation for cheaper child care for 1.26 million families and, as I've also mentioned, budget cuts: we have cut the costs of medicines for people. We are fast-tracking fee-free TAFE places. Pensions, allowances and rent assistance have been increased in line with inflation, and we have a new pensioner work bonus so that older Australians can keep more of what they earn without it affecting their pension.

The Albanese government knows that the best defence in these difficult times is a responsible budget, and that's what we have delivered. The budget marked an end to a wasted decade under the Liberals, which gave us energy chaos, stagnant wages, a skills crisis and a trillion dollars of debt without an economic dividend to show for it. Unlike the former government, which did not increase real wages—it was the worst decade for productivity in half a century—we are doing better, and we will ensure that we do help invest in business, because under the previous government— (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Sam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Cost of living is such a real and challenging issue for households and for people in my electorate, and it's the thing that they talk about the most. There's real fear out there. We in regional and rural electorates represent people who perhaps aren't as well off as people in seats such as in inner-city Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and those people can perhaps afford to focus on issues that they believe are higher order in their lives. But, for people who are doing it tough and for people who are really struggling to make entrepreneurship work, these cost-of-living pressures are really serious. In the six months of this government, we've seen rising inflation, serious rising prices for household energy—and that's forecast to rise by more than 56 per cent over the next two years—and the rising prices of basic household goods.

I find the energy thing really disturbing. I think if you go to an election and you make a commitment that people's household energy bills are going to drop by $275 and they don't, and you don't look like doing it, the people who voted for you deserve of some sort of explanation. I'm new to this place, like some of you over there. When I listen to question time, I don't hear explanations. I don't hear reasons why we're not delivering on what we said we would do. I just hear, 'It's all the previous government's fault.' I suppose, as an observer, I'm just wondering how long you can run that argument before you realise that are you the government and that you've got to put some policies in place to ease this pressure. I don't want to give you advice—I shouldn't—but the people in my electorate don't like seeing people on the government benches laughing all the time when things are going really, really badly for them, particularly with energy prices. So you can take that on board if you like. It rubs them the wrong way, I can tell you. So just a message on tone there.

In terms of basic household goods, obviously in my electorate agriculture is what we do and what we've done for many, many, many years, and we're proud of the fact that we provide cheap, clean, really high-quality food to the people of Australia, and people can go and buy amazing quality apples and pears and dairy products and meat and grains all at really good prices and trust in the quality of that because of what people in my electorate do. Those people are businesspeople, and unfriendly business policies are going to increase the prices that people pay at the check-out. The worst unfriendly business policy that those opposite are proposing is to rip more irrigation water out of places like my electorate of Nicholls and make it harder to produce that clean, cheap, green food for people. We've already given up 2,100 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and that's had has a massive effect on people in my electorate. What we don't want is for you to rip a further 450 gigalitres out. It causes the cost of living for people in my electorate to rise, but it causes the cost of living for everyone in Australia to rise because food prices will increase. Not only that—the other problem we've got with agriculture at the moment is labour. People can't get the labour they need to work on the farms—to work in the dairy farms. The Nationals brought a really good policy during the last term of government called the agriculture visa. It is a real win-win. When you go and talk to some of the Filipino people who have made their lives in my regional communities and are contributing to the dairy industry in a fantastic way—the farmers are happy, the workers are happy and it's fantastic. We wanted to increase that with an ag visa, and those opposite have ripped that away.

In my final 14 seconds, I will just say that the IR legislation is the most business unfriendly stuff I've ever seen come out of this parliament. Hawke and Keating would never have done something so radical that rips productivity away from the economy. (Time expired)

4:15 pm

Matt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but the tactics committee of those opposite keep sending their loyal soldiers over the trenches at MPI time, sending them over into no-man's-land with no ammunition and not even a bayonet.

Yesterday in the Federation Chamber I spoke about my recollections of the last leaders debate in the lead-up to election day this year. The Prime Minister squared off with the former Prime Minister—the former Minister for Finance, the former Treasurer, the former Minister for Health, the former Minister for Home Affairs and the former Minister for Industry, Science, Energy And Resources. Despite being heavily outnumbered, I reckon our Prime Minister came out on top. The main reason why my mind turned to that debate was the chalk-and-cheese comparison on where each leader's priorities were.

The Prime Minister quite simply committed to, as one of his first acts in office, intervening in the Fair Work Commission's annual wage review by making a submission from the government to ensure the lowest paid workers were able to have a shot at keeping their heads above water. How did the member for Cook respond? The mask was not just chipped. It was shattered on the ground, and everyone could see what was truly underneath: the leader of a government that could not care less about improving the living standards of some of our lowest paid workers. Nobody should have been surprised. Here the member for Cook was, on live TV, as a caricature of himself, on display for all the voters to get a better look at. The rest is history. What did the Albanese Labor government do once it got elected? It made that submission, which was ultimately successful. We will stand up for working families who have been languishing and treading water for the past last nine years.

Those opposite really do not give themselves enough credit. It might shock a few of my colleagues to hear me say this, but those opposite think six months is ample time to undo nine years of vandalism. I've heard many members use the phrase: your best day in opposition is worse than your worst day in government. But we have a long list of factory settings in need of a reset. The Albanese Labor government has hit the ground running, fulfilling election commitments as every good government should. For many of these settings, those opposite still fight us tooth and nail on them. I look no further than the secure jobs, better pay bill. This is legislation which aims to deliver pay rises for the lowest paid workers in the country.

Interestingly, we've also seen a new line being used: making a bad situation worse. In fact, I've heard the member for Dickson use it numerous times. The first instance I can recall was not long after the election. To that end, I would say this: which one of the above statements could possibly be true? You can't have it both ways. I'm sure they know this already. You just can't use the word 'responsible' in the same sentence as 'a trillion dollar government debt'. The bad situation they're talking about can only be referring to what they left our government to sort out, after nine wasteful years in the doldrums of energy policy, skills and education policy and wage stagnation. I thank the member Dickson for his candour and honesty about it.

Those opposite might not be responsible economic managers, but they did have more than the usual number of them. The former government had, after all, not just one but two treasurers and two finance ministers at the exact same time, yet none of them could see the writing on the wall. Though, to be fair, one of them had their hands a bit full with a number of other jobs. The member for Cook was a job creator, just not in the conventional way. He certainly was no fan of conventions. Two treasurers and two finance ministers could have teamed up to provide some much needed for relief for Australians out there. Think about the collaboration that could have taken place if only one had known about the other! They didn't see the inflation rising at the same time as the wage price index was basically flatlining, as they were quite proud of back in the day, except for now, when they admit that people are hurting with the cost of living—utterly craven.

At the end of the day, they could have had scores of treasurers and finance ministers—they might have, for all we know—but that would have fixed very little, because it's just not in their DNA to stand up for working families. It's not in their DNA to stand up for those doing it tough. It's not in their DNA to stand up for those out there who want to do a little better than they did last year and want to do a little bit better in the year after that too.

In May, those opposite left the engine room of government aflame, in neutral and idling. The Albanese government has reached the scene holding the jaws of life. The Albanese government is extinguishing the flames. If those opposite are genuine about helping families with cost-of-living pressures, I suggest they let us get on with the job.

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

The discussion has now concluded.