House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Cost Of Living

3:16 pm

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

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

The Government's continued failure to tackle the cost of living crisis facing Australian families.

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

I don't think I've ever seen a more smug and self-satisfied performance from a prime minister when Australians are doing it hard, and on a day when things have just got harder for Australians. This Prime Minister stood there at question time with a smug look on his face, telling Australians, essentially, that they've never had it better. I will say to the Prime Minister: he has to deliver on some of the commitments he made before the election, when he promised Australians that he would reduce cost-of-living pressures, reduce mortgages and reduce energy prices. Rather, what we see from the Prime Minister now is a refusal to repeat any of those promises. We saw today mortgage interest rates rise again, and the Treasurer is very, very keen to make sure, whenever he utters the words 'Reserve Bank,' he prefaces it with 'independent'—the independent Reserve Bank. That doesn't stop members opposite from offering free advice to the Reserve Bank in media interviews left, right and centre, but what he refuses to repeat is that the Reserve Bank's hand is being forced by a government that is putting inflationary upward pressure into the economy.

We all recall, before the election, the Labor Party speaking about wages and how real wages had been going down. What do we think is happening now with real wages? In the quarter to December, we saw inflation for the quarter at 1.9 per cent and yet wages at one per cent. What does that mean? That means that every single person's pay packet is going backwards, in real terms, under this government. We heard in question time today that the last time mortgage interest rates were this high was in 2012. We now see mortgage interest rates today—well, the cash rate—at 3.35 per cent. Were the Prime Minister here, I would say that a few times to him—3.35 per cent, 3.35 per cent—just so he could bone up on that, just so he could get that number in his head, which he was clearly unable to do in the middle of the election. But what is the common denominator between the mortgage interest rates we saw in 2012 and the mortgage interest rates we see today? Of course, it's the tough luck of the Labor Party, who just stumble upon this terrible luck every time they're in government and the economy suffers. It's just terrible luck. But the other thing in common was that, in 2012, guess who the chief of staff to the great Wayne Swan was? It was the member for Rankin. Over the years, I've often referred to the member for Rankin as Wayne Swan's brain. He always took it as a compliment, but I didn't mean it as a compliment. But he is the man now who is putting upward pressure—inflationary pressure—into the economy. This is forcing the hand of the Reserve Bank.

What are we going to see? We know we're going to see approximately 800,000 households who will not just see one interest rate rise; they're not sitting there today doing the sums, doing the maths on what a 0.25 per cent rise will do. There will be 800,000 households who will see a jump from their fixed rates, in many cases below two per cent interest rates, to the now prevailing headline interest rates of around six or 6½ per cent, if not higher. So these people will not, sadly, being seeing one interest rate rise overnight; when their mortgages mature—and 800,000 of them will mature this year—they will see every single one of the nine interest rate rises to date increase their mortgage overnight.

What's the answer from the government? What's the answer from the Prime Minister? Well, the Prime Minister keeps talking about the reconvening of the parliament before Christmas on his gas plan. What have we seen since then? The Prime Minister talks about that being a great achievement. I received a letter into my electorate office just today, so apologies that I'm reading it from my phone. This letter had some even worse news for this person. Not only are they looking at how they are going to meet increased mortgage rates; it was a letter from Origin Energy. The letter says: 'Hello, on 1 February your natural gas rates are going up. We understand this isn't the news you want to hear, and we're here to help you if you need. We estimate the new rates would cost you $602.74 more, based on an estimate of your last 12 months of use.'

The Prime Minister, 97 times before the election, promised to deliver $275 reductions to people just like that constituent. Yet, since the election, how many times has he mentioned the word 275, let alone the promise? I put the task out to all those in the chamber: do a search of Hansard. How many times has the Prime Minister reiterated the promise that he made 97 times before the election that he would deliver $275 reductions in energy prices? He's mentioned it zero times. He refuses to mention it again.

He obviously thinks that the Australian people will just ignore this or pretend that he didn't make those promises 97 times. He's fumbled around a couple of times with some fairly flimsy alibis. One alibi that he seems to be throwing out there in order to alleviate his responsibility for those promises was the illegal Russian invasion of the Ukraine. But he forgot that he'd actually made the promise about 30 times after the invasion. I assume those on the other side will be scrambling around to try to work out what the next alibi could be for that promise, but what we know is that the government has no plan to deliver on that promise. They have no plan to put downward pressure—downward inflationary pressures—into the economy to take pressure off the sad decisions that are being made at the moment to increase the cash rate.

So what happens? Millions of Australians will suffer. And what do we get from those in the government? It's just the bad luck of the Labor Party. Every time we come to government, things happen. Can I say to those in the government: you are elected to do a job, and when difficult times come, governments are there to make decisions to make the lives of Australians easier. I can say that, as I was a minister in the former government when the pandemic hit. Rather than run around this building saying, 'Woe is me. The pandemic is making life harder for Australians. Isn't that bad luck for us?' we took decisions to make Australians' lives better through a very difficult time. In my portfolios in that government, we saved half a million jobs in the residential construction industry. We didn't say, 'Woe is me. Isn't it all just very bad news and tough luck for the government.' No. You make decisions to make life easier.

What we're seeing here is a prime minister, to be frank, who I think has the worst economic credentials of any prime minister that we've ever seen, and there have been a few doozies on the Labor side over the years, I have to say. This is a man who didn't know the cash rate on the first day of the election campaign. He didn't know the cash rate on the first day of the election campaign! Again, I know that those opposite don't want to remember that, but he did not know a fundamental figure that most people walking down the street would know and certainly that anybody with a mortgage would know.

I think that also betrays another aspect to this very smug and self-satisfied Prime Minister. Look at the dinner parties that he attends and the celebrities he hangs out with, including those who accompanied him to the tennis three nights in a row. On that point, all prime ministers attend the tennis, but three nights in a row? He looked very relaxed. He did not look like a man who was sitting there trying to work out a plan to help alleviate the cost-of-living pressures hitting Australians.

On this side of the House, we'll stand up for those people. They are who we represent, they are who we will support and that is what the government must do. (Time expired)

3:26 pm

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

What chutzpah from those opposite to come in and talk to this parliament about the cost of living. Those opposite, who spent nearly a decade in office as a government whose 'deliberate design feature' was to place downward pressures on the wages of Australians. Those opposite, who in government ran a rolling energy crisis, with 22 failed energy policies driving upward pressure on bills. Those opposite, who hid power price rises from the Australian people until after the election. Those opposite, whose budgets included sports rorts, car park rorts, Leppington Triangle—who ran a veritable rortocracy. They put so much ill-considered money into the system as to have an adverse impact on the decisions of the Reserve Bank.

Since we've come to office we've seen 234,000 jobs created—the best record of an incoming government since records began. We've seen the strongest wage growth in the period since we've come to office that has been seen in Australia in a decade. I have to say that the chutzpah is pretty extraordinary, given that the mover of this matter of public importance himself said, when interest rates began to rise when his government was in office, that the rise had to happen. The member for Deakin said, 'I think households are in a position where they've prepared for this.' That cash rate, he said, 'wasn't going to last forever.' We on this side of the House have a plan to support the cost of living. Today I want to run through 10 ways in which we're doing that.

First, we've successfully argued for a minimum wage increase and argued for a pay rise for aged-care workers. One of the first things we did—the first cabinet submission of the Albanese government—was to support an increase to the minimum wage. The coalition cautioned against it. They wouldn't back in a dollar-an-hour pay increase for the lowest paid workers. We also supported an increase in the pay of aged-care workers at the Fair Work Commission, leading to an interim decision pushing up minimum wages for aged-care workers on a range of awards by at least 15 per cent.

Second, we've passed legislation to get wages moving again. Opposed by those opposite, our secure jobs, better pay legislation built a modern bargaining system that will drive productivity growth and ensure that growth is inclusive. Yet every single coalition member and senator voted against action, with Senator Cash in the other place saying it would 'close down Australia'. Later this year, as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has pointed out, we'll be moving legislation to ban wage theft. If you're serious about the cost of living, you should be serious about banning wage theft.

Third, we've legislated cheaper child care and expanded paid parental leave. Members of the general public listening to this will remember that terrific moment in 2019 when Labor announced our childcare policy, and the coalition minister responsible, the member for Wannon, said it was communism. Apparently, better child care for Australian families is communism. Yet, in a few short months, 96 per cent of Australian families with kids in care will have access to more-affordable early childhood care. It is a direct cost-of-living relief measure which will benefit those families. We've boosted paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks, which is the biggest increase in the program since it was created by the former Labor government in 2011. For those families receiving childcare benefits or receiving paid parental leave, this goes directly to the cost of living.

Fourth, we've legislated cheaper medicines, making medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme almost 30 per cent cheaper for every Australian, and lifted the income limits on the seniors health card by over 50 per cent, making medicines cheaper for tens of thousands of older Australians. A stunt by those opposite in the Senate delayed our support for older Australians by almost a full month, delaying cost-of-living relief when it was needed most.

Fifth, we've legislated emissions reduction targets and invested in cleaner and cheaper energy. Our action to lock in emissions reduction targets is going to transform the economy over the long term. More than three million Australian households have solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs. They understand the direct cost-of-living benefits, because, as the Minister for Climate Change and Energy has pointed out, the sun and the wind don't send a bill. Australians are taking up electric vehicles in droves. We cut taxes on electric vehicles, and those opposite voted against. It was another cost-of-living measure that they refused to back. They are the party who said electric vehicles would end the weekend, failing to realise that if you drive a hundred kilometres in a petrol vehicle you pay an average of $14 but in an electric vehicle you pay $4. Their shadow Treasurer is the Don Quixote of Australian politics, a man who made his name tilting at windmills, who is campaigning against renewable energy and who did more than anyone else under the former government to prevent serious action on climate change and to prevent the benefits for the cost of living that flow from cheaper renewable energies.

Sixth, we've invested in fee-free TAFE and more university places. For those who want to get more education, we're making it easier for them to do so. We've created 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education and training places just this year. We're upgrading TAFE facilities and infrastructure and allowing more Australians to go to university, where they'll earn higher wages, which is of course critical to a cost-of-living challenge.

Seventh, we handed down a budget that delivered responsible cost-of-living relief. I heard the member for Deakin claiming that Labor's budget put upward pressure on interest rates. In fact, it did the very opposite. The budget brought down by the Treasurer in October had payments falling in real terms over the next two years. The October budget returned 99 per cent of upgrades to the budget over the next two years. The average for the previous government was 40 per cent. The average for the Howard government was 30 per cent.

Eighth, we're focusing on competition reforms, because we recognise that a government that is on the side of consumers is going to place downward pressure on prices. We've banned unfair contract terms and we've raised the penalties for breaking competition laws. We've put in place a motor vehicle data access scheme that will reduce the cost to Australians of repairing their vehicles. Our competition reforms, which we'll go on to look in other sectors and other provisions, will ensure that Australians pay less than they otherwise would have done, because a more dynamic economy, a more competitive economy, is absolutely critical to the cost of living for Australians.

Ninth, we took action to limit gas prices, putting in place a temporary $12-a-gigajoule price cap for 12 months and a mandatory code of conduct for the wholesale gas market. Those opposite wouldn't support that and they wouldn't support our targeted energy bill relief for households and businesses—up to $1½ billion in targeted bill relief in partnership with the states and territories. They did nothing, while they were in office, to deal with the crisis that Australians are facing. We in government don't believe that Australians should be paying wartime gas prices or that we should see manufacturing go to the wall simply because of the inaction of a government. That's why we acted on these critical reforms. A $12-a-gigajoule price cap is entirely reasonable. It's a price cap that is above where 96 per cent of the contracts were concluded before the war in Ukraine.

Tenth, we're working on energy bill assistance with the states, partnering with them and covering the costs of states that cap the price of coal, as New South Wales and Queensland have done, at $125 a tonne. I've now covered 10 of the ways in which we're dealing with cost-of-living challenges in Australia, but there are many more points you could have made. The Prime Minister, in question time, noted the importance of our National Reconstruction Fund for dealing with supply chain blockages. That, in turn, puts downward pressure on prices. Yet those opposite won't support the National Reconstruction Fund.

The Leader of the Opposition claimed today to be leading the party of families, of small businesses and of the Australian working class, but what party of families would vote against direct energy bill relief? What party of small business would be happy to see Aussie manufacturers hit the wall because they're paying wartime gas prices? What kind of party for the working class would vote against a reconstruction fund that's about creating new, well-paying, high-wage blue-collar jobs? The fact is the Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the leftovers, with no answers for the cost-of-living issues that this government is acting on.

3:36 pm

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

The member for Fenner is not a bad chap, but I do not like being lectured to by somebody who only has a capital city intent and who comes to this place just wanting to push his capital city barrow, and country people do not like that either. When he talks about the issues that he raised in this matter of public importance, there was no discussion about regional Australia. There was no thought given to how tough people in regional Australia were doing. Dare I say there are truly people in Fenner higher paid—and good luck to them—than in the average electorate in country Australia. But the fact is they are doing it tough in country Australia and in the regions, and this government has continually failed to address those issues.

What we've heard from this government, in the eight or so months that it's been in, are such things as who's going to appear on the $5 note and whether we're going to have an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. I recognise this is an important issue. I'm glad the member for Lingiari is here, and I acknowledge the representation that she does for that fine electorate—which would not have been an electorate but for the person standing right here at the dispatch box, I have to say, because I know what regional representation is about. I know how tough it is for regional Australians to perhaps even sometimes see their member.

I heard the member for Fenner talking about electric cars and their capacity of about 100 kilometres and which was cheaper—electric or petrol. In some instances the cars that he wants us to drive only go 100 kilometres. But, in regional Australia, that's just a trip to the shops or to the doctor for some. What he doesn't realise—I heard him talking about tilting at windmills—is that we've got quite a few windmills in the member for Hume's electorate. I wonder how many windmills creating energy are in the member for Fenner's electorate. It's easy to come to this place and lecture everybody when your own electorate—which is all of 238 square kilometres—doesn't have the capacity to create the energy, the food and the fibre. It's all well and good to represent those people—public servants and, no doubt, fine citizens of Australia as they are. But don't come into this place and start lecturing us about addressing the issue that you should be addressing, and that is cost of living.

It is true: the cost of living has gone up since Labor took office. We hear all the time of those opposite railing against the debt. We hear them articulating this figure which just isn't true. It's nowhere near true. There's not a trillion dollars of debt; it's nowhere near that. And they ask, 'What did we get for the debt that we're in?' I'll tell you what we got for the debt that we are in—and we were in debt. We got 55,000 Australian lives saved, because of the measures that we put in place through COVID-19.

I sometimes think that those opposite have forgotten about the fact that we were in a global pandemic, the fact that this was a worldwide virus. None of those members opposite were in those meetings when we were being told by the Chief of Defence and by the Chief Medical Officer how drastic this was. This was a health crisis. This was a national security concern. We addressed those issues, and we addressed them superbly, to a point where we actually did save lives and hundreds of thousands of jobs and many businesses. We kept the doors of businesses open. We kept the economy going.

The member for Fenner talks about the jobs and what's been created since Labor took office. That's because of the good position, the good policies that were there when they took office in May last year: 1.1 million jobs created since the pandemic hit. And I remember when James Kwan lost his life on 1 March 2020. It was awful—awful for his family, awful in terms of the crisis that was about to confront the country. Yet, despite that, during COVID there was tax relief for 11½ million Australians, all benefitting from the coalition policies. There were 700,000 jobs saved. And 71.3 per cent of trade and exports were covered by free trade agreements. When we came to office it was at the 20 per cent mark.

What we did was make sure that we put the economic parameters in place so that this nation could be its best self, so that this nation could succeed. What this government now needs to do is address the cost-of-living pressures on Australians, on first home buyers, on families struggling to make ends meet.

3:41 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by pointing out to the member for Riverina that the 10 reforms that the member for Fenner spoke about in his speech, which this government has introduced and which address the cost of living, apply to the regions, too. So, when you start by having a personal crack at the member for Fenner, who represents a city seat, it really is undermined a bit by the fact that the 10 reforms that he spoke about are regional-city-blind; they affect everyone and they benefit everyone, because we are a government that is here to represent everyone, no matter where they live, no matter what their background is, no matter who they are. We don't have to say the word 'regional' in order for our policies to benefit people who live in the regions.

The other point I want to make is that yes, a number of measures were put in place by this parliament during COVID-19 that went to saving lives, saving businesses and protecting people's wages. What is often forgotten when members of the now opposition talk about that is the role the Labor Party, in opposition, played in a constructive and consistent way to support those measures through the parliament—in fact, to advocate for a number of those measures, constructively and positively, for quite a period in order for them to then be adopted by the then Prime Minister and the then government. We worked in the national interest in a time of crisis and put petty politics aside in order to work for the benefit of the country as part of this parliament.

When you come into this place and you are a member of a political party and a representative of your electorate, you can decide: do you want to be here to be a builder, or do you want to be here to be a wrecker? Do you want to be here to make a difference, whether you're in government or in opposition, or do you want to be here to be a roadblock to your political enemies? Do you want to be part of investing in the future, or do you want to be here to simply play petty political games and pointscore and get on the daily news cycle?

When you're the Leader of the Opposition and you're in the party rooms of the coalition that makes up this opposition, you can decide: do you want to support national reconstruction; do you want to be part of the solution going forward from the crisis and the difficult times that we've been through and are still going through; do you want to support existing and new industries; do you want to support the creation of jobs; do you want to support economic recovery and growth in our local communities, in our regions and across the country; or do you want to score petty political points and try to win the argument or the news cycle of the day?

What are we here for in this parliament? Do you want to be not just the opposition but stubbornly and short-sightedly oppositional at all times? Is that the sort of opposition and political party that people on that side of the chamber want to be part of?

We have a cost-of-living crisis—we know we do—and everyone in this chamber knows that there is a raft of contributing factors to that, and everyone in this chamber knows that people who live in the inner city, the outer suburbs such as my community in Dunkley, the regions and remote communities are feeling the impact of that cost-of-living crisis, and everyone in this chamber, in their honest moments, will know that the 10 policy reforms and pieces of legislation that the member for Fenner referred to in his speech all go to dealing with aspect of that cost-of-living crisis. But there is no magic silver bullet. It is doing yourselves, this parliament and the country a disservice if you stand up in a debate and pretend that there is something that can be done within the next 24, 48 or however many hours to untangle the complex cost-of-living and inflationary crisis that we are in, but you can choose to be part of the solution if you want to.

3:47 pm

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

Every time we have a Labor government, the cost of living goes up and the Australian public have to pay the price. This is how it is and how it has always been. This is a reality.

There are many people in my electorate of Dawson who are wondering why this government is continuing to fail to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Labor has been exposed as being without a plan and without solutions, and this is hurting Australians. Labor has been exposed for not standing by their word and for breaking promises. The people of Australia were promised a $275 power bill reduction. This was not a slip of the tongue. This promise was repeated all over the country 97 times. We were promised we would be better off under Labor, but under Labor we have seen unaffordable rises in interest rates, skyrocketing power prices, exorbitant insurance premiums and huge increases in food and fuel costs.

I've recently run a cost-of-living survey in my electorate. Thousands of constituents took part in this survey. Ninety-eight per cent of the people who took the survey said that rising costs of fuel, groceries and energy and rising interest rates are creating huge amounts of stress for themselves and their families. A constituent from Bowen who has a 400-kilometre round trip from Bowen to Townsville for regular medical attention is struggling with extra fuel costs, leaving him short of money each week for necessary expenses. With the rising energy costs, a pensioner in Townsville can't afford to run their air conditioner. Anyone who's been to my electorate knows how hard it is to live without air conditioning in our sweltering heat.

A constituent from East Mackay contacted my office advising they had just received their insurance premium renewal. Their premium has doubled, going from $3,000 to $6,000 in 12 months. This has forced them to now be uninsured. A diabetic living in Mackay came to my office just last week to complain about the cost of fruit and vegetables and about how this was causing him financial stress. A family of seven in my electorate recently told me that they are now spending $600 to $800 per week on groceries. They have said that this is not sustainable, and they are unsure what their future holds. A pensioner in Mount Ossa whose beloved wife is in a nursing home in Mackay now can't visit her each day and has now had to cut that back to every second day so he can afford to eat.

How is this happening in Australia, the lucky country? Not only are we facing the cost-of-living crisis; this Labor government has also made significant funding cuts to the regions. Labor has cut our road infrastructure funding. They have cut funding to mental health services. The Building Better Regions Fund is gone. They have cut our mobile phone black spot funding. Veteran's support has been axed, and water infrastructure funding has all dried up.

The Treasurer had an opportunity to provide relief to this cost-of-living debacle in October, when he delivered his first budget. Instead, he delivered a grim forecast. He warned Australians to expect soaring energy bills in the future. Remember that $275 reduction in our power bills? It's still nowhere to be seen. Australians deserve a government that is on their side, not one that breaks promises and rips funding out of where it is needed. Australians deserve and need a government with a solid economic plan, not one that is just there. Running this country is not a spectator sport. This Labor government is big on commentary and there is no action. I am urging Labor government to start taking our cost-of-living crisis seriously and to start listening to Australians. Thank you for your support.

3:51 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The mover of this motion, the member for Deakin, gave a speech that was long on bombast but short on insight. There was a lot of drivel about the tennis and the last election, and lots of attempts at political point scoring, and, in amongst all that haze, it was difficult to see the point he was trying to make. It seemed to be that he was trying to suggest that the interest rate rise that we saw today and rising inflation were caused by the government. What an erroneous claim. He didn't even bother to give any reasons for making that claim. In a long speech he didn't give a single causal explanation for how this government is contributing to rising interest rates and rising inflation.

Let's look at the evidence. Is it fiscal policy that's causing rising interest rates and rising inflation? Through the government's budget have we made a contribution to either of those areas? The answer is clearly no. This budget was remarkably prudent. This is a budget that banked 99 per cent of savings. That is more than the coalition's last budget, which only banked 40 per cent of savings; and more than the Howard government, which banked just 30 per cent of savings. In this government, real spending is essentially flat over the forward estimates. In affirming Australia's AAA rating, the agencies have all made mention of Australia's fiscal policy, which is helping to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates. The IMF said that our budget approach will help support monetary policy in holding back excess demand. It takes great chutzpah from that side of the House to claim that fiscal policy is contributing to inflation, when our approach is prudent and their approach added $1 trillion of debt to the Australian balance sheet.

Rather than play politics with the cost of living, let's remember that this is an issue which is having a deep impact on people right across Australia. Last week I visited Parramatta Mission and heard about how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting Parramatta's most disadvantaged and vulnerable residents. Parramatta Mission provides food, shelter and services seven days a week to people who need it most. This is where the cost-of-living crisis is most acute. It's where the pain is being felt the most. I learnt last week that Parramatta Mission's daily meals program saw a 144 per cent increase in uptake over the last year, up from 4,200 to 6,100. Food parcel uptake doubled, from just above 5,000 to nearly 11,000. Referrals to Uniting outreach services for people in crisis or experiencing housing issues increased by 204 per cent, and Centrelink referrals went up by 728 per cent.

This is the front line of the cost-of-living crisis in Australia. It reflects a situation being faced by many people across our country. Around one-third of the people who are getting help from Parramatta Mission are homeless or in insecure housing. More than two-thirds of the people seeking help are in housing, but the problem is that their bills are too high for them to afford essentials. Rental costs are rising at the fastest pace on record in many suburbs. They're up 14 per cent in North Parramatta and 11 per cent in Pendle Hill. In Merrylands, in my electorate, 40 per cent of the population are living in rental stress. That means they're spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rental costs.

These are issues being faced not just in Australia but around the world. That's why the government has clear plans to address inflation and assist Australians with the cost of living. Those plans involve helping to get wages moving in this country. That's why the government increased the minimum wage, helping 2.7 million Australians. That's why we delivered the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act, which reinvigorated enterprise bargaining. That's why we've been delivering responsible cost-of-living relief, including cheaper child care, which will help around 9,000 families in Parramatta; expanding paid parental leave to six months; providing cheaper medicines; providing more affordable housing; providing direct energy bill relief; lifting the pension in line with inflation; and building more affordable homes. The government has a clear plan to address the cost of living. It's a problem we inherited but a problem that we're dealing with.

3:56 pm

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

The member for Parramatta did mention some of the struggles that his electorate has. I know every member, including me, could share stories of the struggles that we have, and it's acknowledged that we have a cost-of-living crisis. As the member for Dunkley said—I caught the end of her speech, and I agree—there is no silver bullet. This is a complicated matter that poses a lot of challenges. I would note that during the election campaign the then Leader of the Opposition did offer quite a lot of snapshots and quick bites on how he could fix this problem. It's definitely challenging. If the opposition leader at the time had been a bit more circumspect about the challenges, maybe we would be in a different place.

The member for Parramatta did mention the IMF, and he talked about the budget. What he failed to talk about is the government's role when it comes to off-budget spending. That's a nice little trick that governments like to use. Off-budget spending, as the name suggests, doesn't go into the budget. The IMF and economists have talked about the challenges of off-budget spending and how it increases inflation and put pressure on everyday Australians. This government has already committed to $36.5 billion of extra borrowing in off-budget spending, and that will have a direct impact on inflation. While it's very easy for the Treasurer and the member for Parramatta to talk about the headline numbers in the budget, they always fail to mention off-budget spending, which does contribute to inflation. Much like the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, the member for Parramatta also used that favourite line of theirs about $1 trillion of debt they inherited. We've heard it a lot, and it's working because we all see it on social media. So well done to the Treasurer and his team for their political spin.

I thought I might check that number because $1 trillion that they say they've inherited did seem rather high to me. I was shocked. I went to that very reliable source: the very independent ABC Fact Check. They found:

When the Coalition left office in May 2022, net debt stood at $517 billion.

That's a long way from $1 trillion. That's before we talk about the debt the former government inherited from previous governments—I'm not going to talk about that. The pure fact is it's $517 billion—a long way from $1 trillion.

Once again this is the pattern that is emerging from the Treasurer, and it's not surprising. He is a doctor in political science, so he is well experienced at political spin. He's clearly setting the Australian people up. It's at $517 billion, and now he wants to talk about it. He can continue to drive spending up, he can continue to spend more and put pressure on inflation. That is what this government can control. It can spend responsibly, it can spend less, it can start to take the debt down.

It's true this government does not have a plan, eight months in. Every time they're asked, the Prime Minister talks about the same two or three talking points. It's not surprising we've got a prime minister that doesn't have a plan for the economy. We've got a prime minister that doesn't know the cash rate. We've got a prime minister that doesn't know the employment rate. Just yesterday in question time the Prime Minister was asked a very important question: 'How many Australians are coming off a fixed loan this year?' It's a really important question because that is going to impact a lot of Australians. Every rate rise we see—nine in a row—those people that come off that fixed rate this year will be feeling that the hardest. It's a pretty important economic indicator at this time.

We heard for about 2½ minutes the Prime Minister not be able to answer. He did answer at the end, but, for those that probably couldn't see it at home, there was a standing order and he needed to sit down, and his faithful Treasurer was there to pass him the numbers. We've got a prime minister that doesn't understand the economy and can't remember basic numbers, and that's why this government has no plan for the cost of living.

4:02 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It tells the Australian people a lot about those opposite that they think cost-of-living pressures began with the inflation circumstances the world has experienced since the war in Ukraine started last year. It tells you a lot about those opposite that they think all of us should engage in some exercise in collective amnesia and put aside the nine years they were in government. The Australian people right now are looking at two stories: a nine-year story of the government of those opposite and an eight-month story of the Albanese Labor government to date.

All of us in this place know that there are cost-of-living pressures. We know what that means for Australian households and Australian businesses. When it comes to Australian households we know particularly what it means for low-income households, for young people, for people on the minimum wage, for people who rely on the age and disability pension and for people in rural and regional Australia; it means some very difficult choices. There are some households where the choices are in that discretionary space. There are some households where it is about essentials. There are people in this country who are going to the pharmacist and instead of getting the four medicines they have been prescribed they're thinking about which three of the four medicines they can afford. That is a terrible thing. This government has responded to that particular kind of circumstance by delivering the largest decrease in the maximum cost of PBS medicines in Australia's history. That's what this government has done.

The cost-of-living pressures that are the foundation of the circumstances people experience right now include 10 years of stagnant and falling real wages that those opposite did nothing about. In fact, it was a deliberate design feature of their approach to the economy. It includes what the health minister said in question time amounted to the gutting of the universal public health system in this country—six years of Medicare freezes. Since the turn of the century the maximum PBS medicine cost doubled, and half of that was under those opposite. Those are the kinds of things that Australian households experienced, with no relief, for the nine years under those opposite. We've been in government for eight months, and we know that there is a cost-of-living crisis that is putting Australian households and businesses under enormous pressure.

So, what have we done? We've increased the minimum wage. We've changed bargaining conditions under the secure jobs, better pay laws—that they opposed—so that people can actually get a fair share of the productivity and the profits that their labour contributes to.

At the end of 2021 and in early 2022, after nine years of those opposite being in charge, wages as a share of the economy had fallen to the lowest proportion of the economy, as a whole, in the record books, while profits were at the highest share of national income in the record books. That's what they delivered for this country, and that's what Australian households have experienced from the coalition, which is now, in opposition, the 'noalition'.

We've taken a very different approach. We know that cost-of-living pressures are real. We know that the Australian people expect their government to take a focused, stable and competent day in, day out approach to tackling those issues, and that's what we've done. We've done it with wages. We've done it with medicines. We'll do it with child care. We're doing it with expanded access to parental leave arrangements. We're doing it with energy. We've done it with a cap on the wholesale cost of gas. We've done it in all of those areas in eight months.

That contrasts starkly with nine years of those opposite. Nine years of stagnant wages. Nine years of rising health costs. Nine years of rising education costs. Nine years of rising costs in pretty much every category that you can possibly think of. Yet they now expect the Australian people to forget those nine years altogether, to go through the Men in Black magical device exercise and indulge in the collective amnesia that would see all of that neglect, all of that dishonesty, all of that incompetence and all of that mismanagement put aside so that they can indulge in the same old scare campaigns, the same old blame campaigns and the same kind of negative politics that has characterised them in all of the 21st century. Well, they're getting something different from the Albanese Labor government. It's what people in Australia should expect from government, and it's what they're going to get from us.

4:07 pm

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

I do appreciate and have great respect for the member who just spoke, the member for Fremantle, and he knows that. My only concern here is that government is hard, which the government members are now about to find out. It's never easy when you come into the government of this nation, especially in very difficult times. Nobody doubts in this House that these are difficult times. It's an especially difficult times for families who are struggling with the cost of living.

I'm probably unusual in this House. I don't know how many others own their own car and pay for their own fuel, but I own my own car and pay for my own fuel—for good reason: I was sick of people tracking everything that I did through my service station results and accounts. It may be a five- or seven-year-old Territory, but it is a lovely car. It's very hard to replace, and it's Australian made. But, of course, I have noticed that my fuel bill has doubled, and I'm not on my own. I can't imagine what it's like for a family in my electorate. The Monash electorate is a large regional electorate—not compared to the electorate of Gippsland or the Western Australians, but it's a large electorate—so my people, my constituents, have to travel. They travel for work, they travel for health care, for aged-care visitation and they travel to take their kids to school. Fuel is a very large component of their outlay in any given week, month or year.

Because of that, they're constrained in a number of ways. This is the first time in the last 10 to15 years that this generation of people have understood that interest rates don't only go down and stay down; they go up. When they go up it hurts. From my reading today, it says that average families with a $750,000 mortgage—which was unheard of in my day, but that's what it is today, so I read in the papers as they explain where we are at—have had an increase in their actual outlay of $1,400 per month. So in any household that is an increase of $1,400 per month—an increase. In any household, they have higher fuel bills, they have higher home loan repayments, and I read here that about 50 per cent of people are about to go from their fixed-rate mortgage into their non-fixed rate mortgage. About 40 per cent of people will roll over into non-fixed mortgages. They then too are under pressure, knowing what is coming for them over this next six months as they roll over into a higher interest rate that they will have to pay.

On top of that, I don't know whether you have had a look at the price of dog food recently.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

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

You may laugh, but families actually have dogs and they love their animals. They spend a lot of money feeding them and looking after them. The price of dog food has gone through the roof. It's only one component of what goes in their grocery basket. If you look, fruit and veg that have gone up 23 per cent and a basket load of shopping that has increased overall by 19 per cent, so you now have three configurations. You have the price on fuel, insurance has gone up—if you notice any of your premiums coming through—you will notice that the cost of schooling has gone up, and the cost of daily living in every household has gone up.

Government is hard, because people expect government to look after their health and wellbeing. This new Labor government has a responsibility to the people of Australia to do everything they can, without laughing about dog food, without laughing about the cost to households. What will happen in this House is you will learn not to laugh when people are under pressure. You will learn not to laugh at families. And if I don't get a rise from you, it means this speech hasn't been worth giving. Thank you for mocking, and I think the time for this debate has expired. (Time expired)

4:12 pm

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

I proudly represent my community in Pearce, which is a large and fast-growing electorate, one of the fastest growing in Australia. Pearce has many young families, eight babies a day born to our residents, a very high youth population, our wonderful seniors, and grandparents raising grandchildren. The reason I provide this information is to advise that I understand and know my communities. I listen to them. I represent them well. I know what we need to do in advocacy. In order to do that, you have to listen. I have just listened to the member for Monash speaking about dogs and families. Nearly every household has a dog or a cat or a bird. We understand that but that's all talk. What we are looking for from the Albanese government is action. Action speaks much louder than words.

Local families tell me that they feel the financial pressures of life, understandably so. I don't turn around and say to them, 'The Albanese government has inherited a trillion dollars of debt with nothing to show for it.' What is the point in that? That is a fact. What they want to hear is what we are doing about it. What we hear from our residents is they are extremely grateful for the cost-of-living relief that the Albanese government is providing for them. This is a very clear message that we are doing our job.

The Albanese government is a listening government. We understand and we are taking action. One member of our community was so very grateful for the affordable medicines legislation and now having cheaper medicines that she was overwhelmed when thanking me and our government for providing such a welcome measure to make her and her family's life easier financially. As a government, that is just one of the new measures that we have put in place to help and support Australian families. Quite simply, the Albanese government cares; it cares about making life better for everybody. We certainly understand that the cost of living is rising and hitting a lot of Australians hard, after decades of neglect under the previous government. Just as it was throughout 2022, inflation is a defining economic challenge of 2023. It's not something that we've just thought up or something that we dreamt up as we started in May 2022. This has been throughout 2022. This is an impact that we are dealing with.

The Albanese government is working constructively with the states and territories to provide up to $1.5 billion in targeted energy bill relief to businesses and households, who have been, without doubt, hit the hardest by rising prices. We are focused on addressing inherited economic challenges, including the rising cost of living, and we have a robust plan. We have a plan for cheaper medicine, cheaper child care, getting wages moving, expanding paid parental leave to six months and more affordable housing.

Interest rates started rising before the 2022 election, and the March quarter was the worst for inflation in 2022. I know that many Australians understand that the Albanese government did not create these challenges. They chose to elect us because they had faith and hope that we would take responsibility for addressing these issues, and we are. We have an economic plan, despite what the member for Casey was so keen to articulate. Our plan is a direct and deliberate response to the challenges facing our economy, including the cost of living.

An early and important outcome of the Albanese government was to successfully argue for the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. This helped around 2.7 million Australians—that is a significant number—who, because of this government's decisive and robust actions, have benefited from the wage challenges. We ensured that our budget focused on responsible cost-of-living relief that did not put extra pressure on inflation. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that Australians live comfortably and feel supported by their government representatives. Those on this side of the House listen. We have acted to take some of the pain out of higher power prices through direct energy bill relief in the next budget, including direct support for households and businesses.

We are supporting Australians to grow our economy through gaining better skills to enable them to secure good jobs and have better wages. Free TAFE is another important measure that we put in place that helps ease the pressure on families.

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

The discussion has concluded.