House debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Matters of Public Importance


3:22 pm

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

PEAKER (): I have received a letter from the Manager of Opposition Business proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's failure to reduce cost of living pressures for Australian families after 10 successive interest rate rises.

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 Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

r FLETCHER (—) (): Yesterday saw the 10th successive increase in interest rates. The cash rate is now 3.6 per cent compared to 0.35 per cent when the current government came to office, and, of course, the rate that most Australians are paying on their mortgage is much higher than that. On a typical mortgage the impact of the cumulative increases that we've seen since this government came to power is around $1,700 a month, around $20,000 a year.

Now, who could forget that the Prime Minister promised Australians—not on the fly, not just in response to an unprepared question, but at Labor's campaign launch on 1 May 2022 he promised that the Labor Party, if they came to government, would deliver cheaper mortgages. He said Labor had real, lasting plans to do so. And, of course, earlier in his career, when the current Prime Minister was merely the member for Grayndler, he was very quick to hold the then government responsible, saying that there were 10 interest rate increases in a row which have cost Australian families on an average mortgage some $400 every month. He said, 'This is Costello's $400 charge on average Australians every month.' That is the principle that the then Prime Minister articulated earlier in his career. You could not find a clearer statement that the government of the day is, in the view of the member for Grayndler, accountable for interest rates.

These rising interest rates are hitting households, hitting Australian families very hard indeed. The latest national accounts showed that interest paid on mortgages grew by 23 per cent in the December quarter. Of those 10 interest rate rises, nine have been on this government's watch. This is the highest number of consecutive increases in interest rates in more than 30 years.

We have a government which is not doing enough to support the Reserve Bank and make its job easier. More than 800,000 Australian households will be moved off fixed mortgage rates onto variable rates this year, which will put even more pressure on already tight budgets as interest rates climb sharply. With no economic plan from this government, the Reserve Bank is being left to do all the heavy lifting, and, without such a plan, hardworking Australian families and struggling businesses will pay the biggest price.

In question time yesterday we offered the Prime Minister the opportunity to respond, to explain—to put in context, should he choose—the commitment that he made at Labor's campaign launch in May 2022: 'Labor has real, lasting plans for cheaper mortgages.' But did the Prime Minister take that opportunity? He did not. He could not turn away more quickly.

These interest rate rises are having a very grave impact on the cost of living of ordinary Australians, because it simply means there is less money left to pay for all of the other essentials of life: food, support for their children and all of the other things that families need to pay for. Don't take my word for it; there's a long list of respected Australian organisations who are making this observation. Lifeline Australia says, 'Our centres are reporting an increase in help seekers who have never experienced financial stress before.' Foodbank says:

These are often double-income households, or sometimes households with adults working two jobs … All the expenses in their lives are increasing faster than their incomes.

Suicide Prevention Australia says, 'We're deeply concerned about the impact that cost of living is having on Australians.' And St Vincent de Paul Society says, 'Unemployment is rising; real wages are plummeting,' and wages are at an all-time low, so this latest increase is a real blow.

The fact is that more people than ever are seeking help from charitable groups to put food on the table. There are so many Australians who've had no choice but to take on a second job to be able to pay the bills. According to research from Roy Morgan, an estimated 1.19 million mortgage holders—that's almost a quarter of mortgage holders—were at risk of mortgage stress in the three months to January 2023. Canstar research showed that 54 per cent of Australians are losing confidence in the government to ease cost-of-living pressures. Its research also revealed that one in 10 mortgage holders and renters report having missed at least one repayment or bill payment since rates started rising in April 2022. So this is very, very serious.

Not only have we seen the direct impact on households of this relentless rise in interest rates; we've also seen that many other aspects of Labor's supposed plan have turned out to be complete fizzers. Before the election, the Australian people were told that Labor would deliver a $275 cut in the power bills of Australians. They weren't told that once or five times or 10 times—

Opposition members: How many?

They were told 97 times. And how many times since the election has the Prime Minister used that number, $275, in the parliament? Has it been 10?

Opposition members: No.

Has it been five?

Opposition members: No.

A government member: I'd go zero.

It's been zero! It's been zero times since this government came to power that the Prime Minister has been willing to repeat in this parliament a promise he made on 97 occasions: that the power prices of Australians would go down by $275. The reason for that is obvious, because, far from going down, power prices are going up for Australians all around this country. For households, for families and for businesses power prices are going up.

He called parliament back in December last year. Apparently, this was going to be the big solution.

Indeed, the Prime Minister went on Radio National on 12 December. He said he had 'worked out a way that will actually be deflationary by reducing people's power prices next year'. Well, where are these Australians to be found, these lucky Australians who have received this reduction in power prices from this deflationary reduction in power prices that the Prime Minister told Australians and told Radio National on 12 December that they were going to be getting? Not only had his first plan failed, his second plan is not having the claimed impact.

When the Prime Minister says that it is going to be deflationary, that we are going to reduce people's power bills next year, tell that to Ross and Cynthia—age pensioners who live in the member for Cowper's electorate. This week they were told by their energy provider that their new power bill is about to skyrocket by more than 40 per cent to $474 per quarter. Or tell that to Ian Mortlock in the member for Mallee's electorate. For 20 years he has operated a tomato growing business under this government. His company endured a 400 per cent rise in gas prices for his last gas contract. He has been quoted a new price but, despite the much-hyped price caps, it is still so high that it will damage his business. Or tell that to small business owner Kieran, who runs the Hutch and Co cafe in Lilydale in the member for Casey's electorate. Kieran is bracing for his power bill to increase this year by $2,438.

So, far from getting power prices down, this government is presiding over sharp increases in power prices, and what is the Treasurer doing about this—the man whose job is to deal with these problems? He is writing 6,000-word essays. He is making excuses. In fact, if you closely study his essay, he has not one but five excuses as to why the economy might go bad on his watch: No. 1—war in Europe; No. 2—if China recovers from COVID; No. 3—recessions in the northern hemisphere; No. 4—when and how rate rises will bite; and No. 5—future natural disasters. He has every excuse covered. Not for the Treasurer the boring old 'the dog ate my homework'; he has five separate excuses. We have seen his hands-off attitude time after time, every time mortgage interest rates have risen.

The Treasurer is not just a passive observer; he is the Treasurer. The Treasury reports to him. He appoints the board of the Reserve Bank. He keeps saying 'the independent Reserve Bank' but he appoints the board. It is his job to fix this stuff. These kinds of excuses we are hearing from the Treasurer, it is as if the ship's captain were to write in his log, 'If we hit the log, it will be the obvious consequence of the man at the wheel failing to steer around from it.' Like the exasperated coast guard official who screamed at the captain of the Italian ocean liner the Costa Concordia, we want to scream at the Treasurer, 'Get back on the bridge and take charge.'

3:32 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Amid the hustle and bustle of this place and the everyday of this place, there are moments for each and every one of us that stand out in our memories, little vignettes that are seared into our minds. For me, one of those was during my first term when I stood right there on the benches as an opposition backbencher. I spoke on behalf of a constituent of mine named Mary. Mary had come to see me during one of my 'meet your member' events. As she spoke to me and tears streamed down her face, she told me about the cost-of-living pressures on her and how they were affecting her, how she couldn't afford the vital pain relief medication that she so desperately needed to do even the most simplest and menial of tasks, things that we take for granted every day. I remember standing right there and looking over the aisle as I was talking about Mary and sharing her story with the House and watching the members opposite, those who at the time were on the government side, shake their heads. They weren't taking their heads in empathy for Mary but they were shaking them in disapproval and disdain, as if Mary's story did not matter to them. That was their attitude. Well, it took the election of a Labor government for Mary's story to matter, the election of a Labor government for Mary and her story of cost-of-living pressures to be heard.

The fact is that this motion comes today after a wasted decade of inaction and warped priorities from the Liberal-National coalition—priorities that put keeping wages low as the centrepiece of their economic plan; priorities that ignored the Australian people and ignored people like Mary. This is a motion that comes from those who did nothing to help Australians deal with the rising cost of living, even as it went up and up in front of their eyes; those who sat back and watched Australian families struggle; those who drove a trillion dollars of debt at a time of rising interest rates; those who deliberately kept wages low.

From day one, the Albanese Labor government have acted. We've acted on addressing the great challenge that our nation is currently presented with—the great challenge of inflation—through a plan that is about relief, about repairing supply chains, and about restraint and responsible spending. It is about responsible action that makes a real difference to household budgets and cost-of-living relief that doesn't put extra pressure on inflation—things like our more affordable early childhood education and care, expanding paid parental leave and cheaper medicines. And I stand here next to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, who delivered that. He is the architect of cheaper medicines, which would help Mary. Things that would help Mary are more affordable housing and getting wages moving again.

The economic plan that our Treasurer has put forward is direct and is a deliberate response to the challenge facing Australia today: the challenge of inflation and the challenge of the cost of living. In fact, one of the very first acts of this government, the Albanese Labor government, was to successfully argue for a minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. Does everybody remember that? Does everybody remember how those opposite voted? Does everyone remember how those opposite wouldn't give even a $1-an-hour increase to Australia's lowest paid workers. And they want to stand here and talk to us about the cost of living! That's what they want to do. They want to raise a motion about the cost of living when they wouldn't even give the lowest paid workers a $1-an-hour increase in their wage. One dollar—I think I found one dollar hiding somewhere behind my sofa one day—that's how much they didn't want to give to our lowest paid workers. That was one of our very first acts. And do you know what that did? That act itself helped around 2.7 million Australians.

We know that rising interest rates and global uncertainty have impacts on families, and that's why the Albanese Labor government is acting responsibly. That's why we're showing restraint. That's why we're delivering real relief to Australian people. That's what we're doing here. And let me just talk about our early childhood education and care reforms, because they're an important example of that relief. Under the previous government, the Liberal-National coalition, fees for centre-based child care rose by over 40 per cent. They sat on their hands and watched the fees for early childhood education and care rise by over 40 per cent. Now, I know, and I know that many on this side know, that families sit around the table and work out their household budgets, and one of the first things they factor in is the cost of early childhood education and care. Then they work out how many extra hours the primary caregiver can work before that money that he or she has earned—predominantly, that she has earned—is eaten away by those fees.

That's why we took to the election a promise to cut the cost of early childhood education and care, and might I remind the House that during the election those opposite said it was unnecessary. Those opposite said it was a waste. Those opposite did not support it. Again, they were saying no to real cost-of-living relief for families—things that this government has done in its very short time in office. We said we would deliver that cost-of-living relief, and we have.

So early learning, benefiting 1.2 million Australians right across Australia—

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

It's 14,000 in my electorate.

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

it's 14,000 in the member for Lalor's electorate, as she has said—doesn't just make a tangible difference to household budgets by making early learning more affordable. It increases the opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce, to take on more hours and to contribute to that household budget. So, when they are sitting there working out how many more hours they can take on before their extra money is being eaten away by early childhood education and care fees, they know that, as those fees come down, they can work more hours and the household budget can increase.

We know that the rising cost of living is hitting a lot of Australians hard, and inflation is the defining economic challenge in 2023, as it was in 2022. Let me say, in my electorate of Cowan, in some of the lower socioeconomic suburbs, cost-of-living pressures have been on those people for much longer than the last two years. I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to stand here for the last six years in my two terms, and now third term, as the member for Cowan and speak on their behalf. Unfortunately, every time I spoke about cost-of-living pressures for the people in my electorate, it fell on deaf ears while those opposite were in government. Not only did it fall on deaf ears; there was absolute disdain whenever we mentioned issues around cost of living or mortgage stress for the people in our electorates. When they were in government, they did nothing about it except shake their heads whenever we spoke about it.

We've acted successfully as a government in the short time that we've been here in arguing for a Fair Work Commission minimum wage increase in line with inflation and in introducing legislation that will drive investment in cleaner and cheaper energy, putting downward pressure on power prices. The May budget will include direct energy bill relief for households and businesses—something which the opposition tried to block. We're delivering cheaper and more affordable early childhood education. We're delivering cheaper medicines—something that is hugely important for so many people in my electorate of Cowan, as I know it is for electorates right across Australia. We're delivering fee-free TAFE and more university places, expanding paid parental leave and building more affordable homes. Pensions, allowances and rent assistance have all increased in line with inflation. We've brought in a new pensioner work bonus so older Australians can keep more of what they earn without it affecting their pensions.

In May last year, the Australian people voted for a Labor government. They voted for this government because they realised that this was the government that was going to give them the cost-of-living relief that they so desperately needed. I'm proud to stand on this side of the House, and I'm proud to now look down the lens here and say to Mary: 'Mary, you finally have a government that thinks you matter.'

3:42 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Times are tough for so many people right now. It's tough on everybody, no matter their colour, creed, gender or where they live. Today, on International Women's Day, we stand here after a 10th consecutive interest rate rise. Nine of those interest rate rises have been under this Labor government's watch. That's nine consecutive increases—the most in more than 30 years. We stand here with the pressure building on Australian families. There's only so much that any family can bear. Women are often at the centre of these families. They are experiencing the burden of the cost-of-living crisis. These women are often taking the lead in parenting and in running their household while also working in jobs outside their homes, just to make ends meet while they continue to be failed by this federal Labor government. Their government said that, under a Labor government, nobody would be left behind. It is increasingly obvious that people are being left behind, and this government is only adding of to their problems.

Shockingly, this week's 25 basis point interest rate increase means a person with a mortgage of $750,000 is now paying $1,700 per month more than what they were when rates started to rise last year. That amounts to an extra $20,000 a year for Australian families that they will have to find to keep food on the table, the lights on and their kids in school. The latest national accounts show interest paid on mortgages grew by 23 per cent during the December quarter. How much more can our families take? This is a terrible situation, and it only looks like getting worse with a government that shows it has no plant to fix it but rather instils more uncertainty while breaking election promises. This government is not doing anything to make the Reserve Bank's job easier. You would think at this critical time that the federal government would be working in tandem with the RBA to bring down inflation, yet those opposite are instead putting all their energy into breaking election promises and increasing taxes. Australians are only too right to be worried about where their next tax is coming from as they pull back on their own spending. Household savings are plummeting. Nobody can afford to save up money when every resource is going into simply existing.

The Prime Minister promised cost-of-living relief during the election, but here we are, and times are getting tougher. Where is their economic plan? Not self-serving essays that wax lyrical about remaking capitalism, but their real economic plan. Without this economic plan, it is up to the Reserve Bank to do all the heavy lifting in trying to drive down inflation. Because of this government's lack of an economic plan, it is our families and small businesses who are paying the price. We are facing a full-blown cost-of-living crisis. More people than ever are seeking help from charities to feed their families. Many people have had no choice but to take on second jobs to keep a roof over their heads. Research from Roy Morgan shows an estimated 1.19 million mortgage holders—24.9 per cent of them—were at risk of mortgage stress in the three months to January 2023. Meanwhile, Canstar research showed that 54 per cent of Aussies are losing confidence the government to ease cost-of-living measures. Its research also revealed that one in 10 mortgage holders and renters reported missing at least one payment or bill payment since rates started rising. A further one in five reported they were worried about missing a payment in the near future. Lifeline has reported an increase of almost 50 per cent in requests for help and support in relation to financial issues. Those are harrowing statistics, highlighting the real situation out there among Australians. They are crying out for help.

Before the election, the Prime Minister and Treasurer made grand promises to all Australians. They promised they would have cheaper mortgages, they promised to cut Australia's electricity bills, they promised no changes to superannuation—the list goes on, and it helps prove Canstar's research to be true. How can Australians be confident in this government to ease cost-of-living pressures? How can they trust that their government can lead them back— (Time expired)

3:47 pm

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

With all due respect to the member for Mallee, whom I have quite a lot of personal regard for—oh my goodness! We've now had two speakers—following every other MPI of this parliament put up by the opposition—which just have complaints, complaints, complaints, and the suggestion that we do not have a plan—and they can make that suggestion only because they do not listen when the Treasurer and Prime Minister talk about our plans—and not a single suggestion of what actually should be done. We had the shadow minister for industry, who was the head boy, really, of a pathetic mob of performative whingers—just be negative, negative, negative for his entire 10 minutes in this MPI, with not one suggestion of what should be done or could be done other than what this government is doing. He just wants to say everything's bad and everything's wrong, but put not a single suggestion forward.

This is why the Liberal Party is not in government anymore. Australians are sick and tired of negativity, negativity, negativity from an oppositional opposition for opposition's sake without any suggestion of how it might actually make things better. They are sick and tired of responses from politicians to important, complex and deep conversations about how to fix some of the structural problems in this country which are all: 'Oh, what a pathetic essay! Oh, you've got an idea of changing something and we don't like change!' How about engaging in an actual conversation about where we need to go and how we might get there? Change is hard, but be part of the conversation, instead of being so negative all the time without any suggestion as to how things might be fixed—things like the inflation crisis, as the member for Mallee rightly described it, and its impact on Australians. Families, single people, young people, old people—people all across this country—are feeling it, and it's tough; it's absolutely tough.

It's not as though this has happened overnight or in the last 10 months. When the shadow minister talked—over 10 successive minutes—about 10 successive rate rises, he didn't talk about their almost 10 successive years in power. He didn't talk about almost 10 successive years of making decision after decision that made the structure of the economy, the housing market and inequality worse. Apparently, the Albanese Labor government is to blame for not fixing all of those problems in its 10 months in government. When we do put forward positive plans and legislation to fix those problems, what do those on the other side of the parliament do? They vote against them. They come in here, talk about the difficult lives Australians are having, raise issues that exist and then vote against the solutions. That's the way to get back into government! Keep on it!

The government, we on this side of the chamber, are providing responsible cost-of-living relief, like my colleagues have said: cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, direct energy bill relief. The National Reconstruction Fund—which the mob over there, in continually wanting to be performative whingers, oppose—is a key platform to support, diversify and transform Australia's industry and create sustainable, well-paying jobs that will help families pay the bills and help manufacturers in my electorate, like Australian Blowmoulding, Brumby's, Clark Masts and many others across the Carrum Downs industrial precinct. Why don't the opposition come in here and support positive plans for once?

3:52 pm

Photo of Michelle LandryMichelle Landry (Capricornia, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians are doing it tough. Families and small businesses are on their knees from the pressure they're enduring from the current cost-of-living crisis. Yesterday we saw the Reserve Bank of Australia increase interest rates for a ninth consecutive time, bringing them to the highest level seen in a decade. This is the highest number of consecutive increases since Paul Keating was Prime Minister. The announcement means that the average mum and dad, who are paying off a home loan worth $750,000, are now forking out $1,700 a month more than they were in May last year. That's an extra $20,000 per year that hardworking families need to find to keep their heads above water.

The statistics get even more concerning, with more than 800,000 Australians moving from a fixed-rate mortgage to a variable-rate mortgage this year. Roy Morgan has released research showing that approximately 1.19 million mortgage holders were at risk in the first quarter of this year, while a recently released National Australia Bank report shows that families with wages between $50,000 and $75,000 are struggling to keep up with their bills.

We haven't seen an end to the hard times under a Labor government. The National Accounts are showing that making ends meet will only get harder, with the latest statistics showing that interest paid on a mortgage is up by a whopping 23 per cent. This government insists on not working with the Reserve Bank to introduce an economic plan that will have a real effect on reducing inflation. Without any plan or direction, the Reserve Bank is doing the heavy lifting. There's a lack of guidance and leadership from this government. This lack of leadership and an economic plan to move forward is causing already struggling families and businesses to pay the highest price for goods and services ever seen. A local bakery in my electorate has been supplying its goods to supermarkets, cafes and restaurants for many years, yet it is left with the question: when are the rising costs to businesses going to stop? Wage increases, electricity prices skyrocketing, raw materials becoming more expensive and transport costs on the rise every week: these things are bringing this business to its knees. This is just one of hundreds of thousands of small family-owned businesses across Australia who don't know how much longer they can keep going.

During this full-blown cost-of-living crisis, now more than ever, Australians are seeking assistance from charities to put food on their tables. Organisations like Lifeline have reported an increase of almost 50 per cent in calls for help and support to ease financial pressures. Charities already stretched to their limits are preparing for a tsunami of need as more and more families are left at the end of their tether.

Following a meeting that I had this morning with a not-for-profit organisation, I know that charities are also concerned about how they will continue to support the community. As people's purse strings tighten, donations to charities dwindle. This forces the organisations to reduce how much help they are able to deliver. People who rely on these charities, like those living with cystic fibrosis, depend on the vital assistance offered. It is troublesome to think that these children, who, in some age groups, are still waiting on the life-saving treatment Trikafta to be added to the PBS, will have to go without things that give them more quality of life because their family simply can't afford to pay for treatment and medication while enjoying the things in life we take for granted. This crisis that Labor continues to bury its head in the sand over is affecting the very thing that people who are in need turn to.

Probably one of the most concerning aspects of the cost-of-living crisis is the latest reports from Suicide Prevention Australia showing that 46 per cent of Australians have reported they are feeling increased pressure as this crisis deepens. This is up by five per cent since the previous year, and numbers are only going to continue to grow as the nation gets up to its neck in inflation and this cost-of-living predicament.

Life is only going to continue to get harder under the Albanese government. Prior to the election, the Prime Minister was spruiking that only he would be able to deliver cost-of-living relief. The reality is that life has only gotten harder for families under this Labor government. Australians are now living in the land of broken promises. Before the election the Prime Minister and the Treasurer made a slew of promises. 'Your electricity bills will be cut by $275.' Broken. 'Your mortgages will be cheaper under a Labor government.' Broken. 'Your super will be left untouched.' Broken. 'Your taxes won't be increased.' Broken. The list goes on, with promises for wage increases, for cuts to the cost of contractors and consultants, for inflation to be lowered and for franking credits to remain untouched. All these promises have been broken.

On 10 April last year the Treasurer stated Australians want a government that does its job well. Well, Treasurer, we want you to do your job. Do something constructive about this cost-of-living crisis.

3:57 pm

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

Like the Treasurer, I was raised in a family with a single mother. Like the Treasurer, I was raised in an area that, in this place, would be called an area with the low socioeconomic profile. Like the Treasurer's mother, I paid a mortgage, with three children, on my own, working part time. There were people in my community at the time who assumed I was renting, because how could I possibly be paying a mortgage as a single mother? We all know the stereotype. I understand what it means to pay a mortgage in a crisis. I understand what the people in my electorate of Lalor are dealing with at the moment.

I represent a community of the youngest families in the country. I represent a community where everybody has a mortgage or everybody is paying off someone else's mortgage by renting their home. Bluntly, that's the community I live in. So I understand what's happening in the kitchens around the country. I understand what's happening in my community. I've stood on my feet here, in this place, for nine years, talking about what was hard for my community, while those who now sit on the opposition benches sat here and ignored those issues.

To come into a discussion today on the matter of public importance around the cost-of-living—which, as the member for Dunkley said, seems to be on a fast rotation for those opposite, raised day in, day out—and to have those opposite still not understand the things that we have done since coming to government to address those issues for our community, to hear those opposite talk about community organisations having people make increased demands for food support—hello! How many times did I raise that in this House after the 2014 budget, when you slashed funding for community organisations? In communities like mine, that hurt?

So bear with me if I fail to understand why those opposite continue to do this, when they have a track record over nine months of coming in here and saying no to every solution we've put on the table. Forgive me for not taking advice, on behalf of myself and the communities I represent, from those opposite when they didn't even have the decency to show up at the Jobs and Skills Summit straight after the election—summits that we ran across the country to hear our communities talk about what they needed. Forgive me if I don't want to listen to those opposite when they balk at the notion of a one dollar pay rise for our lowest-paid workers. Forgive me if I'm not going to listen to those opposite when they were mortified and did nothing about the crisis in aged care for the residents in aged care and nothing—absolutely zilch, zero, dot—for the workers in aged care.

Forgive me if I'm not going to listen to those opposite lecture us about life through the pandemic and the lessons that were learned, because we learned those lessons and we bring to this place plans for a better Australia on the back of that. We have an economic plan about relief, repair and restraint. Those opposite have said no to everything we've put on the table so far. They demand an economic plan and yet they sit here screaming while the Treasurer outlines an economic plan day after day in question time, because they don't want to hear that there is a plan.

To my community at home: we hear you; we know you. We know how tough it is. We know that mortgage interest rates are going up. We know there have been 10 consecutive rate rises. We know the cost of living is an issue. That's why we're taking action in this place to give you some relief. I know in my community there are over 11,000 families who will benefit from our childcare scheme on 1 July. I know that will make a difference. Know that, along with many on this side, I pay a mortgage. I'm calculating, like you're calculating, every week about how we're going to do that. But, more importantly, I repaid a mortgage while having three children and working 0.6 part-time as a teacher. And I always paid more than the bank recommended I pay, so I was always tight on the margins. I know your pain, and I'm determined with my colleagues over here to do everything in our power, unlike those opposite, to give you that relief and to build that economic plan.

4:02 pm

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

Yesterday was another very tough day for millions of families and businesses in this country—to hear again another month, another increase in the Reserve Bank's cash rate. This is obviously something that is weighing more and more heavily on decision-making around the kitchen table on the family budget, as people factor in and do the calculations on how much these ever-increasing interest rates are having an impact on them and the sorts of decisions they hope not to have to take around whether or not they can afford to have a family holiday this year—maybe in more serious cases, whether they may have to consider selling their home at some point—if these increases continue.

I am sure all members of parliament are hearing the real, personal stories that come with these opaque economic decisions that, in the macro, are significant enough, but are most significant when you think about the way they impact on individual families. I don't think it's unreasonable for the opposition to want to debate the most significant challenge facing the people of Australia in this parliament on a regular basis. If those opposite are indignant about this topic being raised regularly, why don't you do something about it? Then we won't have to keep talking about it. That's an option. There's an option for the government: to actually address the most significant challenge in the lives of Australians. But to suggest it's somehow inappropriate for us to raise this as a matter of public importance—I'd love to understand what you think is more important than the dramatic increase in cost burdens on families in this country.

The other thing that is really concerning which is coming from members of the government is the suggestion that they've actually got a plan. If they didn't have a plan then at least we might have something to look forward to. Apparently, what they're already doing is as good as it gets. So if you're an Australian family then just strap yourself in for more of exactly the same: more interest rate rises, more reduction in real wages, higher mortgage payments and higher power bills. That's because their plan is fully implemented; they have this great economic plan and what's happening right now to the families of this country is the dividend of that plan. There's nothing more to come. They're implementing a plan, and the result of that is the significant pain that Australian families and Australian businesses are bearing.

Regrettably, interest rates are one of the challenging pieces of economic data that are out there. But I worry most about the dramatic reduction in real wages. For the party which is purportedly of the workers to preside over the greatest contraction of real wages in my adult lifetime is something that they should be focused on, and which they should certainly be ashamed of. There is nothing in their plan—which, apparently, has been fully implemented and which is resulting in all this disastrous economic data—which is helping to increase wages whatsoever. Wages are currently going backwards. Regrettably, more data, sector by sector and industry by industry, is showing that economic strife is continuing to come at an ever-growing pace. That's not the fault of the invasion of Ukraine and it's not the fault of all these forces from overseas. Those were well known to the government when they handed down their budget in October last year. They made a promise then, 92 times, to reduce electricity prices—and they're now going up.

They say that they have an economic plan which is fully implemented, and that we should get behind it and support it. And yet the outcome of that plan is that every significant economic measure which is relevant to families and businesses is going backwards. If they're proud of that and want us to support them, then they have another think coming. Far from breaking the economic destruction and the wealth destruction that they are meting out on the people of Australia, we have a vastly different ambition for the future of families and businesses in this country.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

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

Frankly, you might rubbish the record of the previous government but I think that most Australians are wishing that we were at the helm again! They're looking back at the glory days of not waking up to power prices exploding, broken promises and inflation at 7.8 per cent. They're wishing they had confident economic management in this country so that they weren't worried about whether or not they'd have to sell their house because of interest rates going up month after month, and they can't afford it.

To the families and businesses of Australia: we will keep sticking up for you. We look forward to the opportunity that you'll soon have to throw this government out of office.

4:07 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

EPACHOLI () (): I rise today to speak on the important topic of the cost of living. Yes, it is indeed a matter of public importance.

It's an insult to suggest that we on this side of the House don't care about the cost-of-living pressures impacting on Australians, and I won't cop it. It is electorates like mine, in the Hunter, which feel the brunt of the cost-of-living pressures. I understand that the rising cost of living is hitting a lot of Australians hard, including those in my electorate. Inflation is the defining economic challenge of 2023—as it was in 2022 and in late 2021. The government has been working hard to address these issues. The Albanese Labor government has a three-point plan to address the inflation challenges in the economy, and it's all about relief, repair and restraint.

Responsible cost-of-living relief is something that those opposite know nothing about. It will see us deliver cheaper early childhood care and education; cheaper medicines; and direct energy bill relief. The only thing those opposite have been responsible for is a decade of wasted opportunities and warped priorities which left Australia dealing with falling real wages, cost-of-living pressures and a trillion dollars worth of Liberal Party debt, without an economic dividend to show for it at all.

Those on this side of the chamber are repairing the supply-side constraints. We have started the long-term work to repair our damaged supply chains, which have only worsened the inflation challenge. We are doing this with fee-free TAFE, cleaner and cheaper energy, the National Reconstruction Fund and more affordable housing. The 'no-alition' opposite are hellbent on taking down the economy at every chance they get. By voting against energy bills relief, the NRF and the Housing Australia Future Fund, they are voting for higher inflation for longer.

We have delivered a responsible budget, with spending restraints. Our Treasurer is returning almost all revenue upgrades to the bottom line and keeping spending essentially flat over the next four years, to not add to inflation—the issues left to us by the 'no-alition'. We know that there is still a long way to go, but the plan is working and we need to stick to it.

Despite the negativity of the 'no-alition' opposite, cheaper medicines took effect on 1 January, giving Australians access to medicines that they need without breaking the bank. Cheaper early childhood education and care will benefit 1.2 million families from 1 July—something they didn't vote with us on. This means families will be able to afford to send their children to child care, leaving more money in the bank to ease other expenses and giving parents a chance to get back into to the workforce.

We have made sure that 180,000 fee-free TAFE places are now available to tackle the skills shortages. This will allow people to upskill and find employment. Electricity bill relief will be a key feature of our May budget. I honestly can't wait to hear that. We have delivered ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave, which means those escaping violence are no longer forced to choose between their safety and pay. We are building more affordable homes, including through the new National Housing Accord. Pensions, allowances and rent assistance have increased in line with inflation, to ensure people are not left behind. We have brought in a new pensioner work bonus, so older Australians can keep more of what they earn without affecting their pension. We are delivering on our promises and we are making sure that we are putting measures in place to help those hit hardest by cost of living.

We are focused on growing the economy in the right way so that more Australians can benefit from good skills to get good jobs and have good wages. But the 'no-alition' opposite are just not serious about cost-of-living relief. If they cared about supporting families to ease the cost of living, they would support our cheaper childcare legislation and changes to paid parental leave. If they cared about people being able to afford thing that they need to survive in their day-to-day lives, they'd support our initiatives to make medicines cheaper. But all they do is sit over there saying no to all of these measures that we have put in place to have real impact on the lives of everyday Australians, like those in my electorate.

At the end of the day, it is only an Albanese Labor government that cares for Australians—all Australians. We care for everyone in this country. (Time expired)

4:13 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to talk about the government's failure to reduce cost-of-living pressures at this time, I can assure you. It's right to talk about the impact that mortgage costs going up is having on families, and what it's like growing up in that situation. Labor certainly does have a mortgage on a working class background, I can assure you—as someone who grew up in Ipswich. These pressures are felt across the nation, and how we respond to them is very, very important. It's the issue of our times.

Families are making some very difficult decisions. I was saddened to read an article in this week's Courier Mail talking about a great Toowoomba charity, Protea Place, that has had to cancel its major fund raising event this year because it simply wasn't able to sell tickets. People across Toowoomba had previously, for the last several years, been in a position where they could donate. In those good times, when there was money flowing through the economy, they were able to contribute and look after a local charity like Protea Place. I want to quickly say what a great job Protea Place do helping with a very sad situation. This is charity that looks after women over 65 who, increasingly, are coming to Toowoomba from regional areas hoping that they can find some housing in our region. They come all the way here and, sadly, find there is no room at the inn. Protea Place was built by the amazing Amanda Dalton to deal with this. This is the first time their event had to be cancelled because they simply couldn't sell enough tickets. This is a charity that I'm sure Toowoomba will gather around and support.

The same article spoke of the increase, year on year, in household costs—across mortgages, fuel, groceries, electricity and insurance—that the average Queenslander is facing. It's $1,150 per month. That's how much costs have gone up in the last 12 months. These are real pressures. The last speaker was right: this is an important MPI.

It's great to see so many Labor members of the economics committee here. They'll remember well the Governor of the RBA saying that the economy relies on confidence. At a time when we're talking about these cost-of-living pressures and at a time when we want the economy to be in a stronger position, he wants to see confidence. I'm not sure anyone got confidence out of the Assistant Treasurer's response today in question time. Apparently, there were three parts to the answer. That, I think, was part 2, following the infamous honey pot comments. This is a time when we need very, very focused measures that are going to have impacts, both short and long term, on the economy.

We talk about confidence. Every time we put an example to the government of the impact on our constituents of increasing energy prices, they say, 'Why don't you go back and tell them that you didn't vote for the Energy Price Relief Plan?' This is legislation that has happened; it has passed and it has failed. The government's response is, 'You should have voted for failed legislation.' Prices are still going up, and, worse, the obvious impact that always happens when you introduce price caps is happening before our eyes—we will see, and we are experiencing, a limitation in supply. We saw that with Senex's decision to pull out over a billion dollars of investment and, today, in speaking to APLNG about the impacts in my region of a reduction in their investment in the gas industry.

At a time when we need the economy to regain confidence and when we need a clear direction forward, what do we have? Quite frankly, we have statements that are just baffling. What compounds this failure is the litany of broken promises that preceded it. I know that the member for Fairfax has made the point many times, but we have not heard the number 275 from the government since the election. This was a promise repeated over and over again: 'Your energy bill will be reduced.'

Opposition members: By how much?

$275. I've heard that enough times, and I think the Australian people will continue to hear that number for a long time yet.

An opposition member: They're going to wait a long time.

They are going to wait a very long time, because that number will be repeated over and over. Energy prices are only going one way, and that is up.

We also heard a promise about cheaper mortgages. Today, the government was unable to talk about anywhere in the country where that has been experienced. The last one, of course, is that there would be no changes to super. Again, this is simply undermining confidence at a time when there is significant financial pressure on Australian households.

4:18 pm

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

Thank you to the member for Groom. From one engineer to another, I say to him that I think it's important to look at the root causes of problems, and you need to understand the foundations of the nation and what we've inherited. I recognise that the cost of living has gone up, and these costs started going up under the coalition government. During the election campaign, my team and I knocked on 45,000 doors, and the cost of living was the No. 1 issue for people.

But who was sleeping at the wheel? Who had a decade of delay and waste? Who had nothing to show for it? We know what the root causes were. There were disruptions to supply chains due to the pandemic. The war in Ukraine had an impact on energy commodities. And we had skills shortages as well. So this is what we inherited after a decade of waste, rorts and wrecking. That's what Australian businesses and households had to deal with. Talking about supply disruptions, we had to lift the scab off and see this weeping wound that was festering under the Liberal government. Frankly, they did not have meaningful industry policy. How could they, with nine industry ministers? That's nine years with no plan.

Harvard University's Center for International Development, which ranks economies according to their diversity and complexity to assess their potential for growth, placed Australia at 91 out of 133 in 2020. Our neighbours on that scare were Kenya and Namibia. In the last decade we have slipped 21 places. I wonder who has been at the wheel in the last decade. Meanwhile, the Albanese Labor government has a once-in-a-generation nation-building exercise to build our industry capability. The National Reconstruction Fund will help diversify our economy and broaden our base. Leaders know that Australia needs to transition from a lucky country to a smart country. This is precisely what the NRF does.

On energy policy—I know you guys are passionate about this—while one may think that having nine industry ministers with nine policies over the decade was bad, we had over 20 energy policies. Holy moly! I worked for 12 years with the ASX200, helping them with their energy and climate related needs. Do you know what the No. 1 thing was that they said that they wanted? It was certainty. That is certainly something the coalition failed to provide. Those on the other side that accepted the science on climate change lost their seats at the last election and are now left with climate deniers. The lack of decent energy policy meant that the National Energy Market was horribly exposed to those energy shocks caused by the war in Ukraine. It meant that those price rises were worn by businesses and households—because, again, you were asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile, the Albanese Labor government has legislated a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We didn't have to legislate that target, but we did that because we wanted to send a strong signal to markets to show that we were serious. Do you know what? We have seen financial markets move. There's a whole bunch of renewable energy being unleashed, and that is happening because of the Albanese Labor government.

This is being coupled with our safeguard mechanism, which will help big emitters know their trajectory to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and what we expect them to achieve. What they wanted was for it to be predictable and known. When the coalition introduced Emissions Reduction Fund, they also introduced the safeguard mechanism. That was to ensure that there weren't increases elsewhere in the economy when the ERF was reducing emissions elsewhere. They failed to do that. The safeguard mechanism was actually put in the architecture but it did nothing. We are trying to get this to work to help businesses.

On skills shortages, again, they were asleep at the wheel. The coalition government were not interested in thinking about the skills we need for the future. I guess that is because they had no vision. They didn't invest in skills for the future. I know that a good education is a ticket to a better life. But maybe the coalition doesn't want to support Australians' aspirations. The Albanese Labor government is investing in 180,000 TAFE replaces with an additional 20,000 university places. At Curtin University, in my electorate, we got an additional 1,000 places. So what did the demolition coalition government do? (Time expired).

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

The debate has now concluded.