House debates

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Cost of Living

3:25 pm

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

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

The Prime Minister's broken promise to address the cost of living crisis.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:26 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

It's with pleasure that I speak on this very important matter of public importance, namely this government's broken election promise on the cost of living and broken promises on addressing the cost-of-living crisis in this country. This morning the Treasurer said, 'Oh, if you're struggling with the mortgage cliff, go and see your bank. They might be able to put some special measures in place for you.' He's given up. Just now we heard the Minister for Cliimate Change and Energy say that the recent rise in energy prices is absolutely nothing to do with him or this government and they don't propose to do anything about them, and the member for Fairfax was effectively just laughed at. We've seen the Prime Minister actually jeer and sneer at every single member on this side of the House when they have raised genuine matters about the cost-of-living crisis facing their constituents. This Prime Minister laughs at them and makes fun of them and the whole frontbench just collapses and giggles. This is a government that's just given up on the cost of living. This is a Prime Minister who's key election promise was: no-one left behind and no-one held back.

I should add that, in spite of all these things the government has given up on, they were able to save the Great Barrier Reef in just 12 months. I'm very happy, Prime Minister, if you slip a note of thanks under my door for the $1.2 billion that the Liberal and National parties provided to protect the communities on the reef, because it's communities that we care about. Right now it's the cost-of-living crisis that our communities, your communities, Australia's communities are facing that should be front and centre of the debates in this parliament in question time. Time after time, we ask a question and the Prime Minister says, 'What would you ask that for?' as if there's some objection. It's question time. It's time for the government to step up and be held accountable.

As I said, we all remember that key election promise: no-one left behind and no-one held back. He promised people would have cheaper electricity and cheaper mortgages. We've all gone past the $275 promise. We know the 97-times-repeated $275 promise will never eventuate. But, Prime Minister, we haven't gone past your break in faith with the Australian community. That was the first signal that you continue to believe that you're better than the promises you made and that those promises don't need to be kept. He promised people would have cheaper electricity. He promised a better future for families and a better future for businesses. Do you remember when he said, 'It's been a pretty good 10 months'? Then we got that famous prime ministerial smirk. It's been a pretty awful 15 months and I challenge anyone—members opposite or members on my side—to talk to anybody who's saying they're doing it better now than they were at the time of the May 2022 election, because they're not.

The Prime Minister promised that if he was elected people would pay less and earn more, but today you're paying more and earning less. He promised that if he was elected people would have a cheaper mortgage, but we've seen interest rates go up and up. He promised that if he was elected people would get ahead, but instead they're falling behind. No-one is better off. That's not what Australians were promised. Again and again, Labor's promises on what they would do have been broken. Australians decided to give Labor a go because they were told that things would be better under Labor, but the Prime Minister has delivered the opposite and, more than 12 months on, this tricky Prime Minister needs to fess up and admit it. Day after day we're reminded that the biggest issue for the Australian public at the moment is the cost-of-living crisis.

Let's have a look at the data. The consumer price index rose by 0.8 this quarter. Importantly, over the 12 months to the June 2023 quarter, the CPI rose by six per cent. Under Labor, prices are going up and inflation is still running rampant. We've got the 'Jim-flation' problem. You won't hear this Treasurer admit it. We've got a big-spending, productivity-crushing Labor government that will take the credit for record job numbers that they inherited from us, setting up this economy as it came out of the pandemic. But they refuse to take responsibility for the cost-of-living crisis.

In the last fortnight, like all of my colleagues I've been out in the real world—on factory floors, in manufacturing businesses, in cafes, in bakeries, among truckies, at food logistics suppliers—in so many small businesses across this country. And I always, when I get a chance, want to pay tribute to our small businesses. They get up every day and face an uncertain environment. They put a smile on their face. There's always chaos at home, children at school, the million things they have to do to manage, these often female-led small businesses, and they get up there and they face the world. But they don't have a government that's backing them in. And as we all visit them—because we all do—we know that they put that brave face on, but it doesn't take much for the anxiety to show, for them to show you their power bills, for them to explain that 30 per cent hike in energy costs, for them to actually say that they are uncertain about the future. It doesn't take much of a walk around our major shopping strips so see 'For lease' sign after 'For lease' sign, to call into businesses, as I have done, where no-one has called in all day, where no-one has spent any money, where the landlords are putting up the rents. And do you know what? The small businesses say, 'We understand that,' because they know that everybody is feeling this crunch.

The CPI figure that I just quoted doesn't really capture some of the high increases we're seeing, and that's particularly in food. The cost of milk and cheese rose by almost 15 per cent compared to this time last year. The cost of bread is up by 12 per cent and of fruit and veg up five and four per cent. But the point is that nothing is going down and everything is going up, and it's a big hit to households and a big hit to small businesses.

Just days ago I was standing in Phelans Bakery in Caboolture with the member for Longman, and the baker told me a familiar story. The increases in costs across his business as the price of milk goes up, as the price of butter goes up, mean that he has to put up his prices. Somebody in that business said, 'Will tradies soon be asked to pay $30 for lunch?'—for a pie, a couple of sandwiches and a cup of coffee. Families are getting hit by increases in the basics. But they're also seeing the price of everything, from a loaf of bread to a meat pie to a birthday cake, going up under this Labor government.

Now, energy is important. People often say to us, 'It's all just a continuation of things that were happening before.' Well, it's not. It's the deliberate policies of this Labor government. It's their ham-fisted intervention in the energy market—one huge, big, fat fail. The other one, of course, is their intervention in the industrial relations market. Those two things, in the more than 12 months that they've been in government, have acted to really help crash this economy. Energy prices go up; families go backwards. Energy prices go up; small businesses go broke. Today households and families are paying some of the highest power prices in the world, with energy bills soaring by up to 28.7 per cent across this country. That's an extra $564 a year, on average, that families will need just to keep the lights on. And for small businesses it's up by $1,738 a year. But what did this Prime Minister do when the member for Mallee asked about a genuine constituent, when she gave the constituent's full name and the costs and uncertainties they were facing? Well, he just kind of laughed; he jeered and sneered. That's what we're used to. That's what's so awful from this Labor government.

So, as I went into business after business in the last week, from a cobbler to a wholesale food distributor, from Brisbane to Hobart and from Adelaide to Deception Bay, I saw that they're all reeling from these power bills. They absolutely do not know what to do about this rude shock to hardworking Australians who were promised a reduction. And the latest data has revealed that the cost of generating electricity soared by a further 31 per cent between April and June. Imagine that being passed on through the retail chain. It's going to continue to hurt.

I said at the beginning that I was listening to the Treasurer's interview this morning and he had nothing to offer people who are falling off a $95 billion refinancing cliff. That's happening in the next three months for 150,000 households. He simply said, 'Throw yourself on the mercy of the banks.' In a not-often reported interview a couple of weeks ago I think he said, 'No, we haven't got any more things we're doing on cost of living.' He actually ruled that out. So this is a government that's given up.

We're reminded every day of what happens when you have a Prime Minister who doesn't understand how to run a budget and a Treasurer with a PhD in politics but not in economics. Under Labor, Australia's economy is going backwards. We're all starting to see this Prime Minister for who he truly is: a bloke without a plan, always focused on the politics and never focused on the people.

When times get tough, a lot of Australians step up. I want to recognise those Australians today. I met them: volunteers packing hampers for people who have never had to access these services before so that they could hand them over with dignity. I met volunteers, in Adelaide, with Senator Liddle, who put boxes together of clothes that would last a year for each age group of children—carefully, discreetly, nicely packed—so they could be handed quietly to them at a moment they needed them, so they didn't have to face the indignity of walking into a big warehouse with a charity name across the top, important though that is. I met people in food services and cafes, in the cold, when the homeless people had one hour to come in. I spoke to them. They said, 'We never imagined before that we would be here.'

I want to say thank you to those people. This is a political environment, but those people to do amazingly. They step up when times get tough, and this government steps back. Prime Minister, if you want to fight an early election, bring it on, because the Australians that I have spoken to want to toss you out.

3:36 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be speaking on this matter of public importance. Listening to the complete hypocrisy of the Liberals and Nationals, coming in here and talking about the cost of living, when we look at their gross mismanagement over that past decade, their harsh actions, their cruel policies, the fact they block anything now that might assist the cost of living, it is the complete height of hypocrisy. They constantly come in here and lecture us when we have a whole suite of measures that we're putting in place to address so many of those cost-of-living pressures.

Remember that these parties, the Liberals and Nationals, are the ones who voted against lowering energy prices. They voted against giving relief to people for their power bills. I don't know how they look people in the face. We had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition talking about the many people she was chatting to, but does she tell them that she voted against some sort of relief for their power bills? That's the reality of what's happening. Remember also that they voted against a $10-billion investment in social and affordable housing, and they voted against laws for secure jobs and better pay. They consistently vote against the better interests of all Australians.

Today we have legislation before the Senate, the safety net bill, which will really help take the pressure off many of those vulnerable people who are doing it tough. What are the Liberals and Nationals doing now with that? Trying to delay it, teaming up with the Greens. That is the reality of what is happening. When it comes to assisting vulnerable people, we have seen what has been highlighted, in terms of their actions, around robodebt. How horrific that was. It was unfair and illegal and people's lives were devastated. The Liberals and Nationals can't come in here and talk to us about assisting vulnerable people when they consistently vote against any support for them, and their policies in government were so destructive.

We on this side of the House understand the challenges that many Australians are facing, particularly in terms of the cost of living. That is our No. 1 priority, and that's why we have a whole suite of measures to provide assistance. In doing that, we're also delivering stronger foundations for a better future, dealing with many of those very strong pressures and challenges, right here and now.

The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund is committed to providing that social and affordable housing. We're strengthening Medicare and helping Australians save on their prescriptions, which is so important. We're making child care cheaper for 1.2 million families. That is in place, and I know many families who are now utilising that and it's making such a difference. Cheaper child care is good for children, good for families, good for job creation and good for the economy. We're funding fee-free TAFE places for over 480,000 Australians. Thousands, particularly, of young people are taking up these offers to get training, to get better skilled, to get more jobs. That helps with our overall economic growth.

Really importantly, we're working with the states to deliver $3 billion of electricity bill relief. It's so important to have that in place. As I said, they voted against that. They voted against providing that assistance for Australians. We're also backing real pay increases so that millions of workers can receive pay rises and so that aged-care workers get a historic 15 per cent pay rise. It is so important. Through our $14.6 billion cost-of-living relief plan, this government has a firm plan to help those millions of Australians in different settings and circumstances, because we're on their side, listening to them and delivering for them in challenging times. Of course, this is all designed to not put pressure on inflation. We are very cognisant of that. As I said, this whole suite of relief includes relief for power bills, cheaper medicines, our historic investment in Medicare to triple bulk-billing rates, cheaper child care and our paid parental leave, which is vitally important. After a wasted decade under the Liberals and Nationals, now in opposition, here we have Labor, who are working hard every day for Australians.

I mentioned before how in the Senate we currently have the Liberals and Nationals teaming up with the Greens, trying to delay our very critical safety net bill. This is vitally important. The strengthening the safety net bill delivers $9.5 billion in targeted cost-of-living relief to more than two million Australians who need that help now. Our safety net bill incorporates our increases to JobSeeker, Commonwealth rent assistance, and parenting payment single, all announced in the budget. But the thing is that the safety net bill must pass this sitting in order to ensure the increase to payments can be in place by 20 September. It must pass. These games and delays must end. Delays to the passage of this bill will impact more than two million Australians who are desperately waiting for these increases.

The bill includes extending eligibility for parenting payment single by increasing the cut-off age from eight to 14, which will provide direct relief to 57,000 single parents, predominantly women; a 15 per cent increase in the maximum rates of Commonwealth rent assistance for 1.1 million households; and a $40 per fortnight increase for working-age and student payments, including JobSeeker and youth allowance, helping 1.1 million Australians. As we said at the time, this increase would be combined with an increase from indexation for those payments. As we have highlighted, we've calculated this change. It means that a single person on JobSeeker with no dependents will actually receive an increase of $56 a fortnight. In addition, this very important bill expands eligibility for the existing higher rate of JobSeeker to single recipients aged 55 and over who've been on income support for nine or more continuous months—that's down from 60 years.

The bill, so importantly, includes a measure expanding eligibility for parenting payment single to parents with their youngest child under 14. We know how tough it can be for single parents, and that's why it's so important to have this passed. We announced in the budget those increases to the maximum rates of Commonwealth rental assistance. It's an increase of 15 per cent—the highest increase in 30 years—which will also be indexed. That will make a huge difference. But all of this can only happen if they stop playing games in the Senate. This is vitally important. These people need this absolutely important cost-of-living relief. Instead we just see them playing more games with it.

We've heard the Liberals and Nationals saying that they're opposed to having this increase in JobSeeker and youth allowance—absolutely appalling. Here they are saying they want to make savings from this bill. This is the party that racked up $1 trillion of debt, but now they want to take savings from the most vulnerable. And yet again they're saying they want to vote against cost-of-living relief for people who are really doing it tough. As I said, they voted against the energy relief in December, and it's looking like they'll be doing the same with JobSeeker.

They've put forward their policy, the income-free area they are putting forward. It would do nothing for the 77 per cent of jobseekers who don't access the income-free area at all. I think that's another thought bubble by them. What they should be doing is getting on board and supporting our legislation so we can make sure that that really important support flows through as soon as possible to those people who desperately need it. Can I also make a point that ACOSS put out a statement today calling on the parliament to pass the strengthening the safety net bill without further delay, to deliver the increases to income supports to people desperately in need, so they should absolutely be doing that.

Of course, when it comes to delaying or blocking support for vulnerable Australians, we've seen the Liberals and Nationals teaming up with the Greens—yet again they've done that—to block our $10 billion housing fund for Australians in need. Remember, this is 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes in that fund in the first five years, including 4,000 homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence or women at risk of homelessness. These are houses that could have started being built now or even earlier, when we wanted to get that bill through. Yet again and again they delay it. It's shameful that the Liberals are doing it, it's shameful that the Nationals are doing it and it's shameful that the Greens are doing it as well. The costs of delay make it so much worse.

We on this side of the House have been approached by so many people in all of our areas across the country and so many different housing groups who are saying, 'We desperately need to have that here,' and we say, 'Yes we do, and these people are blocking it.' We have particularly highlighted the hypocrisy of the Greens, who may talk about the need for more social and affordable housing, but what do they do when they get in here? They're not supporting it. Every day they stop it makes it harder for those Australians who desperately need to have access to social and affordable housing. So I call upon them to pass it. It's vitally important.

When it comes to cost-of-living relief, the Labor Party is the only party that actually addresses the concerns of everyday Australians with our entire suite of measures—whether it's about electricity, bill relief, cheaper child care, paid parental leave or cheaper medicines—because we listen and we stand by the side of everyday Australians who need the support of the Labor Party. We are delivering for them.

3:46 pm

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

On my side of politics, all of us walk around in communities and talk to small businesses and families, and the issue that all of them raise without exception is the cost of living. Families and businesses are doing it really, really tough right now. The cost of everything people buy is going up much faster than people budgeted for, faster than they thought would happen.

Just one example—I could give many—is that in the recent school holidays I held, as many of us do, a young sporting champs morning tea with the 12- to 18-year-olds who've represented my community, whether at the state, national or international level. We get them in, we have a cup of tea, we give the kids a certificate and they get $5 to $800, depending on how far they've travelled, and we do a little media thing with them as well to acknowledge the elite young sports girls and boys they are. What I specifically noticed at the last two of these, and at the last one specifically, is that all the families that turned up were talking to me about the cost of living and their frustration about what they were told before the election and what has happened since.

This is a well-worn statement, but I'm going to repeat it because people need to remember. The government say they take responsibility, but I've never heard this government take responsibility. Before the election and after the election, the now government said that their $275 price cut promise was the most modelled policy ever done by an opposition in Australian history—a pretty big statement. Never have they stood up and said: 'You know what? We got it wrong.' They've blamed other things. They've blamed some of the things that were happening. The Ukraine war is their favourite, but of course it started before the election, but many of these Labor members and ministers after the election were still claiming this $275 cost. We know it's gone up by $500. There are higher mortgage costs. They promised cheaper mortgages, but mortgage costs are up, electricity bills are up, grocery prices are higher—everything has gone up. And the government don't accept any responsibility; they play the blame game on everybody else but themselves. They have no solution. Nothing the previous minister, the member for Richmond, just said would lower inflation. Not one thing that she mentioned would lower inflation.

Let's look at what the government has done. There are three things I want to pick out which have actually made things worse. They have introduced a truckie tax. What do I mean by that? Everything that comes to a house or to a business arrives on a truck. They've increased the operating charges for trucks with an increased tax of between six and seven per cent. So everything that arrives on a truck is going to go up six or seven per cent just on that one tax that this government has introduced. No idea about the cost-of-living pressures.

We introduced a $1,500 low- and middle-income tax rebate through COVID. Through what was going on, we introduced that. We realised that families needed some cash surety and cash bonuses. What has this government done? They abolished it. They didn't extend it, and it's run off. A $1,500 rebate that previously low-to-middle-income families would have got, and this government let it run off and didn't extend it when families are going through one of the biggest cost-of-living crises they've seen. They talk about the budget—the bottom line of the budget was $180 billion of increased spending from the government that wasn't there the previous year. That in itself is inflationary. That in itself is going to embed inflation in prices of goods and services. The other thing they like to talk about is their intervention in the energy market—they lay great claim on what a great initiative that was. Their intervention in the energy market has meant prices have gone up. They haven't gone down; they've gone up. Not only did their intervention in energy prices make prices go up but it has increased supply issues and there's a lot of investment that now isn't going to happen in that part of the energy market. There are certain countries that view us as being a sovereign risk as far as investment goes because of the government's intervention in the energy market.

What families want and what businesses want from this government is they don't want the blame-game anymore. They don't want the blaming of previous governments from over a year ago anymore. They don't want you to blame other people around the globe. They want your solutions to the cost-of-living crisis—of which you are offering none.

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

The member for Bendigo's mic isn't on.

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

That's probably best.

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

Member for Page, please!

3:51 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How disappointing and childish of the member for Page to make that comment, but I guess we shouldn't be surprised given his contribution was so incredibly misleading. To say that this government has offered nothing just demonstrates the member for Page is ignoring the facts and his head is in the sand. Let's talk about what the previous budget put forward in terms of cost-of-living relief, particularly to our most vulnerable. It extended the eligibility for parenting payment—and if those opposite ever actually met a single parent, they would understand how fundamental this change is—from eight to 14. It will provide direct relief to 57,000 single parents, predominantly women, giving huge cost-of-living relief that will help so many that are vulnerable. There's a 15 per cent increase to the maximum rate of rent assistance for 1.1 million households—that's another 1.1 million people that will directly benefit from cost-of-living relief. That is how ridiculous this MPI is and how ridiculous the comments from those opposite have been. Some 1.1 million Australians will be better off by 15 per cent because of this one change alone. It gives a $40 per fortnight increase for working age and student payments, JobSeeker, and youth allowance, helping another 1.1 million Australians—more cost-of-living relief to those who are doing it tough. These are three of the many changes that our government has already put forward.

Let's also not forget the cost-of-living relief to our aged-care workers—another promise we took to the last election that we've delivered on. A 15 per cent pay increase, a lift to the award, and it is making a real difference to those aged-care workers, those angels who are keeping older Australians in the dignity and respect that they deserve. One aged-care worker in my electorate told me last week that it's a boost to her take-home pay of $300 a fortnight. How is that ignoring those workers? How is that a broken promise? It is not. This is where the opposition is lazy and misleading the Australian people. You could tell that they're bored—they're just ticking the boxes and moving forward.

We know that Australians are doing it tough, and that's why we put them at the centre of the decisions that we are making. We are looking at how we can strengthen the safety net. That is why it is so disappointing to be here in this House, debating these changes and this silly MPI, when those opposite in the Senate are blocking this very bill that would help so many households and so many individuals that are doing it tough. Cost-of-living measures that were due to commence on 20 September have stalled in the Senate, and that is disappointing. It is disappointing that the Greens have joined the Liberals and the Nationals in blocking these fundamental reforms that will help so many. I call upon the Greens to listen to those who need this help now. A 15 per cent increase to the maximum rate of rent assistance is the best thing that they can do to help renters today. This is what we can do in this House. It is not an ambit claim that can only be done by the states where they're talking about rent freezes. That's the role of the states. This is something that we can do as parliamentarians in this place and in this chamber, and that's by working together to lift rent assistance.

It isn't just what we're doing for the people relying upon the safety net, and it isn't just what we're doing for our low-paid workers like aged-care workers. We're committed to industrial relations reform which will help lift the wages and the working conditions of millions of working Australians. That will help ease cost-of-living pressures. Cheaper medicines and cheaper child care—all that we have talked about in this place. Maybe they're not listening during question time or the debates, but we've talked a lot about these fundamental changes that will help people. Maybe they should think twice about what they want to do in the Senate in relation to cheaper medicines. This will help deliver needed cost-of-living relief to those that are doing it tough. This MPI is silly and demonstrates just how lazy the opposition is.

3:56 pm

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

This risky Albanese Labor government promised to reduce electricity bills by $275, but they are going very fast in the opposite direction. Risky Labor governs beside the Greens, alarmed about—what did the UN Secretary-General call it this week? It's not 'global warming' anymore; it's 'global boiling', apparently. There was a hot summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and apparently now it's 'global boiling'.

I'll tell you what's boiling in the electorate of Mallee. It is not the kettle, and it's not the climate. What's boiling is the anger of voters, furious that Australia has one of the highest core inflation rates among advanced economies and the highest collapse in real wages on record. Australian tempers are boiling, but risky Labor is more focused on a divisive referendum and fantasising about a double dissolution election than making good on their promises on living costs. Risky Labor's energy intervention has failed. Energy bills have increased by over 28 per cent on average, or an extra $564 per annum, yet those opposite would lead the Australian people to believe that, by the end of 2025, households will get their $275 saving. Well, that is if they haven't had their power disconnected because they actually cannot pay their bills.

The cost of generating electricity soared by a further 31 per cent between April and June this year. Yet, in my home state of Victoria, what is the Andrews Labor government doing? Banning gas. Victoria will no longer be cooking with gas. Gas will be banned in new developments to prevent supposed 'global boiling'. We're taking Victorians off gas and forcing them onto electric stoves. The gas needed for a smooth energy transition is being abandoned because of those with power such as Minister Bowen, who claims that renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity. The lived experience of Victorians and all Australians is that energy bills are not going down; they are going up to boiling point.

My constituents, like Brendan, are experiencing bill shock. With his young family, they'll fork out around $970 more this year. Or take Clem in Ouyen, for example, who needs heating and cooling due to a chronic medical condition. His bill is increasing by $380 over the next 12 months. Increased childcare subsidies might be cost-of-living relief for urban voters but not for Mallee residents and not for the working mums and dads in regional Australia. Those who live in childcare deserts pay through their taxes for the subsidy for those in urban centres who earn up to $500,000. You can't get ahead on cost of living if you can't work and raise your household income. Regional Victoria has low unemployment, at 2.8 per cent. It's better still in my area, at 2.4 per cent.

The lack of child care is compounding worker shortages like the crisis we now face in regional health and aged-care staffing. The lack of child care limits the nursing and carer workforce. Mallee's horticulture worker shortage has been in dire need with recent harvest, but risky Labor's industrial relations policy in agriculture is making it even harder to ensure food security and growth in horticulture. I pushed for the agricultural visa when we were in government to assist in getting workers, but risky Labor put a stop to that. Risky Labor's return to water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin will also see horticulture production reduced, not increased.

The Mildura Swan Hill region in my electorate is the largest horticultural region in the nation on the cusp of 32 per cent growth or half a billion dollars by 2030. How can that happen if fruit actually can't be picked, harvested or processed? Risky Labor's minimum 30 hours a week for Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme workers and mandating a 30 per cent increase from 1 July happened for those on skilled visas and has Mallee's horticultural industry in despair. Risky Labor knows 'same job, same pay' is on the nose and could be rebranded. We know on this side of the House that it's 'same Labor, same risks'. Increased horticulture labour costs are becoming cost-of-living costs at the supermarket because risky Labor cares more about paying the piper than rewarding working Australians with cost-of-living relief.

4:01 pm

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

Another day, the same coalition, the same conversation, the same complaints, the same complete lack of responsibility and the same lack of interest in being part of the solution. The cost of living is a real issue for lots of Australians. It's an issue around the world; it's an issue here in Australia. We inherited that. We inherited that from a government on whose watch interest rates began to go up, on whose watch we experienced the largest jump in inflation in the course of this century, who racked up a trillion dollars worth of debt, who actually changed the legislation in order to hide scandalously from the Australian people rises to energy prices they didn't want the Australian people to pass judgement on.

We know that the cost-of-living pressures on the Australian people are very serious, and we are acting to do something about it. If they cared about it, we wouldn't mind if they wanted to help pass some of the measures we have committed to delivering for the Australian people and have been delivering month in and month out. But that's not their interest. They want to come in here day after day, conversation after conversation, and pretend to be angry and pretend to care about the people in their community. They want to come along with these overheated, confected complaints. It suits them, and it suits their political interests, and that's all they are ever interested in. That's all they ever want to do—find something to bang on about that will be in their political interest. They could not give a stuff about Australians who are facing cost-of-living pressures. If they did, they would have supported our energy price relief bill; they would have supported any number of measures that we've taken; and they wouldn't be blocking in the Senate right now measures that provide relief to some of the most disadvantaged Australians.

At the same time, they abjectly fail to take any responsibility for one of the great scandals in Australian political history, the robodebt scandal, by which they sought to make some budget savings on the backs of the poorest and most disadvantaged Australians. Not one person has been prepared to stand up and say: 'This was wrong. We made a terrible mistake. We turned a blind eye to one of the most gross industrial acts of cruelty perpetrated on the poorest and most disadvantaged Australians in this country and probably in any country.' Elsewhere, dozens of people have taken responsibility when similar things have happened. There have been multiple ministers who have lost their jobs. People have had the decency to say 'sorry'. When the topic comes up here, it's the only time that the complaints, the rubbish, the catcalling and the carry-on stop. They all look at their phones and their desks, and not one of them has the courage to stand up.

Today during question time, when we were pointing out the multiple and serious failures of the member for Cook, there were members opposite who went around and clapped him on the shoulder, had a good laugh, and probably talked about having a drink later on. It is disgusting. They come in here day after day and pretend that they care about ordinary Australians, that they care about cost-of-living pressures, when in the other place right now they're blocking the increase that we're trying to deliver for people on JobKeeper, JobSeeker and youth allowance. They are standing in the way of the expansion of single parenting payment to 60,000 single-parent households—some of the poorest households in the country, like the household that I grew up in, a single-parent household. They are denying the expansion of the higher rate of JobSeeker to older Australians, when we know that some of those households, particularly involving single women over the age of 50, are not going to get the benefit, because they can't bring themselves to support it. They're blocking the Housing Australia Future Fund—30,000 affordable houses, $70 million in direct support for homelessness support services and crisis services that they can't bring themselves to support.

So, it is ridiculous that they come in here day after day after day pretending that they give a stuff about Australians who are at the sharpest end of the cost-of-living crisis. They don't care one bit. They would like that to continue for month after month, because they think it's their ticket back onto this side of the House. That's the only thing they have ever cared about. The only thing they've ever cared about is being in positions of power, being in positions whereby they can suit themselves and the people they support, and that's not Australians who are doing it tough. They're the people those opposite don't have the courage to stand up and actually say sorry to after the scandal of robodebt. But they'll come in here day after day and they'll talk about cost-of-living pressures and measures that they won't support. They'll bring in emails that they're probably happy to receive. They get an email from a business or a household that's doing it tough and they're happy, because they think, 'I can come in here and talk more crap about the cost of living.'

4:06 pm

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

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, which concerns the Prime Minister's broken promise to address the cost-of-living crisis. Australians are hurting. They are hurting throughout the country; they are hurting throughout my electorate. The impact of inflation and rising interest rates is being felt by businesses and families right across our country. Rising mortgage payments, rising prices at the checkout and rising energy bills are all eating away at already very tight household budgets. Australians are having to work more hours and dig into their savings to make ends meet.

Let's look at real facts, real data. Quarterly CPI data now shows that inflation is still running rampant, at six per cent. Recently released data from NAB reveals that more than two-thirds of Australians under the age of 50 say that the rising cost of living is their biggest cause of stress. Lifeline is reporting that 80 per cent of its calls now relate to cost-of-living pressures. And this is certainly what is happening, what I'm hearing about, in my electorate. I've recently continued to conduct mobile offices around my electorate in suburbs including Bonnet Bay, Sutherland, Jannali, Heathcote, Illawong, Como and Engadine. I thank all my constituents who came out to speak with me. Regardless of which suburb I was in, almost everybody told me the same thing: the cost-of-living crisis is causing real stress, real struggles, and is hurting those Australian households.

If we turn to some of the broken promises of the Prime Minister and of this government, on the cost of housing, just before Minister Collins's failed housing bill was brought into this place she promised, 'There will be $10 billion for housing, and this will build one million new homes.' Instead, the bill revealed nothing but a Ponzi scheme, a scheme so badly put together that not even the Greens party could support it. And now we're not talking about one million new homes; we're talking about 30,000. It dropped very, very quickly.

Talking about why we have these pressures on housing, the average Australian household paying the average Australian mortgage is now paying $1,700 per month more than they were paying in April 2022. In my electorate of Hughes there are over 22,000 mortgage holders. More than 3,000 of these mortgage holders are now in mortgage stress. They are now contributing more than 30 per cent of their income to servicing their mortgage. There are almost 10,000 people renting in the electorate of Hughes. More than 3,000 of these renters contribute more than 30 per cent of their income to facilitating their rental payments. Again, this is real financial and housing stress.

What did we hear this morning from the Prime Minister's Treasurer about mortgage holders struggling with interest rates? He said, 'They can go and speak to their bank.' That was on ABC radio this morning. Interest rates have increased 11 times on this government's watch and, at 4.1 per cent, rates are the highest they have been since 2011. Taming inflation must be this government's priority. Instead, it has had its foot on the accelerator while the Reserve Bank has had to put its foot on the brake. It should not be left only to the Reserve Bank to solve the economic problems facing our country.

Energy shock is promise No. 2 broken. The Prime Minister's promise during the election was a $275 cut to power bills. We know where that has ended up. In New South Wales, in my home state, we are paying an extra $564 a year, and that looks like increasing by at least another 30 per cent over the next quarter.

Something that was not mentioned in the last election campaign was the radical industrial relations policy that's just been announced. Casual workers will now be forced to become permanent employees, regardless of whether that suits them or their employer. This is something that was not mentioned during the election campaign. The Prime Minister must address this cost-of-living crisis now for all Australians.

4:11 pm

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

I was a bit pained to sit here and think what I could talk about for this faux outrage of an MPI. Every day it's the same drivel, the same talking points, the same rubbish—all complaints no solutions. I listened to some of the rubbish previous members spouted, about us not putting our best foot forward to do things to support families, to try to tackle inflation—inflation that was left to us when they left office.

The member for Hughes raised an interesting point. He mentioned the Prime Minister had said, 'Go and talk to your bank.' Let's remember what the Liberal Party's idea was when interest rates were rising. Remember the former Prime Minister, standing up in this place, at that dispatch box, saying, 'Go and get rich parents'? That's the solution to a housing crisis. That's what we had under the former government.

Before we had the member for Bendigo make a very eloquent contribution, we had the member for Page make what I thought was a misogynistic attack on the member for Bendigo by saying she shouldn't be heard. But he sits there and says, 'We're sick of hearing excuses from the Labor Party.' There's another thing that hasn't happened over there. You've had the sook from Cook claim that robodebt wasn't his fault; it's everyone else's fault.

Let's go to one more thing. Those sitting opposite—particularly those on the frontbench who were sitting there laughing all the way through the member for Hughes' contribution—never apologised for deliberately misleading the Australian public when they hid the power price increases that we are facing today. You know that they always get—

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

Just a moment. A point of order from the member for New England?

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

He mentioned that everyone on the frontbench didn't apologise. I actually did.

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

You can get a personal explanation at another point of the day. That's not a point of order. Sorry, member for McEwen; please proceed.

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

They get very angsty about this, but they never do anything. They left a trillion dollars worth of deficit. Remember, they made these great big mugs—there are plenty of mugs over there—with 'back in black', because they were going to bring a budget surplus. But they never did. We heard those opposite say, 'The best way to curb inflation is a cash handout.' That's coming from one of their shadow ministers, apparently the best and brightest.

What we know is that to curb inflation, to stop pressure on inflation, you've got to be able to do things like lower the cost of living. That's why you do things like support families with cheaper child care. This is so people—predominantly women, this impacts—can go to work more days a week, to earn more, to help their families and businesses. It's about supporting things like the Housing Australia Future Fund, which will deliver new homes. It means people will stay in jobs. It means the housing and construction industry, which is very important in Victoria, will continue to grow. It means people fleeing domestic violence and veterans who are homeless will have an opportunity to get a roof over their head. But no, they want to team up with their mates in the Greens and say no, because it's not an idea that suits their inbuilt, ingrained hatred for people who are doing it tough. You always notice that people who are doing it tough are the first people they attack. We're trying to raise the age for family support to 14 so that people on single-mothers pensions, predominately, can get support for their children. They're saying no. Mind you, this was a policy that they had when they were in government. It takes a special kind of nastiness to oppose your own policy, but it's consistent with what we've seen with this opposition.

The government has been working extremely hard. In my electorate we've been benefiting heavily from things like the Medicare urgent-care clinics and what we did with supporting families that are doing it tough and what we're trying to do with electricity. We keep hearing them talk about the $275, but they never actually complete the statement, because if they completed the statement they'd have to go back and apologise for all the untruths. It was by 2025. Mind you, this was a former government which promised $500 off electricity bills but actually increased them by 45 per cent.

The MPI was led by the member for Farrer, who's currently under a preselection threat and wants to talk about values and ethics and doing everything properly. Let's remember, I sat in this House when that member was pummelled off the frontbench for misuse of travel funds and then brought a live animal export bill in here. 'This is the most important thing,' she said. 'We've got to stop live animal exports.' But she quickly pulled that apart to make sure she got back on the frontbench. So it's very hard to stand here and hear them talk about morals and ethics when that's the leadership that they offer to the Australian people.

4:16 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the House what this MPI is titled 'The Prime Minister's broken promise to address the cost-of-living crisis'. A promise goes straight to the heart of integrity, because promises should be judged by what we do, not what we say. We all remember what the Prime Minister said when he was desperate to move from here to over there, and now we see the consequences of that. The consequences of that are a matter of public importance—that's what MPI stands for. We hear comments from the member for Fremantle—and I listened carefully—such as, 'We see the coalition talk more crap about the cost of living.' What a disgraceful thing to say about an issue that is affecting every household and every Australian in the country.

We saw at 2.30 today that rates were, thankfully, kept on hold. But inflation is still too high. At six per cent, it is double the statutory target of two to three per cent. That is why we welcome today's decision, but we won't be celebrating. We won't be engaging in hubris like we saw from the Treasurer today and from many members in this MPI debate. That is why we also recognise that the RBA did something other than just keep rates on hold. They said something ominous. They said that further rate rises might be necessary, and that is a message to you to do more of the heavy lifting so that it's not left to the RBA to raise rates again. This is not a time to celebrate. It's not a time for hubris. It's a time to do the work that you were elected to do. It's a time to do the work that you promised.

Inflation is a cloud that hangs over every household. It is an insidious tax that is indeed levied on every Australian. When you open your insurance bill and see that it has doubled, that is inflation. When you find yourself putting fresh food back on the shelf because it is out of your budget, that is inflation. When you see a power bill increase by close to 30 percent, as many people have seen, including in Victoria, that is inflation. When families are paying $25,000 more than they did the previous year on the average mortgage, that is inflation. When Lifeline is reporting that 80 per cent of its calls now relate to cost-of-living pressures, that is inflation. So when we come here and talk about this core problem that's affecting every Australian household and every Australian, we're not talking crap. We're talking about the things that matter to them. Inflation saps productivity, hurts families and destroys hope. Australians are looking to us in this place to provide solutions. Providing solutions must start with having a discussion and a debate about it. Again, when we do that, we're not talking crap; we're talking about the things that matter to Australians.

What did we see today? At 2.31 we saw a question put to the Treasurer. The Treasurer stood up with a big smile on his face and made jokes. He made jokes about the tactics of question time, not about the substance of the problem that Australians are facing. He dodged questions that were put to him with things like, 'The first rate rise occurred on your watch.' Yes, it did. No-one's denying that. But what are you going to do to solve the problems that Australians are facing today?

We saw the Treasurer fail to mention the Measuring what matters report. What is that document? I had the pleasure of reading it, and I encourage others to read it. It's 131 pages, but there is a neat summary at the start. On the website it says that this statement 'is the first iteration of Australia's national wellbeing framework'. It has criteria other than just GDP, including health, security, sustainability, cohesiveness and prosperity for all Australians. We know that there was a massive error in that document. It referred to two-year-old data on mortgage stress. That's a bit of a clanger. The Treasurer may like to blame someone else, a staff member or a public servant—we heard all of the speeches about how only that side loves public servants, but we all do; we don't need to hear more speeches like that from the other side. When we look at a document like that and it talks about mortgage stress, one of the most important stressors facing families, and it uses data from 2019 and 2020, there's a serious question about competence from the Treasurer's office, the office that people are looking to to solve this problem. There won't be any health, security, sustainability or cohesiveness if the Treasurer is not up to the job.

4:21 pm

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

Our learned friends opposite would actually do well to reminisce and reflect on their great hero Winston Churchill, who said, 'My friend, the opposition sits in the benches across from you, but the enemy sits behind.' It reminds me of another great military strategy, the old pincer manoeuvre, where you simultaneously attack the opposition from both sides. That is what's happening to the Australian people under this opposition at the moment. They are being attacked on both flanks. They're being told that the Australian economy is in terrible shape. They're being told that their government is providing a disservice to them, while simultaneously voting against every single measure that this government is trying to put in place to make the lives of Australians much better, to ease the pressure on those people who go to the supermarket and spend their money.

I don't know if you're like me, but I remember going to the supermarket. I'd just duck in for a carton of milk, a loaf of bread and a couple of things, and it would always magically be $47. Now it seems to be $97. Things have gone up. But that's not because Jim Chalmers is the Treasurer or because Anthony Albanese is the Prime Minister; it is because we are seeing a world that is under pressure and change. What this government has done has responded to those pressures. What we are seeking to do here with the assistance of those opposite: the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens and the Independents—let alone what is going on in the other place this afternoon—is to take the pressure of Australians.

The Treasurer today said that Australians are under the pump. We know they are. We get it. We are legislating to back that pressure off, but we are doing it single-handedly, with no help from the opposition, with no help from the Leader of the Opposition and with absolutely, categorically no help—in fact active impediments—from the Greens. They're not only blocking housing; they are stopping it. They do not want that construction. Heaven knows whether they don't want to chop down the trees or dig up the minerals to make the steel—I'm still a bit lost on that. They don't want to build any houses. They won't even pass the bill on the good paper over in the Senate.

Let's get a few facts straight here in this debate this afternoon. It's a matter of public importance about the Prime Minister breaking promises. Let me say: every person who has been in this place and stood at that table down there and made an oath—whether or not they've got the bible or any other sacred book with them or just said to themselves they're going to affirm it—has come here to affirm that they will make the lives of Australians better. Yes, this place is a contest of ideas, and we all welcome that. But there are some absolute truths, and they are before us. We are saying: the Australian people need a hand; why would you vote against it? That's the criminal thing here.

If I were actually able to give any sympathy whatsoever to the Greens, it would be because they're bearing more of their share than they should be because the coalition is simpering and hiding behind their trouser tails and saying, 'No, it's all the Greens.' Let me tell you: if you voted Liberal or National, the members in this place who you put in place to represent you are not voting in this place to help you. It is an absolute scandal.

We know that Australians are feeling the pressure of the rising cost of living, but, as part of the Labor team, I am working closely with this amazing frontbench, this terrific government. They're coming up with good ideas and they're putting them into legislative form. All those opposite have to do is say 'yes'. It's not that difficult.

Those opposite conveniently forget that, under their final months of government, the cost of living was still out of control. Interest rates were starting to rise, not stabilising, as we've seen. Inflation was soaring. Don't get me wrong, there were also some global incidents happening then too, but now we see that things are still going on in the world. The Ukraine war continues. Those opposite had no plan, no direction and simply no idea of how to reduce or manage the effect that any of these things had on Australian families. I tell you what: this government has ideas. We have energy, we have legislation and we will help you. Those opposite just say 'no'.

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

The discussion has now concluded.