Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022; Second Reading

6:15 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to table my remarks.

Leave not granted.

Fine. I will read them out. Labor will support these bills, including the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022. We are fully aware of the cost-of-living pressure being experienced by Australians, and our support for the measures in these bills reflects our commitment before last night's budget to be constructive about cost-of-living relief that the government would bring forward.

There were three defining features of last night's budget: firstly, $1 trillion in debt, with nowhere near enough to show for that incredibly significant addition of debt that has been put on the budget by those opposite; secondly, real wages falling in the budget, with the average worker being $26 a week or $1,315 a year worse off as a consequence of the real wage cuts which were outlined there in black and white in the government's budget last night; and, thirdly, buried on page 49 of Budget Paper No. 2, $3 billion in secret cuts that the government does not want to come clean on on this side of the election, no matter what government members may want to say about the budget papers.

If there is a theme that emerges from this budget, it is that the government has taken a whole bunch of problems and challenges that exist on one side of the election and put them on the other side of the election. It's almost as if the Prime Minister woke up at some point in the last couple of weeks, contacted the Treasurer and said: 'I've got to call an election in the next fortnight or so. Let's get the shovel out, and hopefully we can shovel enough money in people's direction that they will forget that we've spent the best part of a decade going after the wages, job security, pensions and Medicare of ordinary Australians.'

This government has gone after Australians for the best part of a decade, and it's hoping this cash splash will make Australians forget the damage that those opposite have done to Australians' living standards with this almost decade-long campaign of undermining job security, wages growth, the pension and Medicare. However, I think people are seeing through this budget, just as they're seeing through this government. They understand that, even after the relief which was budgeted for last night and which we're looking to pass through the parliament today, people are still way, way behind.

While it's true that there has been significant pressure put on the economy and on prices by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prices didn't start skyrocketing and pressure didn't start being applied to working families when Russia invaded Ukraine. These things started when the coalition started attacking wages and living standards. Nothing in these bills before us today makes up for the damage that those opposite have done to household budgets. They said that stagnant wages were a deliberate design feature of their economic policy. In lots of ways, this is mission accomplished, because we have yet another year of real wages going backwards in the government's own budget.

What we have said consistently for some time is that we won't be standing in the way of some cost-of-living relief, which is made necessary by the government's attacks on wages and the fact that real wages are going backwards. We intend to support the bills which are before this house today and which cover the measures announced last night to provide some cost of living relief for Australians, particularly pensioners and workers on low and middle incomes—and also motorists, with the fuel excise cut.

It is worth mentioning, though—and it is consistent with what I was saying before about taking problems from one side of the election to the other—that what the government will be legislating today is an increase in petrol prices in September and the end of the low- and middle-income tax offset. So, if the government were to change hands in May, whether the election is on 14 or 21 or 7 May, the inheritance for a new government or, frankly, for a re-elected government would be $1 trillion of debt with nothing to show for it; interest rates going up, as the Reserve Bank and others have flagged; petrol prices going up in September; and the end of the low- and middle-income tax offset.

What was missing in this budget was a genuine plan for the future. At the upcoming election, Australians have a real choice. If we want to deal with the skills crisis by providing fee-free TAFE, if we want to reduce energy costs with cheaper and cleaner energy, if we want to increase workforce participation by boosting child care, if we want to modernise the NBN to increase productivity throughout the economy, and if we want to co-invest in advanced manufacturing to create new, secure jobs and new industries to build sovereign capability in Australia, then that's what an Albanese Labor government will deliver, and that's why Australians should vote for an Anthony Albanese Labor government at the coming. election.


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