Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Matters of Public Importance


4:09 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator Gallagher.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The latest Household Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) survey, which reveals the growing levels of financial stress and inequality being experienced by Australian families.

Is the proposal supported?

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

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's quite clear that the Turnbull government has failed Australian families. When we look at the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey we can see that there are growing levels of financial stress and inequality, and we are confronted with a government that either wants to pretend that the issue doesn't exist or, alternatively, comes up with ideologically-driven and misguided policies to address the issue but which ultimately end up being counterproductive.

We know that in July this year the Treasurer actually denied that inequality was getting worse. He actually came out and tried to argue the point on that. But we know that if a problem is identified by Labor, it's as if this government wants to say that night is day and day is night. What they're doing is applying out-of-touch thinking, and basically coming up with ideologically-driven and counterproductive measures, as I said.

We know that inequality is a real issue for our country. We only succeed when we succeed together. We won't see economic growth unless Australians—ordinary Australians—feel confident to spend and invest for the future. I never thought I'd see the day when we had the Reserve Bank of Australia governor coming out and saying that we have record household debt and low wage rises which are hurting the national economy, and calling on workers to demand higher pay rises in order to stimulate the economy. So when we have the Reserve Bank governor coming out and saying that sort of thing, it's incumbent on our federal government to take note and to try to come up with policies which address these issues.

We have household debt at the level of 189 per cent of GDP, amongst the highest in the world. So we have a huge issue, but what does the Treasurer say about that? In March of this year, the Treasurer actually said that low wage growth was the Australian economy's biggest challenge—which was a promising start, and at least on that occasion the Treasurer seemed to grasp that there is a problem with low wage growth. But what does this government do about the issue of low wage growth? Well, it hoes into the earnings of those who are amongst the lowest paid in our workforce. How is that any way to address the issue of low wages growth? Of course, what I'm referring to there is the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut penalty rates. That decision stands, and at the moment is on track to be inflicted on Australian workers—particularly in the retail and hospitality areas—whilst this government stands idly by, twiddling its thumbs and waiting for something to happen.

On the other hand, the Labor opposition under Mr Shorten has made our position crystal clear on this. For the benefit of those listening, I think it is always worthwhile reminding people that in the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor government, the government will take steps to legislate to restore penalty rates that have been cut under the Fair Work Commission decision. That is a very clear direction; it is a very clear policy measure to overcome the level of stress and inequality that's being experienced by Australian families.

On the other side we just see internal squabbling and policy paralysis, which is not good for our country. Australian families deserve to have a government which is focused on them, with laser-like precision. They want a government that is going to care about the pressures that Australian families are feeling. At the moment, the only pressure that the government seems to be responding to is its own internal questions about citizenship and a whole range of other issues which are distracting and not in the interests of getting the problems sorted out.

The McKell Institute has done a lot of work in relation to the impact of the penalty rates decision, and I want to go to that very quickly. I want to highlight the fact that there are some regional electorates which are worse impacted by the penalty rates cut. Some regional electorates stand to lose up to $21 million in disposable income. Regional and rural economies are subject to losing approximately $289.5 million when, as the McKell Institute says, businesses shift money previously allocated to labour costs within these regions into other jurisdictions. We know that in these regional areas retail and hospitality industries employ close to 20 per cent of the working population. Generally, a higher proportion of the rural and regional workforce is employed in retail and hospitality than the urban workforce. The data seems to suggest that a quarter of a million people will be impacted negatively solely by the Sunday rate cuts. This will concurrently affect the local economies.

Of course, the resultant lack of spending is hardly good for local communities and their economies, and all the while we're exacerbating the pressures and stresses that Australians are feeling, particularly in regional areas. One of the parts of Queensland I like to visit as often as I can is the federal electorate of Flynn, which has 2,884 retail workers and 2,458 hospitality workers. That, together with pharmacy and fast food, adds up to 5,800 workers potentially affected by the penalty rates cuts. Total income loss to the community is something of the order of $14 million from the federal electorate of Flynn. This is in an area of Queensland which is already struggling with a range of other factors, and on top of that we have disposable income being ripped out of the local economy. It's very hard to understand how that can be good for improving the situation of Australian families.

With the record-low wage growth that I talked about, we know that the government has failed to deliver for Australians. The HILDA Survey shows that median household and annual disposable income has declined for the past few years and reinforces the comments from the RBA governor that I talked about earlier. The survey has highlighted the fact that home ownership is getting out of reach. The survey shows that, for couples with dependent children, home ownership has fallen from 55.5 per cent in 2002 to 38.6 per cent in 2014.

What's this government's response to the issue of home ownership and housing affordability in general? Basically it rejects Labor's propositions in respect of negative gearing and capital gains tax and has come up with quite a strange policy which taps into superannuation and is entitled the First Home Super Saver Scheme. There is no legislation in place, but it's already out there. The ATO is sounding a warning to those people who may be contributing to their super accounts to try to take advantage of this scheme. The ATO is saying, 'We are unable to comment on policy that is yet to be enacted by the government.' This would appear to be another epic fail in a scheme that not only will not fix the housing affordability crisis but in the process and for good measure will undermine superannuation. We noted that, earlier this year, the Financial Services Council, normally the cheer squad for the government, has come out and made the point that tinkering with superannuation would undermine public confidence in superannuation.

So there are a range of findings in this report that show that action does need to be taken to address financial stress and inequality. When it comes to incomes, employment outcomes, home ownership, retirement and childcare, this government has failed to deliver. Labor has led the debate in all of these areas. We look after the interests of ordinary people, giving them a fair go with a decent safety net.

4:19 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not quite sure that it's a pleasure to rise to speak on this debate, but I will speak nonetheless, and I thank the proposer of this matter of public importance, Senator Gallagher, for bringing it on. We have another day of debate around demonising those who wish to try and do well and creating a little bit of the politics of envy around what's happening in this country, while at the same time just blaming the government for all of it. That sounds great in a short speech in a debate that seven people across Australia are listening to, but we really have to get out into reality and check the facts on these things.

The disappointing thing, though, after listening to Senator Ketter's contribution and the contributions to the similar debates we've had this week and last week, is that nowhere in there is there anything about nurturing aspiration, encouraging growth and trying to get people to try to do things for themselves. It's all about trying to flatten out society and to create a base—almost a socialist approach to policy—which, I have to say, is very disappointing. These token ideas that are put forward are not going to do what the opposition claim they will. There is this idea of addressing what they're calling inequality in this nation. What about dealing with things like cost-of-living pressures? What about the equal opportunity to get a job? Instead, if you take the policies of the opposition, they prefer to stifle businesses from investing and stifle them when it comes to growth and employing more Australians to actually contribute to the economy—preventing Australians from trying to put away for their future, invest, save and create a better environment for their own kids as they get older.

I point to policies in terms of job creation and helping young people get jobs, which is important in regional communities particularly—I think Senator Polley would agree—like the Youth Jobs PaTH Program, which is targeted at helping young people get jobs. It is this novel idea of trying to get people who want to work to work. I think we should be providing that opportunity for everyone. That's what programs like this are targeted at. They are real programs which will deliver real results and hopefully create employment opportunities for young people.

No-one in this chamber or anywhere across the country denies that there aren't people who are doing it tough. That's not what this is about. Everyone has to acknowledge that there are people who are doing it tough, but to conflate the issue of people doing it tough with the notion that people shouldn't be doing any better is not the right way to go about it. To suggest that people will only improve their standard of living if we bring down the top end and tax them more heavily is absolutely the wrong approach, in my view.

The Turnbull government has done a lot when it comes to assisting those in need and providing essential services through things like the NDIS and increased education funding, providing those essential services which will help people—students and those with a disability—to contribute to society. The budget that we brought down earlier this year does that. You have to look at the Tasmanian government as well. After the last three years, under the leadership of Premier Will Hodgman, the state's now heading in the right direction, with job growth of 10,000 new jobs since the 2014 state election. That's good news for our state—and I think again that Senator Polley would agree.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I disagree, because they're not in regional Tasmania.

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection. Senator Polley thinks that 10,000 jobs, in terms of growth, is not good news, which is disappointing to hear.

But we should be here as a government to assist those who wish to work hard, who wish to contribute to the economy and who wish to see Australia become a better place. Sometimes that requires incentivising growth—people taking risks and people wanting to do better for themselves. I don't think we should demonise wealth. I don't think we should demonise people who wish to do a little better for themselves. This is something that I've referred to before. There's no talk from the opposition or indeed from the crossbench—or at least some of the crossbench—when it comes to nurturing aspiration. I've not heard one opposition senator talk about the need to encourage young people to want to do better for themselves, to start a business, to invest, to build a home, to employ others and to make sure that when their kids come into the world they're going to have a better life and should be encouraged to do the same.

I recently had the good fortune to travel with my wife to visit some relatives in the United States. One thing I noticed was the difference in culture and attitude towards enterprise. The people there want to take a risk and invest their money. The people there desire a better standard of living—a better home and a better car. I don't think that's a bad thing. You don't see there the envy that gets thrown around the place in Australia, where people say it is bad that a person drives an expensive car or lives in a big house, that they shouldn't have it because that person over there doesn't have it. I don't think that's the right attitude. Instead, I believe we should be encouraging people to aspire to that themselves. In this country we have every opportunity to do that, and we should be encouraging people to do that. I don't believe wealth creation should be something people are ashamed of, and it's not something we should be preventing people from doing—in particular, young people.

I would reiterate that things are going well in terms of opportunities for people to secure employment and save for the future. There were 240,000 jobs created in the last financial year, the largest increase in employment since before the GFC a decade ago. That is great news. So people are going to have the opportunity to get a job, pay their bills and put money away for the future. If you listen to Senator Ketter, and to some of the contributions in similar debates in previous days, it's all about taxing the top end and clamping down on negative gearing. I'm not sure how many senators and members in this place have multiple investment properties. I don't think that's a bad thing if they do. If over the course of their working lives they have managed to acquire property, to invest, to put something away for their retirement, well done to them. But it sends the wrong message when they come in here and say it's bad that properties are negatively geared and we have to clamp down on those people who do that.

The Productivity Commission found in 2015 that 40 per cent of families paid no net tax—once transfer payments such as family tax benefit are taken into account. Contrast that with the top 10 per cent of income earners, who pay almost 50 per cent of the personal income tax received by the Australian government. The top one per cent of individuals pay a staggering 17 per cent of all tax received and the top 0.3 per cent of individuals pay 58 per cent of the capital gains tax. They're paying a decent amount of government revenue. To me, it looks like they're doing a fair share of the heavy lifting when it comes to paying tax.

But Australians know that increasing taxes does not increase wages; as we have said many times over, it stifles growth. So I would call on my colleagues on the other side to alter their thinking on this. Don't adopt the socialist and, to a degree, communist way and try to prevent people from growing their personal wealth. Look to foster growth and 'nurture aspiration'. I look forward to Senator Polley's contribution on this, to see how many times she talks about 'nurturing aspiration' in the state of Tasmania, where young people want to make a go of things and have a better future. (Time expired)

4:28 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an issue I've talked about in this chamber on many occasions. In fact, I chaired a Senate inquiry that found that inequality in this country is getting worse. It distresses me greatly to hear this discussion being juvenilised down to 'the politics of envy'. Try telling that to young people who are being locked out of the housing market. In the HILDA survey, if you read the chapter on housing, it's quite distressing when you look at the impacts the current system is having on young home owners. I know many young people who think they will never be able to afford to buy a house. In this country, not only are we dealing with growing income inequality, we're also dealing with wealth inequality, and that's an issue that particularly plays out on young people and those people who are trying to address those issues of inequality, who are trying to find work and who are trying to find accommodation.

We have a system that favours cashed-up landlords who outbid young people who are trying to buy houses. They keep pushing the price up and up so that young people can't afford to buy those houses. And that's because, guess what? Wealth inequality means that the bulk of the wealth, or a large amount of the wealth, is actually owned by a small proportion of people who then lobby government to set the rules. They lobby government really, really hard about not changing negative gearing, about not changing capital gains, about not changing issues around trusts and about not wanting to have banking royal commissions. For example, they use that wealth not just to acquire more wealth, making the community more unequal, but they also use it to lobby government. And then—you guessed it!—government senators come in here and they say, 'Oh, that's the politics of envy!' The fact is that the rules in this country specifically entrench inequality.

The same government—the politics-of-envy government—who talk about nurturing young people's endeavour are the ones who also wanted to condemn young people to living on thin air for six months. And then, when they couldn't get that through this place, they wanted to make them live on thin air for four weeks. They're the same ones who refuse to acknowledge that income support in this country is too low. In fact, they go out of their way to vilify people who are living below the poverty line on inadequate income support payments—inadequate Newstart payments and inadequate youth allowance payments that further inequality.

While I'm on this subject, this is why I was greatly distressed on Monday when this chamber voted down our efforts to increase Newstart. I've been campaigning in this place for over five years—longer than that—to increase those base rates of Newstart and youth allowance. Five years ago—actually, nearly 5½ years ago—I lived for a short time on Newstart to try to raise awareness of the issues and just to feel what it was like living on Newstart. And we are still campaigning to get an increase.

We knew then it was below the poverty line. When you get big business and community organisations agreeing that Newstart is too low and that it contributes to people living below the poverty line, you actually must realise that there is a problem. That's why I was really upset when the Labor Party said that what we'll have is another review of whether Newstart is actually adequate or not. Actually, that review could be just going out and finding the nearest five or six people who are living on Newstart and asking them whether they think it's adequate or not, because it's not! It is not an answer to the issues to just have another review; it's to commit to Newstart. So, besides coming along where the Greens went on negative gearing, on capital gains tax, on trusts and on the banking royal commission, how about following us down the line of agreeing to increase Newstart and youth allowance? Make a commitment to do one of the quickest things you can do to address the issues of poverty and inequality. We agree! We were out there leading the debate on inequality a long time ago. Agree that one of the ways you can address inequality is to increase Newstart and youth allowance. Then let's look at what other amendments we need to make—and they are to make some significant changes to our social safety net, to see how we can have a system that addresses the issues of the 21st century. There is no doubt that things need to change. I support this ongoing issue of inequality— (Time expired)

4:33 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, this government is at war with the young, from cuts to education funding through to a deliberate attempt to sabotage any meaningful action on climate change. This government shows every time that the only thing it cares about less than young people's present is their future. The only time that this government shows an interest in young people's futures is when it cries crocodile tears over the deficit to justify cuts to services.

The latest HILDA statistics show the toll that this war on the young has had on young Australians' economic prospects. We know that housing is one of the primary drivers of wealth, but young people are being locked out of the housing market. For many young people, the dream of home ownership is just that, a dream. From 2002 to 2014, home ownership for 25- to 29-year-olds dropped by a third. Professor Wilkins from the Melbourne Institute—the one the government likes to talk about—has said that one of the more concerning trends is a growing wealth divide by age group. It is very much connected to what is going on in the housing market. And what has the government proposed to do about it? Absolutely nothing.

It isn't just a question of wealth; it has other implications. Young people are being denied the freedoms and life experiences that their parents and their grandparents had. The number of men and women aged 22 to 25 who live with their parents is up: for men by 43 per cent and for women by 27 per cent, since 2001. These are not positive trends in our national life. Young people are earning less, and it is part of the reason that they're staying at home. Young people are paying more than ever before for their education, yet graduates are less likely to find work when they leave university, and they will be paid less if they do. Real earnings for bachelor-degree graduates declined 16 per cent between 2006 and 2014. Young people who obtain non-university qualifications when they finish school do even worse and young people who do not gain qualifications after school do worst of all.

I say to Senator Duniam, respectfully, as he waxes lyrical about aspiration and encouraging people to put just a little more away to build something for their future: fine sentiment from government senators is not enough. It is not enough to address the material impacts that policy decisions made by government are having on the young Australians that I know, because the truth is that none of these things are beyond the government's control. All of these things are being made worse by the government's inaction. All of them are being made worse by the government's punitive approach to people who may not be doing quite so well as them, who might not be so comfortable as them and the people that live around them in the leafy suburbs that they represent.

What have the government offered on wages? They've offered penalty rate cuts to young people, and they stood again and again against Labor's efforts to restore penalty rates to where they were previously. And who is affected? It is young people, who are far more likely to be working in casual roles and working irregular hours. What have they offered to the young unemployed? They have offered the PaTH internships, a completely inadequate and deficient response. Young people need real jobs with fair conditions, not faux internships with unfair wages.

What have they offered on wealth? They have refused to act on negative gearing and refused to act on capital gains tax, despite every expert in the country telling them it would make a difference. Their super for housing proposal, unbelievably, asks young people to literally mortgage their retirement in order to fund a home. For decades, part of our economic compact has been that each generation can hope to do better than the one that came before it. As the HILDA data demonstrates, young people's wealth and income are sliding, and they may be forgiven for thinking that the government have forgotten about them. I will say this: Labor hasn't. When this shambles opposite us finally comes to an end, young people's future will be a priority, not just a rhetorical debating point.

4:38 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in response to the matter of public importance submitted to the Senate by our parliamentary colleague from the ACT Senator Gallagher. Senator Gallagher would like the chamber to consider the growing levels of financial stress and inequality being experienced by Australian families, as revealed by the latest household, income and labour dynamics survey, the HILDA Survey.

I feel I need to apologise in advance to those who were here yesterday for what may be, potentially, a sense of deja vu, because it was only yesterday that I delivered an eerily similar refutation of Senator Wong's matter of public importance. My response is similar because, in spite of the opposition's hectoring, the government position has not changed in 24 hours. This government does indeed take the plight of working families very seriously. But rather than griping or wringing its hands, the Turnbull government is committed to delivering, has delivered and will continue to deliver genuine policy solutions and legislative change to ease the burden on Australian families.

I find the disingenuous opportunism of the Australian Labor Party on issues of inequality so galling. Senator Gallagher, like Senator Wong before her did yesterday, and countless others are uncritically following their leader's empty rhetoric on income inequality as an attempt to incite the corrosive politics of envy. In the absence of any substantive policy agenda, the Leader of the Opposition is attempting to use populist bombast to somehow prove the case for his socialist agenda. But the Leader of the Opposition should be warned: do not underestimate the intelligence of the Australian population.

Senator Polley interjecting

Australians are not fools, Senator Polley. They can see through the opportunism of an opposition desperate to overcome the entrenched personal unpopularity of their leader. The Australian electorate have seen the opposition leader, Mr Shorten, at work: disposing of Prime Minister after Prime Minister and selling out the members of his own union, the very people he was there to protect. The Australian people are far too smart to be duped by this rhetoric, which, quite simply, is a smokescreen for a radical redistribution agenda. Australians, while egalitarian and generous by nature, are naturally suspicious of socialist ideals that demand that, in order for someone to win, someone else must lose. Australians have resisted socialism before, and they will do so again and again and again at the ballot box, over and over.

Senator Gallagher should know better than to ignore the facts by trying to make the case for an increasingly unequal Australian society and by using statistics she clearly does not understand. While I am loath to use my time in this chamber to go into the dry economics of statistical measures of income inequality, I simply cannot stomach the continued perversion of the truth by those opposite to suit their political agenda. So, please, indulge me for just a moment. Senator Gallagher's reference to the HILDA Survey refers to a statistical measure called the Gini coefficient. It is a commonly used measure of inequality that ranges from zero to one. Zero means total equality and one means total inequality. So, zero is everyone on the same income and one is the equivalent of one person having all the income. The HILDA survey data shows that the Gini coefficient was 0.303 in 2000-01 and was 0.296 in 2014-15. In other words, it has in fact barely shifted. If anything, it has in fact decreased. So do those opposite fail to understand the information that they regurgitate? Or, instead, do they wilfully deceive the Australian people to serve their political agenda?

While those opposite are desperately grasping at mendacious opportunities for political advantage, the Turnbull government is actually doing the hard yards of policy development and implementation to deliver household savings to those families who need it most, to shore up the Australian economy for future years and to deliver its intergenerational responsibilities to the Australian families of the future. We have delivered a $2.5 billion investment in early childhood education and care. Almost one million families benefit from that, and low- to middle-income families are the greatest beneficiaries of that package. Only the Turnbull government has actually tackled the rising energy prices head-on by directly dealing with energy retailers. This will ensure that Australian families get a better deal. The Turnbull government is dealing directly with gas suppliers to ensure that Australian businesses and householders come first. And the Turnbull government has repealed the insidious limited merits review regime, introduced under Labor in 2008, that has cost Australian families millions of dollars in excessive energy bills for nearly a decade.

Finally, the Turnbull government has delivered relief to the small business community in the form of cuts to the corporate tax rates for small and medium-sized entities and maintained the instant asset write-off provisions to encourage investment by those businesses. This is a government that is committed to assisting the small business community to invest in growth, to pay their workers more and to put on more workers.

This is a government that takes the cost of living pressures seriously and a government committed to delivering for families and small businesses, not to squawking politically motivated slogans intent on emotionally dividing our nation into the haves and the have-nots. Australia remains one of the most wonderfully egalitarian and equal societies in the world. We have one of the most progressive tax systems in the OECD. The economic data has shown a decrease in measures of inequality, and yet the ALP persist with this disingenuous and perverse rhetoric of the politics of envy. While I thank Senator Gallagher for bringing this matter to the attention of the Senate, I am content in dismissing it as the mere political stunt it is.

4:45 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to speak about reducing the cost of living for Aussie families and battlers because it's the core of One Nation policies. Most everything we do we hold against this measure: how will this reduce the cost of living for families and battlers? That's our measure.

We turn now to today's MPI, which at its heart talks about cost of living issues. Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten made a speech recently in which he claimed to the ALP faithful that inequality was, 'the biggest threat to our health as an economy and our cohesion as a society'. Inequality of wealth is certainly an economic phenomenon that must be considered by policymakers. The left, however, often revert to a view—usually to win an election—that wealth creation is unjust and inequitable. The opposite is the truth. Wealth creation and having sufficient and growing wealth is the sign of a healthy economy, not whether someone else has even more sufficient and growing wealth. Everyone deserves a fair go to make the most of life.

To put it another way, wealth creation in free markets is inherently win-win, not zero sum. Inequality only makes economic sense as one possible indicator that something may be askew with real net wealth, be it the levels, trend, distribution and, especially, sources of wealth. Real net wealth is not driven by inequality, but by factors such as real income and wages versus the real cost of living. The latter is partially and imperfectly measured by the consumer price index, which nevertheless clearly shows why poor and middle-class Aussies continue to struggle. Price inflation, as measured by the CPI, has been largely and shockingly accumulating like compound interest since the early 1970s.

Those on the right side of politics—the freedom side of politics—will, or at least should, be aware of the primary role that too many government interventions have in reducing real net wealth and the distribution of wealth. I will say that again: government interventions reduce real net wealth and the distribution of that wealth. Poor government intervention in markets is driving up prices across the economy and putting pressure on the cost of living of those that can least afford it. Key amongst these interventions are regulation, taxation and inflation of the money supply. Such interventions not only always reduce real wealth but always have distribution consequences and inefficiencies as well, whether intended or unintended. Let us remember the famous saying, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Regardless of intentions, most, if not all, government interventions eventually hurt the many to the benefit of the few. The many are the grassroots businesses, consumers, taxpayers and families of this country. The few are the elite lobbyists, activists, bureaucrats and politicians. The poster boy—or is it politically correct nowadays to instead say 'poster gender-fluid entity'?—for such interventions is the plethora of climate-related ones since 2007 and the all-too predictable impacts on electricity prices since then. The electricity CPI clearly shows what the story has been in the past decade. The small dip from 2013 to 2015 is the removal of the Gillard Labor-Greens carbon tax. The shocking rise in electricity CPI overall since 2008 has almost exclusively been driven by government regulations and taxpayer subsidies in solar and wind. The energy market, thanks to government regulations, is not an energy market; it's an energy racket. The problem of CPI is caused by regulation. The solution is not more regulation.

In conclusion, free-market wealth and thus any inequality are not at the expense of others. Government-facilitated wealth is, has been and always will be at the cost of others. This is where significant and sustainable inequality almost always comes from: fake or crony capitalism, not real free-market capitalism. We at Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party are the party of cheaper electricity. We at One Nation are the party of a lower cost of living. We need to celebrate human progress, human creativity and that most awesome resource of all, the free human spirit.

4:50 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise too to make a contribution in this debate. I can't just let it slide that Senator Duniam, like all of those on that side, was talking about inequality as a 'claim'. There couldn't be anywhere further from the truth, because Australians are feeling the inequality in this country at the moment. To back that up, Senator Hume made comment in relation to the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. You can't ignore that. You can't just grab one set of figures out and come into this chamber—although I'd have to say there was a lot more grit in her performance, and she at least delivered her attempt to puff up what the government's been doing, which was still so far from the truth it's not funny.

Senator Duniam was speaking about the youth of Tasmania and what a great job the Liberal state government has been doing in Tasmania. Well, once again, he has misled this chamber, because there have been no signs of any hope. There have been no signs of any jobs for our young people, with the high employment rates we have in my home state.

We must consider new approaches to tackling inequality and poverty in this country. Unlike those opposite, Labor understands this. We understand this, and we've already started with our announcements of policy thus far that will go a long way towards turning around the inequality that this country has developed under this government.

Those opposite can shrug their shoulders all they like about the facts, but the facts are these: the HILDA Survey shows that child poverty is worsening in single-parent families. That's a fact. At the same time, childcare costs have doubled; wages growth has flatlined; and levels of homeownership continue to fall. Australian families are bearing the brunt of rising childcare costs, and they are really struggling. The HILDA Survey also shows that the likelihood of child poverty in single-parent families is very high, between 20 and 25 per cent, which is considerably higher than the general community rate of around 10 per cent. That's a significant difference.

The government's complex new work laws and cuts to early-education access will make things even worse for vulnerable children and single parents trying to stay in the workforce, further fuelling the inequality. The Turnbull government has also recently made a $1.4 billion cut to the family tax benefits. By freezing family tax benefit payment rates, the Turnbull government is leaving 1.5 million Australian families and millions of children far worse off. That is not a government which has any understanding of inequality in this country.

The HILDA figures show that the Turnbull government continues to put investors buying their fourth or fifth property ahead of young people trying to buy their first home. How out of touch can you be? We've already laid out our policies in relation to negative gearing. We've put those out on the table, and what do we hear from those opposite? They say we're just trying to play envy politics. Well, it's not about envy politics. It's about giving young people and young families the opportunity to have their first home. Those opposite have absolutely no credibility on housing. They claimed in the 2017 budget that they would deliver an extraordinary large housing package and it would be an impressive package and it would be well received. But there is nothing in it. There is nothing in there at all to address the key drivers of housing unaffordability—nothing at all.

The huge drop in homeownership for people under the age of 40, the declining living standards and flat wages are the headlines. But it is the Turnbull government's policy response that needs to be highlighted. They are not giving the attention to these issues that they deserve. It is almost like there is this big black hole of lack of policy from that side, and it is just getting bigger and bigger. We know they are distracted with their leadership issues. We know they are distracted by the chaos and the dysfunction within their own caucus. But that isn't what they were elected to do. They were elected to represent the views and the future of Australian citizens, and they are letting them down. Yesterday we had Senator Macdonald make another of his— (Time expired)

4:56 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The hapless Labor Party have come into this place today, proposing a matter of public importance which highlighted some of the very real difficulties that Australian families are facing. What it allows this Senate to do, and the Australian people to understand, is that the Liberal-National Party government understand these difficulties and we are addressing them, whereas the Australian Labor Party have a recipe to make their difficult circumstances so much worse. That is the distinction that the Australian people face, and I therefore thank the Australian Labor Party for putting this MPI to us today.

Make no mistake: if the Australian Labor Party had its way, just for example, the cost of building infrastructure in this country would be 30 per cent higher because there would not be the Australian Building and Construction Commission. When you have to pay 30 per cent more for your infrastructure, if it's public, it is the taxpayer that suffers. If it is private infrastructure, the builder passes that on, or the developer passes that on—to whom? To the people who rent the premises. What do they do? They charge more for the goods and services to the consumer to cover the higher rental. So, each time Mr Shorten defends the CFMEU and says that he will abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, every single Australian should be aware that that is a recipe for increasing their cost of living.

We move to another issue, which I know many Australians are facing with difficulty, and that is the cost of energy. Which is the state that has the highest domestic power prices in the country—indeed, in the world?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

South Australia.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ruston, you've got it! It is South Australia, because of the manic, ideological approach to renewable energy, an approach that is bankrupting households and small businesses and putting people out of work. And do you know what the Labor recipe for this is? Even more of the same! If Mr Shorten were to become Prime Minister, we would be having a 50 per cent renewable energy target to make the current situation so much worse. What are we doing as a Liberal-National Party government? We are saying affordability and security of supply have to be front and centre of any energy policy. So here again we have the answers, and the Australian Labor Party if given the chance would make the situation worse.

Or, indeed, we can move to issue of coastal shipping in this country. It is completely out of whack. Coming from Tasmania, I know the cost of coastal shipping; how it prejudices our capacity to export and as a result to grow jobs. Despite that, I'm delighted to report that when a state and federal Liberal government work together in lock step, as we have done in Tasmania since 2013, the unemployment rate can come down from 8.1 per cent to 5.9 per cent. Now, that is something that really helps households: giving people jobs. That has been the focus of the Liberal governments, both in Canberra and in Hobart, and that is why Premier Will Hodgman and his government deserve such accolades for the wonderful work they are doing in assisting.

But, having said that, we understand that a lot more needs to be done, and that is why the Hodgman Liberal government deserves and needs a second term to drive home those benefits. Coastal shipping is costing Bell Bay, an aluminium smelter in Tasmania, an increase in their shipping costs of 63 per cent. So we have Senator Polley, a Labor senator from Tasmania, opining in this place that we've got a problem with flat wages. Oh! I wonder why that might be? If you bump up the price of production—be it in coastal shipping; be it in relation to the rorts, rackets and rip-offs in building infrastructure; or be it because of a renewable energy target with energy costs; all these things that Labor inflicts on business—then guess what? There is not the room to provide the wage increases that the Australian Labor Party claim that the workers of Australia deserve.

Now, let's be very clear: I would prefer lower energy prices and the capacity for Australian businesses to pay Australian workers more. I would prefer that the cost of infrastructure would be lower so that workers could be paid more. They're the sorts of things that the Australian Labor Party simply do not understand. But what Labor have now embarked upon is a campaign claiming that they are championing equality. What they are championing is unabashed envy. They want to cut down the tall poppy. They want to say, 'If you succeed, we won't be supporting you.' They want to say to people, 'We want equality of outcome.'

We in the Liberal Party believe in equality, but it's in equality of opportunity. No matter what task you give somebody, somebody will be the best at it and somebody will be the worst at it. Indeed, even the Australian Labor Party—allegedly, believe it or not—elect a leader, who gets paid a lot more than the backbench. And, allegedly, Mr Shorten is their best! Believe it or not! But that is what the Labor Party are saying to the Australian people. And that is why he gets paid nearly double the salary of the backbencher. Oh! Where's the equality of that? Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to the Labor Party and trade union officials, the equality issue does not seem to play out?

But the simple fact is that envy corrodes the being. It poisons the soul of the people who harbour that envy, and that is what the Labor Party are, unfortunately, displaying. And so, when Labor say 'equality', understand that it is cheap, nasty envy—a corrosive attribute. All we have to do is look at countries like North Korea and Venezuela. Everybody's equal in those countries these days: equal in abject poverty. Venezuela, before Hugo Chavez, was a country of wealth unparalleled in South America. But today it is in abject poverty, courtesy of the failed socialist prescription.

So in the moments remaining I will just make a few statements that I hope will penetrate the thinking of the Australian Labor Party. But these are truths that are unassailable. They are these: you cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity; what one receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving; the government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else; you cannot multiply wealth by dividing it; and when half the people get the idea they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half get the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation. Look at Venezuela: socialism fails when it runs out of other people's money. (Time expired)

5:05 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just have to pick up on the comments by the previous speaker on equality of opportunity. Wouldn't that be lovely? Wouldn't that be wonderful if all Australians had access to an opportunity of equality? But that's not the case. It's certainly not the case for so many of my constituents across the Northern Territory. Opportunity, and access to opportunity, is something we still only dream of. I would say that, when we bring an MPI of such significance to the Senate, we bring it because we are incredibly conscious of the enormous pressures that are growing every day on Australian families. It isn't about being nasty. It isn't about being corrosive. This is about reminding those in government and putting them on notice that there are Australians in this country who need you to show leadership, who need you to care. And that's not what is happening out there. It is definitely not what is happening out there.

Australia is characterised as having very low rates of poverty and economic segregation and a culture of a fair go. We've always been proud of the apparent economic equality in our society, but the Melbourne Institute's Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey has shown that households are doing it tougher. Before the election of the previous Prime Minister, a typical Australian family took home about what it did in 2009. It now takes home much less. Families are doing it tougher, and people who traditionally could look forward to a future of increasing wealth are now looking at a future of increasing economic uncertainty.

University graduates earn much less than their predecessors used to—$1,023 a week, down from $1,468—and they are much less likely to be in full-time jobs four years later—73 per cent, down from 91 per cent. Australians with only a high school qualification are doing even worse. When the survey started, 81 per cent were employed full time within four years. Now it's just 62 per cent.

More young people are living longer with their parents, and those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy a house are finding it harder to pay off. Let's not go to the fact that, for constituents in the Northern Territory, the dream of even owning a home is still way off in the distance. Older people are finding it much tougher too, with superannuation amounts failing to meet the expenses of living longer.

The HILDA Survey shows that child poverty is worsening in single-parent families. At the same time, childcare costs have doubled for many, wages growth has flatlined, and levels of home ownership continue to fall. The survey shows that the likelihood of child poverty in single-parent families is between 20 per cent and 25 per cent, considerably higher than the general community rate of around 10 per cent.

What the HILDA report has revealed is something that Indigenous Australians have been living with for years—well, forever, really—and that is that the gap is widening: the gap between the haves and the have-nots, the gap between rich and poor and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In February this year, the Prime Minister tabled the 2017 Closing the gap report. It showed Australia is failing on six out of seven key measures to boost Indigenous Australia.

This government is going to spend $122 million on a postal plebiscite on marriage equality. Imagine what programs to close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage this amount of money could fund. The death of the wonderful singer Dr G Yunupingu at the age of just 46 from long-term illness brings home once again the disparity in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Think for a moment of the health services on country that could be funded with $122 million. This government is showing what its priorities are. It's not about tackling inequality; it's not about closing the gap; and it's certainly not about having a vision that will create a stronger and fairer Australia.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.