Monday, 9 September 2019
Questions without Notice
I would like to firstly acknowledge the Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industry and Resources, Paul Kirby, in the gallery. My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Pyne—Payne. I refer to the Australian Bureau of Statistics wage price index released on 14 August that shows wages growth continues to remain weak, growing by 0.6 per cent to the June quarter and 2.3 per cent over the year. Minister, can you confirm that this government has presided over the worst wages growth on record?
I thank Senator McCarthy for her question although perhaps not for her introduction! I think it's fair to say that Mr Pyne would never have been a senator. In response to the senator's question, as I think the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Minister for Finance, has indicated, we saw wages growth historically being relatively strong and stable throughout much of the 2000s, with particularly pre-GFC through-the-year growth averaging over 3½ per cent. That grew by 2.3 per cent through the year to the June quarter of 2019, which is up 1.9 per cent from the June quarter of 2017, but it does remain subdued by historical standards. The finance minister acknowledged that in his earlier remarks today. We saw average earning on a national accounts basis, the AENA, another measure of wages growth, which is calculated as total compensation of employees divided by the total number of employees, increase by 0.9 per cent in the June quarter 2019 to be 2½ per cent higher through the year. We acknowledge, as I've said before and as others have in significant commentary, that this is very subdued growth, but it is on an upward trajectory.
Yes, on relevance. Continuing the trend over the course of the day, the minister is not answering the question, which is simply asking her to confirm that the government has presided over the worst wages growth on record.
Senator Watt, as I've stated before, as long as a minister is being directly relevant—and the minister was being directly relevant—to the question, I cannot instruct the minister how to answer a question. Senator Payne has concluded.
Senator McCarthy, a supplementary question?
In response to recent data, ANZ economist Catherine Birch has told the ABC:
With EBA's standard practice being three-year agreements, new ones locking in lower outcomes point to slowing wage growth.
Is Ms Birch correct that the record-low wage growth under this government will get even worse?
I haven't seen those particular comments, but I do reinforce the observations I made earlier—that wage increases are continuing to outpace increases in the cost of living. Importantly, we see living standards also continuing to increase, with real net disposable income per capita rising one per cent to be 2.7 per cent higher throughout the year. To support that wage growth, the government is setting the right conditions for a strong economy and jobs growth. In particular, a healthy labour market will help to drive wages growth for workers, and that's why our employment record is so critical. Since the coalition came to government in September 2013, over 1.43 million jobs have been created in this country. Let me compare that to the six years prior, when unemployment increased by more than 205,000—
In response—in part at least—to the point of order, talking about employment, talking about jobs and talking about those aspects is actually addressing the question of the rate, the pace and the direction of wages growth.
Given Australians are facing stagnant wages, record household debt, surging energy prices, increasing rental and mortgage stress and declining living standards, why won't this government act to reverse the worst wages growth Australians have seen?
Senator McCarthy, I remind you again of the government's commitments and achievements in relation to employment growth, just for starters. We will continue to build on that proud record by creating a further 1.2 million jobs over the next five years. We will also—
One question: why won't the government act to reverse the worst wages growth Australians have seen? I appreciate it's only 16 seconds, but at some point it would be good if a minister in this government could actually address the economic questions we're asking.
On the point of order, Senator Payne actually directly answered that question when she pointed out that wages were growing above inflation, supplemented by tax cuts increasing effective wages growth by even more.
On the point of order, Senator Cormann is correct. What is also relevant is that, for a question that has a substantial introduction, the minister is entitled to answer any part of that question. Senator Wong repeated the conclusion of the question. I consider Senator Payne to be directly relevant to the question.
Thank you very much, Mr President. As I was about to say, it is also important to understand, when we're talking about wages, that we're also talking about putting more money in workers' pockets, and, under the government's plans for lower taxes, workers will keep more of what they earn. In fact, they've already received some, leading to more choices and more opportunities. We've seen millions of taxpayers benefit from the $14 billion that's already flowed back into their pockets thanks to our tax cuts. When that full plan is rolled out—and we saw those opposite fighting tooth and nail against more money in workers' pockets—94 per cent of Australians will pay a marginal tax rate of no more than 30c in the dollar. Wage growth is ahead of inflation, and they refuse to acknowledge that. (Time expired)