Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann. In dismissing questions about the record low wage growth Australians are experiencing, the minister could only refer to the Labor Party 20 times. Not once did the minister outline any economic plan to reverse record low wage growth. Is the minister in denial about record low wage growth, or does the government just not care about Australians who are working harder but going backwards?
Firstly, I completely reject the premise of the question. The only people in the Senate that are in complete denial are the Australian Labor Party. They are in complete denial about the—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senator Watt, before I take your point of order, can I ask senators if we can at least make the first minute of question time before I have to call senators to order so I can hear the minister's answer. Senator Watt, on a point of order.
That is not a point of order, Senator Watt.
Senator Wong interjecting—
I'll take the interjection from you, Senator Wong. In this case, the question referenced the minister's answer yesterday and a claim about the number of times he mentioned another party. It is directly relevant for the minister to be able to address that claim in answering this question. Senator Cormann.
Thank you very much, Mr President. I would just remind the Australian people that in 2013, on coming into government, we inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment—with the unemployment rate headed past 6¼ per cent—and indeed a rapidly deteriorating budget position. We were able to turn that situation around. Let me just say that the increasing trajectory of unemployment we inherited from Labor was a key ingredient for a softening in wages growth when we came into government. And since then, as a result of our policies, as a result of our plan, we've been able to create more jobs: 1.4 million more new jobs and an unemployment rate down to 5.2 per cent.
It is on relevance. The question was simply whether the minister was in denial about record low wage growth or whether he doesn't care, and he clearly hasn't chosen one of those two options.
No, Senator Watt. Please. I provide some liberality when it comes to people raising points of order, but I expect an attempt to be made that it's a point of order. That was part of the question. The minister is entitled to be directly relevant.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senators on my left. While I'm ruling, it might help with questions. Ministers answering questions are entitled to be directly relevant to any part of the question. In this case, the minister is. Senator Cormann.
Thank you very much, Mr President. As I said in my opening remarks, the only political party in complete denial is the Australian Labor Party, because they are in complete denial about the judgement of the Australian people about who had the better plan for our economy. They chose our plan for lower taxes, pro-growth, pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-opportunity, pro-aspiration and they voted against your socialist agenda, which the Australian people understand would have made the economy weaker and would have made all Australians poorer. And the sooner you actually accept that fact, the sooner you accept the verdict of the Australian people, the better for you and the better for the Australian people. Now let me talk about wages—
Yes, it's on the point of order. I will resume my seat, but question time is becoming a mockery if all he as the Leader of the Government in the Senate can do is talk about the Australian Labor Party. They should be governing.
On the point of order, I remind senators on my left that a minister can be directly relevant to any part of the question and, in this case, given the question, the minister is being directly relevant. There is a time for debating questions after question time and there are other opportunities in this place.
There are 1.4 million new jobs under us. The unemployment rate, which was headed past 6¼ per cent under Labor, is down to 5.2 per cent, and wages growth is stronger than it has been since 2013-14, the last financial year that Labor delivered a budget.
I note that, so far, Senator Cormann is up to mentioning Labor seven times. Despite Senator Cormann dismissing concerns about the floundering economy under his government's leadership, Senator Payne characterised wage growth under the coalition as 'very subdued'. Is Senator Payne correct?
As Senator Payne and I pointed out yesterday, real wages growth is running above inflation—2.3 per cent of wages growth in the context of 1.6 per cent inflation. It is the strongest wages growth since 2013-14.
The point of order is on direct relevance. The minister, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, can choose to back his minister or not. She said 'very subdued'; does he agree?
I again remind the Senate and the Australian people that Labor, after six years of bad government, left behind rising unemployment. We've turned that situation around. We've increased employment growth, with 1.4 million new jobs. The unemployment rate is down to 5.2 per cent, which is an important ingredient in stronger wages growth in the future. Indeed, wages growth in 2018-19, at 2.3 per cent, is the strongest it has been. Let me say, we're doing even better. We are delivering income tax cuts to the Australian people. Income tax relief and increases—
That is a complete misrepresentation of what I said. When we came into government, we inherited rising unemployment. The point I made at the time is that, under Hawke and Keating, it used to be something that the Labor Party believed in too that it is actually desirable to keep unemployment lower by allowing wages to adjust in the context of prevailing economic conditions. That is what happened after Labor let the unemployment rate go up and up.
But let me tell you this: wages growth under us is stronger than it has been at any time since 2013-14, which was the last financial year Labor delivered a budget. It's the strongest it has been. It is running above inflation. We would like it to be even stronger, and that will only happen as a result of our plan to build a stronger economy and create more jobs. When even old socialists like the member for Port Adelaide are criticising the Labor Party for having gone too far to the left, the Australian people know that the Labor Party has a problem.