Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:02 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Gallagher today relating to living standards and the economy.

After six very long years of the Liberals running the country's economy, what we've seen in their third term is a repeat of their lacklustre performance in this area over the previous six years. The government have no plan to turn around the economy. Wage growth has hit a record low of 0.6 per cent. We know that the net debt has more than doubled, and we've actually crashed through to the half-trillion-dollar mark with our gross debt. We know that the living standards of Australians have fallen dramatically, with the first per capita income recession in over a decade. Economic growth is slowing, with the IMF expecting growth to fall further to 2.1 per cent this year. The outlook is full of gloom.

Working Australians and their families are suffering under this lacklustre government. But, as usual, what do we see from those opposite? We see their arrogance, the arrogance not to even listen and heed the warning that is being expressed throughout the community on the economy and how that's hurting everyday Australians. The big mantra we saw from the government during the last term was all about giving away their $80 billion handout to multinational companies and $17 billion to big business and to big banks. Australia is in a crisis when it comes to housing affordability and homelessness, and this government, who have a responsibility to ensure all Australians have the opportunities they so richly deserve, is ignoring middle Australia. We on this side of the chamber are asking: why can you not articulate an economic plan? Is it because you're just too arrogant and lazy or is the truth that you don't have any idea and you have no plan? You didn't actually take a plan for the economy to the last election. You managed to win—and, yes, you can gloat about that; congratulations, it's always better to be on that side of the chamber—but with that comes enormous responsibility.

Our economy is floundering. People are hurting. More and more people are ending up homeless. The biggest cohort of people finding themselves homeless are older women, and we see nothing from those opposite. Business are calling out, because they have no confidence. You can't just rely on tax cuts, because there is still concern about whether or not people are actually going to spend the tax cuts that we pass through this place. I can tell you, when I walk around where I live in Launceston and throughout other places in Tasmania, there is a real downturn in retail, and it's not just about the internet; it's about the fact that people don't have confidence. People just aren't spending, because they don't know what's ahead of them. You have NAB senior economist Gareth Spence telling John Stanley it could take time to really discover whether Australians will spend their tax cuts and, I quote, 'But I guess we're getting increasingly worried that we've seen very little evidence of a significant boost from the tax cuts.'

That's what this government have been relying on. It has all been about tax cuts. You need to do a lot more than just that. Over the last six years you've really been all about attacking those who can least afford it. You're all about a tax on unions and working Australians. You cut penalty rates. None of these things that you have been so prominently advocating for have helped the economy. In fact, where are all the jobs that you said would be created once penalty rates were cut? There aren't any. There are none in the hospitality sector at all. There has been no evidence of what you tried to tell the Australian people—that, if we cut penalty rates, everything will be all right; the reality is that it hasn't been. You are forcing families to take on not only a second job but also in many cases a third. You are the government; you have responsibility. (Time expired)

3:08 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take great pride in standing here today and defending what the government's record is delivering, particularly when it comes to the economy, and taking note of the answer that the Minister for Finance gave on the issue of the economy. He spoke about the national accounts, which show that the Australian economy has completed its 28th consecutive year of economic growth, a record unmatched by any developed economy, as a reminder of the economy's remarkable resilience and a repudiation of those who try and talk it down. He spoke about the investment into infrastructure. In my own home state of Western Australia we have a record level of investment, part of that $100 billion of infrastructure that's going on across Australia. I want to talk about the $349 million investment in the Tonkin Highway upgrades, not far from where I live. This very busy road is a freight route, and earlier in the year at a major intersection there was a tragic vehicle accident where a woman was killed. With the investment in infrastructure on this particular road, they're putting a grade separation that's going to ensure those sorts of accidents possibly won't occur. That's a $349 million commitment to the Tonkin Highway.

There's a $208 million commitment for the removal of level crossings at Oats Street, Welshpool Road and Mint Street. That's going to make a big difference to the commuting times of people getting to work and, importantly, getting home at the end of the day. They can get home in a timely way and in a safe fashion. There is a $149 million commitment to the Albany Ring Road. This is a very important project. Those local to that area know that this is something that has been called for for a long time.

It is because of the strong economy and the record of this government that we are able to deliver such important projects, projects that communities across my state of Western Australia are desperate to see, including the Bunbury Outer Ring Road. We have a $122 million commitment to the Bunbury Outer Ring Road and a $115 million commitment to upgrade the Fremantle Traffic Bridge.

The government is allocating $535 million to projects from the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative, including $248 million for the Karratha to Tom Price corridor and $75 million for the Alice Springs to Halls Creek corridor. This is only possible because of the difficult decisions that we've had to make as a government. Minister Cormann took us through some of the difficult decisions that had to be made. We are able to deliver a strong economy because of those difficult decisions.

These numbers do not incorporate the passage through the parliament of the most significant tax cuts in more than 20 years and the full impact of the 50-basis-point reduction in interest rates. We're yet to see with the current accounts the impact of that tax relief that's coming to family households. If you speak to people out in the communities, as we've done over the break, they have already received that extra refund from the ATO. It's making a difference in people's lives. People are able to make a better contribution to their own families. Isn't that right, Senator Van? They have in their pockets more of what they earned. This is what we're committed to doing.

Australia is not immune to the fallout of global trade tensions, and we're certainly not complacent. But with strong foundations our economy is positioned as well as any nation to withstand these challenges. This is not an easy time for economies all over the world. Germany, the UK and Singapore, among others, have recorded negative growth in the June quarter. However, in setting out the budget, we anticipated the economic challenges ahead and put in place significant tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Together with the 50 basis points, the tax cuts and the improving housing market will be reflected in the September quarter onwards. We're looking forward to seeing the results as they come out in the next quarter, because there's no doubt—we are sure—that the plans and what the government has been doing will have a big impact.

3:13 pm

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

We saw Senator Gallacher ask Minister Cormann in question time about the economy, but the reality is that the figures show that business confidence in this country is dropping and is so low that businesses in the north have had to travel here to remind the parliament—to talk to the Prime Minister and ministers—about the serious needs of businesses, in particular in northern Australia. NAB chief economist Alan Oster said that it looks like the tax cuts have had little impact on household consumption or have not been large enough to offset increasing weakness in the retail sector.

This isn't about hitting the government over the head constantly just for the fun of it. The reality is that people out there are suffering desperately. Wages growth—or lack thereof—is impacting family lives. We hear senators stand up in this chamber to talk about the importance of having a family, having a house and being able to raise your children. Senators, let me tell you that there are thousands of Australians in this country who certainly want to do that and who desperately need to do that. But when they are on Newstart without any increase at all, or when they are on CDP, the Community Development Program, receiving $11 an hour, how can they? When people in our businesses in the retail sector—the workers who lose their penalty rates—cannot look after their families, that is what you're talking about—the Australians who are missing out in this country, the Australians who need to know that this parliament and this government care. Instead, you block your ears, you block your hearts and you close your eyes. You do not want to see the impact of withholding all that you do, in terms of the amount of money that can flow to these families across this country. You withhold that, and you give all sorts of reasons in this Senate why you should.

You talk about your tax cuts, but we know that they are not being felt. We've heard from the economists. We've seen the data in August in relation to the wages situation. Let's have a look at the families on CDP in this country: 33,000 people. We were told during the last term of government that you would find 6,000 jobs for those 33,000 people. Where are those jobs? Those same people are still on $11 an hour. How can they look after their families? How can they afford groceries and power bills or to put fuel in their vehicles? And now you talk about changes to other social payments and you want to drug-test those people? You are pushing the poorest people—the most disadvantaged people in this country—even further down, and you refuse to see it.

If we are so successful in this country with the kind of surplus that you're pushing for, it's not showing. It is not showing in the lives of these Australians. It is not showing in the infrastructure that we require in northern Australia. Infrastructure Australia provides millions of dollars in southern Australia. But, in the north, we are desperate for the support to build the roads we need so that those people who live out on those farming properties in the Barkly, in Central Australia and over in the VRD region can get their cattle to market and get their families to school. They're the Australians that we need you to focus on. Don't come in here and say that there isn't a problem with wages in this country; there is a very big problem, and you are continually enabling the disadvantage of those Australians. (Time expired)

3:18 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We've heard a lot about jobs in relation to this motion. What the senator should be taking note of is that wages have increased across the economy by 2.3 per cent in the past year. So, while the inflation rate is only 1.6 per cent, wages are going up in very real terms. As the senator should know, wages can only go up when conditions are set that way. And, with the headwinds we're facing, our economy is very well set to perform better than all others. As my good colleague Senator O'Sullivan just said, the economy is not immune from the global trade tensions. They will have, and are having, an effect on all economies, but the Australian economy is far more resilient than every other economy. So, while countries such as Germany and Singapore are going backwards, Australia is still growing. And I repeat: it is the 28th year of constant growth.

That is not something to be sneezed at. You can't do that against those headwinds and trade tensions if you don't set the right sort of framework, and the Morrison government has set the right sort of framework. Jobs are growing; jobs are coming. We've produced over 1.4 million jobs over the past year, and we have said, before the election and since, that we will create another 1¼ million jobs. With those jobs comes growth in wages. But one doesn't follow the other. You don't move wages and then hope for the jobs. That doesn't happen. That is not the real world.

Our budget is coming back into surplus for the first time in more than a decade, as we maintain our record of fiscal discipline and targeted spending. So there is no room to be moving wages arbitrarily, as those on the other side would have us do. We continue to monitor global events, and this government takes the necessary actions to be able to do so. In our budget we set out the conditions of how we were going to meet this, and that has shown up in the recent national accounts, with that 28 consecutive years of economic growth. And I say again: it's a record unmatched by any other developed economy. It's also a reminder of the resilience of the Australian economy. In the June quarter, real GDP grew by 0.5 per cent. That is 1.4 per cent higher for the financial year.

So, as you can see, we do create the conditions to be able to create more jobs. Tax cuts have come in. People have started to feel them. Over five million tax returns have already been received, and $15 billion is now flowing through the economy that wasn't there before and that certainly wouldn't be flowing through the economy if those on the other side had been elected. But, as we know, and as I said in my first speech last night, when the electorate sees what it sees as its priorities being observed, it shows a prevailing common sense, and that prevailing common sense produces a government that produces results for them. With that, we are able to bring more jobs and better conditions for business.

I know I need to explain to the other side what business does and how it is the producer of jobs. You can't be putting people into the Public Service just because you want more friends. The Morrison government is the government that produces more jobs because it sets the conditions for business so that businesses—like the one I used to run, the small businesses that are the engine of our economy—see that we can set the conditions. They take faith, and they create the jobs. So in answer: the conditions are right. We've set the framework, and jobs will come and salaries will increase.

3:23 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, haven't you seen it all: a third-term government with no agenda, no plan. They've given answers about how to bring forward and get the economy going. Of course, we've been saying it from our side, but now you've got the NAB and the Master Builders Association also saying it. That's on top of the Reserve Bank saying it. But no: they still won't listen. And this is the interesting thing: I don't think they actually know they're in government, because they never expected to get there. So they're just sitting there in dream world: 'Let's just pull out the plan'—of no plan—'Let's come up with a sort of make-believe situation about what we're going to do with the economy and not worry about what all the experts say.' But don't listen to us. Just listen to the experts. They're saying that you have to bring infrastructure forward. That creates jobs. It boosts the economy. We need to do this. Listen to what the experts are saying.

If we actually started creating these jobs in a substantial way, we'd boost the economy. We'd start getting small businesses operating. I'm very proud to say that in my previous life I was a member of the largest small-business organisation in this country—in fact, probably larger than all the small businesses put together—made up of owner-drivers. Those owner-drivers could be working on construction sites, but not to the degree that the government want, because they are in a dream world. They are not listening to anyone; they're still asleep. You are in government; start governing. Start taking steps that make a difference in this economy.

We've seen, in the last six years, this Liberal economic mismanagement leave this economy in a perilous position, in equal parts unstable and unfair. Despite claiming to be superior economic managers, their record on the economy is nothing to crow about. According to the ABS National Accounts, economic growth is at its lowest level since the global financial crisis, with our year-on-year growth just 1.4 per cent for the June quarter of this year. Again, they're in a dream world: 'Oh, no, everything's okay.' Regardless of the fact that the ABS statistics are telling us we're in crisis, our growth is okay! Start listening to the experts. Wake up. Come out of your dream. Wages are growing at one-sixth the pace of profits, the worst wages growth on record. People are doing it tough out there. They're struggling to pay their bills. They're struggling to make it. And, quite clearly, this government hasn't got an answer. These figures are all according to the ABS National Accounts for the June quarter of 2019.

More than 1.8 million Australians are out of work or looking for more work. Household debt has surged to record levels. Don't take my word for it; this is from the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment last month. Wake up. Weak growth like this is an inevitable consequence of a government with a political strategy but no economic plan—a strategy that seems to be all about attacking workers' representatives, whistleblowers, journalists, unemployed people and others who dare to question the vacuum that is this government.

Under Labor, Australia became one of the fastest-growing economies in the OECD. But, under the Liberals, we have dropped down to 20th place. Wake up. Our industrial relations system is the engine of our economy, because, as we know, lifting wages lifts consumption, which lifts growth. We've heard that clearly from the Reserve Bank just recently, with the RBA governor, Philip Lowe, saying:

… my view is that a further pick-up in wages growth is both affordable and desirable.

But what does the government do? It turns around and attacks the voices saying they want wages growth. What is the ensuring integrity bill about? (Time expired)

Question agreed to.