Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Cost of Living

3:05 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Gallagher) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

Once again, we've seen a severe lack of economic literacy from the Labor Party today. We've seen again, following the theme this week, that they have no idea how to tackle the cost-of-living crisis in this country. We have seen severe impacts on the price of groceries. Obviously, we've seen huge increases to the cost of fuel. We've seen massive increases to people's mortgage repayments. Labor is basically saying: 'Wait till the budget. Wait till October. We're not going to do anything about it till October. We're a fiscally responsible government, honestly, but we don't have anything to do now to help Australians. We're going to wait till October.' Quite rightly, I think, the Australian people would be watching closely. They'd be watching this government very closely, and they would be starting to worry that there actually is no plan: no plan to tackle the inflationary pressures in our economy and no plan to tackle the cost-of-living pressures faced by Australian families.

Particularly, in my constituency—I love to talk about everything outside the city—in regional areas, the cost of fuel alone is such a significant pressure. Families now have to make a decision as to whether to continue the Saturday morning football, because the cost of driving the car to practice and then to the game on the weekend is simply too much for the household budget. This is not necessarily something that will affect those in this place—it certainly won't affect the union officials who are advising this government—but it does affect families out there, whether they're in suburbia, outer metro Australia or regional Australia. These pressures are very real, and 6.1 per cent is the headline number, but everyone out there who does the weekly grocery shopping knows that the cost pressures, particularly on groceries, are seemingly much higher than that. You are seeing extraordinary pressure on household budgets in terms of balancing the books, making sure people can get through the week and making sure they can do those extra things that they want to for their kids.

We see again today that we have a government with no plan, no strategy, to help Australian families now. 'Wait till October,' is the answer. 'We're responsible.' Well, you will be responsible. You'll be responsible for an awful lot of economic pain unless you get these settings right. As the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Peter Dutton, said in the other place, the Australian economy needs a very finely balanced response. The government needs to provide a very finely balanced response. We have to protect Australian families from cost-of-living pressures and a wage price spiral. This government needs to be able to deal with both sides of the issue. It is a test of leadership for this Prime Minister, and instead we have Jim Chalmers talking about putting a union rep on the board of the RBA. How is that going to help?

How is that going to help the Australian families who are struggling to make ends meet, Senator O'Neill? How is that going to help the Australian families who are struggling to make ends meet?

Government senators interjecting

Those opposite—

The Deputy:

Order on my right!

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

care more about putting a union official on the board of the RBA than they do about balancing families' budgets, and the interjections from those opposite just show that. You don't arc up until I mention the union rep on the RBA, and then you arc up, don't you? Goodness gracious!

3:10 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I sat here and thought: how many gifts from heaven can fall in my lap today? Well, Senator Brockman, you damn beauty! Thank you so much, dear Lord. I'm coming back! Do you want to talk about the increasing costs of living? Don't go! Come back, Senator Brockman. I've got respect for you. It's just that you do mix with some strange people. I'll give you two words: Josh Frydenberg. I'll give you another two: Scott Morrison. You want to talk about the cost of living. I'll tell you what happened. Let's cast our mind back to mid-May when those two geniuses of the Liberal Party thought it was a fantastic idea—anything it took to win a vote. They thought: 'How can we con people that they should vote for us again even though we've been absolutely incompetent and done five-eighths of nothing?'

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Fawcett—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, no, Senator Fawcett, you're better than this. I haven't even started—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Excuse me, Senator Sterle. Senator Fawcett has a point of order.

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order, Deputy President. My good friend Senator Sterle would understand that, under standing order 193(3), imputations of improper motives are not in order.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd ask you to reflect on your comments, Senator Sterle, and restrain yourself where you sail close to the standing orders.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For you, Mr Deputy President, it would be my privilege. For my good friend Senator Fawcett—there's my second gift from heaven. Lord! This is getting better. I'm coming back! They thought that it was a great idea, in the dark of night, to slash the diesel fuel credits from the road transport industry and from the agriculture industry. Anyone with half a peanut in their head would understand where I'm going on this one. Our truckies and our agriculture industry—Senator Brockman, I wish you were still here—get 17.8c per litre to claim back every three months in their BAS. Guess what happened? There was not a 22 per cent reduction in diesel costs, because they stole the 17.8c diesel fuel credits from the road transport industry and the agriculture industry. I'll tell you what happened. All the truckies got was a 4c-a-litre reappraisal, or whatever the word is. I know about this because I sit at the bowser fuelling trucks in my spare time—it's a fun thing; the whole lot of you should try it—and, in the last 12 months, I watched diesel go from $1.50 to $2.40 a litre. Don't worry about the rip-off of the 17.8c. There's all that cost of diesel going too. What happens in the real world is that, when a lot of the big operators negotiate their contracts, they have what are called 'fuel levies'. I'm not going to insult your intelligence, senators, because you are the three smartest ones on that side. I'll give you that. You know exactly what I'm talking about. The majority of the transport industry—

No, three. Let's leave it at three, Matt. You and I are mates. Let's keep it that way. About 70 per cent of the road transport industry is mum-and-dad businesses—small to medium-sized enterprises, so to speak—who have no ability to negotiate the fuel levy. Oh, gee whiz! I can't believe it. Can I ask for an extension of time, please, Mr Deputy President? I could go for an hour on this underwater with a gob full of marbles! Those mum-and-dad businesses do not have the ability to put that back onto their costs. Do you wonder why we're seeing $10 iceberg lettuces? It's because the cost of road transport and agriculture has gone through the roof.

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg—do you know the worst part about this? Not one of you said a darn thing. You know darn well it was the wrong thing. You knew it was just criminal to allow your previous Prime Minister and Treasurer to try and con the people of Australia, but the worst part is—it did me another favour; another present fell in my lap—that they absolutely disrespected the road transport industry. The only thing that saved them is the complete incompetence of the Australian Trucking Association, which I rightly call 'the Canberra branch of the National Party'. They don't represent the transport industry, and they weren't going to say anything to their Nat and Lib mates. I've got to tell you: thank goodness that everyone else raised their voices.

I kid you not, you brag about saving 22c a litre for the average family car—and for some families that would make a difference, absolutely. But for the $13 extra that is saved on the Hyundai, that got filled up once a week, put another, nearly, $30 in the cost of groceries at Woolworths, Coles and other stores—and you think that's good mathematics? And the good burghers of Australia woke up to you, because I couldn't wait to help every single Australian who was listening to what Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison pulled over their eyes whilst, sadly, the rest of you just sat there like lemons going over the edge of the cliff! Guess what? It's still a major problem.

The trucking industry and the agriculture industry are not the 'Bank of Australia'. You've paid for your sins. But, I'll tell you what, some of you—not you three good ones over there; the rest of you on that side over there—how you look in the mirror or how they look in the mirror at night and think that they've been a great representative of their communities, see how we go when the small family businesses come to you in tears because their businesses have gone—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Sterle. Senator Fawcett?

3:15 pm

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of answers by Senator Gallagher, supported by her ministerial counterpart, Senator Watt. With your Scottish surname, I'll start off with this. The concept of history being written is often attributed to Winston Churchill, but, in fact, it is traced back to 1746, of the Battle of Culloden, in Scotland, where one of the clan leaders lamented he didn't know how many members of his clan died on the battlefield because it's the victor who writes the history and counts the dead.

Today we have seen a lot of that in this place. Almost every second sentence, in the answers that have been provided, is about what was inherited or the former government and talking about the need to re-create and reinvest in things that are claimed to have been a failure. The test that the Treasurer, who Senator Gallagher represents, held out for himself about the success of their government was what happens to power prices, what happens with apprentices and manufacturing, and what happens with wages? So there's been a lot of talk about training and manufacturing and skills in this question time.

I think it's really important to place on the record the fact that last year, in the last full year of the coalition government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, there was a record $6.4 billion in skills and investment. We actually had the most apprentices, in training, since records began in 1963. Let me repeat that: the most apprentices, in training, since records began in 1963. Part of the reason for that is the strategic investments that the Morrison government made in areas of manufacturing. We had the Modern Manufacturing Initiative and fund, which sought to identify those areas that were critical to Australia's security and Australia's future. That went to important areas such as defence, space, medical goods, supply chain resilience, critical minerals—the things that the world has identified, particularly during the period of COVID, that are critical to a nation's security. And we have seen not only the government funding that has gone into those programs but co-investment from industry, which has led to some of the great outcomes, in terms of the numbers of people in training, but has also led to things like the unemployment rate being down at 3.9 per cent and decreasing.

To go to Senator Gallagher and her representing the Treasurer and the test that he has set, where he has said the test is what happens with manufacturing and apprentices—unlike the coalition, who worked with industry to invest in more productive capacity, which led them to invest to employ people, to train people around apprentices—we see a talkfest. The plan from the Labor government is a talkfest. That's what their plan is on skills.

When it comes to manufacturing, for those who read the Australian, on 24 July there was quite a substantive article expressing concerns that I have heard, on the ground, from people within both this space and the defence sector—that the razor gang within the Albanese government, as they seek to find savings ahead of the budget, have put a pause on the modern manufacturing grants, which means that companies who have invested, who have employed, who have started to train people, are now expressing concern to me and were expressing concern to the journalist who wrote the article, that these projects which underpin Australia's sovereignty as security, as supply chain resilience, are now in doubt. So manufacturing has actually been stalled by the Albanese government. So as the Australian public consider these first couple of months of the government, they should compare the positive investment that led to new jobs, new innovation, training for our children and future generations with a talkfest and a razor gang that has put all of those investments in doubt. I think the Australian public will in time realise that those people who have chosen to rewrite history have, in actual fact, no real plan to create a future.

3:20 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with pleasure to refute some of the nonsense that we have heard in the contributions from those who are speaking for the opposition today. They may rail at the answers that they're receiving, but the reality is they're on the end of a bit of truth-telling after nine years of the deception and thimble-and-pea tricks that have populated this government's action.

Australian people know they're hurting. I talk to people in the retail sector very, very frequently. People are now finding it really hard, when they get to the checkout, to make ends meet. That is because when we came into government those opposite had left this country not only with a trillion dollars in debt but also in a state where we found we have rising inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain disruption—as Senator Gallagher indicated—no investment in skills and an energy market that is in crisis. That's the reality of what nine years of the former government delivered. And yet they come in here and act as if they gave Australians a great experience and they left us all fine. It's a joke.

It's like when you've got kids and they're about seven or eight, and you say, 'Go in and tidy up your room,' and they just stuff everything under the doona cover, pull it over the top and pretend it's not there. That's the equivalent of the 23rd energy policy of the member for Hume. He had 22 goes at trying to deliver some policies—but no market certainty. No wonder smart people weren't putting their money behind this government, because they couldn't tell which way they were going to turn on any day. They had no solution, so he brought out the doona and pulled it over, four days before the election. They can't tell the truth. They throw the doona over it so the Australian people don't know there has been a 19 per cent increase in energy—they'll never figure it out! The contempt for the Australian people that is manifest in the questions that are being asked by the opposition and by their responses, which absolutely fail in a court that looks at fact.

That's what Australian families are faced with: the fact that inflation delivered by the policies of the previous government is making it harder for them; the fact that they had to pay through the nose for training; the fact that the previous government didn't tell them the truth on so many occasions. So contemptuous of the Australian people were the former government that Minister Taylor thought it was okay to cover up a massive increase in the cost of energy that was going to flow through into the economies of this country's families. And that is why they lost the election—in the end, you can pull the doona over things for only so long before the adults have to come in. Maturity has to enter. Proper conversations have to be had.

This afternoon, those in the opposition have characterised the skills and training forum that's going to be held—a national forum to deal with the fact that we haven't got enough workers for our small businesses to operate effectively—as a talkfest. They don't know anything about talking. If they had talked properly to the Australian people, they would have come up with policies that hadn't landed us with the situation we find ourselves in, with rising inflation, a trillion dollars in debt and supply chain disruption. All of that is because of their failure to have authentic conversations—real conversations about what matters to this country. So it's a bit rich when they come in here and start trying to run a line that there's no plan.

There's plenty of plan. There was the plan that we took to the election. There's the plan that enlivened the vision of Australians of a better future for themselves and their children, for small businesses, for people who want to get training and for people who want to employ people who get training. We have a plan, and we've begun to implement it already with the legislation that's been brought into this place. Those opposite don't like it, and they are attempting in this first period of our being in this place to rewrite history—to absolve themselves of the sins of their failures in public policy. And nowhere are those failures more evident than in the hip-pocket pain of every business and every household that is suffering the consequences of years and years of neglect in dealing with the energy reality of Australia. Those opposite should not be attended to. They failed the nation, and they're on the correct side of the chamber.

3:25 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Gallagher to my friend Senator Brockman. In relation to Senator Sterle's contribution, I'd like to make some preliminary comments. I think it is important that everyone, including those who join us in the gallery, is aware of the fact that Senator Sterle does an outstanding job delivering household items and furniture to those in need in the remote places of Western Australia. I commend Senator Sterle on it, and, to the extent that prices have gone up on diesel, I'm happy to kick in, mate! I'd just make those comments in relation to Senator Sterle.

But the reality is there are cost-of-living pressures which are being faced by Australians all over this country, and the question is: What is going to happen when those Australians go to fill up their cars after the period of the fuel excise being cut in half comes to an end in September? What are they going to do? We're starting to hear stories now—I heard more stories today—of parents, especially in some of our more challenged socioeconomic areas, who are now making choices: 'do I use that petrol in my car to do the shopping or to go to work, or do I use it to take my son or daughter to sport or to participate in all sorts of events that every child in this country has a right to expect an opportunity to participate in?' The question is: what is the government going to do? What is the government going to do to practically take action to confront those cost-of-living pressures?

The reality is that in the last budget for 2022-23, brought down by the former government, on page 9, under 'Budget priorities', was:

Addressing cost of living pressures and managing current challenges through:

    that's what we did in government. What is the new government going to do? What is their plan?—

    and a $250 cost of living payment for eligible Australian pensioners, welfare recipients, veterans and concession card holders.

    That's $250 in the pocket of all those pensioners and welfare recipients. That was the former government's plan. That's what we did in government. What is the new government going to do? What is their plan? These are reasonable questions that should be asked in this place. What is your plan?

    I've talked about this:

      That was our plan—introduced and delivered at every petrol bowser across this country. What is the government's plan? What are they going to do when that policy runs out after the six-month period, in September? What are they going to do? Australians all over this country are going to be confronted with that additional 22 cents a litre every time they go to fill up their car.

      What is the government's plan? We do not know. There is no plan. These are legitimate questions being asked by the opposition, as is our responsibility as an opposition in this place. Just today, interest rates have gone up. The cash rate is now at 1.85 per cent. It hasn't been since 1994, during the Hawke-Keating years, that we've had four consecutive interest rate increases, in four consecutive months. You've got to go all the way back to 1994. That was the last time that happened. What is the government's plan to address cost-of-living pressures? Australians are being hit from all sides in terms of fuel prices, grocery prices, rental increases, interest rates—they're being hit from all sides. Certainly, during my time in this place, I haven't seen this sort of conflation of all these factors occurring at the same time, hitting Australians in their back pocket. What is the government going to do? What is your plan?

      Question agreed to.