Senate debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:41 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Gallagher) to a question I asked today relating to the economy.

Yesterday the ABS released the national accounts and the national accounts showed that profits share of national income hit a new record high and that wages share of national income hit a new record low. These are astonishing statistics. In the more than 60 years since records have been kept, never have businesses been getting a bigger slice of the pie and never have workers been getting a smaller slice of the pie. Workers are back, in terms of their share of national income, to where they were 60 years ago—60 years, and no progress. What did the RBA governor have to say about this astonishing statistic in a speech he gave today? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, the word 'profit' wasn't even mentioned once. Instead, what Dr Lowe did is do what he's been doing so well this year, and that is running cover for corporate Australia. Here's what he said in his speech today:

… business people are able to stand in the public square and say they are putting their prices up, and they can point to a number of reasons why. The community doesn't like it, but there is a begrudging acceptance. And with prices rising, it is harder to resist bigger wage increases, especially in a tight labour market.

This is truly gobsmacking stuff from Dr Lowe. You've got corporate profits at record highs, you've got wages at record lows, yet Dr Lowe is making up excuses for businesses to put up prices—just another high priest of neoliberal economics, as my colleague Senator Steele-John says. Dr Lowe, at the same time, is selling the fantasy of wage increases coming down the line. I wish he was right, but I don't expect that he is. He's blabbing on about the RBA's business liaison program, and he's ignoring the fact that wage rises are a fantasy, in part because he himself spends a fair bit of his time jawboning down wages. In July this year, he told workers they need to anchor their wage increase expectations at 3½ per cent, while at the same time saying inflation was going to be higher. Well, real wages are where they were 10 years ago in this country, and you've got the RBA governor out there making a case for real wages to go even further backwards. This is truly Alice in Wonderland stuff. It's hard to make sense of at times. But I did see one distillation of the situation that I thought had significant merit. It was a tweet from Mr David Taylor, who's a reporter with the ABC program The Drum. Mr Taylor tweeted this out after Dr Lowe's speech:

How did we get to the point where it's OK for the RBA governor to warn publicly against rising wage growth without mentioning record profits

We know profits are contributing to the vast bulk of inflation—real wages are going backwards

I just don't get it

Well, Mr Taylor, I just don't get it either. And do you know who else I reckon doesn't get it? That's the vast majority of the Australian people, whose purchasing power is going backwards, and yet they just got smashed by a 50 basis points interest rate rise from the Reserve Bank, smashing mortgage holders, smashing renters, smashing small-business owners, to allegedly try and get on top of inflation, which is actually not being driven domestically by wages. It's being driven by corporate profits. I asked the minister today to acknowledge—and not for the first time, I might add—the role corporate profiteering and price gouging is playing in driving inflation, and yet again the minister would not, in her response, acknowledge the role that corporate profits are playing in driving inflation. We need truth and we need accountability in the system, and we're not getting it.

Question agreed to.