Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Gallagher. The October budget contained no immediate relief for Australians facing rising inflation and cost-of-living crises. Instead, the government committed to spending $2.2 billion on the Suburban Rail Loop despite the Victorian Auditor-General finding that the Victorian government:
… did not demonstrate the economic rationale for the entire project, and they have told us that they have no plans to do so.
Minister, isn't it true that Labor supports Dan Andrews' pet projects that don't stack up but refuses to find sensible policies that will reduce the cost of living for Victorians, without driving up inflation?
Honourable senators interjecting—
I think the best way to answer this question is to say I completely reject the assertions put in the question. I reject the assertion that there was no cost-of-living relief in the budget. If you've read the budget you'll have read about the investments that we are making in cheaper child care, in renewable energy and in free TAFE—as some of those investments. Also, I would say: look at the more than $32 billion in increased payments through pensions and other payments through the social security system, the biggest increase to assist—
And the reason, Senator Henderson—I hear you yelling at me and interjecting—that those payments have increased so considerably is to assist lower-income households with those increased costs of living, largely driven by the increases in energy prices that you hid before the change of government. So the reference to cost-of-living relief—
Thank you. Perhaps if Senator Henderson stopped interjecting then we wouldn't be in a position where we had to respond to those interjections.
In terms of infrastructure—and Senator Van's question went to infrastructure—the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has gone through the infrastructure portfolio very carefully to identify projects where sensible investments can be made—that meet tests such as, for example, having a business case anywhere near the project; there are some projects that were funded under your government, when you were in power, that didn't have that piece of work underpinning them—and to work through, with Infrastructure Australia, the business case that the Victorian government has done. I know that Minister King is working with Infrastructure Australia on that. (Time expired)
The Victorian Auditor-General said of the Suburban Rail Loop:
for the project is 0.51 when calculated in line with DTF's guidance—
below even the Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office's rating of 0.6 to 0.7. Minister, why is the government spending $2.2 billion on a project that demonstrably will not deliver value for money but will continue to overheat the construction sector, pushing up prices for Victorians, contributing to inflation and making the cost-of-living crisis worse for Victorians?
Again, I reject the assertions put in the question to me. The Suburban Rail Loop is a once-in-a-generation infrastructure project. We are honouring our election commitment. We are doing what we said we would do. We are delivering upon that election commitment. That project will transform how Victorians move around the state and it will reshape the way Victoria grows.
I would say, in terms of cost-of-living relief, that the budget provided cost-of-living relief in a way that is affordable and responsible and doesn't add to inflation. I think you will see, from all of the assessment of the budget, the economists who have assessed the budget have said that the budget in itself does not add to inflation, and cost-of-living relief was provided where it was affordable and sustainable.
I almost feel sorry for Senator Van for being asked to ask that question. Those who wrote it know very well that there is no cut to health funding in Victoria. They know very well what has happened there.
We look forward to working with the Victorian government. We look forward to a re-elected Dan Andrews government—after Saturday's election—to deliver on these important infrastructure commitments and to work in partnership with them. Do you remember that, where you have federal and state governments working together in the interest of the nation? We look forward to that. We look forward to continuing that, delivering on our election commitments and working with the Victorian government on infrastructure and, importantly, on health to make sure that Australians have the healthcare system and the infrastructure they deserve from governments that are mature enough and responsible enough to work together.