Monday, 11 September 2023
Questions without Notice
Opposition senators interjecting—
I know. Get excited. But we've currently got one minute and 45 seconds for me to answer this question, and I intend to take every last second of it, because wages are something that matters to this government, unlike yours, which had keeping wages low as a deliberate design feature of its economic architecture.
President, this was an extraordinarily narrow question. Past rulings from presidents have indicated that a glancing reference to the opposition is acceptable. We only have a very narrow question, and I ask you to draw the minister to the question or sit her down.
Government senators interjecting—
I did say I was going to answer it in full, and I am going to take the time that's allocated to me to answer it. I can understand why those opposite don't want to hear an answer about wages, because such an appalling feature of their economic plan was to keep wages low and to ensure that working people didn't get the wage increases that they deserved to deal with the cost of living and to ensure living standards remained high. As Senator Brockman—or former president Brockman, with that instruction that he gave me in the point of order to you, Madam President—would know, we are experiencing a period of high inflation, so that does impact on real wage outcomes. We have said that inflation is staying higher for longer than we would like, and the highest quarter of inflation actually occurred on the former government's watch, in the March quarter of 2022. So, whilst inflation remains high and wages are improving—and they are improving—real wage outcomes will be affected, and we are seeing that. It's forecast in our budget.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Well, you all have the budget papers in front of you. I know what you're trying to do. I am being honest about the issue.
President, the minister has now had one minute and 50 seconds of the two minutes of which she intended to use every possible second before answering the question. In the remaining 10 seconds, I invite her to be drawn to the very specific question: does Minister Gallagher know what the real wages outcome was for 2022-23, and will she tell the Senate?
So negative real wage growth. Reporting by Ellen Ransley from NCA Newswire and Kimberley Caines in today's West Australian quotes Treasury analysis claiming that the average Australian worker is $3,700 better off than a year ago. Does the government really think it can con Australians into believing they are better off under an Albanese government, given that the Treasury analysis quoted does not take into account the impacts of inflation and a year of falling real wages under your government?
Honourable senators interjecting—
People have a government that argues for the minimum-wage workers to get a wage increase. Remember those submissions that your government didn't actually support? We supported a wage increase for aged-care workers: 15 per cent. We not only supported it but funded it, making a real difference. So, yes, the analysis is correct. This government takes wages and wage increases seriously, unlike yours, which kept them deliberately low for the past decade. That's what working people got: a decade of wage stagnation, because that is the economic architecture that you put in place. As inflation moderates and wages grow, we will see real wage growth. The budget was published six months ago; I'm surprised you've just cottoned onto it.
Minister, despite this government's extreme spin, can you explain how Australians are richer when last week's national accounts showed GDP per capita had fallen for two consecutive quarters under Labor and had grown by negative 0.3 per cent over the year to June?
Working people are better off under Labor because we actually want them to get wage outcomes and are putting in place policies to deal with it; because we're investing in skills and jobs of the future; and because we're bringing back advanced manufacturing and creating investment opportunities for businesses in this country. We're dealing with the economy's single biggest transformation opportunity, the transition to net zero—again, something that those opposite still haven't come to terms with or agreed with. These are the issues that governments need to focus on so that we can seize the opportunities not just for this generation but for generations of the future. That is why we've been so focused on our economic plan, on making sure we're getting the settings right. Improving workers' wages and workers' conditions is part of that economic plan, because we care about working people and their lives, unlike those opposite.