Friday, 17 November 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Gallagher. Minister, you have twice this week claimed that, even though inflation peaked at a lower level in Australia than in other advanced economies, it makes sense for inflation to be higher than in those countries. You also repeatedly cite international factors as the driver of Australia's inflation rate, yet core inflation is now higher in Australia than in six of the G7 economies. Minister, do you have any idea how nonsensical your explanations are sounding? Do you even understand how inflation works, as Senator Watt just proved he didn't?
(): The answer to that is yes. You might not like my answer, but—
No, the last part of the question was: do I understand it? In relation to the inflation challenge, I accept that you don't like the answer I give or that you're trying to pretend that there aren't global factors that are leading to the inflation challenge in the Australian economy, but whether it has been the cuts to oil production, the war in Ukraine or events in the Middle East, there is no doubt those global factors are weighing on the Australian economy. I've made that clear. When you go and look through the data you'll see—
Again, I know you don't like the answer, but it has peaked in Australia as well and is coming down. It is not coming down as fast as we'd like—that's for sure—and I think we've been saying that for some time now. But the job of the government in dealing with the inflation challenge has been to ensure that we can provide cost-of-living relief without adding to it so as to get the budget in much better shape, which we have done and which I also acknowledge that you don't like. We've delivered the first surplus in 15 years. We've returned upward revisions to revenue to the budget to get the budget in much better shape. We've found $40 billion worth of savings, savings that you never found and were incapable of finding. Indeed, when you went looking for savings, let's remember who you pursued. You pursued through robodebt $4 billion worth of savings to the budget bottom line that turned out to be from Australian citizens on income support who you then hounded and threatened with jail. That is the way you ran the budget. Let us not forget that. (Time expired)
The Treasury secretary has acknowledged that Labor's policy to increase immigration by 715,000 people over two years is putting increased pressure into housing and rental markets. Minister, is the rate of immigration and population growth adding to inflation?
I don't accept that that is what the Treasury secretary has said. I think it's thoroughly unsurprising, Senator Hughes, that you would come in here and verbal the Treasury secretary, as you choose to verbal a whole range of people—not you individually but the opposition as a whole. I don't accept that. I also don't accept—
President, perhaps you could remind the minister to direct her comments through you and not make imputations about senators by using 'you' while pointing at them in a specific way.
Thank you, Senator Hughes.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! I am more than willing—
Senator Hughes, would you like to hear the response? I am more than willing to remind senators to address their answers to the chair. And I will once again take this opportunity to remind senators that interjections are disorderly. Minister Gallagher, please continue.
Thank you very much. I do challenge the way that Senator Hughes has framed that question. In terms of the increases in net overseas migration that we've been seeing—and I answered a question earlier in the week on this, in relation to the fact there haven't been any changes in policy settings—what we have seen is an increase in the number of—
A point of order on direct relevance: the question wasn't about whether there were policy changes to net overseas migration. The question was whether the rate of immigration and population growth is adding to inflation. The Minister for Finance and the Treasurer actually addressed the connection and the impact on inflation.
Thank you, Senator Birmingham. The question also went to comments the Treasury secretary had made. They went to immigration, they went to housing, they went to rents and they went to inflation, and the minister is being relevant. Minister, please continue.
In relation to the pressures on the housing market, they've been as a result of a decade of neglect by you. That's the result. That's what we've seen, and you voted against our policy to seek to address it.
I rise on a further point of order, President, to seek that you bring the minister to the question and to ask you, President, when this chamber comes back to bring to the chamber a sense of ruling guidelines as to how questions can be structured such that they may actually have a test of direct relevance enforced. That's because the ruling you made before essentially means that if any word is contained in a question then you are going to deem it to be directly relevant if the minister somehow hangs off of that word. In that case it makes no difference as to how a question is worded, how specific a question can be; it is just, President, the fact—
On the point of order: I was seeking the call, and you—through you, President—the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate also doesn't get to dictate how this chamber runs.
Well, I was seeking the call.
Are you finished?
Well, I'm very happy for Senator Birmingham to have a look at how much time he just took with a point of order. But, on the point of order: it has never been the case that the opposition or the chamber can dictate to the President precisely how they rule on points of order relating to direct relevance.
I would make this point: the most we on this side got when over there was precisely what this President is doing, which is to draw a minister to the question, consistent with what President Ryan did. I know you'd like a different ruling than the ones that have been in place for a very long period of time, but I'd submit to you, President, that you ought not be required to come back with the sort of document that he requests, because you are entirely consistent with the rulings of the past Presidents.
Senator Birmingham, I will say I think you quoted me out of context. I simply referred to statements made by the Treasury secretary. I did not go to some kind of single-word analysis. As you are well aware, a minister, in responding to a question, is able to respond to the entirety of the question, and the minister is also entitled to respond to interjections. I have tried very hard, as I do every single question time, to ask for silence in this chamber. I very rarely get it. If senators want their questions answered, then I would suggest no interjections, and, where necessary, I will draw the minister back to the question, as I do, and have done this week. Minister, please continue.
There are lots of words in this question, so we'll see how we go and whether we get an answer. When the second Albanese budget was handed down, economists criticised it as being an expansionary budget that would keep inflation higher for longer. For months, Labor denied its budget would keep inflation higher for longer. Yet now the Treasurer and finance minister repeatedly state that inflation is staying higher for longer. Weren't the experts right in their critique of your budget? The Albanese government clearly botched its budget. (Time expired)
President, you have called Senator Hughes a number of times.
An opposition senator interjecting
I'm making a point of order. Point of order: you've called Senator Hughes a number of times. I'd ask you to call her again so the minister can complete her answer.
I used a quote yesterday about the view of the International Monetary Fund, which, if we listen to what they have said, called our fiscal policies prudent and a fiscal stance supportive of reducing inflation, and that our budget strategy has seen Australia move up the global league table for fiscal management—again, from the IMF. Australia is expected to have the fourth strongest budget balance as a share of GDP amongst G20 countries, up from 15 in 2021. Let's have a listen to that and not listen to the incorrect assertions by Senator Hughes. We have been very cautious around our fiscal stance to ensure that it doesn't add to the inflation challenge.