Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Matters of Public Importance

Dunkley By-Election

4:14 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume has submitted a proposal:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The broken promise to the people of Dunkley by Prime Minister Albanese to have a plan for the cost of living, and instead deliver higher mortgage costs, higher energy bills and high prices at the checkout, all the while failing to get inflation under control.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion moved by Senator Hume. On Saturday, as we all know, there's a very important by-election taking place in Dunkley, a beautiful community in south-east Melbourne. This by-election has been brought about by tragic circumstances. The very untimely death of Peta Murphy, the late member for Dunkley, has necessitated this by-election, and we shouldn't make any comments about the by-election without reflecting on her life and her contribution to this parliament. From the other side of politics, I always thought Peta was a thoroughly decent person, someone who radiated warmth and thoughtfulness, was here for the right reasons and fought for the causes she believed in. And it is tragic that we now have to hold a vote to replace her. But, consistent with the values of our democracy, it will be hard fought, so that the people Dunkley have a choice over who represents them in the future and the direction they want our country to move in.

The people of Dunkley, like many other Australians, are struggling right now; they're really, really struggling. I was there on the prepoll booths last week, and I heard firsthand from voter after voter how much they are struggling to make ends meet—how they're struggling with their rent, how they're struggling with their mortgages, how they're struggling with their groceries, how they're struggling with their petrol and how they're struggling with every other aspect of the cost of living. And many of them feel that this government has not heard them, does not understand and does not appreciate how tough things are for them right now. They feel that this government was distracted for its first 18 months, that it was pursuing other priorities that didn't line up with the urgent challenges they faced in their lives—in particular, the pursuit of a divisive change to our Constitution with the Voice.

Now, let's be clear. This is going to be a tough by-election for the Liberal Party. And while there is a desperate, last-minute attempt by the government to manage expectations and raise the prospect that the government might lose this by-election, that would be an utterly extraordinary thing. No government since the end of World War II has lost a by-election in their first term. In fact, the last time any first-term government lost a by-election in their first term was in 1932: the East Sydney by-election, where the newly elected UAP government lost the seat to Lang Labor. If you have to go back nearly a century for a precedent to find a by-election being lost by a first-term government, I think that tells you something.

We also know that, since World War II, governments on average suffer a 3.6 per cent swing against them at by-elections, and it is 3.2 per cent in Victoria, It's even lower for first-term governments, at 1.5 per cent, and lower again in Victoria, at 0.7 per cent. This government is less than two years old and should be judged against that first-term average of 1.5 per cent. We all know that less than a year ago, in the Aston by-election, the government generated a very strong swing of six per cent to it and achieved its own history by winning a by-election from an opposition for the first time in more than 100 years. So, for the Liberal Party to overturn that six per cent swing against us and achieve more than a 6.3 per cent swing in this by-election is going to be a very tough thing indeed.

But I think the people of Dunkley are going to send this government a message. They are going to send this government a message about its misplaced priorities, and they're going to do so through an outstanding local Liberal candidate in Nathan Conroy. Nathan and his family have a great Australian story. He came to this country, like many Australians, at the age of 19 seeking a better life for himself and his family. He came from Ireland, and he grew up as the son of a single mother in public housing. But upon his journey to this country he's made a great contribution. He's made a great contribution in the private sector, in his career and to his community. He's someone who's been elected not just once, not just twice but three times as mayor of his local community, a feat never achieved before in the city of Frankston and a testament to the way in which he is connected to his community, represents his community and will stand up and fight for his community. If the people of Dunkley vote for Nathan on Saturday, they will have a champion here in Canberra—someone who will stand up and tell this government that it has let down the people of Dunkley when it comes to the cost of living, has failed the people of Dunkley when it comes to national security and needs to get its priorities back in order.

4:19 pm

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to laugh when those opposite bring forward to this chamber anything that pretends that they care about cost of living, particularly for those who live in the seat of Dunkley. They know that Labor has a plan and that we are delivering cost-of-living relief for every single person in the seat of Dunkley. Do you know how they know it? Because they have opposed every single measure that our government has brought forward to deliver cost-of-living relief for the people of Dunkley. Labor's Cheaper Child Care policy is cutting household expenses for more than 5,800 families in Dunkley. Does that sound like a misplaced priority? I don't think so. You voted against it. Our bulk-billing plan has delivered an estimated 1,024 additional bulk-billing services in its first two months. That hardly sounds like a misplaced priority. It sounds like exactly the priority for the people of Dunkley. You voted against it. Labor's cheaper medicines policy has saved the people of Dunkley $1.7 million on more than 150,000 scripts. That sounds exactly as if we are prioritising cost-of-living relief for the people of Dunkley. Do you know who voted against it? Those opposite voted against it.

Labor's tax cuts will deliver real cost-of-living relief in every corner of my home state of Victoria. Last night our tax cuts passed the Senate unanimously, which means Australians will be earning more and keeping more of what they earn. It means 63,000 taxpayers in Dunkley will receive a bigger tax cut than under the Liberals. Eighty-seven per cent of Dunkley residents are better off under Labor's tax cuts. It sounds exactly as if we are prioritising the people of Dunkley. The average tax cut for a resident of Frankston, Seaford or Langwarrin is $1,500. We know that extra money in the pockets of people who live in Dunkley will go a long way to helping achieve cost-of-living relief for them. That's $1,500 more in your pocket from 1 July this year.

How unfortunate, then, that the coalition's deputy leader's initial reaction to learning about Labor's tax cuts was to say on national television that the coalition would roll back Labor's tax cuts They didn't want the people of Dunkley to get that extra $1,500 in their pockets from 1 July this year. They wanted you not to get that extra $1,500. We want you to keep more of what you earn. She said it was 'absolutely our position' to roll back Labor's tax cuts.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't want them to get a train—a train they voted for twice.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator McKenzie!

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those were her words. The coalition backpedalled on that position so fast they were hoping that nobody would see it.

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What are the state Liberals doing?

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Chisholm, you're not helping.

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But we've seen it, and do you know who else has seen it? The people of Dunkley have seen it. What an absolute farce that those opposite try to bring this motion before the Senate! They don't have a plan for cost-of-living relief. They only want to pick fights. Politics over people is all they are about. They only want to play games. Peter Dutton has nothing to offer the people of our nation. He has opposed every single action that our government has brought forward to ease the cost-of-living pressure that every single person across our nation, on every corner, is experiencing right now. He is all about saying no and dividing people.

So make no mistake: by voting for your Liberal candidate in the seat of Dunkley, you are voting for Peter Dutton. That is who you are voting for if you vote for your Liberal candidate, and what a shame! The people of Dunkley deserve better than Dutton. Senator Hume even said today while out in Dunkley that she had never seen so many red shirts. She is right, because the people of Dunkley see through the Liberals' plan. The people of Dunkley know they can trust Labor. The people of Dunkley know that only Labor will deliver practical solutions and a practical plan to deliver cost-of-living relief for every single person living in Dunkley. We don't waste our time in this place with political games and filibustering. We're listening to locals and getting on with the work. And how are we doing that? With an urgent care clinic in Frankston and 12,000 services for the people of Dunkley, and more than one in three of those services delivered to kids under 15. That sounds exactly like we are prioritising the people of Dunkley.

4:25 pm

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

We hear a lot about the cost-of-living crisis, but I think it's about time we put a few facts on the record about the real cause of the cost-of-living crisis. For nearly two generations now we've been sold a great big lie, and that lie has the name of neoliberalism. Deregulation, privatisation, free markets: they promised freedom, but what they've actually delivered is a whole generation, a large number of Australians, living in chains. Workers are facing stagnant wages, vanishing protections and crumbling union power. Meanwhile, basic human needs and human rights, like access to decent housing and access to food and groceries are slipping out of reach for more and more Australians.

Colleagues, the social contract is in tatters. The deal was supposed to be simple: work hard, study hard, play by the rules and you could have a decent life. But today that promise is nothing more than a cruel joke for millions of Australians, particularly if they are young. They're told to dream big, but the game is rigged. Young people's futures are far more tied to their parents' worth than they are tied to their own toil. And a new class divide is emerging in Australia between property owners and people who don't own property, who are still struggling on the sidelines.

And who is steering this neoliberal shipwreck? That's right, the Coles and Woolworths of Australian politics, the Labor and Liberal parties—the architects and enablers of this unfair society. They've turned the housing market into a casino where the house investor always wins and the Australian dream is a distant mirage for most young people. Property prices are skyrocketing and rents are soaring, and what do the Coles and Woolworths of Australian politics do? They double down on public subsidies for property speculators. They've crafted an unequal society, eroded social mobility and widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It's a very serious betrayal of the people that we are supposed to be representing in this place, and it is time for a reckoning.

We demand policies for the many, not the few. We demand that the government mend the social contract and fix the fractures in that social contract, and we can start by getting serious about tackling the causes of the cost-of-living crisis for giant profiteering corporations.

4:28 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to rise in the chamber today to speak to this motion. This Saturday the men and women of the seat of Dunkley, the communities of Frankston, Carrum Downs, Baxter, Mount Eliza will have their opportunity to send this very bad government a strong message.

This government have chosen to back their corporate mates like Alan Joyce over dealing with cost-of-living crises. They've chosen to back a $450-million Voice that broke the hearts of Indigenous communities and also tried to divide Australia, and Australians, particularly in the seat of Dunkley, stood up as one and said, 'No, thank you.' And this community has been struggling under the cost-of-living crisis created by the Albanese Labor government. Mortgages have gone through the roof in Dunkley because these guys and gals can't get their spending under control and have absolutely sent productivity to zero, which means the RBA has had to lift interest rates.

But for me, being on the ground with Nathan Conroy, the Liberal candidate for Dunkley, a man that has the commitment and passion to continue to deliver for his community, as he has done as mayor, has been fantastic. People were coming up to him in the street, at the bowling club, in the main street of Frankston, saying: 'I've been a Labor voter my whole life, but I've seen what you've done as mayor. I like the cut of your jib, and I will be voting Liberal for the first time in my life because Nathan is actually the candidate.' Nathan knows, as a young man who has a family in the local community, how tough it is for the community. He has a strong track record of delivering infrastructure projects the community actually needs.

I know the Labor Party doesn't want to talk about it, but my team just printed off, from the Prime Minister's own website this afternoon, the 'Labor will deliver the Frankston Baxter rail' press release. This was a promise made to this community over two elections by the Labor Party when Anthony Albanese had my job, when he was the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport. He went down to that community, and he said, in his press release, that a Labor government 'will move quickly to deliver the much-needed Frankston to Baxter rail upgrade'. Guess what this guy did when he became Prime Minister? He cut the project. So the communities, the young people who need to get to Monash University to study nursing or teaching, aren't able to get on an upgraded Frankston to Baxter rail. Peter Dutton and I, and Nathan, made a $900 million commitment and a promise to that community to build that electrification project so that this community has the new stations, the mobility and the connectivity it needs to get around.

It's not just their failure to deliver infrastructure to this community and another broken promise; you can't believe this Prime Minister on anything he says. He says he promises he's going to deliver the Frankston to Baxter rail upgrade. What does he do? He cuts it. He says he's going to deliver the stage 3 tax cuts. What does he do? He changes them. The infrastructure commitments made by the Labor Party have been on hold; they're almost phantom commitments. There is nothing being delivered to this community.

And just how is the Labor Party again kicking this community in the teeth? Do you know what the top four cars are in Frankston, in Dunkley? The Toyota HiLux, the Ford Ranger, the D-MAX and the Mazda CX-5—all of them are going up in price starting next year, thanks to this government's family car tax. Every primary school car park is full of these types of cars, and this government, right in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, is going to make young families find an additional $15,000 to buy the car they need and love to drive in this community.

We don't take Dunkley for granted. Dunkley needs to send Albo a very strong message and vote Liberal on Saturday.

4:33 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to talk about what this government is doing to help Australians right now today, particularly in the seat of Dunkley. Under our government Australians are earning more today, and from 1 July they will keep more of what they earn, too. While those opposite do their politicking and say 'no, no, no' to every piece of assistance on offer to Australians, we'll get on with the job of making sure that nobody is left behind.

The results we're seeing across the economy today speak for themselves. We see today that wage growth is back in this country, and it is rising at the fastest rate for over a decade, posting 4.2 per cent for the full year. We also see that, while we know there is an inflation challenge that is ongoing, inflation is moderating. That is what is happening across our economy today. It's at 3.4 per cent today—the lowest level in two years, according to just today's CPI data. These figures show what people in Australia know. These figures show what people in Dunkley know. They show meaningful change for Australians who've been feeling the squeeze for too long. Wages are ahead of inflation today, and inflation is moderating. That's because our economic plan is working, and it is delivering for Australians.

Of course, because of the unanimous decision made in this chamber last night, more relief is on the way. Last night this chamber passed our cost-of-living tax bill. It did that unanimously, and it did that for every single Australian taxpayer. We on this side of the chamber want Australians earning more, unlike those opposite. On this side, we want workers to be keeping more of what they earn too. That's why our tax cuts, unlike the old Morrison plan, are for every single Australian taxpayer—every single one of them. On 1 July, 100 per cent of Australians will get a tax cut. On 1 July, 84 per cent of Australians will get a bigger tax cut than what they would have got under Morrison's old plan. On 1 July, 100 per cent of working women will get a tax cut, and 90 per cent of them will be better off than they would have been under the plan of those opposite. This is a tax cut for every single working Australian, not just for some, like those opposite wanted. What we see today is growing wages. We see moderating inflation. We see a fairer tax system for all, including a tax cut for every single working Australian coming on 1 July.

Our changes are making a difference right across Australia and in the community of Dunkley, a community that will be well represented by Jodie Belyea. She is a fantastic woman, a fantastic Frankston local, a businesswoman, and a mum of a child at Frankston High School. She is a person of integrity. She is a person of character. She is a person who will represent Dunkley well. Right across the seat of Dunkley, people can see that wages are moving again in this country, strengthening the connection between fair reward and hard work. They can see that we are prioritising good and secure jobs in our labour market. We know the value of working people on this side of the chamber. What they also know, after last night, is that, come 1 July, 70,000 taxpayers in Dunkley will get a tax cut. Like the rest of Australia, nobody in Dunkley will be left behind under our plan. For the people of Dunkley today, wages are moving. We are focused on good, secure jobs for all, and every single taxpayer in Dunkley will get a tax cut under our government. (Time expired)

4:38 pm

Photo of Ralph BabetRalph Babet (Victoria, United Australia Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Obviously, I rise here in support of Senator Hume's matter of public importance. The only constant in Australian politics seems to be broken promises. The Dunkley by-election is quickly becoming less of a political poll and more of an IQ test. Are the people of Dunkley really so naive as to believe the empty promises and meaningless reassurances of this government?

The Prime Minister has spent weeks insisting that he should be rewarded for having a plan to reduce the cost of living. A plan? What plan? Where's the plan? The failed referendum wasn't about the cost of living. His countless overseas trips haven't been about the cost of living. The Labor Party's insane immigration policies don't constitute a plan to reduce the cost of living. Minister Bowen's reckless renewable energy obsession is not making the cost of living any better; it's making it worse. Repeating that you have a plan over and over is not the same as actually having a plan. The people of Dunkley are smart enough to realise this, and I expect that they will mark the government down for it when they step into the ballot box.

After almost two years of this government—two painful years—the people understand that the Prime Minister is all announcement but no delivery, always spruiking a plan that never materialises, always talking about how much he feels for people doing it tough, and then the next minute he's sitting courtside at the tennis or dancing the night away at a private performance with Katy Perry. Like I said, the people of Dunkley are not stupid, and God willing they will not fail the test on Saturday.

I'm no big fan of the Liberal Party—that much is clear—but do you know what? They're a whole lot better than the alternative.

4:40 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on this motion. I've been listening carefully to the contributions of colleagues and I'm just appalled but not shocked at the contempt those opposite have for the people of Dunkley. The people of Dunkley are very clear. They have elected Nathan Conroy three times as their local mayor because he understands them and he has been delivering for them.

The electors in Dunkley are no more fools than the electors in Western Australia. They know what is happening to their family budget. They know what has happened under this government in less than two years. Let me share with you what the electors in Dunkley absolutely know. In the last 18 months, their personal income tax has risen by 27 per cent, and headline inflation remains at more than 1.6 above the midpoint of the RBA's target band. For the electors in Dunkley that means that food, housing, insurance and health and education expenses are all growing faster than the headline inflation rate. That means they are paying more, particularly when you think that real wages, despite what those opposite say, are going backwards under the Labor Party.

What does this actually mean for the voters in Dunkley? It means that over the past 18 months real net disposable income has fallen by over 8.6 per cent for the average income earner in Dunkley. What does this mean? It's actually a decline in take-home pay for the voters in Dunkley of $8,000 a year. At a time when their income tax is going up and their cost of living is skyrocketing, people with an average mortgage are now paying $24,000 more than they were before Labor came to government.

The voters in Dunkley are not stupid, as those opposite seem to think. They know exactly what you have done to their household budgets, what you have done to their mortgages, what you have done to their cost of living. Food is up nine per cent, housing is up 12 per cent, electricity is up 20 per cent, insurance is up by 22 per cent and petrol is up by 27 per cent. Those opposite think they can spin their way through this by-election, but let me tell you what: you absolutely will not. Your bad decisions and wrong priorities are absolutely smashing family budgets—and now the genius policymakers on the other side of the chamber in government are deciding to tax the family vehicle!

I know that in Dunkley, just like in my home state of Western Australia, tradies and families have SUVs, four-wheel drives and utes. For the tradies in Dunkley who want to buy a Toyota LandCruiser for work, they will be paying $25,000 more. If they want to buy a Ford Ranger, they will be paying $17,000 more—and the costs go on and on.

As Senator Hume said yesterday, our candidate for Dunkley, Nathan Conroy, embodies the spirit of Dunkley—a dedication to community service and also to resilience. His backstory is the same as that of so many of the residents of Dunkley. He came from a very humble background in Scotland. He married a local girl, and they settled down and raised their family in Frankston South. The voters in Frankston, in Dunkley, know what they have in Nathan Conroy, and that is a candidate who will stand up for them, who understands their pain under this government and who understands the pressures that they have each and every day in getting through, because in less than two years those opposite have smashed Australian families financially in a way we have not seen probably since the Second World War. Shame on you all!