HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 30 MARCH 2022
Last Friday I did a street stall at the Charnwood shops, and a bloke came up to me to tell me his story. He's a bricklayer, a single dad with two kids. He said it doesn't matter how much overtime he does, he still finds himself struggling to make ends meet at the end of the week.
Then I turned around and spoke immediately to a single mum whose kids have left home and who is a public servant working from one short-term contract to the next. She told me that that very day she'd finished one short-term contract, and on Monday morning she'd be turning up to the Centrelink office to sign up. She hoped she'd be able to get another short-term contract, because if she didn't she didn’t know how she'd be able to continue to pay her mortgage.
Earlier this month, Sally McManus posted a tweet asking how people were coping with the cost of living. Here are some of the responses. One person wrote:
I'm on DSP. I "survive" because my adult children help out with my mortgage otherwise I'd be homeless. No meat, don't go anywhere, live on pasta, rice, lentils. Medical costs take a big chunk of my money.
Judy Parker wrote:
I live on rice thins and coleslaw… occasional bit of chicken. Rent is just under half my weekly wage. I'm on 30 hrs per week, over 60 and can't jag full time work. I don't know what my future will look like.
For the first time in my life, I find myself putting things back on the shelf when shopping.
Nina Maree wrote:
Grocery shopping is becoming upsetting.
Ross Heyen wrote:
I can't remember the last time I had lamb or steak. If it's not marked down we're only having the cheapest cuts, like chuck done in the slow cooker.
Who would have thought that meat would become a luxury good in Australia? But that's where we've gotten to.
Cost of living is a new issue to the Liberals, and they think it's a temporary one. That's why so many of the cost-of-living measures in this budget have a shorter use-by date than a frozen pizza. We've got the cash payments that go out on a one-off basis in April. We've got the tax bonus that just happens in July and then it's done. We've got the petrol tax relief, which is over in September. But for most Australians cost of living isn't a temporary issue from month to month; it's an 8½ year issue under the Liberals.
And it's not just an issue about the consumer price index; it is an issue about the gap between prices and wages. As my friend Barbara Phi liked to put it, for so many Australians it feels like there's more month than money. Fundamentally, the issues we're facing under the Liberals are issues of shared prosperity. You can see deep concern from policymakers right across the economic spectrum. Christine Lagarde spoke of what she called ‘the third milestone: inequality and the quality of growth in our future world’. Amartya Sen and John Rawls have talked about the importance of egalitarian growth.
My friend and mentor Tony Atkinson wrote a book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? One of his really important insights out of that book was that there isn't always that trade-off between growth and equity that Arthur Okun talked about, but that a lot of policies can be good for equity and good for growth. That's at the heart of Labor's cheaper childcare plan, our Powering Australia plan, our commitment to free TAFE places and tens of thousands of additional university places, and our commitment to roll out the National Broadband Network. All of that recognises that, when we grow Australia from the middle out, we see the kind of egalitarian country that holds true to Australia's values: to a country where most of us don't stand up when the Prime Minister enters the room, where many of us sit in the front seat of taxis and where we prefer the word 'mate' to the word 'sir'. If we want an egalitarian Australia with strong middle-class growth then we need more than the trickle-down philosophy that has embodied the Liberal's 8½ years in power.
We need real plans, such as Labor's plan to deal with problems in productivity, which have plagued this government and seen productivity go backwards. In the long run, productivity is the central driver of wages, yet under the Liberals we haven't seen that investment in competition reform which underpins a dynamic economy. We see no action on multinational tax avoidance in this budget, which we know is important to creating a level playing field and building an egalitarian Australia.
Labor is committed to shared prosperity, and a Labor government would produce a budget far stronger and better for growth than the one we saw last night.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.