Cost of Living
Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives
27 September 2022
It is a true pleasure to rise on this matter of public importance. If you need any evidence of the ‘agility’ of those opposite, consider what happened at noon today. At noon today, the education minister was at this dispatch box announcing the government's Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill. That bill would cut childcare costs for more than a million families. We've seen childcare costs go up 41 per cent in the last eight years. For a family on $80,000 with a child in care three days a week, the government support would be $14,000 a year as a result of the bill announced today. And what was the shadow treasurer doing at the very same time? He was tabling a matter of public importance claiming that the government didn't have a plan for cost of living. As you might say—or as he said himself—'Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus.'
We on this side of the House are always happy to have a debate on cost of living. Under the coalition, we saw wages stagnate as a ‘deliberate design feature’ of their economic architecture. Under us, the very first decision of the Albanese cabinet was to urge a Fair Work decision giving a 5.2 per cent pay rise to minimum wage workers. We've also backed in a pay rise for aged-care workers and made clear the government would pay our fair share. Under them, we had scare campaigns about electric vehicles and claims that electric vehicles would end the weekend. Under us, we're cutting the tax rate on electric vehicles. You'd think that side of parliament would like a tax cut for electric vehicles—but no. They're voting against it, despite the fact that for every 10 kilometres you drive an electric vehicle you save a dollar, compared with driving a petrol vehicle. Under them, we had a renewables strike. Under us, we've just seen the climate change minister sign a key agreement with John Kerry which will unlock up to $2.9 billion of new renewables investment.
Under the Coalition, we saw the economy stagnate. We saw the start-up rate go down. We saw the rate of people starting new jobs go down. We saw market concentration go up. We saw mark-ups go up. Under us, we're taking those issues of economic dynamism and competition seriously. I'm going to be introducing a bill in this place tomorrow that, if passed, will raise the penalties on firms that engage in anticompetitive conduct and ban unfair contract terms—the sorts of contract terms that currently let large businesses get away with clauses such as unilateral termination or unilateral price increases. We on this side of the House stand on the side of small businesses and consumers.
Under them, we've seen homeownership fall to its lowest level in two generations and we've seen regional Australians taking more than a decade to save for a deposit. Under us, we've announced the Housing Australia Future Fund and the Help to Buy program, which are going to ensure that young Australians are able to achieve the dream of a home of their own. Under them, we've seen paid pandemic leave due to expire. Under us, we've extended it. We've increased the pensioner work bonus from $7,800 to $11,800. We're fast-tracking fee-free TAFE places. We're tackling the rorts and waste, including that $20 billion of JobKeeper that went to firms with rising revenues and tripled the debt under the Liberals.
We recognise that it's critical for government to do its part in ensuring that we tackle that cost-of-living crisis. That's just the beginning of what our government is doing to help Australians deal with the cost-of-living challenges. Under them, we saw the notion of conflict and division become a deliberate feature of the way in which they ran the economy. Then, under us, we had a Jobs and Skills Summit that brought together business, unions and the social sector and saw historic agreements, such as the one between the ACTU and the BCA and the one between the ACTU and COSBOA.
We are cracking down on multinational tax dodging. One of the key aspects of this budget is going to be a crackdown on the use of debt deductions by multinational firms to reduce their revenues. To give those present a specific example of how debt deductions might be a problem, let me take the House to the company called Eastern Australia Agriculture, co-founded by the shadow Treasurer, which made millions of dollars in water licences. In 2018, Eastern Australia Agriculture paid its Cayman Islands registered subsidiary, Eastern Australia Irrigation, some $14 million in interest. Why do you pay an interest bill to an overseas subsidiary in the Cayman Islands? So you can reduce your tax bill here by profit shifting to the Cayman Islands. The interest rate paid on that debt was, apparently, some 20 per cent. That's the sort of boondoggle that we're going to be looking to crack down on with our crackdown on debt deductions, ensuring that firms like Eastern Australia Agriculture can't minimise their tax bill at the expense of regular Australian taxpayers.
In this government, our measures are focused on tackling the supply side as we look to bring down inflation. That means working in concert with the Reserve Bank, which is focused on the demand side of the economy. We've got monetary policy and fiscal policy working in concert to bring down inflation.
We've had an historic event today. We've had NASA crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid which didn't pose any threat to earth just to show how it could be done. You've got to think to yourself that NASA has really drawn inspiration from the opposition in this measure. This is the very same opposition that said that the Jobs and Skills Summit should be cancelled and then that they really needed an invitation. And, when they got the invitation, they decided that it was washing-the-hair day, so they couldn't go along. I give credit to the Leader of the Nationals, who showed up and made a constructive contribution, unlike the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Treasurer.
Next month we're going to have the Leader of the Opposition delivering a budget reply—which is somewhat at odds with Senator Hume's suggestion that oppositions don't have policies—and we've got the shadow Treasurer giving an economic speech which has all the credibility of his forged claim that Clover Moore spent $16 million on travel. Those dodgy documents had more credibility than the economic ideas that the shadow Treasurer is bringing forward.
We may be introducing legislation to make child care cheaper, but we didn't sign up to babysit the shadow Treasurer. The very fact is this is a bloke who is fundamentally unserious about economic policy. He doesn't have ideas to ensure that Australia moves to a high-wage, high-productivity economy. For those opposite, the idea of low wages is baked into their DNA. They're like the short-sighted business that would like to have high-paid consumers and low-paid workers. Instead, we recognise, as did so many of the far-sighted business leaders at the Jobs Summit, that businesses benefit when workers have wages to buy their products. Those opposite do a great line in bellowing but have no substantive ideas for strengthening the Australian economy.
We on this side of the House understand that the drivers of productivity include investing in education, which is why the education minister is so committed to ensuring that our schools attract and retain great teachers, and that we have more opportunities for apprenticeships and TAFE places through those hundreds of thousands of fee-free TAFE places. We're expanding the number of places at university because we understand that a knowledge economy requires workers to skill-up to meet the demands of the future. We're investing in infrastructure based on cost-benefit analysis, not political calculus, as seen in so much of the so-called investment under those opposite—the sports rorts, the car park rorts, and the wasted resources that should have been going into improving the productive capacity of the economy, rather than trying to pad the margins in Liberal Party seats.
We on this side of the House understand the core role that competition policy plays in driving a more dynamic economy. And we will have more to say about the important role of competition policy in spurring growth and reform in the future. We just invite the opposition to be part of that important conversation, rather than shouting from the sidelines.