Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives, 18 October 2023
Today's matter of public importance is on the cost of living, and I could take the House through some of the statistics that reflect what the Albanese government is doing to tackle the effect in Australia of the global cost-of-living crisis. But instead I want to start by talking about some of the stories of ordinary Australians whose lives have benefited from cost-of-living measures that the Albanese government has put into place.
Our cheaper childcare measures were welcomed by Blanca Ramirez, a woman in Canberra whose daughter, Paloma, is at daycare. As a result of the increase to the childcare subsidy, Blanca has moved to working four days a week. That ensures that her productivity is up, that their household budget is improved and that Paloma has a little bit more support. As Blanca puts it, 'I can run around and I'm not like dead tired after work.' There are 1.2 million families across Australia benefiting from Labor's cheaper childcare measures.
And then there's Mia, who moved to Canberra from regional New South Wales. She's 20 years old and was working as a casual hospitality worker. Mia wanted to become a teacher but couldn't afford the fees to get the qualification to get started. Thanks to the Albanese government's support for fee-free TAFE, she's completed a course called Introduction to Education Support, and she's now been able to start her career as a teacher's assistant. I wish Mia all the best in her career. This is another cost-of-living measure, one that is helping Mia make a bigger contribution to the Australian economy. Then there's Melanie, in my electorate of Fenner. Melanie is a single mum who's moved into a new home with her eight-year-old son. She has benefitted from the School Student Broadband Initiative, an initiative that connects households at risk with fee-free broadband in order to ensure that those families have access to the internet, which is so crucial for staying in touch with friends and family and for students being able to participate in education. There is Lauree, a woman from Tasmania who had been homeless for two years before she had access to social housing. There is Sean who was under housing stress and therefore couldn't get the surgery he needed because doctors said he had nowhere safe to be discharged to. As a result of Sean getting a social housing place, he was then able to get the operation he needs.
Many Australians have benefited from our health policies. There are over 40,000 Australians who have taken advantage of our urgent care centres. In Tasmania, Tracey, a First Nations woman, attended the Launceston Medicare urgent care clinic in early October with deep lacerations and punctures to her foot. She was seen within 30 minutes. Her wounds were cleaned and repaired. There is Melissa in New South Wales whose daughter was injured playing soccer, and Melissa thought it may have been a fracture. She knew how long the wait times can be in emergency departments, so she took her daughter to the Penrith Medicare urgent care clinic where she seen, X-rayed—thankfully there was no fracture—and provided with a CAM boot.
Then there are the benefits of our cheaper medicines policy, our policy which ensures that Australians can get two months’ worth of medicine for the previous price of one month. Jonathan Smithers, the CEO of Arthritis Australia, is a 61-year-old from Sydney. He takes two medicines for his blood pressure and cholesterol, irbesartan and rosuvastatin. He said that, as a result of the government's measures, he will only need to see his doctor once a year rather than twice, and he will save at least $360 a year on the cost of his medicines alone.
The benefits to the community of Labor's health policies are remarkable. Last year we made the largest investment in bulkbilling in the 40-year history of Medicare, tripling the incentives that doctors get to bulkbill pensioners, children and other concession cardholders. That benefits some five million children and their families and some seven million pensioners and other concession cardholders. But that is just one of our cost-of-living health measures. In July last year we lowered the PBS safety net threshold by 25 per cent, meaning that pensioners and other concession cardholders will pay just $5 a week on average for their yearly PBS medicines. We have reduced the maximum copayment on the PBS to $30, the largest reduction in the 75-year history of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I'm pleased that the Minister for Health and Aged Care has returned to the chamber so that he can hear me praising his cost-of-living policies. On the cheaper medicines, two prescriptions for the price of one, just in the first month of the policy some 200,000 prescriptions had been issued, and once fully implemented some six million Australians will benefit. Patients with a heart condition, Crohn's disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and many other conditions will save up to $180 per year per medicine.
This morning it was a pleasure to visit the urgent care centre in Weston Creek. We were shown around the centre by clinical nurse manager Ashleigh Wilson, and Chief Minister Andrew Barr, my colleagues David Smith, the member for Bean, Alicia Payne, the member for Canberra, Senator Katy Gallagher and the Assistant Minister For Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney, heard about the benefits to Canberrans of the federal government expanding the urgent care clinics.
Now, the opposition seem to think that their only job is to oppose. They don't realise that the opportunity of opposition is to be able to think about the needs of the nation and to produce policies that will deliver. Many of the cost-of-living policies that I've talked about came out of our time in opposition. Let me go through some of the measures in the then Leader of the Opposition's first two budget replies: removing the cap on the childcare subsidy, improving TAFE funding, ensuring that one in 10 workers on government funded sites would be apprentices or trainees, onshore manufacturing for defence and rail, net zero by 2050 and Rewiring the Nation, investing in social housing, an Australian centre for disease control, a national anticorruption commission, the Housing Australia Future Fund, new energy apprenticeships, criminalising wage theft, legislating an obligation on employers to keep their employees safe from discrimination and harassment, and creating a mentoring program for 2,000 young innovators to start a business straight out of university. These are the measures in the now Prime Minister's first two budget replies.
The Leader of the Opposition has also had two budget replies. What did we see out of them? Nothing. The only idea for the cost of living that we heard from the Leader of the Opposition in his first two budget replies was that Australia should fund nuclear power. As the Minister for Climate Change and Energy has pointed out, ‘If they think they can deliver a nuclear power station for $1 billion, throw in in the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge’. Nuclear power is too slow, too expensive, too out of sync with the competitive advantages in Australia. The fact is that the only energy policy that those opposite have is a policy which could not be delivered for a decade at a minimum—a policy which has been rejected by all the experts. The most expensive form of energy is that which is being favoured by those on the other side.
The job of the opposition is to stop opposing everything—to stop standing in the way of wage increases, to stop trying to block our energy relief package for households and small businesses, to stop being out there just saying no for the sake of no. It's no coincidence that next to the Leader of the Opposition's office is a John Brack painting with the word 'no' on it. The Leader of the Opposition must see it every day when he walks out of his office and must just think that his job is to be a nattering nabob of negativity.