Cost of Living
Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives
7 February 2023
What chutzpah from those opposite to come in and talk to this parliament about the cost of living. Those opposite, who spent nearly a decade in office as a government whose ‘deliberate design feature’ was to place downward pressures on the wages of Australians. Those opposite, who in government ran a rolling energy crisis, with 22 failed energy policies driving upward pressure on bills. Those opposite, who hid power price rises from the Australian people until after the election. Those opposite, whose budgets included sports rorts, car park rorts, Leppington Triangle—who ran a veritable rortocracy. They put so much ill-considered money into the system as to have an adverse impact on the decisions of the Reserve Bank.
Since we've come to office we've seen 234,000 jobs created—the best record of an incoming government since records began. We've seen the strongest wage growth in the period since we've come to office that has been seen in Australia in a decade. I have to say that the chutzpah is pretty extraordinary, given that the mover of this matter of public importance himself said, when interest rates began to rise when his government was in office, that the rise had to happen. The member for Deakin said, 'I think households are in a position where they've prepared for this.' That cash rate, he said, 'wasn't going to last forever.'
We on this side of the House have a plan to support the cost of living. Today I want to run through 10 ways in which we're doing that.
First, we've successfully argued for a minimum wage increase and argued for a pay rise for aged-care workers. The first cabinet submission of the Albanese government was to support an increase to the minimum wage. The coalition cautioned against it. They wouldn't back in a dollar-an-hour pay increase for the lowest paid workers. We also supported an increase in the pay of aged-care workers at the Fair Work Commission, leading to an interim decision pushing up minimum wages for aged-care workers on a range of awards by at least 15 per cent.
Second, we've passed legislation to get wages moving again. Opposed by those opposite, our secure jobs, better pay legislation built a modern bargaining system that will drive productivity growth and ensure that growth is inclusive. Yet every single coalition member and senator voted against action, with Senator Cash in the other place saying it would 'close down Australia'. Later this year, as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has said, we'll be moving legislation to ban wage theft. If you're serious about the cost of living, you should be serious about banning wage theft.
Third, we've legislated cheaper child care and expanded paid parental leave. Members of the general public listening to this will remember that terrific moment in 2019 when Labor announced our childcare policy, and the coalition minister responsible, the member for Wannon, said it was communism. Apparently, better child care for Australian families is communism. Yet, in a few short months, 96 per cent of Australian families with kids in care will have access to more-affordable early childhood care. It is a direct cost-of-living relief measure which will benefit those families. We've boosted paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks, which is the biggest increase in the program since it was created by the former Labor government in 2011. For those families receiving childcare benefits or receiving paid parental leave, this goes directly to the cost of living.
Fourth, we've legislated cheaper medicines, making medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme almost 30 per cent cheaper for every Australian, and lifted the income limits on the seniors health card by over 50 per cent, making medicines cheaper for tens of thousands of older Australians. A stunt by those opposite in the Senate delayed our support for older Australians by a month, delaying cost-of-living relief when it was needed most.
Fifth, we've legislated emissions reduction targets and invested in cleaner and cheaper energy. Our action to lock in emissions reduction targets is going to transform the economy over the long term. More than three million Australian households have solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs. They understand the direct cost-of-living benefits, because, as the Minister for Climate Change and Energy has pointed out, the sun and the wind don't send a bill. Australians are taking up electric vehicles in droves. We cut taxes on electric vehicles, and those opposite voted against. It was another cost-of-living measure that they refused to back. They are the party who said electric vehicles would end the weekend, failing to realise that if you drive a hundred kilometres in a petrol vehicle you pay an average of $14 but in an electric vehicle you pay $4. Their shadow Treasurer is the Don Quixote of Australian politics, a man who made his name tilting at windmills, who is campaigning against renewable energy and who did more than anyone else under the former government to prevent serious action on climate change and to prevent the benefits for the cost of living that flow from cheaper renewable energies.
Sixth, we've invested in fee-free TAFE and more university places. For those who want to get more education, we're making it easier for them to do so. We've created 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education and training places just this year. We're upgrading TAFE facilities and infrastructure and allowing more Australians to go to university, where they'll earn higher wages, which is of course critical to a cost-of-living challenge.
Seventh, we handed down a budget that delivered responsible cost-of-living relief. I heard the member for Deakin claiming that Labor's budget put upward pressure on interest rates. In fact, it did the very opposite. The budget brought down by the Treasurer in October had payments falling in real terms over the next two years. The October budget returned 99 per cent of upgrades to the budget over the next two years. The average for the previous government was 40 per cent. The average for the Howard government was 30 per cent.
Eighth, we're focusing on competition reforms, because we recognise that a government that is on the side of consumers is going to place downward pressure on prices. We've banned unfair contract terms and we've raised the penalties for breaking competition laws. We've put in place a motor vehicle data access scheme that will reduce the cost to Australians of repairing their vehicles. Our competition reforms, which we'll go on to look in other sectors and other provisions, will ensure that Australians pay less than they otherwise would have done, because a more dynamic economy, a more competitive economy, is absolutely critical to the cost of living for Australians.
Ninth, we took action to limit gas prices, putting in place a temporary $12-a-gigajoule price cap for 12 months and a mandatory code of conduct for the wholesale gas market. Those opposite wouldn't support that. They did nothing, while they were in office, to deal with the crisis that Australians are facing. We in government don't believe that Australians should be paying wartime gas prices or that we should see manufacturing go to the wall simply because of the inaction of a government. That's why we acted on these critical reforms. A $12-a-gigajoule price cap is entirely reasonable. It's a price cap that is above where 96 per cent of the contracts were concluded before the war in Ukraine.
Tenth, we're working on energy bill assistance with the states, partnering with them and covering the costs of states that cap the price of coal, as New South Wales and Queensland have done, at $125 a tonne.
I've now covered 10 of the ways in which we're dealing with cost-of-living challenges in Australia, but there are many more points you could have made. The Prime Minister, in question time, noted the importance of our National Reconstruction Fund for dealing with supply chain blockages. That, in turn, puts downward pressure on prices. Yet those opposite won't support the National Reconstruction Fund.
The Leader of the Opposition claimed today to be leading the party of families, of small businesses and of the Australian working class. But what party of families would vote against direct energy bill relief? What party of small business would be happy to see Aussie manufacturers hit the wall because they're paying wartime gas prices? What kind of party for the working class would vote against a reconstruction fund that's about creating new, well-paying, high-wage blue-collar jobs? The fact is the Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the leftovers, with no answers for the cost-of-living issues that this government is acting on.