HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 16 FEBRUARY 2022
Australia's sports stars are nothing short of extraordinary. Last year we saw Emma McKeon set an Olympic record for the number of medals won by a female Olympian at a single Olympic Games. With seven medals, she equalled a record which hadn't been matched since the 1950s. We've just seen Jakara Anthony take out the gold in the women's moguls at the Winter Olympics. There are so many other extraordinary athletes out there going faster, higher, stronger than anyone who preceded them.
When I see that great success on the sporting field, I wish that we could see Australia's economy performing just as well. But unfortunately, under the Liberals, the Australian economy is struggling. If it was an engine, it would be sputtering and blowing smoke.
Labour productivity, which is how much we're able to squeeze out of every unit of input, grew at an average pace of about two per cent right through from the 1970s to the early 2010s. But, in the period since the Liberals have been in office, labour productivity has grown at a quarter of that rate, at just 0.5 per cent per year. The decade ending in 2020 saw the slowest rate of growth of income per person of any decade in the postwar era. Even if we exclude the COVID pandemic, this was the worst period of income growth in the postwar era.
The fact is that the government just aren't stepping up to the task of ensuring that we have a more productive, dynamic and entrepreneurial economy. Their notion of productivity is that it's all about cutting—cut your employee protections, cut your wages, cut your environmental regulations, cut the social safety net—whereas, for Labor, productivity is about investing. We want to invest in institutions, in individuals and in infrastructure. We want a national broadband network that doesn't involve copper being run from a box in the street but takes fibre to the premises.
We want an education system that doesn't see the test scores of Australian teenagers dropping year after year on the OECD's PISA test but actually sees us rising to the top of the international league tables and outperforming previous generations. In Labor we're concerned about the collapse of apprentice and trainee numbers that we've seen under the coalition. We're worried by the capping of the number of students who can go to university, the effective reintroduction of a ‘command and control on the Molonglo’ system, instead of what you would have thought the Liberals would be in favour of—a more market-based system in which universities can expand places when there's student demand. All of that would mean we got a more skilled workforce and an increase in productivity.
We need to do more, too, to encourage entrepreneurs to build startup firms. The startup rate has declined since the start of the millennium. Part of that is because we're not encouraging startup talent in unexpected places. We're not going out there and encouraging those Elizabeth Blackburns and Peter Dohertys who are born on the wrong side of the tracks to link up with mentors and with the capital that they need to start new firms. We're not doing for entrepreneurs what we do so successfully for young people with sporting talent. We need an Australian economy that is as good as its sports stars.
Australians are feeling the pinch. Too many Australians are telling me things like the woman who came up to one of my street stalls said: 'There's always more month than money.' What she meant by that is what so many Australians feel—that prices are going up faster than pay packets and the assistance that people receive.
Since December 2019, the price of beef is up 17 per cent, the price of furniture is up 11 per cent, car prices are up 10 per cent and childcare costs are up nine per cent. It has taken the Morrison government for Australians to start seeing fuel prices topping $2 a litre. Yet, when you look at wages in the latest budget brought down by the Treasurer, real wages are forecast to fall. That just continues a period which has been utterly lousy for real wages.
Since the current Prime Minister took the job in 2018, average total earnings in real terms have gone up just 2.9 per cent. That's an average of one per cent per year. Yet, over the same period, the combined wealth of Australia's billionaires more than doubled, from $115 billion to $255 billion. That's the world under the Morrison government: battlers seeing wages going up in real terms by just one per cent a year; billionaires seeing their wealth double. Is there anyone you know who has seen a doubling of their wealth since Scott Morrison started the job of Prime Minister? If so, the chances are they're a billionaire, because it's billionaires that have done well, while battlers have struggled.
Indeed, some of those billionaires received help under the Morrison government's JobKeeper program. Nick Politis received dividends from a firm that benefited from JobKeeper and has seen his wealth rise from $1.3 billion to $2 billion during the pandemic. We've seen Brett Blundy's wealth increase from $1.7 billion in 2018 to $2.65 billion in 2021. James Packer, whose firm Crown received JobKeeper, saw his wealth rise from $5.25 billion in 2018 to $5.7 billion. Len Ainsworth saw his wealth increase from $4 billion in 2018 to $5 billion in 2021. Recipients of JobKeeper include the Australian Club, a men's only club in Sydney that voted two to one to continue excluding women members, and yet, while increasing its surplus, it got $2 million of JobKeeper from the Australian taxpayer.
Car dealer AP Eagers have seen their profits and their revenue boom and yet took home more than $130 million in JobKeeper—luxury car dealers sending Aston Martins out the door like they're making a Bond movie and yet seeing cash showered down upon them from the Morrison government. We've seen firms such as Accent Group paying executive bonuses out of JobKeeper money. Indeed, Solomon Lew's own firm Premier Investments paid executive bonuses while receiving JobKeeper. They did so in direct contravention of advice from the Australian Taxation Office and the view of the head of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott. Despite that, we haven't heard boo from the Treasurer when it comes to paying executive bonuses out of JobKeeper.
Labor supported the JobKeeper scheme. We believed that it was important to save jobs. But you don't save jobs by giving money to firms with rising revenues. You didn't save jobs by giving money to the King's School, to Wesley College and to Brisbane Grammar while their revenues were rising.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.
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