MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
Cost of Living
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Defence Materiel) (16:16): I think the people of Australia who are listening to the debate on this matter of public importance would appreciate the fantastic transformation that has happened inside the Liberal Party. Suddenly the Liberal Party has discovered cost-of-living pressures. They certainly did not when they were in government. The Leader of the Opposition quoted a couple of statistics, and I am happy to quote a few more. In the last term of the Howard government, the cost of the average family basket of groceries went up by 20 per cent, from $232 to $281. That is between 2004 and 2007.
Mr McCormack interjecting—
Mr CLARE: At the same time, interest rates went up 10 times in a row. In 2007, as a result of that, 10,000 Australian families had their homes repossessed.
Mr McCormack interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper): The honourable member for Riverina will remain silent.
Mr CLARE: Nowhere did this hurt more than in my electorate of Blaxland where, at the peak in 2007, we had 60 homes a month being repossessed. That is three homes a day for every working day being repossessed because Australian families could not cope with the cost-of-living pressures brought upon them by 10 interest rate rises in a row. On top of that, there was Work Choices whereby more than one million Australians had their wages or entitlements cut. And what was the response of the Liberal Party then? What was the response of the then Liberal Party Prime Minister? It was that Australians had never been better off. Give me a break. If gold medals were handed out for failing to help Australian families with the cost ofliving, then the Leader of the Opposition would look like Mr T. So I welcome a debate on cost of living, because it gives the government the opportunity to expose this hypocrisy for what it is and to expose the ludicrous scare campaign that is now being run by the Leader of the Opposition.
The government understands that Australians struggle with cost-of-living pressures. It always does. We would never be so stupid as to say Australians have never been better off. We understand that Australians always struggle with cost-of-living pressures. That is why we stimulated the economy—to protect Australian jobs and keep food on the table. That is why we increased the pension.
Mr McCormack interjecting—
Mr CLARE: That is why we introduced three tax cuts in a row. That is why we introduced the 50 per cent child care rebate and added uniforms to the education tax rebate. That is why this year’s budget provides extra support for parents of teenagers in high school. It is also why we are taking action to bring the budget back to surplus as quickly as we are. The fact is that there is only one party in this parliament that has a plan to deal with the economic challenges that confront us as a nation. The Liberal Party, it must be said, has not had an economic plan for this country since Peter Costello left the building about three years ago. The challenge of the last term was to stop the Australian economy going into recession when the rest of the world did. The challenge of this term is to manage the boom.
An economic boom driven by the mining sector will bring with it enormous wealth but, like the last one, it will also bring plenty of challenges. Unemployment is already low and, as the economy reaches capacity, skills shortages will grow. When demand for skilled labour outstrips supply it puts pressure on wages, on inflation and on interest rates. That is why the measures you see in the budget are so important to boost the number of skilled workers and to increase the number of people in the workforce. It is particularly important in an electorate like Blaxland where, despite the fact that the economy is so strong, unemployment is double the national average, teenage unemployment is still above 25 per cent and 16 per cent of the people who live in the electorate are on government income support.
There is the challenge. We have an economy that needs workers to manage cost-of-living pressures, and there are still parts of Australia where unemployment is high, where participation rates are low and where there are a lot of people on income support. Compare the two parties when it comes to tackling this economic challenge. In the budget you see a package to increase the number of skilled workers in the economy—something like a $3 billion package. This is not thefirst time there has been a skills package in the budget—it has come year after year after year—and you are already starting to see the impact of the investments we are making in skills and education. For example, there has been a 15 per cent increase in the last year in the number of Australians starting an apprenticeship or a traineeship. The number of people starting trade cadetships went up last year by almost 22 per cent. In 2009-10, university offers to people from low SES backgrounds increased by 8.8 per cent. Where is the opposition’s plan? When the Leader of the Opposition gave his budget reply he barely mentioned jobs. He mentioned the word ‘skills’ once. He did not even release a skills policy at the last federal election. Their only policy was to cut $2 billion from apprenticeships and scrap the trade training centres being built around the country.
This is the challenge that confronts us: managing the boom. We have a policy to increase participation rates and to increase the number of skilled workers in the economy, and there is nothing on the other side. But that is not the only challenge that the economy faces. There are other big challenges on the horizon. The ageing of the population is just one of them. By the time that I am 65, the number of people that age or older will have doubled, and that means that healthcare costs will increase, the cost of funding the pension will increase and there will be fewer taxpayers to pay the bills. The government’s job is to help meet these challenges. That is why health reform is important. That is why increasing the superannuation guarantee is important. That is why increasing workforce participation is so important.
Beyond that, there are the challenges that we confront with the changes to our region; the challenge of converting the mining boom into a services boom. We stand now on the edge of the biggest middle class that the world has ever seen. By the end of this decade, Asia will have more middle class consumers than the rest of the world combined. This provides an enormous opportunity for Australia, for the Australian economy and for all Australians. The challenge for us here as members of this parliament is to ensure that Australia makes the most of it. The competition for this market will be fierce. We need to prepare now. Doing well here is the key to increasing the standard of living of all Australians and their quality of life. Doing well here is the key to the future of Australia.
And what do we hear from the opposition on this? Absolutely nothing. What do we hear from them on the big challenges that confront the Australian economy? Absolutely nothing. The Leader of the Opposition takes his job description literally, I have to give him that. He opposes everything and he stands for nothing. The only thing that he stands for is election. He proved that in his budget reply. He talked a lot about vision but he did not offer any. The only vision that he has isof the Lodge, because all he talked about was an election. The Leader of the Opposition has all the vision of Mr Magoo. There was nothing in his budget reply about the challenges that this country faces or what we need to do to meet them. I tell you this: the people of Australia want a leader who understands the challenges ahead. They do not want Mr Magoo.
What we got from the Leader of the Opposition—what we get every day in this parliament—is Mr Magoo and a dodgy scare campaign. He runs around the country day after day scaring Australians. He went to Whyalla and said that the carbon tax would wipe them off the map. He went to Geelong and told them that it would be the final nail in the coffin of the manufacturing industry. He went to Weet-Bix and said that it would destroy breakfast. He went to the fish markets and said that it would kill all the fish in the sea. This reminds me a lot of that bloke who ran around America demanding to see the President’s birth certificate. This is a hysterical and nonsensical scare campaign. What we have is a Leader of the Opposition who looks like Donald Trump without the hair—all Trump, no toupee. He did it again today when he said that groceries would go up by five per cent when in fact the CPRS modelling said that it would go up by 0.6 per cent to 0.8 per cent. He exaggerated things again by six to eight times. No wonder the people of Australia do not believe him.