The author of this MPI, the member for Wentworth, knows a lot about undermining confidence and putting jobs at risk-more particularly, putting one job at risk; that is, the Leader of the Opposition. But the party that he belongs to is responsible for a lot more than that. They are quick to claim credit for the mining boom but not so quick to take responsibility for the impact of 10 interest rate rises in a row and what that has done to our economy. They were negligent in government and are now proving to be irresponsible in opposition.
I take this opportunity briefly to welcome the decision of the Reserve Bank this afternoon. It is good news for the people of my electorate in Western Sydney. As I have said in this place before, it is the mortgage stress capital of Australia. More people in my electorate lose their homes to repossession than anywhere else in the country-300 last year, now counting three a day. I have heard some heart-wrenching stories from the sheriffs who have to execute these orders-stories about having to repossess the home of grandparents who have gone guarantor for their children, or turning up at the door and finding out that the young mother, still in her pyjamas, had not found out from her husband that he was behind in the repayments.
I have also mentioned in this House before that I was committed to trying to do something practical about it. One of the things I did was hold a housing stress information night over the break. I got 250 people together from my electorate to give them some practical advice and tips about how to make sure they do not lose their homes. The key to that is making sure they act quickly, not waiting until it is too late to get some free practical advice from organisations like the Smith Family. We heard some other traumatic stories that night-some stories of great difficulty in the electorate. One that I will share with the House today concerns a grandmother who, with her husband, has now moved back into the family home. She has moved back into the home of her 80-year-old parents. That is how hard life has become for her. She has had to rent out the house and with that rent she can manage to keep paying the mortgage. So life is very, very tough. I think these information sessions are the sorts of things that members of parliament should do, and I am going to do some more because more is needed.
On the wall at the sheriff’s office in Bankstown there is a whiteboard with 30 names on it. They are the names of the 30 people who are going to have their homes repossessed in the next two weeks. Today’s news will not help any of the people who are on that whiteboard, but it will help those who are still fighting to keep their heads above water, and it will make a difference, even if it is a modest difference, because the decision of the Reserve Bank today means that, if you have a mortgage that is worth about $300,000, it will mean an extra $50 that is now in your purse or in your wallet. All that money counts. An extra 50 bucks in the wallet or 50 bucks in the purse will help many people in my electorate keep their heads above water. It is also worth noting that it is the first interest rate cut in a long time. It is the first interest rate cut in seven years. It is the first interest rate cut that 740,000 people have ever experienced. They are the people who have established a mortgage in the last seven years. They have never seen a rate cut. Unlike the opposition, those 740,000 people will welcome the decision of the Reserve Bank today.
We are not out of the woods yet. As the Prime Minister said in question time, there are still difficult times ahead. The people in my electorate know this better than most because they are under pressure more than most; 12 interest rate rises in a row in the last few years have taken their toll. The total consequence of that is an extra $400 a month in mortgage payments. Four hundred dollars that is not in your wallet or in your purse makes a real difference, so it is going to take a lot of work to turn that around.
As I have also said here and elsewhere, there is an obligation on the banks in this country to pass that rate cut on, and I was heartened to hear from the Treasurer in question time today that the major banks have done so. Commonwealth, NAB, ANZ and Westpac have all promised to pass this cut on-and so they should. I would like to see all the other banks and mortgage providers make that same commitment by the end of the day. They often say how committed they are to the community, how socially responsible they are. Here is an opportunity to turn words into real actions and make a difference to the people that are their customers, to prove not just that they are concerned about their shareholders but that they are concerned about the customers that make up their daily business.
Can I also say in contribution to this debate that I think it is about time that the opposition take a more responsible approach to this issue. They seem to be arguing that this cut is evidence that the economy is slowing. The question you have to ask yourself is: why is it slowing? The economy is slowing off the back of 12 interest rate rises in a row. Why did the Reserve Bank put interest rates up 12 times in a row? You have to ask yourself that question. Did they wake up one morning and think: ‘Hey, I would like to put more pain on the people of Australia, make them have to pay more for their mortgage than they did before?’ No. They did that to slow the economy because inflation was growing higher by the day. That is why the economy is slowing, because of 12 interest rate rises in a row. And who is responsible for that? The now opposition.
Like every economy in the world, we have been affected by the global credit crunch. The Prime Minister has mentioned in this House more than once that five of the G-7 countries are experiencing negative or zero growth, but all of this has been compounded in Australia by the negligence of the now opposition-10 interest rate rises in a row and the highest inflation in 16 years. To the people in my electorate, that translates, in real terms, into an extra $400 a week out of their wallet or out of their purse. What is the upshot of that? More people are losing their homes today to repossession than occurred during the recession-more today than 18 years ago. That is the consequence of 12 interest rate rises in a row, which have made it harder to borrow and less likely that people will borrow, because of the lower return on investment. That is what is sapping confidence.
Everything the previous government did only fuelled growth. They continued to fuel the budget year after year-growing by four per cent. They were like the Imelda Marcos of Australian politics-they just had to get that extra pair of shoes.
Maybe I could refer to Ronald Reagan, one of the champions of those opposite. This is what Ronald Reagan, the old trickle-down champion, said about inflation:
Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hit man.
On that basis, you would think the opposition should be charged with aiding and abetting, because what they did was put more pressure on the Reserve Bank to raise interest rates and mugged the Australian public to the tune of $400 a month.
This government is doing the responsible thing. We are acting responsibly to increase the surplus, doing what the Reserve Bank wanted us to do, making their job easier and giving them room to make decisions like the one they did today, and we are investing in the things that the Reserve Bank asked the opposition to do 20 times-investing in skills and infrastructure that will make cities work better and make business more efficient.
What are the opposition doing? They are doing a good job of standing up for people who want to buy a luxury car, they are doing a good job of standing up for the distillers in the Senate and they also feel pretty sorry for the banks. I cast my mind back to April, when the Leader of the Opposition said that we should feel sorry for the banks because they have to repossess houses too. This is what he said at the Financial Services Institute of Australia:
… anyone that suggests that it’s not equally a significant experience for those who are the lenders misunderstands the nature of what you do and how many of you do it.
What did he say the next day? I know what he said that day: he said that we should feel sorry for the banks because they have to repossess people’s homes. I tell you what: the last people I think we should feel sorry for are the banks. We should feel more sorry for the 10,000 Australians who lost their homes last year, for the 300 Australians in my electorate who lost their homes last year and for the three Australian families in my electorate who will still lose their homes today.
I will make a comment about jobs, because I know jobs came up in the previous contribution; we were encouraged by the member for Boothby to make a contribution about jobs. I know the member for Mitchell is itching to talk about jobs as well. I ask my colleagues: what has had a greater effect on job security in the last few years than anything else?
Work Choices! That comes to mind as well, and they are just spoiling to bring it back.
In the time that I have got left I want to read a little story from Cries from the Workplace-20 women, 20 stories:
Since Work Choices our pay and conditions have gone to rock bottom. We used to get paid $16 an hour before Work Choices but after Work Choices we only get paid $11 an hour without proper conditions or entitlements-
That is the consequence of what you have wrought on the Australian people. When you want to talk about jobs I am happy to talk about jobs and I am happy to tell you more stories from this book. You were negligent in government, you are irresponsible in opposition, you negligently allowed inflation to grow and, irresponsibly, you are now making sure that it only gets worse.’