Appropriation Bill 2019-20

Federation Chamber - BILLS - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 - Second Reading

Watch Matt's speech here 

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (12:05): This economy is not working. It's not working for working Australians and it's certainly not working for Australians who need work. It's not working for Australians who get sick, who go to school or who are trying to buy their own home. It's not working for any Australian who has a bank account. Since 2013, on the Liberals' watch, growth has been at its slowest pace in 10 years. Wages have stagnated, and 1.8 million Australians are either out of work or looking for more work. Household debt is high, and living standards are going backwards. The economy is weak and getting weaker, but this Liberal government, it would appear, has no plan to turn things around. This government is operating with a political strategy rather than an economic plan. We need actual action now.

At the end of July, new data was released from the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey that revealed living standards have gone backwards under this Liberal government. Likewise, a recent analysis of Reserve Bank data by Fairfax newspapers reveals the costs of essential goods and services—including hospital visits, property rates and education—have climbed at twice the rate of inflation since the coalition took office in 2013. Since the final quarter of 2013, the overall consumer price index has increased 10.4 per cent, while the costs of government administered or controlled goods and services have jumped 23 per cent. Postal service prices have soared 26.8 per cent. The costs of education rose 24.9 per cent. Childcare costs climbed 26.7 per cent. The costs of medical and hospital services shot up by more than 36 per cent. Over the same period, wages grew by a mere 13.4 per cent.

This was backed by data released by APRA and AlphaBeta in August revealing private health insurance premiums are rising faster than wages and fewer people are taking out private health insurance at all. We are encountering record high out-of-pocket health costs, while waiting times continue to rise under this government. After stating merely weeks ago that problems in the private health sector needed to be reviewed, the Minister for Health has since claimed that the government's plan to tackle issues within private health is already working. 'There's nothing to see here,' says the government. The facts tell a very different story, with people walking away from private health insurance in droves. The entire private health sector needs to be placed under a microscope.

The costs of child care, which is an industry where costs are moderated by the federal government, have climbed 26.7 per cent since 2013. You might have heard media reports suggesting that the Liberal government took credit for a fall in childcare costs following the implementation of its ill-thought-out assistance package in 2018. In fact, the benefits were short-lived, with national figures revealing that, while childcare costs initially fell 2.7 per cent after June 2017, since the September 2017 quarter childcare costs have actually climbed 4.4 per cent. In real terms that's four times the rate of general inflation. Analysis done by my office for the electorate of Burt found evidence that, in the months following implementation of the Liberal subsidy last year, costs had gone up. Cash-strapped parents in Perth's south-eastern suburbs on average were forced to fork out up to 13 per cent more for child care than they were the previous year. We heard examples of fees going up by $115 a week since April 2018, whilst one centre increased their daily rates by a whopping $36.

This government has no economic policy to boost growth, wages or living standards. Australians are worried about their wages, their job security and the overall economy. The economy is clearly floundering. Wages and living standards have stagnated or are going backwards, and the Liberals clearly have no plan to turn things around. Westpac senior economist Justin Smirk told Fairfax newspapers there was a real risk that wage growth, which the bank believes will grow by just 2.5 per cent in the coming year, might start slowing even further the following year. He went on to say:

… given how well contained the wage inflation is across the nation, and between sectors, even this modest increase looks optimistic with the risks to this forecast more to the downside than upside.

The latest labour force figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics have served to reinforce that the economy is showing a severe case of the wobbles. Statistically, we are at a point where the percentage of adults in employment is as high as it was prior to the GFC. In June 2008, 62.9 per cent of all adults were employed compared to 62.6 per cent now. This, in real terms, means that, while the percentage of people employed is nearly back to our pre-GFC levels, the average hours worked each month by the adult population is now five per cent lower.

The drop in growth of hours worked is a serious concern, especially given it means underemployment is unlikely to improve any time soon. In July the national trend underemployment rate was 3.8 per cent and falling. In August it was 8.4. Overall, the growth in the hours worked has collapsed. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business claim to have created 1.2 million jobs since they came to office. However, the real-time information tells us those jobs were an assortment of full-time, part-time and casual placements. People are still not working the hours they want or need to get ahead.

Global economic developments are concerning. However, this relatively recent volatility in the market does not explain Australia's overall dismal economic performance. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are clearly in denial about the weakness in the domestic economy. That's why they've got no plan to turn things around. Last month the RBA downgraded the economic growth forecast for this year from 2¾ per cent to a below trend 2.5 per cent. These downgrades should be a wake-up call for the Morrison government. The Reserve Bank implementing the lowest interest rates in history this year is not enough to make up for the Liberals' economic mismanagement. They can't be responsible for doing all of the heavy lifting.

Recently, the Reserve Bank governor emphasised to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics that monetary policy is not the country's only option. Monetary policy certainly can help, and it is helping, but there are downsides from relying too much on monetary policy. One option is fiscal support, including through spending on infrastructure. Labor has been calling for the government to bring forward responsible spending to stimulate the economy, including bringing forward spending on infrastructure. Following last week's revelations of the economy slumping to its slowest rate of growth since the global financial crisis, there were media reports that the Prime Minister was calling on state premiers to fast-track the infrastructure spend. He backed that up in a speech to Master Builders yesterday. It turns out that the Prime Minister listens to us sometimes.

In this economically turbulent time, faith in our banks and financial system must also be restored. It is possible for this to be done without jeopardising any surplus. Unfortunately, the six months of inaction on the recommendations of Commissioner Hayne of the banking royal commission means that faith in our financial sector remains at an exceptionally low level. In August the Treasurer released an overdue implementation timetable that won't see many fast-tracked recommendations implemented for another 15 months, almost two years after the final report. On banking misconduct, this government has been shamed into action by the public, the media and the Labor Party.

A number of recommendations that were made by Commissioner Hayne could have been written into law by now. In fact, they could have been written into law prior to the federal election. In many cases, these were simple tweaks to existing legislation that would have made obvious positive changes for consumers who may otherwise be subject to further misconduct by banks and financial institutions. Labor was willing to approach this in a bipartisan manner to work with the government to push through these legislation changes as quickly as possible. That offer was never taken up. As a result, this delay means that consumers, as well as banks and financial institutions, have been left waiting in the wind on any sort of certainty about what the sector will look like in the years ahead.

The Liberals and the Nationals must stop playing political games here in Canberra and instead focus on delivering action for victims of banking misconduct and for all Australians. This government is putting the banks before the people—just like they did when they voted against a banking royal commission 26 times.

Australians need and expect a plan from this government to get the economy going again. GDP per capita has gone backwards over the year and, for the first time since the global financial crisis, we don't have the time for the finger-pointing and blame-shifting that has come from this government. The government seems to forget that it is the government and it is its job to present and implement an actual plan. It's time this government presented us with an economic program that will support the floundering economy and safeguard us all from global risks. This should be above politics. This is about backing the Australian people.

Finally, while what I have said is about our nation, I cannot pass up the opportunity to comment on the real-world practical impacts of the government's lack of action on the economy for the people of Perth's south-east in the electorate of Burt. In our suburbs and communities, we experience the benefits of economic upswings last and the detriments of the downswings first. This means our economic suffering is longer and is reflected in our already high and persistent unemployment rates, our even higher youth unemployment rates, our high welfare dependency, our high public housing reliance and our high crime rates.

Many in our community have negative equity in their home and are struggling with repayments. It's up to this government to show some leadership and come up with a real plan for our economy. It is the role of government to use the policy levers at its disposal to drive national prosperity for everyone, to ensure all members of our community are not left behind. There are very real world consequences; actual people are very negatively affected when governments don't take action. This isn't about economic indicators and statistics. The government must act. The time for action is now. The people of Perth's south-east in Burt, and the people of communities like it around the country, are going backwards under this government and they won't forget it.