Government should prioritise ordinary households - not big business

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:21): As we look at bills such as those before us today, the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2017-2018 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2017-2018, which are a half-yearly adjustment to this government's last budget, it is incumbent on us to ask the questions that those in our community, when faced with government budgets and their adjustments, ask, which are: 'Who is it that you are caring about? Who is it that you are looking out for? Who is it whose welfare you're concerned to address in these measures?' There is nothing more telling about this government and where its priorities lie than that budget and these bills to make adjustments to that budget.

There are people across all of our communities at the moment who are struggling to make ends meet. They have had stagnant wage growth. They've seen the nature of employment fragmented, so many of them are cobbling together their household budget from casual work, contract work or irregular opportunities to do work in what might be called the new economy, which is not delivering any security for them. They're facing the reality that what's coming in, in terms of income, is stagnant if not declining. At the same time they're seeing significant increases in their cost of living. This is a real challenge in households across all of our electorates.

One would think it would be something that a government would be seriously addressing, because we know the foundation of prosperity, both productivity and economic growth, is driven off the back of ordinary, everyday households and workers. That's the reality. Those opposite often say that small business is the driver of economic growth. Well, who feeds small business? Who are the customers of small business? Those customers are the workers and communities in which they operate, and those businesses suffer because the people who are their customers are saying, 'You know what, this week I can't afford to go out for dinner. I can't afford to go and buy that extra outfit for the kids. I can't afford to go and buy new shoes for school. You'll have to make do.' They're the people that we in this House should be concerned about, because they're the real economy in each of our electorates. They are the lifeblood of that economy—people earning enough to have a decent life, go out, spend their money in their local businesses and support people. The parents who run the local businesses probably have kids in the same footy team as their kids. That's the reality. This budget does nothing to address that. In fact, it contains measures that will make it worse.

It is really telling that I have had a lot of locals, as I'm sure many of my colleagues on both sides have, raising this serious challenge that they are facing with me. So I thought I might put a survey out there to enable people across the electorate more broadly to give me feedback on the condition of the wages and income in their household and their cost-of-living pressures. I put it out late Friday afternoon. We are here Monday morning and nearly 800 people have already completed that survey. If that doesn't tell you that this is an issue that is real to households across our community, I don't know what can. It has been very telling that of those 834 that have replied so far—and it is still running if anybody locally wants to participate—67 per cent of people indicated that they had no real change or, even worse, a decrease in their income in recent years. That absolutely shows the flat lining that is going on with wages and incomes in our households.

The survey showed: thirty per cent of people indicated housing and mortgage costs were putting pressure on their family budget. Over 70 per cent indicated that electricity prices were putting pressure on their households; 40 per cent indicated doctors and specialists visits; 30 per cent said pharmaceutical costs were putting pressure; and 55 per cent indicated private health insurance costs were putting pressure on the family budget. There were as well a range of other services that I surveyed on. For 30 per cent, broadband costs are a real problem. And when you think how critical broadband is to participation in our economy and society, particularly for kids, that is a real problem. Fifty-six per cent of people said grocery prices are a real impost and the same number said their house and vehicle insurances were a problem. I gave people a list and it was a little bit heartbreaking to see how many people did not say one or two things were putting pressure on their household budget but a whole range of things and this reflects the fact that, as I said, their wages and incomes are stagnant and these things continue to go up in cost.

It is really important to make the point that governments can and should play a significant role in this space. And one of the areas which on this side of the House we could argue that the government has been not only less than helpful but an outright problem is around people's capacity to organise and press for wage increases. We know from international data that more highly unionised countries have higher outcomes and quality of life because people have better wages. But what we have seen here is the government refusing to intervene when the threat was made to penalty rates yet, for so many of these families, the capacity to earn extra money from penalty rates was what they relied on to make ends meet.

There are important things that a government can do around the input side of these household budgets: getting people fair just wages; ensuring that they are able to advocate on their behalf to achieve that; making sure that the structure of our decision-making on minimum wages, penalty rates and so forth don't disadvantage people and put them backwards. We've seen no action in that space.

Governments can also take action on the cost side of those household budgets. We have seen, in fact, the government make decisions that have only increased those pressures. I particularly want to take the opportunity to acknowledge that many of the locals who have responded to my survey have made exactly this point. A lot of them are on pensions and have expressed great concern about the measure in this particular bill before us that continues to pursue removing the energy supplement for pensioners. We're not just talking about incomes coming into households through wages and earnings but also people on fixed incomes and pensions. Many people are very concerned that the measure in this bill will directly decrease what is coming into the households of those pensioners at the most difficult time when prices are continuing to go up.

So, the appropriation bill, which seeks amendments to the government's budget, has not learnt the lessons that it should have learnt from the budget. It's priorities are still about getting a big tax cut to the big end of town—delivering to those who least need our support, not delivering to those who really need it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Coulton): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member for Cunningham will be given an opportunity at that time to conclude her contribution.

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