Shadow Treasurer's reply to the Ministerial Statement on the Economy

Friday, 29 July 2022

Thank you Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, when the UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked about the greatest challenge for a leader, he replied: ‘Events, dear boy, events’.

The world is facing substantial economic and geopolitical events and challenges.

For the best part of three years, global events have thrown curve balls and continual challenges at Governments.

But for this Government to suggest that they didn’t know any of these challenges were there before the election is false.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened well before the election. Supply chain issues relating to China’s response to COVID has been impacting the economy long before the election.

The same goes for the impact on the economy more broadly from the pandemic. 

Now Mr Speaker, no Government can control all of the circumstances and the context that it faces.

We accept that.

But all governments can be proactive in their responses.

Government is all about tough decisions in tough circumstances.

In the Budget earlier this year, we put in place measures to support Australians by delivering cost of living payments, cheaper fuel and cheaper medicines.

We are pleased the new Government has acknowledged the gravity of the global circumstances facing Australia.

We’re not suggesting that Labor can change those global circumstances. Of course, they can’t.

But they can put the national interest first, Mr Speaker.

They can out the national interest first ahead of pet projects, ahead of ideological fixations, and ahead of vested interests.

Now the Treasurer has said that the point of today’s statement was to paint a picture of the economy.

Well the economy is not an abstract painting.

It’s people’s lives, Mr Speaker.

And on this side – we know what that looks like.

Small business owners working 18-hour days.

Families counting each cent as they fill up their fuel tanks.

Young Australians trying to build for their first home.

Students working nights to build a better life for themselves and their families.

The economy isn’t some great mystery to us.

It’s the outcome of millions of Australians going about their lives, working hard, and trying to fulfil their aspirations.

Now Australians know it’s tough right now.

They don’t need a painting from the Treasurer to tell them that.

They feel it every day.

At the coffee shop.

At the fuel bowser.

At the checkout of the grocery store, Mr Speaker.

When they renovate their homes.

When indeed, they build a new home.  

And the statement from the Treasurer provided nothing to address this.

Today’s statement from the Treasurer is a stark contrast to our record in Government Mr Speaker.

And it’s a shame, it’s a shame that in the first Ministerial Statement of the new Parliament, the Treasurer has come in here and delivered a speech which was heavy on politics, heavy on excuses, and short on a plan, Mr Speaker.

Heavy on politics, heavy on excuses and short on a plan.

Which is of course completely out of line of the conventions of Ministerial statements.

Now when we were in Government we balanced the budget for the first time since the 2000s.

We were on track to surplus, Mr Speaker.

But as I said we faced curveballs as Governments do.

We had fires, droughts and of course, we had the pandemic which we understand only too well.

And we had to take action and we did, and we did, even if it meant putting budget repair on hold.

That wasn’t an easy decision for Liberals and Nationals, not an easy decisions for Liberals and Nationals. But it was necessary.

Our fiscal response was temporary, it was targeted, and it saw Australia through one of the most challenging periods since World War II in a world-leading way Mr Speaker.

We came out of the pandemic with lower unemployment, strong GDP growth, low interest rates, and our AAA credit rating in tact.

Unemployment rate of 3.9%.

We all remember that number.

The economy 3.4% bigger than before the pandemic began.

That’s extraordinary. 3.4% bigger, the economy than before the pandemic began.

Of course, the cash rate was 0.35%.

We remember that one too Mr Speaker.

We started the work on budget repair, without increasing taxes.

We saw in the last budget, a record of improvement of over $100 billion to improve the budget bottom line.

And in the most recent financial statement at the end of May, the budget deficit had more than halved from of what was forecast in the Budget.

We delivered cost of living relief in our last budget that Treasury confirmed to Senate Estimates was responsible, measured, and did not add to inflationary pressures.

Now Mr Speaker, the statement today from the Treasurer, failed to acknowledge that even before the pandemic and before global pressures on inflation – the Coalition took action to reduce pressures on the cost of living.

We provided tax cuts for hard-working families – we didn’t need a cost of living crisis to do that.

We reduced the small business tax rate.

We balanced the budget before the pandemic – and we didn’t need a cost of living crisis to do that. 

We did these things because they were good policy, good for Australians, and good for the economy.

Now Mr Speaker, despite the gloom and doom in the Treasurer’s painting, he has been right to point out that the statement, in his statement, that the underlying fundamentals of the economy are strong.

These are proud achievements of the former Government. No thanks to Labor.

Labor opposed bigger tax cuts for families.

They opposed the small business tax cuts.

They fought tooth and nail against restraint in spending.

And they wanted to spend more throughout the pandemic, Mr Speaker. 

And the statement failed to recognise any of that. 

Now Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has clocked up enough air miles in the last three months to circumnavigate the globe, but he hasn’t delivered a plan to tackle inflation.

Labor is yet to deliver a plan to address immediate cost of living pressures.

Already since the election we have seen division within the Government on this.

We have seen the Employment Minister at odds with the Treasurer on the impact of real wage increases, Mr Speaker.

We have seen the Treasurer and the Finance Minister profess the need for spending restraint, but the reality is they are proposing to spend more, Mr Speaker. 

Labor’s criticism about debt levels in today’s statement would have more credibility if they weren’t proposing to add to that debt, Mr Speaker.

If they weren’t proposing to add to that debt. 

And today’s statement fails to acknowledge that the Labor Party went to the last election proposing bigger deficits, Mr Speaker. That is the reality. 

This was confirmed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office which showed Labor’s election platform would make the budget bottom line worse off Mr Speaker. Worse off. 

By contrast the PBO confirmed that the Coalition was the only party that went to the election with a pathway to improve the budget bottom line, Mr Speaker.

Labor obstructed almost all efforts at budget repair over the last nine years.

Over the last two years their covid response policies would have resulted in additional $81 billion of spending.

Their policies Mr Speaker – an extra $81 billion of spending.

And we know the Labor Party platform – their wish list for government – will require more than $300 billion in new spending, Mr Speaker. $300 billion in new spending.

Now, in seeking to cast blame to today, the Treasurer held out three tests for himself. He held out three tests for himself, Mr Speaker.

What happens to power prices.

What happens with apprentices.

And what happens with real wages Mr Speaker.  

We will hold him to account on these tests.

Right now though, the Treasurer sounds like a commentator, not a Treasurer. 

Like a forecaster not a leader.

He is painting pictures, Mr Speaker.

And whether they are finger paintings, water colours or oil paintings, that’s not what Australians need. They need a plan.

They need a plan and the longer we go without one, Mr Speaker, the higher the price Australians will pay.

Now let me help out here, Mr Speaker.

I’ll take the interjection.

Let me help you out here.

In the short term we do need better access to workers and supplies. This issue is exercising small businesses and large more than anything. We all hear this. We’re talking to them all the time Mr Speaker.

And if they can increase their output, if they can increase their supply, we know it will take pressure off prices. That’s how markets work.

And that’s why we proposed a very specific measure to provide pensioners with more incentive to get back into the workforce to work extra hours, Mr Speaker, through doubling the pensioner work bonus. Doubling the pensioner work bonus. 

Good for pensioners, good for businesses and good for containing inflation. Let’s get on with it, Mr Speaker. Let’s get onto it.

Beyond this, we need good budget management. Not higher taxes, not higher taxes Mr Speaker but good budget management. 

The single greatest tool a government has to ease pressure on inflation and interest rates is to manage its budget.

The IMF has told us this saying: taming inflation should be the first priority for policymakers.

And Chris Richardson has recently said, has put it very simply in fact – “If you throw money at the economy, you just get extra inflation”

And while in today’s statement Labor has failed to outline a plan to address the cost of living, we do know what they proposed at the election.

$18.9 billion in new and additional spending measures.

$45 billion in new debt for off budget funds, Mr Speaker. That’s their sneaky spending the $45 billion. The off-budget stuff. 

Labor could rein in that spending now. They would have immediate support, Mr Speaker.

Now the Reserve Bank plays a crucial role in managing inflation and we need a strong, independent, credible, capable Reserve Bank.

But it is not enough to leave the response to rising cost of living pressures to the Reserve Bank.

The less work Labor does on managing the budget, the more that the Reserve Bank will have to raise interest rates. Without a plan to better budget outcomes Australians will pay more on their mortgages, Mr Speaker. They will pay more on their mortgages.

Finally, Productivity takes pressure off prices, Mr Speaker. 

And in all the build up to this statement, this week we have seen where Labor’s priorities are on productivity.

Labor has introduced regulation to abolish the ABCC, and in the process raise the cost of construction in this country, Mr Speaker.

The cost of building homes, the cost of building schools, hospitals and the cost of building roads, Mr Speaker.

We know from independent economic analysis that this will be a $47.5 billion hit to our economy.

And at the same time, Labor is removing transparency and accountability from our super system. Initiatives that support better fund management and ensures that Australians retirement savings are productively invested.

These are actions that the Government is taking that are worsening productivity, Mr Speaker, at a time when they should be searching for solutions to improve it.
The solutions are there if you are prepared to look for them.

Now Mr Speaker, no one blames the Government for the global circumstances challenging Australia’s economy.

But we can and we will hold them to account for how they respond to it.

Today’s statement neglected to acknowledge one simple fact. 

The Government controls what happens from here.

The Government can make choices to address these pressures.

And the risk for Australia is that Labor makes a bad situation worse, Mr Speaker.

Makes a bad situation worse. 

Australia needs a plan, not a picture.

At the moment the only plan Labor has is to make Australians poorer.