Speeches

MPI: The Economy's Not Working for Ordinary Australians

December 03, 2019

A MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

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Deputy Speaker, I suspect that the Treasurer is secretly happy about the scandal engulfing the Minister for Emissions Reduction, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General not just because it makes life difficult for his rivals – which is his highest priority – but because it obscures his serious mismanagement of the economy over his time as Treasurer. For the past six months we’ve seen one humiliating number after another for this incompetent Treasurer and this arrogant Prime Minister, the same two blokes who ran around Australia during the election campaign saying they’d make the economy ‘even stronger’ when in reality they’ve made it even weaker. These two guys have presided over the weakest growth in a decade and have doubled the debt – something that the Prime Minister misled the Parliament about earlier on today.

Deputy Speaker, whether the number in the National Accounts tomorrow is 1.6, 1.7 or 1.8, what it will show is that in this country we are getting below average economic growth from a below average Government. It will show that growth hasn’t been strong enough or broad enough, that it hasn’t trickled down to the people and it hasn’t trickled out to the suburbs. It will show that the absence of a plan from this Morrison Government has cost Australia, its people, and its economy very dearly because growth with a ‘one’ in front of it has not been enough to ensure good, well-paid jobs for enough Australians.

The day before National Accounts it’s traditional for there to be lots of predictions flying around about what the quarterly number, the annual number and the components of growth might be. People are hunched over their spreadsheets in the banks, the Reserve Bank, and elsewhere, working out what the number might be tomorrow. Only one thing can be predicted with absolute certainty. No matter what the number is tomorrow, the Treasurer will say he’s doing a really good job. He is always been his own biggest fan. He is a massive admirer of his own performance. He will expect the working people of this country to form an orderly queue to pat him on the back and tell him what a genius he is even if growth is once again below average as it has been for some time. That’s how horrendously out of touch this Treasurer and this Government are. If he gets put under pressure as he was again in Question Time today, he’ll say it’s all Labor’s fault.

He’ll say the economic fundamentals are strong, that the policy settings are right, and that ordinary Australians have never had it so good. But those same policy settings from those opposite have been a recipe for feeble growth, record debt, stagnant wages, rising unemployment and weak investment.

It’s time that a Government in its third term and seventh year actually took responsibility for the weakness in the economy on their watch.

It is not enough to pretend that you are good at managing the economy when the facts tell a very different story.

Just this week we learned there’s been a decline in job ads, a decline in sales, a decline in building approvals, a decline in inventories, the first decline in multifactor productivity in 8 years, the first decline in labour productivity since that record began a quarter of a century ago.

If you don’t want to just take the last week, think about what we have learned in the last month: wages growth has slowed even further; unemployment and underemployment both went up; 19,000 jobs were lost; retail trade went backwards, the worst result since the recession in the early 1990s; capital expenditure declined further, now more than 30 per cent lower under this Government than before that; the RBA said they were contemplating unconventional monetary policy.

And if you don’t want to take the last month – since the election: economic growth is now the slowest in a decade; household debt is at new record highs; business investment is the lowest since the early 1990s; three interest rate cuts; the RBA, IMF and OECD have all downgraded their expectations for growth; and net debt hit $400 billion for the first time in Australia’s history.

And if you don’t want to take the last week, or last month, or what has happened since the election, and you want another set of evidence about this Government’s chronic mismanagement of the economy think about all of these things which have gone backwards on their watch: the domestic private economy - backwards, productivity - backwards, GDP per capita - backwards, manufacturing production - backwards, private business investment - backwards, retail volumes - backwards, construction work - backwards, and CAPEX - backwards. The list goes on and on and on.

Tomorrow when we go beyond all of the spin, finger-pointing, buck-passing and excuse-making from those opposite one thing is incredibly clear: the economy is not delivering for working people. Our side of the Parliament understands that. That side of the Parliament will never understand what is going on in real communities for real people.

The economy is not delivering for almost two million Australians who are looking for work or more work. It’s not delivering for broad swathes of the Australian community who feel with some justification that no matter how hard they work they can’t keep up with the rising costs of childcare, electricity, or private health insurance.

It’s not delivering for working people because this Government has the worst wages growth record of any Government ever. This record on wages is so bad that the Reserve Bank has now told us that under this Government in its third term and seventh year, that weak wages growth is the “new normal”. Think about that for a moment. What a remarkable thing for the Reserve Bank to say about wages under those opposite.

After six-and-a-bit years of those opposite you can come to no other conclusion that with the policy settings of those opposite, working Australians are never going to get a look in.

Most Australians would consider the Reserve Bank saying that weak wages growth is a “new normal” would be a damning indictment on those opposite. Most people would think that that should be something that a Government should be embarrassed and ashamed about. Those opposite consider it a triumph. We know this because the Finance Minister in a burst of honesty said that weak wages growth was a “deliberate design feature” of the economic policy of those opposite. The Reserve Bank considers weak wages growth to be the “new normal”. Those opposite consider it to be mission accomplished. That’s what they’ve been going for.

I say to every Australian who is working hard but just can’t get ahead, that that is how those opposite want you to be, that is the permanent position they want you to be in. It is the deliberate design feature of what those opposite want for you.

The economy’s not working for working people and those opposite should stop pretending that it is. No matter what the numbers tell us tomorrow, we already know enough about the weaknesses in the economy to know something needs to change. We cannot continue down this path of a Morrison Government without a plan to boost growth or wages in our economy.

Since the election the Government has been faced with an avalanche of disappointing data and at every point they have had a choice: they could dismiss it, deny it, play politics, and pretend that they’ve had nothing to do with it, or they could come up with a real plan to deal with it. So puffed up have they been with post-election hubris, their own self-importance, arrogance and their belief that they are above the rules, that they get that simple choice wrong every time.

Whatever the GDP number is tomorrow in the National Accounts, and whatever the Treasurer says, growth with a “one” in front of it just isn’t enough. It’s not enough to create the opportunities that Australians need and deserve. It’s not enough to make communities thrive and not just survive. It’s not enough to ensure that the working people of this country can get ahead and not just get by.

What we have seen in the six months since the election, and the six years since their first election, is that there is a price being paid by ordinary Australians for a Government which has a political strategy but not an economic plan. It is long beyond time for the Government to change course and to look after working Australians for once.

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