Wednesday, 31 May 2023
Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (19:49): On a day when we've seen the rate of inflation rise in Australia, I rise to speak again about the concern I have with the policies of the government in relation to managing the economy. The government has a fundamental responsibility in relation to its spending profile, its economic policies and its approach to tackling the most significant economic challenge we've faced in many decades—that is, rising inflation, the cost of living and the household and family budgets that we see breaking. I note in the government's budget this year that the government's budget may well be in surplus, if we are lucky enough to achieve that this year, but everybody's individual and family household budgets are falling into deficit. They're falling into deficit because of rising inflation.

If we don't have a plan to tackle inflation—a significant plan, an ongoing plan, a daily plan, a plan that crosses the entire range and breadth of government—we will be left short and without some weapons in our arsenal when inflation continues to hit us, as it is doing. So I'm quite critical of the fact that in this parliament in the last few weeks, particularly in the early budget and the second budget that the government produced, the spending profile of government overall continues to rise. We're spending more, we're taxing more and revenue is up. As a Commonwealth, we continue to spend and tax more, even though inflation remains stubbornly high. That is not my language but the language of international experts about the Australian economy.

It would be a wise time to reduce spending, and where the government have done that I pay tribute to them and credit to them for reducing spending where they can, but increasing the structural deficit, as they have done with significant policy measures, adds to the spending profile. Not only is more money going into the economy, whether it be through the welfare or social services portfolios or in many of the measures that they've claimed are making things cheaper, but the government is paying the bill for those services, where people used to pay those services—notably, things like child care for people over certain incomes.

When you replace one form of spending with another form there are a lot of things going on. For example, has the government modelled the impact of its childcare changes on an increase in demand for childcare services? If child care is virtually free for more income levels, people will use it more, and I wonder if the modelling is going to be correct. They're starting to realise that the service costs of the provision of child care are increasing because the government is paying the bill, so we have more government spending as a result.

While these things may be worthy, and the government says it is now worthy to take that burden off families, the money is simply being replaced by other taxpayers and other borrowing and spending from the government. This is not a reduction in spending. This isn't addressing the inflation challenge, and inflation is the No. 1 enemy of prosperity in our economy. When inflation gets going, as it is, it eats away at the fundamental prosperity of every individual and every family. Everybody can feel it. Every conversation everywhere in the country at the moment revolves around the increasing price of every good and every service. Everybody's budget is under stress. It's almost a daily process. It's a weekly process, it's a monthly process, and it's something that I believe the government is not taking seriously enough.

With every measure that we see come before this House, the Prime Minister is fond of saying, and he said it in the campaign, that these industrial relations changes, this increase in the minimum wage at the moment—when we have 475,000 job vacancies and a million people unemployed, at the same thing those two things are true—would be a cup of coffee a day at first. He made a grave error. Then he corrected himself and said it would be a cup of coffee every hour. But the Prime Minister wasn't being really fulsome with the truth. It is a cup of coffee every hour for every single employee that a person employs, which is a cost imposition. If that was just a free thing to do, employers would do it, and they'd pay people more. But they're going to pass those costs on. Everything the government is doing at the moment is adding to inflation, ironically, and its policy profile—spending, taxing, increasing the cost of every good and every service—is adding to the inflationary pressure we have.

So I call upon the government, with the shadow treasurer and my other colleagues, and say it is time to get together as a parliament and ensure we are properly tackling spending and taxation in Australia, because it is a huge, significant part of the economy. Inflation is stubbornly high in Australia. That's the polite way to put it. It is hurting every budget and every family, and we need to tackle it urgently.