Economy Matters of Public Interest

I rise to talk about this matter of public importance because, whilst the cost-of-living pressures can be traced back, in many cases, to international affairs—I think it’s important to acknowledge that upfront—and many countries around the world are struggling with the crises—for example, in Ukraine—that are causing pressures, there are two important things that people should consider when they look at the response of a government. Part of it goes to how governments design their economy and the long-term frameworks they put in place. But the other question that people should ask is: what are governments doing in the short term to ease pressures in terms of cost of living?

The coalition, in its time in government, took a number of actions, and people have seen those: cost-of-living support for pensioners, veterans and others; easing things like the cost of fuel; and a number of measures particularly around employment and training. One of the clear indicators is that people who have a job, who have the skills, find it easier to cope with the pressures of cost of living. A lot of Australians, it has to be acknowledged, are doing it incredibly tough at the moment, particularly with the rising interest rates which are impacting on those who are seeking to purchase a home, but also those people who are in the rental market and struggling to afford rent and bills, whether they be food bills or other cost-of-living bills. The question we should ask is: what is the government actually doing?

The coalition government recognised that jobs are really important to help people. That’s why, despite the rhetoric we’ve heard in this place over the last couple of days, which is all about rewriting history and trying to claim there’s been a crisis, for example, in training and apprenticeships and work, it’s really important to see that, as of last year, there were more apprentices in training in Australia than since 1963. I made this point yesterday in a brief contribution. The $6.4 billion that has been invested in skills and training is a record amount and has had real outcomes in terms of training. There were specific measures, for example, when employers were struggling with the concept of retaining apprentices in the face of rising costs and also the crisis that COVID brought about. When other nations were laying off apprentices, Australian apprenticeships grew. Why did they grow? Because the government took positive measures to put in place support for employers to the value of 10 per cent of an apprentice’s wage in the first year and five per cent in the second year. It’s meant that employers have been able to take on apprentices and keep them on, and we’ve seen completion rates increase. Those very tangible, real measures are responsive in real time to the pressures people are facing definitely help.

The other thing that I would like to highlight is that we took very positive measures to support industry, particularly the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, to bring back manufacturing here in Australia. We got co-investment from industry and investment in from the taxpayer in the areas of space, defence, critical minerals, medical products and advanced manufacturing so that employers had the confidence to invest in productive capacity, to invest in intellectual property and to invest in employing people, giving people the jobs which helped them to cope with the rising costs.

When we compare that approach to responding to a crisis to the approach of this government, the reason it’s so important to look at what the government is doing or not doing is that on the jobs side they’re planning a talk fest. We’re not talking about supporting employers. We’re not talking about supporting small businesses’ need to move ahead, employ people or keep them on the books. The big-ticket item is a talk fest.

On the manufacturing front, I’m being approached by people in Adelaide from the defence and space sector who are concerned that the razor gang, the budget-cut gang, from the Albanese government has put modern manufacturing grants that were awarded by the coalition on hold, which puts in doubt these projects that have been the basis for companies to expand and look at giving people those jobs. So, as we look at the cost of living, we need this government to act now on things that will enable people to cope with the high cost of living, through having a job.